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Appendix 1 * The Life of Shantideva.

 

 

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Generally speaking our main sources for the life of Shantideva are the Tibetan historians Buton and Jetsun Taranatha. In addition, a short account (apparently a combination and abbreviation of the previous two) is to be found in the writings of the eighteenth century Tibetan scholar Yeshe Peljor, and more recent scholarship has brought to light a short Sanskrit life of Shantideva preserved in a fourteenth-century Nepalese manuscript. The following account is taken from The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech, a commentary on The Way of the Bodhisattva by Kunzang Pelden, who has followed Buton closely, preferring him to Taranatha, whose account, however, he must have known.

 

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App.1.

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[p.175]


The author of the Bodhicharyavatara 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:


The pleasing of his supreme yidam deity;

The perfect deeds at Nalada;

The healing of a conflict; and the taking as disciples those of strange opinion,

As well as beggars, unbelievers, and a king.


[p.176]


The great being Shantideva was born in the southern country of Saurashtra. He was the son of the king, Kalyanavarman, 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 most 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 “Tikshnamanjushri-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 Nalada where he received ordination from Jayadeva, 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 from the Noble One (Manjushri). He meditated on them and condensed their precious contents into two shastras: the Digest of All Disciplines (Shikshasamucchaya) and the Digest of the Sutras (Sutrasamucchaya). But though he gained boundless qualities of elimination and realization, 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 of Bhusuku. Such was their estimate of his outward conduct. “This man,” they complained, “performs none of the three duties required of the monks of this monastery. He has no right to . . .

 

[p.177]


enjoy the food and alms offered in religion to the Sangha. We must drive him away!”


Their plan was to take it in turns to expound the scriptures so that, when Shantideva’s turn came round, he would be embarrassed and run away. They repeatedly urged him to preach, but on each occasion he refused, saying that he didn’t know anything. So they asked the abbot to order him, and when he did so, Shantideva immediately promised to give a teaching. At this, a few of the monks began to have misgivings, not knowing what to think. In order to put him to the test, they arranged a great quantity of offerings on the ground outside the monastery. They invited a large congregation of people and set up an enormously high lion throne in their midst. They then sent for Shantideva; and most of their monks were thrown into a confusion when they suddenly caught sight of him sitting high up on the throne, not knowing how he had managed to get there.


“Would you like me to recite some well-known teaching of the Buddha?” Shantideva asked. “Or would you prefer something you have never heard before?”


Everyone was thunderstruck. “Please tell us something completely new,” they said.


Now the Shikshasamucchaya is too long, but on the other hand the Sutrasamucchaya is too short. So Shantideva expounded the Bodhicharyavatara, which, though vast in meaning, is quite brief. The noble Manjushri appeared, seated in the sky, and many of the people saw him and had great faith. Even more remarkable, when Shantideva came to the beginning of stanza 34 of the ninth chapter, “When something and its nonexistence both are absent from before the mind . . . ,” he and Manjushri began to rise higher and higher into the sky until at last they disappeared. Shantideva’s voice, however, continued to resound so that the transmission was completed.


Those in the congregation who possessed extraordinary powers of memory wrote down the teaching as they had recalled it; but they produced texts of varying length; some of seven hundred stanzas, some of a thousand, and some of even more. The panditas of Kashmir produced a text of seven hundred stanzas in nine chapters, while those of central India (Magadha) came up with a text of a thousand stanzas in ten chapters. Disagreement and uncertainty reigned. Moreover, they did not know . . .

 

[p.178]


the texts that Shantideva was referring to when he mentioned that they should read the Shikshasamucchaya repeatedly, and occasionally consult the shorter Sutrasamucchaya.


After a time, it was discovered that Shantideva was living in the south, at the stupa of Shridakshina. Two of the panditas who had supernormal powers of memory went to see him, intending to invite him back. But when they met him it proved inconvenient for Shantideva to return. Nevertheless, in answer to their inquiries, he affirmed that the correct version corresponded to what the scholars of Magadha had produced. As for the Shikshasamucchaya and the Sutrasamucchaya, he said that they would find both texts written in a fine scholarly hand and hidden in the roof beam of his monastic cell at Nalada. He then instructed the two panditas, giving them explanations and transmission.


Shantideva later traveled to the east where, through a demonstration of miraculous power, he resolved a serious conflict, creating harmony and happiness between the contending parties.


He also accepted as his disciples a group of five hundred people living not too far west of Magadha, who were holders of strange, non-Buddhist beliefs. For there had occurred a great natural disaster, and the people were tormented by famine. They told Shantideva that if he could save their lives, they would respect his teachings. The master took his begging bowl with cooked rice received in alms and blessing it with profound concentration, fed and satisfied them all. Turning them from their uncouth superstitions, he introduced them to the Buddha’s Doctrine.


Some time afterward, in the course of another terrible famine, he restored to life and health at least a thousand beggars who were emaciated and dying of starvation.


Later, Shantideva became a bodyguard of King Arivishana, who was threatened by Machala in the east (i.e., in Magadha). Meditating upon himself as inseparable from Manjughosha, he took a wooden sword with its scabbard and imbued it with such tremendous power of Dharma that, so armed, he was able to subdue any and every onslaught. He brought about such harmony that he became the object of universal respect. Some people were, however, intensely jealous of him and protested to the kin. “This man is an imposter!” they cried. “We demand an iniquity. How could he possibly have defended you? He has no weapon other than a wooden sword!”

