Conviction (śraddhā) is the seed,
Austerity (tapas) the rain,
Wisdom (prajñā) my yoke and plow,
Conscience (hrī) the pole, mind (manas) the strap,
Mindfulness (smrti) my plowshare and goad.
Guarding the body, guarding the speech,
Restrained in food and belly,
Truthfully (satyam) I dig out weeds,
And gently I cast them away.
Heroic effort (vīrya) is the ox carrying the yoke,
Pulling me to ultimate safety (yogakṣemam),
It goes without turning back.
Having gone, there is no grief.
This is how I plough, and
The fruit that it yields is deathlessness.
Having ploughed in this way,
There is release from all suffering .
– the Buddha in Kasībhāradvāja-sutta (The sutra instructing the farmer Bharadvaja)
The Buddha taught in this way to the farmer Bharadvaja who was already a contemplative (meditator). Though Bharadvaja was a contemplative, he did not know what mental cultivation really meant.
For Bharadvaja, meditation turned out to be just a way of relaxing at the end of a day’s hard effort. It was very much like how most people now-a-days approach meditation. They hear that there is something wonderful called meditation. They think that they too should meditate because it is so much hyped up and life is supposedly incomplete without it. So, after a day’s productive work they just sit idle, blissed-out and withdrawn for a while and think that it is meditation.
One day, the Buddha saw in his insight that Bharadvaja would be a good receptacle for the teaching and that his mind was ripe to understand the true meaning of contemplation. During his alms round, the Buddha went to the field of the farmer Bharadvaja.
When the Buddha approached him for alms, Bharadvaja told, “I too am a contemplative, but I also plough, sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat. You should also plough and sow your own food”.
The Buddha, without being shaken, and with his smile imbued with loving kindness answered, “I too, O contemplative, plough and sow. Having ploughed and sown, I eat.”
Bharadvaja was perplexed to hear that. He exclaimed that he didn’t see or hear about any produce that the Buddha cultivated by ploughing. Where is his farm! Then, the Buddha explained with the above quoted words.
With these words, the Buddha taught that mental cultivation is also like how we cultivate food. It is not about sitting idle and blissed out. One observes whatever arises in the mind, with right effort, right wisdom and right discipline. Then, carefully and gently one weeds out the unwholesome habits, and nourishes the wholesome.
Conviction coming from having analysed the teaching and developed certainty on the way is the seed. The readiness to strive and take on difficulties on the way is the bountiful rain. The wisdom is the yoke and plow, that balances and churn the soil of mind. With conscience, vigilance and mindfulness one performs a fine job of ploughing. With restraints on body, speech and food, one truthfully discerns what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Then, the weeds of unwholesome habits are dug out.One’s own heroic and joyous perseverance on the path is the sturdy ox that carries one forward to welfare without ever turning back.
Thus, having ploughed the realm of mind, having sowed the seeds of the way, having put the right effort on nurturing the crops, one reaches deathlessness. That is the release from all kinds of suffering, the state of boundless joy and peace.
Having heard the words from the Buddha, the farmer Bharadvaja realised the right meaning of contemplation. He took refuge on the Buddha and became a lay disciple. Then, he cultivated not only his food, but also his mind – correctly, carefully and ardently. Before long, he reaped the fruit and became an Arhat.
In fact, a contemplative who cultivates his or her own mind in this prudent way, also contributes greatly to the welfare of the society at large. What do the contemplatives give to the world? They radiate peace, they lead others to peace, they inspire virtue and harmony, and they lay the foundations of a welfare society with loving kindness and compassion. The great emperors of the past, such as Emperor Ashoka, built their welfare state on such foundations.