Chapter five, “The Guarding of Awareness,” begins with a reflection on the importance of guarding the mind (V.1-8), because all suffering arises from the mind. Without guarding the mind, there can be no practice of Buddhism. By guarding the mind that is prone to wander, one guards not just one’s own life but all other beings as well.

Śāntideva wonders, “If the perfection of generosity consists in making the universe free from poverty, how can the previous Protectors have acquired it, when the world is still poor, even today?” (V.9) In other words, if the buddhas perfected generosity while they were accumulating merit over the course of their innumerable lifetimes cultivating the six perfections as bodhisattvas, then why haven’t their efforts eliminated poverty? The response in verse V.10 is that, “The perfection of generosity is said to result from the mental attitude of reqlinquishing all that one has to all people, together with the fruit of that act. Therefore the perfection is the mental attitude itself.” From this, it would seem that it is the thought that counts far more than any practical effects in the real world. We have already seen that the offerings made in II.1-25 and in III.6-21 were for the most part imaginary. It must be remembered, however, that Śāntideva is a monk with no personal wealth, so he has no material goods to present. What he can do is cultivate generosity as a spontaneous and genuine willingness to relinquish all that he has and all that he is to the buddhas and the liberation of all sentient beings. What is being cultivated is not just formal acts of charity but the underlying attitude. A bodhisattva who is generous and able to relinquish all things who also has the means to help those in need will certainly utilize those means without holding back.

The question, however, still stands as to why the innumerable lifetimes of efforts of buddhas and bodhisattvas to practice generosity has not had an appreciable effect on alleviating the poverty of sentient beings. Śāntideva does not attempt to answer that. His concern is with underscoring the importance of the practitioner cultivating his or her own views and motivation. A possible response, however, might be that despite the efforts of countless buddhas and bodhisattvas over countless lifetimes, sentient beings are infinite in number and for as many who are able to encounter and receive the generosity and assistance of buddhas and bodhisattvas there are many others whose karmic affinities do not allow them to come into contact with such beneficial influences. For as many stars as there are in the sky, there are still great spans of darkness. Previously in verse IV.13, Śāntideva admitted that through his own fault he had put himself beyond the healing care of the buddhas. In addition, the buddhas and bodhisattva do not and cannot override the free will of other sentient beings, who must each live with the consequences of their own actions. The buddhas and bodhisattvas will not force their help on those who do not want it. This is not to say that poverty should be blamed on karma or that those in need of help should be turned away because they presumably caused their own suffering. What it means is that there are helpers in the world, but they cannot magically fix other people’s lives. Also, the best assistance is not a sentimenal or condescending pity from a being who sees themselves as superior to a perceived lesser, but the help freely given as to a brother or sister and freely accepted, and not the kind of help that offends dignity or causes dependence but that empowers those who receive it to help themselves and go on to help others.