The Two Truths

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Chapter nine begins with the statement, “It is for the sake of wisdom that the Sage taught this entire collection of preparations. Therefore, in the desire to put an end to suffering, one should develop wisdom.” (IX.1) Śāntideva now turns to the cultivation of the perfection of wisdom as understood in the Consequentialist (S. Prāsaṅgika) sub-school of the Middle Way (Madhyamaka) school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. The Middle Way school focuses on showing that all phenomena are empty of intrinsic existence, and therefore there is not only no self, but no phenomena at all that can be grasped or held to have a simple, uncompounded, and unchanging essence or self-nature. The Consequentialist sub-school furthermore takes the ironic position that it need not take a position or prove that all things are empty of intrinsic existence. Its proponents simply have to show that no view that upholds the concept of a self-nature can withstand analysis. In other words, they use the method of reductio ad absurdum, to show that the consequences or conclusions of the views of those who believe that there are things with a self-nature are all contradictory and/or nonsensical.

I believe that it is vital for Mahāyāna Buddhists who wish to understand any of the Mahāyāna sūtras, including the Lotus Sūtra, to have more than just a passing familiarity with the teaching that all things are empty of intrinsic existence. Śāntideva argues in this chapter that even the goal of attaining nirvana sought by the voice-hearers and privately awakened-ones cannot be achieved without understanding emptiness, That emptiness was necessary to attain any kind of liberation was also taught by Tiantai Zhiyi. If emptiness is not understood, then one will misread the Mahāyāna sūtras and believe either that they are advocating nihilism, or that emptiness is some kind of mystical energy field or force out of which things arise and to which they return, but these are the false views of annilationshism and eternalism that the Middle Way teaching of emptiness is meant to correct.

Śāntideva begins with an explanation of the two truths saying,

It is agreed that there are these two truths: the conventional and the ultimate. Reality is beyond the scope of intellection. Intellection is said to be the conventional. In the light of this, people are seen to be of two types: namely, the spiritually developed and the spiritually undeveloped. Of these, the world-view of the undeveloped is invalidated by the world-view of the spiritually developed. Even the views of the spiritually developed are invalidated by the superior understanding of those at successively higher levels, by means of analogies accepted by both parties, irrespective of what they intend to prove. (IX.2-4)

This means that there are different levels of perceiving truth between ordinary people, and successively advanced practitioners. Conventional truths are agreed upon truths, worldly concepts and conventions that enable us to talk to each other. Conventional truths do not, however, deal with any kind of ultimate reality that can resist analysis. Ultimate truth is that all phenomena are empty of inherent existence. The direct perception of this emptiness is the end-point of any kind of analysis.

Verse 4 speaks of “analogies accepted by both parties.” Śāntideva and his contemporaries would argue their points by appealing to analogies that would either prove or disprove their points. Several of these kinds of analogies will appear throughout chapter nine, and while they may have made sense in northern India in the ninth century, the point of them is hard to grasp by modern readers in English translation, even apart from the fact that the analogies are sometimes not even fully explained but only alluded to in passing.  And of course it was as true then, as now, that all analogies break down. I will do my best in what follows to explain these analogies and what they were trying to prove or disprove as we come to them.

Ordinary people see existent things and also imagine them to be real, that is to say, not as an illusion. It is in this regard that there is fundamental disagreement between the ordinary person and the spiritually developed. Even that there are objects of direct perception, such as visible form, is a popular misconception, like, for example, the popular view that impure things are pure. The Protector taught in terms of existent things in order to guide people. If it is objected on the basis of conventional usage that in reality these entities are not momentary, [the fact is that] there is no fault in the use of conventional truth by the spiritually developed. They understand reality better than ordinary people do. Otherwise ordinary people would invalidate the definition of women as impure. (IX.5-8)

This means that those who are spiritually developed, such as the Buddha, know how to use conventional language without making the mistake that words refer to things with inherent existence.

To show that the views of ordinary people cannot be relied upon the unfortunate example is given of how ordinary people would “invalidate the definition of women as impure.” This is a terribly misogynistic statement, but in the context of a celibate monk speaking to other celibate monks in ninth century India, it is referring to the principle that celibate Buddhist practitioners took as axiomatic that the body is full of distasteful substances. In order to be attractive and comfortable, bodies require good hygienic practices such as constant washing and maintenance. So while the perspective of an unreflective heterosexual male housholder would be to find an attractive female purely and simply desirable, the celibate monk’s perspective is that this perceived “purity” is a delusion because it overlooks all the unwanted substances that bodies (male or female) are composed of and also the fact of their constant deterioration. Ultimately bodies are not simply “impure” anymore than they are “pure,” as all such characteristics are as empty of any intrinsic reality as the phenomena they characterize.

