Shantideva’s “Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds”

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May I be a protector for those who are without protectors,
a guide for travelers, and a boat, a bridge,
and a ship for those who wish to cross over.

May I be a lamp for those who seek light,
a bed for those who seek rest,
and may I be a servant for all beings who desire a servant.

            Chapter Three, Verses 17-18

In this series access various commentaries on the text His Holiness the Dalai Lama attributes as having made the greatest impact regarding his development of bodhicitta—Shantideva’s Engaging in a Bodhisattva’s Deeds.

About the author

Shantideva lived in 8th century ancient India, was born into a royal family and set to assume the throne after his father. However, motivated to be of greatest benefit to all sentient beings, Shantideva left the royal life and entered monastic life at the renowned Nalanda Monastery.

About the text

Shantideva practiced and studied at Nalanda monastery very secretly, such that his fellow monks thought he only did three things: eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. Frustrated with his seeming lack of dedication to the Dharma, Shantideva’s peers invited him to teach—his expected failure would be a sufficient reason to kick him out of the monastery.

Having arrived for the teaching, Shantideva asked his audience: did they want to listen to something old or new? Wishing to hear something new, Shantideva then began to recite the poem he had composed, Engaging in a Bodhisattva’s Deeds. The depth of insight into both bodhicitta and emptiness contained within the text saw the monks track Shantideva down—who had disappeared after his teaching—to write down the text.

The text is composed in verse and divided into ten chapters:

  • The first three chapters concern the benefits of bodhicitta, the altruistic intention to achieve the state of Buddhahood in order to best benefit all sentient beings. The method to cultivate and sustain bodhicitta is explained here.

  • Chapters four and five focus on how to implement bodhicitta in daily life, providing instruction on the perfection of ethical conduct within the Mahayana context.

  • Chapter six concerns the perfection of fortitude, and is a well-known ‘text’ due to it’s wealth of instruction on how to overcome the affliction of anger.

  • Chapter seven focuses on the perfection of enthusiastic effort.

  • Chapter eight is concerned with the perfection of meditation in the context of cultivating altruism and overcoming attachment to friends, possessions, reputation and one’s own—and others—bodies.

  • Chapter nine focuses on the perfection of wisdom, providing an exposition of the Prasangika view of emptiness.

  • Chapter ten concludes the text with a prayer dedicating the merit of the work to all sentient beings.

Who it’s for

Engaging in a Bodhisattva’s Deeds is a text that lends itself to both new and seasoned Dharma practitioners. It covers the entire span of practices necessary to progress on the path to full awakening, in an easy to read format with stark imagery and reasonings to inspire and transform the mind.

The three commentaries available provide the necessary guidance to penetrate the full depth of Shantideva’s meaning, and frame the context within which the text was written. A text that the residents of Sravasti Abbey read annually on Christmas Day, this is a book—and set of commentaries—that provides a road map to awakening you’ll keep coming back to.

Resources

Access audio and video recordings, as well as some transcripts, of Venerable Thubten Chodron’s in-depth and ongoing commentary to Shantideva’s text here:

Audio recordings of Geshe Lhundrub Sopa’s 2009 commentary to Chapter Six, concerning how to work with anger, can be accessed here:

Audio recordings of Khensur Wangdak Rinpoche’s commentary to Chapters One and Two can be accessed here. Watch the video of Rinpoche’s 2010 teachings on Chapter Two here:

If there is a remedy, then what is the use of frustration?
If there is no remedy, then what is the use of frustration?

There is nothing whatsoever that remains difficult as one gets used to it.
Thus, through habituation with slight pain, even great pain becomes bearable.”

            Chapter Six, Verses 10 & 14