Easy is life
For someone without conscience,
Bold as a crow,
Obtrusive, deceitful, reckless, and corrupt.
Difficult is life
For someone with conscience,
Always searching for what’s pure,
Discerning, sincere, cautious, and clean-living. (translated by Gil Fronsdal)
One way to take this pair of verses is that if we are careless, if we think what we do doesn’t matter, then we won’t worry about consequences or other peoples’ feelings, we’ll just do what immediately appeals to us. But if we do care, if we do believe that our actions of body, speech, and mind are significant for ourselves and others, then we must invest our energy in monitoring our activities and try to weigh up whether they are wholesome or unwholesome.
Of course, depending on our early training and natural inclination, we might be more or less conscious of this distinction. It’s not immediately obvious that letting our conscience be our guide can make our lives easier in long run. Even though there is an energetic cost to mindfully attending to what we do (and the consequences that follow), if, over time, we make an effort to move towards the beneficial and avoid the harmful, our lives will deliver less confusion and fewer obstacles.
Still, these verses point out that most of us are inclined not to take seriously the impact of our words and actions. Monitoring and restraining our behavior may seem too great an effort in many situations. In English-speaking cultures there tends to be a lot of support for selfishness, for grabbing what we can without regard for the damage this attitude can do. We need to be willing to “swim upstream”, to set aside a moment of pleasure for the quieter, deeper joy of doing the right thing. By paying attention to how we affect others (and consequently ourselves), day by day, succeeding and failing and trying again, we are playing the long game and the rewards will be commensurate.