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 ...

Khenpo Kunpal also gives the five great key points from the Vyākhyā-yukti. The great Indian paṇḍitas such as Vasubhandu and others based their teaching style [’chad stangs] on these five points, as did the teachers at Śrī Siṃha Shedra, such as Paltrül Rinpoche, Ön Urgyen Tendzin Norbu, and Khenpo Zhenga.

My personal teacher Khenpo Pentse [mkhan po pad tshe][1] also always explained all sūtras [mdo] and treatises [bstan bcos] according to these five great points:

  1. The purpose [dgos don / dgos pa’i don]
  2. The condensed meaning [bsdus don / bsdus pa’i don]
  3. The meaning of the words [tshig don / tshig gi don]
  4. The outline [mtshams sbyor gyi don]
  5. The responses to objections [rgal lan gyi don].

1. The first point is the teaching’s purpose [dgos don / dgos pa’i don]. The teacher should first explain the general purpose [spyi’i dgos pa] and the benefits of listening to the dharma, and then he should explain the specific purpose [khyad par gyi dgos pa], the subject matter to be taught. The general and particular purpose has also been explained earlier under the fifth of the five preliminary assessments: ’How a learned paṇḍita teacher expounds the dharma’. See text-section 102 in this commentary:

(The Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra) was composed to benefit all sentient beings in general, and in particular, so that the five hundred paṇḍitas of glorious Nālandā could understand how to practice the way of the bodhisattvas in a complete and unmistaken fashion.

In this context, the teacher may outline what are known as ’the four related aspects, such as the purpose and so on’ [dgos sogs chos bzhi]:

  1. the topic [brjod bya],
  2. the purpose [dgos pa],
  3. the ultimate purpose [nying dgos], and
  4. the relation between these [’brel ba].

These points must be explained at the beginning of a teaching on a treatise.

1) The first of these, the topic that is taught in the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra, is the precious bodhicitta, the entrance into the precepts of the bodhisattvas.
2) The second related aspect, the purpose for studying the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra, is that studying the teachings of the Buddha is meaningful.
3) Third, the ultimate purpose of studying the teachings is to attain the level of perfect enlightenment.
4) Finally, the relation between these points is such that one cannot understand the latter points without having first studied the former.

Without practicing bodhicitta and the precepts of the bodhisattvas, one will not understand the teachings of the Buddha and will never reach perfect enlightenment.[2]

2. The second of the five points through which the scholars explain the scriptures and treatises is the condensed meaning or summary [bsdus don / bsdus pa’i don] of the whole treatise. Here, the teacher should give a general overview [ngag don bsdus pa’i don] as well as an overview of each individual topic [so so’i bsdus don].

The brief meaning of the treatise from beginning to end has already been stated under the fourth of the five preliminary assessments through which the Indian paṇḍitas evaluate Buddhist treatises in text section 101, called ’How a learned paṇḍita teacher expounds the dharma’:

(The Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra) explains in great detail how to train in the motivation of supreme bodhicitta and in the application of the six transcendental perfections.

The teacher should summarize the text in an accessible and easily remembered way. Next, he should give an overview of each topic and present the text as a whole from beginning to end. The teacher should delineate the major sections of the text and their subdivisions.

Here, the teacher should use Paltrül Rinpoche’s specific style of structuring the entire text in an easy manner, which follows the framework provided by the following four famous lines:

May the precious and supreme bodhicitta
Arise in those in whom it has not yet arisen;
And where it has arisen may it not decrease
But ever increase more and more.”

byang chub sems mchog rin po che
ma skyes pa rnams skye gyur cig
skyes pa nyams pa med pa yang
gong nas gong du ’phel bar shog

This aspiration summarizes [phyogs bsdoms kyi tshig / bsdus tshig] the entire Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra. The Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra has ten chapters in 913 stanzas. The ten chapters are structured by categorizing them into four principal sections [rtsa’i sa bcad]:

The first principal section, which includes the first three chapters, is titled

‘Three chapters that give rise to the precious bodhicitta in those in whom it has not yet arisen’

[byang chub kyi sems rin po che ma skyes pa bskyed par byed pa’i le’u] (chap. 1, 2, 3).

These are:

  1. Explaining the benefits of bodhicitta [byang chub sems kyi phan yon bshad pa’i le’u] [stanza 4-36]
  2. Confessing negative deeds [65 stanzas] [sdig pa bshags pa’i le’u]
  3. Thorough adoption of bodhicitta [33.5 stanzas] [byang chub sems yongs su gzung ba].

The second principal section, which includes the second three chapters, is titled

‘Three chapters that prevent the decrease (of the precious bodhicitta) where it has arisen’

[byang chub kyi sems rin po che skyes pa mi nyams par byed pa’i le’u gsum] (chap. 4,5,6).

