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Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

– How to Enjoy a Life of Great Meaning and Altruism
Composed in the 8th century by the famous Indian Buddhist master Shantideva, this new translation, made under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight. Reading these verses slowly, while contemplating their meaning, has a profoundly liberating effect on the mind. The poem invokes special positive states of mind, moves us from suffering and conflict to happiness and peace, and gradually introduces us to the entire Mahayana Buddhist path to enlightenment.
"This beautifully presented ancient text contains nuggets of wisdom which deserve profound meditation."
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Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Front Cover

Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Front Cover



Introduction vi
Chapter 1: An Explanation of the Benefits of Bodhichitta 3
Chapter 2: Purifying Negativity 13
Chapter 3: Generating Engaging Bodhichitta 25
Chapter 4: Relying upon Conscientiousness 33
Chapter 5: Guarding Alertness 45
Chapter 6: Relying upon Patience 67
Chapter 7: Relying upon Effort 93
Chapter 8: Relying upon Mental Stabilization 111
Chapter 9: The Perfection of Wisdom 145
Chapter 10: Dedication 183
Glossary 195
Bibliography 211
Study Programmes of Kadampa Buddhism 215
Tharpa Offices Worldwide 219
Index 221
Further Reading 235
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Guide to the
Way of Life

Books by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Meaningful to Behold

Clear Light of Bliss

Heart of Wisdom

Universal Compassion

Joyful Path of Good Fortune

Guide to Dakini Land

The Bodhisattva Vow

Heart Jewel

Great Treasury of Merit

Introduction to Buddhism

Understanding the Mind

Tantric Grounds and Paths

Ocean of Nectar

Essence of Vajrayana

Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully

Eight Steps to Happiness

Transform Your Life

The New Meditation Handbook

How to Solve Our Human Problems

Mahamudra Tantra

Profits received from the sale of
this book will be donated to the
NKT-International Temples Project
A Buddhist Charity,
Building for World Peace



Guide to the
Way of Life


Originally translated and revised from Sanskrit into Tibetan by several translators, including Dharmashribhadra, Rinchen Sangpo, Shakyamati, Sumatikirti, and Loden Sherab.

This present translation from Tibetan into English was rendered by Neil Elliott under the compassionate guidance of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.






First published in 2002
Reprinted 2003, 2008

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any means except for the quotation
of brief passages for the purpose of private
study, research, or review.

Tharpa Publications
Conishead Priory
Ulverston, Cumbria,
LA12 9QQ, England

Tharpa Publications
47 Sweeney Road
Glen Spey
NY 12737, USA

© New Kadampa Tradition-International Kadampa Buddhist Union 2002

Chapter illustrations by Mr. Chew Choon.
Cover painting by Ms. Belinda Ho.
Front-flap painting of the Bodhisattva Shantideva by
the Tibetan artist Chating Jamyang Lama.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2002114543

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is
available from the British Library.

ISBN 987-0948006-89-0 – hardback
ISBN 978-0948006-88-3 - paperback

Set by Tharpa Publications.
Printed on Tharpa Opaque, acid-free 250-year longlife paper
by The Amadeus Press, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, England.

Paper supplied from well-managed forests and other controlled sources.


The Buddhist masterpiece called Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life was composed by Bodhisattva Shantideva, a great Buddhist Master who lived in the eighth century AD. This holy scripture is a very practical guide that teaches us how to enter, make progress on, and complete the Buddhist path to enlightenment. It is a condensation of all Buddha’s teachings and it shows clearly how these teachings can be integrated into our daily life.

Shantideva’s Guide has been the inspiration of many great spiritual works, such as Eight Verses of Training the Mind by the great Kadampa Teacher Langri Tangpa, and Training the Mind in Seven Points by Bodhisattva Chekhawa. Both these texts explain how to cherish others, equalize self and others, and exchange self with others, how to practise ‘taking and giving’, and how to transform adverse conditions into ­methods for attaining liberation. All these teachings are extracted from


Shantideva’s Guide. Many Kadampa practitioners keep Shantideva’s teachings in their hearts, and Je Tsongkhapa and his disciples greatly praised Shantideva’s work.

Through studying many Buddhist texts we may become a renowned scholar; but, if we do not put Buddha’s teachings – the Dharma – into practice, our understanding of Buddhism will remain hollow, with no power to solve our own or others’ problems. Expecting intellectual understanding of Dharma alone to solve our problems is like a sick person hoping to cure his or her illness through merely reading medical instructions without actually taking the medicine. As Shantideva says in the fifth chapter:

(109)   We need to put Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, into practice

Because nothing can be accomplished just by reading words.

