Candragomin’s Twenty Versa on the Bodhisattva Vow is short, clear and simple. Acharya Candragomin himself was a great Indian lay practitioner (upasaka) of the 7th century famous for his extensive learning and practice. The commentary to the Twenty Verses was also by a learned Tibetan lay practitioner of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. He was Sakya Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), the third son of Jetsun Kunga Nyingpo, and is believed to have been a direct disciple of Manjushri for seven lifetimes.
Famous for his mastery of both sutra and tantra traditions, Dragpa Gyaltsen’s commentary to the Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow is lucid and very popular within the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism. It covers not only a discussion of the basic vow, but also explains the arrangement of the ceremony and provides guidelines for taking the vow. Both the root text and its commentary have been ably translated by Dr. Mark Tatz according to an oral commentary given by Khenpo A-pad of the Sakya College.
All Buddhists bow down with respect to the activities of Bodhisattvas. Taking the Bodhisattva Vow and strictly abiding within its bounds and limitations is a primary concern for a practitioner. LTWA takes joy in publishing this translation of Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow along with its commentary Explanation of the Twenty Shlokas that Clarify the Bodhisattva Vow by Sakva Dragpa Gyaltsen.
The author of Twenty Verses, Acharya Candragomin, was a great Indian lay practitioner (upasaka) of the 7th century famous for his extensive learning and practice. This present work of Candragomin is short, clear and simple. Sakya Lama Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), the author of the commentary, was also a layman. He was the third son of Jetsun Kunga Nyingpo, and is believed to have been a direct disciple of Manjushri for seven lifetimes, famous for his mastery of both sutra and tantra. His commentary to the Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow is lucid and very popular within the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It discusses not only the basic vow, but also the arrangement of the ceremony and the guidelines for taking the vow, and contains some interesting analytical discussion of the relationship between the Bodhisattva, the Pratimoksa and lay practitioner’s vows.
Both the root text and its commentary have been ably translated by Dr. Mark Tatz according to an oral commentary given by Khenpo A-pad of the Sakya Lama’s College. LTWA hopes that this publication will benefit its readers, particularly those who hold Bodhisattva precepts.
The text translated here presents the system of ethics of the Mahayana, or Greater Vehicle. The Tibetan scholar Dragpa Gyaltsen (Grags-pa-rgyal-mtshan), a founder of the Sakya school, has written an explanatory commentary to an Indian verse work, Candragomin’s Twenty Verse on the Bodhisattva Vow. These verses by Candragomin summarize the Chapter on Ethics of Asanga’s Bodhisattva Stage (Bodhisattva-bhumi). The Bbh (as it is abbreviated) is itself the culminating section of the encyclopedic Stages of Spiritual Practice (Yogacara-bhumi), which gives to the school of Asanga its name Yogacara. The Ybh presents in detail all the major Buddhist schools and practices of the day, in the primitive organizational scheme of “Three Vehicles”—the vehicle of the auditor (fravaka), independent Buddha (pratyekabuddha) and Bodhisattva. The Bbh has circulated as a separate work, and its Chapter on Ethics has itself been the subject of independent commentary, since it is especially important for the beginning Bodhisattva. Commentaries to the Twenty Verses draw upon the Chapter on Ethics and its associated literature.
The dates of Dragpa Gyaltsen, a layman, are A.D. 1147-1216. Candragomin, also a layman, was a teacher at Nalanda in the 7th century. Asanga is generally agreed to have lived in the 4th century.1 Asanga bases his exposition of Bodhisattva practice upon the words of the Buddha as they appear in the scriptures (sutra) of the Greater Vehicle. His “Yogacara” presentation remains the point of reference for later expositions of the Bodhisattva path. The Twenty Versa of Candragomin are a summary for memorization and teaching. All the literature described survives in the Tibetan sacred canon, as do Indian commentaries to the Chapter on Ethics and the Bbh as a whole. An exhaustive discussion of Bodhisattva ethics was composed in the early 15th century by Tsong-kha-pa, founder of the Gelug school, in the form of an explanation of the Chapter on Ethics. Dragpa Gyaltsen, in composing a commentary to the Twenty Verse, is following a format devised by Indian authors, and one that was very important in the introduction of Buddhism into Tibet.