 

[p.179]


The king was moved to anger and the weapons were examined one by one. When Shantideva was ordered to take out his sword, he replied that it would be wrong to do so since it would injure the king.


“Even if it harms me,” said the king, “take it out!”


Going off with him to a solitary place, Shantideva requested the king to cover one of his eyes with his hand and to look with the other. With that, the sword was drawn, and its brightness was so intense that the king’s eye shot from his brow and fell to the ground. He and his escort were overcome with terror and begged Shantideva for forgiveness, asking him for refuge. Shantideva placed the eye back into the its socket, and through his blessings, the king’s sight was painlessly restored. The whole country was inspired with faith and embraced the Dharma.


Later on, Shantideva went to Shriparvata in the south. There he took to the life of the naked Ucchushma beggars and sustained himself on the water thrown away after the washing of dishes and cooking pots. It happened that Kachalaha, a serving woman of King Khatavihara, once saw that if any of the washing water splashed on Shantideva as she was pouring it out, it was as if it had fallen on red hot iron. It would boil and hiss.


Now, at that time, a Hindu teacher called Shankaradeva appealed to the king and issued the following challenge. He said that he would draw the mandala of Maheshvara in the sky and that if the Buddhist teachers were unable to destroy it, then all Buddhist images and writings should be consigned to the flames, and everyone obliged to accept the tenets of his religion. The king convoked the Buddhist Sangha and informed them of the challenge. But nobody could undertake to destroy the mandala. The king was deeply troubled, but when the serving woman told him what she had seen, he ordered that Shantideva be summoned. They searched high and low and eventually found him sitting under a tree. When they explained the situation, he announced that he was equal to the challenge but that he would need a jug filled with water, two pieces of cloth, and fire. Everything was prepared according to his instructions.


On the evening of the following day, the Hindu yogi drew some lines n the sky and departed. Everyone began to feel afraid. But early next morning, as the mandala was being drawn, no sooner was the eastern gate finished than Shantideva entered into a profound concentration. At once there arose a tremendous hurricane. The mandala was swept away into the void; and the crops, trees, and even the villages were on the brink of . . .

 

[p.180]

 

destruction. The people were scattered; the Hindu teacher was caught up in the wind like a little bird and swept away, and a great darkness fell over the land. But a light shone out from between Shantideva’s eyebrows showing the way for the king and queen. They had been stripped of their clothes and were covered with dust. And so with the fire he warmed them, with the water he washed them, and with the cloth he dressed and comforted them. When, through his power of concentration, the people had been gathered together, washed, anointed, clothed, and set at ease, Shantideva introduced many of them to the Buddha’s teaching. He caused heathen places of worship to be demolished and centers of the Buddhist teaching to flourish, spread, and remain for a long time. As a result, the country came to be known as the place where the non-Buddhists were defeated.

 


* Historical Note

In his Tattvasiddhi, Shantarakshita, the celebrated Indian master invited to Tibet by King Trisong Detsen, quotes an entire stanza from the Bodhicharyavatara (1.10). This shows that Shantideva must have been well-known before 763 when Shantarakshita first visited Tibet. Thus we have a final date, while an initial date is supplied by the seventh-century Chinese pilgrim I-Tsing, who compiled an exhaustive list of all the most important Madhyamaka masters of his time. He makes no mention of Shantideva (or, for that matter, Jayadeva), thus indicating that the author of the Bodhicharyavatara had not yet been born, or at least was still unknown, by the year 685, when I-Tsing returned to China. We can therefore say with a fair degree of certainty that Shantideva flourished in the first half of the eighth century.


It is interesting to reflect also that not only was the Bodhicharyavatara widely acclaimed in India (Buton says that more than a hundred commentaries were composed on it in Sanskrit alone), but it was translated almost immediately into Tibetan by Kawa Peltsek. This is in itself a remarkable circumstance and indicates the speed with which the Bodhicharyavatara had established itself as a text of major importance. It will be remembered that, like Shantideva, Shantarakshita was also from the monastery of Nalada; and we may justifiably speculate that he looked upon the work of his illustrious confrere as a valuable tool in the propagation of the Mahayana in Tibet. Moreover, the historical proximity between the Indian master and his Tibetan translator makes it quite plausible . . .


[p.181]


that accurate details of Shantideva’s life might have passed into Tibetan tradition. Admittedly, Buton wrote at a distance of four centuries, and his account is brief and hagiographical, but he must have had his sources. And if these derive from ancient Tibetan records, it is at least reasonable to conclude that details in his biography of Shantideva may not be as fanciful as modern scholarship tends to suppose.


In any case, certain indisputable facts emerge and are confirmed elsewhere. We know that Shantideva was a monk, at least for part of his life and certainly at the time when he composed the Bodhicharyavatara. There is no reason to doubt that he was ordained at Nalada, the principal seat of Madhyamaka philosophy. We know too that he composed three works: his masterpiece the Bodhicharyavatara, the Shikshasamucchaya, and the Sutrasamucchaya. The tantric trajectory of Shantideva’s life should be noted. Granted, there is no hint of tantric teaching in either the Bodhicharyavatara or Shikshasamucchaya, but the gist of the traditional account, which is credible enough, tends to support the attribution to Shantideva of a certain number of tantric texts translated into Tibetan and preserved in the Tengyur.