The Bhodhisattva’s way of life is one of the most dearly beloved Buddhist texts which has been taught and often quoted by the Dalai Lama as well as many other great Tibetan masters. Because of its relevance to modern times, his text has been translated into a dozen languages. The Boddhisattva’s Way of life was written by the eighth century Indian Bodhisttva, Shantideva, and is a comprehensive outline of everything one needs to know to be a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is someone who decides to work towards achieving enlightenment and to not give up this task until all other sentient beings are liberated. The Bodhisattva’s Way of life begins by explaining how and why to make offerings to the Three Jewels and how take the bodhisattva vow (which is still being done this way 1,400 years later), The book also covers how to develop compassion toward those we like and also those who want to harm us. It explains the need to develop selflessness and how to actually do this, as well as how to develop patience with those people and things that obstruct us. It also describes how we should carry ourself in a peaceful and pleasing way to others and how to develop diligence and how to practice meditation. The famous ninth chapter, finally, explains how we should understand emptiness of all phenomena.
This edition of The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life is unique because it combines both a translation of the root text with each verse or set of verses followed by a lucid and relevant commentary by Thrangu Rinpoche. Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Khenchen thrangu Rinpoche is very well suited for this task, being a renowned Buddhist scholar who has had three decades of experience teaching students in centers across Asia, Europe, and North America.
Thrangu Rinpoche has been teaching Western and Asian students Buddhism for thirty years and is author of 50 books on Buddhism. He holds the highest Lharampa degree for mastering the major teachings of all four lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Because of his outstanding scholarship he was appointed by the Dalai Lam to be a personal tutor for the Seventeenth Karmapa.
As the world’s population becomes more numerous, more urbanized and more materialist, people of all countries, of all races, and all religions are looking for a meaning to their lives which is beyond mere material comfort and the accumulation of wealth. Some religious have looked towards a God or toward gods to fulfill this, while the Buddhist religion has looked towards the teachings of a most remarkable person who lived 500 years before Christ was born. The Buddha taught that there was only to achieve true happiness which is the complete and lasting freedom from suffering, and that is the achievement or enlightenment.
How do we actually achieve this enlightenment? First of all, we must realize that achieving enlightenment relies completely upon ourselves. There is no external force or great spiritual leader who can give this to us. Second, we have to develop and effective way of examining out mind which contains great confusion, mistake ideas, and uncertainty that leads to our suffering in life. The Buddha taught that is done best through meditation. Third, we must our behavior and conduct and make sure it is always promoting peace and harmony within our mind and also in those creating peace and harmony around us.
One of the foremost Buddhist texts explaining exactly how we should conduct ourselves as decent and helpful human beings in this text, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. This book was written in Sanskrit in beautiful poetical verse by Shantideva, an eighth century Buddhist monk living at Nalanda monastic university. Shantideva taught this text to several thousand Buddhist and non-Buddhist monks in which he summarized the entire Mahayana path in such a concise way that it is still quoted by Buddhist teachers today.
To understand the logic of this treatise of ten chapters, we must first understand the main tenets of the Mahayana school often called “the Great Vehicle.” To begin with, the Mahayana school shared the belief with all other schools of Buddhism that all beings are continually reincarnated based on their karma. The Buddha told many stories of his own incarnations including some going back to when he was incarnated as an animal. The Mahayana school also believes that one can learn to understand and control the mind or “tame it “by engaging in meditation. When we begin to meditate, we find that the mind when undistracted is basically good and altruistic. We also know this from our common experience. We find children before they have been indoctrinated by religion or their culture all over the world know right from wrong. When they are told fairy tales, for example, they strongly identify with the person who is humble and courageous and who does the right thing. Adults, however, have thousands of thought, feelings, impulses and beliefs that are self-centered or egotistical so that they naturally cherish or think of the themselves as superior or more important or more deserving than others. Since this planet is shared with seven billion other individuals, there are simply not enough resources to give each and every individual what they desire. This causes a great deal of frustration, humiliation, aggression, and suffering which we call cyclic existence or samsara in Budhism.
The Mahayana school along with all order Buddhist school believes that the root or source of this suffering is self-cherishing. To overcome samsara we have to give up our self-cherishing and this is called the development of bodhichitta. A person who embraces this bodhischitta- placing the needs and desires of all other sentient beings I before oneself-is called a bodhisattva. A bodhisattva is that Buddhist practitioner who has such incredible compassion for mankind that he or she has decided to help all other beings to reach enlightenment before him or herself.
One final concept of Mahayana Buddhism that is repeated again and again in this text is the law of karma- that when we do positive actions, later in this lifetime or the next lifetime we will have more positive circumstance in our life and if we do negative actions, later in this lifetime or the next lifetime we will encounter many more negative circumstances.
In The Bodhistattva Way of Life this karma, cause and effect, is expressed in terms of when we forget our mindfulness and succumb to anger, jealously, greed, lying, stealing or killing the temporary pleasure comes from this will send us to the lower realms or in extreme cases to the hell realms. These lower realms of samsara have been well described since the time of the time of the Buddha and all great lamas warn us not to take them as simply metaphorical situations for our present life.
The Bodhusattva’s Life or Boddhisattva-charya-vatara in Sanskrit is an enormously popular work and has been translated into dozens of languages. Unlike many Buddhist texts, this work has been preserved in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese. For example, Wikipedia has listed 20 different translations and commentaries of this text in many different languages. One problem with understanding these translations is that Shantideva wrote this treatise for extremely erudite monks who were very well versed in the extremely complex arguments of Buddhist logic. So simply reading the root text is very difficult for he modern practitioner. In fact, there have been while books written to explain meaning of just the ninth wisdom chapter of The Bodhisattva’s Way. On the other hand, if we just a commentary on the Boddhisattva’s Way of Life, it makes the work much cleaner, but it lacks the beauty and style of the original. So in this edition we have presented the entire root text with a through commentary by one of the greatest Buddhist scholars of Tibetan Buddhism. We have carefully palced Thrangu Rinpoche’s commentary after each verse or set of verses that it refers to so that the students does not have to thumb back and forth between the original text and the commentary.
What is remarkable about this text written over 1,200 years ago for a monastic audience is that it is an extremely clear explanation of how to behave correctly to our modern Western world not only as a Buddhist, but as a contributing member to the human race. For instance, in building Thrangu Rinpoche’s Vajra Vidhya Retreat Center in Colorado, a number of difficult building and legal problems arose. When Thrangu Rinpoche was asked what was to be done, he said, “No fighting, not conflict.” When asked certain actions to eliminate certain obstacles to building the retreat center, Rinpoche said, “No, work harmoniously with everyone.” Once this advice was heard, the answer to these questions became immediately obvious and the retreat center was finished long before its projected completion time and with practically no obstacles impeding its progress. What was most remarkable was that Rinpoche’s simple advice was merely an application of the advice that can be found in the verses of this ancient text.
Tharangu Rinpoche first taught the Buddhisattva’s Way in January, 1987 at the Second Namo Buddha Seminar in Nepal and then taught it again in 1995 in Nepal. He later taught the Bodhisattva’s Way in Europe in 1998. In 2001 Rinpoche taught in great detail just the chapter on conscientiousness in Crestone, Colorado. Finally, in 2004 he taught Chapter five in great detail in Auckland, New Zealand. Since Rinpoche taught this text in varying degrees of detail in different teachings, we were able to combine these teachings to make a complete and though commentary.
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