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Shantideva, author of the Bodhicharyavatara

Bodhicharyavatara or Bodhisattvacharyavatara (Tib. chöjuk; wyl. spyod 'jug) Introduction to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Shantideva's classic guide to the mahayana path.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama said:

If I have any understanding of compassion and the bodhisattva path, it all comes from studying this text.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche said:

The Bodhicharyavatara teaches the complete Mahayana path to enlightenment, including all necessary preliminary, main, and concluding practices. A perfect path in itself, it is also at the same time a perfect support for all practitioners of the Vajrayana teachings in general. Practitioners learn how to develop the motivation of bodhichitta, as well as how to carry out the application of the six transcendental perfections. They learn how to fuse their practice of bodhichitta and the five first perfections with the sixth perfection, transcendental knowledge.[1]

Rongtön Sheja Kunrig said:

In the beginning, the foundation is laid through the generation of the two kinds of bodhichitta (bodhichitta in aspiration and bodhichitta in action). Then the text explains the six paramitas or transcendent perfections, which constitute the training in the bodhichitta in action. Finally, any merit that has been gained is dedicated towards enlightenment, as presented in the tenth chapter.

Patrul Rinpoche said that this text can be explained according to the following prayer for bodhichitta:

O precious, sublime bodhichitta:
May it arise in those in whom it has not arisen;
May it never decline where it has arisen;
May it go on increasing, further and further!

According to this view, the whole text of this book can be divided into four sections, as expressed in this prayer.

  • The first three chapters (1, 2 and 3) explain how to generate bodhicitta, how to make it arise.
  • The next three chapters (4, 5 and 6) explain how to prevent bodhichitta from decreasing or being dissipated.
  • The next three chapters (7, 8 and 9) explain how to make the bodhichitta increase further and further.
  • The 10th chapter is a concluding prayer of dedication.

Outline by Chapter

The text of the Bodhicharyavatara has ten chapters. Most commentaries also include an introduction that establishes the context and background for the text.

The chapter titles are listed below; the outlines for each chapter are based on the commentary by Khenpo Kunpal, called Nectar of Manjushri's Speech. These outlines will posted as they become available.

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Excellence of Bodhichitta
  • Chapter 2: Confession
  • Chapter 3: Taking Hold of Bodhichitta
  • Chapter 4: Carefulness
  • Chapter 5: Vigilance - Outline
  • Chapter 6: Patience - Outline
  • Chapter 7: Diligence - Outline
  • Chapter 8: Meditation - Outline
  • Chapter 9: Wisdom
  • Chapter 10: Dedication

Styles of Teaching

According to Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, Patrul Rinpoche started the tradition of teaching the Bodhicharyavatara continuously. This meant that if at least three or four texts were being taught in a monastery, one of them had to be the Bodhicharyavatara. When finishing the tenth chapter, the teacher would not stop there, but would go back to the beginning of the text and teach a little of that before ending the session.

The Tibetan Translation

The Bodhicharyavatara was first translated by Kawa Paltsek and Sarvajñadeva in the early ninth century. This translation was then revised twice, first by Rinchen Zangpo, Shakya Lodro and Dharmashribhadra in the tenth century, and then by Ngok Loden Sherab and Sumatikirti in the eleventh century.

Translations in European Languages


  • The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the Bodhicharyavatara, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications, 2003, ISBN: 1590300572
  • A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, translated by Vesna and Alan Wallace, Snow Lion Publications, 1997, ISBN: 1559390611
  • A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, translated by Stephen Batchelor, LTWA, ISBN: 8185102597


  • La Marche vers l’Éveil, translated by the Padmakara translation group using L. Finot's translation as a basis, Éditions Padmakara, 1992, ISBN : 2-906949-03-5
  • Vivre en héros pour l'Éveil ; Bodhisattvacharyavatara, translated by G. Driessens, Édition Le Seuil—Points Sagesses 1993, ISBN : 2020196638
  • La Marche à la Lumière. Poème sanscrit de Çantideva, translated by L. Finot, Ed. Brossard, 1920, re-edited by Les Deux Océans, 1987
  • Bodhicaryâvatâra : Introduction à la pratique des futurs Buddhas, translated by L. de La Vallée Poussin, Louvain, 1907


  • Shantideva, Anleitungen auf dem Weg zur Glückseligkeit / Bodhicaryavatara, O.W. Barth Verlag 2005.
  • Shantideva, Die Lebensführung im Geiste der Erleuchtung / Das Bodhicaryavatara, Theseus 2004.
  • Ernst Steinkellner: Eintritt in das Leben zur Erleuchtung, München: Eugen Diederichs Verlag 1981

Indian Commentaries

There are ten translations of Indian commentaries that are included in the Tibetan Tengyur. The most important of these commentaries was written by Prajñakaramati; this is the only commentary on the Bodhicharyavatara that still exists in Sanskrit. The name of this commentary is:

  • Bodhicharyavatara commentary (Wyl. byang chub kyi spyod pa la 'jug pa'i bka' 'grel, Skt. Bodhicharyavatara-panjika) written in Sanskrit by the Indian scholar Prajñakaramati (950-1030), translated by Marpa Chökyi Wangchuk (1012-1096) and Darma Drakpa, revised by Yönten Gyamtso.

Important Tibetan Commentaries

Many great masters and scholars of Tibet wrote commentaries on the Bodhicharyavatara, and many of these commentaries were and still are used in monastic universities in Tibet, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim, and Ladakh.

A selection of some of the more famous commentators follows:

Ocean of Good Explanation
Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (related work)
The Ketaka Gem (commentary on Chapter 9)
An Annotated Commentary on the 'Bodhicharyavatara'
The Excellent Vase that Grants the Qualities of the Bodhisattvas (commentary on Chapters 1-8)
The Brilliant Torch (commentary on Chapter 9)
Nectar of Manjushri's Speech

English Translations of Tibetan Commentaries

  • Bodhisattvacharyavatara: Engaging in the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas Vol. 1 and 2 by Shantideva, with commentary by Sazang Mati Panchen, trans. by Lama Kalsang Gyaltsen and Ani Kunga Chodron, Tsechen Kunchab Ling, 2006
  • Drops of Nectar: Khenpo Kunpal’s Commentary on Shantideva’s Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, translated by Andreas Kretschmar, (chapters 1-5 only)
  • The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva, by Kunzang Pelden, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, Shambhala Publications, November 2007
  • Wisdom: Two Buddhist Commentaries, Khenchen Kunzang Palden and Minyak Kunzang Sönam, translated by Padmakara Translation Group, 1993, 2nd edition 1999

Contemporary Commentaries

  • A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, HH the Dalai Lama, Shambhala, 1994, ISBN: 0877739714
  • Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins, Robert Thurman, Oxford University Press, 2006 (A commentary on chapter 6)
  • Healing Anger, The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective, The Dalai Lama, Snow Lion, 1997 (A commentary on chapter 6)
  • No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala, 2005 (Does not include chapter 9)
  • Practicing Wisdom, The Dalai Lama, Wisdom, 2004 (A commentary on chapter 9)
  • The Way of Awakening, Geshe Yeshe Tobden, Wisdom, 2005

Teachings on the Bodhicharyavatara at Rigpa Centers

Study Questions

External Links


  1. Drops of Nectar, Khenpo Kunpal's commentary on Shantideva's Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, translated by Andreas Kretschmar.