The NKT and Its Relationship With Truth: Should People in Glass Houses Throw Stones?

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

Several months ago, I posted an article on this blog revealing significant flaws in the Tharpa Publications’ translation of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva. I gave examples of verses in which the Tharpa translation not only differs significantly from other translations, but also is at odds with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s own commentary on that text. In fact, I found forty-eight such verses! In another ten verses I found discrepancies between the Tharpa translation and other translations that were not at odds with Geshe Kelsang. In the comment section following my post, no one seemed particularly concerned about this trouble—and it appears that NKT students and establishment are not concerned either. So in the interests of bringing high quality Dharma to the West, I would like to bring this subject up once more!

Shortly after I posted the article, I wrote to Tharpa Publications myself and told them of these problems. I have received no response from this email and at this moment, months later (8:27 AM, March 12, 2014), Tharpa still proudly displays this statement on their website, advertising their own (seriously flawed) translation of the text:

Composed in the 8th century by the famous Indian Buddhist master Shantideva, this new translation, made under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight. Reading these verses slowly, while contemplating their meaning, has a profoundly liberating effect on the mind. The poem invokes special positive states of mind, moves us from suffering and conflict to happiness and peace, and gradually introduces us to the entire Mahayana Buddhist path to enlightenment. (see here)

In case NKT readers doubt the accuracy of my own research, I have provided a verse-by-verse examination below. Perhaps this will save Tharpa translators some trouble and they can get started on the important work of fixing the text! That was my initial motivation in contacting them. Now I also want to inquire why they show so little concern for the truth? Why they proudly advertise the authenticity of a text that might have flaws?

The silence of Tharpa reminds me forcibly of conversations I have had on the website Dialogue Ireland with individuals who have been maliciously maligning the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist lamas—in fact, they are maligning all lamas except for Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Their vitriol and anger reminds me of what I see reflected on the faces of those NKT and Shugden protestors outside of Dalai Lama events.  When I first read the DI comments, they were written with such force and conviction that I was a little frightened they might be true. It challenged my faith. However, I forced myself to investigate. I forced myself to stay true to myself and not let fear govern my actions. I read peer-reviewed histories of Tibet. I read biased histories of Tibet. I read the writings of the Trimondis. I read Communist Chinese propaganda. I also happen to know quite a bit about the activities of HH Dalai Lama myself because he is my teacher and I study from him daily— but I read more of his books and his autobiographies. I listened to Mind and Life Conferences.

The result of my investigation did not particularly surprise me. I discovered that every malicious allegation made by commenters on DI that I investigated was either an outright falsehood, a careless error, an exaggeration, a mis-translation, a complete fabrication, or a quote or fact taken totally out of context.  What’s more, whenever I exposed a falsity or fabrication, I was called a “lamaist cult follower” and the truth of my statement was completely ignored.  This was my first direct experience of this anti-Dalai Lama machine, being initiated by Chinese and Shugden propaganda—and carried forward, it seems, by NKT students.

It seems that my comment to Tharpa was received in the same manner—it was simply disregarded as non-important, probably on the basis of my identity as a devotee of the Dalai Lama—and they simply continued business as usual. This surprised me. Even in the context of simple, proper business conduct, such allegations are usually investigated. I believe that any other publisher would at least reply to my email and investigate the trouble. Further, as a Buddhist practitioner, I find Tharpa’s disregard for the accuracy of their translation of this most sacred of texts to be disturbing at best.

Perhaps this is like translating a Tibetan word with no clear, exact English equivalent into one evocative word—BAN—and writing it on posters and placards to insight protest. These protestors are the same students who are given a flawed translation of an ancient Buddhist scripture and told that it “conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight.” Is this deception?

Recently, I have been reading commentaries by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and comparing them to those by my own teacher, HH Dalai Lama. This exercise has been very beneficial to my practice and has deepened my own understanding of Dharma. It has also deepened my faith in the Dalai Lama, whose approach to the Dharma is truly quite remarkable. Is there an NKT student anywhere who would do the same, who would study from HH Dalai Lama in order to investigate how his approach differs from and coincides with the approach being taken by their own lama? Would they ever challenge their faith—in order to make it firm? If not, how can NKT students justify their actions outside Dalai Lama teachings?

Recently, I read a news article from San Francisco in which protestors told the media that they were protesting against the Dalai Lama’s “lavish lifestyle.” I wondered if someone had decided that the Shugden issue wouldn’t sit as well with Western media as this familiar Western issue of “lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous”. Of course, I cannot know what formed the basis of that new idea. But I ask the NKT protestors who spoke to the media if they have ever actually investigated the Dalai Lama’s lifestyle? Are they aware that he accepts no money for teaching? Are they aware of how much he donates to charities? Have they walked through his modest home in India? Are they aware that he wakes at 3:30 am to practice and meditate and study and eats little if any dinner?

When I first began commenting on this website, I discovered an error in a post written by Tenzin, the website owner. In my first comment, I exposed this error. Tenzin’s response was immediate. He investigated, apologized and revised his post. I believe that this does not simply demonstrate Tenzin’s good and honest character—it also demonstrates that he is a sincere practitioner of Dharma. In my little understanding of Buddhist study and practice, students learn to challenge their own beliefs and attitudes constantly in order to deepen their understanding and remain true to themselves.  Is this lacking in the approaches being taken within NKT? Why is Tharpa silent?  It seems that until they can clean up their own house, until they can have the courage to acknowledge and then fix their own errors, they have no right to sit in judgment on the Dalai Lama. They have no right to call him a liar.

Last October, I attended a teaching on the Heart Sutra by HH Dalai Lama in New York City. While I was waiting in line outside Beacon Theater, there was a small band of protestors shouting “Dalai Lama go home!”

I remember smiling to myself and thinking how silly that sounded and thinking, “The Dalai Lama would love to go home!” But then I looked at the face of the elderly Tibetan woman in front of me. She looked hurt and confused. I wondered about the life of that woman, whether she had suffered much in Tibet and whether she had family there still whom she worried over. And then I looked at the red-faced protestors and wondered if they ever gave a thought to Tibetans being human beings. If they ever wondered about the suffering Tibetans had endured in Tibet. Did they ever stop to understand how important the Dalai Lama is to Tibetans, how he inspires them and helps them to maintain hope in the face of terrible tragedy?

I believe that most NKT students are caring, decent Dharma practitioners who would never intentionally harm others. In this context, I simply want to call on them to investigate before their next protest.  Find out where truth lies. Find out if Tibetans have suffered badly at the hands of Chinese. Find out if they deserve to be maligned and abused any further.  Find out if the Dalai Lama is a horrible demon—or simply a religious leader who takes his responsibilities seriously and has made a controversial decision based on information and reasons.  Investigate, investigate. And please, fix the Shantideva translation! Clean your own house before you throw stones at another!

Verses About Which GKG Concords With Padmarkara Translation Group and Not Neil Elliott

(49 Verses)

Some of these discrepancies might seem minor and insignificant to Western eyes. Some are clearly large and important. However, I cannot possibly presume myself capable of distinguishing between which words of Shantideva’s are important enough to be translated exactly and which are not really very important. I can only hope that the translations being made into modern English stay as close as they possibly can to the original intention of Shantideva—and leave it to the great masters to make commentaries on the entire meanings.

