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  • 8/14/2019 Bodhicaryvatra Teachings


    Bodhicaryvatra: Teachings and Overview

    Bodhicaryvatra | Tibetan Masters Alak ZenkarRinpoche | Indian Masters ntideva


    Bodhicharyavatara: Teaching Methods & Overview

    by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche

    The Bodhicharyavatara in East Tibet (Kham)

    In Kham, Eastern Tibet, the followers of all four schools Sakya, Gelug, Kagy and Nyingmastudied theBodhicharyavatara, this classic text of the great

    bodhisattva Shantideva, in which the teachings on theway of the bodhisattva are compiled and explained. In

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    fact, especially in Kham, this text was so popular and sowidely taught that it became as widespread, it is said, asthe very stones and earth and this was particularly true

    during the time of Dza Patrul Rinpoche.

    If we take the example of the Sakya School, in the mostimportant teaching centre of Kham, which was the

    incomparable Dzongsar shedra, and also in npo Gar, theresidence of nt Khyenrab, and in other places, the

    teaching of the Bodhicharyavatara was extremelypopular. These Sakya teachers relied especially upon theinterlinear commentary (chendrel) of Khenpo Shenga,and then added to that the special oral teachings of Dza

    Patrul Rinpoche.

    In the great Kagy monasteries too, such as Palpung,they also followed Patrul Rinpoches tradition.

    Then, if we consider the Gelug monasteries, one of themain Gelug centres in Kham was Dza Sershul Gn, where

    all the genuine traditions of sutra and mantra were

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    taught, and of the four great debate manuals (yikcha),they followed that of Sera Je. They too would follow

    Patrul Rinpoches tradition when teaching theBodhicharyavatara.

    In Minyak there was one very famous scholar known asMinyak Khenpo Kunzang Snam, who wrote a great

    commentary on the Bodhicharyavatara. (In Derge theycall this the Hung commentary, but the only reason forthis seems to be that when they carved the woodblocks

    to print it, they wrote a Hung on them. There doesntseem to be any other reason!) In this commentary, the

    first eight chapters follow Dza Patrul Rinpochesapproach exactly, but the ninth chapter follows the Gelugapproach, because Kunzang Snam was connected withthis Dza Sershul monastery, and so he was told by PatrulRinpoche that he should write this part according to hisown tradition, and especially that he should follow the

    commentary of Gyaltsab Darma Rinchen (known as theDar Tik). So this chapter is a little different from the

    Nyingma commentaries and follows more of a purely

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    Sarma approach, but all the other chapters follow PatrulRinpoches own teaching trad ition very strictly.

    The tradition of teaching the Bodhicharyavatara wasincredibly widespread throughout Kham. To give an

    example, consider the case of nt Khyenrab, who, afterthe great Khenpo Shenga, was the most important

    khenpo at Dzongsar. In most shedras, they would teachthe thirteen great texts one after another from one class

    to the next, but nt Khyenrab would teach theBodhicharyavatara all the time throughout the whole

    year, summer and winter and whenever he finished thetext, in that same session he would go back and start

    again at the beginning of the text. In fact, it is said thathe taught the Bodhicharyavatara continually throughout

    his entire life.

    In Minyak, the main tradition for teaching theBodhicharyavatara was to follow the commentary ofKhenpo Kunpal. Sometimes they would also use the

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    commentary of Gyalse Tokme Zangpo, which is of justthe right length, neither too elaborate nor too brief.

    Patrul Rinpoches Tradition

    Patrul Rinpoches tradition, of course, includes athorough commentary on the text, as you find in thecommentary of Khenpo Kunpal. But it is not just an

    explanation of the words of the text; the maincharacteristic of his approach was to teach the text in themanner of a pith instruction, by relating it to experience.

    According to this approach, the meaning of the entiretext from beginning to end can be summarized in the

    famous four line prayer:

    O precious, sublime bodhichitta:May it arise in those in whom it has not arisen;

    May it never decline where it has arisen;

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    May it go on increasing further and further!

