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Thread: Has anyone read "The Way of the Bodhisattva" by Shantideva?

  1. #1
    Member Hoseki's Avatar
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    Has anyone read "The Way of the Bodhisattva" by Shantideva?

    Hi folks,

    I was wondering if anyone has read The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva? I'm reading The Circle of the Way by Barbara O'Brien and it was mentioned. Has anyone read it? If so, what did you think and do you have a translation that you would recommend?

    Thanks,

    Gassho
    Hoseki
    Sattoday

  2. #2
    Hi Hoseki

    This is a pretty important text in Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the Geluk/Gelug school and I have studied it a bit as part of that. I have read three translations I think and my preference is for the Alan Wallace one, but most seem fine and capture the essentials of the text. I also read HH Dalai Lama's commentary on the text A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night.

    There is are translations of the first three chapters available from Lotsawa House: https://www.lotsawahouse.org/topics/bodhicharyavatara/

    And a full PDF of Stephen Batchelor's translation: https://www.tibethouse.jp/about/budd...ay_English.pdf

    The author of the Bodhicaryāvatāra was an Indian monk called Śāntideva (Shantideva) who lived from 685-763 CE. He was a scholar of Nagarjuna's philosophy and parts of the text are clearly based on that, especially chapter nine the wisdom chapter which is a pretty clear exposition of Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy.

    There are some beautiful parts of the text on reasons to generate bodhicitta (the mind set on awakening) and on being of service to all beings, and much is based on inspiring monks and other would-be bodhisattvas to do that. It follows a quite Tibetan model of practice in terms of taking refuge, confessing, making offerings etc.

    One part is preserved as a Tibetan Buddhist prayer:

    May I become at all times, both now and forever
    A protector of those without protection
    A guide for those who have lost their way
    A ship for those with oceans to cross
    A bridge for those with rivers to cross
    A sanctuary for those in danger
    A lamp for those without light
    A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
    And a servant to all in need
    For as long as space endures,
    And for as long as living beings remain,
    Until then may I, too, abide
    To dispel the misery of the world.


    In other places, the text reads quite conservative, especially to Zen eyes and, to me, not unlike some Biblical verses, in their exhortation to practice and trying to create fear such as these verses from the second chapter:

    While I am lying in bed ,
    Although surrounded by my friends and relatives,
    The feeling of life being severed
    Will not experienced by me alone.

    When seized by the messengers of death,
    What benefit will friends and relatives afford?
    My merit alone shall protect me then,
    But upon that I have never relied.

    0 Protectors! I, so unconcerned,
    Unaware of such terror as this,
    Accumulated a great deal of evil
    For the sake of this transient life.

    Petrified is the person
    Today being led to a torture chamber.
    With dry mouth and dreadful sunken eyes.
    His entire appearance is transfigured.

    In other places there is much beseeching and torment, and reference to the hell realms! This may just be how it is translated but it seems pretty consistent across most translations so seems to be the style it was written in.

    Many of the chapters deal with some of the six perfections of a bodhisattva, namely patience (chap 6), enthusiasm (chap 7), meditation (chap 8) and wisdom (chap 9). There are some wise words in there and interesting verses such as this which takes a pretty Zen view on holiness:

    Should others talk badly of or even destroy
    Holy images, reliquaries and the sacred Dharma.
    It is improper for me to resent it
    For the Buddhas can never be injured.


    The legend behind the composition of the Bodhicaryāvatāra is that in his own monastery, Śāntideva was only ever seen to sleep, eat and go to the bathroom. For this reason, his fellow monks sarcastically named him 'The three realisations'.

    One day he was asked to give a lecture in the dharma hall and he asked if it should be an existing text or something original. Thinking it would be humiliating for him to compose something, the monks asked for something original.

    So, when the moment came, he gave his lecture and began reciting the Bodhicaryāvatāra and when he got to the ninth (wisdom) chapter, his body rose up from the dais and he disappeared into the sky.


