Chapter eight deals with the practice of meditative absorption, though it does so by presenting a series of reflections or themes for contemplation, rather than a general description of the perfection of meditation. In verses VIII.1-38 present a reflection that  meditation is best practiced by a monastic living in solitude, free of involvement with the foolish or distraction from worldly concerns and aggravations. “Distraction does not occur if body and mind are kept sequestered. Therefore, one should renounce the world and disregard distracting thoughts.” (VIII.2)  What the meditator is truly seeking is insight, but first one must have tranquility, and that requires “disregarding one’s delight in the world.” (VIII.4) Once seclusion has been achieved, the practice of meditation can truly begin. “Freed from all other concerns, my own mind in a state of single-pointed thought, I shall apply myself to taming and increasing the meditative concentration of my mind.” (VIII.39)

Buddhist meditation practices in general have two modes. One is calming practice in order to attain tranquility. This Buddhism holds in common with many other traditions of meditation. The Buddha, however, introduced the mode of contemplation in order to attain the insight that leads to liberation from suffering and ultimately buddhahood. Calming practice by itself cannot lead to liberation or awakening, but it is seen as a way of subduing the hindrances to the calm and clear state of mind that is needed for contemplation. These hindrances are sensual desire, ill-will, restlessness & remorse, dullness and drowsiness, and debilitating doubt (whether of oneself or of the teachings and practice). By focusing attention on a subject for meditation (such as the breath), one is able to focus the mind and temporarily subdue these hindrances. For instance, a meditator might focus on the breath, or on a colored disk, or on the thought of radiating loving-kindness, or on a mantra. In the first state of meditative absorption, sensual desire is replaced by a one-pointed attention on the subject of meditation, ill-will is replaced by a bodily sense of rapture and ease as one’s tensions and worries drop away, restlessness & remorse are replaced by mental happiness, dullness & drowsiness is replaced by the initial thought of the subject of meditation, and doubt is replaced by an ongoing examination of the subject of meditation. In the second state of deepening absorption thought and examination drop away as self-conscious effort to maintain attention on the subject of meditation is no longer necessary. In the third state of absorption the excitement of rapture drops away as one attains a state of calm happiness. In the fourth state of absorption even the self-conscious sense of happiness drops away leaving a more sublime state of equanimity and one-pointed awareness of the subject of meditation.

The practice of contemplation requires at least a state approximating the first state of absorption wherein the hindrances are for the most part in abeyance and the positive factors described above are present to some degree if not firmly established. The first state of absorption would be optimal, but the last three are not because contemplation requires thought and examination. The rest of chapter eight is comprised of a series of reflections  that the bodhisattva may contemplate having achieved a sufficient degree of calm focus.

The first two reflections are concerned with undercutting the defilement of sensual desire. Verses VIII.40-70 are a series of reflections based upon the contemplation of impurity which is part of the Buddha’s instructions concerning the four foundations of mindfulness. In the meditation on impurity one overcomes lust by contemplating the many revolting substances that are part of the body such as spit, sweat, mucus, phlegm, earwax, urine, and feces, and also the decomposition of corpses. The idea is that this consideration of impurity and decay will reveal how irrational it is to have lust for what is actually disgusting. People today might find these reflections of a celibate monk trying to maintain his celibacy and overcome the distractions of lust to be excessively morbid. That may be, but it is also true that too many people are overly concerned with catering to physical comfort and pleasure to the point that other values become neglected. Our culture also tends to worship beauty, sometimes using very rigid and unrealistic standards, while refusing to come to terms with bodily infirmity and death.

The reflection continues in verses VIII.71-85 by focusing on the futility of worldly amibitions and efforts to gain physical pleasure.  Śāntideva points out that people work so hard and go through so many troubles to gain what they believe will bring them pleasure that they have no time to actually enjoy anything, and even when they do get a chance to enjoy the rewards of their labor the experience is fleeting. He points out that for even a fraction of the effort made to gain such ephemeral and disappointing worldly pleasures one could have attained buddhahood (VIII.83). His conclusion: “Thus one should recoil from sensual desires and cultivate delight in solitude, in tranquil woodlands empty of contention and strife.” (VIII.85)

