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Manual of Madhyamika - Reading One: Author, Structure, and History of the Text

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The following story recounts in brief some of the events in the life of the great bodhisattva Shantideva.

It is a paraphrase of sections from the Life Stories of the Lineage Teachers of the Steps of the Path (Lam-rim bla-ma brgyud-pa’i rnam-thar) written by Yongdzin Yeshe Gyeltsen (1713-1793), the teacher of the eighth Dalai Lama.

Master Shantideva was born to the west of Bodhgaya, the Seat of the Diamond, in a place called Yulkor Mosang. His father was a king named Armor of Virtue, and his mother was said to be an emanation of Vajra Yogini, the Angel of Diamond.

He was able to choose the details of his birth, and when he was born he was given the name Armor of Peace. In his childhood he had all the favorable conditions that he needed, and from his earliest age he revealed himself to be a master of the traditional philosophical and other sciences.

When he was six years old he met a great practitioner of the secret teachings, and received an initiation and a practice for reaching the enlightened being named Manjushri, or Gentle Voice. As a child he made great efforts in this practice, doing its meditations and reciting its secret words, and was soon able to meet Gentle Voice himself. After meeting this holy being, Master Shantideva was able to receive many teachings from him directly.

When his father the King passed away, all the people of the land requested Prince Shantideva to be King. Because he had practiced the bodhisattva path in many previous lives, he had no desire to live a life of royalty, but so as not to upset the people he agreed.

The night before his crowning ceremony though he had a dream. In the dream he saw Gentle Voice sitting on the King’s throne, and He said, “Son, this is my seat and I am your Teacher. It would be improper for us to sit on the same seat.” Upon waking he realized that it was wrong for him to enjoy the pleasures of owning a kingdom, and he ran away.

Master Shantideva first went to Nalanda Monastery where he met the supreme leader of all the learned scholars there.

His name was Angel of Virtue, and from this teacher he took the commitment to leave the home life. It also was from this master that he received the name Shantideva, which means “{Angel of Peace.”

At the monastery he served his preceptor well, studied the three collections of scripture, and became a great scholar.

He continued to receive many teachings from Gentle Voice himself, and was able to grasp the meaning of all the Buddha’s teachings, both open and secret.

He eliminated all the different kinds of distraction, both inner and outer, and with this incredible focus of mind he reached a very high spiritual level.

He then composed the works entitled the Compendium of Trainings, the Compendium of the Sutras, and other books which describe the amazingly powerful and effective way of the life of a bodhisattva.

Master Shantideva perfected within himself the three characteristics of a great Buddhist master—teaching, debating, and writing—and continued to rise up all the spiritual levels and paths.

He achieved the ability to remember everything he had ever been taught, the ability to perform miracles effortlessly, and incredible clairvoyance; thus he became a god among bodhisattvas.

This was his inner life, but to the eyes of impure people Shantideva seemed to be interested in only three things: eating, sleeping, and going to the toilet.

He thus became known by the name Bhusuku, which means “Mister Three Thoughts.” Because the only fitting activity for a man who has left the home life is to involve himself in teaching, some of the monks who could not see who he really was perceived Master Shantideva as someone who was just living off the kindness of the laypeople, and decided that they should expel him from the monastery.

They asked him to recite a scripture from memory before a gathering of the monastery, hoping that their request would cause him to decide to leave on his own.

He answered them by saying, “How could someone like me ever be able to recite scripture?” and declined. However they insisted that he do so, and eventually he agreed.

The entire monastery was then invited to this gathering, and a very high throne was set up, one without any stairs—so there was no way for anyone to climb atop it.

But when the bodhisattva Shantideva reached the front of the throne, he touched it gently, and without the slightest effort he appeared sitting on top of it.

He then asked and said, “Would you like me to recite something you have heard before, or something which you have never heard?”

The assembly asked that he recite something that they had not heard before, and so he began to recite that book which we call the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

He began at the very beginning of the text, and by the time he had gotten about a third of the way through the ninth chapter he began to rise up into the sky.

He rose higher and higher, and it seemed as though the sky and his knowledge were pitted in competition, until he could no longer be seen at all, only heard. Then he totally disappeared.

