17th Gyalwa Karmapa"Buddhism is a way of life through which we develop the qualities of our mind.
This way of life is very unusual, as it is a means to attain happiness without harming others.



Introduction to Bodhicaryavatara

by Venerable Shangpa Rinpoche

Santideva, a very great master of India, composed many texts and commentaries, among which "Bodhicaryavatara" is die most profound. Santideva composed these teachings without any pride or ego. He wrote them just for the benefit of all beings.
Therefore, this text is most effective for everybody. If a person writes with pride of intelligence, his explanations will not be suitable for every level of people.

Brief history of Santideva's life

To begin with the teaching, it is good to understand a little background of Santideva's life story. Santideva was a prince born in Bengal. He renounced his position and sought many masters. He studied, practised and completed all his education at the Nalanda Buddhist College, the most famous Buddhist College during Ins time. He attained perfect realisation.
He was usually very humble and lived as simply as possible. Therefore, people usually did not see him as a very special and realised person. No one thought that he was a great Siddha. Most of those at Nalanda felt that he was wasting the Sangha's food. They could not see him as what the other masters do. What they saw was that he just ate and slept, without doing anything.
At that time the whole Sangha had a meeting. They thought: "The sangha's food and facilities were to be used for good purposes but this monk does nothing but eat and sleep. As such, he has been accumulating bad karma and misleading others. They wanted to expel him.
Each month they had a ceremony to restore broken vows. During that ceremony, each master took turns to read the Sutras. They did not know Santideva's understanding and realisation from his outlook. So they thought, "If we invite him to read the Sutra, he would go off by himself if he doesn't know how to read".
Wanting to embarrass Santideva further, they put up a very high throne and invited him to sit on it and read the sutra. Santideva accepted the invitation.
He touched the throne by his hand and the throne went down. He sat on the throne and asked, "Do you want to hear the existing Sutras or something new?" The monks were very curious but did not know that he had the knowledge, so they asked him to explain his own commentary.
That was how the teaching of Bodhicaryavatara started. When the teaching reached the Wisdom chapter, he floated in the air, went higher and higher then became invisible. Later, all the sanghas regretted treating him in such a manner. They tried to find him but failed.
At last, at a mountain retreat, some people saw him. They observed that each day, a deer would go into his cave but they never came out. Everybody thought, "This master has been taking deer meat for such a long time." They carried weapons and went into his cave to beat him up; not knowing that he had already became a yogi, whose actions are not fixed like ordinary people. When they reached die cave, all the deer came out first; he came out last. To their surprise, the deer were very well dressed.
Actually, he was giving dharma talk to the deer. All the people regretted and confessed to him. All the sanghas also regretted what they had done and went to confess to him.
All the masters and great Arhants noted down all his teachings without leaving out anything. His teachings explained entirely the development of Bodhicitta. Even though it is now very famous throughout the Buddhist world, it was never heard of by anybody at that time. However, his teachings were not new.
It was still part of Buddha's teachings, although it was his commentary based on his own knowledge and practices.

Introductory Chapter

In the introductory chapter of the Text, Santideva said, "These commentaries may not be beneficial for others but they are very beneficial for myself and my mind stream".
This is a humble way of expression. Great masters always try to put down self and put up others. They try to get rid of their pride and ego in this way.
This teaching contains ten chapters or categories of explanation.

