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Cultivating the Heart of Patience: Lessons from the Bodhicaryavatara

by Sangharakshita

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sangharakshita digital classics: in seminar

cultivating the heart
of patience:
lessons from the
bodhicaryavatara

preface
This seminar took place in 2008 from the 7th-13th of June, on the third
reunion retreat of the men ordained at Guhyaloka1 in 2005. Thanks to
the friendship between Bhante and Nityabandhu (who is now running
a Buddhist Centre in Krakow) we were privileged to have Bhante
Sangharakshita come and stay with us for the entire week’s retreat at
Padmaloka.2
We asked if he'd do some study with us and he elected to take on the
sixth chapter of Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara, on the Perfection of
Forbearance (Kshanti).
Dharmachari Vidyakaya, 2013
*
editor’s note
As in any seminar, the conversations transcribed here were often offthe-cuff, with quotations and references made mostly from memory.
We’ve tried to make sure that any factual inaccuracies which may
have arisen as a result are contextualised and, if possible, corrected.
Footnote references for web-linked Wikipedia terms are generally
derived from the corresponding Wikipedia entry.
*

1

Guhyaloka (‘The Secret Realm’) is a retreat centre in Spain specializing in men’s long

ordination retreats.
2

Padmaloka (‘The Realm of the Lotus’) is a Buddhist retreat centre for men in Norfolk,

England.

Attending with Sangharakshita were: Abhayanaga, Amalavajra, Balajit,
Dharmamodana, Dhira, Dhiraka, Dhivan, Gambhiradaka, Jayagupta,
Jayarava, Jayasiddhi, Jinapalita, Khemajala, Naganataka,
Nityabandhu, Priyadaka, Samudraghosha, and Vidyakaya.
Transcribed by Amalavajra, Aniccaloka, Norfolk, April 2009.
Digital edition edited and prepared by Candradasa.
Proofreading by Kalyanasri and Bettye Pruitt.
Translation used: Oxford University Press, trans. Crosby and Skilton,
1995.
Other, free editions available online: Berzin Archives, trans. Dr.
Alexander Berzin; Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, trans.
Stephen Bachelor, 1979 (alternative version here); Lotsawa House,
trans. Rigpa Lotsawa Team (English, Spanish and Tibetan editions);
Snow Lion Publications, trans. Wallace and Wallace, 1997; Wisdom
Library, trans. Andreas Kretschmar, 2004; Asian Classics Input
Project, trans. Christopher Richardson, 1999 (Tibetan edition);
Bibliotheca India (Sanskrit edition), edited by Vidhushekhara, 1960;
Indica et Buddhica, (Sanskrit editions), edited by Richard Mahoney.
This eBook © Dharmachakra 2015.

session 1: verses 1-8
(7th june, morning)

Sangharakshita: All right. So if everybody is ready we can begin. I am
assuming that most of you at least have read the introductory material
so we won’t be going through that. We’ll start straight off with the text
itself, or rather with the translation of the text. I take it you’ve all got
the same translation, the World’s Classics one? 3
So what we’ll do, we’ll go round the circle, people reading a verse at a
time. And maybe I’ll comment on the verse and that may, in some
cases, lead to some questions and possibly a bit of discussion. So
we’ll plunge straight in and, as you probably know, we’re going to go
through the sixth chapter of the Bodhicaryavatara, which deals with
the perfection of patience, which is the great antidote to anger. And at
least two people, when they heard that we were going to study this
particular chapter, said that they felt this was what they needed. And
that may be true of course in the case of others - we shall see. So let’s
start off with the first verse of that chapter.
Dhivan: [1] This worship of the Sugatas, generosity, and good
conduct performed throughout thousands of aeons - hatred
destroys it all.

3

Oxford University Press, trans. Crosby and Skilton, 1995.

