by Andreas Kretschmar | 233,817 words

The English translation of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara (“entering the conduct of the bodhisattvas”), a Sanskrit text with Tibetan commentary. This book explains the bodhisattva concept and gives guidance to the Buddhist practitioner following the Mahāyāna path towards the attainment of enlightenment. The text was written in Sanskrit by Shantideva ...

Now Khenpo Kunpal addresses the buddhas of the three times: The buddhas of the past ['das pa'i sangs rgyas] refers to all the buddhas before Buddha Śākyamuni. The most prominent of these is Buddha Dīpaṃkara [mar me mdzes]. In the story of the one thousand buddhas of this Fortunate Aeon, the universal monarch Dhṛtarāṣṭra [yul 'khor srung] himself was said to have become the Buddha Dīpaṃkara[1] in an aeon prior to our own.

The scriptures mention seven buddhas, also called 'the seven heroic buddhas' [sangs rgyas dpa' bo bdun] as well as 'the seven generations of buddhas' [sangs rgyas rabs bdun].

They are:

  1. Buddha Vipaśyin,[2] who appeared in a former aeon when the lifespan of human beings was eighty thousand years;
  2. Buddha Śikhin,[3] who appeared in a former aeon when the lifespan of human beings was seventy thousand years;
  3. Buddha Viśvabhukra[4] appeared in a former aeon when the lifespan of human beings was sixty thousand years;
  4. Buddha Krakucchanda,[5] the first buddha of our aeon, appeared when the lifespan of human beings was forty thousand years;
  5. Buddha Kanakamuni,[6] the second buddha of our aeon, appeared when the lifespan of human beings was thirty thousand years;
  6. Buddha Kāśyapa,[7] the third buddha of our aeon, appeared when the lifespan of human beings was twenty thousand years;
  7. Finally, Buddha Śākyamuni,[8] the fourth buddha of our aeon, appeared when the lifespan of human beings was only one hundred years.

The buddhas Vipaśyin, Śikhin, and Viśvabhukra appeared in former aeons and are, therefore, not counted among the thousand buddhas to appear in the Fortunate Aeon.[9]

The Hīnayāna scriptures tell us that our teacher Buddha Śākyamuni began his spiritual path under the buddha known as the 'Great Buddha Śākyamuni' and served seventy-five thousand buddhas up to the time of Buddha Rāṣṭrapāla.[10] Over this period Buddha Śākyamuni gathered the accumulations of merit and thus completed the 'first incalculable aeons' [grangs med dang po][11] of his journey to enlightenment.

Then, beginning with Buddha Sādhukara[12] and continuing to the time of Buddha Indradhvaja,[13] our teacher further served seventy-six thousand buddhas. This period represents the 'second incalculable aeon' [grangs med gnyis pa] of Śākyamuni's path as a bodhisattva.

Then, beginning with the time of Buddha Dīpaṃkara[14] and continuing on through the time of Buddha Kāśyapa,[15] our teacher Śākyamuni served seventy-seven thousand buddhas. In this final period, Śākyamuni completed the 'third incalculable aeon' [grangs med gsum pa] of gathering the accumulations. At the time of Buddha Kāśyapa, when the lifespan of human beings was twenty thousand years, our teacher was reborn as a Brāhmaṇa's son called 'Guru' [bram ze khye'u bla ma].

After he passed away, he took rebirth in the Tuṣita heaven as Bodhisattva Śvetaketu [byang chub sems dpa' dam pa tog dkar po] and taught the dharma to the gods. From Tuṣita he emanated into our world system as Buddha Śākyamuni, the fourth buddha of this Fortunate Aeon, and performed the twelve deeds.[16]

The scriptures also recount that Buddha Śākyamuni principally gathered the accumulation of merit for the first incalculable aeon; that he then proceeded to rise from the first through the seventh bodhisattva levels during the second incalculable aeon; and that he continued from the eighth bodhisattva level all the way up to the level of complete enlightenment [sangs rgyas kyi sa] during the third incalculable aeon.[17]

Buddha Śākyamuni is the buddha of the present era in our world system. Our world system is only a small part of his total field of activities, which actually covers an entire cosmos of a billion world systems. Outside of this cosmos of a billion world systems, even now innumerable buddhas are still appearing simultaneously in other cosmic universes of a billion world systems. These buddhas likewise share an equally vast activity field and are all referred to as buddhas of the present [da ltar gyi sangs rgyas].