Chapter One - Precious Human Body

The first chapter talks about the precious human body and how we should make proper use of it. It also introduces Bodhicitta.
The commentary states that the precious human body, with all the right conditions is very difficult to obtain. Once it is fortunately obtained, if not properly used, it is not easy to obtain again in future. When obtained, the precious human body has lots of negative actions most of the time. So much so that the chances of reflecting positive thoughts are very slim.
Sometimes, we do have good thoughts. This comes either through the blessings from the Buddha or the result of one's own good karma. Such good thoughts are like a dark night without moonlight or stars. Suddenly lightning comes. Instantly one can see things for just one second and it goes off again. Our daily life is just like that. We tend to have negative thoughts. It is so difficult for good thoughts to arise, just like the lightning that appears for only a second.
Once we have reflected positive thoughts, we have to combine it with good action and attitude. This will be the turning point of oneself. The accumulation of negative actions is so great that they are not so easy to purify or to get rid off. We have accumulated these negative actions since the beginning of time. Our accumulations of good actions are just like lightning. They come suddenly and go off in a second. So, it is very difficult to clear away our negative actions.
However, because of the compassion and skilful means of the Buddha, any amount of negative actions can be purified. This is done through the development of Bodhicitta to purify all our defilements in a short time. It is just like the burning of bushes that are as huge as a mountain with lust one matchstick 40 burn the whole thing effortlessly. No accumulation of merits can do this.
Our accumulation of negative actions is so much that we need eons to purify them. But if we use this profound method, we do not need so much effort. This Bodhicitta or Enlightened Attitude is able to turn one's ordinary state to the Enlightenment State, just like a formula that turns metal into gold. It can turn our body, which is so dirty and imperfect, into Enlightenment. So, the development of Bodhicitta is a very perfect method.
Compared with Bodhicitta, the other methods of accumulation of merits, such as doing good deeds, are very mild and very poor They are just like banana trees, once the fruits are grown, their trunks have to be chopped down as they cannot bear fruit again. The development of Bodhicitta is like other fruit trees. They keep producing fruits throughout their whole lifetime. The accumulations of merits do not have an end.
Bodhicitta has two parts: Aspiration Bodhicitta and Application Bodhicitta. Aspiration Bodhicitta is just like our Intention to go on a journey. For example, I want to go to the United States. Firstly, I must have the intention to go there. Next, I decide to go there. When I have decided to go there, that is Aspiration Bodhicitta. In practice we say, "For the benefits of all sentient beings, I must achieve Enlightenment".
Application Bodhicitta is like I have bought an air ticket and boarded the plane. Each moment of the time when the plane flies towards the destination, I am getting closer and closer to Enlightenment. In practice, we go through the path of purification, accumulation of merits and wisdom, etc, until we reach the Enlightenment State. This is Application Bodhicitta.

Chapter Two - Confession

In order to absorb this Bodhicitta, we do certain actions, i.e. offering, prostration, taking refuge and confession. These start with the offering of one's own body, speech and mind to the Buddha. It also includes whatever good things we have, such as the mandala offering, and whatever things we feel good, in order to get rid of attachment.
In order to absorb the qualities of the Buddha, we do prostrations and take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddhahood is the final destination we have to reach. We have to realize Buddhahood; therefore we take refuge in the Buddha. We have to rely on the Buddha.
Taking refuge in the Dharma, the teachings of Buddha is the Path to enable us to achieve our final destination. So, we also rely on the teachings of the Buddha.
The Sangha is the guidance. To follow the path securely, we need spiritual guidance from spiritual friends, that is, taking refuge in the Sangha.
The final part of this chapter is on confession. Whenever we examine our actions and ourselves in the past and present, we find a lot of actions, which are not favourable and are not according to the Dharma, or they are bad actions. If we don't recognise them as bad, we cannot abandon them. If we recognise, we can heal.
We should think, "I should not do this. Wrong actions will lead to sufferings." So, recognise our wrong actions and feel regret, and think, "I should stop doing this in future, since I know this is not good". We also rely on Buddha for forgiveness.

Chapter Three - Taking Bodhicitta Vows

The third chapter is on taking the Bodhicitta Vows. We take the Bodhicitta Vows as all those great beings had done previously. They had treasured Bodhicitta, taken the Bodhicitta Vows, attained Enlightenment and benefited all sentient beings unconditionally. We say, "Likewise, today, I also want to follow their way of actions, so I take the Bodhicitta Vows. Henceforth, I will do all the actions which benefit sentient beings." This is the meaning of Bodhicitta Vows.