From this point on, chapter eight’s contemplations are Mahāyāna in character. Verses VIII.85-89 describe the practice of solitude in remote places as the optimal condition for the development of the awakening mind. This kind of practice is also described in the Lotus Sūtra, for instance when the Buddha states in chapter three, “I have already left the burning house of the triple world. I am tranquil and peaceful In a bower in a forest.” (The Lotus Sutra: Kindle Locations 2258-2260) Or in chapter twenty-one when the Buddha describes the place where the Lotus Sūtra is practiced as the “place of enlightenment”:

In any world where anyone keeps, reads, recites, expounds or copies this sūtra, or acts according to its teachings, or in any place where a copy of this sūtra is put, be it in a garden, in a forest, under a tree, in a monastery, in the house of a person in white robes, in a hall, in a mountain, in a valley, or in the wilderness, there should a stūpa be erected and offerings be made to it because, know this, the place [where the stūpa is erected] is the place of enlightenment. (The Lotus Sutra: Kindle Locations 7134-7137)

Verses VIII.90-110 present the contemplation of the “equality of self and others.” Verse VIII.90 says, “At first one should meditate intently on the equality of oneself and others as follows: ‘All equally experience suffering and happiness. I should look after them as I do myself.’” In verses VIII.91-96, Śāntideva argues that sentient beings are divided but undivided like parts of the body, therefore the suffering or happiness of any is the suffering and happiness of all.

In verses VIII.97-103, he argues that suffering is not something that happens to a self divided from others and proceeds to deconstruct the view that there is a fixed independent self-identity. In Buddhism, the person who dies is not the same as the person who is reborn but neither are they totally different. The consciousness of any given moment conditions but is not identical to the consicousness of the moment following it, just as it was itself conditioned by the preceding moment. This happens even within a lifetime. The Buddha taught that it also happens across lifetimes, consciousness at the moment of dying conditions the consciousness at the moment of conception of the following life. In this way there is not a single unchanging self but a continuum. Likewise, the parts of a body try to guard against or get rid of pain felt in other parts of a body. The bodily parts are different but not different. “The continuum of consciousness, like a queue, and the combination of constituents, like an army, are not real. The person who experiences suffering does not exist. To whom will that suffering belong?” (VIII.101) The point is that there is no substantial self that suffers, only a continuum of related bodily parts or related moments of conscoiusness. The conclusion is this: “Without exception, no sufferings belong to anyone. They must be warded off simply because they are suffering. Why is any limitation put on this?” (VIII.102) In other words, our concern for the relief of suffering must extend beyond our own lives because ultimately there is no real self and therefore no real distinction between self and other. The concern for bodhisattvas is to get rid of suffering generally without distinguishing between the suffering of self and other (VIII.103).

It could be argued, “compassion causes us so much suffering, why force it to arise?” (VIII.104) Śāntideva responds that in the face of the world’s suffering the suffering of compassion is small, and if suffering is alleviated through compassionate actions and beings are liberated, then it is the bodhisattva who will experience fulfillment through sympathetic joy. It is the bodhisattva who has compassion for the suffering of all beings and works to alleviate it who is able to become truly happy and at ease. “In fact, though acting for the good of others, there is neither intoxication nor dismay, nor desire for the resulting reward, with a thirst solely for the well-being of others. Therefore, just as I protect myself to the last against criticism, let me develop in this way an attitude of protectiveness and generosity towards others as well.” (VIII.109-110)

In verses VIII.111-119 Śāntideva returns to the non-duality of self and others. He begins by pointing out that all that we are originated from our parents and yet we still identify our body as “ours.” (VIII.111) He recommends extending our identification with others also, as we are all parts of the whole which is the universe. “In the same way that the hands and other limbs are loved because they form part of the body, why are embodied creatures not likewise loved because they form part of the universe? In the same way that, with practice, the idea of a self arose towards this, one’s own body, though it is without a self, with practice will not the same idea of a self develop towards others too?” (VIII.114-115) By thinking in this way we will become as protective and compassionate as the World Voice Perceiver Bodhisattva of chapter 25 of the Lotus Sūtra, who “empowered even his own name to drive away even such fear as the shyness people have in front of an audience.” (VIII.118) With such a compasssionate outlook as this, even difficulties once feared become rewarding to bodhisattvas as they are viewed as opportunities to alleviate suffering and liberate beings (VIII.119).

