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 ...

Since time without beginning beings have mainly familiarized themselves with non-virtue [mi dge ba] and afflictions [nyon mong pa].

When a virtuous thought such as,

“I will practice the dharma; I want to reach enlightenment”

does arise in one’s mind, it is like the tail of a cow, which must be grasped by a blind person who has been lost in a vast desert for a long time.

One might wonder if bodhicitta can arise only if one is born as a human being. Generally speaking, bodhicitta is easier to develop from a human rebirth. Some exceptional beings have developed bodhicitta from rebirth in other realms, however. Buddha Śākyamuni, for example, is said to have first developed a mind of loving kindness,[1] not bodhicitta, when born in the hell realm.

Longchenpa recounts this story according to the Ratna-kūṭa[2] in his History of the Dharma:[3]

In a previous life, before Buddha Śākyamuni had become a bodhisattva, he was born in a hell where the inhabitants were forced to pull wagons. Harnessed to a wagon with his companion, the two of them were too weak to move their vehicle. The guards goaded them on, beating them with red-hot weapons, causing incredible suffering.

The future Buddha thought,

“Even two of us together cannot get the wagon to move, and each of us is suffering as much as the other. I will pull it and suffer alone, so that my companion can be relieved.”

He said to the guards,

“Put his harness over my back, I will pull the cart on my own.”

The guards became furious, yelling,

“Who can prevent others from experiencing the effects of their own actions?”

and beating him about the head with their clubs. This good thought, however, immediately released our teacher from that life in hell, and he was reborn in a celestial realm of the ‘thirty-three gods’, where he attained the perfect body of a celestial child and was born into a perfect caste. It is taught that this was how he first began to benefit others. Furthermore, it is said that he purified his negative karma through this, marking the beginning of his positive karma.

After the future Buddha left the celestial realm, he took rebirth among humans as the son of a poor potter with the name Prabhāsa [snang byed].[4] The story of this rebirth is as follows:

Three countless aeons ago, in an aeon called ’Beautiful Appearance’ [mdzes par snang ba], a buddha with the name ’The Great Śākyamuni’ lived in a city called Varuna [ba ru na]. He looked exactly like our Buddha Śākyamuni, and at that time he was teaching the dharma in the center of the city. Because it was a time of the five decadences, where beings had a lifespan of a hundred years and were small in physical size, this buddha had appeared accordingly, with equal lifespan and size.

The first person among his entourage [’khor ’dus pa’i dang po] was a monk called ’King of Dharma Teachers’ [chos smra ba’i rgyal po], who had the power of samādhi and later became Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī.

While he was dwelling in samādhi, he viewed with his clairvoyance which being was developing, which declining, which had the potential to become a buddha, and which would go to the hell realms. He saw that the son of a potter with the name Prabhāsa [snang byed], someone of low caste, who lived at the periphery of the city, had the potential to become a buddha.

To tame him, this monk went to the city to beg for alms, taking his begging bowl filled with rice gruel. He went to the potter’s house, but both father and mother had gone out to work. He met the child, who was playing.

The boy Prabhāsa walked straight up to the monk and asked,

“Monk, what do you hold in your hand?”

’King of Dharma Teachers’ replied,

“This is food that is endowed with a hundred flavors.”

“If that is so, then give it to me!”

answered the boy. The monk blessed the food and gave the begging bowl to the boy, who became attached to the flavor. As the boy was very hungry, he followed the monk.

Due to the great power of the monk ’King of Dharma Teachers’ and the pure karma of the child Prabhāsa, they arrived at the palace of ’The Great Śākyamuni’ as quickly as a man can bend his stretched arm. Through the monk’s magical power they went to the center of the city.

When the boy saw the Buddha he was amazed and asked the monk,

“Who is this?”

The old monk replied,

“This monk is the Buddha.”

The boy asked,

“How did he become like this?”

“He became like this,”

the monk explained,

“because he developed bodhicitta and gathered the accumulations.”

“Can I become like this?”

inquired the boy.

“If you develop bodhicitta you can become like this.”

At that moment the child developed faith, offered the whole begging bowl filled with rice gruel to the Buddha and developed bodhicitta.

The potters, husband and wife, were looking for their lost son and could not find him anywhere. Finally they found him in the center of the city. Prabhāsa begged his parents to let him become a monk, and they granted his wish. He asked the Buddha,

“I beg you to make me a monk.”

Requested like this, the Buddha consented and said,

“Come forth, monk!”

The child’s hair and facial hair were miraculously shaved, and he turned into a monk dressed in the saffron robes. Thus, he had developed bodhicitta based on a begging bowl filled with rice gruel.

Prabhāsa offered five cowrie shells [’gron bu lnga], a pair of shoes [mchil lham zung gcig], an umbrella made of fine Benares cloth [ras kāśi ka],[5] and a pot of fired clay [rdza bum so btang ba] filled with water. According to the Bhadrakalpika-sūtra he generated bodhicitta and made the following famous aspiration:

Lord Buddha, just like your body,
Lifespan, size, realm of activities,
Just like your noble and supreme marks,
May I and all beings become exactly like you.

de bzhin gshegs pa khyed sku ci ’dra dang
‘khor dang sku tshe’i tshad dang zhing khams dang
khyod kyi mtshan mchog bzang po ci ’dra ba
de ’dra kho nar bdag kyang ’gyur bar shog

Khenpo Chöga adds to the story: Prabhāsa made this aspiration with great devotion, expressing his desire to become exactly like the Buddha with the same body, the same entourage, the same lifespan, the same size, taking rebirth in the same world, having the same qualities of body, voice and mind.

After he made the aspiration, the Great Buddha Śākyamuni took the end of his shawl between the fingers of his right hand, forming two horns, and placed his right hand on the boy’s head, saying,

“May you attain enlightenment as the perfectly enlightened Buddha, as the glorious Śākyamuni,”

thus making a prediction.

That aspiration was the first aspiration our teacher Buddha Śākyamuni ever made. Based on this aspiration and based on the blessings and prediction of the buddha called the ’Great Śākyamuni’, our Buddha actually became exactly like him and is also called Buddha Śākyamuni. This story marks the beginning of Buddha Śākyamuni’s bodhisattva activity.

Footnotes and references:


mdzangs blun, pages 429-431, sangs rgyas thog ma byams pa’i sems bskyed pa’i le’u.


Ratna-kūṭa [dkon mchog brtegs pa]. The same story is also found in the mdzangs blun, story 44, pages 429-431.


klong chen chos ’byung, pages 76-79.


Some sources give skr. Ābhākara for the Tibetan snang byed.


Kāśi is the old name for Benares (Vārāṇasī). The Sanskrit term kāśika or kāśikā refers to valuable textile products from Benares.

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