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How the Dharma is taught by a learned master

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Panditas or learned scholars, for their part, expound the Dharma according to two traditions. In India, the noble land where the Dharma began, there were two very famous monastic foundations. It was the custom of the panditas of the glorious monastery of Nalanda to expound all the Buddha’s words according to the five excellences and all the commentaries according to the five topics of presentation.

By contrast, the masters of the monastery of Vikramashila first prepared the student for the reception of the teachings and then explained the outline of the teaching by means of twofold confirmation. Of these two traditions, we Nyingmapas follow the one propounded by the noble protector Nagarjuna and Padmasambhava. We will therefore explain this great treatise, the Bodhicaryavatara, according to the five topics of presentation: a discourse concerning the author, the scriptural sources of the treatise, its general tendency, an overall synopsis of the text, and its purpose.

4. The author of the treatise

The author of the Bodhicaryavatara was the learned master and noble Bodhisattva Shantideva, who possessed in perfect measure the three qualifications necessary for the composing of shastras. His life was marked by seven extraordinary events, in particular the fact that he was accepted and blessed by his supreme yidam deity, the venerable Manjughosha. The seven extraordinary events are listed as follows:

He pleased his supreme yidam deity and at Nalanda did great deeds;

He healed a conflict and accepted as disciples

Those of strange beliefs

As well as beggars, unbelievers, and a king.

The great being Shantideva was born in the southern country of Saurashtra. He was the son of the king Kalyanaraman and went by the name of Shantivarman. From his youth he was devoted to the Buddhas of earlier ages, and, having a natural affinity for the Mahayana, he held the teachers of religion and the monastic order in great respect. He was a benefactor to all, masters and servants alike, and he cared tenderly for the lowly, the sick, and the destitute. With his heart fixed solely upon the ways of enlightenment, he became expert in every art and science. In particular, he requested the Tikshna Manjushri-sadhana from a certain ascetic mendicant. He practiced this and beheld the yidam deity.

When at length his father the king died, it was decided that the royal power should be conferred on Shantivarman, and a great throne made of precious substances was duly set in place. But in his dreams that night, the prince saw Manjughosha sitting on the very throne that he himself was to ascend the following day. Manjughosha spoke to him and said:

My dear and only son, this is my throne, And I Manjushri am your spiritual guide. It is not right that you and I should take An equal place and sit upon one seat.

With that, Shantivarman woke from his dream and understood that it would be wrong for him to assume the kingship. Feeling no desire for the great wealth of the realm, he departed and entered the glorious monastery of Nalanda, where he received ordination from Jinadeva, the chief of its five hundred panditas, taking the name of Shantideva.

Regarding his inner spiritual life, he received the teachings of the entire Tripitaka, the three collections of the Buddha’s teachings, from the noble Manjushri. He meditated on them and condensed their precious contents into two shastras: the Digest of All Disciplines (Shiksha Samuccaya) and the Digest of the Sutras (Sutra Samuccaya). But though he gained boundless qualities of elimination and realization,34 the other monks knew nothing of this, and, since to all outward appearances his behavior seemed to be restricted to the activities of eating (bhuj), sleeping (sup), and strolling around (kutim gata), they gave him the nickname “Bhusuku.” Such was their estimate of his outward conduct.