    In summary, I think this is an interesting text to read in terms of the history of the development of Mahayana Buddhism, but not really essential to Zen practice or in a style that fits our way. Tibetan Buddhism comes far more directly from texts such as that and the lojong (mind training) teachings of Atisha whereas Zen seems to come more out of the Lankavatara Sutra and Yogacara teachings initially and then the Prajnaparamita literature.

    Anyway, it is not a long read so worth having a peek and you may be more enamoured with it than I am. For all of its plaudits it was never a favourite of mine.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    Last edited by Kokuu; 02-26-2020 at 04:24 PM.
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  3. #3
    Member Hoseki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Location
    St. John's Newfoundland, Canada.
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post
    Hi Hoseki

    This is a pretty important text in Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the Geluk/Gelug school and I have studied it a bit as part of that. I have read three translations I think and my preference is for the Alan Wallace one, but most seem fine and capture the essentials of the text. I also read HH Dalai Lama's commentary on the text A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night.

    There is are translations of the first three chapters available from Lotsawa House: https://www.lotsawahouse.org/topics/bodhicharyavatara/

    And a full PDF of Stephen Batchelor's translation: https://www.tibethouse.jp/about/budd...ay_English.pdf

    The author of the Bodhicaryāvatāra was an Indian monk called Śāntideva (Shantideva) who lived from 685-763 CE. He was a scholar of Nagarjuna's philosophy and parts of the text are clearly based on that, especially chapter nine the wisdom chapter which is a pretty clear exposition of Nagarjuna's Madhyamaka philosophy.

    There are some beautiful parts of the text on reasons to generate bodhicitta (the mind set on awakening) and on being of service to all beings, and much is based on inspiring monks and other would-be bodhisattvas to do that. It follows a quite Tibetan model of practice in terms of taking refuge, confessing, making offerings etc.

    One part is preserved as a Tibetan Buddhist prayer:

    May I become at all times, both now and forever
    A protector of those without protection
    A guide for those who have lost their way
    A ship for those with oceans to cross
    A bridge for those with rivers to cross
    A sanctuary for those in danger
    A lamp for those without light
    A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
    And a servant to all in need
    For as long as space endures,
    And for as long as living beings remain,
    Until then may I, too, abide
    To dispel the misery of the world.


    In other places, the text reads quite conservative, especially to Zen eyes and, to me, not unlike some Biblical verses, in their exhortation to practice and trying to create fear such as these verses from the second chapter:

    While I am lying in bed ,
    Although surrounded by my friends and relatives,
    The feeling of life being severed
    Will not experienced by me alone.

    When seized by the messengers of death,
    What benefit will friends and relatives afford?
    My merit alone shall protect me then,
    But upon that I have never relied.

    0 Protectors! I, so unconcerned,
    Unaware of such terror as this,
    Accumulated a great deal of evil
    For the sake of this transient life.

    Petrified is the person
    Today being led to a torture chamber.
    With dry mouth and dreadful sunken eyes.
    His entire appearance is transfigured.

    In other places there is much beseeching and torment, and reference to the hell realms! This may just be how it is translated but it seems pretty consistent across most translations so seems to be the style it was written in.

    Many of the chapters deal with some of the six perfections of a bodhisattva, namely patience (chap 6), enthusiasm (chap 7), meditation (chap 8) and wisdom (chap 9). There are some wise words in there and interesting verses such as this which takes a pretty Zen view on holiness:

    Should others talk badly of or even destroy
    Holy images, reliquaries and the sacred Dharma.
    It is improper for me to resent it
    For the Buddhas can never be injured.


    The legend behind the composition of the Bodhicaryāvatāra is that in his own monastery, Śāntideva was only ever seen to sleep, eat and go to the bathroom. For this reason, his fellow monks sarcastically named him 'The three realisations'.

    One day he was asked to give a lecture in the dharma hall and he asked if it should be an existing text or something original. Thinking it would be humiliating for him to compose something, the monks asked for something original.

    So, when the moment came, he gave his lecture and began reciting the Bodhicaryāvatāra and when he got to the ninth (wisdom) chapter, his body rose up from the dais and he disappeared into the sky.


