by Andreas Kretschmar | 246,740 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 ...

In some of these stories, we notice that Śāntideva displays the miraculous conduct that characterizes the mahāsiddhas [grub thob chen po]. To destroy fierce and tenacious fixations [’dzin pa drag po] in the minds of some evildoers, he displays wrathful activities [phrin las drag po]. Mahāsiddhas are able to display any of the four activities— pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and subjugating (wrathful)—while their minds remain completely rooted in peace [zhi ba] and bodhicitta.

The two lengths of cloth [ras yug gnyis] refers to two uncut pieces of cloth that still have fringe at either end, which can be used as a skirt.

All of these aspects of Śāntideva’s life story answer the scholars’ first preliminary assessment: ’Which author composed (the treatise)?’ Whatever teaching you are studying and practicing, you should first establish the reputation and integrity of the author. You need to know whether he was an enlightened person who intended to benefit beings, or whether he was an inferior person, harboring negative or self-serving intentions.

The earliest extant Tibetan account of Śāntideva’s legendary life story, written by the Indian scholar Vibhūticandra,[1] who came in the year 1204 to Tibet as part of the entourage of the Kashmīri mahāpaṇḍita, Śākyaśrībhadra (1127-1225), provides excellent background material concerning Śāntideva:[2]

Thus have I heard from the lineage! In the South, in Śrīnagara, (Śāntideva) was born as the son of the King Mañjuśrīvarma [’jam dpal go cha]. He paid respect to the buddhas of the past and practiced roots of virtue that were conducive to liberation. He had a pure inclination toward the Mahāyāna and was learned in all arts.

‘di skad brgyud pa las thos te / / lho’i phyogs su dpal na ga ra la mi’i rgyal po ’jam dpal go cha’i bu ru skyes / sngon gyi sangs rgyas la bya ba byas pa / thar pa’i cha mthun gyi dge ba’i rtsa ba thob pa / / theg pa chen po’i rigs yang dag pa / sgyu rtsal thams cad la mkhas pa /

At the time he was to be empowered as successor to the throne, his mother, the king’s principal queen, who was an emanation of Vajrayoginī, made him bathe in hot water. Seeing that he could not bear the heat, his mother spoke the following words,

“If you were to become a king during this time of degeneration, you would (only) bring suffering to beings, due to the power of your afflictions. Then, when you die, you will endure suffering in the hell realms far worse than this (hot water). There is no need (to rule) the kingdom. Son, go to the country of Bhaṃgala. There you will receive the blessing of Mañjughoṣa!”

rgyal tshab tu dbang bskur ba’i dus su rdo rje rnal ’byor ma’i sprul pa / rgyal po’i btsun mo chen mo yum gyis chu dron pos khrus byed du bcug pas / de’i drod mi bzod pa mthong nas / yum gyis ’di skad du smras te / snyigs ma’i dus su rgyal po byas na nyon mongs pa’i dbang gis sems can sdug tu bcug la / / shi nas dmyal bar ’di bas kyang drag pa’i sdug bsngal myong bar ’gyur bas rgyal srid kyis dgos pa med kyi bu khyod bhaṃ ga la’i yul du song / der khyod la ’jam pa’i dbyangs kyis byin gyis brlob par ’gyur zhes so //

Holding the command of his mother above his head, he mounted his best dapple gray horse and left. He rode day and night for many days without thinking of food, drink, and the like and continued on, thinking only of the command of his (mother). At the border of the country of Bhaṃgala he saw in a forest a most exquisite girl. After she had caught hold of his horse, he dismounted it.

de nas yum gyi bka’ de spyi bor bzhag nas / thugs drang po rta mchog ljang gu la zhon te gshegs so / / de yang zhag du ma nyin mtshan med par ’gro ste / bza’ btung la sogs pa yid la mi byed par de’i bka’ gcig po la rtse gcig par ’gro ba la / / bhaṃ ga la’i yul gyi mtha’ mar nags tshal gyi nang na bu mo rin po che zhig mthong ngo / / bu mo des rta bzung nas de rta las babs so / /

Since he was quite thirsty and saw water before him, he was ready to drink (the water).