The next contemplation is the “exchange of self and other” (VIII.120) Before the contemplation proper, Śāntideva makes a comparison between the fool who acts for his own advantage and the sage who acts for the advantage of others. “’If I give, what shall I enjoy?’ Such concern for one’s own welfare is fiendish. ‘If I enjoy, what shall I give?’ Such concern for the welfare of others is divine.” (VIII.125) “All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others.” (VIII.129) The conclusion is this: “If one does not let go of self one cannot let go of suffering, as one who does not let go of fire cannot let go of burning. Therefore, in order to allay my own suffering and to allay the suffering of others, I devote myself to others and accept them as myself.” (VIII.135-136)

The actual exchange of self and others occurs in verses VIII.141-146. In those verses, Śāntideva takes the point of view of those someone inferior to himself, someone who is jealous of his superior position and resentful that he does nothing to  help them. In verse VIII.147, he takes the contentious point of view of a rival. In VIII.148-155, he takes the point of view of someone superior to himself, someone who is contemptuous of his inferiority and exploitive in his conduct. In this way the problem of self-conceit is explored from every angle. In Buddhism, self-conceit is not just a matter of viewing oneself as superior to others, rather it is the habit of constantly comparing oneself to others and being preoccupied with one’s status, whether superior, equal, or inferior.  The result of these exercises in imaginatively viewing onself objectively from others’ eyes will hopefully be that the contemplator will overcome self-conceit, avoid arrogance and contention, and be more patient, helpful, and kind.

Verses VIII.155-157 are exhortations to practice the contemplation of exchanging self and other. Verse VIII.158 recapitulates the idea that one should identify with others in the same way that one identifies with the body that originated with one’s parents. Verse VIII.159, like verse VIII.139 previously, exhorts the bodhisattva to use their body for the benefit of others. Verses VIII.160-172 are exhortations to humble the ego-centered “self” and make it into a self that is of service to others. In this practice, you do for others everything that you would want done for you. Verses VIII.173-184 are further reflections on putting one’s body in the service of others. All of this is summed up in the following: “Therefore, without regret, I abandon my body to the benefit of the world. For this reason, though it has many faults, I carry it as a tool for the task.” (VIII.184)

Chapter eight ends in verses VIII.185-186 with a final exhortation to be vigilant and practice meditation.


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Chapter seven begins with an assertion of the importance of energy (or vigor), a definition, and list of things that hinder it. “Patient in this way one should cultivate energy, because awakening depends on energy. For without energy there is no merit, just as there is no movement without wind. What is energy? The endeavor to do what is skillful. What is its antithesis called? Sloth, clinging to what is vile, depondency, and self-contempt.” (VII.1-2) In verse VII.31, the antidotes to these obstacles to energy are listed: “The powers of desire, perseverance, delight, and letting go, all lead to the fulfillment of the needs of living beings. Out of the fear of suffering, and while meditating on the praises, one should create desire.”

Sloth is explained as idleness, self-indulgence, sleeping too much, depending on others for what one should do for oneself, and apathy about the sufferings of birth and death (VII.3). It is countered by desire (S. chanda), not desire in the sense of selfish craving (S. tṛṣṇā) but the righteous desire or zeal for the Dharma.

Clinging to what is vile, to indulge in arrogant ridiculing of others for instance (VII.15), is countered by the ability to let go of such things, though of course that requires mindfulness to catch oneself and a determination to turn away from bad habits and bring one’s attention and efforts back to the Dharma, as discussed in the previous chapter.

Despondency is to think that the attainment of buddhahood is impossible (VII.17). It is countered by perseverance in one’s practice and confidence in the Buddha’s teaching that even those who used to be insects in past lives have achieved buddhahood through the strength of exertion (VII.16-19).

Self-contempt is to denigrate one’s own ability to do what needs to be done (VII.20-21). It is countered by finding joy in one’s practice, relinquishing evil and experiencing pleasure from meritorious action and learning (VII.24-29). Also, one does not start off by being able to sacrifice even one’s body, but by doing relatively small things like donating vegetables at first; in time one’s generosity and wisdom increase to the point that one is able to relinquish even one’s body if need be (VII.25-26). “Proceeding in this way from happiness to happiness, what thinking person would despair, after mounting the carriage, Awakening Mind, which carries away all weariness and effort.” (VII.30)

Having listed the antidotes to the obstacles to the perfection of energy, verse VII.32 gives a list of six powers that a person can develop which will strengthen one’s energy: “Uprooting the opposite in this way, one should endeavor to increase one’s exertion through the powers of desire, pride, delight, renunciation, dedication, and self-mastery.”

