The Bodhicharyavatara by SHANTIDEVA

The Way of the Bodhisattva ~ Shantideva
(Revised Edition Padmakara Translation Group)


by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

The Bodhicharyavatara was composed by the Indian scholar Shantideva, renowned in Tibet as one of the most reliable teachers. Since it mainly focuses on the cultivation and enhancement of bodhicitta, the work belongs to the Mahayana. At the same time, Shantideva’s philosophical stance, was expounded particularly in the ninth chapter on wisdom, follows the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view-point of Chandrakirti.

The principal focus of Mahayana teachings is on cultivating a mind wishing to benefit other sentient beings. With an increase in our own sense of peace and happiness, we will naturally be better able to contribute to the peace and happiness of others. Transforming the mind and cultivating a positive, altruistic, and responsible attitude are beneficial right now. Whatever problems and difficulties we may have, we can thereby face them with courage, calmness, and high spirits. Therefore, it is also the very root of happiness for many lives to come.


Based on my own little experience, I can confidently say that the teachings and instructions of the Buddhadharma and particularly the Mahayana teachings continue to be relevant and useful today. If we sincerely put the gist of these teachings into practice, we need have no hesitation about their effectiveness. The benefits of developing qualities like love, compassion, generosity, and patience are not confined to the personal level alone; they extend to all sentient beings and even to the maintenance of harmony with the environment. It is not as if these teachings were useful at some time in the past but are no longer relevant in modern times. They remain pertinent today. This is why I encourage people to pay attention to such practices; it is not just so that the tradition may be preserved.

The Bodhicharyavatara has been widely acclaimed and respected for more than one thousand years. It is studied and praised by all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. I myself received transmission and explanation of this important, holy text from the late Kunu Lama, Tenzin Gyaltsen, who received it from a disciple of the great Dzogchen master, Dza Patrul Rinpoche. It has proved very useful and beneficial to my mind.

I am delighted that the Padmakara Translation Group has prepared a fresh English translation of the Bodhicharyavatara. They have tried to combine an accuracy of meaning with an ease of expression, which can only serve the text’s purpose well. I congratulate them and offer my prayers that their efforts may contribute to greater peace and happiness among all sentient beings.

17 October 1996




[…] Buddhists, study the sacred texts as part of a spiritual discipline, intending or at least aspiring to implement the teachings they contain. […] They approach the Bodhicharyavatara primarily as a manual for living.


The Way of the Bodhisattva is one of the great classics of the Mahayana, the Buddhism of the Great Vehicle. Presented in the form of personal meditation, but offered in friendship to whoever might be interested, it is an exposition of the path of the Bodhisattvas – those beings who, turning aside from the futility and sufferings of samsara, nevertheless renounce the peace of individual salvation and vow to work for the deliverance of all beings and to attain supreme enlightenment of Buddhahood for their sake. As such, Shantideva’s work embodies a definition of compassion raised to its highest power and minutely lays out the methods by which this is to be achieved. It is an overwhelming demonstration of how concern for others, in a love that wholly transcends desire and concern for self, lies at the core of all true spiritual endeavour and is the very heart of enlightened wisdom. 

[…] It is frequent practice among commentators to divide The Way of the Bodhisattva into three main sections.

The first three chapters: “The Excellence of Bodhicitta,” “Confession” and “Taking Hold of Bodhicitta” are designed to stimulate the dawning of bodhicitta in the mind.

The following three chapters: “Carefulness,” “Vigilant Introspection,” and “Patience” give instructions on how to prevent the precious attitude from being dissipated.

While the seventh, eighth, and ninth chapters: “Diligence,” “Meditative Concentration” and “Wisdom” prescribe ways in which bodhicitta may be progressively intensified.

The tenth chapter is a concluding prayer of “dedication”.

[…] What is bodhicitta? The word has many nuances and is easier to understand, perhaps, than to translate. […] Chitta means “mind,” “thought,” “attitude”. Bodhi means “enlightenment,” “awakening,” and is cognate with the term buddha itself. This gives us “mind of enlightenment,” “awakened mind” – the attitude of mind that tends toward Buddhahood, the enlightened state. It should be noted that bodhicitta is not a synonym for compassion; it is a broader term in which compassion is implied.

