The great nineteenth-century master Patrul Rinpoche, author of The Words of My Perfect Teacher and revered by all Tibetan Buddhists, was known for his wandering ascetic lifestyle, eschewing fame, generous offerings, and all but the most meager possessions. However, wherever he went throughout his peripatetic life, he carried with him a copy of Shantideva's Bodhicharyavatara, which we know now as The Way of the Bodhisattva or A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge and ability to transmit the wisdom of Prajnaparamita and Dzogchen, Patrul Rinpoche spent his life constantly teaching this text, encouraging students to read it and study it over and over again-hundreds of times. Why this focus from him and millions of masters and practitioners before and after?
Below is a guide to help practitioners answer this question for themselves and go deeper and deeper into this essential work. For a bit of history, you can also see our post on its story.
There are at least five translations of the text available in English.
By far the best-selling translation is from the Padmakara Translation Group entitled The Way of the Bodhisattva. This was translated with reference primarily to the Tibetan and following the commentary of Khenpo Kunpel, the nineteenth-century Nyingma master renowned for his spiritual realization and instrumental in the preservation of the oral traditions and teachings of his tradition.
This edition also includes a ten-page biography of Shantideva as well as selections on tonglen, or exchanging oneself with others, from Khenpo Kunpel's commentary. This is available as a Shambhala Library hardcover, a paperback, a CD set, an MP3 download, and an eBook.
Another excellent translation is from Alan and Vesna Wallace, translated as A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. The Wallace's translation is based both on Sanskrit and Tibetan sources and was guided by Tibetan commentaries, notably of Gyaltsup-Je. This is also available as a paperback and an eBook.
Another version to note is Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton's translation from Oxford University Press. All three of these translations expose different facets of the text, while the translators' introductions each illuminate it in different ways and are well-worth seeking out.