Desire, also one of the antidotes, is dealt with again in verses VII.33-46 wherein Śāntideva laments that he wasted so much time without making efforts to destroy his faults or cultivate virtue. He then constrasts the righteous desire of the bodhisattva with the desire for pleasure of the selfish and ignorant, how those who have the former will be reborn in a pure land whereas those who have the latter will be reborn in hell. “The Sage has sung that desire is the root of all skillful deeds, in turn, the root of that is ever meditating upon the resulting consequences.” (VII.40)

Pride, is dealt with in verses VII.46-61 wherein Śāntideva plays with the idea of pride as conceit or arrogance, which is a defilement, and pride in the sense of self-respect, confidence in one’s abilities, and refusal to be overcome by the defilements.

It should be noted that in verse VII.58 Śāntideva’s play on words may be a reference to the story of Never Despising Bodhisattva in chapter 20 of the Lotus Sūtra who greeted everyone by saying to them, “I respect you deeply. I do not despise you. Why is that? It is because you will be able to practice the Way of Bodhisattvas and become Buddhas.” He continued to do this even when arrogant people who did not believe in the teaching of the Lotus Sūtra disbelieved him, accused him of being ignorant and making false predictions, and even persecuted him be beating him. Śāntideva’s verse reads, “And despised on all sides, sustained by pride, the mortified, even those wretched in the midst of the proud, pray tell of what kind are they.” Crosby and Skilton point out in the footnote for that verse that the Sanskrit for the phrase “despised on all sides” (sarvataḥ paribūtāḥ) is synonymous with the Sanskrit for Never Despising (sadāparibhūta). Sadāparibhūta can also be understood to be mean “Always Despised” which describes how Never Despising Bodhisattva was treated by the arrogant Buddhists. “Sustained by pride” (S. mānastabdhāh) can also mean “full of” or “puffed up with,” so that part of the verse can mean either a negatively proud person or a bodhisattva like Never Despising who is sustained by the positive pride of self-respect and conviction. “The mortified” (S. tapasvinah) can mean either  a “spiritual practitioner,” again like Never Despising Bodhisattva, or “miserable, wretched people.” Verse VII.58 leads into VII.59 which plays on the positive and negative meanings of pride, saying that the bodhisattvas “bear their pride to victory over the enemy pride” (VII.59). So verses VII.58-59 may both be taken as reference to the story of Never Despising Bodhisattva, whose positive pride led to victory over both the negative pride of arrogance and conceit and over his arrogant persecutors who eventually are won over by him.

Delight, also one of the antidotes, is described in verses VII.62-65, wherein Śantideva even goes so far as to say, “One should be addicted to the task that one is undertaking. One should be intoxicated by that task, insatiable, like someone hankering for the pleasure and the fruit of love-play.” (VII.62). The bodhisattva should truly make their practice a “labor of love.” Once again, as with desire and pride, Śāntidva shows that delight has a positive aspect that bodhisattvas need for their practice.

Renunciation, corresponding to the antidote of “letting go,” is described in verse VII.66 in terms of being able to put aside a task to rest and then take it up again, and to move on when it is complete.

Dedication and self-mastery are the subject of verses VII.67-75, wherein among other  analogies the bodhisattva is compared to a fencer in a swordfight, “One should guard against attacks from defilements, and resolutely attack them, as if engaged in a sword-fight with a well-trained enemy. As, then, one would hastily snatch up one’s sword in fear did one drop it, so should one snatch up the sword of mindfulness when it drops, remembering the hells.” (VII.66-67)


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Chapter six is about the perfection of patience. It starts off by describing the dangers of hatred and the virtue of patience (or forbearance). “There is no evil equal to hatred, and no spiritual practice equal to forebearance.” (VI.2)

One piece of especially good advice to avoid dejection is this: “If there is a solution, then what is the point of dejection? What is the point of dejection if there is no solution?” (VI.10)

