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date: 03 December 2022

Śāntideva’s Introduction to the Practices of Awakening (Bodhicaryāvatāra)locked

Śāntideva’s Introduction to the Practices of Awakening (Bodhicaryāvatāra)locked

  • Stephen E. HarrisStephen E. HarrisInstitute for Philosophy, Leiden University

Summary

The Introduction to the Practices of Awakening (Bodhicaryāvatāra; hereafter, BCA) is a short verse text presenting the training practices for developing the virtuous character of the bodhisattva, the Mahayana Buddhist exemplar who commits to remaining in samsara to save all beings from suffering. The text was written by the monk scholar Śāntideva, a Mahayana Buddhist of the Madhyamaka school who resided in India, at the monastic university of Nālandā c. 8th century ce. The text had significant influence in India and Tibet and continues to be an influential source for contemporary Buddhist practice. It interweaves ritual, meditation, and philosophical argumentation as mutually supportive aspects of bodhisattva practice. The text takes as its themes the development of bodhicitta, the wish to become a fully enlightened buddha, and the development of the perfections of virtue that constitute the bodhisattva’s character. Śāntideva presents four chapters dedicated to specific perfections: patience (chapter 6), effort (chapter 7), concentration (chapter 8), and wisdom (chapter 9). The text also emphasizes the development of compassion, introspection, and mindfulness.

A significant feature of the text is its incorporation of philosophical argumentation into contemplations designed to develop virtuous character. Passages often function simultaneously as arguments meant to convince an interlocutor (or oneself) of their claims, as well as meditations to develop the virtue in question. This repeated use of reasoning as a means of developing virtue largely accounts for the text’s philosophically important status. This has resulted in the BCA becoming an important source for the developing academic field of Buddhist ethics. Two of Śāntideva’s arguments in particular have received considerable scholarly interest: his argument that accepting the tenet of dependent origination entails the irrationality of anger, which he gives in chapter 6; and his argument that accepting the nonexistence of the self rationally entails a commitment to altruism, which occurs in chapter 8. Śāntideva’s sequence of meditations on exchanging self and others, in which the bodhisattva imaginatively takes up the position of other persons as a way of developing compassion, has also generated great interest, both in the Tibetan tradition and in contemporary scholarship.

Subjects

  • Buddhism

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