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ntidevas Bodhicaryvatra:

A Mahyna Path to Altered States of Consciousness

Randall Studstill

How might the bodhisattva path as presented in the
Bodhicaryvatra1 transform the consciousness of
the practitioner and create altered states of
Assessing the potential psychological effects of the
texts teachings using a systems-based model of


Preliminaries and Background

Mind as a System
ntideva on Forbearance
Appendix 1: Tibetan Hagiography
Appendix 2: Themes and Topics in the
Bodhicaryvatra Organized by Chapter


Who was ntideva?

8th century Indian, Mahyna Buddhist monk

Affiliated with the Madhyamaka school
Resident of Nland
In addition to the Bodhicaryvatra
(Introduction to the Conduct that Leads to
Enlightenment or Undertaking the Way to
Awakening), author of the ik amuccaya
(Compendium of Doctrines or Compendium of
the Training)
Beyond these few details, no historically reliable

An overview of the text

Part of the text used in Mahyna ritual (anuttarapj)

Primarily, the text is a guide for contemplative
reflection aimed at cultivating the pramit
(generosity, morality, forbearance, diligence,
meditation, wisdom) and the altruistic motivation
for enlightenment (bodhicitta)
Key themes:

Relentless negation of the self (renunciation; abandoning any

tendency to protect the self)
The rewards of virtue and merit
The suffering (now and/or in future hell realms) of cyclic existence,
the defilements (greed, anger, and delusion), and selfish thought
and action in general
Developing compassion and bodhicitta by extending ones locus of
concern to include all beings

The texts significance

the single greatest Indian poem1 about cultivating

the Mahyna spiritual life2
the most widely read, cited, and practiced text in
the whole of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition3
the primary source of most of the Tibetan
Buddhist literature on the cultivation of altruism
and bodhicitta4
9th chapter on emptiness one of the principal
sources for Mahyna philosophy5
One of the Dalai Lamas principal sources of
religious inspiration (specifically, Bodhicaryvatra
10.55: As long as space abides, so long may I
abide, destroying the sufferings of the world)6

The organization of the Bodhicryavatra1

Canonical, Sanskrit text

verses (at least some of this extra material

is derived from the ik amuccaya)
10 chapters

Dunhuang, Tibetan

Narrative Structure


(Undertaking the Way of the

attributed to Aksayamati
701 verses
9 chapters

Ch. 1 Praise of bodhicitta

(36 verses)

= Ch. 1 (untitled)

Part of the Supreme Worship


Cultivating the altruistic

motivation for enlightenment

Ch. 2 Confession of Faults

(66 verses)

= Ch. 2 Adopting (or Seizing)


Supreme Worship
Generating merit2
Cultivating bodhicitta

bodhicitta, stage 1:
the Mind resolved on
Awakening (1:15)
a person who desires to go

Ch. 4 Vigilance Regarding bodhicitta

(48 verses)

= Ch. 3 Selflessness (nairtmya)

strengthening the aspiring

Bodhisattvas resolve (p. 11)

Ch. 5 Guarding of Awareness

(109 verses)

= Ch. 4

Bodhisattva training proper;

cultivating the pramit

Ch. 3 Adopting (or Seizing) bodhicitta

(33 verses)

Ch. 6 Forbearance (134 verses)

= Ch. 5

Ch. 7 Vigor (75 verses)

= Ch. 6

Ch. 8 Meditative Absorption (dhyna)

(186 verses)

= Ch. 7

Ch. 9 Understanding (167 verses)

= Ch. 8

Ch. 10 Dedication (58 verses)

= Ch. 9

Cultivating the pramit

(Forbearance, etc.)

