Composed in Sanskrit poetry by Acharya Nagarjuna based on the words of the Buddha
(metre: Verses 1-6 Vasantatilakā , 7-10 Śārdūlavikrīḍita, 11 Mandākrāntā;)
In this deeply touching Mahayana discourse, the Buddha elucidates how worshipping and taking care of all sentient beings is the highest and the only authentic way to worship the Buddhas. Whichever deed lacks compassion not only remains unsuitable as a way to venerate the Buddhas, but does not even qualify as anything to do with Buddhism.
The fellow beings that share this world with us, with all their sufferings and emotional turmoil, are to be placed in the depths of our hearts on high pedestal and cared for. That is the only way Buddhism can be practiced. Boundaries of religion, caste, race, nationality or even whether it refers to a human, animal or a worm are immaterial here.
Worshipping sentient beings has nothing to do with imagining them to be gods or looking for divinity within them. It is simply about knowing them to be what they are – suffering sentient beings who are confused and helplessly wandering in samsara. As the verses below explain, they are worthy of veneration for that very reason. And, the way to venerate them is by submitting ourselves to their service.
Unlike religious mandates or secular ethics, compassion in Buddhism is not just a “good to have”, but the very essence of it. Let alone Buddhism, the very existence of Buddha is absurd if there is no compassion. The depth of compassion is the very alchemy that transformed prince Siddhartha into the Buddha that we know. Moreover, the entire ground and path of Buddhism (particularly, that of Mahayana) collapses when compassion to fellow beings is absent. There is nothing that can propel us in the path to Buddhahood, if beings in their diversity along with their respective share of problems do not fill up this world!
This speech of the Buddha from the Mahayana sutras was captured into this precious piece of Sanskrit poetry by Acharya Nagarjuna (2nd Century AD). This was translated to Tibetan by Atisha Dipankara Srijnana. This precious text is highly suitable for repeated recitation and contemplation even for experienced practitioners. Whenever we face the great danger of being lost in the paraphernalia of practice and gradually turn our Dharma practice into nothing more than a mockery and a trip of self-obsession, these verses are particularly powerful to get us back on track.
May all beings attain lasting peace and happiness !
– Prabodha Jnana and Abhaya Devi
Actual Text with Translation
सत्त्वार्थमेव मयि तिष्ठति सत्त्वश्रद्धा
न अन्यत्र साह्यहम् अहो ऽधिगृहीतसत्त्वः।
चर्याधम करुणया रहिता भवेद् या
संभाव्यते करुणयैव प्रहाणमस्याः॥ | १ |
sattvārtham eva mayi tiṣṭhati sattvaśraddhā
nānyatra sā hyaham aho ’dhigṛhītasattvaḥ |
caryādhamā karuṇayā rahitā bhaved yā
saṃbhāvyate karuṇayaiva prahāṇam asyāḥ ||
Devotion to me is only in benefiting sentient beings.
There is none other. Oh my companions, hold them high!
Whosoever has taken to the fallen conduct of lacking compassion,
Can reverse it only through the power of compassion. 
सत्त्वेषु यस्य नितरां करुणा प्रवृत्तिर्
आराधकः स मम शासनमर्म वेत्ता।
शीलं श्रुतिश् च करुणा च सुधिश् च यस्य
नित्यं स एव सुगतार्चनकृन् निगद्यते॥ | २ |
sattveṣu yasya nitarāṃ karuṇā pravṛttir
ārādhakaḥ sa mama śāsanamarmavettā |
śīlaṃ śrutiś ca karuṇā ca sudhīś ca yasya
nityaṃ sa eva sugatārcanakṛn nigadyate ||
Whosoever is continually engaged in compassion,
Is my worshipper and holds the meaning of my teaching.
Whosoever has discipline, learning, compassion and clear mind
They are said to be worshipping Sugatas continually. 
सत्त्वोपकारम् अधिकृत्य गतो ऽस्मि सिद्धिं
सत्त्वार्थम् एव तनुम् एष समुद्वहामि।
सत्त्वान् हिनस्ति मनसापि हि यः स कस्मान्
माम् एव संश्रयति यो मयि निर्व्यपेक्षः॥ | ३ |
sattvopakāram adhikṛtya gato ‘smi siddhiṃ
sattvārtham eva tanum eṣa samudvahāmi |
sattvān hinasti manasāpi hi yaḥ sa kasmān
mām eva saṃśrayati yo mayi nirvyapekṣaḥ ||
The benefit of beings as my concern, I arrived at this attainment.
