Shantideva’s Sikshasamuccaya or “Compendium of Doctrine” is a veritable treasure house of passages from Buddhist sutras that are either no longer extant or have not yet been translated into English. Shantideva, in case the name is unfamiliar, was a Buddhist poet/scholar in the 8th century CE, thought to have spent most of his career at the famed Nalanda University.

His most famous work is of course the Bodhicaryavatara or “Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life.” The Sikshasamuccaya is his only other work (that we know of) and it is described by Wikipedia as “a prose work in nineteen chapters. It is organized as a commentary on twenty-seven short mnemonic verses known as the Sikshasamuccaya Karika. It consists primarily of quotations (of varying length) from sutras, authoritative texts considered to be the word of the Buddha — generally those sutras associated with Mahayana tradition . . .”

The passage I’m sharing today is from the Gaganaganja Sutra. I don’t know anything about this sutra, however, Gaganaganja (Sanskrit: “sky-inhabitant”) is a Bodhisattva mentioned in the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra. Robert Thurman in his translation of the Vimalakirti notes that the word also refers to “a particular samadhi”.

From the chapter entitled “Purity in Enjoyment and Religious Action” (translated by Cecil Bendall), this poetic passage conveys the true spirit of giving, as well as the real meaning of renunciation:

Purification of religious action comes from behavior pervaded by sunyata [emptiness] and by compassion.

For it is said in the holy Gaganaganja Sutra: “He gives that gift, pure of the notion of I, pure of the notion of mine, pure of the notion of motive, of heresy, of reason, of kind, of expecting profit, a gift pure in thought like the sky, … as the sky is infinite, so is the thought with which he gives; as the sky is outspread over all, so that gift is applied unto wisdom; as the sky is immaterial, so that gift is dependent upon no matter; as the sky is without feeling, so that gift is detached from all feeling; so it is without consciousness, not composite, with the characteristic of manifesting nothing;  as the sky pervades all the Buddha’s field, so that gift is pervaded with compassion for all creatures;  . . . as the sky is always transparent, so his gift is clear of the nature of thought; as the sky illuminates all creatures, so his gift gives life to all creatures; … as one seeped in spiritual power gives to another, so he is without imagination and without reflection; without thought, mind, consciousness, not desiring anything; thus by the absence of duality, his gift is clear of the natural marks of illusion. When he has this renunciation in giving, renunciation of the passions of all creatures by knowledge of wisdom, non-abandonment of all creatures by knowledge of expedients, so, young sir, the Bodhisattva becomes self-sacrificing in heart, and his gifts are like the sky.”

19th Century Tibetan Tangka of Shantideva

A reader asked for an explanation of “Exchanging of Self with Others,” the fourth component of Shantideva’s formula for generating bodhicitta mentioned in yesterday’s post. I thought I might as well discuss all four.

As I mentioned yesterday, Shantideva’s four points are found in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, specifically in the Eighth chapter, “The Practice of Meditation,” and are said to be based on a work by Nagarjuna, Exchanging Self with Others. They are not clearly enumerated, so evidently someone organized them from the verses. How they came to be called the Four Point Mind Training and exactly what historical relationship it has with the better known Seven Point Mind Training of Atisha is not clear to me.

“Mind Training” is a rather specific sort of practice within the Tibetan tradition. It is spelled “blosbyong” and pronounced as “lojong.” Atisha ((982–1054 CE), an Indian meditation master, is credited with originating this practice, which is actually based on contemplating 59 “slogans” composed by Geshe Chekhawa (1101–1175 CE).

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Joyful Path of Good Fortune: The Complete Buddhist Path to Enlightenment says that traditionally there are two methods for generating bodhicitta, the thought of awakening: 1) training the mind in the sevenfold cause and effect, which was taught by the Buddha and “passed down through Maitreya to Masters such as Asanga,” and 2) training the mind in equalizing and exchanging self with others, this one also taught by the Buddha and “passed down Manjushri to Masters such as Shantideva.” These two lineages are, of course, fictional; however, the point here is that perhaps at one time this exchanging self with others was a stand-alone practice, similar to tonglen.

The Equality of Self and Others

Buddhism teaches that we are all equal. There is no one person, race of people, class or gender that is superior to any others. We are interconnected to one another through a variety of factors, such as interdependency (pratitya-samutpada), the fact that we all possess the 3 poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance, that we all experience sufferings, we all want happiness, and so on.

Shantideva says,

At first, one should earnestly meditate
on the equality of oneself and others as follows:
“All equally experience suffering and happiness.
I should look after them as I do myself.

The Fault of Self Cherishing

Self-cherishing, self-centeredness, egoism, greed, etc., all stem from grasping after non-existent self existence or self-being. This is not to suggest that we should engage in self-loathing or anything like that, but rather that we ratchet down quite severely any unwholesome sense of self-importance or superiority over others.


When happiness is so dear
to others and me equally,
what is so special about me
that I strive after happiness for myself alone?

The Importance of Others and Cherishing of Others

Others are just as important as we are, and since we are all interdependent, our welfare and that of others is inextricably linked together. We should also bear in mind the many benefits derived from cherishing others, benefits that enrich the quality of our own lives.


Acknowledging the faults of cherishing oneself
and seeing others as oceans of virtues,
one should renounce self-cherishing
and become acquainted with cherishing others.

The Exchange of Self with others

This reverses the tendency toward self-cherishing. “Exchanging self with others” is a tool for really engraving bodhicitta, the thought of awakening, in our mind. In this way, when we see the sufferings of others, it becomes as intolerable and agonizing as though they were our own sufferings.


One who fails to exchange his own happiness
for the sufferings of others will find it impossible to attain Buddhahood.
How then could there even be happiness
in the cycle of birth and death?

Placing your own identity in others
and placing the identity of others in your own self,
imagining envy and pride with a mind
free of discursive thoughts.

Lama Thubten Yeshe explains,

Exchanging oneself with others . . . means that you exchange the mind which cherishes oneself and ignores others with the mind which cherishes others and ignores oneself. You need to meditate on this again and again, continuously, and in this way train your mind in exchanging yourself with others.

The fourfold mind training is a rather long and involved meditative process, which is too much to detail here. But as far as “exchanging self with others” is concerned, this is very similar (some say identical) to the Tibetan practice of tonglen, “giving and taking” or “sending and receiving.” Briefly, in this meditation, you visualize taking into your own body the suffering of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath you send out happiness and warm thoughts of loving-kindness. This is usually done by visualizing the sufferings you take in as black smoke, and the happiness you send out as white light, which you visualize as expanding until it fills the entire universe.


Countless eons have passed
while you sought your own well-being.
This great effort of yours
has only resulted in suffering.

At my request, exert yourself
in this way right now without hesitation.
Later you will see the virtue of this,
for the words of the Sage are true.

This current state, without happiness,
success or Buddhahood,
would not have occurred
had you done this before.

Therefore, just as you formed
the sense of ‘I’ with regard to
the drops of blood and semen of others,
so accustom yourself with others.

Seeing as the other person,
remove from this body
everything that is useful to it,
and use it to benefit others.

Nagarjuna’s Twenty Verses, presented as part of Wednesday’s post, contained the line “may all sentient beings aspire to realize the highest bodhicitta.”

What he’s really saying is “may all beings aspire to aspire,” for bodhicitta, “the thought of awakening,” is itself an aspiration – the wish or desire to realize awakening for the sake of all beings. Generating the thought of awakening is an essential step on the bodhisattva path and Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacaryavatara, better known as “A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life” is one of the most important Mahayana texts dealing with that path. The first four chapters were used as a liturgy:

To acquire the jewel that is this thought,
I offer salutations to the buddhas,
the pure treasure of the true dharma,
and the children of the awakened, fields of virtue.

I rejoice in the arising of the thought of awakening
in those who adopt the teaching,
for this thought is an ocean whose tide brings bliss,
whose depths hold the treasure of all that is beneficial to all sentient beings.”

The word bodhi means “awakening” and citta literally means “mind” or “thought.” Bodhicitta is comprised of three aspects: the simple thought or idea of awakening, the consciousness permeated with this thought, and the force of the thought to transform one’s life.

Shantideva states that he is in such awe of bodhicitta, that at first, he cannot understand how it could have possibly arisen in him. He compares himself to a blind man who finds a precious jewel in a heap of mud.

He also says that once bodhicitta has arisen, there is no reason why one should ever lose it or its force be diminished.  But this power to remain within the mind is only possible when a person has a strong determination to nurture and maintain the thought of awakening.

Shantideva writes,

Those who want to transcend life’s multitude of sufferings
and end the distress of living beings, should never surrender
this thought of awakening, for as soon as the thought arises within,
even the most miserable person is proclaimed to be a child of the Buddha.”

Shantideva tells us that the arising of this altruistic intention marks a turning point in the life of the individual and becomes so forceful that “even the wish to relieve another being of a mere headache, produces immense benefit beyond conception.”

That’s overselling it a bit perhaps, and of course, the point of bodhicitta is not about amassing merit or acquiring benefit for one’s own sake. It’s a tool to train the mind. When we generate bodhicitta for the sake of others, the turning point actually occurs when we adopt a new way of thinking. Once our mind has turned, concern for others does not really require generation; it is already front and center.

Still, one must start somewhere. According to Min Bahadur Shakya, Shantideva based his formula for generating the thought of awakening (found in the Bodhisattvacaryavatara) on a work ascribed to Nagarjuna entitled, Exchanging Self with Others. Shakya presents the formula as:

a)  The Equality of Self and Others (Paratmasamata)

b)  The Fault of Self Cherishing (Atmasnehadosa)

c)  The Importance of Others and Cherishing of others (Parasneha)

d)  The Exchange of Self with others (Atmaparavartana)

These are points to contemplate on during meditation or through simple reflection, points to help turn the mind from its self-centered direction.

Nagarjuna’s mention of “highest bodhicitta” in the Twenty Verses may be a reference to the two types of bodhicitta, relative and ultimate. Relative bodhicitta is a state of mind where one naturally strives to be of benefit to others, while ultimate bodhicitta has more to do with emptiness, dissolving completely the illusion of inherent self-being.

The Dalai Lama has said,

If you have the wisdom of emptiness but no bodhicitta, you will not achieve full progress on the path. If you have no wisdom of emptiness but have bodhicitta, you are on the way no matter what happens.”

I feel like bodhicitta, the thought of awakening, requires a certain amount of courage. You may have heard of “active bodhicitta.” To me, this means awakening is not realized merely by making a wish or a prayer. It means putting our altruistic intentions into action. That, at times, definitely takes some courage, but perhaps the greatest challenge, the one requiring the most courage, is to conquer our self-centered natures.

When we develop this kind of motivation to be of benefit to others and then put it into play, enlightenment is no longer an abstract idea. I think it becomes something real and attainable. I think compassion is enlightenment, or at least, the very edge of something like enlightenment. The thought of awakening opens a door that offers us a glimpse of enlightenment and the more bodhicitta we generate opens the door a little wider.

Lama Govinda explains it this way,

Bodhicitta is here the spark of that deeper consciousness, which in the process of enlightenment is converted from a latent into an active all-penetrating and radiating force. Before this awakening has taken place, our existence is a senseless running about in circles; and since we cannot find any meaning within ourselves, the world around us appears equally meaningless.

It’s not meaningless. It’s meaningful. When we live for more than just ourselves.

Bob Thurman

The other day I blogged about the importance of dialogue, quoting a very fine book by Noble laureate Amartya Sen. Then I learned through an interview with Robert Thurman in the Times of India, that Sen, as head of a project to restore Nalanda, the ancient Buddhist university, has excluded Tibetan Buddhists and especially the Dalai Lama, from being part of the project. Why should the Tibetans be included? Only because they’ve been the ones keeping the Nalanda tradition alive since it was destroyed in the 12th century by Turkic Afghan invaders.

The objection to Tibetan participation apparently comes from Singapore and its because of some “deference” to China, who as we all know, has no love for the Dalai Lama.

In the interview, Thurman says,

He is out for the moment. He is happy being kept out as he is having a jolly time resigning from everything. But it’s ironic that Tibetan Buddhists are being kept out of the project. Amartya Sen (who heads the project) and company see the Dalai Lama as some kind of pope or something. They have not read any of his books. They don’t know what a great scholar he is.

My first thought was that sounded as if they need to have some meaningful dialogue, and it seemed surprising that someone who wrote such a wonderful account of the Indian tradition of open, public discussion would sign off on such an exclusionary move. But, I think this remark made by Sen to journalists questions about the Dalai Lama clues us in to what is really going on: “being religiously active may not be the same as (being) an appropriate person for religious studies.”

I think the key word here is “appropriate.” I get the impression that everyone is acting out of deference to China, which is no friend to Buddhism. Like Robert Thurman, I consider the Dalai Lama to be a great scholar and can’t imagine anyone else more appropriate to be assigned a role in this project. Many other scholars consider Tibetan Buddhism to be the only form of Buddhism in the world today that reflects the state of Indian Mahayana as it was before it was wiped off the face of the Indian subcontinent those hundreds of years ago.

Nalanda ruins, India via Prince Roy

I also saw some similarities between this situation and a story about Shantideva, one of the most famous students of Nalanda who lived in the 8th century. According to legend, when  Shantideva was a student at Nalanda, he was not well liked. The officials and students thought he was lazy and no-good. All he did was sleep and eat and use the toilet (later revealed to be Shantideva’s “three Perfections”), while everyone else was busy studying and practicing. In fact, they wanted to kick him out. However, they decided that Shantideva should at least give one teaching before they expelled him. So one day they came up and demanded that he give a teaching, and Shantideva had never given one before so he was hesitant, but eventually he said okay, let’s do it.

They gathered a large group of monks together and erected a very high throne for Shantideva to sit in. They actually planned to embarrass Shantideva because they figured that he wouldn’t know how to get up into the throne. But when Shantideva merely touched the throne, it shrank to normal size. He sat down and they requested he present a teaching that had never been given by anyone before.

Shantideva then recited the Bodhicharyavatara or “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.” The legend has it that when he got to the 34th verse of the ninth chapter he rose into the sky and  finished the rest of the teaching from atop a cloud.

After that, Shantideva disappeared and everyone immediately regretted their attitude towards him because now, of course, they realized he was a great scholar. According to one version of the story, officials from Nalanda finally caught up with Shantideva and begged him to return, but he refused to come back, although he did clarify some of his teaching for them.

So I thought it was  interesting how this story parallels the situation with the Nalanda project and the Dalai Lama, considering how Robert Thurman described it: “They don’t know what a great scholar he is” and “resigning from everything”, which could be considered a sort of disappearing act. Maybe Bob had the Shantideva story in mind when he gave the interview.

One thing I have learned is that most of the stories like this had a purpose beyond merely mythologizing a great figure, and Shantideva was certainly that. Many of these tales were not meant to be taken literally but rather they were used a devices to illustrate a point of dharma. To be honest, I don’t know what the symbolism behind this one is, but I suspect it has something to do with that 34th verse.

In any case, you can read the Thurman interview here, and the controversy over the Nalanda project here, and learn about the ancient center for Buddhist study at Nalanda here.

And here’s the 34 th verse of the Ninth Chapter from the Crosby-Skilton translation of the Bodhicharyavatara:

When neither entity nor non-entity remains before the mind, since there is no other mode of operation, grasping no objects, it becomes tranquil.

Words like “confession”, “repentance”, “apology”, and even “prayer” seem out of place in a Buddhist context, at least they often do to me. For instance, if one were to say a prayer of apology, to whom is it offered? There is no God. Buddha is dead. The universe? Well, maybe . . .

And yet, despite how these words might rub against our sensibilities, they are important subjects in Buddhism. It’s taught that a prerequisite for changing karma, or tenju kyojo (actually lessening karmic retribution), is repentance and confession of one’s errors. And the answer to whom is addressed I think is ourselves.

I like to look at it more as recognition and determination. Recognizing one’s mistakes is the first step to not repeating them. Then we make a determination to stay on that course. It’s a conversation we have with our own mind.

The second chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life is dedicated to the “Confession of Error.” When we see the word “confession” we might think of it in the Christian sense, of confessing one’s sins to a priest. In Buddhism, monks and priests do not hear confessions, at least not in any formal way, as far as I am aware. It’s a personal and private act.

One of the definitions of “confess” that I found at is “to own or admit as true.” This is close to what we mean by confession in Buddhism – to own our mistakes, take responsibility for them, and by admiting our errors and seeing them as a truth, a fact, we drive another stake into the heart of the delusion that made us want to commit them.

When Shantideva says, “Overwhelmed by the deceptions of ignorance, I rejoiced in what was done, but now seeing these mistakes, from my heart I declare them to the Buddhas”, he is really declaring them to himself. He is opening himself up for his own inspection. Before we can rectify the external situation, we must transform the internal one.

We can’t change until we see ourselves as we truly are, until we become honest with ourselves. And seeing that we have made mistakes, that we have negative tendencies and bad habits, does not make us a “bad” person, merely truthful.

The Chinese T’ien-t’ai master, Chih-i, advanced a theory in the 6th century that was rather controversial at the time. He said that even Buddhas have evil natures. Previously, and still today, many consider a Buddha to be free of errors, completely cleansed of any impurities. But Chih-i maintained that this is not realistic, rather it is dualistic. Good and evil are not two separate things, they are two sides of the same coin.

Chih-i developed a number of meditations of evil, based on the idea, as described by Neal Donner in “Chih-i’s Meditation on Evil”, of “Entering into evil thought and impulses in order to understand them and thereby become liberated from them . . .” Chih-i also authored a repentance rite, known as the Kuan Yin Repentance which is still preformed at various Chinese temples today. In the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1987 1412-3, David Chapell comments on Chih-i’s concept of repentance by saying, “repentance for wrongs involves not just a change of behavior, but also a change in understanding . . .  Moral defects are based not just on misdeeds and bad habits, but also at a more basic level on incorrect understanding. Thus, we need to repent errors of behavior . . .  and of understanding . . .”

In Japanese Buddhism, individual repentance is called zange.  It’s often called a “prayer of apology.” Actually it means repentance; confession; penitence. Zange has been associated primarily with the Lotus Sutra sects, but it was also significant practice in Zen.

In the 1970’s a top leader in the Soka Gakkai gave a lecture on changing karma from which a formula for zange was developed. When I first encountered it, I thought it to be rather profound. It’s like a checklist, to go down as one meditates or chants. The idea is to spend some time reflecting on each section or item.

Since I know that few people outside of the Lotus traditions are familiar with it, I thought I would share this zange (with some changes to make it a bit more universal), in case someone might find it useful. Although it seems geared toward reflection on a specific incident, it can be used in a more general way, as sort of a script for this conversation with ourselves, and while  using it, one should keep in mind the points made above.

ZANGE (Buddhist Apology and Repentance)


For being able to practice Dharma.

For being able to change my Karma (Tenju Kyoju).

For being alive at this time.

For all the people around me.

For everything being a teacher to me.


Realize again that for every external cause, there is first an internal cause.

Every hurt, anger, frustration, irritation or painful situation that occurs to me is my responsibility.

Through my karma, I forced that to happen, or forced them to behave that way.

Hendoku Iyaku – I can turn poison into medicine.

Become aware of my own internal “hooks” that drew such an experience to me.

I, alone, am responsible for raising my life-condition.


For current negativity in thought, word and action.

Loving-kindness – offer thoughts for the health and well-being of the person(s) involved, and that they may deepen their own compassion. Ask myself “what can I do to rectify the situation?”


To not want to engage in negative thoughts, words, or actions anymore.

To work harder to be of benefit to others.

To create harmonious relationships in the areas of family relations, school, or work.

More on the subject of happiness, and more from Shantideva, the 8th century Buddhist poet/scholar.

Little is truly known about Shantideva’s life. His myth is basically the same old story: son of a king, renounces worldly life, becomes awakened, teaches. His renunciation is said to have been the result of having a vision of Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom. A follower of Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka Philosophy, Shantideva is thought to have spent most of his career at Nalanda University.

Nalanda was a Buddhist center of learning for some 770 years (427 to 1197 CE). In 1193, the university was largely destroyed by forces under the command of Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turkic Muslim. According to Wikepedia, “The great library of Nalanda University was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the Moguls set fire to it, sacked and destroyed the monasteries, and drove the monks from the site.”

Shantideva wrote the book on Bodhisattvas. His Bodhicaryavatara or “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life” is considered the sine qua non of teachings on the Bodhisattva path and is one of the foundational texts of Tibetan Buddhism.

This is from the Siksasamuccaya or “Manual of Wisdom”:

Nothing is difficult after practice. For instance even simple folk, such as porters, fishermen, and ploughmen, do not succumb to depression, though their minds are calloused with the healed scars of the many pains they have learned to bear through the course of earning their modest livings. So much more should one be cheerful in the mission to attain the incomparable state where the happiness of all beings, and the happiness of all the bodhisattvas are found.

So the ignorant attack those who injure them, and who are struck by their own bad actions, and are to die by natural death; how much more should there not be effort and endurance of pain to attack the enemies, that injure for the longest time, pilferers of the good gotten by pain, killing the condemned in hell, jailors of the prison of existence, destroying the realm of the door of exit, who cause more deadly injuries even to those well-disposed towards them, unprovoked enemies, foes firmly fixed through endless ages, sins that are our enemies; especially of those whose flanks are girded, fighting for the emancipation of the world caught prisoner by Mara’s demons.

There by practice, consciousness of sorrow and happiness becomes more and more intense. As the perception of happiness and unhappiness comes by habit; so, in all cases of unhappiness arising, we make it a habit of associating with it a feeling of happiness and the consciousness of happiness arises. The fruit of this is a contemplative mind that that finds happiness in all things.

It is said in the Pitdputra-samdgama (The Meeting of Father and Son): There is a mind of contemplation called ‘That Which Finds Happiness in All Things’; through acquiring this mind the bodhisattva is happy and feels things painful as pleasant, not painful, nor indifferent, even when subject to the tortures of hell, even when suffering a torment in human life . . .’

And why is this? For the resolve of the bodhisattva is thus: ‘May those who feed me obtain the joy of calm and tranquility; may those who protect me, who maintain me, respect me, honor me, revere me, all receive the bliss of tranquility; and may they who curse me, who afflict me, who torment me, tear me with knives until they completely sever me from life, all partake of the happiness of complete enlightenment; may they awaken the incomparable and sublime enlightenment.’

With these thoughts and actions and these aspirations the bodhisattva seeks and ensures, cherishes and multiplies the feeling of happiness in relation to all beings; and by the ripening of this course of action, touches the mind of contemplation that finds happiness in all things.

At the time when the bodhisattva has touched the mind that finds happiness in all things, at that time he becomes equanimous, not to be shaken by all the deeds of Mara. That is the sum of the matter.

Today a passage from the Pitrputrasamagama, found in Shantidava’s Siksasamuccaya or Manual of Wisdom. The chief speaker in the following dialogue is said to be the Buddha:

The senses are like illusions, material objects are like dreams. Take for example; a man asleep might dream that he has made love to a beautiful country girl. Awakened from sleep he might remember her. What do you think; does that beautiful girl in the dream exist? “

“ No, Blessed One.”

“Would that man be wise to remember the girl in his dream, or to believe that he had actually made love to her? “

“No, Blessed One. Because the girl does not exist at all, so how could he have made love to her, except perhaps on account of weakness or fatigue, he might think so.”

“In this same way,  a foolish and ignorant man of the world, when he sees agreeable forms and believes in their existence, is pleased, and being pleased feels passion, and feeling passion acts accordingly, develops the action that springs from passion, creates karma, threefold by body, fourfold by voice, threefold by mind; and that action, developed, from the very beginning is injured, hindered, distracted, changed, not going towards the east, not south nor west nor north, not up nor down, nor to the intermediate points, not here nor across, nor between both.

But at life’s end, when the time of death comes, when the vitality is checked by the exhaustion of one’s allotted span of years, the karma that fell to him dwindles, and his previous actions become the object of the mind, the last thought in his mind as it disappears.  Then, just as the man on first waking from sleep thinks of the country girl about whom he dreamed, the first thought upon rebirth arises from two causes:  the last thought of his previous life as its governing principle, and the actions of the previous life as its basis.

Thus, a man is reborn in states of hell, or in bestial states, or in spiritual ones, demonic ones, or human or celestial states. And from this first thought belonging to rebirth, a new series of thoughts arise, and the experience of the ripening of karma is to be felt. The stopping of the last thought is known as death, the appearance of the first thought is known as rebirth, and the manifesting of the first thought is known as arising. Nothing passes from life to life, but death and rebirth take place nonetheless.

The last thought when it arises does not come from anywhere, and when it ceases it does not go anywhere; action arising does not come from anywhere, ceasing it does not go anywhere. First thought too arising does not come from anywhere, ceasing does not go anywhere. All are essentially empty. The last thought is empty, karma is empty, the first thought is empty, rebirth is empty, and arising is empty. In the whole process no one acts or creates karma, and no one experiences the effects of karma, except by verbal convention.”

Shantideva was a Buddhist scholar who lived in the 8th Century CE, and the author of a number of works, the best known being the Bodhicaryavatara or A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.

Central to Mahayana Buddhist teachings is the ideal of the Bodhisattva or Enlightening-being. A Bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by compassion, seeks to work for the salvation of other beings. In a more formal sense, a Bodhisattva is one who makes a vow to save all beings by taking on all their sufferings.

Some readers may see an obvious similarity between the Bodhisattva and the sacrifice of Jesus to take away the sins of the world. The general concept of the Bodhisattva was part of Buddhism from its earliest beginnings, some five hundred years before the time of Jesus. Scholars believe that the Mahayana Bodhisattva ideal with its vow to endure sufferings for the sake of others was fully realized by the First Century CE at the latest. Some suspect that a common source for the notion of a “suffering savior” may have originated in the Middle East.

Here is a short excerpt from Shantideva’s Sikaasamuccaya or Manual of Wisdom. Shantideva was a poet of the first magnitude and I find his description of the Bodhisattva’s attitude, particularly single-minded determination to accomplish the awesome vow undertaken, to be tremendously moving each time I read it. Although the Bodhisattva is presented here as masculine, please be assured that this ideal transcends gender.

The bodhisattva stands alone, without a companion, and he puts on the armor of supreme wisdom. He acts on his own, and leaves nothing to others, working with a will steeled with courage and strength. Strong in the strength of his own strength, and he resolves thus: “Whatever all beings should obtain, I will help them to obtain . . .

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