The girl said,

“This is poisonous water. Don’t drink it!”

Having thus prevented him from (drinking) it, she allowed him to drink nectar-like water and let him have fried meat to eat.

When he was thus satisfied, he asked the girl,

“Where do you come from?”

She replied,

“In the center of this forest lives my master, someone who is ornamented with the accumulation of sublime qualities, a compassionate one, who practices the samādhi of the Śrīmañjuvajra. That is where I come from.”

de ni shin tu skom pas mdun du chu mthong nas btung bar brtsams so / / bu mos ’di ni dug gi chu yin pas ma ’thung zhig ces smras na / de las bzlog te bdud rtsi’i chu ’thung du bcug pa dang / sha bsregs nas za ru bcug pas tshim par gyur la bu mo la smras te / khyed gang nas ’ongs zhes so / / des smras pa / nags tshal chen po ’di’i dbus su yon tan dam pa’i tshogs kyis brgyan pa / thugs rje can dpal ’jam pa’i rdo rje ting nge ’dzin sgrub pa bdag gi bla ma bzhugs te / de nas ’ongs zhes so //

Upon merely hearing this (name), he (Śāntideva) felt a joyous relief, just like a poor person who has found a jewel. He said,

“Wonderful, show him to me!”

The girl invited him and led his horse as they went. When they arrived there, he saw the supreme master who, like a golden mountain, was pacified in body and speech and endowed with a very profound mind. He offered himself and his best horse and prostrated with devotion to this master.

He requested (the master),

“Please instruct me in the samādhi of Mañjughoṣa, accepting me (as your student).”

The master instructed him in the stages of complete maturation, (giving him the empowerments). (Śāntideva) stayed for twelve years, and through his samādhi he met Mañjughoṣa in actuality. Then, since the master commanded him to go to Madhyadeśa, he went.

de thos pa tsam gyis bkren pas rin po che thob la ltar dga’ bde chen pos dbugs phyung nas smras te / kye de bdag la ston cig / bu mos de ’bod pa rta bzung ste gshegs par gyur to / / der phyin pas shin tu zab pa’i thugs dang ldan zhing / /lus ngag zhi ba gser gyi ri lta bu bla ma’i mchog mthong nas / bdag nyid dang rta mchog phul nas gus pas bla ma de la phyag byas te / ’jam pa’i dbyangs kyi ting nge ’dzin gyis gdams pas bdag rjes su ’dzin par ’tshal to / / zhes gsol te / / bla mas yang de yongs su smin par mdzad pa’i rim pas gdams par mdzad do / / des ni lo bcu gnyis der bzhugs la ting nge ’dzin gyis ’jam pa’i dbyangs mgnon sum du mdzad cing / / de rjes bla mas yul dbus su ’gro bar bka’ stsal pas song ste /

He lived with only the dharma in mind, as someone who was respected by the king. He attended the king of Magadha while holding a wooden sword in its scabbard after the manner of a body guard [rta pa], and thus he was named Acalasena.

ma ga dha’i rgyal po rten cing shing gi ral gri shubs dang bcas pa bzung bas rta pa’i tshul mi g.yo ba’i sde zhes pa’i ming can rgyal pos bkur ba spyod pa di nyid kyis chos kho na yid la byed cing bzhugs so / /

Once, the other guards, unable to bear his success, complained to the king,

“Since this Acalasena is attending you with a sword of wood, how might he strike at the enemy in case of a battle? Therefore, please examine his sword.”

As a result, and since (the king) could not speak directly to (Acalasena), he issued the command,

“I will inspect the swords of all the guards!”

After he had examined the swords of a few (guards, the king) commanded,

“I will also inspect the sword of Acalasena!”

(Acalasena) spoke,

“It is not proper for you to examine my sword.”

Since the king insisted repeatedly, Acalasena said,

“If you really want to examine it, then, alone in a remote location, cover one eye with your hand. Then look at it.”

