Excellent are tamed mules,
Thoroughbreds, horses of the Indus valley,
Tusked elephants and great elephants.
But even more excellent
Are people who have tamed themselves.

Not by means of these animals could one go
To that place not gone to,
Where a self-tamed person goes
By means of a well-tamed, disciplined self.

Dhammapada, v. 322-323, translated by Gil Fronsdal

Ah! A trained, burden-bearing animal is a wonderful thing. And a person who tames her own mind is even more wonderful.

Also, there is no beast or carriage that can take us to total freedom (or nirvana), because it’s not a place.

We can tame wild beasts to make them useful to people. Clearly the residents of the Indus Valley took pride in their animals and in the training and usefulness of them. In what way is taming the mind like taming an animal? For one thing, the untamed mind has no interest in being tamed, just like a wild animal. A tamed mind is even more useful than a tamed animal.

There’s an old Zen story about four kinds of horses. The best one runs when he catches sight of the whip or stick. The second best has to feel the stick lightly on his hide to run. The third best has to be hit with the stick and the fourth best has to feel the stick right to its marrow before it will run. The analogy is that we don’t all train ourselves in the same way, we respond to different stimuli. People think that being the smart, quick, responsive horse is best. But perhaps it’s those who feel dukkha to their marrow whose understanding runs deepest. It’s a Zen story – I don’t know what it means, but I think it’s interesting.

A tamed mind knows that all actions have results, and so is careful with words and deeds. A tamed mind is at peace, not at war, with the way things are. A tamed mind is clear, unclouded by greed, hatred or delusion; it experiences the world with equanimity and acts with compassion. Paradoxically, a fully tamed mind is completely free.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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