Chapter Four - Behaviour

The fourth chapter is on correcting one's behaviour, such as morality. Once we have taken the Bodhicitta Vows, we are to observe the Vows and benefit the sentient beings. We have to engage. Once we study the qualities of Bodhicitta, we appreciate the Bodhicitta and how it is good, then we decide to take the Bodhisattva Vows and invoke the Bodhicitta. Then we are to observe the Path of a Bodhisattva. This is through your own wisdom, to understand the qualities and truly examine and check and find its perfection.
Once you engage, then you are not supposed to break the Vows, It is very stupid if you take the Vows when you feel like and break them when you don't feel like it. I mean, without using your own wisdom to understand the qualities, just blindly following the words of others those sons of very foolish things. Therefore, the commentary tries to explain that those who have wisdom and use their wisdom to decide certain things will never reverse their decision. They will go forward. That is the important point. Take the Vows and go forward. That means, we should not give up.
If we are not satisfied, then before we engage, we should study further and try to understand better. Once you go forward, try not to reverse. Once we have decided to attain Enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings and we give up this attitude that means we have broken the Vows. When we break the Vows, we have betrayed all sentient beings. We have cheated all the sentient beings because we had promised to protect and liberate them from all sufferings. If you just give up half way, you have just ignored the sufferings of the sentient beings. That is considered as betrayal and cheating all sentient beings.
If, because of just one person whom you dislike, you think, "I want to save all sentient beings except this person, who is most irritating," then it is also considered as breaking the Vows. We have to liberate all sentient beings unconditionally.
The behaviour of a Bodhisattva, i.e. after you have taken the Bodhicitta Vows, must be always ready to help sentient beings for whatever is the need. If they need advice, use your best wisdom to give them advice. If they need shelter, try to provide shelter. Those who are already in the great path of a Bodhisattva even sacrifice their lives to the needs of others, but this is not at our level. Within our capacity, we try to benefit others as much as we can and totally avoid being harmful to others.

Chapter Five - Mindfulness

When we observe the Vows of a Bodhisattva, we have to be very careful. We have to observe our mind consciously. If we do not observe our mind, then we cannot observe the Vows of a Bodhisattva. The mind plays a very important role. It is the first one to start, and then the action follows up with the mind. Therefore, observing the mind is very important.
The mind is just like a wild elephant. It can be very destructive but through mindfulness, we can train that mind. We can tame it until it becomes like a domesticated elephant. Our awareness or subconsciousness is just like a trainer. With patience, we can tame our mind. Once our mind is tamed, the environment or others do not affect it.
Like the sufferings in hell and the sufferings of hungry ghosts, they do not actually exist in a solid form somewhere. Are somebody punishing and somebody suffering continuously? It is not so. Santideva said, "Who makes the Burning Iron Ground and who creates all the beings and the person in the hell who is punishing everybody? There is no one who makes or creates these. These are the manifestations of our own confused mind. The suffering of hell is not somewhere else but is within the mind. Enlightenment is also not somewhere else, it is within the mind."
Therefore, in the whole world, there is nothing more destructive than the mind. The mind can manifest hell and the mind can manifest Enlightenment. So, the most important thing is observing our own mind. We have to be mindful. If we observe our mind, the rest of the actions will be naturally corrected.
Just like the ground that is covered with stones and thorns which cannot be stepped on. In order to make it safe, you cannot cover the whole ground with leather because that would be too much and you will never have enough to cover the whole world. You can just wear shoes and walk. That is very safe.
We do not have to tackle each and every negative action or consequence one by one. We try to tame our own mind, then we have tamed the rest of the defilements, the rest of the causes and conditions.
Without mindfulness, whatever good actions we do, It is not safe or secure. It can be very easily destroyed, once we don't have the mindfulness. Defilements are just like a thief without knowing it can take all our accumulation of good merits.
That means, when we don't have mindfulness, we become careless. When we become careless, unknowingly we may do a lot of wrong things. Without realising that which is wrong, we will go towards the wrong path and the wrong direction. In that way, all our accumulation of merits will vanish or be destroyed.
Mindfulness applies to any action we do. Even when I have to talk to somebody, I have to examine whether this kind of speech will cause negativeness or not, and whether it will affect someone badly or not. Not only speech, in whatever action we do, we must always examine first. We must always be aware, through our own investigation, that this is the right thing I should say or do. This is mindfulness.
If we just say whatever we think without any check, this is without mindfulness. If you say it just because you want to say it, without going through any examination, without going through any right or wrong check, this is without mindfulness. This can be very destructive to oneself and others.

