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Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

"Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life" with Venerable Gyalten Tsondue

Sunday, 2pm (PDT) - click here to view webcast

Location: Awakening Vajra Retreat House. For shuttle rides to the AV Retreat House, please meet at the nearby parking area: 2670 S. White Rd., San Jose, CA. The shuttle will leave for the Retreat House at 1:45 pm. After the class, the shuttle will return you to the parking lot on White Road.

This class is suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced students. All are welcome.


Composed in the beginning of the eighth century by the famous Indian Nalanda Master, Shantideva, “The Bodhisattvacharyavatara” (often shortened to "Bodhicharyavatara") became an instant classic, studied in the Buddhist monastic universities of India and Tibet. The Bodhicharyavatara is one of the most influential Buddhist Mahayana texts ever written.

Shantideva was a famous scholar and yogi of India in the 8th century. He was born as a prince in the family of King Kalyanavarman. From a very earlier age, Shantivarman (which was his birth name) had a great faith in Mahayana. He was born as a bodhisattva type of person and was always very helpful, trying to benefit anyone he met. He was especially very compassionate to the poor, sick and lowly, and used his status to help protect them. He was naturally acting in the way of a bodhisattva, from a very early age. He was also a diligent student and extremely well versed in both science and literature.

Shantideva was a royal prince. After his father passed away, he was supposed to be enthroned as new King. But the day before he was to be enthroned, he had a dream in which he saw a big throne. Manjushri appeared, sitting on the seat of the King, and said: “My son, this is my place, and I am your teacher. How can we two sit on the same seat?”

When Shantideva woke up from the dream, he understood that he was not supposed to become a king. Instead, he fled his Kingdom, leaving everything behind.

He went to Nalanda University where he met his teacher, Jinadeva, who gave him ordination and received the new name “Shantideva”, combining the root name of his teacher with his own. This is how great master Shantideva was born.

In Nalanda, Shantideva preferred to study and practice secretly, always alone and never showing off. By doing so in solitude he eventually wrote three great treatises. One was a collection of instructions, the second was the collection of the sutras, and the third was the Bodhicharyavatara.

Shantideva had many great qualities and skills, but his outer appearance was quiet and humble. To the Nalanda community, Shantideva appeared not to be doing much. Members of the Sangha began calling him “Busuku”( literally -“the One who just eats, sleeps and goes to the bathroom”) or “the laziest person”. The Sangha of Nalanda University thought that Shantideva was a community disgrace. While everybody else was busy studying or giving teachings or doing something, Shantideva was just doing "nothing". The Nalanda community wanted to expel Shantideva from the Nalanda University.

At that time the rules of Nalanda were such that the person could not be expelled without valid reason. But since Shantideva did nothing wrong, the sangha had to come up with a way to get rid of him. They decided to make a new rule that anyone staying in Nalanda must teach. They did not think Shantideva was able to teach anything and assumed that he would simply run away.

In preparation for Shantidevaʼs teaching, they built a huge throne. The throne was too tall for anyone to climb up and sit on it. They also invited a large community from outside Nalanda University, hoping to really embarrass Shantideva. But their plan didnʼt work. When the time to give the teaching came, Shantideva just appeared to be seated on this throne. No one knew how he had come or how he had climbed to the top of the giant throne. Seated on the throne, Shantideva addressed the crowd and said: “Of these three teachings that I have, this one is too long, and that one is too short, so I will give you the Bodhicharyavatara which is in the middle.”

Shantideva proceeded to recite the Bodhicharyavatara, by heart, from his mind. It is said that people saw Manjushri sitting in front of him the entire time. When Shantideva reached the ninth chapter, the chapter of Perfection of Wisdom, both Shantideva and Manjushri, rose from the throne together, going higher and higher and eventually disappeared into Emptiness.

This is the traditional story describing Shantideva living at Nalanda University. Shantideva disappeared and never came back to Nalanda. It is said that Shantideva remained in solitude for the remainder of his life, living as a traveling yogi appearing here and there.

The work of this great Master still remains as one of the most profound instructions on achieving the Bodhisattva path.

In the “Bodhicaryavatara”, Shantideva presents complete methods on the way to Buddhahood and inspires us to cultivate the perfections of the Bodhisattva: Generosity, ethics, patience, effort, meditative concentration, and wisdom. These perfections are also the actual chapters of his book. This text continues to be the basis for all intermediate teaching by modern Mahayana Buddhist teachers.

The text contains 10 Chapters:

  • Chapter 1: The Excellence of Bodhichitta
  • Chapter 2: Confession
  • Chapter 3: Developing Bodhichitta
  • Chapter 4: Carefulness
  • Chapter 5: Mindfulness
  • Chapter 6: Perfection of Patience
  • Chapter 7: Diligence (joyous effort)
  • Chapter 8: Meditation
  • Chapter 9: Perfection of Wisdom
  • Chapter 10: Dedication

Ven. Gyalten Tsondue will use the commentary and translation by Stephen Batchelor.

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