A sick man will never be cured of his illness

Through merely reading medical instructions!

Each and every living being has the sincere wish to avoid permanently all suffering and problems. We normally try to do this by using external methods, but no matter how successful we are from a worldly point of view – no matter how ­materially wealthy, powerful, or highly respected we become – we shall never find permanent liberation from suffering and problems. Suffering, pain, unhappiness, and problems do not exist outside the mind. They are unpleasant feelings, and feelings are types of mind. Only by transforming our mind can we eliminate suffering and problems permanently. The method for doing this is explained clearly in Shantideva’s Guide.

In reality, all the problems we experience day to day come from our self-cherishing and self-grasping – misconceptions that exaggerate our own importance. However, because we do not understand this, we normally blame others for our problems, and this just makes them worse. From these two basic misconceptions arise all our other delusions, such as anger and attachment, causing us to experience endless problems. We can solve all of these problems by sincerely practising the instructions presented in this book. At least we should memorize from each chapter those verses we find most helpful, and contemplate their meaning again and again until our mind becomes peaceful and positive. We should then try to maintain this peaceful state of mind day and night without interruption. By doing this, we shall experience a happy and meaningful life.

We should read this book with a happy mind, free from distraction and negative views. It is also very important to improve our understanding of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by studying commentaries such as Meaningful to Behold. Through sincerely practising these instructions we can transform our ordinary, self-centred intentions into the supreme good heart, our ordinary, confused view into profound wisdom, and our ordinary way of life into a Bodhisattva’s way of life. In this way, we shall attain the supreme inner peace of enlightenment, which is the real meaning of our human life.


Geshe Kelsang Gyatso,
April 2002.



In Sanskrit:

In Tibetan:
Jang Chub Sem Pai Cho Pa La Jug Pa

In English:
Guide To The Bodhisattva’s Way Of Life



Chapter 1
An Explanation of the
Benefits of Bodhichitta

Whereas all other virtues are like plantain trees,

In that they are exhausted once they bear fruit,

The enduring celestial tree of bodhichitta

Is not exhausted but increases by bearing fruit.




An Explanation of the
Benefits of Bodhichitta

Homage to the enlightened Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

(1)      I prostrate to the enlightened Buddhas endowed with the Truth Body,

And to the Bodhisattvas and all other objects of prostration.

I will explain briefly, in accordance with the Scriptures,

How to engage in the condensed practices of the Bodhisattva.

(2)      There is nothing written here that has not been explained before,

And I have no special skills in composition.

My reason for writing this is to benefit others

And to keep my mind acquainted.

(3)      Thus, the strength of my faith and my virtuous realizations

Might for a while be increased by this,

And perhaps others who are as fortunate as I

Might also find this meaningful to behold.

(4)      This precious human life, so hard to find,

Offers the ultimate goal for living beings.

If we do not strive to accomplish this goal now,

How will such a precious opportunity arise again?

(5)      Just as on a dark and cloudy night

A flash of lightning for a moment illuminates all,

So for the worldly, through the power of Buddha’s blessings,

A virtuous intention occasionally and briefly occurs.

(6)      Thus, while our virtues are mostly weak,

Our non-virtues are extremely strong and fearsome.

Other than bodhichitta – a compassionate mind wishing for enlightenment –

What virtue can overcome the heaviest evils?

(7)      The Able Ones, the Buddhas, who have considered this for many aeons,

Have all seen bodhichitta to be the most beneficial

Because, through it, countless masses of living beings

Can easily attain the supreme bliss of enlightenment.

(8)      Those who wish to destroy their own suffering,

Those who wish to dispel the suffering of others,

And those who wish to experience much happiness

Should never forsake the practice of bodhichitta.

(9)      The moment bodhichitta is generated

Even in pitiful beings bound within the prison of samsara,

They become Bodhisattvas – a ‘Son or Daughter of Buddha’ –

And are worthy of veneration by humans and worldly gods.

(10)     Just like the supreme elixir that transmutes into gold,

Bodhichitta can transform this impure body
we have taken

Into the priceless jewel of a Buddha’s form.

Therefore, firmly maintain bodhichitta.

(11)     Since the limitless wisdom of Buddha, the Sole Navigator of living beings,

Upon thorough investigation has seen its preciousness,

Those who wish to be free from samsara’s suffering

Should firmly maintain this precious mind of bodhichitta.

