Mañjuśrī’s Advice: A Concise Commentary on Shantideva’s Entering the Path of a Bodhisattva

translator: Julia Stenzel

The author

The commentary byang chub sems pa’i spyod pa la ‘jug pa’i zin bris ‘jam dpal zhal lung[1] was written by Lhoka Khunkyen Rinchen Pal in the 12th century. Rinchen Pal was a close disciple of Sakya Pandita (or Sapan in short) and he states at several occasions in the text that he reports the teachings of his master. For this reason the authorship of this text is sometimes attributed to Sapan himself. For example in the collection of the TBRC, the author is officially stated as Sakya Pandita even though the colophon clearly gives the name Rinchen Pal.

The commentary is characterized as a zin bris, a synopsis or brief commentary that attempts to give an overview of the root text rather than an in depths discussion.

The role of the commentary

The commentary is one of the earliest Tibetan commentaries on The Way of the Bodhisattva (BCA)[2]. After Sönam Tsemo (1142-1182) who composed the first major commentary, Rinchen Pal ranges chronologically on place two, before Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo (1295-1369). However, these two first commentaries stand behind in popularity. In modern Sakya colleges, teachers and students focus on Ngulchu Thogme’s commentary.

What is the reason for this lack of popularity? One reason could be that the text seems to have been lost for a long time. It counts among the rare texts that Khenpo Appey Rinpoche rediscovered or more precisely, Khenpo Jamyang Kunga on his behalf, in Tibet. There is a printed version of the text from the year 1994 (?), the above mentioned text that mentions Sakya Pandita as its author.

Another reason could be the synopsis style of the text which makes it difficult to extract a substantial and comprehensive knowledge of the text.

Structure of the text:

The text consists of 160 Din A4 pages in the digitalized version published by Lama Guru and the International Buddhist Academy. The original is not available at the moment.

The traditional homage at the beginning of the text is followed by a short discussion of the main subject and purpose of the BCA. The author quotes Paṇḍita Bhadanta, Jowo Punya Śrī Mitra, and the Black Brahmin.[3] Sakya Pandita is a follower of the Black Brahmin in ascertaining that the BCA’s main focus is the six perfections. To argue for his view Sapan/Rinchen Pal quote from the Compendium of Trainings, the Śikṣasamuccaya,[4] in which Śāntideva explains himself the structure of the BCA.

Sakya Pandita actually gives an overview of the entire 19 chapters of the Compendium of Trainings, mostly in the form of select quotes. This covers the first 30 pages of the commentary.

Then he addresses the Entering the Path of a Bodhisattva itself. He cites the beginning of every single verse of the Path, explains in a concise way the line of argument of the text, and occasionally elaborates or discusses different interpretations of a passage.

The last third of the commentary is a discussion of the ninth chapter on the perfection of wisdom. The amount of text devoted to this chapter shows that the philosophy of wisdom is the principal subject of Sakya Pandita’s commentary.

[1] The title of the commentary has byang chub sems pa and not byang chub sems dpa’ as one would expect as a translation of the BCA, byang chub sems dpa’ being the courageous being or hero striving for enlightenment, and byang chub sems pa, a being with the enlightenment mind. This is not an impossible rendering, but not a common one.

[2] BCA stands for Bodhicaryāvatāra, the Sanskrit title of this text. It is the standard abbreviation used in academic circles.

[3] Bram ze nag po. He might be the same person as Tsang nag pa that Saito mentions in his writings.

[4] Information on the SS: The original Sanskrit text of the ŚS is available in a single manuscript in Old Bengali script, found in Nepal, dating to the 14th or 15th century CE and now held in the Cambridge University Library (Wright Collection, Add. 1478). The Tibetan version is in volume ki (31) of the India Office edition of the bsTan ’gyur; it is mostly identical to the Sanskrit, though it expounds the text’s sūtra quotations at greater length.

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