The Bodhicaryāvatāra, a text by Śāntideva, explores the Bodhisattva ideal by prescribing how an individual should live and providing justifications for this. His close awareness of ethics makes him remarkable among Indian philosophers, whose main concern was theoretical philosophy or metaphysics. Śāntideva’s ethical writings are widely known, cited and respected by Tibetan Buddhists as well as Western thinkers. His accurate insights into human characteristics and behavior are lauded by various philosophers who allude to some of his solutions to common human problems. Śāntideva utilizes various techniques to appeal to specific human characteristics with the goal of inspiring the ethics of the Bodhisattva. This paper explores some of the approaches that Śāntideva uses to motivate his audience, the characteristics he wishes to inspire and how his teachings respond to these characteristics.
First, Śāntideva attempts to motivate his audience by appealing to their need to end suffering and the numerous “sorrows of suffering.” In verse 8 of Chapter 1, he seeks out those who wish to reduce their mind poisons and bad karma and provides a method for them to obtain their short-term temporary goals as well as their long-term goals of being entirely enlightened (Bodhicaryāvatāra Ch1.verse 8). He implies that the strength of one’s aspiration and motivation enables the individual to obtain these goals without straining too much or exerting too much effort. Śāntideva realizes the characteristics of human beings such as suffering in old age, birth, illness and death. In addition, his writings provide a way out of the problems and suffering associated with these human characteristics by stating that the only way to avoid these problems is by never turning one’s back on the bodhicitta. By alluding to these sufferings, he captures the attention of his audience because these are real things that they can relate to. He uses the words “the sorrow of their lives” to refer to the conditions faced by ordinary human beings, for which there is not a single moment of reprieve from the three types of suffering: Suffering of worries, pain, disappointments; pervasive suffering (such as samsaric existence); suffering of change (such as being separated from the people or things that one likes or the degeneration of what the individual considers to be valuable or precious).
Secondly, Śāntideva seeks to change the individualistic nature of human beings by inspiring them to take the greater path, which is the liberation of all sentient beings. The second line of the 8th verse of the 1st Chapter of Bodhicaryāvatāra speaks of putting an end to the pain and sufferings of living beings. It is Śāntideva’s way of calling upon his audience to develop an attitude that champions the abandonment of self-cherishing, a practice which leads to unhappiness of the individual as well as those around them. In this regard, Śāntideva may have been thinking of quelling the individualistic approach that people have of thinking about themselves, their happiness, likes and dislikes. This is the human characteristic that he identifies and offers the ethical way out of. The great path, according to Śāntideva is the liberation of all sentient beings. The medium path is to achieve individual peace and happiness while the lesser path is to achieve selfish happiness. Śāntideva inspires the pursuit of happiness through helping others. This is because joy that is only for the individual is selfish while joy that is shared with others is everlasting. This implies that to achieve lasting joy, the individual should seek to help others.
Thirdly, in verse 9, Śāntideva calls upon those people who are trapped in cyclic existence, dominated by afflictions and influenced easily by negativity. He calls upon these people to seek to develop the altruistic attitude of the Bodhicitta in benefitting all sentient beings because it is only then that they can become the Buddha’s heir (a bodhisattva). The motivation is based on the fact that for one to rise to the status of Bodhisattva, they must generate bodhicitta, which is great compassion for all living beings (transients) and to take on the duty of liberating them from cyclic existence to enlightenment. Verse 9 of Chapter 1 is applicable to the lives of ordinary human beings. Śāntideva realizes the nature of the majority of human beings in focusing on negative aspects of their lives such as their failures and mistakes. In addition, he recognizes those who are easily swayed by negative comments of occurrences. He underpins the ability of the Bodhicitta attitude in overcoming these negative things by inspiring people to take up this attitude and seek enlightenment even for others.
Śāntideva’s text, the Bodhicaryāvatāra provides his outlook on various ethical issues according to the Bodhisattva. Śāntideva utilizes various techniques to appeal to specific human characteristics with the goal of inspiring the ethics of the Bodhisattva. He recognizes human characteristics such as selfishness, having a negative attitude and the sufferings that humans endure. On selfishness and individualism, he writes that the only way an individual can become the Buddha’s heir and obtain lasting joy is by helping others reach enlightenment and overcome their suffering. Embracing the teachings of the Bodhisattva helps the individual overcome suffering and negativity.