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 ...

Precept [sdom pa] is defined as ’that which safeguards against non-virtuous tendencies of body, speech and mind’ [lus ngag yid gsum mi dge ba’i phyogs la bsdams]. The literal meaning of the term ’precept’ is ’to bind’ [sdom pa], ’to close’ [kha sdom pa], or ’to close down all three gates of non-virtue’ [mi dge ba’i sgo ba’i sgo gsum thams cad bsdams bzhag]. Therefore, ’taking precepts’ safeguards against or causes one to refrain from all misdeeds [nyes pa’i phyogs thams cad bsdom bzhag pa].

A bodhisattva commits himself to three disciplines [tshul khrims gsum]:

  1. the discipline of refraining from negative conduct,
  2. the discipline of practicing virtuous dharmas and
  3. the discipline of fulfilling the benefit of sentient beings.

(1) The discipline of refraining from negative conduct [nyes spyod sdom pa’i tshul khrims]: A bodhisattva avoids all ten unwholesome actions [mi dge ba bcu] as though they were poison and practices their opposites, the ten virtuous actions. A bodhisattva safeguards his body, speech and mind, maintaining the basic training [bslab gzhi] of the ’seven categories of the precepts of individual liberation’ [so thar ris bdun kyi sdom pa].

The seven categories of the precepts of individual liberation [so thar ris bdun kyi sdom pa] are those of:

  1. a fully ordained monk [dge slong; skr. bhikṣu];
  2. a fully ordained nun [dge slong ma; skr. bhikṣunī];
  3. a monk [dge tshul; skr. śrāmaṇera];
  4. a nun [dge tshul ma skr. śrāmaṇerikā];
  5. a male lay practitioner [dge bsnyen; skr. upāsaka];
  6. a female lay practitioner [dge bsnyen ma; skr. upāsikā] and
  7. a probationary nun [dge slob ma; skr. śikṣāmāṇā].

A bodhisattva avoids any negative action such as the ten non-virtuous actions [mi dge ba bcu], the five crimes with immediate retribution [mtshams med pa lnga], the five secondary crimes with immediate retribution [nye ba’i mtshams med pa lnga], the five perverted means of sustenance [log pa’i ’tsho ba lnga], and others.

The ten non-virtuous actions [dge ba bcu] are:

  1. taking life [srog gcod pa],
  2. taking what is not given [ma byin par len pa],
  3. sexual misconduct [log g.yem],
  4. speaking lies [rdzun smra ba],
  5. sowing discord [phra ma byed pa],
  6. harsh words [tshig rtsub],
  7. worthless chatter [ngag kyal],
  8. covetousness [rnab sems],
  9. wishing harm to others [gnod sems], and
  10. wrong views [log lta].

The five crimes with immediate retribution [mtshams med pa lnga] are: killing one’s father [pha gsod pa], killing one’s mother [ma gsod pa], killing an arhat [dra bcom pa gsod pa], creating a split in the saṃgha [dge ’dun gyi dbyen byed pa], and malevolently causing a tathāgata to bleed [de bzhin gshegs pa’i sku la ngan sems kyis khrag ’byin pa]. Among these five creating a split in the saṃgha is considered the most severe misdeed.

The five secondary crimes with immediate retribution [nye ba’i mtshams med pa lnga] are: acting impurely with a female arhat [dgra bcom ma la ’dod log spyod pa], killing a bodhisattva [byang sems nges gnas gsod pa], killing a saṃgha member who is on the path of learning [slob pa’i dge ’dun gsod pa], stealing the sustenance of the saṃgha [dge ’dun gyi ’du sgo ’phrog pa], and destroying a stūpa [mchod rten bshig pa].

The eight perverse acts [log pa brgyad] are:

  1. criticizing goodness [dkar phyogs la smad pa],
  2. praising evil [nag phyogs la bstod pa],
  3. interrupting the accumulation of merit of a virtuous person [dge ba can gyi tshogs bsags pa la bar du gcod cing tshogs bcag pa],
  4. disturbing the mind of those who have devotion [dad pa can gyi thugs dkrugs pa],
  5. giving up one’s master [bla ma spangs],
  6. giving up one’s deity [lha spangs],
  7. giving up one’s vajra brothers and sisters [mched lcam spangs], and
  8. desecrating a maṇḍala [dkyil ’khor gnyan po dral].

The five perverted ways of sustenance [log pa’i ’tsho ba lnga] are: 1) obtaining something through pretentiousness [tshul ’chos], 2) obtaining something through flattery [kha gsag], 3) obtaining something through hinting at it [gzhogs slong], 4) obtaining something through open theft [thob kyis ’jal ba], and 5) obtaining something through calculated generosity [rnyed pas rnyed pa ’tshol ba].