(12)     Whereas all other virtues are like plantain trees,

In that they are exhausted once they bear fruit,

The enduring celestial tree of bodhichitta

Is not exhausted but increases by bearing fruit.

(13)     Just as when those who are greatly afraid rely upon
a courageous one,

Whoever relies upon bodhichitta will immediately be freed from danger

Even if they have committed unbearable evils;

So why do the conscientious not rely upon it?

(14)     Just like the fire at the end of the aeon,

In an instant it completely consumes all great evil.

Its countless benefits were explained by the wise Protector Maitreya

To Bodhisattva Sudhana.

(15)     In brief, you should know

That bodhichitta has two types:

The mind that observes enlightenment and aspires,

And the mind that observes enlightenment and engages.

(16)     Just as the distinction between wishing to go

And actually going is understood,

So, respectively, the wise should understand

The difference between these two bodhichittas.

(17)     From the mind that aspires to enlightenment,

Great effects arise while in samsara;

But an uninterrupted flow of good fortune does not ensue

As it does from the engaging mind.

(18)     For whoever takes up the engaging mind of bodhichitta

With the intention never to turn back

From completely liberating

The infinite living beings throughout all realms,

(19)     From that time forth, for him there will arise –

Even if he is asleep or apparently unconcerned –

Vast and powerful merit, equal to space,

That flows without interruption.

(20)     For the sake of those with lesser inclinations,

These benefits were explained with logical reasons

By the Tathagata himself

In Sutra Requested by Subahu.

(21)     If even the thought to relieve

The headaches of others

Is a beneficial intention

That results in infinite merit,

(22)     What can be said of the wish

To dispel the immeasurable misery

Of each and every living being

And lead them all to countless good qualities?

(23)     Does our father or mother

Have such a beneficial intention as this?

Do the gods or the sages?

Does even Brahma himself?

(24)     If, before generating bodhichitta, these living beings

Do not even dream of such a mind

For their own sakes,

How will they develop it for the sake of others?

(25)     This mind to benefit living beings,

Which does not arise in others even for their
own sakes,

Is an extraordinary jewel of a mind,

Whose birth is an unprecedented wonder.

(26)     How can we possibly measure

The benefits of this jewel of a mind –

The source of joy for all living beings

And the cure for all their sufferings?

(27)     If the mere intention to benefit others

Is more meritorious than making offerings
to the Buddhas,

What can be said of actually striving

For the happiness of every single living being?

(28)     Although living beings wish to be free from suffering,

They run straight towards the causes of suffering;

And although they wish for happiness,

Out of ignorance they destroy it like a foe.

(29)     For those who are deprived of happiness

And afflicted with many sorrows,

Bodhichitta bestows upon them boundless joy,

Eradicates all their suffering,

(30)     And even dispels their confusion.

Where is there virtue equal to this?

Where is there even such a friend?

Where is there merit such as this?

(31)     If even someone who repays a kindness

Is worthy of some praise,

What can be said of the Bodhisattva who helps others

Regardless of whether or not they help him?

(32)     If someone regularly, or even just once,

Gives food in a disdainful manner,

Which satisfies a few beings for only half a day,

People honour him or her as virtuous;

(33)     So what can be said of one who eternally gives

To countless living beings

The everlasting, unsurpassed bliss of the Sugatas,

Fulfilling all their wishes?

(34)     Buddha said that whoever generates an evil mind

Towards a Bodhisattva, a supreme benefactor,

Will remain in hell for as many aeons

As the moments for which that evil mind was generated;

(35)     But, for whoever generates a pure mind of faith,

The effects of good fortune will increase even more than that.

Even when Bodhisattvas are faced with great adversity,

Negativity does not arise; rather, their virtues naturally increase.

 (36)     I prostrate to those who have generated

The holy, precious mind of bodhichitta;

And I go for refuge to those sources of happiness

Who bestow bliss even upon those who harm them.

This concludes the first chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, entitled ‘An Explanation of the Benefits of Bodhichitta’.

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Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Paperback
Details: 246 pages includes 10 brush painting illustrations
Language: English (UK)
ISBN: 9780948006883
Size: 21.5 x 12.6 x 1.5cm
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Hardback
Details: 246 pages includes 10 brush painting illustrations
Language: English (UK)
ISBN: 9780948006890
Size: 21.5 x 12.6 x 2cm
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Audiobook CD
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Details: 4 CDs, total duration 4 hrs 30 mins
ISBN: 9780954879013
Size: 12.5 x 14.1 x 2.1cm
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life - Audiobook MP3
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Total duration 4hrs 30 mins, cover artwork included

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