Two Indian commentaries to the Twenty Versa survive in the Tibetan canon? The first, by Santaraksita (8th century), does little more than reproduce passages of the Chapter on Ethics which are summarized by the Twenty Versa. This might lead one to suppose that the work was composed in Tibet,4 before the Bbh had been translated into Tibetan, or that it constitutes notes of lectures given by Santaraksita, from the Bbh, to his Tibetan disciples. There is some indication, however, that Bodhibhadra, the second Indian commentator, knows the work of Santaraksita, in which case the latter must have been composed in Sanskrit. In any case transmission of the Bodhisattva vow was the first recorded act of Santaraksita upon entering Tibet (in the region of Mang-yul) from Nepal, and he is known in Tibetan historical literature as “the preceptor Bodhisattva” (mkhan po byang chub sems dpa’), “preceptor to the first monk, who also transmitted the Bodhisattva vow”.
Santaraksita was brought to Tibet by Gsal-snang governor of Mang-yul, acting on behalf of king Khri-srong-lde-btsan. The king fostered Buddhism first in the border regions to avoid its detection by hostile ministers in the capital. Gsal-snang built a temple in Mang-yul and requested to be granted the Bodhisattva vow. Santaraksita instructed him to first make offerings of gold, silver and precious things, and afterward conferred upon him a new name, Ye-shes-dbang-po (Skt. Jnanendra), explaining to him that this was no new creation of the Bodhisattva resolve but a remembering of a resolve made in a past life by himself (Jnanendra), Santaraksita and the king. Santaraksita’s first instructions to the king also concern the Bodhisattva vow. All this occurred between 755 and 779.
Translation of the Twenty Verses and his commentary to it would most likely have taken place during Santarakita’s second visit to Tibet, during construction of Bsam-yas, the first monastery. Additions made by Santaraksita to passages cited from the Bbh seem to indicate that he is addressing monks not overly familiar with monastic discipline (vinaya). He is also reported to have written a work on bhiku morality.9 According to Dpa’-bo-gtsuglag (91a.7), he gave lay precepts, then monastic pratimoksa, to the first five novice monks. This historian also informs us of the existence of separate buildings for teaching pratimoksa and Bodhisattva vows (95b-96a). Translation work was inaugurated by Santaraksita and Jnanendra, who remained his thief disciple in Tibet (105a).
The historian Bu-ston, in his catalogue of the sacred canon, notes that Santaraksita and Bodhishadra are known in Tibet as Cittamatrins, not because they adhered to Mind-only philosophy but because their writings on the practical side of doctrine, such as the commentaries to the Twenty Verses, follow the Chapter on Ethics of the Bbh.11 This is also true of Santaraksita’s chief Indian disciple, Kamalasila, who travelled to Tibet after his teacher died there and also taught the Bodhisattva vow from the Ybh.
The same Tibetan translation of the Twenty Verses that is embedded in the commentary of Santarakita is found in a “treasure text” (gter ma) dealing with the history of that early period, the “Translators and Pandits Section” (Lo pan bka’ thang) of the Rica’ thang sde Inga reduced in AD. 1347) The text is a compilation of fragments. In Chapters 17 to 31 the nine-vehicle system is (fragmentarily) described, followed by the three-vehicle system. Teachings of the auditor vehicle are expounded in Chapter 32. The following chapter begins a discussion of independent Buddha (pratveka-buddha.) This is broken off (766.3) in favor of the Bodhisattva practice. Passages at the end of independent Buddha, and the beginning of Bodhisattva, have evidently been lost. Of the Bodhisattva practice this remains: A subheading, “Teaching the means to heal vows and pledges”, followed by verse 8 of Candragomin’s Twenty. After the subhead “These are the subsidiary failings” come verses 9 to 16. Citations from Mahayana scriptures follow; then the account of events and personalities of the Early Spread resumes (to 813.4) when the end of the chapter on the Bodhisattva practice is announced.
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