According to tradition, bodhicitta is said to have two aspects, or rather to exist on two levels. First, one speaks of ultimate bodhicitta, referring to the direct cognizance of the true status of phenomena. This is the wisdom of emptiness: an immediate, nondual insight that transcends conceptualisation.

Second, there is relative bodhicitta, by which is meant the aspiration to attain the highest good, or Buddhahood, for the sake of all, together with all the practical steps necessary to achieve this goal.

The connection between these two bodhicittas – the wisdom of emptiness on the one hand, the will to deliver beings from suffering on the other – is not perhaps immediately clear. But within the Buddhist perspective, as Shantideva gradually reveals, ultimate and relative bodhicitta are two interdependent aspects of the same thing. The true realization of emptiness is impossible without the practice of perfect compassion, while no compassion can ever be perfect without the realization of the wisdom of emptiness.

At first sight, this apparently closed circle suggests that bodhicitta is impossible to achieve. It is nevertheless the startling assertion of Buddhist teaching that the mind itself, even the mind in samsara, is never, and has never been, ultimately alienated from the state of enlightenment.

Bodhicitta is in fact its true nature and condition. The mind is not identical with the defilement and distraction that beset and usually overwhelm it, and thus it may be freed from them; it is capable of growth and improvement and may be trained. By using methods and tools grounded in the duality of subject and object, the mind has the power to evolve toward a wisdom and a mode of being (in fact its own true nature) that utterly transcends this duality.

[…] The vow of the Bodhisattva is to deliver beings from suffering, in other words, to deliver them from the causes of their suffering. The work of the Buddha or Bodhisattva is therefore to teach, to show the way – first by revealing values to be adopted or abandoned (and thus the means whereby wholesome and propitious existential states are produced), then by teaching the wisdom whereby samsara is wholly transcended. This is of course the definition of Dharma; the Bodhicharyavatara is itself Shantideva’s liberating message to the world.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “If I have any understanding of compassion and the practice of the Bodhisattva path, it is entirely on the basis of this text that I possess it”.


Immeasurable gratitude to the contributors for this translation of The Way of the Bodhisattva.


The Excellence of Bodhicitta

Homage to all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

To those who go in bliss, the dharmakaya they possess,
and, all their heirs,
To all those worthy of respect, I reverently bow.
According to the scriptures, I shall now in brief describe
The practice of the Bodhisattva discipline.


Here I shall say nothing that has not been said before,
And in the art of prosody I have no skill.
I therefore have no thought that this might be of benefit
to others;
I wrote it only to habituate my mind.


My faith will thus be strengthened for a little while,
That I might grow accustomed to this virtuous way.
But others who now chance upon my words
May profit also, equal to myself in fortune.

So hard to find the ease and wealth
Whereby the aims of beings may be gained.
If now I fail to turn it to my profit,
How could such a chance be mine again?

Just as on a dark night black with clouds,
The sudden lightning glares and all is clearly shown,
Likewise rarely, through the Buddhas’ power,
Virtuous thoughts rise, brief and transient, in the world.

Virtue, thus, is weak; and always
Evil is of great and overwhelming strength.
Except for perfect bodhicitta,
What other virtue is there that can lay it low?

For many aeons deeply pondering,
The mighty Sages saw its benefits,
Whereby unnumbered multitudes
Are brought with ease to supreme joy.

Those who wish to crush the many sorrows of existence,
Who wish to quell the pain of living beings,
Who wish to have experience of a myriad joys
Should never turn away from bodhicitta.

Should bodhicitta come to birth
In those who suffer, chained in prisons of samsara,
In that instant they are called the children of the Blissful One,
Revered by all the world, by gods and humankind.

For like the supreme substance of the alchemists,
It takes our impure flesh and makes of it
The body of a Buddha, jewel beyond all price.
Such is bodhicitta. Let us grasp it firmly!

Since the boundless wisdom of the only guide of beings
Perfectly examined and perceived its priceless worth,
Those who wish to leave this state of wandering
Should hold well to this precious bodhichitta.

All other virtues, like the plantain tree,
Produce their fruit, but then their force is spent.
Alone the marvelous tree of bodhichitta
Constantly bears fruit and grows unceasingly.

