From the Editors / Great Masters / Snow Lion Articles

A Readers Guide to The Way of the Bodhisattva

Also, please visit our page on our May 18-22, 2016 immersive workshop on The Way of the Bodhisattva or sign up to our Tibetan Buddhist email list to receive notifications about when this will be available online.

The great nineteenth-century master Patrul Rinpoche, author of The Words of My Perfect Teacher¬†and¬†revered by all Tibetan Buddhists, was known for his wandering ascetic lifestyle, eschewing fame, generous offerings, and all but the most meager possessions. However, wherever he went throughout his peripatetic life, he carried with him a copy of Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara,¬†which we know now as¬†The Way of the Bodhisattva or¬†A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.¬†Renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge and ability to transmit the wisdom of¬†Prajnaparamita and Dzogchen, Patrul Rinpoche spent his life constantly teaching this text, encouraging students to read it and study it over and over again‚ÄĒhundreds of times. Why this focus from¬†him and millions of masters and practitioners before and after?

Below is a guide to help practitioners answer this question for themselves and go deeper and deeper into this essential work. For a bit of history, you can also see our post on its story.

The Translations

There are at least five translations of the text available in English.

9781590303887By far the best-selling translation is from the Padmakara Translation Group entitled The Way of the Bodhisattva. This was translated with reference primarily to the Tibetan and following the commentary of Khenpo Kunpel, the nineteenth-century Nyingma master renowned for his spiritual realization and instrumental in the preservation of the oral traditions and teachings of his tradition.

This edition also includes a ten-page biography of Shantideva as well as selections on tonglen, or exchanging oneself with others, from Khenpo Kunpel’s commentary. This is available as a Shambhala Library hardcover, a¬†paperback, a¬†CD¬†set, an MP3 download, and an eBook.

Another excellent translation is from Alan and Vesna Wallace, translated as¬†A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.¬†The Wallace’s translation is based both on Sanskrit and Tibetan sources and was guided by Tibetan¬†commentaries, notably of 9781559390613Gyaltsup-Je. This is also available as a paperback and an¬†eBook.

Another version to note is Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton’s translation from Oxford University Press. All three of these translations¬†expose different facets of the text,¬†while¬†the translators’ introductions each¬†illuminate it in different ways and are well-worth seeking out.

General Commentaries

There are a number of excellent commentaries covering the entire text.

9781590306932Based on teachings His Holiness gave in Dordogne, France in 1991, For the Benefit of All Beings, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, gives an overview and commentary on each chapter of the text, distilling the key messages on the benefits of bodhichitta, offering and purification, carefulness, attentiveness, patience, endeavor, concentration, wisdom, and dedication. His Holiness said,

“I received the transmission of the Bodhicharyavatara from Tenzin Gyaltsen, the Kunu Rinpoche,¬†who received it himself from a disciple of Dza Patrul Rinpoche,¬†now regarded as one of the principal spiritual heirs of this¬†teaching. It is said that when Patrul Rinpoche explained this text, auspicious signs would occur, such as the blossoming of yellow¬†flowers, remarkable for the great number of their petals. I feel very¬†fortunate that I am in turn able to give a commentary on this great¬†classic of Buddhist literature.”

This is available as a paperback, eBook, and MP3 audio download (read by Wulstan Fletcher of the Padmakara Translation Group).

In No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva, Ani Pema Chödrön talks about her relationship with the text and said it was not always easy:

“Some people fall in love with The Way of the Bodhisattva the first¬†time they read it, but I wasn‚Äôt one of them. Truthful9781590304242ly, without my¬†admiration for Patrul Rinpoche, I wouldn‚Äôt have pursued it. Yet¬†once I actually started grappling with its content, the text shook¬†me out of a deep-seated complacency, and I came to appreciate the¬†urgency and relevance of these teachings. With Shantideva‚Äôs guidance,¬†I realized that ordinary people like us can make a difference¬†in a world desperately in need of help.”

This is available as a paperback, an eBook, a CD set, and an MP3 download.