When (the king) gazed upon it, due to the sword’s radiance, the king’s uncovered eye fell out onto the ground. Knowing that the king had become very devoted from seeing his power, he (Acalasena) re-inserted the eye into the eye-socket, relieving all his pain, and set out for the great monastery of Nālandā.

dus gzhan zhig na rta pa gzhan rnams kyis de’i phun sum tshogs pa mi bzad pas rgyal po la smras te / mi g.yo ba’i sde ’di ni shing gi ral gris khyed brten pas ’khrug pa’i dus su dgra la ji ltar rdeg par ’gyur / de bas na de’i ral gri blta bar ’tshal / de ltar yin yang drang por smra mi nus pas rta pa thams cad kyi ral gri blta bar bya’o / / zhes rgyal pos bka’ stsal pas kha cig gis ral gri bltas nas / mi g.yo ba’i sde la yang ral gril blta’o zhes bka’ stsal to / / des gsungs pa / bdag gi ral gri khyed kyis blta bar mi ’os zhes so / / rgyal pos nan tan gyis yang dang yang du zhus pas mi g.yo ba na re cis kyang mthong bar ’dod na phyogs dben par khyed rang kho na lag pas mig gcig bkab ste / blta bar gyis shig de bltas pas ral gri’i gzi bzid kyis rgyal po’i mig ma bkab pa ngos sa la lhung ngo / / nus pa de mthong nas rgyal po shin tu mos par ’gyur bar dgongs la mig gi bu gar mig bcug ste / zug rngu med par byas la gtsug lag khang chen po nā lan dar gshegs la /

Acalasena took monastic ordination and received the name Śāntideva because he was so peaceful. Having contemplated at this (place) the tripiṭaka, he meditated continuously on luminosity, regardless of whether he was eating, sleeping, or strolling around. Therefore, as he dwelt in the samādhi known as ’Bhusuku’ he became widely known as Bhusuku.

mi g.yo ba’i sde rab tu byung ste / / zhi ba dang ldan pas zhi ba’i lha zhes ming btags / der sde snod gsum mnyam pa’i rjes la za rung nyal rung ’chags rung rgyun tu ’od gsal bsgom pas bhu su ku zhes ting nge ’dzin la gnas pa’i phyir bhu su ku zhes ming yongs su grags so /

Then, at one time, evil-minded ones in the saṃgha, conspired thus:

“This (Śāntideva) just acts like he meditates, but he is not performing any activities in the saṃgha. We must investigate what he (actually) knows.”

de nas dus gzhan zhig na dge ’dun gyi nang du ma rungs pa ’ga’ zhig gis / ’dis ni dge ’dun gyi nang du bya ba gang yang ma byas par sgom pa ltar gnas te / ci shes brtag dgos zhes bgros la /

They thought,

“Since at the time of the first (month, when Buddha performed the) miracles, the dharma (scriptures) are to be recited, as (is done) every year, we must appoint him (to this task).”

When they asked him, he replied,

“I don’t know anything.”

Although he refused them repeatedly, they kept requesting him. Outside the monastery in the northeastern direction on a vast plain, they had arranged a variety of offerings. They summoned many people, set up a very high lion throne, and invited him.

dang po cho ’phrul gyi dus su lo re re zhing (bzhin?) chos ’don pa yod pas / ’di la ’chol dgos zhes bsams nas / de la zhus de gsungs pa bdag gi ci yang mi shes so / / yang nas yang du bkag kyang de dag gis zhus shing gtsug lhag khang gi phyir rol gyi dbang ldan gyi phyogs su sa phyogs yangs pa la mchod pa’i rnam pa du ma bshams te / skye bo ma lus pa bos nas seng ge’i khri shin tu mthon po bshams te spyan drangs so / /

Having taken his place there, (Śāntideva) pondered,

“I have the three texts that I have composed, the Sūtra-samuccaya, the Śikṣā-samuccaya, and the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra. It is suitable to recite the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra to them.”