As though they pass through perils guarded by a hero,
Even those weighed down with dreadful wickedness
Will instantly be freed through having bodhicitta.
Why do those who fear their *sins not have recourse to it?
[*negative actions of body, speech and mind]

Just as by the fire that will destroy the world,
Great sins are surely and at once consumed by it.
Its benefits are thus unbounded
As the Wise and Loving Lord explained to Sudhana.

Bodhichitta, the awakened mind,
Is known in brief to have two aspects:
First, aspiring, bodhichitta in intention;
Then active bodhichitta, practical engagement.

As corresponding to the wish to go
And then to setting out,
The wise should understand respectively
The difference that divides these two.

From bodhicitta in intention
Great results arise for those still turning in the wheel of
Yet merit does not rise from it in ceaseless streams
As is the case with active bodhichitta.

For when, with irreversible intent,
The mind embraces bodhichitta,
Willing to set free the endless multitudes of beings,
In that instant, from that moment on,

A great and unremitting stream,
A strength of wholesome merit,
Even during sleep and inattention,
Rises equal to the vastness of the sky.

This the Tathagata,
In the sutra Subahu requested,
Said with reasoned argument
For those inclined to lesser paths.

If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings,
Such merit knows no bounds.

No need to speak, them, of the wish
To drive away the endless pain
Of each and every living being,
Bringing them unbounded excellence.

Could our father or our mother
Ever have so generous a wish?
Do the very gods, the rishis, even Brahma
Harbor such benevolence as this?

For in the past they never,
Even in their dreams,
Wished something like this for themselves.
How could they do so for another’s sake?

This aim to bring the benefit of beings,
A benefit that others wish not even for themselves,
This noble, jewellike state of mind
Arises truly wondrous, never seen before.

This pain-dispelling draft,
This cause of joy for those who wander through the
This precious attitude, this jewel of mind –
How shall we calculate its merit?

If the simple thought to be of help to others
Exceeds in worth the worship of the Buddhas,
What need is there to speak of actual deeds
That bring about the weal and benefit of beings?

For beings long to free themselves from misery,
But misery itself they follow and pursue.
They long for joy, but in their ignorance
Destroy it, as they would their foe.

But those who fill with bliss
All beings destitute of joy,
Who cut all pain and suffering away
From those weighed down with misery,

Who drive away the darkness of their ignorance –
What virtue could be matched with theirs?
What friend could be compared to them?
What merit is there similar to this?

If someone who returns a favor
Is deserving of some praise,
Why need we speak of Bodhisattvas,
Those who do good even unsolicited?

People praise as virtuous donors
Those who with contempt support
A few with plain and ordinary food:
A moment’s gift that feeds for only half a day.

What need is there to speak of those
Who long bestow on countless multitudes
The peerless joy of blissful Buddhahood,
The ultimate fulfilment of their hopes?

All those who harbor evil in their minds
Against such lords of generosity, the Buddha’s heirs,
Will stay in hell, the mighty Sage has said,
For ages equal to the moments of their malice.

But joyous and devoted thoughts
Will yield abundant fruits in greater strength.
Even in great trouble, Bodhisattvas
Never bring forth wrong; their virtues naturally increase.

To them in whom this precious jewel of mind
Is born – to them I bow!
I go for refuge to those springs of happiness
Who bring their very enemies to perfect bliss.



To the Buddhas, those thus gone,
And to the sacred Dharma, spotless and supremely rare,
And to the Buddha’s offspring, oceans of good qualities,
That I might gain this precious attitude, I make a perfect

I offer every fruit and flower,
Every kind of healing draft,
And all the precious gems the world contains,
With all pure waters of refreshment;

Every mountain wrought of precious jewels,
All sweet and lonely forest groves,
The trees of paradise adorned with blossom,
Trees with branches bowed with perfect fruit;

The perfumed fragrance of divine and other realms,
All incense, wishing trees, and trees of gems,
All crops that grow without the tiller’s care,
And every sumptuous object worthy to be offered.

Lakes and meres adorned with lotuses,
Delightful with the sweet-voiced cries of waterbirds,
And everything unclaimed and free
Extending to the margins of the boundless sky.

I hold them all before my mind, and to the mighty sage,
the greatest of our kind,
And to his heirs, I make a perfect offering.
Sublime recipients, compassionate lords,
O think of me with love; accept these gifts of mine!

