As our Western civilization and now our Eastern counterparts become more and more materialistic, people of all countries, of all races, and all religions are looking for a meaning to their lives which is beyond mere material comfort and the accumulation of wealth. Some religions have looked towards a God or towards gods, while the Buddhist religion has looked towards the teachings of a most remarkable person who lived 500 years before Christ was born. The Buddha taught that there was only one way to achieve true happiness, that is complete and lasting freedom from suffering and that is to achieve enlightenment.
So the question becomes how do we actually achieve this enlightenment? First of all, we must realize that achieving enlightenment relies completely upon ourselves. There is no external being or teacher who can give this to us. Second, we have to understand our mind and this is done by the techniques of meditation which are emphasized in the Theravada tradition. Third, we must also engage in impeccable behavior and this is emphasized in the Mahayana tradition.
One of the foremost texts of the Mahayana tradition is Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. The story of Shantideva is quite interesting. Shantideva was a monk at Nalanda University just before it was destroyed by Moslem invasions. This vast monastic university had 10,000 individuals living together who did nothing other than study and practice the Buddhist dharma. Shantideva spent his time outwardly doing nothing and the story goes that his fellow monks decided to embarrass him by having him give a talk to the whole community. Shantideva took them up on this and gave the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life which was the most brilliant commentary on how to engage on the Mahayana path to come out of Nalanda.
A bodhisattva is that Buddhist practitioner who has such incredible compassion for mankind that he or she has decided to help all other beings to reach enlightenment before him or herself.
The Bodhisattva’s Life or Bodhisattvacharyavatara in Sanskrit is an enormously popular work and has been translated into dozens of languages. Unlike many Buddhist texts, this work has been preserved in both Sanskrit and in Tibetan and Chinese. The translation in various languages are very similar with only a few dozen verses being much different. There are four main translations of the root verses that are readily available in English.
First, there is Marion Matics pioneering work (New York: Macmillan Company, 1970) in which he translated the work from the Sanskrit. The Sanskrit is very similar to the Tibetan that Thrangu Rinpoche used for his commentary and this was the only translation which give us copyright permission to include in the text. This text is less literal and more poetical, but it conveys the meaning of the text quite well.
Second, there Stephen Batchelor’s work A Guide to the Bodhisattva ‘s Way of Life, Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1979) in which he translated this work from the Tibetan. This was the translation that was used for the first set of teachings by Rinpoche’s students in the 1987 teachings at the first Namo Buddha Seminar. The translation is good except for the famous ninth chapter on Wisdom in which Stephen Batchelor didn’t simply translate the verses hut added a commentary.
After Thrangu Rinpoche gave his commentary, the Padmakara Translation Group published The Way of the Bodhisattva (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997) which is more literal translation of the Tibetan text.
Finally, in that same year Vesna and Alan Wallace came out with A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of L4fe (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1997) which was based on both the Sanskrit and the Tibetan. What these translators did was translate the verses from the Sanskrit and whenever there were differences with the Tibetan they gave a translation of the Tibetan verse also.
These last two books are very readable and would be very helpful in understanding this text thoroughly. However, it must be remembered that Shantideva wrote this treatise for extremely erudite celibate monks who were very well versed in the extremely complex arguments of Madhyamaka logic. What Thrangu Rinpoche’s commentary has to offer is that he has brought these teachings to be in accord with our modem Western society and the problems that his brings along with it. By combining the root text and also the commentary we hope to give the modem practitioner a valuable book to study.
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