Shantideva: The ‘Lazy’ Monk Who Became a Hero

As part of the Hero Project exchange with US schools, eighth-grade student Stanzin Sherab drew his personal hero, Shantideva. The 8th CE sage is depicted levitating above the throne which was set up to embarrass him by his fellow monks, who thought he was lazy and dull. Shantideva delivered a magnificent speech about the way of the bodhisattva, much to the wonder and gratification of his critics.

In this HERO PROJECT drawing, an 8th grade Siddhartha School student named Stanzin Sherab drew a delightful portrait of the great 8th-century Indian sage Shantideva, who understood the great joy in doing good. Stanzin tells us the surprising story about Shantideva’s time at Nalanda, India’s most famous university:

“Apparently, he was one of those people who didn’t show up for anything, never studying or coming to practice sessions. His fellow monks said that his three “realizations” were eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom! They wanted him to be kicked out of the monastery, thinking he was useless and lazy. To humiliate him, they asked Shantideva to give a teaching, and if he didn’t do this, he would have to leave the monastery.

So, after being pushed into giving a talk in front of the whole school, the monks set up a big throne, way too high to sit on. When Shantideva showed up, he touched the cushions, and they shrank down so that Shantideva could easily sit up on them. The monks immediately felt a strange feeling—how could this happen?

Then Shantideva sat on the throne and asked the group what kind of teaching he should give, something traditional, or something new? This was hilarious to the monks. Only an enlightened master would be prepared to teach something new, not a lazy guy like Shantideva. They said ‘Oh, please, something new!’ expecting him to make a fool out of himself.

Shantideva then said he would speak on The Way of the Bodhisattva, and delivered an amazing speech on how to be a serious Buddhist. This new teaching became a classic text still used by Tibetan teachers to this day.

Everyone had underestimated Shantideva because he was quiet and withdrawn. Maybe Shantideva was shy, or maybe he was just so focused on his meditation.

Really, I think he thought a lot, all day long while they teased him, practicing the ethics and philosophy he preached to everyone that amazing day. It just goes to show that a great effort may not be easy to see or appreciate until it is shared.

He made even the people who thought badly of him happy that day, and they learned a lot from him. He rose above their scheme and changed many minds. That is why he is my hero.”

—Stanzin Sherab, eighth student at Siddhartha School

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