Shantideva : Way of the Bodhisattva
Shantideva was an Indian Buddhist monk and scholar at Nalanda University, who was an adherent of the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) philosophies of Nagarjuna.
He lived in the 8th century CE and was born in Saurastra (modern Gujarat) and was the son of King Kalyanavarman, so was part of the Brahmin caste.
However, Shantideva didn’t act like the other monks and was purportedly not well liked. He spent his time sleeping when the other monks were studying. He also relaxed and dozed in the afternoon sun. No one ever saw him pick up a book and he infuriated his teachers when he snored during class. They said that all he did was eat, sleep, and poop.
One day, some of the monks decided to play a trick on Shantideva. They goaded him into delivering a speech in the courtyard. Laughingly, the monks told him that they wanted him to teach them how to be a bodhisattva. Shantideva lazily agreed, and the next day he went to the monastery courtyard and climbed up onto the seat that the other monks had set up for him.
Shantideva: I don’t have any new ideas, and I am not very clever, so this might be a bit boring for you. Should I recite one of the sutras or should I tell you something in my own words.
Monks: Teach us something new!
It is said at this point that Shantideva rose up into the air and delivered one of his most famous works “The Way of the Bodhisattva” which needless to say astounded his fellow monks.
Shantideva is the author of a several works including the Shiksasamuccaya (“Training Anthology”) which consists of quotations that are said to be the word of the Buddha.
He also authored the Bodhischaryavatara “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life”, which is a poem describing the process of enlightenment.
One of Shantideva’s most famous teachings is called “Exchanging Oneself and Others”. This involves a meditation practice called “Tonglen” which aims to generate compassion for oneself and others. In the meditation, the meditator attempts to put oneself into “another person’s shoes” and generate great compassion for them.
Shantideva now is one of the most influential figures that influenced the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which itself came directly from the Indian Buddhist tradition.
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