9781611801613Pema Ch√∂dr√∂n’s teachings on this text are also available in the form of¬†Giving Our Best:¬†A Retreat with Pema Ch√∂dr√∂n on Practicing the Way of the Bodhisattva.¬†This is a¬†rare and wonderful presentation from a live teaching that brings the teachings into real life, present-day situations.

This is available as video via a DVD or streaming video and as audio via a CD set or MP3 download.



The most in-depth commentary in English comes from the great Nyingma master Khenpo Ngawang Pelzang, aka Khenpo Ngakchung. Entitled¬†The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech:¬†A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva,¬†this has been described as the¬†commentary that Patrul
Rinpoche so often gave by word of mouth but never actually wrote. This explains why Khenpo Kunpel’s text has attained such popularity among Tibetans.

This is available as a paperback and an eBook.


Chapter Specific Commentaries

The ninth chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara, on wisdom, is considered one of the most9781559393294 profound and requires deep study and practice to truly understand. In Transcendent Wisdom, His Holiness the Dalai Lama focuses on this chapter and its application. Here, His Holiness goes deep into the subjects of the methods needed to cultivate wisdom, what identitylessness means, and how the notion of true existence is refuted.

This is available as a paperback and an eBook.


9781559390736His Holiness the Dalai Lama also has a book devoted to Shantideva’s chapter on patience.¬†Healing ¬†Anger:¬†The Power of Patience from a Buddhist Perspective. ¬†Here His Holiness relates that:

“Shantideva observes that from one point of¬†view, as pointed out earlier, when the other person inflicts harm or¬†injury upon one, that person is accumulating negative karma. However,¬†if one examines this carefully, one will see that because of that¬†very act, one is given the opportunity to practice patience and tolerance.¬†So from our point of view it is an opportune moment, and we¬†should therefore feel grateful toward the person who is giving us this¬†opportunity. Seen in this way, what has happened is that this event¬†has given another an opportunity to accumulate negative karma, but¬†has also given us an opportunity to create positive karma by practicing¬†patience. So why should we respond to this in a totally perverted¬†way, by being angry when someone inflicts harm on us, instead of¬†feeling grateful for the opportunity?”

This is available as a paperback and an eBook.


9781559392181Another in-depth look at this text‚ÄĒin particular the ninth chapter‚ÄĒis Pawo Rinpoche’s explanation included in The¬†Center of the Sunlit Sky. In just under 200 pages of this work,¬†in addition to being a commentary on Shantideva’s work generally, Pawo Rinpoche provides several long accounts on such topics as¬†Madhyamaka in general, the distinction between different branches of Madhyamaka philosophy,¬†praj√Īa, emptiness, conventional and ultimate reality, and the nature and qualities of Buddhahood.¬†It describes the four major Buddhist philosophical systems and how¬†the Mahayana¬†represents the words of the Buddha. In addressing the issue of¬†so-called Shentong-Madhyamaka, he also elaborates on the lineage of vast activity¬†and shows that it is not the same as mind only.

This is available in both hardcover and eBook.


There are a few upcoming releases that are chapter-specific commentaries as well.

In 2017, Shambhala Publications will be publishing the Padmakara Translation Group’s¬†The Wisdom Chapter: Jamg√∂n Mipham’s Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva,¬†which includes a fascinating exchange between Mipham Rinpoche and one of his fiercest critics.

In 2018, Shambhala Publications will publish Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche’s commentary on the patience chapter.

Additional Work

9781559393416Another work that should be mentioned is Destroying Mara Forever, a collection of essays on Buddhist ethics including three pieces focused on this text.

The first is by Barbara Clayton entitled Santideva, Virtue, and Consequentialism. ¬†The second, by Paul Williams, is entitled¬†Is Buddhist Ethics Virtue Ethics?¬† The final piece that is Shantideva-specific is Daniel Cozort’s¬†Suffering Made Sufferable: Santideva, Dzongkaba, and Modern Therapeutic Approaches to Suffering’s Silver Lining. These three pieces explore different ethical implications and significance of Shantideva’s work.

This title is available as a paperback and as an eBook.

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