zhi ba tsho
Author: Samye Institute
Last Updated: August 11, 2022

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Shantarakshita (Śāntarakṣita) (725-788) was one of the most influential figures in the first dissemination of Buddhism in Tibet. Tibetan sources often refer to him as Khenpo Bodhisattva. Invited by the emperor Tri Songdetsen, he traveled twice to Tibet, spending the last fifteen years of his life there. At the emperor’s request, he helped found and was named abbot of the Tibetan monastery at Samyé (bsam yas). He ordained the first seven Tibetan monks (Tib. sad mi mi bdun) and oversaw their training. According to sources, his preliminary training focused on the adoption of the ten virtues and the understanding of dependent origination, or ‘the chain of casual relation’. He introduced the method of textual study which followed the model of Indian Buddhist monastic universities such as Nālandā, Odantapuri, and Vikramaśīla. 

Shortly after Śāntarakṣita’s arrival in Tibet, a smallpox epidemic erupted. Xenophobic factions in the court blamed the foreign monk and expelled him from Tibet, as they had done to the Han Chinese and Khotanese monks in Tibet when a similar epidemic had erupted in 739 C.E. Śāntarakṣita spent six years of exile in Nepal, and then convinced King Tri Songdetsen to invite the tantric master Padmasambhava to Tibet in order to subjugate the obstructive forces. He was then able to fulfill his role as abbot and to train the new Tibetan sangha.He introduced Tibetans to the wide variety of Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical views. Śāntarakṣita’s own philosophical works, particularly his Ornament of the Middle Way, (Skt. Madhyamakālaṃkāra), and his Compendium on Reality (Skt. Tattvasaṃgraha); were studied from the outset in Tibetan monastic institutions. Śāntarakṣita was unique in his synthesis of Indiana Buddhist philosophy. He successfully integrated the anti-essentialistic view of Nāgārjuna with the epistemology of Dignāga (ca. 6th c.) and Dharmakīrti (ca. 7th c.), as well as aspects of  Yogācāra/Cittamātra thought, into one coherent Madhyamaka system.

Supplication to Śāntarakṣita

འཇམ་དཔལ་དཔའ་བོའི་ཞབས་པད་དྲི་མེད་ཉིད། །
jampal pawö zhabpé drimé nyi
While the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī’s pristine lotus feet

ཡན་ལག་མཆོག་གི་པདྨར་རབ་བཀོད་ནས། །
yenlak chok gi pemar rab kö né
Remained elegantly poised atop a perfect lotus,

ཟབ་རྒྱས་ཆོས་ཚུལ་དངོས་སུ་ལེགས་ནོད་པ། །
zabgyé chö tsul ngö su lek nöpa
You perfectly trained in the Dharma, profound and vast —

མཁན་ཆེན་ཞི་བ་འཚོ་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་བསྟོད། །
khenchen zhiwatso la chaktsal tö
Mahāpaṇḍita Śāntarakṣita, to you I offer homage and praise.

བསྟན་པའི་རྩ་བ་སོ་སོར་ཐར་པ་ཡི། །
tenpé tsawa sosor tarpa yi
Pure, you hold the saffron victory banner,

ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་རྣམ་དག་ངུར་སྨྲིག་རྒྱལ་མཚན་འཆང༌། །
tsultrim namdak ngurmik gyaltsen chang
The pratimokṣa discipline, the root of the teachings.

སྡོམ་བརྩོན་སྡེ་སྣོད་འཛིན་པའི་རྒྱལ་པོར་བསྔགས། །
domtsön denö dzinpé gyalpor ngak
Renowned as the sovereign scripture-holding observer of vows —

ཤཱཀྱའི་སྲས་གཅིག་ཁྱེད་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་བསྟོད། །
shakyé sé chik khyé la chaktsal tö
Only son of Śākya, to you I offer homage and praise.

ཟབ་ཡངས་ཏིང་འཛིན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་ཆེན་པོའི་ཀློང༌། །
zab yang tingdzin gyatso chenpö long
Within the ocean-like expanse of profound and vast samādhi

མངོན་ཤེས་ལ་སོགས་ཡོན་ཏན་ནོར་བུའི་གཏེར། །
ngönshé lasok yönten norbü ter
Lies the treasure box of qualities — clairvoyance and more,

རྒྱལ་སྲས་སྤྱོད་པའི་རླབས་ཕྲེང་ཆེར་གཡོ་བ། །
gyalsé chöpé lab treng cher yowa
Floating amidst the rolling waves of bodhisattva conduct —

བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དཔའི་མཆོག་ལ་ཕྱག་འཚལ་བསྟོད། །
changchub sempé chok la chaktsal tö
Supreme Bodhisattva, to you I offer homage and praise.

From Gentle Splendour: Praises to the Great Abbot Śāntarakṣita by Mipham Rinpoche.