ŚĀNTIDEVA (seventh and eighth centuries ce) was an Indian Buddhist monk and scholar at the great Buddhist monastic center of Nālandā in northern India. He was a follower of Mahāyāna Buddhism and has been traditionally associated with the Mādhyamika philosophical lineage, especially that of the Prāsaṅgikas, although his precise philosophical affiliation remains a matter of debate among scholars. Śāntideva is famous for his eloquent Sanskrit treatises on the Mahāyāna bodhisattva ideal.
Sanskrit and Tibetan biographies portray Śāntideva as both a Mahāyāna monk renowned for the composition of erudite texts and a Tantric siddha noted for performing miracles. For this reason, some scholars have speculated that his biography may represent an amalgamation of two different persons. According to his biographies, Śāntideva was a crown prince and devotee of Mañjuśrī or Mañjughoṣa, a bodhisattva associated with wisdom who appeared to Śāntideva in visions and dreams. Upon his father's death, Śāntideva fled the kingdom in order to pursue religious practice. Śāntideva became a monk at Nālandā, where he was called Bhusuku, a name indicating that he appeared to do nothing but eat, sleep, and stroll about for the sake of his digestion. Some biographies, however, state that Śāntideva secretly composed Buddhist treatises and contemplated the teachings he had received from Mañjuśrī. Śāntideva was threatened with expulsion from Nālandā because he appeared unable to memorize any sūtras. When put to the test, Śāntideva asked those assembled whether they wanted to hear something they already knew or something new. Asked for something new, Śāntideva astounded the assembly by reciting his most famous composition, the Bodhicaryāvatāra. Demonstrating both his erudition and supernormal powers, Śāntideva rose into the air and disappeared when he reached the ninth chapter (on wisdom). His voice, however, could still be heard reciting the text to its conclusion. Thereafter Śāntideva left monastic life. His biographies recount the performance of numerous miracles, such as restoring sight, bringing animals back to life, feeding the hungry, and converting heretics.
Sanskrit and Tibetan biographies credit Śāntideva with three Sanskrit works: the Śikṣāsamuccaya (Compendium of training), the Bodhicaryāvatāra (Understanding the way to awakening), and the Sūtrasamuccaya (Compendium of scriptures). The Sūtrasamuccaya does not appear to have survived. A work of this title, extant in Tibetan and Chinese, has been attributed by most modern scholars to another Indian Mahāyāna scholar-monk named Nāgārjuna, whom scholars have variously placed between the late first and third centuries ce. The Bodhicaryāvatāra, of which there are two recensions of differing length, is written entirely in verse. The Śikṣāsamuccaya, which quotes extensively from approximately one hundred Buddhist sources, combines verse and prose.
The Bodhicaryāvatāra and the Śikṣāsamuccaya provide a broad overview of Indian Mahāyāna beliefs and practices, particularly from a male monastic perspective. Both texts describe the path of a bodhisattva, a being who has generated the bodhicitta, or aspiration for buddhahood. Bodhisattvas embody the Mahāyāna twin ideals of compassion and wisdom because their aspiration for buddhahood is motivated by a desire to help others. The cultivation of bodhicitta and its accompanying compassion are among the most important themes in Śāntideva's works, because these define the path to buddhahood as one of compassionate service to others. Another important theme is that of emptiness (śūnyatā ), a Mahāyāna philosophical concept used to describe the ultimate nature of reality. The wisdom a bodhisattva seeks is the ability to perceive all phenomena as lacking, or empty of, intrinsic, independent, and permanent existence. The ninth chapter of the Bodhicaryāvatāra, on wisdom, contains Śāntideva's most famous discussion of emptiness. In this chapter, which reflects a well-established tradition of scholastic debate in medieval India, Śāntideva asserts the correctness of his view of ultimate reality over and against those of other Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophical schools.
For all their erudition, Śāntideva's works were intended as practical handbooks for religious practitioners committed to the bodhisattva ideal. Thus his works also contain extensive instruction on Mahāyāna ethics and ritual. Key ethical concerns include cultivating the six perfections (pāramitās ) of generosity, morality, forbearance, vigor, concentration, and wisdom; eradicating the defilements (kleśa ) of greed, anger, and delusion, which bind living beings to saṃsāra, or the cycle of rebirth; and generating the mindfulness (smṛti ) and awareness (saṃprajanya ) needed to refrain from committing sinful deeds.
Śāntideva's works prescribe a wide range of rituals known in his day; however, the two most commonly associated with him are a liturgy called the supreme worship and a meditation called exchanging self and other. The supreme worship (anuttara-pūjā ) is a complex liturgy that includes, among other practices, praise and worship of buddhas and bodhisattvas, confession of sinful deeds, and dedication of merit to other living beings. Its purpose is to cultivate bodhicitta and merit. Exchanging self and other is another means of cultivating bodhicitta. The meditation begins with the reflection that all living beings are fundamentally alike because they share the same desire for happiness and the same fear of suffering. Hence there is no reason to privilege one's own concerns above those of others. As the meditation progresses, one comes to reflect that, because others are infinite in number, their concerns, taken as whole, should matter more than one's own. By performing this meditation, bodhisattvas increase their compassionate regard for living beings and their commitment to attaining buddhahood for the sake of others.
Śāntideva holds an important place in Indian Mahāyāna history. His works have been studied and commented upon by many Indian and Tibetan Buddhist scholars. Śāntideva's influence remains particularly strong in Tibetan Buddhism. His works continue to inform the beliefs, practices, and teachings of leading contemporary Tibetan Buddhist figures, such as the Dalai Lama.
Abhayadatta. Buddha's Lions: The Lives of the Eighty-Four Siddhas. Translated by James B. Robinson. Berkeley, Calif., 1979. Translation of Caturaśīti-siddha-pravṛtti.
Gyatso, Tenzin (Fourteenth Dalai Lama). A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Boston, 1994.
La Vallée Poussin, Louis de, ed. Prajñākaramati's Commentary to the Bodhicaryāvatāra of Śāntideva. Calcutta, 1901–1914.
Pezzali, Amalia. Śāntideva: Mystique bouddhiste des septième et huitième siècles. Florence, Italy, 1968. Readers should also consult the review of this book: J. W. de Jong, "La Légende de Śāntideva," Indo-Iranian Journal 16 (1975): 161–182.
Śāntideva. Śikshāsamuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhistic Teaching (1897–1902). Edited by Cecil Bendall. Osnabrück, Germany, 1970.
Śāntideva. Śikṣā Samuccaya: A Compendium of Buddhist Doctrine (1922). Translated by Cecil Bendall and W. H. D. Rouse. Delhi, India, 1981.
Śāntideva. The Bodhicaryāvatāra. Translated by Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton. Oxford, U.K., 1996. Crosby and Skilton introduce each chapter of the text by explaining and contextualizing the ideas and practices described therein. The translation also includes a general introduction to Śāntideva and his world by Paul Williams.
Susanne Mrozik (2005)