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Introduction to Buiddhism

The Life Story of Shantideva

    In Geshe Tsoephel's commentaries on Shantideva's discourse, he points out that knowing the teacher helps us have faith in the teaching.  Therefore, he relates the following:

Shantideva was born north of Bodhgaya. His father's name was Gyel.wey Go.cha (Victorious Armor), his mother's name was Vajrayogini. He was born with many good signs.  His given name was Shi.we Go.cha (armour of peace).  [Skt. Shantideva can be translated in English as Divinity of Peace.]

During his childhood he had great respect to his parents, and his friends had great respect for him due to his extraordinary behavior. His father died in order to show that sentient beings are subject to impermanence, and after this Shantideva developed more realizations into impermanence and death. 

When his father died, the subjects asked Shantideva to take his father's position. He could not refuse this, so he accepted to take the position of king. The night before the ceremony he had a dream about the throne he was going to sit on. Manjushri showed up in his dream and said: "You are going to sit on my throne. You are my student. How could student and disciple sit on the same throne?" 

As he rose up from this dream, he realized he would be more beneficial to other people if he became a monk than a king. The same night he left for Nalanda monastery. When he came to Nalanda, he went to see the abbot and the foremost scholar of Nalanda, Gyal.wa Lha. He received his ordination, and received the name Shantideva. Under that great scholar and master, Shantideva also became a master in studies, debating, and so forth. 

Even if he was a great scholar, he didn't show this openly to others, so others didn't know. Students at Nalanda who didn't like Shantideva wanted to have him expelled from the monastery. They stated that the place is full of scholars, and said Shantideva is no scholar, he just knows about eating, sleeping and going to the bathroom. So they asked Shantideva to give a teaching, and if he didn't do this, he would have to leave the monastery. 

They asked Shantideva to give a teaching. Shantideva didn't accept the first time, only the second time when asking did he accept their request. They planned to insult him in a big group of students. They built a very high throne, assuming Shantideva would not know how to get up on the throne.  They also assembled a big group of monks. When Shantideva came to the throne, he touched the throne, and the big throne shrank down so Shantideva could get up on it.  So this immediate gave a strange feeling to the group -- how could this happen? 

Then Shantideva sat on the throne and asked the group what kind of teaching he should give, something that has been taught before, or something that has never been taught before? The monks requested him to teach something that has never taught before. So this is why Shantideva taught Bodhisattva's Way of Life.

Shantideva gave this teaching, and when his teaching came to the ninth chapter (the Wisdom chapter), there's a phrase in this chapter, "…whatever is existent and nonexistent..." At this point he rose to the sky, and from the sky he gave the tenth chapter. He was invisible for the people, but those (such as highly realized beings) who have [clairaudience] could hear his teachings. 

The monks and the people who liked Shantideva felt very sad as Shantideva was now gone, and those who were against him felt very impressed and very sorry about what they'd done. " 

"Lazybones":  Literally, his nickname translates as, "Eats-Sleeps-Shits."

    The other monks mocked him in this way because they thought he was indolent and completely useless.  One day, on a special occasion during which members of the region's various monasteries gathered together, they ridiculed him by inviting him to give a teaching.  They were surprised when he agreed, so to take the joke a bit further, they built a throne especially for him.   Naturally they hoped that when the day arrived, everyone from miles around would have a fine time watching this person make a real fool of himself. 

    When everyone had settled down for the talk, Lazybones climbing to his high seat, turned and asked whether the congregation would prefer an ordinary or an extraordinary discourse.   The monks were absolutely delighted at that, and responded, "Oh, an extra-ordinary one, of course!" 

    Then the one known to us now as Shantideva (Divine Peace) recited the verses translated in part above -- the discourse known as the Way of the Bodhisattva.

    The company was dumbstruck for, it is said, at the end, Shantideva actually rose to the sky on a rainbow.   

~ Drikung Ontul Rinpoche is known to recount this anecdote.


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