These are:

  1. Heedfulness [48 stanzas] [bag yod]
  2. Introspection [109 stanzas] [shes bzhin]
  3. Patience [134 stanzas] [bzod pa].

The third principal section, which includes the third three chapters, is titled

‘Three chapters that not only prevent the decrease (of the precious bodhicitta) but cause it to ever increase more and more’

[byang chub kyi sems rin po che mi nyams par gong du spel ba’i le’u gsum] (chap. 7,8,9).

These are:

  1. Diligence [76 stanzas] [brtson ‘grus]
  2. Meditation [187 stanzas] [bsam gtan]
  3. Transcendental knowledge [167 stanzas] [shes rab kyi pha rol tu phyin pa].

The final principal section is a single chapter concerning dedication and is titled

‘A single chapter concerning the dedication of the results that have thus been developed for the benefit of others’

[de ltar spel ba’i ’bras bu gzhan don du bngo ba’i le’u gcig] (chap. 10).

This is:

  1. Dedication [57.5 stanzas] [bsngo ba].

Following this format of structuring the whole Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra, the first three chapters deal with arousing bodhicitta. The second three chapters deal with how to sustain bodhicitta and prevent it from being lost or diminished. The third three chapters deal with methods for increasing bodhicitta. The tenth chapter deals with the subject of dedication. You dedicate the benefits of bodhicitta, which you have aroused, sustained, and increased through the teachings of the previous nine chapters.

3. The third of the five points, the meaning of the words [tshig don], teaches that the teacher should first give an analysis of the individual words [tshig ’grel] and then an analysis of their meaning [don ’grel]. The teacher first explains each word of the text. The textual meaning must be discerned through an examination of the words and terms. Once the teacher has provided a detailed and unambiguous explanation of the terms, then he should explain the meaning of the text without any additions, omissions, or errors.

4. The fourth point, the distinctions [mtshams sbyor / bar mtshams], refers to the distinctions between terms [tshig gi mtshams sbyor] and also to the distinctions between related ideas [don gyi mtshams sbyor]. The teacher must clarify when words seem unrelated, when their relationship is ambiguous, or when their relationship is clear but contextually obscure. Concerning the relationship between ideas, the teacher begins the explanation by saying, for example,

“That brief presentation can be elaborated upon in this way.”

In this manner the teacher gives clear distinctions [mtshams sbyor] of various aspects of the text and distinguishes the former sections from the latter.

5. The fifth point, the responses [lan] to objections [rgal], means that the teacher quotes various doubting opinions voiced in regard to each subject and then refutes them. Alternatively, the student may raise questions or objections, such as:

“Are this point and that point not contradictory?”


“How can this be so?”

The teacher should then resolve such doubts and delineate the meaning of the text through arguments consistent with logic and supported by scriptural references.

If one wishes to apply these points in depth, the five great points can be applied not only to the treatise as a whole but also to each stanza of the treatise. A teacher must know the distinctions described above between the different (levels of) teachings, such as those of the provisional meaning [drang don], the definitive meaning [nges don], the four kinds of intention [dgongs pa rnam pa bzhi], and the four covert intentions [ldem dgongs rnam pa bzhi].

In addition to the five great points required for teaching the sūtras, a teacher of the tantras must be able to explain the tantras according to ’the six parameters’ [mtha’ drug] and ’the four styles’ [tshul bzhi]. These points are the unique keys for appraising the scriptures of secret mantra, through which one may unlock their meaning. Without these specific keys it is utterly impossible to uncover and explain the meaning contained in any tantra of the Buddha.

The six parameters [mtha’ drug] are:

  1. the provisional meaning [drang don],
  2. the definitive meaning [nges don],
  3. the implied meaning [dgongs pa can],
  4. the meaning that is not implied [dgongs pa can ma yin pa],
  5. the literal expression [sgra ji bzhin pa], and
  6. the figurative or non-literal expression [sgra ji bzhin ma yin pa].

The four styles [tshul bzhi], also known as the four styles of appraisal of the scriptures [’jal byed tshul bzhi], are:

  1. the lexical meaning [tshig gi don],
  2. the general meaning [spyi don],
  3. the concealed meaning [sbas don], and
  4. the ultimate meaning [mthar thug gi don].

Footnotes and references:


Short for Khenpo Pema Tsewang [mkhan po pad ma tshe dbang].


For detailed analyisis of the four interrelated aspects such as the purpose and so forth [dgos sogs chos bzhi / dgos ‘brel yan lag bzhi], see Paltrül Rinpoche’s commentary on Asaṅga’s Abhisamayālaṃkāra, called mngon rtogs rgyan gyi spyi don, page 22.

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