Vows (pran idhna)

Putting the altruistic motivation

for enlightenment into practice
bodhicitta, stage 2
the Mind proceeding toward
Awakening (1:15)
a person . . . who is going

Notable passages

This world is a confusion of insane people striving to delude themselves. (8:69b)

Those who have developed the continuum of their mind . . . , to whom the suffering
of others is as important as the things they themselves hold dear, plunge down into
the Avci hell as geese into a cluster of lotus blossoms. (8:107)
All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own
happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the
happiness of others. Why say more? Observe this distinction: between the fool who
longs for his own advantage and the sage who acts for the advantage of others.
I make over this body to all embodied beings to do with as they please. Let them
continually beat it, insult it, and splatter it with filth. Let them play with my body; let
them be derisive and amuse themselves. I have given this body to them. What point
has this concern of mine? (3:12-13)
Whatever suffering is in store for the world, may it all ripen in me. (10:56a)

as a

The mind viewed as an interdependent

network of variables/events
These variables/events function
together to maintain the integrity of the
system as a whole
These variables/events include:



Internal narrative
Attention (selective; self-referentially
oriented on the internal narrative)
Defense mechanisms (e.g., denial,
distortion, projection, displacement)
Distraction-seeking; addiction

System functions
Constrain awareness within a dualistic

frame of reference

Perceptual dualism: a self situated in a world

of spatially removed and distinct objects
Evaluative dualism: the reflexive evaluation of
things, persons, conditions, events, etc. as
either attractive (good) or repellant (bad)

Maintain that state of reference in

response to perturbing influences

Constructive processes

Perceptual and evaluative dualism based on

two types of mutually-reinforcing

Perceptual concepts that organize and interpret

sensory data, establishing the background and
focal dimensions of the perceptual field with
reference to a substance-based, intuitive ontology
and the objectification and reification of ordinary
Evaluative concepts that assign positive or
negative associations to particular things,
situations, conditions, etc. (and thereby prompt
positive or negative emotional responses)

Homeostatic processes

Homeostasis or self-stabilization is maintained

through negative feedback
The content of the experiential stream (a blur of
thought and sensation) is monitored by the
system in terms of its correspondence with
system constructs (i.e., its confirmation of
positive evaluative associations)
Inputs that contradict evaluative constructs
initiate processes to adjust the content of the
input so that it matches those constructs

Inputs regulated in two ways:
1. acting to change the self and/or
2. regulating the experiential stream
(independent of the environment)

Active shaping (fantasy)

Inhibition of inputs (distraction; drugs)

The minds transformative potential

Disruption of cognitive variables /
boundary conditions may initiate the
transformation of the cognitive system
This transformation is associated with a
qualitative shift in experience that has
both epistemological and affective

Key points
Perceptual and evaluative concepts fuel an
uninterrupted internal narrative characterized by
obsessive self-monitoring and self-concern and
manipulation of the experiential stream (often in
the service of protecting the self-image)
These factors help maintain a persons ordinary
(and, from a Buddhist point of view, unsatisfactory)
state of consciousness
Undermining these concepts may help pacify the
internal narrative and play a role in eliciting a shift
in a persons state of consciousness, associated
with altered states of consciousness

Bodhicaryvatra, Ch. 6


Forbearance (knti): the 3rd pramit

A means of integrating suffering into the spiritual path1
Forbearance described as the highest spiritual practice
(6:102) (perhaps because it is an antidote to anger, one of the
most problematic emotions for an aspiring bodhisattva)
General concern: developing a non-defensive, open,
emotionally positive attitude in response to suffering, attacks
from others, and threats to ones social status and self-image
The ideal state is a 180 degree shift from ordinary concerns
oriented around self-protection, e.g., suffering is good and
should be welcomed, enemies are good and should be
honored, public humiliation is good and should be embraced
Key ideas: the negative consequences of anger and hatred
(suffering and hell), the rewards of patience (happiness and
buddhahood), cultivating sympathetic joy, giving oneself over
to all beings, self-castigation (observing ones own egotism)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to suffering in general
As aspiring bodhisattvas, we are at war

with the defilements; suffering is a

necessary and inevitable part of war (6:19)
suffering overcomes complacency,
awakens compassion, and supports
resolve to follow the path (6:21)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior

Offensive behaviors arise through conditioning

factors (6: 22-33); they are not willed into being
(there is no way to intelligibly conceive a
relationship between an unchanging Self and
changing mental events)
Since, like a magical display, phenomena do
not initiate activity, at what does one get angry
like this? (6:31)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior

Anger towards others is unjustified because

others are deluded:

If others cause themselves great suffering, how can I

expect them not to cause me suffering?
If it is their very nature to cause others distress, my
anger towards those fools is as inappropriate as it
would be towards fire for its nature to burn. (6:39)
But in fact, this tendency to cause others distress is
adventitious. Beings are by nature pleasant. So anger
towards them is as inappropriate as it would be
towards the sky if full of acrid smoke. (6:40)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior

Anger towards others is nonsensical because it

is mistakenly directed

The other person is impelled by hatred, so hatred

itself is the proper object of anger (if there were a
proper object) (6:41)
Emotional upset is ultimately caused by my own
attachment to my body and personal well being (6:4344); if the cause of the problem is my own
attachment, anger at others makes no sense (6:45)
Some commit offenses out of delusion. Others,
deluded, grow angry. Who among them should we
say is free from blame, or who should we say is
guilty? (6:67)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior
Anger towards other is nonsensical

because it is often inconsistent with the

actual offense: Humiliation, harsh
speech, and disgrace . . . does not
oppress the body (6:53)
The Buddhist version of Sticks and
stones . . .

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior

Exposing self-deceptive justification for anger: I

become angry at someone speaking ill of me
because they are causing harm to living beings
(see 6:62)
But if thats the case . . .

why . . . do you feel no anger when he defames

others in the same way? (6:62)
You tolerate those showing disfavor when others are
the subject of it, but you show no tolerance toward
someone speaking ill of you . . . . (6:63)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior
Exposing self-deceptive justification for

anger: I hate those who desecrate sacred

images or teachings (see 6:64)
Why should you hate them when the
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are not
distressed? (6:64)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior
All unpleasant experiences are karmic: the

result of the pain I have caused others

Why did you behave before in such a way
that others now trouble you in this way?
Everybody is subject to the force of prior
actions. Who am I to change this? (6:68)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior
Recognizing the negative consequences

associated with anger/hatred (and,

therefore, the need to suppress it the
moment it arises)
. . . when the mind is catching alight with
the fire of hatred . . . , [hatred] must be
cast aside immediately for fear that ones
body of merit might go up in flames (6:71)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to suffering occasioned by the path
The path is the means of avoiding hell; the path
involves suffering; therefore, suffering on the path is
the means of avoiding hell; therefore, suffering is
good (6:72)
The path is a means of becoming a buddha and
benefiting other beings; the path involves suffering;
therefore, suffering on the path is a means of
becoming a Buddha and benefiting others; therefore
Delight is the only appropriate response to suffering
which takes away the suffering of the universe
Any difficulty you may have enduring suffering now
is all the more reason to restrain anger and hatred,
since these will cause much greater suffering in hell

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to praise and blame

Praise has doubtful tangible benefits (6:90-91)

Concern with social status causes suffering : Like a child that
howls a wail of distress when his sandcastle is broken, so my own
mind appears to me at the loss of praise or renown. (6:93)
Encouraging sympathetic joy: Another persons delight should
cause me to feel delight, regardless of whether or not that person
is delighted with me or someone else (6:94-96)
Praise is actually bad (and blame is actually good) for anyone
serious about the path: Praise and so on give me security. They
destroy my sense of urgency. They create jealousy towards those
who possess virtue, and anger at success. (6:98)
Attachment to praise is an impediment on the path; so anyone
conspiring to . . . destroy my praise is helping me (6:100-101)

Undermining evaluative associations:

responding to offensive or malicious behavior
Forbearance is transformative; an enemy is an
occasion for the practice of forbearance; therefore
enemies are good
Longing for an enemy: since he helps me on the
path to Awakening, I should long for an enemy like a
treasure discovered in the home, acquired without
effort (6:107)
Honoring enemies: When the transmission of
Buddha-qualities comes equally from both ordinary
beings and from the Conquerors, what logic is there
in not paying that respect to ordinary beings which
one pays to the Conquerors? (6:113)


ntidevas teachings on forbearance comprise a set of

concepts that conflict with the evaluative associations that
help maintain a persons ordinary state of consciousness
by fueling self-concern and the internal narrative
Sustained reflection on (and internalization of) those
teachings may undermine evaluative associations and
attenuate the internal narrative
In the short term, this may manifest as the dissipation of
emotional upset in the context of daily social interactions
Over the long term, it may aid in pacifying the internal
narrative in the context of meditative practice
This pacification constitutes the disruption of one of the key
variables in the cognitive system, creating conditions for
possible transformation and the realization of altered states
of consciousness
Repeated suspension of the internal narrative may have a
cumulative effect on consciousness, eventually crossing a
critical threshold and initiating a naturally unfolding
transformation with a corresponding qualitative shift in

