World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson



Vigilance, and like mental attitudes of heedfulness, wakefulness, and concentration, are necessary for progress on the spiritual path. Heedfulness is necessary because life is a continuous stream: Every moment is an occasion to think, will, and act either within the discipline of the spiritual path or to violate its teachings. Despite one's initial burst of enthusiasm for the Way, it is all too easy to slip back into fallen and worldly habits. Only continued vigilance can preserve our life.

In the religions of the East, vigilance refers to watching over one's thoughts in Meditation, pp. 837-48. Intense concentration is required, minding the condition of one's thoughts and exercising restraint over one's actions. In Western religions vigilance often refers to being mindful of God, who is ever present. By such wakefulness, one is alert against any sin or diversion from a life lived in accordance with God's will. Islam calls us to constantly remember (dhakara) God, His commandments, and His mercies, and reminds us through the duty of daily Prayer, pp. 825-31. Christian scriptures warn us that the Lord comes "like a thief in the night" and encourage constant wakefulness through such passages as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens. At the conclusion we give several passages describing how a moment of weakness, of "looking back," can potentially ruin a lifetime of spiritual progress.

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Judaism and Christianity. Proverbs 4.23

Proverbs 4.23: Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5.17, p. 828.

We verily have displayed Our warnings in this Qur'an that they may take heed.

Islam. Qur'an 17.41

Men of understanding [are] such as remember God, standing, sitting, and reclining.

Islam. Qur'an 3.190-91

One who walks, stands, sits, sleeps, eats, and speaks with vigilance, no sin accrues.

Jainism. Dashavaikalika Sutra 4.8

The firm control of the senses is what is called yoga. One must then be vigilant; for yoga can be both beneficial and injurious.

Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 2.3.11

Heedfulness is the path to the deathless; heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful do not die; the heedless are like unto the dead.

Distinctly understanding this difference, the wise, intent on heedfulness, rejoice in heedfulness, delighting in the realm of the noble ones.

The constantly meditative, the ever steadfast ones, realize the bond-free, supreme Nibbana.

The glory of him who is energetic, mindful, pure in deed, considerate, self-controlled, right-living, and heedful steadily increases....

The ignorant, foolish folk indulge in heedlessness; the wise man guards earnestness as the greatest treasure.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 21-26

I [Mahavira] say, "What is the conduct that distinguishes a monk from a secular man? A monk is he whose conduct is ingenuous, who has devoted himself to the path of achieving salvation, and who never indulges in hypocrisy. One should preserve, without the slightest diminution, the faith which one had at the time of renunciation. One should not be swept away by the eddies of a mercurial mind."

Jainism. Acarangasutra 1.35-37

Qur'an 17.41: Cf. Qur'an 33.45-46, p. 633; Hadith of Darimi, p. 791. Qur'an 3.190-91: Cf. Qur'an 11.114, p. 827; 18.23-24, p. 913; 29.45, p. 826; Hadith of Darimi, p. 828. Dashavaikalika Sutra 4.8: Cf. the example of Mahavira in Acarangasutra 9, pp. 657f. Katha Upanishad 2.3.11: Yoga becomes injurious when its powers disorient and overwhelm the young aspirant who lacks sufficient control, or when it is used for personal gain. Acarangasutra 1.35-37: The same principles apply to householders; see Tattvarthasutra 6.18-24, p. 242.

If while going, standing, sitting or reclining when awake, a thought of sensuality, hatred or aggressiveness arises in a monk, and he tolerates it, does not reject, discard, and eliminate it, does not bring it to an end, that monk, who in such a manner is ever and again lacking in earnest endeavor and moral shame, is called indolent and void of energy.

If while going, standing, sitting, or reclining when awake, a thought of sensuality, hatred, or aggressiveness arises in a monk, and he does not tolerate it, but rejects, discards, and eliminates it, brings it to an end, that monk, who in such a manner ever and again shows earnest endeavor and moral shame, is called energetic and resolute.

Buddhism. Itivuttaka 110

Kung-sun Ch'ou asked Mencius, "May I ask what your strong points are?"

"I have an insight into words. I am good at cultivating my 'flood-like ch'i.'"

"May I ask what this 'flood-like ch'i' is?"

