Irrigators guide water;
Fletchers shape arrows;
Carpenters fashion wood;
The well-practiced tame themselves.
Dhammapada v. 145, translated by Gil Fronsdal
If only it were as simple as carving a stick of wood to tame ourselves. A little whittle here and there, and the lumpy parts fall to the ground, leaving our character smooth and pleasantly shiny. But, easy or hard, this is our task. It could even be an answer to the question, “What should I do with my life?”.
How can we go about taming ourselves? The traditional answer would be “in body, speech, and mind”.
We start with our grossest actions, things we do with our bodies – refrain from hitting anyone or acting in a violent way. This would also include things done at a desk or computer, or in our workplaces, that cause harm to others. By guarding against hurting others, we are training ourselves in doing good. Using our bodies to treat others (and ourselves) with respect and kindness can only lead to positive outcomes.
Attending to our speech is (I think) our greatest opportunity to really tame ourselves. Maintaining a scrupulous truthfulness takes clear and fresh attention. If we heard all of our own words as if they had come from someone else, we’d be in a good position to monitor our speech. Harsh words would immediately become apparent; the intention to divide people with words could also be seen as harmful. Silly and superfluous speech would call out for silence.
We all make mistakes, but are we making the effort to correct ourselves and to point our intentions, again and again, in the direction of wholesomeness? What structures or friendships can we build into our lives to support this effort?
Lastly, the ways the mind can be trained are myriad and varied. Meditation is an obvious possibility, but so are prayer, chanting, service, creative endeavors, and many other pathways. It’s important for each of us to choose the training that works best for us in our present situation.