Śāntideva then exhorts himself to show courage and to face suffering squarely so that suffering can be eliminated. He points out that suffering can even be helpful. “The virtue of suffering has no rival, since, from the shock it causes, intoxication falls away and there arises compassion for those in cyclic existence, fear of evil, and a longing for the Conqueror.” (VI.21)

The next section of chapter six discusses the conditioning of evil and evil-doers, so as to show that evil and suffering are not substantial but caused and conditioned, and the conditions in and of themselves, more often than not, were not primarily intended to cause suffering or bring about evil. Verses VI.25-26 say, “Whatever transgressions and evil deeds of various kinds there are, all arise through the power of conditioning factors, while there is nothing that arises independently. Neither does the assemblage of conditioning factors have the thought, ‘I shall produce’; nor does what is produced have the thought, ‘I am produced.’”

This means that the intention an evil-doer has to harm others is caused by phenomena that are not themselves harmful intentions and the harmful intentions produced as well as the conditioned entity holding them are ignorant of their own conditioned nature. In a sense, all are unwitting victims of circumstance. Take the members of one ethnic group who persecute or even committ genocide against another ethnic group. The persecuting group may have or believe they have legitimate grievances against the other group. Perhaps the other group exploited them in the past, or took or are believed to have taken some unfair economic advantage. Or perhaps the persecuting group fears for their own safety and believe, rightly or wrongly, that the other group plans to attack or undermine their preferred social arrangements and values. Through fear they begin to demonize the other group. They lose empathy and cultivate hatred and even cruelty. Lack of imagination (which is what empathy for others involves), perception of a grievance or a future threat, and ignorance of the true nature of the “other” are things that may not be outright evil in and of themselves, but they are the kinds of delusions and weaknesses that lead to evil. When we consider these things we can understand how harmful intentions and actions towards others may arise, even within ourselves when we fail to empathize, buy into unexamined prejudices, and give in to paranoia about the “other.” Rarely, if ever, does anyone want to be or set out to be the “bad guy” but due to causes and conditions people end up becoming oppressive, cruel, and unjust. Through analyzing the causes and conditions for the actions of others we dissipate our anger and cultivate understanding and even empathy for those who, out of ignorance and the circumstances of their own past and perceptions felt impelled to commit harmful actions. By letting go of anger, we can come up with a more clear headed and effective solution to unjust and harmful actions on the part of others (or perhaps even see that our perceptions were causing us to see malicious intent where there was actually only misunderstanding and unaddressed grievances).

This is not to say that people do not act with ill-will, callous disregard, or other motives that we would consider bad or even evil. It is also not to say that people should not be held accountable for their actions. What this deconstruction of evil aims to do is help us to understand that what we perceive as evil too evolves out of causes and conditions and has no stable or fixed identity. Its ephemeral nature means that our anger has no ultimately real object. Again, if we can stop demonizing the “other” or catastrophizing painful situations but instead look at causes and conditions analytically we can more cooly and effectively deal with them, both within ourselves and in influencing the people and situations around us for the better.

Śāntideva continues to argue along these lines in the next five verses but extends it into a critique of Sāṃkhya, one of the six schools of Vedic philosophy, and closely related to the theories underlying the practice of Yoga (also considered one of the six schools of Vedic philosophy). This will require a bit of unpacking. Verse VI.27 says, “The much-sought-for ‘primal matter’, or the imagined ‘Self’, even that does not come into being after deciding ‘I shall become’. In Sāṃkhya, the pradhāna or prakṛti, the “primal matter,” is the undifferentiated basis of all that can be experienced. The pure awareness that is the experiencer is called puruṣa, which is synonymous with the Ātman, or “Self.”

Why does Śāntideva assert that neither the alleged prime matter as the basis of experience nor the Self as the experiencer could intentionally bring themselves into being? The following verses provide his reasoning. He points out in verse  VI.28 that if something does not exist, then it cannot wish itself into existence. Alternatively, if it is believed that an entity exists in an independent unchanging manner, then it cannot choose to cease existing but will continue to act as it always has, so its existence and activity is not a choice but a necessity. In neither case could it be blamed for being what it is, because it had no choice in the matter.