For, destitute of merit, I am very poor;
I have no other wealth. And so, protectors,
You whose wise intentions are for others’ good,
In your great power, receive them for my sake.

Enlightened ones and all your Bodhisattva heirs,
I offer you my body throughout all my lives.
Supreme courageous ones accept me totally.
For with devotion I will be your slave.

For if you will accept me, I will be
Undaunted by samsara and will act for beings’ sake.
I’ll leave behind the evils [negativities] of my past,
And ever after turn my face from them.

A bathing chamber excellently fragrant,
With even floors of crystal, radiant and clear,
And graceful pillars shimmering with gems,
All hung about with gleaming canopies of pearls –

There the blissful Buddhas and their heirs
I’ll bathe with many precious vase,
Abrim with water fragrant and delightful,
All to frequent strains of melody and song.

With cloths of unexampled quality,
With spotless, perfumed towels I will dry them,
And offer splendid scented clothes,
Well-dyed and of surpassing excellence.

With different garments, light and supple,
And a hundred beautiful adornments,
I will grace sublime Samantabhadra,
Manjughosha, Lokeshvara, and their kin.

And with a sumptuous fragrance which
Pervades a thousand million worlds,
I will anoint the bodies of the mighty Sages,
Gleaming bright like burnished gold refined and

I place before the mighty Sages, perfect objects of my
Glorious flowers like lotus and mandarava,
The utpala, and other fragrant blossoms,
Worked and twined in lovely scented garlands.

I will offer swelling clouds of frankincense,
Whose ambient perfume ravishes the mind,
And various foods of every kind of drink,
All delicacies worthy of the gods.

I will offer precious lamps
Arranged in rows on lotuses of gold,
A carpet of sweet flowers scattering
Upon the level, incense-sprinkled ground.

To those whose very nature is compassion
I will give vast palaces, resounding with fair praise,
All decked with precious pearls and beauteous pendant
Gleaming jewels that deck the amplitude of space.

Fair and precious parasols adorned with golden shafts,
All bordered round with hems of precious jewels,
Upright, well-proportioned, pleasing to the eye,
Again, all this I give to all Buddhas.

May a host of other offerings,
And clouds of ravishing sweet melody
That solaces the pain of living beings
Arise and constantly abide.

May rains of flowers and every precious gem
Fall down in an unceasing stream
Upon the Jewels of Sacred Dharma,
Images and all supports for offering.

Just as Manjughosha and the like
Made offering to all the Conquerors,
I do likewise to all the Buddhas our protectors,
And to all their Bodhisattva children.

To these vast oceans of good qualities
I offer praise, a sea of airs and harmonies.
May clouds of tuneful eulogy
Ascend unceasingly before them.

To the Buddhas of the past, the present, and all future time,
And to the Dharma and Sublime Assembly,
With bodies many as the grains of dust
Upon the earth, I will prostrate and bow.

To shrines and all supports
Of bodhicitta I bow down;
To abbots who transmit the vows, to every learned
And to all sublime practitioners of Dharma.

Until the essence of enlightenment is reached,
I go for refuge to the Buddhas.
Also I take refuge in the Dharma
And in the host of Bodhisattvas.

To perfect Buddhas and to Bodhisattvas,
In all directions where they may reside,
To them who are the sovereigns of great mercy,
I press my palms together, praying thus:

“In this and all my other lives,
While turning in the round without beginning,
Blindly I have brought forth evil,
And incited others to commit the same.

“Deceived and overmastered by my ignorance,
I have taken pleasure in such sin,
And seeing now the blame of it,
O great protectors, I confess it earnestly!

“Whatever I have done against the Triple Gem,
Against my parents, teachers, and the rest,
Through force of my defilements,
In my body, speech, and mind.

“All the evil I, a sinner, have committed,
All the wicked deeds that cling to me,
The frightful things that I contrived
I openly declare to you, the teachers of the world.

“It may be that my death will come to me
Before my evil has been cleansed.
How then can I be freed from it?
I pray you, quickly grant me your protection!”

We cannot trust the wanton Lord of Death.
The task complete or still to do, he will not wait.
In health or sickness, therefore, none of us can trust
Our fleeting, momentary lives.

And we must pass away, forsaking all.
But I, devoid of understanding,
Have, for sake of friend and foe alike,
Provoked and brought about so many wrongs.

