The Practice of Zeal

by Shantideva

Featured in Mountain Record 25.3, Spring 2007



Thus, one who has patience should cultivate zeal, because Awakening is established with zeal, and there is no merit without zeal, just as there is no movement without wind.

What is zeal? It is enthusiasm for virtue. What is said to be its antithesis? It is spiritual sloth, clinging to the reprehensible, apathy, and self-contempt.

Spiritual sloth arises from indolence, indulging in pleasures, sleep, and craving for lounging around due to one's apathy toward the miseries of the cycle of existence.

Scented out by the hunters, the mental afflictions, you have entered the snare of rebirth. Why do you not recognize even now that you are in the mouth of death?

You do not see that those of your own kind are gradually being killed. You even fall asleep like a buffalo among butchers.

When Yama watches you and your path is blocked on all sides, how can you enjoy eating, and how can you sleep and have sexual intercourse?

Since death will come swiftly, with its implements prepared, what will you do then even if you have abandoned spiritual sloth at this wrong time?

Thinking: "I have not achieved this. I have just started this, but it remains half-done. Death has suddenly arrived. Oh, I am wretched,"

Seeing despondent relatives with their eyes swollen and red, with tears in their faces from the impact of their grief and the faces of the messengers of Yama, Tormented by the recollection of your own vices, hearing the sounds of hell, and befouling your body with excrement out of fear, what will you do when you are so terrified?

Realizing "I am like a live fish," your fear is appropriate now. How much more when you have committed vices and face the intense suffering of hell?

So, delicate one, you burn even when touched by hot water. Upon performing deeds leading to hell, how will you remain at ease?

You expect results with no effort. So delicate you are and in so much pain. While in the clutches of death, you act like an immortal. Hey, miserable one, you are destroying yourself!

Upon finding the boat of human birth now, cross the great river of suffering. O fool, there is no time for sleep, for this boat is hard to catch again.

Forsaking the supreme joy of Dharma, which is an endless stream of joy, how can you delight in frivolity and jokes, which are two causes of suffering?

The absence of apathy, the array of abilities such as prudence, self-control, equality between oneself and others, and exchange of oneself for others should be practiced without the discouragement of thinking, "How could I possibly attain Awakening?" For the truth-speaking Tathagata proclaimed this truth:

"Even those who were gadflies, mosquitoes, bees, and worms attained supreme Awakening, which is difficult to attain, through the power of their effort."

Human by birth and capable of knowing what is beneficial and what is not, why could I not attain Awakening as long as I do not forsake the guidance of the Omniscient One?