Shantideva was a Buddhist master who lived in India in the seventh and eighth centuries CE. One of Shantideva’s main teachings puts forth two questions which can be used in any vital situation:
A year ago, I had surgery for a cataract in my left eye. I recovered very quickly, and five months after the operation, I moved to Spain. In the first weeks of 2020, I started to notice that my vision was deteriorating in that eye. Soon, I started seeing double: there were ghosts next to the letters when I read.
I called my doctor in Mexico, who sent me to a colleague in Madrid, urgently. The symptoms pointed to a potentially serious problem in the eye’s macula, which had to be dealt with on the spot.
And on the spot, my mind started to freak out. Or, at least, my mind made an attempt at losing it. But then I remembered Shantideva’s teaching. I could do something: consult with my doctor and make an appointment with his colleague. While I waited for the appointment, I could not do anything else.
When I remembered these teachings, I had a glimpse of the possibility of not worrying. And momentarily, I stopped my mind from creating its own suffering.
I realized, experientially rather than rationally, that if I placed my attention on what I could and could not do, worrying was unnecessary. If I succeeded in not feeding the worry, it vanished on its own. In Buddhism, this is called liberation, the transcending of suffering.
A crack opened in my neurotic mind, and I caught a glimpse of the vast and radiant space which is the true nature of mind. Fear did not disappear, but it was far more manageable, and I arrived to my medical appointment prepared for the worst and hoping for the best. Fortunately, the news was good, and this simple but profound, commonsense teaching from Shantideva had been of great benefit.
I also realized that the great power of Shantideva’s words lies in the possibility of applying them on the spot. So, when you find yourself freaking out over a challenging situation:
- Realize you are losing it—as quickly as possible (a regular practice of mindfulness is the best support).
- Ask yourself what you can do about the situation. There might be something you can do. There might be nothing you can do. Contemplate the answers and breathe, allowing your mind to open up.
- In either case (something you can do or nothing you can do), let go of worrying and rest in the space, however small, that is free of worries.