Furthermore, the Self as envisioned by the Sāṃkhya is a pure awareness, a simple awareness without even the changing thoughts and feelings of a stream of consciousness, for such a stream is, in Sāṃkhya, the changing permutations of the most subtle forms of the primal matter that Self mistakenly identifies itself with. If the Self is simply a pure awareness that does not change even through contact with primal matter, then it is inactive like space (VI.29), and therefore not blamable for any action.

In the next verse, VI.30, it is pointed out that if something does not change at all, then how can it be part of any kind of activity that involves change. It’s very involvement would change it. Some might claim that there is no change because the action is necessarily a part of the unchanging composition of the agent of the action. But to say this is to raise the question, “does the act cause the actor to exist, or does the actor cause an action to happen? In either case, the actor is not an eternal unchanging and inactive entity.

All of this is to show that there are insoluble difficulties in trying to speak of unchanging entities as being responsible for the changing phenomenal world that we actually experience. It is also to show that there are no primal singular causes for anything, including the painful circumstances and events of life. In the analysis of any given situation, no single independent unchanging entity can be found to blame. All that is found is the dynamic network that is dependent origination. Śāntideva sums this up in VI.31, “In this way, everything is dependent on something else. Even that thing upon which each is dependent is not independent. Since, like a magical display, phenomena do not initiate activity, at what does one get angry like this?” There is no single thing to blame, be angry at, or hold hatred for, but there are causes and conditions that can be worked with and changed.

Śāntideva then raises the following question, “If it is argued that to resist anger is inappropriate, for ‘who is it that resists what?’, our view is that it is appropriate since there is dependent origination there can be cessation of suffering.” (VI.32) In other words, if everything is just a flow of impersonal causes and conditions, then how can we hold anyone responsible for anything, and why should we even care or bother? However, this impersonal flow of causality does give rise to the subjective experience of suffering, and so if we wish for this to cease then we should take responsibility, at least for our own subjective sense of involvement and contributions, and do what we can to change the causes and conditions so that suffering is removed from the flow. In this way, suffering will cease for both ourselves and others.

Why, then, bother to analyze away our judgments about the motives of others, if Buddhism still insists that sentient beings can and should take responsibility for their actions? The point is to understand that others do not understand that they are being impelled by causes and conditions, and this is one reason they suffer. The point of analysis is to move away from blaming others for being “bad” or “evil” and see that because of ignorance we have all become victims of circumstance to one extent or another and because of that act in harmful and even self-destructive ways. To awaken to this situation is to awaken empathy for ourselves and others. It is to see that beings do not really want to cause suffering but practically cannot help themselves until they begin to awaken. As verse VI.33 states, “Therefore, even if one sees a friend or an enemy behaving badly, one can reflect that there are specific conditioning factors that determine this, and thereby remain happy.”

The argument for empathy rather than blame for others is summed up VI.37-40: “When, under the power of defilements in this way, they injure even their own dear selves, how could they have care for the persons of other people? When, driven insane by their defilements, they resort to killing themselves, how is it that not only have you no pity but you become angry? If it is their very nature to cause others distress, my anger towards those fools is as inappropriate as it would be towards fire for its nature to burn. In fact, this fault is adventitious. Beings are by nature pleasant. So anger toward them is as inappropriate as it would be towards the sky if full of acrid smoke.” Note that these verses assert that the defilements are adventitious and that the true nature of people is to be pleasant. It can therefore be said that the bodhisattva is striving to awaken in order to restore the true nature of themselves and others.

Śāntideva then reflects that just as someone struck with a stick does not get angry at the stick but at the person wielding the stick, we should not stop there but reserve our hatred for the hatred that is controlling the person who strikes out at others (VI.41). This is not an unfamiliar reflection, as in our culture we have the saying “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” It is still easier said than done.

Śāntideva continues to reflect on his own culpability in being hurt by others, because he too has caused suffering to others in the past and now he is getting what he deserves (VI.42). In other words, the harm being done to him now is the effect of harmful causes that he made in the past. He then makes the rather odd argument that he is also to blame for the craving that led to his having a body that could be harmed in the first place (VI.43-46). Frankly, this kind of rhetoric seems a bit unhealthy. It can easily lead to “blaming the victim,” because it seems to be saying that no one would ever be harmed unless they were karmically responsible for similar aggression or worse in the past (or a past life). It also seems to be saying that any harm that comes to you is your fault for being alive in the first place. We should remember, however, that these are arguments for patience that Śāntideva is making for himself, that a practitioner would then likewise make for him or herself. It is not meant to be applied to other people. Still, the problem remains – are we really also to blame for the bad things we believe others have done to us because we were to blame in the past and that it’s our fault for being alive? This is not only unconvicing but it seems to be a negation of self-worth and of the value of life, and that does not seem very healthy.