"It is difficult to explain. This is a ch'i (breath) which is, in the highest degree, vast and unyielding. Nourish it with integrity and place no obstacle in its path and it will fill the space between heaven and earth. It is a ch'i which unites righteousness and the Way. Deprive it of these and it will collapse. It is born of accumulated rightness and cannot be appropriated by anyone through a sporadic show of rightness. Whenever one acts in a way that falls below the standard set in one's heart, it will collapse.... You must work at it and never let it out of your mind. At the same time, while you must never let it out of your mind, you must not forcibly help it grow either."

Confucianism. Mencius II.A.2

And watch! Lo! I am a watcher with you.

Islam. Qur'an 11.93

I slept, but my heart was awake. Hark! my Beloved is knocking.

Judaism and Christianity. Song of Solomon 5.2

Be mindful when you are alone, in the shadow of your coverlet.

Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way

Itivuttaka 110: Cf. Anguttara Nikaya v.66, pp. 724f; Digha Nikaya ii.99-100, p. 679. Mencius II.A.2: In Chinese thought, Ch'i (qi) is life energy. It is essential to health and can be focused and enhanced by disciplines such as T'ai-chi, Chi Gong and Kung Fu. Ch'i has a mental and spiritual aspect, uniting mind and body. For Mencius, the power of ch'i is founded on truth and righteousness. See Chuang Tzu 15, p. 841n.; cf. Great Learning 6.1-4, p. 724; Analects 6.5, p. 839. Qur'an 11.93: Muhammad often kept prayer vigils into the early morning hours, Qur'an 73.1-8, p. 828. Cf. Hadith, p. 762. Song of Solomon 5.2: Cf. Revelation 3.20, p. 686, Psalm 42.1-3, p. 762. Tract of the Quiet Way: Cf. Great Learning 6.1-4, p. 724; Doctrine of the Mean 33, p. 110.

If one holds oneself dear, one should protect oneself well. During every one of the three watches the wise man should keep vigil.

Buddhism. Dhammapada 157

Though others sleep, be thou awake! Like a wise man, trust nobody, but be always on the alert; for dangerous is the time and weak the body. Be as watchful as the two-headed Bharunda bird!

A monk should step carefully in his walk, supposing everything to be a snare for him. First, he must bestow care on his life till he wins the Stake and afterwards he should despise it, annihilating its sins.

Jainism. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 4.6-7

You yourself know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

Christianity. 1 Thessalonians 5.2-6

The kingdom of Heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him." Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise replied, "Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves." And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, "Lord, lord, open to us." But he replied, "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you." Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Christianity. Matthew 25.1-13

Dhammapada 157: The 'three watches' may be interpreted as the three periods in a person's life. Uttaradhyayana Sutra 4.6-7: The first verse calls for vigilance against temptations of the world. The second verse describes care for the body: one should guard one's life well until one wins Enlightenment, 'the Stake.' Then one despises the body to the point of the Holy Death (sallekhana)--cf. Acarangasutra 1.7.6, p. 344. 1 Thessalonians 5.2-6: This is often taken to refer to the wait for the Second Advent of Christ; see 2 Peter 3.3-10, p. 1099; also Luke 21.34-36.

No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Christianity. Luke 9.62

Those journeying to heaven do not look back; they ascend the heaven, the two worlds.

Hinduism. Satapatha Brahmana

But Lot's wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Judaism and Christianity. Genesis 19.26

Even those who have much learning, Faith, and willing perseverance Will become defiled by a [moral] fall Due to the mistake of lacking alertness.

The thieves of unalertness, In following upon the decline of mindfulness, Will steal even the merits I have firmly gathered. I shall then descend to the lower realms.

Buddhism. Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life 5.26-27

The Master said, "Danger arises when a man feels secure in his position. Destruction threatens when a man seeks to preserve his worldly estate. Confusion develops when a man has put everything in order. Therefore the superior man does not forget danger in his security, nor ruin when he is well established, nor confusion when his affairs are in order. In this way he gains personal safety and is able to protect the empire. In the I Ching it is said: 'What if it should fail? What if it should fail?' In this way he ties it to a cluster of mulberry shoots [makes success certain]."

Confucianism. I Ching, Great Commentary 2.5.9

Luke 9.62: Cf. Luke 9.60, p. 583; 14.16-24, p. 674. Genesis 19.26: When Lot and his family were fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah, they were instructed not to look back at the destruction which was consuming the cities. I Ching, Great Commentary 2.5.9: Cf. I Ching, Great Commentary 1.8.7, pp. 920f; cf. Micah 7.5-7, p. 953.


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