But all my foes will cease to be,
And all my friends will cease to be,
And I will also cease to be,
And likewise everything will cease to be.

All that I possess and use
Is like the fleeting vision of a dream.
It fades into the realms of memory,
And fading, will be seen no more.

And even in the brief coarse of this present life,
So many friends and foes have passed away,
Because of whom, the evils I have done
Still lie, unbearable, before me.

The thought came never to my mind
That I too am a brief and passing thing.
And so, through hatred, lust, and ignorance,
I have committed many sins.

Never halting night or day,
My life drains constantly away,
And from, no other source does increase come.
How can there not be death for such as me?

There I’ll be, prostrate upon my bed,
And all around, my family and friends.
But I alone shall be the one to feel
The cutting of the thread of life.

And when the herald of the Deadly King have gripped me,
What help to me will be my friends and kin?
For then life’s virtue is my one defense,
And this, alas, is what I shrugged away.

O protectors! I, so little heeding,
Hardly guessed at horror such as this –
And all for this brief, transient existence,
I have done so many evil things.

The day they take him to the scaffold,
Where they will tear off his limbs,
A man is changed, transfigured by his fear:
His mouth is dry, his eyes start from his brow.

No need to say how stricken I shall be
When overcome and sick with dreadful fear,
I’m seized by forms so horrible to see,
The frightful servants of the Lords of Death.

Who can give me safe protection
From this horror, from this frightful dread?
And then I’ll search the four directions,
Seeking help, with panic-stricken eyes.

But in those four directions no protection shall I find.
And I shall sink into despairing woe.
No refuge will there be for me;
At such a time, what shall I do?

Thus, from this day forward I take refuge
In the Buddhas, guardians of beings,
Who labor to protect all wanderers,
Those mighty ones who scatter every fear.

And in the Dharma they have realized in their hearts,
Which drives away the terrors of samsara,
And in all the host of Bodhisattvas
Likewise I will perfectly take refuge.

Gripped by dread, beside myself with anguish,
To Samantabhadra I will give myself;
My body I myself will give
To Manjughosha, gentle and melodious.

To him whose deeds of mercy never fail,
My lord Avalokita,
I cry our from depths of misery,
“Protect me now an evildoer!”

Now to the noble one, Akashagarbha,
And to Kshitigarbha, from my heart I call.
To all protectors, great, compassionate,
I cry to them in search of refuge.

To Vajrapani I shall fly
For at the sight of him
All vengeful things like Yama’s host
Escape in terror to the four directions.

Formerly your words I have transgressed,
But having seen these terrors all around,
I come to you for refuge praying:
Swiftly drive away my fear!

For, if alarmed by common ailments,
I must implement the doctor’s words,
What need to speak of when I’m constantly brought low
By ills like lust and faults a hundredfold?

And if, by one of these alone,
The dwellers in the world are thrown down,
And if no other remedy exists,
No other healing elsewhere to be found.

Than words of the all-knowing doctor,
Which uproot our every ill,
The thought to turn on him deaf ears
It abject and contemptible stupidity.

Along a small and ordinary cliff
If I must pick my way with special care,
What need to speak of that long-lasting chasm
Plunging to the depths a thousand leagues?

“Today, at least, I shall not die”.
So rash to lull myself with words like these!
My dissolution and my hour of death
Will come to me, of this there is no doubt.

Who can give me fearlessness,
What sure escape is there from this?
It’s certain that I’m going to die,
So how can I relax, my mind at ease?

Of life’s experience, all seasons past,
What’s left to me, what now remains?
By clinging to what now is here no more,
My teacher’s precepts I have disobeyed.

And when this life is left behind,
And with it all my kith and kin,
I must set out on strange paths all alone:
Why make so much of all my friends and foes

How instead can I make sure
To rid myself of evil, only cause of sorrow?
This should be my one concern,
My only thought both night and day.

The wrongs that I have done
Through ignorant stupidity:
All actions evil by their nature
And transgressions of the precepts,

Fearing all the pains to come
I join my palms and ceaselessly prostrate,
And everything I will confess
Directly in the sight of my protectors.

I pray you, guides and guardians of the world,
To take me as I am, a sinful man.
And all these actions, evil as they are,
I promise I will never do again.

(to be continued…)