Later on some of the monks who had clairvoyance of the ear, and others who were masters of total recall, pieced the whole book together. The group who were from Kashmir said that it had nine chapters, and the group from central India said it had ten.

People then began to get curious about two of his other books which were mentioned in the fifth chapter of the Guide, and so they sent two monks to the place where Master Shantideva was living.

They travelled to a stupa in the south of India called Pelyun Chen to invite him to come back to Nalandra.

The master refused to come, but he did tell them that the people from central India were correct, and that the two books they sought could be found written in tiny letters hidden in the rafters of his old room at the monastery.

He then gave these monks a complete explanation of the both the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and the Compendium of Trainings. Later Master Shantideva was wondering what he could do to help others, and so he decided to check with his clairvoyance.

He saw in the east a great many people whose lives were disturbed by a terrible dispute and, seeing that he could help, set off in their direction. While he was there he acted as the opponent of the great argument maker who was causing all the trouble, and with his great powers he was able to bring everyone back together.

He then thought to himself, “What further could I do to benefit people?” The idea then came to him that he should travel to the kingdom of Magada in order to help the people living there who had fallen into the chasm of wrong views. When he arrived, he found a great many people who had extremely weird wrong views, and he decided to stay with them for some time. One day, due to his extraordinary power and to the purity of the prayers these people had made in their past lives, there occurred an enormous blizzard.

The storm lasted for seven days, and the community ran out of food and drink. They began to go crazy, and decided that whoever was able to come up with something to eat and drink would become their leader.

The bodhisattva Shantideva was miraculously able to fill a single alms bowl with rice, and from it fed everybody in the community. As their leader he was then able to demolish their wrong views, and lead them into the Buddha’s teachings. Master Shantideva next checked with his clairvoyance to see who else needed help. He saw many people suffering from a famine, in desperate need of help, and thousands about to die.

He provided these people with sustenance, taught them the teachings of the Buddha, and thus brought them to happiness.

Then the great bodhisattva thought to himself, “What could I do to help the teachings of the Buddha?” He saw that if he were to assist a certain king it would aid many people.

He journeyed to the crossroads near his palace, and began to assess the situation. He found a great crowd of mighty, but merciless people.

There were a lot of them gathered already, and many others like them on their way.

These people were aware of the king’s great wealth, and this fact was causing the king much distress.

He thought that if he were to use all of his wealth to pay off these people, then having obtained the kingdom would be of no point; but also that if he did not, then they would surely separate his mind from his body.

Master Shantideva took a liking to the king, and arranged to be his bodyguard. Because he had limitless power and might, he was able to overpower all of the evil people, and put the king and his people at ease. During all this time Master Shantideva had no weapon other than a single wooden sword, a sword resembling the sword of Gentle Voice.

The whole kingdom began to develop great faith and respect for Master Shantideva, and made many offerings to him. But there was one man who was very jealous of him, and could not bear all of his success.

He went to the king and told him that Master Shantideva was a devious man. He told the king that Shantideva had nothing more then a wooden sword, and that he would never be able to protect him if anything happened. 

He said to the king, “This man is a deceiving you. Even his sword is nothing more than wood, and so he could never be able to guard your body”; and advised the king to investigate.

The king became angered, went to Master Shantideva, and told him to take his sword out of its scabbard.

The bodhisattva replied saying, “Your Highness will be hurt if I do so,” but the king told him to do it anyway, whether it hurt him or not. Master Shantideva then said to him, “I agree then to take it out, but I advise Your Highness to cover one of your eyes.

The king covered one eye as instructed, and when the great bodhisattva pulled out the sword, it blazed with such a light that the king’s exposed eye was blinded. The King apologized, took refuge in Master Shantideva, and entered into the teachings of the Buddha.

After this Master Shantideva thought to himself, “What next can I do to be of help to others?” He checked with his clairvoyance, and saw there were many non-Buddhists who opposed the Teachings and needed to be subdued. He went to where they lived in the south, and dressed himself as a beggar. One day a servant of the King saw him and noticed that drops of water which touched his body instantly began to boil.

