20 November 2017

Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

A friend posted this on Facebook and it reminded me of studying this wonderful text.

The source of all the misery in the world
Lies in thinking of oneself;
The source of all the happiness in the world
Lies in thinking of others.  

​ ​

This is probably the most often quoted passage from Shantideva's "
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life
," which is one of the truly key Mahayana (Indo-Tibetan) Buddhist classics. (8th Century). I was struck after reading this text that it is far more important than, say, Thomas a Kempis's "
Imitation of Christ
" as a practical guide to spiritual life and happiness, yet, when I was in high school, "Shantideva" wasn't even an entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. If you don't know of this wonderful text, give it a try. It stands up beautifully in translation and is one of the most accessible Buddhist scriptures (except for Chapter Nine, which deals with Emptiness, and which is pretty inscrutable to us Westerners, whose inner knowledge is usually pretty limited) (!).

I am not religious, but I am inspired by the purity and essential goodness and intelligence of Buddhist teachings. Not the supernatural, deities and guru yoga and all that, but the core teachings on how we make ourselves and others unhappy, what we can do about it, and how to live a life in the world that is ethical and spiritual, in the sense of being the best human beings we can be, by practicing the most essential, even cosmic, virtues: lovingkindness, compassion, taking joy in other's happiness, and equanimity (the so-called "Four Limitless Qualities.") To me, these are the real essence of Buddhism, and nowhere are they more beautifully expounded upon than in Shantideva's  classic text.

Legend has it that Shantideva was a scholar at the famous Nalanda University in what is now Bangladesh
in the 8th century.
​(You didn't really think universities were invented in the West, did you?) ​
He was thought of as a do-nothing and know-nothing by some of his fellow scholars, because all he did was meditate. They thought he must be rather dull. So, as a trick, they connived to have him be required to give a teaching on Dharma, thinking to embarrass him, since they assumed he knew nothing, as he rarely spoke. As part of the trick, they took away the ladder for the Throne, which was very high. When the date came, Shantideva (remember this is a legend) entered the Gompa (Meditation Hall). Seeing that there was no ladder, he sat in the Padmasana posture, levitated up to the throne, and began reciting this very text, which he delivered over many hours in its entirety. Those in attendance were humbled and blessed to receive such pure wisdom, and were quickly cured of their petty jealousies.

Makes a nice story. And it really is a wonderful spiritual guide.
​ And now it's available in a dozen different translations in English. ​


Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

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