A situation recently came up at work — a decision was made, and I didn’t think it was a good one. I stewed over the issue for a day or so, and after an intense couple of hours, as I tried to figure out the best approach for dealing with the way the situation had manifested itself in my mind, a word popped into my head: pag-yü.
Pag-yü is the title of the fourth chapter of Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatāra, the Way to the Bodhisattva. I’ve seen this word translated as attentiveness, carefulness, awareness or conscientiousness. The pag-yü chapter, as I read it, is a how-to guide for dealing with afflictive emotions, or kleshas, that starts with a stern warning to the practitioner to develop an emotional awareness that is keen enough to burn away lifetimes of habitual behavior. It’s a deep-rooted pattern of situational experience and emotional reaction that, in most cases, has us beat from the very beginning.
It is I who welcome them within my heart,
Allowing them to harm me at their pleasure.
I who suffer all without resentment —
Thus my abject patience, all displaced…
And yet, the mighty fiend of my afflictions,
Flings me in an instant headlong down
To where the mighty lord of mountains
Would be burned, its very ashes all consumed.
No other enemy indeed
Has lived so long as my defiled emotions —
O, my enemy, afflictive passion,
Endless and beginningless companion!
Pag-yü 4, 29 and 31-32
In his commentary on the Bodhicaryavatāra, For the Benefit of All Beings, His Holiness the Dalai Lama echoes the poet’s sentiment, noting, “Those whom we ordinarily consider to be our enemies can only be so for one lifetime, at the most. But negative emotions have been harming us from time without beginning. They are truly the worst of enemies.”
So how to break the ingrained, habitual stranglehold that afflictive emotions have on us? As I walked to the office one morning, the work situation still churning in my mind, I thought of this concept of awareness, pag-yü, and I asked myself the simplest of questions: where do these feelings I have about this specific work situation come from? In other words, why do I feel this way?
That split-second pause from letting my brain baste in an self-concocted emotional stew was all it took. A single, brief moment of attention, and I had the answer. In this case, as in so many others, the matter boiled down to ego (the workplace is the perfect breeding ground for ego, as I’ve written in the past).
A couple days ago when I started reading the Bodhicaryavatāra, I hoped that something — even a single stanza — might jump out to help me in my day-to-day life. Yet in this instance, it was the title of a chapter that helped remind me of the wisdom that I so desperately seek. A moment of awareness, plain and simple, was exactly what I needed.