The future buddha, who will appear after Buddha Śākyamuni, will be the venerable Maitreyanātha, great being, the regent of the Victor [rgyal tshab sems dpa' chen po rje btsun byams pa mgon po]. He and all the buddhas after him are called buddhas of the future [ma 'ongs pa'i sangs rgyas]. Together, all of these constitute what are known as the buddhas or victors of the three times [dus gsum gyi rgyal ba] of past, present, and future.

With regard to the precious bodhicitta [rin chen byang chub kyi sems], this bodhicitta is known as the great path [lam po che], which all buddhas of the past have traversed, which all the buddhas of the present travel, and which all the buddhas of the future will traverse on the journey to perfect enlightenment.

It is the sole source ['byung ba'i gnas gcig pur gyur pa] which gives rise to all possible accumulations of goodness [legs tshogs], leading to welfare and happiness [phan bde] in saṃsāra ['khor ba] and nirvāṇa [myang 'das], in worldly existence [srid pa 'jig rten] and in peaceful nirvāṇa [zhi ba myang 'das]. Bodhicitta is the most noble attitude, the ultimate of all motives.

Whoever is endowed with bodhicitta will move from one happiness to the next in this and all future lifetimes and is certain to eventually reach perfect enlightenment.

The highest attainment possible for any being is the state of complete enlightenment, buddhahood. The wish that all sentient beings may reach the level of buddhahood is the supreme of all wishes. Wishing that all beings become buddhas means to wish for them the greatest attainment possible for any being. This unexcelled wish is called the most precious bodhicitta; it is most precious because it is directed to the most precious of all achievements, enlightenment.

If one maintains a virtuous attitude yet remains fettered by ego-clinging, this virtuous and positive character will still lead one on to happy conditions within saṃsāra, within the sphere of worldly existence [srid pa 'jig rten]. If one maintains a virtuous attitude while also becoming free of ego-clinging [bdag 'dzin] selfishness, one will be able to transcend saṃsāric existence and reach instead the peaceful state of nirvāṇa [zhi ba myang 'das], a state free from any suffering.

This peaceful state of nirvāṇa corresponds to the realization and attainment of śrāvaka arhats [nyan thos dgra bcom pa] and pratyekabuddhas [rang sangs rgyas]. Both have realized the truth of cessation, and both have ovecome all afflictions [nyon mongs spangs pa'i 'gog bden]. In order to reach perfect enlightenment, however, far more is required than just a positive, virtuous attitude. Complete enlightenment is only possible if one is truly endowed with bodhicitta.

The śrāvakas and prateykabuddhas have reached a state of peace beyond sorrow. Although they have left behind the realms of suffering forever, nonetheless, they have still not arrived at the state of buddhahood. They are unable to reach a state beyond that of 'the mere absence of suffering'. This is only because they still lack the precious bodhicitta. Though their attitude may undoubtedly be beneficial to sentient beings, they themselves have not yet truly generated the precious bodhicitta.

On the śrāvaka and pratyekabuddha path, one trains in the virtuous qualities of loving kindness and compassion while, however, failing to give rise to the precious bodhicitta. Although the qualities of loving kindness and compassion are without any doubt the true basis from which bodhicitta arises, the real meaning of bodhicitta entails much more than merely wishing for all beings to be happy and free from suffering.

Bodhicitta is much more profound and powerful; it is the courageous commitment:

“I will free all sentient beings from their suffering and establish them all on the level of perfect enlightenment.”

