What is Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryavatara? Interview Geshe Sherab: “Patience and Bodhicitta mind with elaborate reasoning and impeccable logic”

Interviews with the teachers Buddha Weekly
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Scholar and teacher Geshe Serab, in an interview with Buddha Weekly, explains why Śāntideva’s masterpiece Bodhicaryavatara — the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life — is a timeless and vastly important text for Mahayana Buddhists.

Written around 700 AD in Sanskrit verse by the great Mahasiddha Śāntideva, it has become one of the main go-to practice guides for Bodhichitta and Mahayana practice.

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Geshe Sherab at a teaching.



Geshe Sherab teaching Bodhicaryavatara in Ontario

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Geshe Sherab meditating.

Geshe Sherab will be in Ontario, Canada for a commentary on the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Śāntideva’s seminal work, covering confession and purification (chapter 2) and the essence of Bodhichitta (chapter 3). The events, hosted by Lama Yeshe Ling will include a public talk, “What is Awakening”, and a full weekend workshop “Cultivating the Ground for Awakening,” along with a leading a Guru Yoga and Tsog practice. [More on the events below.]

Interview: Most Venerable Geshe Sherab

BW: You’ll be covering chapters 2 and 3 in Śāntideva’s masterpiece Bodhicaryavatara. Could I start with a general question? Why is Shantideva’s work considered so important to practice?

Geshe Sherab:
“Because it is the only work which covers in great detail the practice of Patience and Bodhicitta mind with elaborate reasoning and impeccable logic.”

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Geshe Sherab at a teaching with a student.

BW: You’ll be covering the “Confession of Negativity” — chapter 2 of the Bodhicaryavatara. From a Tibetan Buddhist point of view, how is confession viewed? Why is it important to practice?

Geshe Sherab:
“Sincerely confessing is the beginning of the transformation of one’s behavior or action. It is acknowledging the mistakes and wanting to make changes in one’s actions or behavior through understanding.”

BW: What advice do you have for students interested in studying the Bodhicaryavatara? (For example, you’ll be covering chapters 2 and 3, but there are several more chapters.)

Geshe Sherab:
“Every chapter is great but the beauty of this work is chapter 6 on Patience and chapter 8 on Meditation — particularly the latter part of that chapter, which covers on Bodhicitta based on exchanging and equalizing with others.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama bases his teaching and development of compassion and bodhicitta mind on this work.

Hopefully I will be able to teach these chapters in the future.”


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Geshe Sherab.


BW: The chapter 2 and 3, even in English, the verses are very lyrical and poetic. Is it meant to be recited as a practice, in addition to being “understood” as teaching? The first 27 verses are wonderful offerings and a lovely refuge. It begins with an offering and a visualization. Is it a good practice to recite the chapter as a practice to help purify downfalls and non-virtues?

Geshe Sherab:
“One can recite and reflect and contemplate on the meaning of the verses. One uses the verses as a tool to reflect, contemplate and meditate. One has to really feel it while reciting in order for it to be effective and more meaningful.”

BW: From verses 28 on, is an extensive confession. The nature of the confession implies that we all — all beings who have not attained Enlightenment — have similar downfalls? In what way does confession help us purify our negativities?

Geshe Sherab:
“With confession, one acknowledges the mistakes and makes a commitment to not create such mistakes again. And we also use recitation of mantras or these verses and visualization. When all these conditions come together, then it would help to purify — and also help prevent such negative actions again.”


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Geshe Sherab turns a giant prayer wheel with millions of mantras for the benefit of all sentient beings.



BW: As with Vajrasattva practice, the verses end with a promise to never repeat these harms we have done: “I promise, from now on, I shall never do again.” How do you guide students who might have doubts they will never repeat negativity when they believe it is human nature, a conditioned habit difficult to break.

Geshe Sherab:
“We can make a commitment by saying that I will try all my best not to create such negative actions again intentionally again.”

BW: What else can students expect to take away from a commentary on Chapter 2?

Geshe Sherab:
“In chapter 2 we can also learn about the impermanent nature of everything and especially life. We also study in this chapter the preciousness of this human life and not to waste it.”

BW: In chapter 3, we arrive at the essence of developing Bodhichitta The topic is about “Fully adopting Bodhicitta.”
“Gladly I rejoice in the infinite sea of virtue,
Which is the noble intention of bodhicitta,
Wishing to secure the happiness of beings,
And acting in ways that bring benefit to all.”