Sometimes it has seemed to me as if Neil Elliott is interpreting based on what he believes to be Shantideva’s intended meaning—instead of translating the actual Tibetan or Sanskrit words. This is most probably what accounts for the important discrepancy in Verse 2 in Chapter One. Sometimes, Neil Elliott even decides to add some poetic flourishes of his own, adding his own simile or descriptive phrase.  This I find disturbing.

I did my best to copy these verses exactly as I have found them. However, I am bound to have made typos and errors and for these I apologize.

Chapter One:

Verse 2:


“…My reason for writing this is to benefit others…” (p. 5)

Padmakara Translation Group (PTG):

“I thereby have no thought that this might be of benefit to others…” (p.33).

GKG’s commentary: “Also, since he has no skill in the art of rhetoric or poetry, he has no intention of benefitting others who have already understood the teachings of Buddha.” (p. 14)

Chapter Two:

Verse 34-35


“…I have committed many kinds of evil action
With respect to my friends and others.”
And yet my friends will become nothing
And others will also become nothing…” (p.20)


“… for the sake of friend and foe alike,
Provoked and brought about so many evils.”
“My enemies at length will cease to be;
My friends and I myself
Will cease to be…” (p. 44)


“… Out of my ignorance, I committed much non-virtue for the sake of my relatives and friends, and did much evil trying to destroy my foes… I understand now that my enemies, my relatives and friends, and even myself will all eventually pass away and become as nothing… ” (p.80)

Chapter Five: Many errors by Tharpa

Verse 35:


“… But always with a resolute mind,
Be mindful of my gaze.” (p.52)


“…But rather with a focused mind
Will always go with eyes cast down.” (p. 67)


…”We should cast our eyes downwards and look at the ground on which we are about to tread…” (186)

Verse 37:


“To avoid dangers or accidents on the path,
I should occasionally look in all directions,
And prevent my mind from being distracted
By relying upon conscientiousness.” (p. 53)


“And yet, to spy the dangers on the road,
I’ll scrutinize the four directions one by one.
And when I stop to rest, I’ll turn my head
And look behind me, back along my path.” (p.67)


“[37] As we continue walking, we should occasionally look in the four directions to be certain there are no dangers or obstacles.” (p. 186)

Verse 45:

Tharpa: “Whenever I listen to any sort of talk
Whether pleasant or unpleasant
Or observe attractive or unattractive people,
I should prevent attachment or hatred towards them.” (p. 54)

PTG: “And if by chance you must take part
In lengthy conversations worthlessly
Of if you come upon sensational events,
Then cast aside delight and taste for them.” (p. 68)

GKG commentary: “…when we are associating with people engaged in senseless chatter or when we are watching a spectacle or a drama, we should keep our mind free from all attachment.” (p. 190)

Verse 46

Tharpa: “If for no reason I begin to perform actions
That cause damage to the environment
I should recall Buddha’s advice
And, out of respect, stop straightaway. (p. 54)

PTG: “If you find you’re grubbing in the soil
Of pulling up the grass or tracing idle patterns on the ground,
Remembering the teachings of the Blissful One
In fear, restrain yourself at once.” (p.68)

GKG: [46] Unless there is some purpose for our doing so, we should not dig the earth, cut the grass, draw patterns on the ground or engage in any other meaningless activity. We should recall the advice of the enlightened beings, bring to mind the heavy consequences of mindlessness and refrain from all senseless actions.” (p. 190)

Verse 59: The setting in this and following verses is a Charnal ground—and there are references to vultures and jackals eating the flesh as a means to diminishing attachment to the body. The Tharpa translation misses the references to Charnal grounds completely—whereas both GKG and PTG keep that context.

Tharpa: “If mind, you are concerned
About death taking this body from you
And its being burned or buried beneath the ground,
Why do you cherish it so now?” (p. 56)

PTG: ‘When vultures with their love of flesh
Are tugging at this body all around
Small will be the joy you get from it, O mind!
Why are you so besotted with it now?” (p. 70)

GKG commentary: “Why do I cherish this body so strongly? Why do I guard it and think that it is mine? When death separates us from our physical form, we shall depart alone without friends. Who will guard our body then? …Who will inherit our body once we have died? In some countries the discarded body becomes a banquet for vultures and jackals…” (p.198)

Verse 60: I see no reference in any translation of the body being “borrowed from others” and don’t know what it means—is it an addition from Elliott?

Tharpa: “Why, mind, do you hold this body as mine
And grasp it with such affection?
It is only borrowed from others
And will soon be taken from you.” (p.57)

PTG: “Why, O mind, do you protect this body,
Claiming it as though it were yourself?
You and it are each a separate entity,
However can it be of use to you?” (p. 70)

GKG: “We are not the same as our body and soon we shall be separated from it. Therefore, is there any meaning or purpose in protecting and being attached to it?” (p. 199)

Verse 66: And once again, Elliott misses the reference to charnal grounds:

Tharpa: “It is suitable to protect it and care for it
Only for attaining spiritual goals—
This body of a human being
Should be used just for practicing Dharma.” (p. 57)

PTG: As second best, it may indeed be kept
As food to feed the vulture and the fox.
The value of this human form
Lies only in the way that it is used. (p. 71)

Stephen Batchelor: “At second best it is only fit to be guarded
In order to feed the vultures and jackals.
(Truly) this body of a human being
Should only be employed (in the practice of virtue). (p.45)

GKG: “…Perhaps the only reason we are guarding our body is to be able to feed it to the vultures and jackals later on. The only reason for us to be protective of our bodies is if we are going to use it for the practice of virtue.” (p.200)

Verse 67:

Tharpa: “But if you guard it for other purposes
What will you be able to do
When the merciless Lord of Death seizes it
And reduces it to a pile of ashes?” (p.58)

PTG: “Whatever you may do to guard and keep it
What will you do when
The Lord of Death, the ruthless, unrelenting,
Steals and throws it to the birds and dogs?” (p. 71)

GKG: “…Otherwise, we are doing nothing more than preparing food for jackals.” (p. 200)

Verse 69: In this verse, Elliott adds his own piece of advice about not grasping and ignorance, words and meaning I cannot find in any other translation—or in GKG’s commentary.

Tharpa: “In exchange for paying my body its wages,
I will employ it to create virtue for myself and others;
But I should not grasp it as “mine”
Because such grasping is a form of ignorance.” (p. 58)

PTG: “So pay this body due remuneration,
But then be sure to make it work for you.
But do not lavish everything
On what will not bring perfect benefit.” (p. 72)

Stephen Batchelor: “Now having paid my body its wages,
I shall engage it in making my life meaningful.
However, if my body is of no benefit,
Then I shall not give it anything.” (p.45)

GKG: “We should be glad to pay it its proper wages if it helped us to engage in the practice of Dharma for our own and others’ benefit, but critical and strict whenever we discovered that it was not benefitting anyone.” (p. 200)

Verse 81: Elliott’s meaning is much less clear than the other two translations, which also lend themselves very well to GKG’s commentary.