For the purpose of beings alone I carried this body perfectly.
Towards beings, whosoever even mentally intents to harm
Does not depend upon me and is indifferent to me. 
पूजा तु सा भवति सत्त्वहितेक्षणापि
पूज्यस्य या मनसि तुष्टिम् उपाददाति।
हिंसात्मिका परविहेठन सम्भवा वा
पूजा न पूज्यम् अनुगच्छति संस्कृतापि॥ | ४ |
pūjā tu sā bhavati sattvahitekṣaṇāpi
pūjyasya yā manasi tuṣṭim upādadāti |
hiṃsātmikā paraviheṭhana sambhavā vā
pūjā na pūjyam anugacchati saṃskṛtāpi ||
Benefit to beings, even for a moment, is the worship of me,
For it pleases the mind of the worshipped.
With a harmful nature, or causing injury to others,
Even the finest offerings do not become the worship of me. 
दाराः सुताश् च विभवश् च महत्त्वराज्यं
मांसं च शोणितवशे नयने शरीरम्।
येषाम् प्रियत्वम् अधिकृत्य मयोज्झितानि
यस् तान् विहेठयति तेन विहेठितो ऽहम्॥ | ५ |
dārāḥ sutāś ca vibhavaś ca mahattvarājyaṃ
māṁsaṁ ca śoṇitavaśe nayane śarīram |
yeṣām priyatvam adhikṛtya mayojjhitāni
yas tān viheṭhayati tena viheṭhito ’ham ||
Wife, son, wealth and the great kingdom,
Flesh, blood, fat, eyes and the whole body itself,
I gave up all those, as kindness to beings rouse as foremost.
Whatever causes harm to them likewise harms me. 
सत्त्वोपकारपरमा हि ममाग्रपूजा
सत्त्वापकारपरया च पराभवः स्यात्। | ६ |
(Two lines missing here. So, this was translated from Tibetan)
sattvopakāraparamā hi mamāgrapūjā
sattvāpakāraparayā ca parābhavaḥ syāt |
(Two lines missing here. So, this was translated from Tibetan)
The highest benefit to beings itself is the supreme worship to me.
Harming sentient beings is the worst harm to me.
Since my happiness and suffering is same as that of beings,
In what way is the one causing harm to beings my disciple? 
सत्त्वान् प्राप्य मया कृतानि कुशलान्य् आराधितास् तायिनः
प्राप्ताः पारमितश् च सत्त्वसमितेर् एवार्थम् आतिष्ठता।
सत्त्वार्थेन समुद्यतेन मनसा मारस्य भग्नं बलं
सत्त्वैर् एव तथा तथा विरचितं येनास्मि बुद्धः कृतः॥ | ७ |
sattvān prāpya mayā kṛtāni kuśalāny ārādhitās tāyinaḥ
prāptāḥ pāramitāś ca sattvasamiter evārtham ātiṣṭhatā |
sattvārthena samudyatena manasā mārasya bhagnaṃ balaṃ
sattvair eva tathā tathā viracitaṃ yenāsmi buddhaḥ kṛtaḥ ||
Reaching out to all beings, I performed virtues and thus honored the Buddhas.
Firmly abiding only in the benefit of beings, I too attained perfections (pāramitā).
With the mind that arose for the benefit of beings, the mighty Maras were conquered.
Traversing only for the sake of beings, thus, thus, I became the Buddha! 
कस्मिन् वस्तुनि सिध्यताम् इह कृपा मैत्री च क्वालम्ब्यताम्
क्वोपेक्षा मुदितादि वस्तुविषयाः कस्मिन् विमोक्षादयः।
कस्यार्थे करुणापरेण मनसा क्षान्तिश् चिरं भाविता
न स्युर् जन्मनि जन्मनि प्रियविधौ मित्रं यदि प्राणिनः॥ | ८ |
kasmin vastuni sidhyatām iha kṛpā maitrī ca kvālambyatām
kvopekṣāmuditādivastuviṣayāḥ kasmin vimokṣādayaḥ |
kasyārthe karuṇāpareṇa manasā kṣāntiś ciraṃ bhāvitā
na syur janmani janmani priyavidhau mitraṃ yadi prāṇinaḥ ||
If there were no living beings to cherish as friends for life after life,
What can serve as the object for loving kindness and compassion?