Still, there may be a couple of things about the argument that are worth considering. The Buddha did teach that not everything happens because of karma. There is the teaching of the five niyāmas, or “certainties,” that describe five different modes of operation of the law of cause and effect. This teaching is based on a discourse in the Connected Discourses of the Buddha (SN 36.21). In brief, the law of cause and effect operates in terms of the interactions and changes of inanimate matter, biological processes, non-volitional mental activity, volitional or consciously willed activity, and the unselfconscious activity of the awakened ones. These five modes overlap, build upon, and influence one another. Only the volitional activity, though, is karmic in the sense of sowing seeds through intentional acts of thought, word, and deed that come to fruition as a particular body, mind, environment, and set of relationships. Volitional activity, however, is the one area that we can take responsibility for and exert some control over. So it is the one we should focus on. Returning to Śāntideva’s reflections, perhaps he is right that we should consider how we ourselves have contributed to any problems that we might be facing, or how we may have caused others similar problems in the past (perhaps even in a past life). Śāntideva’s reflection are not so much about blaming ourselves as realizing that we may not be blameless, esp. when we consider that our actions do matter and contribute to the way the world is for us.

Also, to be alive does mean to be vulnerable, and we should come to terms with that vulnerability and not blame others when things do not go our way or when others act in ways that we do not approve of. It is not that we should blame ourselves for being alive and vulnerable, but we should realize that if we are going to embrace life we are also going to embrace vulnerability and all the painful circumstances, contradictions, and infirmities that come with being alive. This is all by way of reconciling ourselves with what is and learning how to let go of anger and hatred. This idea is repeated in VI.66 which states, “Whether the cause possesses consciousness or not, distress is inevitable for embodied beings. That distress appears in what is conscious. Tolerate that pain therefore. “

Śāntideva next considers that if his past actions were what caused other people to be angry with him and to commit unwholesome karmic deeds, then he is the one who has harmed them (VI.47), and if he retaliates against them then he will be harming them again and also failing in his bodhisattva practice (VI.51). On the other hand, if he is patient, he will have expiated his own past misdeeds while they will fall into hell (VI.48). If such is the case, then there is no reason to be angry because his persecuters have given him the opportunity to cultivate patience and rid himself of past evils while they have caused themselves further harm on his account. It seems as though Śāntideva is assuring himself that his enemies are actually his benefactors and that nevertheless they will be punished for their misdeeds towards him, so he should feel compassion for them instead of anger. Further on in chapter six, Śāntideva reflects that if it weren’t for persecuters with malign intent he would not have the opportunity to practice patience, just as one cannot practice generosity if there is no one to give to (VI.105-111). So there is reason to be grateful towards persecuters instead of giving in to hatred of them.

Śāntideva also says, “And my hatred towards those who damage sacred images and stūpas or who abuse the true teaching is inappropriate, since the buddhas and bodhisattvas are not distressed.” (VI.64) Instead of jealously guarding their dignity and authority and advocating violence towards non-believers, the buddhas and bodhisattvas advocate patience and compassion towards those who are so bound by ignorance and their own prejudices and partisanship that they would attack Buddhism.

Śāntideva considers that the bodhisattvas (and buddhas in their previous lifetimes as bodhisattvas) have sacrificed everything to liberate sentient beings, so how could he do otherwise than serve sentient beings, even those who are currently maligant because they are controlled by their defilements, if he wishes to emulate them and attain buddhahood (VI.120). All other beings are cherished by the buddhas and bodhisattvas and so we should cherish them and serve them as well (VI.125-126). In Nichiren Buddhism, the story of Never Despising Bodhisattva in chapter 21 of the Lotus Sutra provides a model of the bodhisattva who is abused by others but nevertheless tries to teach them that they too are destined to attain buddhahood.