Tharpa: “With either a cultivated motivation
Or one that arises spontaneously
I should always sow seeds of great virtue
In the fields of holy beings and living beings.” (p.60)

PTG: “Always fired by highest aspiration,
Laboring to implement the antidotes,
You will gather virtues in the fields
Of qualities, of benefits, of sorrow.” (p. 73)

Stephen Batchelor: “Always being motivated by great aspiration,
Or being motivated by the remedial forces,
If I work in the fields of excellence, benefit and misery,
Great virtues will come about.” (p.47)

GKG: “Whenever we think to engage in a particular practice we should first contemplate its benefits and thereby develop a strong aspiration for what we are about to do… Shantideva now mentions three groups of objects to which our virtuous activities can be directed. These he refers to as the ‘field of excellence,’ the ‘field of benefit’ and the ‘field of suffering.’” (pp. 203-204)

Verses 88-91: These verses make one wonder if Elliott is reading the same text as everyone else, including his own teacher!

Tharpa: “I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognizing it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment.

“I should teach the vast and profound Dharma with a pure intention
Free from any wish to acquire wealth or reputation;
And I should always maintain a pure motivation of bodhicitta
And make great effort to put Dharma in practice.

“I should explain Dharma to release those who are listening
From samsara, the cycle of suffering,
And to lead them to the ultimate goal—
The attainment of full enlightenment.

I should keep places clean and not throw litter
But dispose of it correctly.
Moreover, I should not defile
Water or land used by others.” (p. 61)

PTG (consonant with others) translate as follows:

PTG: “Do not teach to those without respect
To those who like the sick wear cloths around their heads,
To those who proudly carry weapons, staffs or parasols,
And those who keep their hats upon their heads.
Do not teach the vast and deep to those
Upon the lower paths, nor, as a monk,
To women unescorted. Teach with equal honor
Low and high according to their path.

Those suited to the teachings vast and deep,
Should not be introduced to lesser paths.
But basic practice you should not forsake,
Confused by talk of sutras and of mantras.

Your spittle and your toothbrushes,
When thrown away, should be concealed.
And it is wrong to foul with urine
Public thoroughfares and water springs.” (pp. 74-75)

GKG: “[88] Dharma should never be taught to someone who lacks respect either for us or for Dharma itself. Teaching such a person will not benefit him or her and will only create downfalls, or obstacles, for ourself… Shantideva next gives a detailed account of the circumstances in which it is improper to teach Dharma. Because teaching should only be given to those who have the proper attitude we should never teach anyone whose dress, manner or bearing demonstrates disrespect. This would include those who cover their heads though they are not sick, those who have not put down their umbrellas…

“[89] When trying to discriminate between proper and improper teaching situations we should take into account the general expectations and preconceptions of the society in which we live. For example, in many societies it is considered shameful for a man to remain alone with an unaccompanied woman unless that woman is somehow related to him. In such societies, therefore, it would bring great disrespect to Dharma for a male teacher to give Dharma to an unaccompanied woman… As far as the contents of our teachings are concerned, we should try to determine the capacity and inclination of our listener’s mind. If a student has a small disposition, we should not force the profound and vast teachings of Mahayana upon him… [90] we should not lead someone into the Hinayana path if he or she has a strong desire to receive Mahayana teachings. And, of course, under no condition should we ever forsake the Bodhisattva way of life…

[91] It is also important to observe good hygiene. We should not spit wherever we like, or throw our cleaning implements, such as the sticks used in India for cleaning teeth, on the ground without covering them up. Neither should we defecate or urinate on the banks of rivers, near water or in any place frequented by others. (pp. 209-210)

Chapter Six

Verse 32:

Tharpa: “If all things were like illusions, who would restrain what?
Surely any restraint would be inappropriate.”
On the contrary, it is precisely because things lack inherent existence
That it is possible to assert the continuum of suffering can be cut.” (p.74)

PTG: “Resistance,” you may say, “is out of place,
For what will be opposed by whom?”
The stream of suffering is cut through by patience;
There’s nothing inappropriate in wanting that!” (p. 82)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: Sanskrit: “[Qualm] ‘Averting anger is inappropriate, for who averts what?’
“[Response] That is appropriate, because it is a state of Dependent Origination and is considered to be the cessation of suffering.”
Tibetan: “[Qualm] ‘What counteracts what? Isn’t even the counteracting inappropriate?’
[Response] ‘There is nothing inappropriate in asserting that miseries are brought to an end in dependence on that.’” (p. 65)

Stephen Batchelor: “–(If everything is unreal like an apparition) then who is there to restrain what (anger)?
Surely (in this case), restraint would be inappropriate—
It would not be inappropriate, because (conventionally) I must maintain
That in dependence upon restraining (anger) the stream of suffering is severed.” (p.58)

GKG: “It might be argued that if everything is like an illusion, who is there who should restrain what anger? Surely all such restraint would be inappropriate in a world of illusions. But this objection is not correct. Although all things are like illusions in that they lack self-existence, suffering is still experienced. Severing this stream of suffering depends upon the efforts we exert in restraining such delusions as our anger. Although things lack independent existence—in fact, because they lack independent existence—cause and effect operate to bring suffering results from non-virtuous actions and beneficial results from virtuous ones. “(p233)

Verse 84: In this verse, Elliott has translated a meaning markedly different from other translators and his own teacher.

Tharpa: “People become angry when someone benefits their enemy,
But whether their enemy receives benefit or not,
It is the enemy’s own anger that urges him to attack;
So it is that anger which is to blame, not the benefactor.” (p. 83)

PTG:  “If someone else receives a gift,
Or that gift stays in the benefactor’s house,
In neither case will it be yours—
So given or withheld, why is it your concern? (p. 90)

GKG: “[84] Suppose someone gives our rival some money. The jealousy and unhappiness we feel about this will not do anything to change the situation. Whether that person gives money to our rival or not, there is no way in which we are going to receive that money. So why should we be jealous?” (p. 247)

Verse 87: Here, Elliott gives a nice verse, but it is doubtful that it is what Shantideva wrote!

Tharpa: “The thought that wishes for our enemy to suffer
Harms only us, through creating non-virtue.
Understanding this, we should not develop harmful thoughts
Toward anyone, including our enemy.” (p. 83)

PTG: “If unhappiness befalls your enemy,
Why should this be a cause for rejoicing?
The wishes of your mind alone,
Will not in fact contrive his injury.” (p. 90)

GKG: “[87] There is no reason to be happy and joyful when our enemy meets with suffering. How does such a jealous reaction hurt our enemy or benefit ourselves?” (p. 247)

Verse 90-91: Elliott is consonant with others in Verse 90, but then construes his own conclusion to that verse, which differs from other interpretations, including that of his own teacher.

Tharpa: “Praise, fame and good reputation
Will not increase my merit or extend my life,
Nor will they give me strength, freedom from illness,
Or any form of physical pleasure.

Transient pleasures, such as drinking and playing meaningless games,
Are deceptive.
If I understand the real meaning of a human life,
Such things will have no value for me.” (p. 84)

PTG: “The rigmarole of praise and fame
Serves not to increase merit or one’s span of life,
Bestowing neither health nor strength
And nothing for the body’s ease.

If I am wise in what is good for me,
I’ll ask what benefit these bring.
If it’s entertainment I desire,
I might as well resort to alcohol and cards!” (p. 91)

Stephen Batchelor: “The honor of praise and fame
Will not turn into merit or life;
It will give me neither strength nor freedom from sickness,
And will not provide any physical happiness.
If I were aware of what held meaning for me,

What value would I find in these things?
If all I want is (a little) mental happiness,
I should devote myself to gambling, drinking and so forth.”