    In summary, I think this is an interesting text to read in terms of the history of the development of Mahayana Buddhism, but not really essential to Zen practice or in a style that fits our way. Tibetan Buddhism comes far more directly from texts such as that and the lojong (mind training) teachings of Atisha whereas Zen seems to come more out of the Lankavatara Sutra and Yogacara teachings initially and then the Prajnaparamita literature.

    Anyway, it is not a long read so worth having a peek and you may be more enamoured with it than I am. For all of its plaudits it was never a favourite of mine.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    -sattoday/lah-
    Hey Kokuu,

    That was a great post! Lots of neat information. I found that Tibetan Buddhist prayer you included to be very moving so I will probably pick up a copy just to give it a read.

    Thanks!

    Gassho
    Hoseki
    Sattoday

  4. #4
    I have "The Way" and I have read sections of it, since I spent a little time learning from and meditating with a Lama within the past few years. I have not read it "cover to cover" but then I was working with a few Tibetan texts, not just The Way.

    Kokuu covered it quite nicely. Another important "saint" and figure in Tibetan Buddhism you might consider researching is Milarepa -- very colorful history

    For some reason, I have not had extensive interests in all areas of Buddhism ..... my interests have been limited to Zen, Shinto, and Tibetan (more specifically Vajrayana). I know the theories behind Theravada but it just never sparked my interests (just left me dry). Wasn't for a lack of teachers, it just never clicked with me.

    Other than my regular Zen practice, I do still appreciate and hold a special fondness for Tibetan Buddhism -- just not a regular practice of it.

    gassho, meian
    st
    Not all who wander are lost. (Tolkien)
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  5. #5
    Member Hoseki's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
    Location
    St. John's Newfoundland, Canada.
    Quote Originally Posted by Meian View Post
    I have "The Way" and I have read sections of it, since I spent a little time learning from and meditating with a Lama within the past few years. I have not read it "cover to cover" but then I was working with a few Tibetan texts, not just The Way.

    Kokuu covered it quite nicely. Another important "saint" and figure in Tibetan Buddhism you might consider researching is Milarepa -- very colorful history

    For some reason, I have not had extensive interests in all areas of Buddhism ..... my interests have been limited to Zen, Shinto, and Tibetan (more specifically Vajrayana). I know the theories behind Theravada but it just never sparked my interests (just left me dry). Wasn't for a lack of teachers, it just never clicked with me.

    Other than my regular Zen practice, I do still appreciate and hold a special fondness for Tibetan Buddhism -- just not a regular practice of it.

    gassho, meian
    st
    Hi Meian,

    Zen (as its practised here) definitely jives with me better than some of the other traditions I've encountered. That said, I am interested in some of the precursers to Zen. Last year I read Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra by Francis Cook and I really liked it (the parts I understood anyway ) I've also tried to read some of the Sutras and I found them to be a bit of a slog. But I will try again sometimes things like that take a few tries to get into. Sort of like a acquired taste (at least I hope.)

    Gassho
    Hoseki
    Sattoday

  6. #6
    Hi Hoseki,

    If it doesn't strike your fancy, no worries. Kokuu gave a great overview of Shantideva. Milarepa can be tough to delve into unless one is really interested in studying Tibetan history and mythology. (My opinion)

    Your post reminded me of the Net of Indra which I keep wanting to look up and I will some day (when more time available). So hopefully I'll remember that reference. It fascinated me for some reason.
    Thanks for mentioning it.

    Gassho, meian
    St

    Sent from my SM-G930U using Tapatalk
    Not all who wander are lost. (Tolkien)
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  7. #7
    hi Hoseki,

    I have read it in a Dutch translation. For me the link to Tibetan Buddhism was not there, i saw it as an interpretation of Nagarjuna's philosophy.



    aprapti

    std

    Let silence take you to the core of life

  8. #8
    I've read it and I really love it. It's so beautiful and sincere, not to mention very encouraging! It's a book I always take with me if I'm going to be away from home for any serious length of time.

    Gassho
    Kyōsen
    Sat|LAH
    橋川
    kyō (bridge) | sen (river)

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