Appendix 1:
Tibetan hagiography

a prince from North India who fled royal

consecration for fear of implication in the evils of
Became a monk; he was a highly advanced
practitioner, though his advanced level of realization
was unrecognized by his fellow monks (His fellow
monks said that his three realizations were eating,
sleeping, and shitting2)
His spiritual stature was only recognized when he
was asked in an attempt to humiliate this lazy
monk to give a recitation before the monastery
The Bodhicaryvatra is believed to be the record of
that recitation
Toward the end of his recitation he levitated into the
air and vanished, though his voice was still audible

Appendix 2:
Themes and Topics in the
Organized by Chapter

Ch. 1
Praise of

Ch. 2
of Faults1

Ch. 3

Ch. 4

Ch. 5
Guarding of Awareness

Preciousness of
a human birth
(dont waste it)

Having reflected
on the value of
bodhicitta (in Ch.
1), worshipping
the Buddhas
offerings) (1-25)

Rejoicing in merit

consequences of
evil and failing in
aspirations: bad
rebirths and hell;
recognizing and
taking advantage
of the precious
opportunity of a
human birth, etc.

Practicing mindfulness (smti) and awareness (samprajanya)

as a means cultivating the pramit of generosity and moral

Encouraging a
resolve to destroy
the defilements
and endure
whatever suffering
that may entail

The benefits of a disciplined mind (3-5, 12-16, 21, 33, 44, 100)

Reflecting on the
value of
defined (15-16,
motivated by a
longing to
remove the
suffering of all
Going for refuge
to those who
have perfected

Going for refuge

(26, 46-54)
Confession of
faults and the
of evil (27-45,
The horror of
imminent death
(32-34, 40-45,

Requesting the
teaching (4)
Begging the
Buddhas not to
abandon beings
Affirming ones
resolve to relieve
others suffering;
giving oneself
over to other
beings (6-21)
Arousal of
bodhicitta (2233) ; prayer
affirming the
value of bodhicitta

The pramit generosity and morality defined as mental attitudes

(10-11) (the chapter therefore focuses on guarding mindfulness
and awareness )
The necessity to restrain the wandering mind (1)
The negative consequences of an undisciplined mind (e.g.,
hell, suffering) (2, 17-18, 20, 24-29, 44)

The mind as the root cause of suffering (6-8)

Encouraging resolve (19, 22-23, 43, 99)
Recollecting the Buddhas (31-32)
Being like a block of wood; behavioral observances; rules
taken from the prtimoka (34-39, 45, 48-53, 71-98, 102-107)
Mindfulness; the ideal state of mind (40-41, 47, 54-58)
Self-castigation (59-61)
Reflecting on the foulness of the body (60-70, 86)
Awareness defined: the observation at every moment of the state
of ones body and ones mind (108)

Ch. 6
Forbearance (knti)
Teachings aimed at pacifying emotional
reactivity and upset in response to suffering,
offensive and malicious behavior from
others, and threats to social status and selfimage
The negative consequences of anger and
hatred; reasons to restrain anger (1-5, 8-9, 7071, 128-132)
Description of the ideal state; encouraging
resolve (9-10; 125-127)

Ch. 7
Vigor (vrya)1
Part 1: explaining the opposites of vigor and how to overcome them; Part 2: the means for
increasing the vigor with which one practices2
The importance of effort/vigor (1)
Vigor defined, and its opposites (sloth, etc.) listed (2)
The causes of sloth (3)
The imminence of death/hell as an antidote to sloth (4-13)
The preciousness of a human birth (14)

Self-examination; self-castigation at ones own

egoism (7, 11, 76, 79, 82, 93)
The value of patience (kam) and forbearance
(2, 6, 102, 128-134)
Rejecting religious motives for anger (e.g.,
blasphemy) (62-65, 102-)
Overcoming envy (76-86)
Praise and blame (90-101)
The value of enemies (99-108)
Honoring ones enemies (109-118)
Quotation from the Tathgataguhya Stra;
honoring the Buddhas by treating others with the
same regard that the Buddhas have shown
toward others (119-134)

Encouraging resolve in the face of despondency and defeatism (16-19, 53)

