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 ...

The bodhisattvas are the sons of Buddha’s mind because they are his true successors [rgyal ba’i gdung ’dzin pa]. Eventually they will attain complete enlightenment and themselves become buddhas. They will then lead the bodhisattvas from their own entourage to complete enlightenment.

The bodhisattvas are called the ’Mahāyāna saṃgha’ [theg chen dge ’dun],
while the śrāvakas and pratyekabuddhas are called the ’Hīnayāna saṃgha’ [theg chung dge ’dun].

With this understanding, Śāntideva pays homage to the Buddha and his sons. Paying homage to the Buddha and the saṃgha, the dharma is automatically included, since the dharma naturally dwells in the minds of the Buddha and the saṃgha. The dharma includes the wisdom of statements and the wisdom of realization, both of which abide in the minds of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas. Together they constitute the jewel of the dharma [chos dkon mchog], second among the three jewels.

The ‘teachings of statements’ [lung gi chos] is a term referring to all the teachings the Buddha has given: the complete tripiṭaka, ’the three baskets’ [sde snod gsum] of the teachings.

These are:

  1. the vinaya piṭaka, ’the basket of discipline’ [’dul ba’i sde snod];
  2. the sūtra piṭaka, ’the basket of discourses’ [mdo sde’i sde snod]; and
  3. the abhidharma piṭaka, ’the basket of the doctrine’ [mngon pa’i sde snod].

The ’teachings of the statements’ [lung gi chos] can also be divided into the twelve sections of scriptures [gsung rab yan lag bcu gnyis]. The wisdom of statements is the wisdom which knows all the statements of the tripiṭaka [lung sde snod gsum ha go ba’i ye shes]. The wisdom of these three baskets of teachings abides within the minds of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas, those who have realized the teachings of the tripiṭaka [lung sde snod gsum rtogs pa’i shes rab].

The twelve sections of scriptures [gsung rab yan lag bcu gnyis] are:

  1. sūtra [mdo’i sde],
  2. aphorisms in prose and verse [dbyangs kyis bsnyad pa’i sde],
  3. prophetic declarations [lung du bstan pa’i sde],
  4. verses [tshigs su bcad pa’i sde],
  5. meaningful expressions [ched du brjod pa’i sde],
  6. narratives [gleng gzhi’i sde],
  7. parables [rtogs pa brjod pa’i sde],
  8. legends [de lta bu byung ba’i sde],
  9. tales of past lives [skyes pa’i rabs kyi sde],
  10. extensive teachings [shin tu rgyas pa],
  11. marvelous events [rmad du byung ba’i sde], and
  12. established instructions [gtan la phab pa’i sde].

The ’teachings of realization’ [rtogs pa’i chos] is a term referring to the three precious trainings [bslab pa rin po che rnam pa gsum]:

  1. the training in discipline [tshul khrims kyi bslab pa],
  2. the training in samādhi [ting nge ’dzin gyi bslab pa], and
  3. the training in knowledge [shes rab kyi bslab pa].

The wisdom of realization is the wisdom that comes from the practice of the three trainings [rtogs pa bslab pa gsum nyams len byed pa’i ye shes]. All buddhas and bodhisattvas train in discipline and samādhi and hold knowledge in their minds.

Thus, one should understand that the sublime dharma is the wisdom of statements and the wisdom of realization, both of which abide in the minds of the Buddha and the bodhisattvas. The dharma is the mind that has realized wisdom. The Buddhist books and scriptures are mere representations or replicas [tshab] of the sublime dharma, not the actual dharma.

In this way the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra has introduced the three jewels. ’Jewel’ [dkon mchog] is the English translation of the Tibetan word ’könchok’, itself derived from the Sanskrit word ’ratna’. Ratna connotes ’jewel’ [rin po che / rin chen]. In this world the three jewels are as ’rare’ [dkon] and as ’supreme’ [mchog du gyur pa] as a jewel [rin po che].

The three jewels possess the six qualities [chos drug] of a jewel [rin po che]:

1. The three jewels are of ’rare appearance’ [’byung bar dkon pa], as they do not manifest unless beings have accumulated sufficient merit. Like a jewel, they are difficult to find. The appearance of a buddha is very rare. For three countless aeons Buddha Śākymuni gathered the accumulations of merit and wisdom and purified afflictive and cognitive obscurations. Unless beings have accumulated sufficient merit, a buddha does not appear.

Without a buddha, there is neither dharma nor saṃgha. Buddha Śākyamuni is the only Buddha who ever appeared in a time when the five degenerations were widespread. He made five hundred great aspirations to particularly benefit beings of lesser merit in such a time. Had Buddha Śākyamuni not made these great aspirations, due to our insufficient merit, the three jewels would not even be mentioned.