In order to fully understand bodhicitta one must understand it in two ways: in its aspect of compassion [snying rje] and in its aspect of knowledge [shes rab].

What is the special compassion unique to the bodhicitta motivation? With compassion one focuses on benefiting others [snying rjes gzhan don la dmigs pa] through the steadfast resolve:

“I will free all beings from suffering.”

This is the compassion aspect of the bodhicitta motivation.

What, then, is the knowledge aspect of the bodhicitta motivation? With knowledge one is focused on perfect enlightenment [shes rab kyis rdzogs byang la dmigs pa] through the similar resolve:

“I will establish all sentient beings on the level of perfect enlightenment.”

The bodhisattvas aspire to reach the state of buddhahood, perfect enlightenment, and, in addition, are fully committed to themselves establishing all sentient beings on the very same level. The personal aspiration to become an arhat or pratyekabuddha requires no involvement with the bodhicitta motivation whatsoever. Bodhicitta is, in fact, exactly the opposite of any self-oriented motive. Thus, through bodhicitta, one is able to overcome every conceivable form of ego-clinging.

The Buddha teaches that goodness [legs pa] must necessarily spring from a virtuous source [rgyu bzang po]; the supreme source of all goodness is the precious bodhicitta. The Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra is principally concerned with instructing us in the ways of this precious bodhicitta. The precious bodhicitta is praised as being far more valuable than even the wish-fulfilling jewel, king of powers [yid bzhin nor bu dbang gi rgyal po].

How can this be so? Quite simply, the powerful wish-fulfilling jewel may be able to grant any material wish a sentient being might have, but it is completely unable to grant the state of enlightenment. Like the wish-fulfilling jewel, the precious bodhicitta fulfills all relative wishes; moreover, it alone can lead to the ultimate happiness, to the attainment of complete and perfect enlightenment.

Footnotes and references:


See Jewellery of Scripture, page 116; and bu ston chos 'byung, page 57.


rnam par gzigs


gtsug tor can


thams cad skyob pa


'khor ba 'jig


gser thub


'od srung


shākya thub pa


For further details see klong chen chos 'byung, pages 72-73.


sangs rgyas yul 'khor skyong


The term 'incalculable' or 'countless' [grangs med; asaṃkhya] is a number which is described as 'ten to the power of fifty-nine'. See Jewellery of Scripture, pages 144-145; bu ston chos 'byung, pages 71-72; and ston pa śākya thub pa'i rnam thar, page 25.


sangs rgyas legs mdzad


sangs rgyas dbang po rgyal mtshan


sangs rgyas mar me mdzad


sangs rgyas 'od srung


See Jewellery of Scripture, pages 123-124; bu ston chos 'byung, pages 61-62; klong chen chos 'byung, pages 80-81; and and ston pa śākya thub pa'i rnam thar, page 32. The twelve deeds of a Buddha are [sangs rgyas kyi mdzad pa bcu gnyis]: 1) descending from Tushita's heavenly place [dga' ldan nas 'pho ba'i mdzad pa]; 2) entering the womb [lhums su zhugs pa'i mdzad pa]; 3) birth [sku bltams pa'i mdzad pa]; 4) demonstrating his physical prowess [sgyu rtsal bstan pa'i mdzad pa]; 5) enjoying the company of his queen [btsun mo'i 'khor gyis rol pa'i mdzad pa]; 6) leaving home [khyim nas mngon par 'byung ba'i mdzad pa]; 7) undergoing penance [dka' ba spyad pa'i mdzad pa]; 8) realizing the essence of enlightenment [byang chub snying por gshegs pa'i mdzad pa]; 9) defeating the māras [bdud sde 'dul ba'i mdzad pa]; 10) total awakening [mngon par byang chub pa'i mdzad pa]; 11) turning the wheel of dharma [chos kyi 'khor lo bskor ba'i mdzad pa]; and 12) entering into nirvāṇa [mya ngan las 'das pa'i mdzad pa].


See klong chen chos 'byung, page 84ff.

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