This is a very large topic, and the merit is vast, but how do you instruct students on bringing these lessons into their daily lives? It contains a Bodhisattva Vow:

“Like them, I take this sacred vow:
To arouse bodhicitta here and now,
And train myself for others’ good,
Gradually, as a bodhisattva should.”

Geshe Sherab:
“The practices of developing and adopting Bodhicitta mind is big topic and not so easy to practice.

But we cannot just not try just because it is difficult and not easy. We have to try as much as we can to learn, study, reflect, contemplate and meditate on developing Bodhicitta mind and practice Bodhisattva Vows.”

BW: The language “gradually, as a Bodhisattva should” is clear — step-by-step progress? — but in commentary do you elaborate on some of the ways students can embrace their lives “of great significance.”

Geshe Sherab:
“Yes, I will try to elaborate as much as I can according to my own understanding and experience.”

BW: If a student asked, “What is more important, wisdom or compassion?” how would you answer?

Geshe Sherab:
“Both wisdom and compassion are equally important. Buddha said compassion without wisdom is bondage but compassion with wisdom is liberation.

In the same way, wisdom without compassion is bondage but wisdom with compassion is liberation.”


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Geshe Sherab.



BW: Why is “dedication of merit” so vital to the Bodhisattva path?

Geshe Sherab:
“The dedication is like depositing the money for interest. Dedication, make the merit or virtue increase and also it cannot be destroyed by anger and other negative emotions.

Events in Ontario

In February 2019, Geshe Sherab will give a full weekend teaching on Śāntideva’s masterpiece Bodhicaryavatara. There is also a free public event, and a Lama Chopa Guru Puja event. Here are the details and bookings on Eventbrite:

  • “What is Awakening: free public talk. Book on Eventbrite>>
    • Description: In Shantideva’s own words, the Spirit of Awakening “is the supreme medicine that alleviates the illness of the world. It is the tree of rest for beings exhausted from wandering on the pathways of mundane existence.”

      We are delighted to welcome Geshe Sherab once again and look forward to his inspiring and clear teaching style. Geshe Sherab will answer the questions, what is the awakened mind and what distinguishes our minds from an enlightened, awakened mind.

      This event is by Donation.

  • “Cultivating the Ground for Awakening, weekend teaching. Book on Eventbrite>>
    • Description: In the classical masterpiece “Guide to the Bodhisattvas Way of Life”, the great Shantideva presents perspectives and methods to bring our lives closer to the Bodhisattva way of compassion; inspiring us to engage in the perfections of the Bodhisattva -generosity, ethics, patience, joyous effort, meditative concentration and wisdom.

      Geshe Sherab has the ability to make this ancient wisdom highly relevant and accessible to us now. We have asked him to continue his commentary on the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra (this time Chapters 2 & 3) – which lays the foundation for developing the greatly compassionate mind of awakening – Bodhicitta.

      “May I be a protector to those without protection,
      A leader for those who journey,
      And a boat, a bridge, a passage
      For those desiring the further shore.

      May the pain of every living creature
      Be completely cleared away.
      May I be the doctor and the medicine
      And may I be the nurse
      For all sick beings in the world
      Until everyone is healed.”

      (Excerpt from Shantideva’s Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra Chapter three.)

  • “Lama Chopa Guru Puja and Tsog”. Details on Lama Yeshe Ling website>>
    • Geshe Sherab has agreed to extend his time in Ontario to lead Guru Puja with Tsog on Thursday, February 14th.  This is a very auspicious day for practice as it falls on one of the fifteen days of Miracles. Lama Zopa Rinpoche, citing the Vinaya text Treasure of Quotations and Logic, teaches that the karmic results of non-virtuous and virtuous actions are multiplied by one hundred million during Buddha Multiplying Days such as these.Please bring a small food offering that easy to share such as fruit, nuts, candies or cookies for Tsog.Please RSVP (905)-296-3728 or registrations@lamayesheling.org


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Lee Kane

Author | Buddha Weekly

Lee Kane is the editor of Buddha Weekly, since 2007. His main focuses as a writer are mindfulness techniques, meditation, Dharma and Sutra commentaries, Buddhist practices, international perspectives and traditions, Vajrayana, Mahayana, Zen. He also covers various events.
Lee also contributes as a writer to various other online magazines and blogs.

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