Friday, July 17, 2020

“Rule your mind or it will rule you”

Bodhipaksa ( edited by Dhr. Seven, Ananda, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly
While this quote is not Buddhist in origin, it is close. The Buddha gives similar advice in the Dhammapada. Anger is no friend.

It is a derived English translation of the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus). It came from something he wrote in Latin in a letter to his friend, Lollius Maximus: Ira furor brevis est; animum rege, qui, nisi paret, imperat; hunc frenis, hunc tu compesce catena.

R.M. Millington translated it in his book The Epistles of Horace in Rhythmic Prose, for the Student (1870):

“Rage is brief madness; so, then, for it is or the slave or lord. Restrain the mind with bridle and with chain.”

H. P. Haughton’s archaic translation in The Classical Student’s Translation of Horace (1844) is:

“Ire is a brief fury; rule you your mind; which unless it obeys, commands. This do you restrain with curbs, this do you restrain with a chain.”

The style here, particularly the final sentence, is close to early Buddhist scriptures. A more modern translation of the same passage by David Ferry (The Epistles of Horace, 2001) has:

"…A fit of rage
Is a fit of honest-to-goodness genuine madness.
Keep control of your passions. If you don’t,
Your passions are sure to get control of you.
Keep control of them, bridle them, keep them in chains."

In the 1926 edition of Putnam’s Complete Book of Quotations, Proverbs and Household Words (p. 490), edited by William Gurney Benham, the quote is given as:

Animum rege, qui, nisi paret,
"Rule your mind, which, unless it is your servant, is your
(Horace, Ep., 2, Part 1)

Horace inspired by devi muses.
This is different than the quote in question, which is actually from the index of the book, where references to the actual quotes are arranged by theme.

“Rule your mind or it will rule you” is found twice, under “Inclination” and also under “Mind.” The wording given is not meant to be a translation of Horace, but rather a summary of what Horace was saying.

In fact, the index suggests that this paraphrase also applies to another quote, on page 559. So “Rule your mind or it will rule you” paraphrases Horace rather than directly translating him.

Over the decades, however, the paraphrase in the index came to be presented as a direct quote of Horace.

The Buddha says many things like this in the Dhammapada or "The Imprint or Way of the Dharma," that parallels this Latin phrase. He compares spiritual training with training a wild animal, like a young elephant brought out of the jungle to be tamed, trained, and put to good use. For example, in two translated verses of the Dhammapada run:

322. Excellent are well-trained mules, thoroughbred Sindhu horses, and noble tusker elephants. But better still is one who has subdued oneself.

323. Not by these mounts [animals one travels on such as the garuda], however, would one go to the Untrodden Land (nirvana), as one who is self-tamed goes by one's own tamed and well-controlled mind.

In the Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya) the Buddha says:

"Meditators, I know not of any other single thing so conducive to great loss as the untamed mind. The untamed mind indeed conduces to great loss.

"Meditators, I know not of any other single thing so conducive to great profit as the tamed mind. The tamed mind indeed conduces to great profit."

Another verse from the Dhammapada reads:

42. "Whatever harm an enemy may do to an enemy, or a hater to a hater, an ill-directed mind inflicts on oneself a greater harm."

New Age sentiments (
The Buddha seems to have in mind an understanding similar to what Horace later wrote and expressed differently.

In one extended metaphor, the Buddha says that six wild animals tied together would all try to run off in different directions. The overall direction they would take would depend on the competing desires and relative strengths of the different beasts.

This collection represents the mind (as one of the six senses) divided and pulled in all directions by competing urges arising as sense desires or cravings.

Mindfulness is the solution the Buddha offers, for it acts like a stake placed in the ground to which the six may be fixed and brought under control then pacified then used for insight and liberation:

“It is just as if a person, catching six animals of different ranges and habitats, were to bind them with a strong rope. Catching a snake, one would bind it with a strong rope. Catching a crocodile… a bird… a dog… a hyena… a monkey, one would bind it with a strong rope. Binding them of all with a strong rope, one would tether them to a strong post or stake in the ground.

“Then those six animals, of different ranges and habitats, would each pull toward its own range and habitat. The snake would pull thinking, ‘I’ll go into the anthill.’ The crocodile would pull thinking, ‘I’ll go into the water.’ The bird would pull thinking, ‘I’ll go up into the air.’ The dog would pull thinking, ‘I’ll go into the village.’ The hyena would pull thinking, ‘I’ll go into the charnel ground.’ The monkey would pull thinking, ‘I’ll go into the forest.’

"And when these six animals become exhausted, they stand, sit, or lie down next to the post or stake.

"In the same way, when a meditator pursues and develops mindfulness fixed on the body,
  • the eye does not pull toward pleasing forms, and displeasing forms are not regarded as repulsive.
  • The ear does not pull toward pleasing sounds…
  • The nose does not pull toward pleasing aromas…
  • The tongue does not pull toward pleasing flavors…
  • The body does not pull toward pleasing tactile sensations…
  • The mind does not pull toward pleasing mental phenomena, and displeasing mental phenomena are not regarded as repulsive. This, meditators, is restraint.”
He said, "Do all that is good, avoid all bad."
If we watch our minds for any length of time in meditation, we notice that it does in fact dart here and there like a monkey suffering from ADHD.

Staying with an object of meditation (e.g., the breath or a sensation) is extremely difficult. But mindfulness, as it strengthens, gives us the power to notice when the mind goes astray. And as we notice we gain the power to bring it back to the object.

Since many of the thoughts to which the mind would turn if it were left unrestrained would reinforce anxiety, anger, doubt, and so on, we find ourselves growing calmer and happier. A mind compassionately and mindfully restrained is a happy mind. More

No comments: