Bodhisattvacaryavatara

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Shantideva, the author of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara.

Bodhisattvacharyavatara (Skt. Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra; Tib. བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའི་སྤྱོད་པ་ལ་འཇུག་པ་, changchub sempé chöpa la jukpa, སྤྱོད་འཇུག་, chönjuk, Wyl. byang chub sems dpa'i spyod pa la 'jug pa) or Bodhicharyavatara (Skt. Bodhicaryāvatāra) or Introduction to the Bodhisattva's Way of LifeShantideva's classic guide to the Mahayana path. This text presents a progressive path to the development of bodhicitta, by focusing on the six paramitas.

This text is highly esteemed in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is included among core curriculum in most Tibetan Buddhist study colleges.

Praise for this text

The 14th Dalai Lama has taught Bodhicharyavatara many times and often stresses its importance

This text is highly esteemed in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The 14th Dalai Lama states:

If I have any understanding of compassion and the bodhisattva path, it all comes from studying this text.

Ringu Tulku states:

There are many different teachings on the Mahayana or bodhisattva path. What’s a bodhisattva? How to be a bodhisattva? All these different practices, meditations, and philosophies. But in essence, what is this path and how does one practice it? In the Bodhicharyavatara, Shantideva gives the essential path of the bodhisattva. He does not comment in detail on one particular sutra or topic, but he essentializes the whole spectrum of the Mahayana teachings, and puts them into a nutshell--so that we can see what it really means, in essence.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche states:

The Bodhicharyavatara teaches the complete Mahayana path to enlightenment, including all necessary preliminary, main, and concluding practices. A perfect path in itself, it is also at the same time a perfect support for all practitioners of the Vajrayana teachings in general. Practitioners learn how to develop the motivation of bodhichitta, as well as how to carry out the application of the six paramitas or transcendental perfections. They learn how to fuse their practice of bodhichitta and the five first perfections with the sixth perfection, wisdom.[1]

As a guide to practice

Within the Tibetan tradition, the Bodhisattvacaryavatara is considered to be a guide or manual for the practice of bodhicitta.

The 14th Dalai Lama stated:

Shantideva composed his text in the form of an inner dialog. He turned his own weapons upon himself, doing battle with his negative emotions. Therefore, when we teach or listen to this text, it is important that we do so in order to progress spiritually, rather than making it simply a subject of academic study.[2]

Tibetan teacher Khenpo Appey (1927-2010) said:

The Bodhicharyavatara is the most practice-oriented of all the Indian Buddhist treatises and texts. It contains all the necessary key points a practitioner needs to know and is relatively easy to study and understand. The Bodhicharyavatara is a text to be practiced and not simply studied. Genuine understanding comes about only through practicing the teachings. As Atisha said, “Intense study brings only some understanding. Practice, however, brings great understanding.”
The Bodhicharyavatara can be practiced according to the ‘sequence of meditation’ as taught in the manuals written by Rongtönpa (The Garland of Jewel Ornaments) and Patrul Rinpoche (The Brightly Shining Sun). Following these manuals, the Bodhicharyavatara is practiced in a particular order and is used as a text for ‘mind-training’.
From the viewpoint of a beginner the best way to access the Bodhicharyavatara is as follows: Choose one stanza of the text and make the commitment to practice it.[3] At first think about the meaning of this particular teaching and then try to apply it in your daily activities. At the very moment when afflictions such as ignorance, anger, desire, jealousy or miserliness arise, apply the stanza you are practicing to the situation. By gradually incorporating more stanzas into your daily practice, you will eventually know the entire text by heart and will be able to apply each respective stanza to the appropriate situation. That is the benefit that accrues from memorizing the text.
Merely recalling the appropriate stanza in situations when your mind is ablaze with afflictions will allow the power of the words of the Bodhicharyavatara to pacify the situation. Understanding the text’s meaning increases its capacity to tame afflictions. The full power of each stanza does not manifest through simply remembering it one time in a difficult situation. These teachings must be practiced again and again, and constantly applied to one’s daily life. This approach to taming the mind is called ‘mind-training’.
The only way to truly overcome all afflictions is through practicing the view of emptiness. Practicing the skillful means of compassion, patience and so forth overcomes afflictions to some extent, but not completely. Practitioners should undertake mind-training embraced with the view of emptiness as taught in the traditions of Madhyamaka, Mahamudra or Mahasandhi. Practice the view of emptiness according to the oral instructions of your root guru and let your bodhichitta motivation and bodhisattva conduct be guided by the Bodhicharyavatara. According to Mipham Rinpoche, the view of Prasangika Madhyamaka as taught in the ninth chapter of the Bodhicharyavatara and the view of the Great Perfection are identical. Another crucial text for any practitioner who wants to develop certainty in the view is Madhyamakavatara. For the best results, practitioners should combine the study and practice of these texts with the direct instructions of their masters.[4]

Dilgo Khyentse said:

Immerse yourself in the meaning of the teachings, day after day, month after month, and the spiritual qualities of a bodhisattva will develop without difficulty, like honey collecting in the hive as the bees go from flower to flower, gathering nectar.[5]

Outline

By chapter

The text of the Bodhicharyavatara has ten chapters. In the Tibetan tradition, the text is typically studied with the aid of a commentary, and most commentaries also include an introduction that establishes the context and background for the text.

Thus, the chapters (based on the commentaries) are:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Excellence of Bodhichitta
  • Chapter 2: Confession
  • Chapter 3: Taking Hold of Bodhichitta
  • Chapter 4: Carefulness
  • Chapter 5: Vigilance
  • Chapter 6: Patience
  • Chapter 7: Diligence
  • Chapter 8: Meditation
  • Chapter 9: Wisdom
  • Chapter 10: Dedication

By paramitas

This text presents a progressive path through the development of the six paramitas. In this context, the paramitas are explained in the following chapters:

  1. Dāna pāramitā (paramita of generosity): Chapters 1-3
  2. Śīla pāramitā (paramita of discipline): Chapters 4-5
  3. Kshanti pāramitā (paramita of patience): Chapter 6
  4. Vīrya pāramitā (paramita of diligence) Chapter 7
  5. Dhyāna pāramitā (paramita of meditation): Chapter 8
  6. Prajñā pāramitā (paramita of wisdom): Chapter 9

By bodhicitta prayer

The Tibetan teacher Patrul Rinpoche said that this text can be explained according to the following prayer in praise of bodhicitta:

O precious, sublime bodhichitta:
May it arise in those in whom it has not arisen;
May it never decline where it has arisen;
May it go on increasing, further and further!

According to this view, the whole text of this book can be divided into four sections, as expressed in this prayer.

  • The first three chapters (1, 2 and 3) explain how to generate bodhicitta, how to make it arise.
  • The next three chapters (4, 5 and 6) explain how to prevent bodhichitta from decreasing or being dissipated.
  • The next three chapters (7, 8 and 9) explain how to make the bodhichitta increase further and further.
  • The 10th chapter is a concluding prayer of dedication.

Indian Commentaries

The Tibetan Tengyur includes ten translations of Sanskrit-language Indian commentaries. The most important of these commentaries was written by Prajñakaramati; this is the only commentary on the Bodhicharyavatara that still exists in Sanskrit. The name of this commentary is:

  • Bodhicharyavatara commentary (Wyl. byang chub kyi spyod pa la 'jug pa'i bka' 'grel, Skt. Bodhicaryāvatāra-pañjikā) written in Sanskrit by the Indian scholar Prajñakaramati, translated by Marpa and Darma Drakpa, revised by Yönten Gyamtso.

Tibetan Commentaries

Many Tibetan teachers wrote commentaries on the Bodhicharyavatara, and many of these commentaries were and still are used in monastic universities in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Ladakh.

Some of the best-known commentaries were written by the following authors:

Ocean of Good Explanation
Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (related work)
The Ketaka Gem (commentary on Chapter 9)
An Annotated Commentary on the 'Bodhicharyavatara'
The Excellent Vase that Grants the Qualities of the Bodhisattvas (commentary on Chapters 1-8)
The Brilliant Torch (commentary on Chapter 9)
Drops of Nectar

Translations in European Languages

English

  • Śāntideva, The Bodhicaryāvatāra, translated by Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton, Oxford University Press, 1995
  • The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the Bodhicharyavatara, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications, 2003, ISBN 1590300572
  • A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, translated by Vesna and Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications, 1997, ISBN 1559390611
  • A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, translated by Stephen Batchelor, LTWA, ISBN 8185102597

French

  • Bodhicaryâvatâra, La Marche vers l’Éveil, nouvelle traduction, Padmakara's new translation based on Khenpo Kunzang Palden's commentary, Padmakara, 2007.
  • La Marche vers l’Éveil, translated by the Padmakara translation group using L. Finot's translation as a basis, Éditions Padmakara, 1992. ISBN 2-906949-03-5
  • Vivre en héros pour l'Éveil ; Bodhisattvacharyavatara, translated by G. Driessens, Édition Le Seuil—Points Sagesses 1993. ISBN 2020196638
  • La Marche à la Lumière. Poème sanscrit de Cantideva, translated by L. Finot, Ed. Brossard, 1920, re-edited by Les Deux Océans, 1987
  • Bodhicaryavatara : Introduction à la pratique des futurs Buddhas, translated by L. de La Vallée Poussin, Louvain, 1907

German

  • Shantideva, Anleitungen auf dem Weg zur Glückseligkeit / Bodhicaryavatara, O.W. Barth Verlag 2005.
  • Shantideva, Die Lebensführung im Geiste der Erleuchtung / Das Bodhicaryavatara, Theseus 2004.
  • Ernst Steinkellner: Eintritt in das Leben zur Erleuchtung, München: Eugen Diederichs Verlag 1981

Commentaries in English

English Translations of Tibetan Commentaries

  • Bodhisattvacharyavatara: Engaging in the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas Vol. 1 and 2 by Shantideva, with commentary by Sazang Mati Panchen, trans. by Lama Kalsang Gyaltsen and Ani Kunga Chodron, Tsechen Kunchab Ling, 2006, ISBN 978-0976801313
  • Drops of Nectar: Khenpo Kunpal’s Commentary on Shantideva’s Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, translated by Andreas Kretschmar, http://www.kunpal.com/ (chapters 1-5 only)
  • The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva, by Kunzang Pelden, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications, November 2007
  • Wisdom: Two Buddhist Commentaries, Khenchen Kunzang Palden and Minyak Kunzang Sönam, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, 1993, 2nd edition 1999
  • The Center of the Sunlit Sky by Karl Brunnhölzl. Includes a translation of Pawo Tsuglak Trengwa’s Commentary on the Ninth Chapter, Wisdom, of the Bodhicaryavatara. Published by Snow Lion. ISBN 1-55939-218-5
  • Bodhicaryavatara With Commentary by Sonam Tsemo, translated by Adrian O'Sullivan, published by BookBaby June 2019, ISBN 978-1733556002

Contemporary Commentaries

  • The Dalai Lama, A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shambhala, 1994, ISBN 0877739714
  • The Dalai Lama, Healing Anger, The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective, Snow Lion, 1997 (A commentary on chapter 6)
  • The Dalai Lama, Practicing Wisdom, Wisdom, 2004 (A commentary on chapter 9)
  • HH the Dalai Lama, Transcendent Wisdom a Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Snow Lion Publications, 1988; revised edition 2009)
  • Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche, Uncommon Happiness, The Path of the Compassionate Warrior (Boudhanath, Hong Kong & Esby: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2009)
  • Geshe Yeshe Tobden, The Way of Awakening, Wisdom, 2005
  • Pema Chödrön, No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala, 2005 (Does not include chapter 9)
  • Robert Thurman, Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins, Oxford University Press, 2006 (A commentary on chapter 6)

Video commentaries

Textual history

Sam van Schaik identifies two different versions of the text that were translated into Tibetan:[6]

  • an early little-known version found in the Dunhuang manuscripts containing 700 verses
  • a later version that became the established version in Tibet, containing 1000 verses.

Van Schaik (citing the work of Akira Saito) states:

Saito’s close study of the differences in the wisdom chapter lead him to conclude that the familiar longer version of the Bodhicaryāvatāra is “an enlarged version” of the Dunhuang manuscript version, with many verses added on criticism of other systems of thought, including that of a supreme deity (Īśvara) and the metaphysics of the Sāṃkhya. On the other hand, some of the verses on non-self have been cut from the older version.[6]

Further Reading

  • Brouwer, Leonard. The Bodhicaryāvatāra-Ṭippaṇī, A Study and Edition of a Commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra (Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Rangjung Yeshe Institute, 2011)
  • Gómez, Luis O. 'The Way of the Translators: Three Recent Translations of Sântideva's Bodhicaryâvatâra'. Buddhist Literature I (1999) pp. 262-354.

Notes

  1. Drops of Nectar, Khenpo Kunpal's commentary on Shantideva's Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, Volume 1, page 83, translated by Andreas Kretschmar.
  2. A Flash of Lightening in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, by the Dalai Lama, page 1.
  3. Note that Khenpo Appey is referring to beginning students who are already Buddhists and who have a clear understanding of basic concepts such as karma and interdependence. Some dharma teachers in the West have expressed the concern that if Western students begin studying the root text without the proper understanding of basic Buddhist concepts, this can lead to confusion.
  4. Drops of Nectar, Khenpo Kunpal's commentary on Shantideva's Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, Volume 1, page 115, translated by Andreas Kretschmar.
  5. The Excellent Path to Enlightenment, by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Snow Lion Publications, page 10.
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Original Bodhicaryāvatāra (van Schaik)
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