Few texts are more frequently taught and quoted, have as colorful a history, and as much relevance to Buddhists today more than the eighth-century Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. The Dalai Lama has said that “if I have any understanding of compassion and the bodhisattva path, it all comes from studying this text.”
The living tradition of this text radiates most brightly from the Tibetan tradition where it was translated from Sanskrit in the ninth century and is central to all the traditions there, the Tibetan diaspora, and those receiving it in the West. You can view our guide to the many works on this text including translations as well as its early and contemporary commentaries.
One singular aspect about the text is that unlike many of the important authored texts from India, it is fundamentally a practice text. As the Dalai Lama described it, “Shantideva composed his text in the form of an inner dialog. He turned his own weapons upon himself, doing battle with his negative emotions. Therefore, when we teach or listen to this text, it is important that we do so in order to progress spiritually, rather than making it simply a subject of academic study.”
In the spirit of this approach, Shambhala Publications and the Tsadra Foundation were pleased to host a four-day workshop on the text led by Wulstan Fletcher of the Padmakara Translation Group and recent recipient of the 2016 Khyentse Foundation Fellowship for his service to the Buddhadharma. Wulstan’s brief biography is below, suffice it to say there are few in the west who have worked as closely with this text and who can articulate so clearly its value, importance, and potential for us all. Wulstan was joined by several of the leading lights in Buddhist studies, translation, and teaching communities of Boulder, Colorado, including Sarah Harding, Holly Gayley, and Judy Lief.
This workshop will be a 360-degree view of the text, exploring its translation, history, commentaries, the famous ninth chapter on wisdom, and its relevance today. In particular, the intention is to present this text from a view of how practitioners today can really connect, relate, and use it in the way it was intended.
Wulstan is an extraordinary translator and scholar who has studied and gone through retreat with some of the greatest masters of the twentieth century. This workshop, which we plan to follow with many more, is meant to help impart the knowledge, experience, and wisdom from people like Wulstan to a new generation of translators, practitioners, and scholars. The Tsadra Foundation flew Wulstan in from France to give us this rare opportunity to engage with him and this extraordinary text that has been so fundamental for so many.
The Text: Generating Enthusiasm and Understanding Bodhicitta
In this session Wulstan continues with the history and then jumps into the text itself, focusing on the first three chapters, which help generate enthusiasm and an understanding of bodhicitta.
The first three chapters of the text are in focus: "The Excellence of Bodhicitta," "Confession," and "Taking Hold of Bodhicitta."
Instructions on how to maintain Bodhicitta and prevent it from degenerating once it arises, as outlined in the previous session.
The chapters in focus here are "Carefulness," "Vigilant Introspection," and "Patience."
How to Intensify Bodhicitta
The focus here are the chapters "Diligence" (or Heroic Perseverance), "Meditative Concentration," and the "Wisdom" chapter where he presents emptiness as understood in the Madhyamaka tradition.
The Way of the Bodhisattva Today
In this session, teacher, author, and editor Judy Lief joins Wulstan in a discussion looking at the text and its application in the modern age where issues of gender, ethics, and other topics are the focus.
Translating the Bodhicharyavatara
Wulstan Fletcher and Holly Gayley (University of Colorado)
If you found the above talks of interest, there was an additional talk where Wulstan, in conversation with University of Colorado professor Holly Gayley, explored the actual translation of the text. We feel anyone with a close connection with this text or Tibetan practice in general will find this a fascinating discussion.
The talk focuses on the translation of the text itself and how a master translator approaches such a daunting and challenging masterpiece. With a rich background of language expertise, deep knowledge of both Buddhist traditions and Western religion, and, most importantly, extensive involvement in Buddhist practice, Wulstan weaves his own experiences as a translator in with his interaction with the Bodhicharyavatara, specifically. He and Holly also discuss issues related to translating classical Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, by detailing the challenges of style, word choice, and considerations of audience—all while referencing different translations (Wallace, Crosby/Skilton, Batchelor, Eliot) to demonstrate how certain choices were made. Wulstan will share how the Padmakara Translation Group used Khenpo Kunpel’s commentary to inform their translation and discusses the complexities of presenting the text in English in a way that elevates the text rather than diminishes it.
Wulstan Fletcher studied modern languages and theology in Oxford and Rome. He completed a three-year meditation retreat in Chanteloube, France (1986-1989) and is a member of the Padmakara Translation Group. He has studied under some of the most extraordinary masters of the twentieth century. He has been a Tsadra Fellow since 2001. Wulstan has completed several Tibetan-English translation projects in collaboration with Helena Blankleder, including Treasury of Precious Qualities (Book 1, 2010, and Book 2, 2013), The Root Stanzas of the Middle Way (2016), The Way of the Bodhisattva (revised 2006), The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech (2007), White Lotus (2007), Introduction to the Middle Way (2005), The Adornment of the Middle Way (2005), Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat (2004), Counsels from My Heart (2003) and the forthcoming The Wisdom Chapter: Jamgön Mipham’s Commentary on the Ninth Chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva. Wulstan is currently working on Longchenpa’s sems nyid ngal gso.
Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher who trained under the Tibetan meditation master Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She has been a teacher and practitioner for over thirty-five years and continues to teach throughout the world. Ms. Lief was a close student of Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who trained and empowered her as a teacher in the Buddhist and Shambhala traditions. She is also the editor of many of Trungpa Rinpoche’s books, including the recently published three-volume set, The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, which gives a penetrating overview of the three-yana journey from beginning to end.
Holly Gayley is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research focuses on the revitalization of Buddhism in Tibetan areas of the PRC in the post-Maoist period. Dr. Gayley became interested in the academic study of Buddhism through her travels among Tibetan communities in India, Nepal, and China. She completed her master’s degree in Buddhist Studies at Naropa University in 2000 and PhD at Harvard University in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies in 2009. Dr. Gayley is currently publishing a book titled, Love Letters from Golok: A Tantric Couple in Modern Tibet, about the life and love letters of a contemporary Buddhist tantric couple, Khandro Tre Lhamo and Namtrul Jigme Phuntsok, who played a significant role in revitalizing Buddhism in eastern Tibet since the 1980s. Examining Buddhist conceptions of gender, agency, and healing, this book recovers Tibetan voices representing their own modern history under Chinese rule and contributes to burgeoning scholarly literature on Buddhist women, minorities in China, and studies of collective trauma.