Singing Shantideva

Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life (Bodhicaryavatara) contains ten chapters made up of some seven hundred verses. Intended to serve as an introduction to the bodhisattva path (the title literally means “Entrance to the Bodhisattva Way”), this work of great philosophical depth and poetic beauty is also a comprehensive course in Buddhist philosophy. Sent to a deserted island and allowed to take only one book on Buddhism with you, this would be one to take.

It is the ultimate self-help book, a guide to learning how to deal with hatred, resentment, regret, and other negative emotions and mental states. For centuries, it has been studied, practiced, and taught by Buddhists of nearly all traditions. The Guide has many contemporary admirers; perhaps foremost among these is the Dalai Lama who has said, “If I have any understanding of compassion and the practice of the Bodhisattva path, it is entirely on the basis of this text that I possess it.”

In “A Mahayana Liturgy”*, Luis O. Gomez tells us that the first four chapters of the Guide became a classical liturgy “very popular, at least in monastic circles, during the later Mahayana period (about eighth to thirteenth centuries C.E.).” Liturgy is a ritual or form of public worship. Both the liturgy (which Gomez provides text) and the work itself contain many expressions of reverence for the Awakened, the Protectors, the Conquerors, all of which are names for Buddhas, but it goes without saying that these outward declarations are less important than the inward looks of self-reflection the work promotes.

Today’s post deals with the 2nd chapter, most commonly translated as “Confession” – confession of sins or faults or errors. The Tibetan word for confession is bshags pa: “the process of admitting or ‘exposing’ one’s misdeeds before a witness or support, feeling regret for them and vowing not to repeat them in future.” (Rigpa-wiki)

The “evil” or “sin” we are trying to expiate has to do with such things as arrogance and conceit and nothing at all with violating some being’s will. This point can be confusing, especially when we read in Buddhist texts like this one references to “supreme beings,” but we should read these reference more as “mythical celestial beings” and keep in mind what was written above about the expressions of reverence.

I ran across this clip on YouTube: the 2nd chapter of Guide done in song, performed by Vidya Rao, an Hindustani classical singer and writer. I have no other information about it other than that. It is a beautiful rendition, and since it is not in English, as you listen you may wish to read the Wallace translation of the chapter here.

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* Lopez, Donald S. (Ed.), Buddhism in Practice, Princeton University Press, 1995

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