Bodhisattvacharyavatara by Acharya Śāntideva

Chapter VI– verse 115

Transglomeration: It is the greatness of beings that someone who builds-up and develops care and love for them is so worthy of honour and worship; furthermore, it is the greatness of the Buddhas that so much merit accrues from someone who esteems and worships them.

~~~ “BCA” ~~~

V. 114beings equally cause Buddhahood
↑ Stitch ↓
V. 115greatness of (concern regarding the) number of beings; greatness of (innate) realisation of Buddhas

{iteration from V. 114}

Stitching: virtue of love/compassion = greatness of beings; virtue of faith = greatness of Buddhas

Overstitching: the effect (virtue) of venerating (one with love/compassion for sentient beings) = (the quality of) greatness () (māhātmya – great being-ness) of sentient beings   //   the effect (merit) of faith in Buddhas = (quality of) greatness () (māhātmya – great being-ness) of the Buddhas

Reflection: this verse breaks down what was said in verse 114: it is through respecting/venerating someone who has love/compassion for all sentient beings that one taps into that virtue/merit-enough to be able to enter the Great Way (the Mahāyāna) oneself; this is the inauguration – you don’t just go straight from center-of-the-universe-self-cherishing to universal love/compassion (well, you could try, but you’d probably end up with some fabricated and pretentious love compassion which you might call universal, and which would use the words ‘universal’ and ‘all sentient beings’, but would end up, still, being some pumped-up, megalomaniacal feeling of referencing all beings in some sort of perverse recognition of oneself as a great messiah-figure … are you listening, Mark), you do it in steps, you develop the aspiration to develop love/compassion (cf. the benefits of Bodhichitta in chapter 1), then you build up the power and determination to do so (cf. chapters 2 & 3), and you train yourself in modifying your behaviour, speech and thought in sympathy with this aspiration (chapters 4-8i) so that you have the energy to generate it through meditation (chapter 8ii) and then bring it to full fruition (chapter 9); love and compassion are characterised as the ‘gateway’ to the Mahāyāna, and the development of love/compassion can only be developed observing all sentient beings; therefore sentient beings are ‘great’ because they are the entry to the Way to/of Greatness (the Mahāyāna); it is also because all sentient beings are infinite in number (and need) that they are referred to as ‘great’; in the Sanskrit root text the word ‘māhātmya’ is used suggesting more than just (comparative) big/great (‘māhā’) but also existing and functioning within great-ness, great being-ness; in the Tibetan text is given ‘yon tan’ which denotes (Enlightened) ‘qualities’ which, as appears to be a pattern with the Tibetan translation, that where the translated references might seem to differ, or even conflict, the difficulty is resolved by understanding the Tibetan text as taking the meaning as the result, whereas the Sanskrit will tend to take the meaning causally (training, engaging in the way of the Bodhisattva, the ‘caryā’ part of the title; whereas the Tibetan would understand from the perspective of the ‘bodhi’ part of the title)   //   there is a parallel with the effect of making worship and devotion to the Buddhas through faith: in making worship/devotion to the Buddhas one is not doing it for show (showing how pious we are – a self-centered motivation), or to benefit the Buddhas (as in pleasing a god in hope of some return of patronage or favour – a self-advancing motivation based on a faulty understanding of the nature of a Buddha), but one is doing it in recognition of the nature of the Buddha (one who has stopped all kleśas and gone beyond all self/other duality) in order to find the way to exist in that very same nature oneself (a nature which is neither the Buddha’s or one’s self’s (sic)): this is often translated as ‘merit’, but maybe ‘virtue’ or even ‘wisdom’ and certainly ‘being’ should be understood within this word; therefore, worshipping the Buddha enters one into a way of being which is far greater than the limitations of self-grasping and self-cherishing (thereby fulfilling the Great Vow for both oneself and (by and through) others) – going for Refuge (in greatness-being) for the sake of all beings (great/infinite in number)

Reflection: [continuing…] māhātmya: the ‘greatness’, ‘eminence’ of an Enlightened Being towards whom we make ‘offerings’ in devotion is actually an effect of them having developed love & compassion through contemplating the equality and suffering of sentient beings (… chapter 8ii); through making offerings to these eminent Buddhas we are generating merit regarding these same Buddhas who have developed the qualities we worship based on their development of love and compassion for sentient beings; there is a triangular relationship going on here which interweaves cause and effect and … (Enlightening) being:

  • oneself
    • and the Buddhas:
      • outer effect/relationship: offering to/worshipping the Buddhas (Skt. 115aa; Tib. 115a, ‘worship’)
      • inner causal/practice: in order to accrue merit (Skt. 115ba; Tib. 115c, ‘merit’) because they are Enlightened (Skt. 115bb; Tib. 115d, ‘greatness of the Buddhas’)
    • and sentient beings:
      • outer effect/relationship: acting in the ‘field’ of sentient beings (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’)
      • inner causal/practice: to develop patience/love/compassion to become Enlightened oneself … for the sake of all beings: Bodhichitta motivation (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’)