GKG: “[90] To answer this doubt we have to examine the value of fame, reputation, praise and the like. How do these benefit us? Will others’ opinions help us to develop our minds, ensure our long life or prevent us from becoming sick?… [91] If our only interest is in obtaining the transient pleasures of a good reputation, wealth and sense gratification, there is no fault in behaving the same heedless way we have always done and continuing to neglect our spiritual training…” (p. 248)

Verse 123: Here, Elliott simply provides his own poetic image, a nice one, but not likely the one that Shantideva intended!

Tharpa: “If we harm a child,
There is no way to please its mother.
In the same way, if we harm any living being,
There is no way to please the compassionate Buddhas.” (p. 89)

PTG: “Just as when a man who’s tortured in a fire,
Remains unmoved by little favors done to him,
There’s no way to delight the great compassionate buddhas,
While we ourselves are causes of another’s pain.” (p. 95)

GKG: “[123] someone who is ablaze with fire finds no pleasure in receiving food and delicacies. Similarly, if we harm sentient beings and then offer elaborate gifts to the compassionate Buddha, these offerings will never please him.” (p. 254)

Chapter Seven

Verse 20: Once again, Elliott seems to miss Shantideva’s essential point.

Tharpa: “Some people might be discouraged out of fear
Of having to sacrifice their flesh,
But this is due to not understanding
What we should give, or when.” (p. 98)

PTG: “’That I must give away my life and limbs
Alarms and frightens me’—if so you say,
Your terror is misplaced. Confused,
You fail to see what’s hard and what is easy.” (p. 101)

GKG: “[20] When we hear about the great sacrifices that the great Bodhisattvas in the past have made while traveling the path we may become discouraged. The thought of giving up our flesh as they did fills us with great fear and we do not even want to contemplate such a ghastly experience. This fear, however, only arises because we are unable to discriminate between great and small suffering.” (p. 269)

Chapter Eight:

Verse 21: Here, Elliott has provided his own simile, with a meaning not consonant with any other translator or his own teacher. Unfortunately, according to my teachers, this verse is an important one, with an important meaning.

Tharpa: “Why am I unhappy when someone criticizes me
And happy when I am praised?
Both criticism and praise are just empty words,
Like echoes in an empty cave.” (p. 116)

PTG: “Why should I be pleased when people praise me?
Others there will be who scorn and criticize.
And why despondent when I’m blamed,
Since there will be others who think well of me?” (p. 113)

Stephen Batchelor: “If there is someone who despises me,
What pleasure can I have in being praised?
And if there is another who praises me,
What displeasure can I have in being despised?” (p. 92)

GKG: “Moreover, [21] there will always be some people who praise us and others who will despise us. So what pleasure can there be in being praised, and what displeasure from being despised?” (p. 296)

Verse 43: The setting for this verse is a traditional Indian wedding—Elliott appears to provide his own commentary instead of translating the actual scene as described by other translators.

Tharpa: “When we are very attached to someone
We want to see their face again and again;
But whether we see their face or not,
The real face always remains covered with skin.” (p. 120)

PTG:  “Oh what pains you went through just to draw the veil,
And lift the face that modestly looked down.
That face which, looked upon or not,
Was always carefully concealed.” (p. 116)

GKG: “[43] In ancient India, whenever a man encountered a woman, her face was hidden by a veil. Even at the marriage ceremony, her face would be covered and she would be very bashful….” (p. 305)

Verse 44: Elliott once again misses the meaning completely, once again missing the setting of a charnel ground.

Tharpa: “If we were to remove that skin,
We would realize that they are not an object of desire
But an object of aversion;
So why do we develop attachment for others’ bodies?” (p. 120)

PTG: “That face for which you languished so…
Well, here it is, now nakedly exposed.
The crows have done their work for you to see
What’s this? You run away so soon?” (p. 116)

GKG: “If this unveiling of a woman’s face can have such a magnetic effect on a man, [44] why is he not similarly attracted when, after death, her face is uncovered by vultures? Why does he not want to copulate with her then? Her body is still there but the man only wants to run away from it.” (p. 305).

Verse 45: And Elliott continues to miss the charnel ground setting in the following verses.

Tharpa: “Although we jealously guard our lover from others’ advances,
The Lord of Death will take him from us
And his body will be burned or buried in the ground;
So what is the point of our jealousy and attachment?” (p. 120)

PTG: “That body that you guarded jealously
And shielded from the eyes of other men,
What, miser that you are, you don’t protect it,
Now that it’s the food of graveyard birds?” (p. 116)

Stephen Batchelor: “(Previously) I completely protected (her body)
When others cast their eyes upon it.
Why, miser, do you not protect it now,
While it is being devoured by these birds?” (p. 96)

GKG: “[45] Lecherous men cherish a woman’s body so much that if another man were merely to look at her, great jealousy would arise. If this is the case, why do we not protect her when the vultures are tearing her to pieces with their beaks?..” (p. 306).

Verse 46: Once again, Elliott misses the charnel ground setting.

Tharpa: “Others’ bodies to which we are very attached
Are just collections of flesh and bone.
At any moment, they could be destroyed by the Lord of Death;
So why develop attachment to them?” (p. 120)

PTG: “Look, this mass of human flesh,
Soon to be the fare of carrion beasts,
You deck with flowers, sandalwood, and jewels,
And yet it is the provender of others!” (p. 116)

Stephen Batchelor: “Since vultures and others are eating
This pile of meat that I behold,
Why did I offer flower garlands, sandalwood and ornaments
To that which is now the food of others?” (p. 96)

GKG: “[46] Why go to the trouble of offering flower garlands, sandalwood and ornaments of gold and silver to something that will shortly be devoured by others?” (p. 306).

Verse 48: Because Elliott has missed the context of the wedding and the charnel ground, his translation here is rendered meaningless.

Tharpa: “Since both dead bodies and living bodies
Are mere collections of flesh and bone,
Why am I attracted to living bodies but not to dead ones?
Thinking in this way, I should stop attachment to others’ bodies.” (p. 121)

PTG: “You loved them once, when clothed and draped they were.
Well, now they’re naked, why do you not want them?
Ah, you say, your lust is no more there,
But why did you embrace them, all bedecked and covered?” (p.117)

GKG: [48] It is also strange that we are attached to her body when it is covered with skin and clothed, but repulsed by it when it lies exposed on the charnel ground.” (p. 306)

Verse 49: Here, it seems that Elliott has translated a word meaning “excrement” to mean “urine.” Also, he translates “food” to mean “fluids.”

