Thursday, April 26, 2007

Enlightened Masters: Arya Shantideva

Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche and Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche

Shantideva lived in the 8th century in India near Bodhgaya, India, and was born as the only son of a royal Brahmin family. Like the Buddha, his father Kalyanavarman was a great king, but when Shantideva was 15 years old his father died. After his father’s death, Shantideva developed deep realizations into impermanence and death. In fact, Shantideva had already attained enlightenment while he was still young and living in the palace.

During that time, his father’s subjects asked Shantideva to become the new king. Since he couldn’t refuse, he accepted the position. However Shantideva experienced dreams where Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, and Tara, the divine embodiment of compassion, counseled him not to ascend to the throne. After he awoke he realized that he would be of more benefit to sentient beings by becoming a monk rather than a king. He decided to leave his father’s kingdom and retreat to the wilderness where he devoted himself to meditation. During this time, Shantideva achieved advanced states of samadhi and various siddhis, and from that time forward he constantly experienced visions of Manjushri who guided him as his spiritual mentor.

After his sojourn in the wilderness, he served for a while as minister to a king whom he helped to rule in accordance with the principles of Buddhism. This aroused the jealousy of other ministers. Eventually Shantideva withdrew from the service of the king and made his way to the renowned monastic university of Nalanda. At this time Nalanda was the center of Buddhist and worldly studies in northern India. It was at Nalanda that he was given the name “Shantideva” upon his monastic ordination. There he devoted himself to the thorough study of the Buddhist sutras and tantras. It was during this period that he composed two other classic works: the Shiksasamuccaya and the Sutrasamuccaya.

It is said that he quickly became a master in his studies, although this was not obvious to others. In truth, having already attained enlightenment, Shantideva was meditating all the time. He understood the arising and passing away of phenomena. The original nature of all things had been revealed to him, and he was constantly receiving teachings from Manjushri. These were his accomplishments before he became a monk, so when he joined the monastery he simply continued meditating and maintaining that level of realization. Even though he was a great scholar, Shantideva didn’t show this outwardly. The other monks mocked him because they saw him as completely useless. Some students wanted him expelled because the university was full of scholars and Shantideva was not recognized as a scholar. Most saw him as lazy and in fact gave him the nickname bhusuku which means “lazybones” or “The Shiftless One.” His nickname also translates as “Eats, Sleeps and Defecates” because this is all they ever saw him do.


Seeking to humiliate him and expel him from the monastery, the other scholars compelled him to recite a sutra before the monastic community and the public, a task they thought far exceeded his abilities. After some hesitation, Shantideva agreed. But he didn’t know they were planning on embarrassing him by building a huge throne with no steps and therefore no way to reach the seat. They also assembled a very large group of monks to hear Shantideva’s teachings. However when Shantideva arrived and saw the huge throne with no steps, he merely touched the throne and it immediately shrank to a size that he could sit upon. Then immediately the throne grew back to its original size. The monks who had built the throne were shocked that he was able to do such a thing.

Once upon the throne, Shantideva asked the assemblage what kind of teaching would they like to hear? Something that had been taught before, or something that had never been taught before? The monks requested that he teach something that had never been taught before, again hoping he would embarrass himself. Shantideva began teaching his now famous Bodhisattvacaryavatara, “The Way of the Bodhisattva.” He spoke freely, spontaneously and openly, in beautiful words, about how to enter the path to enlightenment. Many in the audience saw him appear in the form of Manjushri. During this astonishing recital, when he came to the following verse from the ninth chapter on wisdom, “When neither an entity nor a non-entity remains before the mind…” it is said that he rose up into the sky and floated into a cloud. Even after his body disappeared from sight, there were highly realized beings who were able to hear his voice complete the recitation of the teaching. The monks and people who liked Shantideva were very sad because he was now gone, and those who were against him felt very impressed and very sorry about what they had done.

Shantideva gave these teachings in order to assist those sentient beings who wished to discover the Buddha nature through the practice of bodhichitta. The Bodhisattvacaryavatara is a condensed teaching relating to all three baskets of Buddha’s teachings (the Vinaya, Sutra and Abhidharma), but it is primarily concerned with the development of transcendent wisdom which dispels ignorance, the root of the other two poisons of anger and attachment. Different versions of this work were recorded by his listeners, and they could not come to a consensus as to which was the most accurate. Eventually the scholars of Nalanda learned that Shantideva had come to dwell in the city of Kalinga in Trilinga, and they journeyed there to request him to return to the university. Although he declined, he did tell them where to find copies of his other two works, and he told them which of the versions of the Bodhisattvacaryavatara was true to his words.

Thereafter, Shantideva retreated to a monastery in a forest filled with wildlife. Some of the other monks noticed that at times animals would enter his cell and not come out, and they accused him of killing them. After he had demonstrated to them that no harm had come to these creatures, he once again departed even despite the pleas of his fellow monks to remain. On this and many other occasions, Shantideva is said to have displayed his amazing siddhis. From this point on, he gave back his monastic vows and wandered about India devoting himself to the service of others.

A portion of Shantideva's Bodhisattva Vows from The Way of the Bodhisattva is presented here:

Shantideva's Bodhisattva Vows

May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

May a rain of food and drink descend
To clear away the pain of thirst and hunger
And during the eon of famine
May I myself turn into food and drink.

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute;
May I turn into all things they could need
And may these be placed close beside them.

Without any sense of loss
I shall give up my body and enjoyments
As well as all my virtues of the three times
For the sake of benefiting all.

By giving up all, sorrow is transcended
And my mind will realize the sorrowless state.
It is best now that I give all to all beings
In the same way as I shall at death.

Having given this body up
For the pleasure of all living beings,
By killing, abusing, and beating it
May they always do as they please.

Although they may play with my body
And make it a thing of ridicule,
Because I have given it up to them
What is the use of holding it dear?

Therefore I shall let them do anything to it
That does not cause them any harm,
And when anyone encounters me
May it never be meaningless for him.

If in those who encounter me
A faithful or angry thought arises,
May that eternally be the source
For fulfilling all their wishes.

May all who say bad things to me
Or cause me any other harm,
And those who mock and insult me,
Have the fortune to fully awaken.

May I be a protector for those without one,
A guide for all travelers on the way;
May I be a bridge, a boat, and a ship
For all who wish to cross the water.

May I be an island for those who seek one
And a lamp for those desiring light;
May I be a bed for all who wish to rest
And a slave for all who want a slave.

May I be a wishing jewel, a magic vase,
Powerful mantras, and great medicine;
May I be a wish fulfilling tree
and a cow of plenty for the world.

Just like the space
And all the great elements such as earth,
may I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain
May I also be the source of life
For all realms of varied beings
That reach into the ends of space.

Just as the previous Lords of Bliss
Conceived the enlightenment spirit,
And just as they successively lived
By the Bodhisattva practices,
Likewise for the sake of all that lives
Do I conceive the spirit of enlightenment,
And shall I too Successively follow the practices.

In order to further increase it from now on,
The intelligent who have vividly taken
The spirit of enlightenment in this way
Should extol it in the following manner:

"Today my life has borne fruit;
having well obtained this human existence,
I've been born in the family of Buddha
And now am one of Buddha's children.

Thus whatever actions I do from now on
Must be in accord with the family tradition.
Never shall I do anything to disgrace
This holy, faultless family!

Just like a blind man
Discovering a jewel in a heap of trash,
Likewise by some coincidence
I have found the enlightenment spirit within me.

It is the supreme elixir
That overcomes the lord of death;
It is the inexhaustible treasure
That eliminates all poverty in the world.

It is the supreme medicine
That cures the world's disease.
It is the evergreen that shelters all beings
Wandering tired on the roads of life.

It is the universal bridge
That frees beings from wretched lives,
It is the rising moon of mind
That dispels the torment of addictions.

It is the great sun that burns away
The mighty ignorance of the world;
It is the quintessential butter
From the churning of the milk of Dharma.

For all guests traveling the path of life
Who wish to experience the true happiness,
The spirit will satisfy them with joy
And exalt them in the highest bliss.

Today in the presence of all the saviors
I invite the world to be my guests
At the feast of temporal and ultimate bliss.
May gods, titans, and all be joyful!

Fonte: Tha Padma Samye Ling Bulletin

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