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5. Compassion

As a school of Mahayana Buddhism, Zen practice is bodhisattva practice. Mahayana Buddhism stands on the twin foundations of emptiness and compassion, sometimes likened to the two wings of a great bird in flight. It replaces the early Buddhist exemplar of the Arhat (one who has achieved Nirvana) with the ideal of the Bodhisattva, literally an “awakening being,” dedicated to continuous practice, lifetime after lifetime, for the benefit of others. For bodhisattvas, love and compassion for the suffering of others is paramount. Bodhisattvas are always in progress, and always devoted to the welfare of others. The cultivation of compassion is at the heart of their practice, and all their activity is Upaya (skillful means), all forms of beneficial action, to fit the uniqueness of every situation on every moment.

Classically, the six paramitas (giving, ethical conduct, patience, energy, meditation, and the wisdom of emptiness) describe the bodhisattva’s practice path. In Zen practice, compassion includes all our activity, which we come to appreciate more and more as our ongoing zazen practice shows us how we are always at the living center of an unfolding world of awakening.

Study Guide

Please note: we are currently the process of editing and properly categorizing our teachings library. The teachings will become available here in the study guide as soon as they’re ready, please check back soon.

1. Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

By Shantideva, Stephen Batchelor | 1999 | LTWA | ISBN 8185102597

Stephen Batchelor’s edition of “A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” was the main text for Norman’s ten talks on Shantideva.

2. The Way of the Bodhisattva: A Translation of the Bodhicharyavatara


Padmakara Translation Group

By Shantideva | 2003 | Shambhala | ISBN 1590300572

Another recommended version of the Shantideva text.



3. A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

By Dalai Lama, Shantideva | 1994 | Shambhala Dragon Edition | ISBN 0877739714

Another recommended Shantideva text, by the Dalai Lama and the Padmakara Translation Group



4. A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life

By B. Alan Wallace, Shantideva | 1997 | Snow Lion Publications | ISBN 1559390611

Another recommended Santideva text, translated by B. Alan Wallace and Vesna A Wallace.

5. Meaningful to Behold: The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso | 1994 | Tharpa Publications | ISBN 0948006358

A commentary on Shantideva’s text, by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

6. No Time to Lose | A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva

By Pema Chodron | 2007 | Shambhala | ISBN 1590304241

Chodron’s excellent personal and in-depth commentary on Shantideva’s eighth-century text.

7. The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech | A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva’s Way of the Bodhisattva 

By Kunzang Pelden | 2010 | Shambhala | ISBN 1590306996

A much lauded commentary on Shantideva’s text, published by the Padmakara translations group. In this commentary, Kunzang Pelden has compiled the pith instructions of his teacher Patrul Rinpoche, the celebrated author of “The Words of My Perfect Teacher.”

Norman gives the seventh talk on the Six Paramitas 2015 series on Compassion to the Dharma Seminar. Norman will be referencing two books in this series:  Dale Wright: The Six
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