    The whole text can be summarized entirely and withouterror in these four lines. So the meaning of the text is

    basically bodhichitta to cause bodhichittta (bothrelative and absolute) to arise where it has not arisen, to

    prevent it from declining where it has arisen, and to

    cause it to go on increasing further and further. Thenthere is the dedication of whatever merits have been

    gained. So the ten chapters of the Bodhicharyavatara canbe grouped into four parts.

    There are three chapters for causing relative andabsolute bodhichitta to arise where they have not arisen.Firstly there is the chapter on the benefits of bodhichitta

    to inspire us, secondly there is the chapter on theconfession of negative actions, which are not conducive

    to arousing bodhichitta, and thirdly, there is the chapteron fully taking hold of, or adopting, bodhichitta.

    Then there are three chapters which prevent bodhichittafrom declining where it has arisen. There is the chapter

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    on carefulness, which is a meticulous concern in carryingout positive actions and avoiding negative ones. Then

    there is the chapter on vigilance, which meanscontinually keeping watch over the state of our minds.

    Then there is the chapter on patience.

    Then there are three chapters for increasing bodhichittafurther and further: diligence, meditative concentration

    and wisdom.

    Finally, there is the chapter on dedication, dedicating forthe sake of others the benefits of increasing bodhichitta

    in this way.

    This way of including the ten chapters within these four

    points is the tradition of Patrul Rinpoche.

    Bodhichitta is extremely important. There is no way wecan attain buddhahood if we lack the means of great

    compassion. So the special unique feature of the

    Mahayana is the mind of bodhichitta, which is the unionof love and compassion. Generally we define bodhichitta


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    For the sake of others, longing to attain completeenlightenment.

    This is bodhichitta with its two aspects.

    For the first aspect, the objects of focus are all sentientbeings, and the attitude is one of compassion, which is

    the wish that they might be free of suffering, and love, orthe wish that they have happiness.

    In the second aspect the object of focus is complete


    We can illustrate this further. The focus is on all sentientbeings, but when we have all sentient beings as our

    focus, what do we do? We focus on all beings and say to

    ourselves: I will ensure that you are freed from su fferingand its causes, and that you have happiness and itscauses, and that you all reach the precious level of

    enlightenment. This is bodhichitta complete with the

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    two aspects: the aspect of focusing on sentient beingswith altruism, and the aspect of focusing on perfect

    enlightenment with wisdom.

    This is the general definition of bodhichitta, especiallyrelative bodhichitta. This is what we cultivate when we

    meditate on equalizing ourselves and others, exchanging

    ourselves and others, and considering others as moreimportant than ourselves. The crucial point here is that

    all sentient beings have been continuously circling insamsara throughout beginningless time as a result of ourself-cherishing. So when we arouse bodhichitta we needto reverse completely our usual pattern of thinking, andthe way that we can bring about such a radical shift is byslowly transforming our self-cherishing into an attitude

    of cherishing others. This is like the life-pillar ofbodhichitta.

    In order to eradicate our self-cherishing we will also needto generate the wisdom of egolessness. This wisdom isextremely important. Of course, usually we talk about

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    the importance of the wisdom of realizing emptiness.First of all, we need to study, reflect and meditate on

    selflessness and then arrive at some certainty about it.Then we bring this certainty to mind again and again, so

    that the wisdom which realizes egolessness arises.Through this, our usual way of thinking, which is based

    on the view of self, and on the strong notion of self andother, will gradually grow weaker.

    At the same time as this ego-centric view loses strength,we will appreciate more and more that if we really wantto attain enlightenment, we cannot do so without the

    support of all sentient beings. We will arrive at a genuineand uncontrived realization of the extraordinary

    importance of all sentient beings. Quite naturally, we willbegin to cherish others just as we currently cherish

    ourselves. When this happens, as soon as we see otherssufferingeither undergoing blatant suffering or

    gathering the causes for future suffering we will feelunbearable compassion in our minds. When we feel this

    compassion, and recognize their suffering, we wontsimply feel a passive wish that they might be freed from

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