Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life: Overview of Chapter 9 as a Whole

Preparation 6:  Big picture overview of the whole chapter

As we go through the verses, I will add in where we are within the overall outline of Shantideva’s chapter.  Without this, it is easy to get lost as to what is the main point of each verse.  Each verse is building towards a main argument or point, which is indicated by the outline heading.  It is helpful to look at the outline as a whole.  This is like first looking at a map of the whole city before we look at the specific streets in any given neighborhood.  Having an overall understanding of how the city is laid out gives us an appreciation of how each neighborhood fits within a larger mosaic.

Shantideva’s presentation of the perfection of wisdom has five main parts. The first, the third, and the fifth are all exhortations encouraging people to develop this wisdom. And the second and the fourth part of his presentation actually explain the teachings on emptiness. It is not enough for us to know what emptiness is, we have to be actually motivated to try realize it ourselves. It is our motivation which determines the karmic effect of our wisdom, not the wisdom itself. For our meditation on emptiness to lead to liberation and enlightenment, our practice needs to be motivated by renunciation and bodhichitta.

In the second part on the presentation of the two truths, there are essentially two main parts. The first simply introduces what are the two truths. And the second refutes the arguments made by those who say we do not actually need to realize emptiness. This is important because we might begin to become discouraged during our study of emptiness and ask ourselves whether it is worth it. But if we recognize that we will never end our suffering until we realize emptiness, then we will be extremely motivated to gain this realization understanding it is not only the panacea for all our problems it is the only solution to all our problems.

The fourth part of Shantideva’s explanation is also primarily divided into two parts:  the explanation of the emptiness or selflessness of persons and an explanation of the emptiness or selflessness of phenomena. Because all things can be divided into persons or phenomena, if we realized the emptiness of both of these, then we realize the emptiness of everything. In particular, Shantideva goes into an extensive explanation of the emptiness of phenomena. He does so first through looking at the four close placements of mindfulness, namely close placement of mindfulness of the body, of feelings, of the mind, and of phenomena. Second, he looks at the relationship between the production of phenomena and their emptiness. Normally we think if things are empty they cannot produce anything, but actually if anything is produced it reveals that it is empty.  

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