Chapter Six - Patience

The sixth chapter is on Patience or Tolerance. This is also very important in order to develop Bodhicitta. Santideva said, "For thousands of eons, one has accumulated merits, generosity and offerings to the Tathagatas (Buddhas). Whatever good actions one has accumulated can be destroyed by one chance of hatred. Therefore, hatred is the most destructive and leads oneself to the lower realms. There is no greater sin than hatred.
This means hatred is the worst negative action and has the heaviest consequences that one has to experience, such as being in the hell.
Patience is the greatest merit and greatest practice. With patience, one can able to absorb all the qualities. Therefore, Buddha, in this teaching, emphasised tolerance or patience as the very important part.
Hatred does not only lead one to the hell or lower realms, or sufferings in the next life, it has also the immediate effect that you can experience the sufferings. Once a person is angry with someone, it is impossible for this person to have happiness or peace of mind. This person will suffer very deep confusion. That means he is suffering tremendously from mental disturbances. Even within an instance, one can also experience that kind of suffering.
With relevance to the next life, or that, which accumulates the habitual tendency, according to many Sutras and Tantras, hatred directly leads to sufferings in the hell. This atmosphere of confusion becomes real when a person is undergoing the next rebirth so that he will constantly experience the consequences of hatred as if he suffering in the hell. Even though hatred is the greatest sin, it doesn't mean it is not unavoidable. It can be changed because there is nothing that cannot be corrected or changed in this world. Everything can be improved.
Therefore, Santideva advised: Try to develop patience when faced with very mild and very small harmful acts, move gradually to the more harmful ones, and then to the broader and most harmful ones. In this way, you can develop patience. Even though one may be very temperamental in the past, one can be tamed into a very patient person.
Whatever unfavourable things come your way from another party, one should not blame that person directly, because all these kinds of harm are done without intention and do not completely involve the individual himself. This is very much dependent on the conditions.
When causes and conditions are unfavourable, the person has no choice; he has to do it. Then comes the unfavourable result. One should not always blame that person. Rather, oneself should take part of the blame also, because oneself is also a condition to the effect. This is also a method of practice.
Normally, when these kinds of things happened, one always think oneself is perfectly faultless and the other is full of faults. When one tries to defend himself, it becomes worse. There is a method to contemplate in a way, not to blame the individuals. The example given is of a person who is possessed.
When a person is possessed, lie or she can be very violent and very destructive. But still the physician, or the one who treats will not care about this violence. He understands the cause of the violence and therefore does not react in anger. He knows exactly what is happening.
Actually, this is the same in our daily life. Hatred is the defilement and a very powerful defilement. Once one is possessed, he has not a single choice. He has to act violently. As long as you understand the teaching, the cause and condition, then you should not take it seriously. You should have more understanding, just like a physician who understands his patient. This is a very profound method of application during our daily life.

Chapter Seven - Diligence

The 7th Chapter is on Diligence. Diligence is always an important goal because without effort one cannot go forward towards the Path. It is just like without wind, a boat does not move. Therefore, we have to develop diligence in order to progress in our development more rapidly.
How do we recognise diligence? A practitioner who has diligence is one who has a certain kind of joy towards the Path. That is the recognition of diligence. Once you have the joy, once you are clear and once you know that this is a very good thing towards the Path, diligence will naturally come. We don't have to put so much effort to do it. But once you have the joy, once you have that interest, then you will develop it accordingly. Joy towards the path is the meaning of Diligence.
In other words, diligence does not mean that you have to force yourself to work harden This is not perfect diligence as you will have the tendency to give up very easily. In order to develop this perfect diligence, you have to understand more things - understand the suffering of Samsara, understand the quality of Bodhicitta and understand the qualities of Enlightenment. So once you understand all these factors, then diligence will come effortlessly. You don't have to force yourself to do it. It will come spontaneously. That is the perfect Diligence.
To understand the suffering of Samsara and the qualities of Enlightenment, it does not mean that we must always think of the bad side of samsara. We can also think of the good side of samsara - certain limits of happiness and pleasure that one can also experience in samsara. But we must check what such happiness is. Such happiness Is part of certain good karma but the good karma is not perfect because it does not last long. This kind of happiness in the Samsara is just like licking honey on a razor You try to taste the honey, so you lick the razor and it cuts your tongue. So, you experience the good taste and sufferings as well. The Samsaric or worldly happiness is just like this kind of happiness.
Therefore, in Samsara, happiness is not perfect happiness and suffering is unbearable suffering. Even with such kind of imperfect happiness, we struggle and sacrifice our lives for it. What about Enlightenment, which is perfect happiness, permanent happiness and faultless? With these kinds of qualities, how should we contemplate?
We should not contemplate what worldly happiness offers. We should try to strive for more than the worldly happiness, that is, the Enlightenment State. This is all about Diligence.