Likewise, what is the object for equanimity, joy and so on? For what is liberation?
For whose sake should the mind exerting on compassion endure long in meditation? 
सत्त्वा एव गजादिभावगतयो दत्ता मयानेकशः
सत्त्वा एव च पात्रताम् उपगता देयं मया ग्राहिताः।
सत्त्वैर् एव विचित्रभावगमनाद् अस्मत्कृप वर्धिता
सत्त्वान् एव न पालयामि यदि चेत् कस्यार्थम् अर्थः कृतः॥ | ९ |
sattvā eva gajādibhāvagatayo dattā mayānekaśaḥ
sattvā eva ca pātratām upagatā deyaṃ mayā grāhitāḥ |
sattvair eva vicitrabhāvagamanād asmatkṛpā vardhitā
sattvān eva na pālayāmi yadi cet kasyārtham arthaḥ kṛtaḥ ||
For beings themselves, like elephants and so on, I performed generosity repeatedly.
For beings themselves to turn into receptacles, I gathered them close through gifts.
When beings themselves came up in diverse ways, my compassion blazed up.
Those beings themselves if I do not protect, for whose sake did I accomplish the purpose! 
संसारे व्यसनाभिघातबहुले न स्युर् यदि प्राणिनो
जन्मावर्तविडम्बनेन यमलोकं प्राप्य सात्मीकृताः।
संसारात् तरणं च सौगतम् इदं माहात्म्यम् अत्यद्भुतं
कस्यार्थेन समीहितं यदि न मे सत्त्वा भवेयुः प्रियाः॥ | १० |
saṃsāre vyasanābhighātabahule na syur yadi prāṇino
janmāvartaviḍambanena yamalokaṃ prāpya sātmīkṛtāḥ |
saṃsārāt taraṇaṃ ca saugatam idaṃ māhātmyam atyadbhutaṃ
kasyārthena samīhitaṃ yadi na me sattvā bhaveyuḥ priyāḥ ||
Samsara would not be this stream of intense distress of emotions, if there were no living beings
Absorbing into the deception of turning around in cycles of births and reaching the realm of Yama!
Crossing over of this samsara and going to bliss is indeed magnanimous and supremely marvelous,
For whose sake did I strive for, if I do not have affection towards those beings! 
यावच् चेदं ज्वलति जगतः शासनं शासनं मे
तावत् स्थेयं परहितपरैर् आत्मवद्भिर् भवद्भिः।
श्रुत्वा श्रुत्वा मम विचरितं सत्त्वहेतोर् अखिन्नैः
खेदः कार्यो न च तनुम् इमामुक्तसारां भवद्भिः॥ | ११ |
yāvac cedaṃ jvalati jagataḥ śāsanaṃ śāsanaṃ me
tāvat stheyaṃ parahitaparair ātmavadbhir bhavadbhiḥ |
śrutvā śrutvā mama vicaritaṃ sattvahetor akhinnaiḥ
khedaḥ kāryo na ca tanum imāmuktasārāṃ bhavadbhiḥ ||
As long as my teachings continue to blaze here in the world,
For that long, may you too abide by taking others to heart and benefitting them!
Having heard my journey of benefitting beings without weariness,
May this body of yours be the epitome of this speech, with no cause for grief! 
सम्यक्सम्बुद्धभाषितं सत्त्वाराधनं नाम महायानसूत्रान्तं समाप्तम्।
samyaksambuddhabhāṣitaṃ sattvārādhanaṃ nāma mahāyānasūtrāntaṃ samāptam |
This concludes the Mahayana sutra teaching named ‘Sattvārādhanaṁ’ spoken by Samyak Sambuddha (completely and perfectly enlightened Buddha)
This was translated from Sanskrit to English by Yogi Prabodha Jnana and Yogini Abhaya Devi.
This English translation from us is primarily based on the Sanskrit original. However, we closely referred the well-preserved Tibetan translation to resolve the minor differences between available Sanskrit sources. However, two lines of verse 6 were missing in the Sanskrit sources and we translated those lines from Tibetan.
Colophon of the Tibetan Translation of the Text
This concludes the words of the Buddha to the Sixteen Great Śrāvakas in the Agama called the Salty River from the Bodhisattva-pīṭaka. This was completed into verses by Acārya Nāgārjuna as the ‘Sattvārādhana stavam’ (In Praise of Worshipping Sentient Beings).