Tharpa: “Both saliva and urine come from the same source—
The intake of fluids into the body—
So why is it that we like saliva when kissing
But have no desire for urine?” (p. 121)

PTG: “From food, a single source, come equally
Their body’s filth, the honey-nectar of their mouths.
So why are you delighted by saliva,
And yet revolted by excrement?” (p. 117)

Stephen Batchelor: “Since both excrement and saliva
Arise solely from food,
Why do I dislike excrement
And find joy in saliva?” (p. 49)

GKG: “[49] When we kiss a woman we drink the saliva from her mouth. Why is it that we like this spit that arises solely from the food she has eaten but not her urine and excrement, which arise from the same source?” (p. 306)

Verse 51: Here, Elliott simply misses the meaning.
Tharpa: “Just as we sometimes get angry at other people,
Why don’t we also get angry at pillows?
For although they too are soft to touch,
We cannot copulate with them!” (p. 121)

PTG: “Lustful ones, befuddled by desire,
Because you cannot copulate with them,
You angrily find fault with pillows,
Even though they’re smooth and soft to touch!” (p. 117)

Stephen Batchelor: “Thinking that they cannot sleep with this cotton,
Although it is soft to the touch,
Confused, negative and lustful people
Become angry towards it instead.” (p. 97)

GKG: “[51] But we are so confused that we cannot tell the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. If we find our pillow uncomfortable one night we are liable to get angry with it, but we never become upset with the discomfort of sleeping next to the impure body of a woman.” (p. 306)

Verse 58: Once again, Elliott does not translate excrement as do other translators.

Tharpa: “If you do not want to touch a place
Covered with impurities such as vomit…” (p. 122)

PTG: “And since you’re disinclined to touch
A place or object grimed with excrement…” (p.118)

Stephen Batchelor: “Since I do not wish to touch
A place that is smeared with excrement…” (p. 98)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If you do not desire to touch soil and the like because it is smeared with excrement…” (p. 96)

GKG: “If you do not want to touch a place that has been defiled by excrement or vomit….” (p. 307)

Verse 69: Elliott translates the last line in this verse with a meaning different from other translations and his own teacher.

Tharpa: “Putting so much effort into beautifying it
Is just like polishing a sword that will be used to harm you.
It seems the whole world is pervaded by this madness
Because people believe beauty is only external.” (p. 124)

PTG: “Why go to such excess to clean and polish
What is but a weapon that will injure us?
The cares that people squander on themselves in ignorance
Convulse the universe with madness.” (p. 120)

Alan & Vesna Wallace: “Why do you meticulously polish it like a weapon for suicide? The earth is crowded with insane people, diligent in deluding themselves.” (p. 97)

GKG: “[69] this is like polishing and sharpening a weapon that will eventually kill us. There is no reason to engage in activities that will do nothing but harm us, yet this is precisely what people all over the world are constantly doing. They are deeply confused about what is virtuous and non-virtuous, what is clean and unclean.” (p. 309)

Verse 71:

Tharpa: “Furthermore, we do not come to enjoy others’ bodies
Without acquiring material possessions.
We exhaust ourself in non-virtuous activity to gather these
Only to experience suffering in this life and the lower realms
In the next.

PTG:  What’s more, possession of another’s filth
Is not to be acquired free of charge
All is at a price: exhaustion in this life,
And in the next, the sufferings of hell!

GKG: “[71] Furthermore, its basically impure nature is not the only disadvantage of the desirable body of others. We should realize that in order to engage in the sexual act, we tie ourselves ever tighter to the unsatisfactory aspect of samsara. As stated before, we forfeit our wealth, act non-virtuously and work with great difficulty merely to possess the object of our desire. Because of all this we encounter many problems during this lifetime and create the cause to descend to the lower realms where we shall experience even more suffering.” (p. 309)

Verses 97-98: Once again, Elliott misses the meaning—completely in both verses.  I have intentionally highlighted the “not” in Verse 98 and the “is” in GKG’s commentary to show the discrepancy.

Tharpa: “But why should I protect others
If their suffering does me no harm?
If we cherish only others, we find their suffering hard to bear;
So we definitely need to protect them.

It is not a wrong conception to think
That it will be I who experience the future suffering,
Because it will not be another person who dies
And yet another who is reborn.” (p. 129)

PTG:  “Since pains of others do no harm to me
What reason do I have to shield myself?
But why to guard against “my” future pain which
Does no harm to this, my present “me”?

To think that “I will have to suffer it”
In fact is but a false conception—
In the present moment, “I” will perish;
At another time, another will be born.” (p. 124)

GKG: “ As I said before, there is no reason for me to protect others from their misery. It causes me no harm. Then why do we work to eliminate the sicknesses of old age coming in the future or even the discomforts of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow? These future sufferings will do us no harm today. But if such misery is not prevented now I shall experience it in the future. This is a misconception. The self of this life will not experience the suffering of future lives.” (p.335).

Verse 100: Once again, Elliott’s meaning is different from others.

Tharpa: “We alleviate the suffering of the foot with the hand
Because it is a specific method to relieve this pain.
It is also incorrect to grasp at an independent self and others—
Such grasping should be completely abandoned.” (p.129)

PTG: “’This may be irrational,’ you’ll say.
‘It happens simply through the force of ego clinging.’
But that which is illogical for both of us
Should be refuted and dispensed with utterly!” (p. 124)

Stephen Batchelor: “—Although this may not be justified
It is done because of grasping at a self—
Yet surely whatever is not justified for myself or others
Should at all costs be rejected.” (p. 105)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If one argues that even though it is inappropriate, it happens because of grasping onto a self, our response is: With all one’s might, one should avoid that which is inappropriate, whether it belongs to oneself or to another.” (p. 102)

GKG: “[100] It is inappropriate to relieve the suffering of our foot and of our future lives because we grasp on to these as ‘my foot’s suffering’ and ‘my future life’s suffering.’

It is completely unjustified to cling to the independent existence of the self and the independent existence of others. It is important to stop this grasping at independent existence because this has been the root cause of our floundering in the swamp of samsaric suffering since beginningless time.” (p. 336)

Verse 118:

Tharpa: “Out of his great compassion,
Arya Avalokiteshvara even blessed his own name
To relieve living beings from the fear of self-cherishing;
So I should recite his name mantra to receive his blessings.” (p. 132)

PTG: “This is why the Lord Avalokita
Out of great compassion blessed his name,
That those caught in the midst of multitudes
Might be released and freed from every fear.” (p. 127)

Vesna & Alan Wallace (Sanskrit): “Therefore the protector Avalokita empowered his own name to remove even one’s fear arising from timidity in front of an audience.” (p. 104)

GKG: “[118] The superior bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, out of his great compassion, sought to alleviate peoples’ fears by blessing his own name. He proclaimed, ‘If frightened sentient beings recite my name three times they will be free from all their fears…’” (p. 343)

Verse 181: Once again, Elliott misses the charnel ground analogy.

Tharpa: “Whether I care for it in the way that I do
Or allow it to be harmed by others,
The body itself develops neither attachment nor anger;
So why do I feel so attached to it?” (p. 143)

PTG: “Whether I protect and pamper it,
Or whether it is torn by beaks of carrion birds,
This body feels no pleasure, no aversion—
Why then do I cherish it so much?” (p. 136)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “Whether it is nurtured by me or eaten by vultures, it feels neither affection nor aversion, so why am I fond of it?” (p. 112)

GKG: “[181] Although we spend a lifetime caring for this body and guarding it strongly, in due time, it will be eaten by vultures.” (p. 361)

Chapter Nine

Verse 8: GKG’s commentary clearly comments on the PTG translation and not Elliott’s.

Tharpa: “No, there is no fault, because things exist by conventional, valid cognizers.
From the point of view of worldly people, seeing things is seeing reality;
But worldly people never actually see reality
Because the real nature of things is their emptiness.” (p. 149)

PTG: “Then know that there’s no fault. For momentariness
Is relative for meditators, but for the worldly, absolute.
Were it otherwise, the common view
Could fault our certain insight into corporal impurity.” (p. 138)

GKG: [8] Thus there is no contradiction between the Yogis’ understanding and our statement that things exist merely conventionally… In the world, the body is regarded as something pure and clean but in reality it is not. If it were, then the view of the worldly people would harm the Yogi’s realization that the nature of the bodies of ordinary men and women is impure.” (p. 381)

Verses 41 – 44 in the Tharpa translation are clumped together and so it is not certain exactly which verse is which. However, the GKG commentary follows the translation by PTG, up until Verse 43—and follows Stephen Batchelor’s translation up until verse 44. The overall meaning of Elliott’s translation of those verses misses the point. I have done my best to demonstrate this.

Verse 41:

Tharpa: “‘Because we do not believe in the Mahayana, your
Quoting from Mahayana scriptures is pointless.’
We both believe that the Hinayana scriptures are valid;
So you should apply your reasons for believing the Hinayana equally to the Mahayana.
Thus we understand that both are the holy Dharma taught by Buddha
Himself.” (p. 156)

PTG: “You say the Mahayana has no certainty.
But how do you substantiate your own tradition?
‘Because it is accepted by both parties,’ you will say.
But at the outset, you yourself lacked proof!” (p. 143)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “[Hinayanist:] The Madyamaka is certainly not authenticated.
[Madyamaka:] How is your scripture authenticated?
[Hinayanist:] Because it is authenticated by both of us.
[Madyamaka:] Then it is not authenticated by you from the beginning.” (p. 120)

GKG: “Hinayanist: The citations you are using to establish your point are from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, which are Mahayana texts. [41] But we do not except that the Mahayana scriptures are the word of Buddha, so it is of no avail to try to prove your points on the basis of their authority…”

Prasangika: For that matter, how are your own scriptures established as the word of Buddha?

Hinayanist: Our Sutras are clearly the word of Buddha because both of us accept them as such.

Prasangika: Nevertheless, those Sutras were not established as the word of Buddha for you before you accepted the validity of your tradition.” (p. 397)

Verse 42: Here, it almost seems to me as if Elliott is providing his own commentary, missing Shantideva’s point completely.

Tharpa: “Because they do not understand its profundity,
The Vaibashika schools deny the Mahayana;
And because they do not believe in nirvana,
Some non-Buddhist schools deny the Hinayana.” (p. 156)

PTG: “The reasons why you trust in your tradition
May likewise be applied to Mahayana.
Moreover, if accord between two parties shows the truth,
The Vedas and rest are also true.” (p. 143)

GKG: “[42] These reasons are equally able to establish the Mahayana Sutras as the word of Buddha. Also, just because two people accept something as true, this is no real proof. If it were, then since many people believe the Vedic scriptures to be true, it would follow that they are true.” (p. 397)

Verses 43-44:

Tharpa: “Buddha’s purpose in teaching both the Mahayana and the Hinayana
Was to lead living beings to permanent liberation from the cycle of Suffering.
Focusing on this ultimate aim, practitioners of both the Mahayana and the Hinayana
Emphasize the three higher trainings of moral discipline, concentration and Wisdom.” (p. 156)

PTG: “’Mahayana is at fault,’ you say, ‘because it is contested.’
But by non-Buddhists are your scriptures also questioned,
While other Buddhist schools impugn and spurn them.
Therefore, your tradition you must now abandon.”

“The true monk is the very root of Dharma,
But difficult it is to be a monk indeed.
And hard it is for minds enmeshed in thoughts
To pass beyond the bonds of suffering.” (p. 143)

Stephen Batchelor: “Vaibhashika: (43) The Mahayana scriptures are not credible because they are disputed.

Madyamaka: However, since all your scriptures are disputed by the non-Buddhist and some by other Buddhist schools, you should reject your own scriptures, too. (44) You accept any teachings which can be classified into the three scriptural categories (Tripitaka) as the word of the Buddha, according to whether it discusses the higher training of moral discipline, concentration or wisdom. If this is so, since these three trainings are taught in most Mahayana scriptures, such as the ‘Samdhinirmochana Sutra,’ they are therefore similar to your scriptures. Why then do you not accept them as the word of the Buddha?” (p. 131)

GKG: “Hinayanist: [43] There is much dispute about the Mahayana scriptures; thus their credibility is put into question.

Prasangika: The Hinayana scriptures are greatly disputed by the followers of the non-Buddhist schools yet you do not question their credibility… Therefore if you can reject the validity of the Mahayana Sutras on the grounds that they are under dispute, you should equally reject the validity of your own scriptures.

[44] For you the criterion for a sutra being considered as the word of the Buddha is if it can be included within the Tripitaka: the three sets of scripture. Most of the Mahayana Sutras teach all of the three higher trainings; therefore they too can be included in the Tripitaka. If you accept the teachings of the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma as the word of Buddha, why do you not accept the teachings of the second and third turnings as well?” (p. 397)

Verse 47:

Tharpa: “The principle holders of Buddhadharma were said to be those who have
Attained Nirvana, the Arhats;
But the Arhats that you proponents of things assert
Cannot be real Arhats because, according to your view,
Their minds still grasp at truly existent things.” (p. 157)

PTG: (as in verse 44): “The true monk is the very root of Dharma
But difficult it is to be a monk indeed.
And hard it is for minds enmeshed in thoughts
To pass beyond the bonds of suffering.” (p. 143)

GKG: “[47] After Buddha’s passing away, the monk Arhats were those who upheld and were responsible for the propagation of the Buddha’s teachings. They became like the root of the teachings. However if, as you maintain, they had not understood that all phenomena are devoid of true existence, it would be extremely difficult to maintain that they were actual Arhats. It is impossible for there to be an Arhat, a being liberated from samsara, who still clings to true existence.” (p. 398)

Verse 65: Elliott renders a different meaning here to other translators, as well as his own teacher.

Tharpa: “’It’s like an actor changing roles and being seen in different aspects.’
Well, if the I changes in this way, it cannot be permanent!
Although the aspects change, its nature remains one and the same.’
But you cannot establish an unchangeable nature of the I, because you
Deny the ultimate nature of I, the lack of a truly existent I.” (p. 161)

PTG: “’But like an actor,’ you will say, ‘it takes on different roles.’
If so, this consciousness is not a changeless thing.
‘It’s one thing,’ you will say, ‘with different modes.’
That’s unity indeed and never seen before!” (p. 146)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If it is the same thing taking another guise, like an actor, he too is not permanent. If he has different natures, then this unity of his is unprecedented.” (p. 123)

GKG: “Samkya: [65] The self is like an actor who is constantly forsaking one role and assuming another. When the conscious self apprehends visual form, it ceases to apprehend sound.

Prasangika: In that case, it would follow that the self is impermanent because, just like an actor, it changes its role and aspect.”

Samkya: There is no mistake because although the aspects change its nature remains one and the same. Hence, the apprehender of sound has the same nature as the apprehender of visual form.

Prasangika: So you assert that two unrelated phenomena—the apprehenders of sound and of visual form—can be of one nature. But such a proposition has never been heard of before.” (p. 410)

Verse 125: Elliott’s translation here definitely lacks the clarity of the other translations.

Tharpa: “If effects such as suffering are produced without Ishvara’s wishing for them,
It follows that they are produced through the power of something other than him.
You say that all effects are produced according to Ishvara’s wishes,
But those wishes have no power to produce all things, so how can Ishvara
Be the creator of everything?” (p. 174)

PTG: “If Almighty God does not intend,
But yet creates, another thing has forced him.
If he wishes to create, he’s swayed by his desire.
Even though Creator, then, what comes of his Omnipotence?” (p. 155)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If Ishvara creates without desiring to do so, it would follow that he is dependent on something other than himself. Even if he desires to create, he is dependent on that desire. Whence is the supremacy of that creator?” (p.130).

GKG: [125] The god Ishvara can have no wish to produce the effect of suffering; this is something produced by our own actions. But if this is so you can no longer maintain that Ishvara is the creator of all possible effects. Alternatively, you would have to maintain that he is responsible for the unsought sufferings of the beings he created.

“Moreover, if all effects were wished for by Ishvara, it would follow that creation depends upon the wishes of Ishvara. These wishes are impermanent whereas Ishvara is permanent; now it seems that creation is not produced by the permanent Ishvara but by impermanent wishes. Therefore, how can you say that Ishvara is the cause of everything?” (p. 439)


(10 verses)

Chapter 5, Verse 77: PTG and Stephen Batchelor interpret this verse to be in reference to finding happiness in rejoicing over the good qualities of others, whereas both Elliott and GKG simply see it as acting for others’ happiness. Given the context of the verses preceding it, I would expect that PTG and Batchelor’s meanings were more likely correct.

Tharpa: “I should perform all actions for others’ happiness.
This good quality is precious and rare,
And through it, I shall enjoy the pure happiness and joy
That arises from actions that benefit others. (p.59)

PTG: ‘The goal of every act is happiness itself,
Though even with great wealth, it’s rarely found.
So take your pleasure in the qualities of others.
Let them be a heartfelt joy to you.” (p.73)

Stephen Batchelor: “All deeds (of others) are the source of a joy
That would be rare even if it could be bought with money.
Therefore, I should be happy in finding this joy
In the good things that are done by others.” (p. 46)

GKG: “In brief, we should let all our actions of body, speech and mind be directed towards the happiness of others. Such beneficial conduct is rarely found in the world…” (p. 202)

Chapter 6, Verse 4:

Tharpa: “Overcome by a fit of anger,
I might even kill a benefactor
Upon whose kindness I depend
For my wealth or reputation.” (p.69)

PTG: “Noble chieftans full of hate
Will be attacked and slain
By even those who look to them
For honors and possessions. (p.78)

Stephen Batchelor: “A master who has hatred
Is in danger of being killed
Even by those who, for their wealth and happiness,
Depend upon the master’s kindness.” (p. 53)

GKG: “[4] Wishing to retaliate against those who have harmed us, we expose ourselves to great physical danger merely to exact our petty revenge. .. Sometimes this blind rage is even directed at our loved ones and benefactors.” (p. 217)

Chapter 7, Verse 13: Here, the difference of interpretation has to do with the question of whether someone is dying and “crying out like the gods” or whether we wish to “remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.”

Tharpa: “I wish for higher attainments without having to make any effort,
Permanent freedom without having patiently to endure any pain,
And to remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.
How foolish I am! When death comes, I shall be overwhelmed by suffering!” (p. 97)

PTG: “Much harm will come to those with small forbearance,
Who wish to have the fruit without endeavor.
Seized by death, they’ll cry out like the gods:
‘Alas I fall, by pain and sorrow crushed.’” (p. 100)

Stephen Batchelor: “Much harm befalls those with little forbearance
And those who want results without making any effort.
While clasped by death, they shall cry like the gods,
‘Oh no, I am overcome by misery.’” (p. 78)

GKG: “[13] We want to gain swift enlightenment without having to apply any effort, and we want to be happy without having to create virtuous causes. Furthermore, unwilling to endure the slightest discomfort we wish to vanquish all suffering, and while living in the mouth of the Lord of Death we wish to remain like a long-life god…” (p. 266)

Chapter 7, Verse 38: Here, the difference is between whether I have only accomplished my own discomfort in my mother’s womb—or her discomfort.

Tharpa: “Do I give help to those in danger?
Or relief to those who are suffering?
No! All I have done is experience the discomforts
Of being in my mother’s womb, and all the subsequent sufferings.” (p. 101)

PTG: “The frightened I have not encouraged
And to the weary I have given no rest,
My mother’s birth pangs and her womb’s discomfort,
These alone are my accomplishments!” (p. 103)

Stephen Batchelor: “I have not granted fearlessness to the frightened
And I have not given happiness to the weak.
All I have given rise to is
The agonies in the mother’s womb and to suffering.” (p. 82)

Vesna & B. Alan Wallace: “I have not granted fearlessness to the frightened, nor have
I comforted the distressed. I became a spear in the womb just for my mother to suffer.” (p. 81)

Kate Crosby & Andrew Skilton: “I have not given fearlessness to the fearful, nor have
I comforted the afflicted. I became a barb in the womb solely to my mother’s suffering.” (p. 70)

GKG: “[37-38]…Have I granted fearlessness to people who are frightened by those in authority, robbers, adversaries, wild animals and so forth? Have I confessed all my non-virtues and accumulated a wealth of virtue? No I have done none of these things.

“We should take a good look at how our life has been spent. Since the agonies of our birth we have encountered the sufferings of sickness, ageing, not getting what we want and receiving what we do not want.” (p. 274)

Chapter 8, Verse 60: Did Shantideva himself actually write “thirty-six different kinds of impurity”?

Tharpa: “You have no desire for the body of an insect, however small,
That emerges from a pile of dung;
So why do you desire a gross, impure body
That is produced from thirty-six impure substances?” (p. 123)

PTG: “The fetid worms that live in filth—
You have no love for them, even little ones.
And yet you’re lusting for a human form,
From filth arisen, and replete with it!” (p. 119)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “You do not desire a dirty worm originating from filth because it is small, but you desire a body that consists of much filth and is also born from filth.” (p. 96)

Stephen Batchelor: “I have no wish for a small, dirty maggot
That has come from a pile of filth,
So why do I desire this body, which by nature is grossly unclean,
For it too was produced by filth?” (p. 99)

GKG: “[60] Not even a particle of desire arises in us for the small insect that arises from a pile of dung. Why then are we so attached to a body, made up of thirty-six different kinds of impurity?” (p. 307-308)

Chapter 8, Verse 104:

Tharpa: “But such compassion will bring me suffering
So why should I strive to develop it?
How can compassion bring suffering?
It is the very nature of a peaceful mind!” (p. 130)

PTG: “’The sorrow felt in pity aggravates,’ you say
‘The pain already felt. So why engender it?’
But can the sting of pity be compared
With all that other beings have to suffer?” (p. 125)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “[Qualm]: Much suffering comes from compassion, so why should one force it to arise?

[Response]: After seeing the suffering of the world, how can this suffering from compassion be considered great?” (p. 102)

GKG: “[104-105] It is too much of a burden to cherish others as we do ourself. These others have limitless suffering. Why should I want to take on more suffering than I already have? If a bodhisattva had to experience more suffering in the course of helping other sentient beings overcome their misery, he or she would gladly endure it… But do not be concerned that such a being will have more suffering from his practices. When he sees someone in misery, his own great compassion protects him from experiencing any problems or suffering…” (p. 337)

Chapter 8, Verse 152: This is a clear difference of interpretation. Whose hair pores are tingling? In this verse, it seems that the entire purpose of this particular visualization practice has been missed by GKG and Elliott.

Tharpa: “When others hear of my good qualities
As they are proclaimed to the world
May they experience so much delight
That their hair pores tingle with excitement.” (p. 138)

PTG: “Just to hear them talk about my qualities,
My reputation on the lips of all,
The thrill of it sends shivers down my spine,
The pleasure that I bask and revel in!” (p. 131)

Vesna & Alan Wallace (Sanskrit): “Hearing my own good qualities being praised everywhere in this way, thrilled, with my hair standing on end, I shall enjoy the delight of happiness.” (p. 108)

GKG: “… May my superior qualities and realizations be known to all beings and, as a result, may they develop such bliss that their hair pores tingle with delight!…” (p. 355)

Chapter 9, Verse 3: GKG and Elliott later run into trouble with their interpretation of this verse.

Tharpa: “Of those who assert the two truths, two types of person can be distinguished:
Madyamika-Prasangika yogis and proponents of things.
The views held by the proponents of things, who assert that things are truly existent
Are refuted by the logical reasonings of the Prasangika Yogis.” (p. 148)

PTG: “Two kinds of people are to be distinguished:
Meditative thinkers and ordinary folk;
The common views of ordinary people
Are superseded by the views of meditators.” (p. 137)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “In light of this, people are seen to be of two types: the contemplative and the ordinary person. The ordinary folks are superseded by the contemplative.” (p. 116)

GKG: “The views of the common Yogis who assert that all things are inherently existent are refuted by the logical reasonings presented by the Yogis who hold the Prasangika viewpoint, such as Shantideva.” (p. 370)

Chapter 9, Verse 4: GKG demonstrates the trouble with his and Elliott’s interpretation. In one line he interprets this verse as referring to the many levels of insight of the Prasangika. In the next line, he says that Shantideva’s purpose in mentioning the different levels of understanding of yogis is to point out that “the Prasangika the he represents is superior to and cannot be contradicted by any of the other philosophical schools.” It seems he is contradicting himself and would have done better to have interpreted both verses as did PTG.

Tharpa: “Moreover, among the Prasangika Yogis, there are different levels of insight-
Those with greater understanding surpassing those with lesser understanding.
All establish their view through valid, analytical reasons.
Giving and so forth are practiced without investigation for the sake of achieving resultant Buddhahood.” (p. 148)

PTG:  “And within the ranks of meditators,
The lower, in degrees of insight, are confuted by the higher.
For all employ the same comparisons,
And the goal, if left unanalyzed, they all accept.” (p. 137)

GKG: “[4] Furthermore, yogis holding the Prasangika view include those with many levels of insight; therefore, those with higher levels of understanding surpass and go beyond those with lesser degrees of realization. (It should be noted that a Yogi is someone who has achieved the concentration of the union of tranquil abiding and superior seeing.) But why is it necessary for Shantideva to mention the different levels of understanding of Yogis? He does so in order to point out that the Prasangika that he represents is superior to and cannot be contradicted by any of the other philosophical schools.” (p. 370)

Chapter 9, Verse 49: Because I have a lot of trouble getting my mind around the idea of a “non-deluded confusion”, I’m afraid I prefer the PTG translation, which makes sense to me. I’ll leave this debate up to those wiser than myself!

Tharpa; “The abandonment that Arhats achieve is not temporary.
They definitely do not take rebirth in samsara again.
But just as you say that they have non-deluded confusion,
Why not also say they have non-deluded craving?” (p. 157)

GKG (agrees): “Proponent of things: [49] The abandonment of delusions that we attain through meditating on the sixteen characteristics of the four noble truths is not temporary but final, and it includes the abandonment of all impurities as well. Such Arhats are free from craving, the principle cause for being born in samsara; thus there is no chance of their being born in samsara again.”

Prasangika: For you there are two kinds of confusion: deluded and non-deluded confusion. If you can talk of a non-deluded confusion then why not of a non-deluded craving? Such a craving would then have to be possessed by your so-called Arhats. Although temporarily they may not have the craving derived from grasping at a self-supporting, substantially existent self, they will still have the craving derived from grasping at a truly existent self.” (p. 399)

PTG: (as in Verse 46): “’Only for a while,’ you say. ‘For it is certain
That the cause of rebirth, craving, is exhausted.’
They have no craving, granted, through defiled emotion.
But how could they avoid the craving linked with ignorance?” (p. 143)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: (as in Verse 46): “If you think that as long as there is no craving there is no grasping onto rebirth, why could their craving, even though free of mental afflictions, not exist as delusion?”

Footnote: “The Pranjika p. 208: ‘As the lack of knowledge (ajnana) that is free of mental afflictions.’ The point here is that according to the Abhidharmakosha, there are two types of delusion: afflictive and non-afflictive. Thus, Shantideva is suggesting that there may similarly be both afflictive and non-afflictive craving and that Sravaka Arhats may be subject to non-afflictive craving.” (p. 121)

Stephen Batchelor: “Vaibhashikas: Although they (49) temporarily are not freed from suffering, as soon as they abandon their disturbing conceptions, they will be freed when they leave their bodies because they definitely do not have any craving for the aggregates of body and mind, which is a principle condition for conditioned existence.

Madyamaka: Yet while they still have a form of craving that is a completely undisturbing state of confusion, why would they not take rebirth with aggregates contaminated by actions and disturbing conceptions?

And footnote on the term “completely undisturbing state of confusion” : “Nyon-mongs ma-yin pa’I rmongs-pa According to the Hinayanists, the subtle confusion existent in the mind of an Arhat that distinguishes that state of realization from that of a Buddha.”

Sources Cited

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, 2007, Meaningful to Behold, Tharpa Publications, Glen Spey, N.Y.

Shantideva, (Padmakara Translation Group translator) 2003, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA.

Shantideva (Neil Elliott translator) 2002, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Tharpa Publications, Glen Spey, NY.

Shantideva (Stephen Batchelor translator) 2010, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

Shantideva (Vesna A Wallace & B. Alan Wallace translators) 1997, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY.


  1. Carol McQuire says:

    What an immense amount of work you have done here – thank you! It takes a while to think about each of these as some of the changes are very subtle…not a task for one evening!

  2. Mr g kelsang says:

    If you’d like to ask Niel Elliott in person about this translation, then you only need to go to the “Kadampa Meditaion Centre” in Wimbledon SW19. He is the new resident teacher and he loves to chat with the ladies after his tantric classes.

  3. Thank you, Carol. No, it wasn’t a quick or easy task– but I had hours free through the night, many nights, sitting outside my mother’s sickroom and it was just the right activity to keep me awake and alert. It definitely deepened my understanding of Shantideva.

    It was also really interesting to see the differences between all the translations, differences that weren’t necessarily errors as most of Elliott’s clearly are. But it’s given me a huge appreciation for how big the job of translating is– and how dangerous fundamentalism can become in these early days of bringing the Dharma to the West.


  1. […] I have been concerned for some time and I brought the problem up again last year, in this article in which I meticulously outlined the flaws in the translation.  In short, entailing many hours of […]

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