There was a non-Buddhist teacher living in this land who decided that he wanted to compete with a Buddhist in miraculous powers. He made a deal with the king that whoever lost this competition would have to convert to the other’s religion, and that the winner could burn all of the monasteries and books of the loser’s religion. The King could find no one of the Buddhist community who would agree to these conditions, and he grieved. Then the servant who had seen the miracle with Master Shantideva told him about it.

The King sent out messengers to seek him, and to beg for his help in defeating the non-Buddhist teacher.

The bodhisattva Shantideva told them that he would be able to help, and that they should prepare a large bowl of water, two bolts of cloth, and a fire. On the day of the competition the whole kingdom gathered, and a throne was prepared for the King. The two opponents began their debates, and because of the power of Master Shantideva’s reasoning and scriptural knowledge, his opponent was unable to even respond.

Because of this he thought he’d try to win with his miraculous powers instead, and so he began to draw the secret world of a powerful Hindu god in the sky. But before he had finished drawing even its eastern side, the bodhisattva Shantideva went into a deep meditation on the element of wind and brought about a great storm which began to tear apart the entire area.

The King, Queen, and the others assembled ran for cover, and the non- Buddhist teacher and his secret world were thrown about in every direction, like sparrows caught in a hurricane. A great darkness descended upon all the land, and Master Shantideva sent rays of light out from a spot between his eyes to light the way for the King and the Queen.

Their clothes had been ripped off and they were covered in dust, so the great bodhisattva bathed them in the water from the bowl, dressed them in the cloth, and put them near the fire, where they could warm themselves.


Master Shantideva’s activities were exclusively dedicated to the benefit of living beings, and to helping the Buddha’s teachings. Everything he did was meant to express the truth of the saying: “Men are like the mango fruit.

Sometimes they look ripe on the outside, but are not ripe on the inside. Others are ripe on the inside, but don’t look ripe on the outside. Some look and are ripe both inside and out, and others that don’t look ripe truly are not.”

For people like us who haven’t seen emptiness directly, it is very difficult to judge another’s mind. Generally speaking then we should never allow ourselves to think that anyone at all has any bad qualities, and we should realize more specifically that criticizing anyone who has entered the Buddha’s teachings is like playing near a pit of embers concealed in ash. It is important that we not criticize other people, and to try to see all things as pure.

It is to express this fact that Master Shantideva lived the way that he did.

He also taught us by example many other lessons. Never be satisfied with wrong or partial paths.

Train yourself in paths which are complete. Practice what is taught in this bodhisattva’s books.

If you take Gentle Voice as your personal Angel, you will be able to achieve all wonderful qualities.

It isn’t fitting to put any faith in books which can’t bring you to total enlightenment. The only entry point for those who wish for freedom is the teachings of Enlightened Beings.

So if you wish to practice the teachings of the steps of the path to enlightenment, make supplication to this great bodhisattva; and learn about, contemplate, and meditate on his words.

The following selections are taken from the Entry Point for Children of the Victorious Buddhas (rGyal-sras ‘jug-ngogs), a commentary by Gyaltsab Je Darma Rinchen (1364-1432) on the book called Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Byang-chub-sems-dpa’i spyod-pa la ‘jug-pa) by Master Shantideva (c. 700 AD).

Herein contained is the

Entry Point for Children of the Victorious Buddha

a commentary upon the

Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

With deep respect I bow down to the feet of the revered ones,

the holy ones, to those who possess great compassion!

To those whose knowledge has eliminated all bad qualities

And rises high in the sky of the ether of phenomena

As a sun disc of the four holy bodies

Blazing with the glory of the marks and signs;

To those who by their great compassion,

Beam out to an endless number of beings

The immaculate light rays of holy speech

Which possesses sixty wonderful qualities;

To those who dispel the darkness

Of infinite living creatures

Spontaneously in an unbroken stream

Of pure and holy activities;

With great respect I bow down to them,

To the feet of the Lords of the Able,

To my Lamas, to all great beings,

And to He who is of Gentle Voice.

In accordance with the positions

Which the great masters hold to be true,

I shall write about the meaning of the words

In the Guide to the Way of Holy Children

So that it may always be familiar to me

In the string of my future lives,

And with the thought that it may also be helpful

To others who share such an interest.

Those of you who are bound by the noose

Of holding wrong views as supreme

Who say you needn’t realize profound suchness

In order to reach lower enlightenments:

Listen carefully all of you people

Who teach this mistaken position!