Sangharakshita: Hmm. Of course, Shantideva 4 was a Mahayana
Buddhist 5 and of course he believed in the Bodhisattva Ideal,6 and
that meant, of course, that he saw the Bodhisattva career as
extending over many lifetimes. So that is the context of this particular
verse. Of course one might consider it rather hyperbolical that a
moment of hatred or a moment of anger could destroy the merits that
you’ve heaped up over a long period of time, but we can see that that
is the case, even in our ordinary, every day lives, especially in our
relations with other people.
If you get angry with others, or even if you feel hatred towards them,
you may say something that you may regret for a long time and which
may disrupt your relationship with someone for years and years. So
therefore you have to be very careful what you say when you are angry
or when you entertain feelings of hatred.

4

Shantideva was an 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk and scholar at Nalanda University and

an adherent of the Madhyamaka philosophy of Nagarjuna. Listen to talks on Shantideva’s life
and work.
5

‘Mahayana’ means literally ‘Great Vehicle’ and is one of the three ‘yanas’, the great modes

or methods of spiritual practice in Buddhism. Listen to explorations of the Mahayana.
6

Traditionally, a Bodhisattva is anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated

bodhichitta, which is a spontaneously arising, sustained wish to attain Buddhahood for the
benefit of all sentient beings. Listen to talks on the Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva Ideal as a
path of practice.

I remember in this connection there’s a very beautiful passage in some of you will know it - Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’.7 At the beginning,
where the lady in the story meets with another lady, and their fathers
have been friends, or were friends, in their youth. And Coleridge
describes very beautifully how they had a quarrel, they had an
argument, and each spoke very painful and cutting words and that
resulted in their being separated for the rest of their lives.
And Coleridge gives a very beautiful simile, a very beautiful image. He
said, it is like when there is some geographical upheaval and the earth
divides and there are two cliffs, one on one side, one on the other,
confronting each one, separated. So the two erstwhile friends, for the
rest of their lives, were like that, permanently separated.8
So we know from our own experience that harsh words, or words
spoken in anger, or out of hatred even, really do rankle and can lead to
an estrangement for years upon years, sometimes to our very great
regret. But once we’ve said something it can’t be recalled and its
effects remain. So, in this first verse, Shantideva seems to be
cautioning us against these sudden outbursts of anger or hatred. We
7

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet, literary critic and philosopher of the 18th/19th C.

who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in
England and a member of the Lake Poets.
8

'Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;

A dreary sea now flows between;—
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.'

say something which perhaps we do mean at the time but on
reflection we wish we never had said that. So this is one of the
reasons why we should be careful to watch our speech.
And it is not a question even of estranging friends but we may have
got ourselves into a good mental state, calm and peaceful, which a
sudden outburst of anger will destroy all that, and leave us feeling
quite uneasy and upset and ashamed of ourselves, maybe for weeks
later. So all the more reason for being careful. So this is a very
important first verse of the chapter, which strikes a very important
note. So let’s have the next verse.
Nityabandhu: [2] There is no evil equal to hatred, and no spiritual
practice equal to forbearance. Therefore one should develop
forbearance by various means, with great effort.
Sangharakshita: Hmm. There one might think that this a bit of an
overstatement. No virtue greater than forbearance… and no nonvirtue… what’s the expression Shantideva uses… no ‘evil’, no ‘papa’,
greater than hatred. Of course, again, it’s the context of the
Bodhisattva Ideal and the Bodhisattva, of course, has taken out of
compassion a vow to help all living beings. So it’s not really easy to
help them if you keep getting angry with them. So it’s in the context of
the Bodhisattva Ideal perhaps that Shantideva is saying that hatred is
the greatest of evils and forbearance the greatest of virtues.
Another translation I’ve been following, because it’s available as a
spoken word book, seems always to translate hatred as anger, so

maybe we bear that in mind. ‘Dvesha’, can be translated, I suppose,
as either ‘anger’ or as ‘hatred’. Anger seems to be the outward
expression, especially in speech, and hatred the mental state. So are
there any questions about that particular verse?
Priyadaka: Something that has made me curious is that with the six
paramitas9, the first one is generosity, implying that that’s a greater
spiritual practice than forbearance. But I’m wondering if generosity is a
counter to forbearance or a way of expressing forbearance?
Sangharakshita: Hmm. Well I suppose if you’re feeling in a generous
mood towards other people… Again, it is very difficult for you to be
angry with them, so to that extent, yes it helps you to prevent ...

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