He said,

“Should I recite something taught (ārṣa = gsungs pa) by the Ṛṣi (the Buddha) or something that has arisen based on him (arthārṣa = rjes las byung ba = bstan bcos)? The Ṛṣi is someone who has realized the ultimate truth. His teachings are the scriptures [gsung rab]. Based on these (scriptures), but constructed by others, are the treatises [rjes las byung ba = bstan bcos].”

des der bzhugs shing bsams te / mdo sde kun las btus pa dang / bslab pa kun las btus pa dang / byang chub spyod pa la ’jug pa zhes gzhung gsum bdag gis byas yod do / / de la spyod pa la ’jug po gdon par ’os zhes bsams nas gsungs te drang srong gis gsungs pa ’am / de’i rjes las byung ba gang gdon / don dam rtog(s) pa ni drang srong ngo / / des mdzad pa gsung rab bo / / de la brten nas gzhan gyi bya ba de rjes las byung ba’o /

As the Noble Maitreya said:

That which is endowed with meaning, endowed with the words of dharma,
Words that purify the afflictions of the three realms
And teach the benefits of peace,
(Are śāstras that have) arisen from the Ṛṣi. What contradicts these are the (writings) of others (tīrthikas).

This is also explained in the tenth chapter (in stanza 51):[3]

Until I reach the (first bodhisattva) level of supreme joy,
Through the kindness of Mañjughoṣa,
May I always remember my former lives
And become a renunciate.[4]

Thus, one should understand this.

‘phags pa byams pas de gsungs pa /

gang gi don can chos kyi tshig dang ldan / /
khams gsum nyon mongs dag par byed pa’i tshig / /
zhi ba’i phan yon ston par byed pa de / /
drang srong las byung de las bzlog pa gzhan / / zhes so / /

des gang ’chad par ’gyur ba le’u bcu pa nas /

bdag kyang ’jam dbyangs bka’ drin gyis / /
sa rab dga’ ba thob bar du / /
rtag tu tshe rabs dran par dang / /
rab tu ’byung ba’ang thob par shog /

ces pa de yang rig par ’gyur ro /

They were (all) amazed and spoke up,

“Please recite (something composed by) another.

Then (Śāntideva) began (to recite) the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra. The Noble Mañjuśrī appeared in the sky in front of him, so that all (present) could actually see him just when (Śāntideva) recited:

When neither an ‘entity’ nor a ‘non-entity’
Remains before the mind,
At that point, since there is no other position,
It rests in utter peace, without any conceptualizing.

Then, (Śāntideva) together with (Mañjuśrī) became invisible (to the) people. People who regretted that they no longer could see him examined his room and found the three (texts), the Sūtra-samuccaya and (the two) others. Through these (three texts), the scholars made him famous throughout the world.

de dad gi ngo mtshar skyes nas smras te / gzhan pa ’don par zhu ’tshal ces brjod pa dang / des kyang spyod pa la ’jug par brtsams so / de la

gang tshe dgnos dang dngos min dag /
blo yi mdun du mi gnas ‘gyur / /
de tshe rnam pa gzhan med par / /
dmigs pa med par rab tu zhi / /

zhes bya ba ’don pa’i skabs su de la mthong lam mngon du gyur ba dang / ’phags pa ’jam dpal mdun gyi nam mkha’ la snang / / de’i rjes la de dang bcas pa skye bo rnams la mi snang bar gyur / de nas de ma mthong bas ’gyod par gyur pa’i skye bo rnams kyis de’i brang khang du bltas pas / mdo sde kun las btus pa la sogs pa gsum blangs te / mkhas pa rnams kyis sgo nas ’jig rten du grags par byas so /

Footnotes and references:


The short biography of Śāntideva is found in vibhūti dgongs ’grel, page 236, folios 229b6-231b5.


The Sanskrit and the Tibetan versions of this short biography have been translated into French and German. See Śāntideva mystique boudhiste, pages 27-32; Légende de Śāntideva, pages 175-177; and Zum Leben des Śāntideva, pages 7-14.


For a commentary on this stanza see kun dpal ’grel pa (si khron mi rigs edition), pages 798-799.


Become a renunciate or receive ordination: A renunciate, someone who has ‘gone forth’ [rab byung / rab tu byung ba; skr. pravajyā], is someone who voluntarily left home and entered into a state of homelessness and connotes a monk who has taken the precepts of either a śrāmaṇera or a bhikṣu [khyim nas khyim med par rab tu byung ba ste dge tshul slong gi sdom pa blangs pa’i grva pa]. See Sound of Two Hands Clapping, pages 33-37.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: