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Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life: A Buddhist Poem for Today [Paperback]

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso , Belinda Ho , Chating Jamyang Lama , Chew Choon
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2002
This famous and universally loved poem for daily living has inspired many generations of Buddhists and non-Buddhists since it was first composed in the 8th century by Shantideva. This new translation, made under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight. Reading the verses slowly, while contemplating their meaning, has a profoundly liberating effect on the mind. The poem invokes special positive states of mind, moves us from suffering and conflict to happiness and peace, and gradually introduces us to the entire Mahayana Buddhist path to enlightenment.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • Publisher: Tharpa Publications; 1st New edition edition (1 April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0948006889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0948006883
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 12.8 x 1.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 448,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

The great Indian Pandit Shantideva (AD 687-763) was born the crown prince of a royal family in Gujarat, a kingdom in western India. His father was King Kushalavarmana (Armour of Virtue) and his mother was recognized as an emanation of the Tantric Deity Vajrayogini. At his birth the prince received the name Shantivarmana (Armour of Peace). Even as a very young boy Shantivarmana showed great ability in spiritual matters and by the age of seven was already highly skilled in the inner science of religion. His principal Teacher at that time was a Yogi who had so fully developed penetrating wisdom that it is said he achieved unity with Manjushri, the Buddha embodying the wisdom of all enlightened beings. When Shantivarmana himself engaged in a meditation retreat, he too received a direct vision of Manjushri and many prophetic omens as well. Shortly afterwards King Kushalavarmana died, leaving Shantivarmana to inherit the throne. The night before his intended coronation, however, Manjushri appeared to him in a dream. He told the prince that he should renounce his kingdom and become a celibate monk. Immediately upon waking, Shantivarmana fled the palace and disappeared into the forest to meditate. Once again he received a vision of Manjushri, who handed him a symbolic wooden sword. Upon taking it Shantivarmana attained eight perfect realizations. He then travelled to the great monastic university of Nalanda where he took ordination from the Abbot Jayadeva (God of Victory) and was given the ordination name of Shantideva (God of Peace). At Nalanda Shantideva's spiritual development progressed rapidly, especially as the result of his training in the profound and demanding methods of Tantra. However, because he did all his practices secretly at night and rested during the day, it appeared to others that he performed only three activities: eating, sleeping and defecating. For this reason, the other monks sarcastically referred to him as the 'Three Realizations'. Feeling he was a very irresponsible monk and a discredit to their illustrious university, they devised a plan to get rid of him. Incorrectly believing him to be deficient in meditational ability and ignorant of doctrinal theory, they arranged for Shantideva to deliver a discourse before the entire monastery. Their idea was that he would be so humiliated by this exposure of his ignorance that he would be shamed into leaving. When the day of the scheduled public humiliation arrived, Shantideva mounted the teaching throne and, much to the amazement of those assembled, delivered a discourse which, when written down, became known as Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, still considered the best set of instructions ever written for becoming a Bodhisattva - a being bound for full enlightenment. Afterward, having no desire to return to Nalanda, Shantideva left for South India. Needless to say, the monks he left behind were profoundly impressed and somewhat bewildered by Shantideva's teachings so several monks left Nalanda in search of the one they had once despised and requested him to repeat his discourse. This he did, and he also gave them the text of his Compendium of Trainings (Skt. Shikshasamuchchaya), which also explains the practices of a Bodhisattva. From that time onwards the study and practice of Shantideva's works flourished widely throughout India and other Mahayana Buddhist lands. This has been only a brief biography of the great Bodhisattva Shantideva, who throughout his entire life performed countless deeds for the sake of spreading Buddha's teachings, the Dharma, and helping sentient beings. Even today those who are fortunate enough to read, study and meditate on his outstanding texts can find them a source of great insight and benefit.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Treasurehouse of Profound Wisdom 12 Feb 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This beautifully presented ancient text contains nuggets of wisdom which deserve profound meditation - probably far more profound than I can manage as yet! I am pretty new to things Buddhist and would certainly not claim to be anywhere near enlightment, but I have found this book useful as a source to dip into and savour. The presentation itself has been skillfully designed to draw the reader in to an attitude of serenity. Each section is prefaced by a beautiful line drawing which illustrates a key verse. The illustrations themselves are inspiring. The content, being ancient, is highly poetical and hence highly wordy. It is probably not the best introductory text for those unfamiliar with Buddhist thought. For those with some familiarity however it provides a clear and logical progression towards enlightenment. I am glad that I bought it and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Buddhism seeking inspiration.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Kate
Format:Paperback
A beautiful book, provides a concise and logical progression towards enlightenment as already stated, the concepts are easy to understand and it has been well translated for western audiences. A must-have for anyone exploring Buddhism!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended 16 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback
The translation by Neil Elliot and Kelsang Gyatso is interpolated at least in some verses, and it brings some distortions into Shantideva's text.

In Chapter 5, Tharpa Publications, 2002, p.61, both translators give the following translation of Shantideva:

Verse 88
I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognising it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment.

Verse 89

I should teach the vast and profound Dharma with a pure intention,
Free from any wish to acquire wealth or reputation;
And I should always maintain a pure motivation of bodhichitta
And make great effort to put Dharma into practice.

Verse 90

I should explain Dharma to release those who are listening
From samsara, the cycle of suffering,
And to lead them to the ultimate goal -
The attainment of full enlightenment.

This "translation" is a spin of what Shantideva is actual saying.

Although there are different translations the real verses by Shantideva are similar to Dr. Alexander Berzin's translation (available online):

(88) I shall not explain Dharma to those lacking respect,
To those with heads bound (with cloth) while not being sick,
To those holding parasols, canes, or weapons,
Or to those whose faces are veiled,

(89) Nor the vast and profound to those who are modest,
Nor to women without (also) a man.
I shall always pay equal respect
To the modest and the supreme Dharma teachings.
Read more ›
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dharma 24 Nov 2011
By Nick
Format:Paperback
This is by far the best piece of literature I have ever come across. The words are beautiful and very meaningful. The advice offered in this text can be applied to everyday life and if followed correctly can lead to one becoming very peaceful. I would recommend this book to every living being.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Work, but still Challenging for a Newcomer 11 Feb 2006
By D. Buxman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a terrific translation of Shantideva's classic poem, but, as a relative newcomer to Buddhist thought, I found it to be quite challenging. It is a text to be studied and savored. Despite its relatively short length, it still took me a couple of weeks to finish since I was constantly taking breaks to digest and interpret what was being said.

I also must admit that, coming from a somewhat materialistic, Western background, it takes a shift in mental gears to focus on the needs of others as a means of gaining happiness.

I'd also like to mention that this book is of a very high quality on the physical plane. The print is elegant. The texture of the paper is pleasing and the artwork is exceptional.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Presents the classic 8th century poem by Shantideva 13 Feb 2003
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Guide To The Bodhisattva's Way Of Life: A Buddhist Poem For Today presents the classic 8th century poem by Shantideva in a thoroughly reader accessible and elegantly translated English text which was transcribed under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The poem itself offers wisdom in the art of balancing altruism with personal happiness and self-satisfaction. Shantideva's Guide To The Bodhisattva's Way Of Life is a core recommendation for dedicated Buddhist Studies collections and reading lists.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE SUPREME PRACTICAL GUIDE ON HOW TO ENTER, MAKE PROGRESS ON, AND COMPLETE THE BUDDHIST PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT. 22 Sep 2006
By Rebecca A. Gauther - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's new translation of the famous and universally loved poem Guide to the Bodhisattva's way of life by Shantideva (8th century), is a condensation of all Buddha's teachings and how they can be integrated into our daily life.

It is a beautiful, lyrical poem that contains all the essential elements to complete the path to enlightenment: instructions on the benefits of bodhichitta, how to purify negative states of mind and cultivate positive states of mind, how to be conscientious when engaging in any type of mental, physical, or verbal action, how to reduce disturbing thoughts and distractions that can cause the mind to become unpeaceful and uncontrolled, how to practice patience effectively, how to train in effort while exercising our spiritual path, how to develop and improve our concentration so we can meditate powerfully on profound subjects such as emptiness, the ultimate nature of reality, and finally this precious poem contains a beautiful dedication for all those who are suffering from fear, frustration, illness, poverty, war, and famine, that they may swiftly be freed from their unfortuanate conditions, and maintain a happy and peaceful mind.

I recommend this beautiful poem to those interested in pursuing a happy, peaceful life filled with meaning. I recommend reading the verses slowly whilst contemplating their profound meaning. The words are precious and blessed and you can actually experience improvement in the mind just by reading it! There is a lot contained in the verses so I recommend taking time to enjoy them!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not recommended 16 Feb 2013
By M. Jaeckel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The translation by Neil Elliot and Kelsang Gyatso is interpolated at least in some verses, and it brings some distortions into Shantideva's text.

In Chapter 5, Tharpa Publications, 2002, p.61, both translators give the following translation of Shantideva:

Verse 88
I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognising it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment.

Verse 89

I should teach the vast and profound Dharma with a pure intention,
Free from any wish to acquire wealth or reputation;
And I should always maintain a pure motivation of bodhichitta
And make great effort to put Dharma into practice.

Verse 90

I should explain Dharma to release those who are listening
From samsara, the cycle of suffering,
And to lead them to the ultimate goal -
The attainment of full enlightenment.

This "translation" is a spin of what Shantideva is actual saying.

Although there are different translations the real verses by Shantideva are similar to Dr. Alexander Berzin's translation (available online):

(88) I shall not explain Dharma to those lacking respect,
To those with heads bound (with cloth) while not being sick,
To those holding parasols, canes, or weapons,
Or to those whose faces are veiled,

(89) Nor the vast and profound to those who are modest,
Nor to women without (also) a man.
I shall always pay equal respect
To the modest and the supreme Dharma teachings.

(90) I shall not join to the Dharma for the modest
Those who are vessels for the vast Dharma teachings,
Nor shall I cause them to abandon (bodhisattva) behavior,
Or entice them into (merely reciting) the sutras or mantras.

Verses 88-89 refer to the Vinaya, the code of monastic discipline for monks and nuns.

The reason to offer a distorted version of the verses might be that in the NKT the Vinaya, the monastic code of discipline for monks and nuns is absent, and that there was a need in order to maintain the group doctrine to twist Shantideva's verses so that the translation fits into the inner thinking of the New Kadampa Tradition. Another reason could be that the translators lack professional skills.

There is an online commentary of these verses by a respected Tibetan Buddhist master:
[...]

Therefore, instead of recommending this translation by the New Kadampa Tradition I would recommend reliable and careful translations of Shantideva's masterpiece, such as:

- The Way of the Bodhisattva (Shambhala Classics) by Padmakara Translation Group
- A Guide To The Bodhisattva Way Of Life , Santideva (Author), Vesna A. Wallace (Translator), B. Alan Wallace (Translator)
- A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life by Stephen Batchelor

As commentaries to Shantideva's text I can recommend:
- The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's "Way of the Bodhisattva": A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's "Way of the Bodhisattva"
- The Way of Awakening: A Commentary on Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara
5.0 out of 5 stars To each his own .., 14 July 2014
By Patricia Lueders - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Heavy stuff for serious spiritual paths. Do we have a choice ? Pema chodron introduced us to today's version. I wanted to check out the root . Intense truth!
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