Chapter Eight - Meditation

The next chapter is on Meditation or Meditative Concentration. In order to develop Wisdom, we need to have a stable mind. Therefore, we need to develop Meditation. Once an individual's mind is not controlled or is distracted, then that person is always in the risk of defilement, just like a person caught between the jaws of a crocodile. If our mind is distracted, then negative thoughts will come. We may follow the negative thoughts and do negative actions, and go towards the wrong direction and path. So, all our accumulation of merits can vanish or be destroyed. Therefore, if we don't have a stable mind, we are always at the risk of being attacked by defilements.
In order to subdue or pacify all these negative thoughts and negative actions, physically, we try to abandon all kinds of unnecessary actions. Mentally, we try to avoid unnecessary planning and unnecessary thinking of the future and past. Try to avoid the distractions caused by the body and the distractions caused by the mind.
The main obstacle of meditation Is attachment. Meditators try to subdue their attachment. Within one's capacity, one will try to subdue or reduce as much as one can. Only then will one be more successful when one tries to meditate.
The next is on meditation subjects. According to most Mahayana Sutras or teachings, they advise us to meditate on subduing one's own defilements first. Whatever defilement we have more aggressively, we put an antidote to subdue that defilement first.
If a person has more hatred, he should put every means of practice to develop loving kindness and compassion. That is the antidote of hatred.
If a person has more desire, then practise meditation on the imperfection of samsara and imperfection of the subject of the desire. In that way, one will be able to understand the nature of it and one able to reduce that particular defilement.
If a person has more Ignorance, contemplate on the twelve interdependent links, i.e. every suffering, every samsara experience is caused by ignorance. That ignorance, the confused mind, produces all the kinds of links. Therefore, try to reverse it.
If we try not to be confused, if we try to cut off this ignorance, then we will be able to cut off the rest of the confusions, the rest of the links. If we have more confusions or ignorance, then we should contemplate more on the twelve interdependent links.
Any kind of Samantha meditation is also applicable at this stage. Any method of Samantha meditation can also be practised.

Chapter Nine - Wisdom

The 9th Chapter is on Wisdom. We have to develop the perfect Wisdom in order to pacify our sufferings and in order to pacify our ignorance. Therefore we need to develop Wisdom.
Wisdom has two aspects: The Wisdom to understand the Relative Truth and the Wisdom to understand the Ultimate Truth.
Any wisdom that involves concepts is under the Relative Truth. Any wisdom that does not involve concepts is under the Ultimate Truth. There are many different views and different philosophy points, so this is a very difficult subject. Next time, if we have opportunity to explain then we can elaborate on it. I leave it here because it is too difficult.

Chapter Ten - Dedication

The last chapter is on Dedication. For every good deed or action that we do or complete, we must dedicate it to the good cause. We dedicate for both ultimate and temporary benefit.
Ultimate dedication is to dedicate to oneself for the attainment of Enlightenment so as to benefit all sentient beings.
Temporary dedication is this: "By this merit of my development of wisdom and so on, for a person, any being who is suffering, may they purify their suffering. Those who do not have food to eat, may they obtain food. Those who have no clothes, may they obtain clothes. Those who are in the hot hell, may they have cool showers to make them cool, and those who are in the cold hell, may they have heaters to make them warm.
You can dedicate as broad as you possibly can, for a small amount of merit. This can be very effective and can multiply up to a great extent. Dedication is very important according to the Mahayana Practice.


That completes the "Bodhicaryavatara", which covers the qualities of Bodhicitta, the activities of the Bodhisattvas and how to purify ourselves of gross and subtle defilements
Geshe Palsang Gyaltso, a Gelupa scholar, gave the commentary of the Bodhicaryavatara". 'The actual "Bodhicaryavatara", without commentary, a direct translation of the Tibetan text, is known as "Entering the Path of Bodhisattvas' Action". In English, it could be written as "The Bodhisattvas' Way of Life". This text, without commentary is quite easy to understand but if you don't understand, you can find a text with commentary. I think there is one.
Let's dedication the merits accumulated through the teaching and listening of this talk to all sentient beings to attain Enlightenment.

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