  1. ‘Pretentiousness’ means trying to obtain food or donations from a sponsor by pretending to be something which one is not, or by pretending to have certain qualities which one does not have.
  2. ‘Flattery’ means trying to obtain food or donations from a sponsor through speaking pleasant words that will delight the sponsor.
  3. ‘Hinting’ means trying to obtain something that belongs to someone else by praising it. For instance, praising someone else’s watch with the expectation that it will be given.
  4. ‘Open theft’ in this context means obtaining something that belongs to someone else by saying, “I need this,” and simply snatching it from its owner.
  5. ‘Calculated generosity’ means presenting a small gift to the sponsor in hope of obtaining a large donation in return.

(2) The discipline of practicing virtuous dharmas [dge ba chos sdud kyi tshul khrims]: While maintaining discipline of gathering merit by practicing any type of virtue, a bodhisattva studies and ponders the sublime teachings and practices the teachings which lead to enlightenment, such as the six transcendental perfections. The six transcendental perfections [pha rol tu phyin pa drug] are: generosity [sbyin pa], discipline [tshul khrims], patience [bzod pa], diligence [brtson ’grus], concentration [bsam gtan], and wisdom-knowledge [shes rab].

(3) The discipline of fulfilling the benefit of sentient beings [sems can don byed kyi tshul khrims]: This refers to how a bodhisattva benefits sentient beings. A bodhisattva meets the needs of beings in an appropriate manner and works exclusively for the benefit of others [gzhan la phan gyi bya ba sgrub]. In general, discipline [tshul khrims] means maintaining a code of conduct which accords with the nature of reality [dgnos po gnas lugs dang mthun pa’i de khrims tshul khrims].

Śāntideva composed the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra by consolidating the teachings and scriptures of the Buddha. He did not change or add anything to the teachings but composed this text in exact accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. Hence, it says without pretence [pho tshod / ham pa] or idiosyncratic fabrication [rang bzo].
Text section 176:

Any treatise which is in accordance with the scriptures [lung bzhin du] is thereby trustworthy. One knows immediately that this text is based on the scriptures and quotes the direct words of the Buddha. With these few words Śāntideva has actually made a great commitment to rely only on the words of the Buddha, the highest authority for a Buddhist.

The Pramāṇavārttika[1] says:

The scriptures are words one can trust.
Since (the Buddha) is free from defects,
He lacks the basis for speaking lies.
Therefore, the scriptures should be understood to be (words) free of defects.

The Tibetan word ’lung’ [lung] has the connotation of ’a handle’, ’something the hand can grasp’ [yu ba / a lung / lag pas bzung sa]. In the Buddhist context, the word ’lung’ is ’a word worthy of trust’ [yid ches ’os pa’i tshig]. This does not refer to ordinary words, since they might lead to disappointment. ’Lung’ are words in which one can ultimately trust [mthar thug yid ches byed sa’i tshig]. We have translated the term here as scripture, ’scriptural authority’, or ’teaching’ [lung]. The direct words of the Buddha [bka’] are written down in the scriptures [lung / gsung rab].

There are words that have defects [nyes pa yod pa’i tshig] and words that are free from defects [nyes pa med pa’i tshig]. However, since the Buddha himself is free from any defects [nyes pa zad pa], he lacks the basis for lies [rdzun gyi tshig]. Buddha’s body, speech and mind have not the slightest defect. All defects have ceased to exist.

Therefore, there is no basis within the Buddha for lying, for saying what is not true [rdzun gyi tshig rgyu med pa’i phyir]. For this reason one should consider the scriptures [lung] and the Buddha’s teachings [lung] as words free from any defects. Since the Buddha himself is flawless, his teachings are equally flawless [sangs rgyas kyi bka’ dri ma med pa].

Without defects [nyed pa zad pa] means ’without error’ [nor ba med pa]. Buddha is free from any ego-clinging [bdag ’dzin] and, therefore, free from all errors and defects; he has no basis for speaking what is not true. All words uttered within a mind frame of anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, desire and so forth are words that are imbued with defects and harm [nyes pa can gyi tshig].

Therefore, before one accepts the authority of any written teaching, one should carefully examine whether the teacher who wrote these words is truly free from mind poisons. In any spiritual system, check carefully the one who taught the rules, laws and regulations to live by. Analyze who is deciding what is considered to be good or bad. If a teacher is tainted by defects, his teachings cannot be flawless.

Footnotes and references:


tshad ma rnam ’grel.

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