First, the Lord of the Able Ones developed the wish to achieve supreme enlightenment. Then over many countless eons he worked to complete the two collections [of goodness and of wisdom) by carrying out the activities of giving and the other perfections.

Finally he reached total enlightenment and turned the wheel of the Dharma in three stages.

The Buddha first turned the wheel by teaching the Four Truths of Realization three times through in twelve different aspects.

From this teaching on the Four Truths alone, some disciples who belonged to the class of Listeners and whose minds were ripe grasped the meaning of dependent origination, free from the extreme of thinking of things as self-existent.

It has been explained by the savior Nagarjuna in his treatises, and by Master Chandrakirti in his work on the Commentary on the Sixty Verses on Reasoning, that the scriptures of the Lower Way even describe explicitly the most subtle form of selflessness on many occasions.

The second time the Buddha turned the wheel he taught in great detail about the selflessness of both the person and phenomena as is found in the brief, medium-length and extensive sutras on the Perfection of Wisdom, as well as in other works. The third time he turned the wheel he gave the teaching of the Cycle of No Return which deals extensively with the subject of method.

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What I am going to explain is the holy Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life which, in general, comments upon the true intent of all the speech of the Buddhas, the highest of all spoken word.

More particularly, however, this book thoroughly explains the true intent of the scriptures of the Greater Way.

In so doing, it establishes in detail how every instance of the Buddhasspeech is a part of a path to reach enlightenment which can be put into practice by any particular person who belongs to the family of the Greater Way.

The author of this treatise is that master and realized being, Shantideva, who had perfectly understood the true meaning of every instance of the highest form of the spoken word. Master Shantideva was possessed of the great compassion which treasures others more than oneself, and he totally lost himself to helping others and making them happy; he was completely free of the tendency of thinking only of his own happiness.

More specifically, he was a being who succeeded in employing the activities of extreme non- conceptualization found in the Unsurpassable group of secret teachings, and so brought the path of the Greater Way to its ultimate conclusion.

The book which he wrote, the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, has four major sections: the meaning of the title, the translator’s obeisance, the meaning of the body of the text, and some concluding remarks.

Meaning of the Title

The title of this book in Sanskrit, one of the four great languages of ancient India, is Bodhisattvacharyavatara. The meaning of this title can be explained in the following way. The word bodhi [jang-chub in Tibetan) means “enlightenment,” the word sattva (sempa) means “warrior,” charya [chupa] means “activities,” and avatara [jukpa] means “to enter.”

Translator’s Obeisance

Here begins the first bampo:

I bow down to all Buddhas and bodhisattvas!

The purpose of including the line which contains the words “Buddhas and…” is to indicate which section of the scriptures this book is included into.

This involves preventing obstacles to the translation, and serves to help you realize that even through this is a commentary upon all of the collections of scripture, it focuses mainly upon the sutra collection.

The words which indicate the beginning of the first bampo, or major textual division, are easy to understand, and thus require no commentary.

Meaning of the Body of the Text

I will explain the meaning of the body of the text in two main parts: first will be an explanation of the preliminaries which precede an explanation of the steps of the path of the greater way, and then the actual explanation of the steps themselves.

The preliminaries to the actual explanation will be in three sections: Master Shantideva’s offering of praise, his pledge to compose the work, and then finally words to prevent pride arising, along with the reasons why he takes joy in composing this work.

The offering of praise can be explained in three parts: its purpose, what it includes, and its wording itself. It begins as follows:

I bow down with great respect

To Those Who Have Gone to Well-Being—

Those who possess the Dharma Body

And to all of their sons and daughters,

And all others worthy of prostration!

The reason why Shantideva here expresses the wonderful spiritual qualities of an extraordinary being, and why he goes for refuge, is so that other people will understand that he is himself a holy person.

Another reason he does so is to prevent any obstacles which may come up as he is writing this book, or in any of his other endeavors. His ultimate purpose is that he may achieve definite good, and that by following in his footsteps other disciples will also be able to achieve every single good thing that there is.

This verse shows us that Master Shantideva in bowing down to the Three Jewels, as well as to everyone else who is worthy of being prostrated to.