Overcoming fear of suffering caused by the path (20-27)
The pleasure of the path (28-30, 62-66)
Increasing vigor through desire, pride, delight, giving up, dedication, and control (32)
Self-castigation at ones own laziness(34, 36-38)
The urgency of overcoming faults and cultivating virtue (33)
The importance of righteous desire; the blissful consequences of virtue, the horrific consequences of
evil (39-46)
Cultivating spiritual pride (a fierce determination to overcome obstacles and suffering )(46-61, 67)
Mindfulness (68-71, 73)
Remorse (72)

Ch. 8
Meditative Absorption (dhyna)1
Renunciation (to calm the mind); self-negation and exchanging self and other as a means of developing compassion (i.e., the extension of selfconcern to include all beings) and bodhicitta
The importance of meditative absorption as a means of overcoming distractions and the defilements (1)
Renunciation is the means of calming the mind, which is in turn the basis of insight that destroys the defilements (4)
Renunciation/social isolation to reduce distractions [and therefore support meditative stabilization] (2-38) (p. 79)
Renunciation of persons; the pain and complacency caused by attachment to or association with persons (5-16)
Detachment from alms gifts and popularity; praise and blame (17-24)
Social isolation (26-38, 70, 85-88)
Contemplating death (30-31)
Developing meditative concentration (39) (p. 79) [this leads directly into verses on renunciation: lust, other persons, worldly life, and a renewed resolve to
live in isolation]
Encouraging resolve to restrain the mind by reflecting on the negative consequences of the passions (40, 84)
Overcoming lust ; contemplating the foulness of the body (aubha-bhvan) (41-69) (p. 79)
Attachment to one's own body and its safety/well-being; the suffering of worldly life (71-83, 173-182, 185)
Meditative contemplation aimed at developing compassion and bodhicitta (89-186); eradicating self-concern; exchanging self and other; extending concern
beyond the self to include all beings; giving oneself over to others out of compassion (p. 80) (some of this from the Tathgataguhya Stra)
Viewing the self and self-concern as enemies; the negative and positive consequences of selfishness and altruism respectively (121-135, 138-139, 155156, 171)
Treating yourself as a despised "other" or as a new bride (p. 81)(159-167); inspired by a fierce indignation at all the trouble and suffering caused by selfconcern, encouraging a relentless assault on the self (168-176)

Ch. 9
All the other pramit just preparation for this pramit the perfection of understanding or wisdom (i.e.,
emptiness2) (1)
A critique of the philosophical views of other Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical schools (Nikya, Cittamtra,
Skhya , Nyya-vaieika) a demonstration of the inconsistencies or contradictions in any view (p. 106)
Emptiness implied based on the incoherence of positing intrinsic existence about anything
Two-truths (savtisatya and paramrthasatya) (2-8, 106-111) (p. 111)
Ordinary appearances are illusory (5, 87); Reality is beyond the scope of intellection (2)

Ch. 10
Affirmations in which [ntideva]
dedicates to the benefit of all beings
the merit that he has generated
through the training. (p. 133)
Affirmations for those in hell (4, 616)
Affirmations for animals, hungry
ghosts, the blind, the deaf , the
fearful, etc.(17ff)

Emptiness as a means of pacifying the mind (34)

Affirmations that all beings

encounter the Dharma (37-38)

Appeal to scriptural authority and the authenticity of Mahyna scriptures (40-51)

Affirmations for the Sangha (42-46)

True non-grasping depends on emptiness (45-48)

Affirmations that all attain

buddhahood (47)

The urgent need to meditate on emptiness (54)

Comments on the fear of emptiness; the non-existence of the I and the body (55-59, 74, 78-85 )
The interdependence (and therefore, emptiness) of phenomena (60-74)
If everything is empty, who has compassion for whom? (75-76)
Critique of atoms (86, 94-95), sensations (88-91, 98-101, 129-137), contact (93-97), mind , consciousness, and
the object of cognition (102-105, 111-115), cause and effect (116-117), God (118-125), primal matter (126-128)
Emptiness and causation (141-154)
A description of the misery of cyclic existence (155-165)

Affirmations for Buddhas and

Bodhisattvas (48-49)
Affirmations for non-Mahyna
practitioners (50)
Affirmations for himself, to progress
on the path (51-56)

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