The five degenerations [snyigs ma lnga] are

  1. the degeneration of time [dus kyi snyigs],
  2. the degeneration of sentient beings [sems can gyi snyigs ma],
  3. the degeneration of lifespan [tshe’i snyigs ma],
  4. the degeneration of actions [las kyi snyigs ma],
  5. and the degeneration of afflictions [nyon mongs pa’i snyigs ma].

Sometimes the degeneration of views [lta ba’i snyigs ma] is listed instead of the degeneration of actions.

2. The three jewels are ’immaculate’ [dri ma med pa], naturally without stains just as a jewel is free from flaws and imperfections. Buddha himself is utterly unblemished. His body, speech and mind have not the slightest flaw. The sublime dharma is immaculate because both the ’pronouncements of the tripiṭaka’ [lung sde snod gsum] and the ’teachings that lead to realization, namely the three trainings’ [rtogs pa’i chos bslab pa gsum], are flawless in word and meaning. The saṃgha, though not utterly unblemished, is on the path to becoming so.

3. The three jewels are ’powerful’ [mthu dang ldan pa] as they benefit oneself and others. The example is a magic jewel, which enables one to accomplish whatever one wishes. The Buddha is powerful because he has attained the dharmakāya for his own benefit and has manifested the rūpakāya for the benefit of others. The sublime dharma is powerful because it leads to liberation and enlightenment. The saṃgha is powerful as it holds the knowledge of the path to liberation and enlightenment and as it explains that knowledge to others.

4. The three jewels are the ’ornamentation of the world’ [’jig rten gyi rgyan], causing wholesome thoughts in beings and thus beautifying the world, as a jewel beautifies the person who wears it. The Buddha beautifies the world by causing beings to generate virtuous thoughts. The dharma beautifies the world as it is the actual method to attain enlightenment. The saṃgha beautifies the world by inspiring virtue in beings and as companions along the path.

5. The three jewels are ’supreme’ [mchog tu gyur ba] since in this world nothing is superior to them. Similarly, jewels are considered supreme among worldly objects. The Buddha is supreme in this world because he has completely transcended the world [’jig rten las ’das pa]. The dharma is supreme as it is the perfect path to liberation and enlightenment; the saṃgha is supreme as it has embarked on that path.

6. The three jewels are ’unchanging’ [’gyur ba med pa]; like jewels they are by nature without change. Unchanging means not falling under the power of impermanence. The Buddha has attained the unchanging wisdom. The dharma is unchanging as it teaches the unchanging Four Noble Truths. The saṃgha is unchanging since once saṃgha members have reached the level of exalted persons, they will unwaveringly progress to enlightenment.

The Tibetan translators tried to capture two of these six qualities when they coined the word ’könchok’, ’supreme and rare’ [dkon mchog] for the Sanskrit word ’ratna’. They thought that the Tibetan word ’rinchen’, meaning jewels like rubies and emeralds, did not convey the full meaning well enough.

Why did they choose these two qualities from among the six? Because the cause [rgyu] for enlightenment is difficult to obtain. People have many negative thoughts. Positive thoughts, emotions and actions, which form the cause to embark upon the path of enlightenment, are rare. Even rarer is the actual attainment of enlightenment. As the Buddha is free from all defects and endowed with all qualities, he is supreme in this world. These two, rare and supreme, are the most outstanding of a jewel’s six qualities. Therefore, the Tibetan translators selected a word that reflects the implied meaning rather than adhering strictly to a literal translation.

The sūtra teachings recognize only ’three jewels’: the teacher [ston pa], the teaching [bstan pa], and the followers [slob pa]. More than three are not necessary. Practicing the path to enlightenment, one need rely only on the three jewels.

When paying respect to the three jewels one must understand what they are. According to the Mahāyāna teachings, Buddha, dharma and saṃgha are each endowed with eight qualities:

Being endowed with eight qualities of the twofold benefits is the hallmark of the jewel of the Buddha.
Being endowed with eight qualities of cessation and path is the hallmark of the sublime dharma.
Being endowed with eight qualities of knowledge and liberation is the hallmark of the noble saṃgha.

don gnyis yon tan brgyad ldan sangs rgyas dkon mchog gi mtshan nyid
‘gog lam yon tan brgyad ldan dam pa’i chos kyi mtshan nyid
rig grol yon tan brgyad ldan ’phags pa’i dge ’dun gyi mtshan nyid

These qualities will be explained in great detail in Khenpo Kunpal’s commentary to the second chapter of the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra.

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