The Sanskrit word Sugata [Those Who have Gone to Well-Being] can be explained in two ways. We can explain it in reference to either the things which an Enlightened Being has eliminated, or in reference to the things which he or she has realized.

First I will explain it in terms of that excellent virtue an Enlightened Being possess of having totally eliminated every single bad quality there is. Because an Enlightened Being has completely cleaned Himself of all the obstacles which are related to bad thoughts, we can say that he has gone well, or beautifully, and is like someone who has an well-formed body.

Because he will never have to return back to this cycle of suffering life by force of things poisoned with the afflictions of the mind, we can say that he has gone like someone who has been completely cured, or made well, from an illness.

And because he has totally removed all of those kinds of ignorance which are not related to the mental afflictions, we can say that he has totally gone like a vase which is well-filled.

It is in this way that we call such a being One Who Has Gone to Well-Being. We say “well-being” to refer to the different qualities described above with the word “well”, and we say “gone” to indicate that these beings have gone to the nature which embodies those very qualities.


Using the word “well” in these three different ways serves also to distinguish Those Who Have Gone to Well-Being respectively from non-Buddhists who have freed themselves of desire; from stream-enterers, once-returners, etc.; and from lower foe-destroyers.

Now, I will explain “Sugata” in terms of an Enlightened Being having perfected every single realization there is.

Such a being has gone well in the sense that His knowledge has directly perceived the suchness of the two kinds of lack of self-nature, that His knowledge is firm, and that His knowledge is total.

These qualities of His knowledge respectively indicate how such a being is exceedingly higher then the three groups of practitioners mentioned above. This is Master Shantideva’s praise of the Buddha Jewel.

The second section, the actual explanation of this book, is in two parts. First will be a presentation of the overall structure of the book, and then an explanation of each individual part.

This book presents, in their entirety, each one of the steps of the path to enlightenment. It begins by telling you the way to practice the contemplations for people of lesser and medium capacity as an adjunct to practicing the contemplations for people of great capacity.

Then it goes on to teach you how to develop the wish to achieve supreme enlightenment, and how—after you have developed that wish—you should train yourself in the perfection of giving, along with the other five perfections.

The first chapter explains how, in the beginning, you must increase your joyful energy to its very highest by thoroughly contemplating the benefits which come from developing the wish to achieve supreme enlightenment. This chapter also touches upon the way you should practice, as an adjunct, the contemplations for people of lesser and medium capacity.

You must go about developing the wish to achieve supreme enlightenment, that wish whose very root is love and compassion, in the same way that you would go about preparing to welcome a King who ruled the entire world by cleaning your house, and so on.

You will be able to acquire this wish by purifying all of the factors which obstruct your spiritual realizations, and gathering together the power of good deeds which promote them.

These two subjects are covered respectively in the second and third chapters.

The fourth chapter teaches you why you must be careful once you have developed the wish, so that the good energy you have amassed from training yourself in the activities of a bodhisattva does not degenerate.

The chapters which follow teach you how to put the six perfections into practice.

With regard to this, the fifth chapter is devoted to an extensive presentation of how to train yourself to live an ethical life through maintaining your mindfulness and awareness, and the next four chapters are successively devoted to how to train yourself in not getting angry, joyfully doing good deeds, meditative concentrationd wisdom.

The tenth chapter explains in detail how you can learn that attitude which wants to give away to others your own body, all of your possessions, along with every good thing you’ve ever done. And it teaches you how to sweeten your acts of giving through dedication.

Although the tenth chapter treats with great thoroughness how it is that you should train yourself in the perfection of giving, this subject is also taught on other occasions, such as in the chapter on how to develop the wish for enlightenment. The subject of what it is to be a Buddha, which is the final result, is treated in the ninth chapter.

The names of the ten chapters of the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life are as follows:

I. Benefits of the Wish for [[Enlightenment]]
II. Purifying [[Bad Deeds]]
III. Acquiring the Wish for [[Enlightenment]]
IV. Using [[Carefulness]]
V. Guarding [[Awareness]]
VI. Not Getting [[Angry]]
VII. [[Joyous]] [[Effort]]
VIII. [[Meditative]] [[Concentration]]
IX. [[Wisdom]]
X. [[Dedication]]

See Also