  • the Buddhas
      • and sentient beings:
        • outer effect/relationship: Buddhas are Enlightened (Skt. 115bb; Tib. 115d, ‘greatness of the Buddhas’)
        • inner causal/practice: because they developed love & compassion for all sentient beings …) (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’)
      • and oneself:
        • outer effect/relationship: Buddhas have love/compassion for oneself (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’) …
        • inner causal/practice: … by acting as the object of worship/offering to lead one to Enlightenment (Skt. 115bb; Tib. 115d, ‘greatness of the Buddhas’)
  • all sentient beings
      • and oneself:
        • outer effect/relationship: we are all sentient beings > ‘they’ are the condition/field for developing love and compassion (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’)
        • inner causal/practice: the development/field of love/compassion that enables one on the path to Enlightenment (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’)
      • and the Buddhas:
        • outer effect/relationship: the cause/field for developing love and compassion (Skt. 115ab; Tib. 115b, ‘greatness of sentient beings’)
        • inner causal/practice: that results in the Buddhas becoming Enlightenment (Skt. 115bb; Tib. 115d, ‘greatness of the Buddhas’)

the ‘greatness’ of sentient beings is that there are so many of them (but also, I suppose, that each one of them has such potential – their ultimately empty nature); the ‘greatness’ of the Buddhas (referred to as Conquerors, here, emphasising that they have ‘conquered’ all kleśas which obscured their true nature) is that they have ‘conquered’ all delusions and ‘gone beyond’ all duality (of self/others and the whole plethora of etc. that that entails); these two greatnesses produce respective great results when worshipped or honoured, and in doing so one begins the journey from sentient being to Enlightened Being; the Sanskrit seems to hold that the greatness of sentient beings is in them having ‘friendliness’ within them (as if this is so rare to find in a sentient being), the Tibetan brings out that it is the friendliness for others (i.e. sentient beings, of which there are a lot), again, not contradictory, but the Tibetan brings the meaning inside-out

Reflection: this verse is a whole metaphysics which, cunningly, turns itself inside out (metaphysics is, after all, the whole schema of the world ‘out there’ – outside one’s self-grasping – which, from a Buddhist point of view, is one of the root effects of the condition of saṃsāra in the first place); this trichotomy of Buddhas, sentient beings and oneself is a condition which includes all beings – those who are conditioned by self-grasping and the world of not-self to which they are subject (all sentient beings, including, obviously, oneself), and those who have escaped/transcended that conditioning (the Buddhas, who are Enlightened beings) – sentience is the root of the world (both saṃsāric and enlightened), not matter/energy or whatever, therefore the work of making sense of the world, life and everything is through training that sentience to see the world enlightened rather than adverse to a dubious self; in pursuing this training, the grasping at a sense of self and identity is dismantled and consequently the distinction between ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ (‘self’-grasping/cherishing and ‘not-self’-defending/identifying-with) is broken down as the frustrating and fruitless illusion that it is; it is dismantled, firstly, by turning self-cherishing inside out by developing love and compassion, and which other beings can you develop love and compassion on/with – certainly not the Buddhas, they’re enlightened – but all unenlightened beings, all infinity of them; having turned one’s self-cherishing inside out, one has the power and discernment to be able to see right through the illusion of self-grasping at the root such that ‘self’ and ‘not-self’/’other’ become nonsensical and unnecessarily limiting at which point one is enlightened – a Buddha: nothing to ‘do’ at all (‘one’ is just (and all-) being at this point, great being – māhātmya) but to dispel the illusion that the rest of all-sentient-beings-including-oneself labour under; and they do this because they cannot but respond to suffering and illusion – there is no self-center from which they could choose or not-choose to ‘act’ the same as space can’t choose to pervade or not-pervade


you might need to click this to read the infill


Verse: this verse has ‘zoomed out’ from verse 112 to give the overview of what’s going on here in this business of becoming enlightened, and in doing so is establishing that the whole ‘field’ of endeavour is not one of excluding (‘other’ against ‘self’, ‘unenlightened’ against ‘enlightened’, ‘matter’ against ‘sentience’ etc.) but one which dissolves the illusory discernment from the root; (philosophically, not theistically, obviously, this is a monist overview, which is one way in which Mahāyāna distinguishes in extent with Hināyāna, and in which Vajrayāna wholly lives and operates); you don’t get out of being a sentient being to becoming an enlightened being, you stop being limited to being

Practice: this verse should be opening something deep in the back of one’s head that makes sense of all endeavour and practice; there is nothing to do or practice in this verse, so much, as to map (to the ‘other shore’, at which ‘you’ will never arrive but at which you will nevertheless be)