Conventional truth, then, is what is true only from a conventional or worldly perspective. It is not the truth revealed by a deeper analysis. Ultimate truth is the truth that no claim of anything having an intrinsic existence can withstand thorough analysis. Śāntideva alludes to the successively higher levels of development among the spiritually developed but does not elaborate on what those levels and changing perspectives of what is ultimately true might be. Here I will leave Śāntideva briefly in order to present Tiantai Zhiyi’s differentiation of the two truths into seven different levels, and his further elaboration in terms of five categories of the threefold truth. In doing this, I hope to show that through continuing contemplation a Buddhist practitioner can progress from the crude understanding of the two truths of pre-Mahāyāna Buddhism to the perfected understanding of buddhahood.

According to Zhiyi, conventional truth deals with such things as the twelvefold chain of dependent origination, whereas the ultimate truth deals with the “sign of the nature of reality.” This is understood in seven different ways depending upon the ability and level of progress of the Buddhist practitioner. Within the last five of the seven levels are five categories of understanding the threefold truth, which will also be explained below.

The Seven Levels of the Two Truths and Five Categories of the Threefold Truth:

  1. Tripitika: This level is the perspective taken in the Buddha’s teaching of the three baskets of pre-Mahāyāna sutras, or discourses; vinaya, or precepts; and the abhidharma, the systemization and technical commentaries on the discourses. The Tripitika teaching was directed towards the voice-hearers, those of the Buddha’s disciples who wished to become arhats and forever leave the cycle of birth and death within the six destinies of the hells, hungry ghosts, animals, fighting demons, humans, and gods. At this level, conventional truth refers to the practitioner’s belief that the various elements of the chain of dependent origination (such as ignorance, action, consciousness, name and form, and so forth) are things that have a real existence, even if the “self” that one had thought existed on the basis of those elements does not have its own real or intrinsic existence and is just an abstraction. The ultimate truth is that through Buddhist practice and realization, the existence of these things can be extinguished (or be nirvanized). Frankly, I have to say that I think this is a misrepresentation of the pre-Mahāyāna discourses, wherein the Buddha is careful to state that nirvana is the extinction of greed, hatred, and delusion and not the annihilation of anything with a real existence. However, it is undoubtedly true that some Buddhists have themselves misunderstood the pre-Mahāyāna teachings in this way and have both naively assumed that the categories of abhidharmic analysis were things that had a real existence and nihilistically sought to put an end to all of it as nothing more than suffering and the cause of suffering.
  2. Shared: This level is the perspective taken in those provisional Mahāyāna teachings the Buddha provided to the arhats and those starting out on the bodhisattva-vehicle. At this level, conventional truth is to recognize the illusory existence of the elements of dependent origination. The ultimate truth is to realize that these elements of dependent origination are all empty of intrinsic existence. This is what Śāntideva will be arguing throughout chapter nine, but Zhiyi characterizes this kind of emptiness as “mere emptiness” or a “one-sided emptiness” because it is solely negative. Even though the practitioner at this level may succeed at getting rid of even attachment to emptiness through the realization that even emptiness is empty of intrinsic existence (it is really just a description of how phenomena do not have the intrinsic existence they seem to have, and not a thing in and of itself), non-emptiness has not yet been realized. In other words, the practitioner at this level has not yet realized the positive value of conventional existence. This can undercut the motivation to progress in practice, to continue striving for the complete liberation of oneself and others, and to remain fully and skillfully engaged with conventional reality.
  3. Shared to Distinct: This level pertains to those bodhisattva who are transitioning from the perspective of the Shared teaching that focuses on how all things are empty and the Distinct teaching that focuses on skillful engagement with conventional reality in order to liberate all sentient beings. Here the conventional truth remains the recognition of illusory existence. The ultimate truth, however, shifts to a focus on “non-emptiness.” This means that they focus on illusory existence as manifesting a Middle Way that transcends mere existence or mere emptiness. This is the first glimmer of understanding the Middle Way, but it is not yet fully understood, let alone integrated with emptiness or conventional reality.
    This level is also the first category of understanding the threefold truth. The threefold truth consists of the truth of emptiness, that there is no phenomena with intrinsic existence; the truth of provisionality, that dharmas or phenomena arise and cease nevertheless in accordance with causes and conditions; and the truth of the middle, that there is a Middle Way. These three truths serve as a corrective to each other in that the truth of emptiness corrects the tendency to eternalism, the belief that there are phenomena that exist forever without changing. The truth of provisionality corrects the tendency to nihilism, the false view that nothing persists in any way whatsoever, which is sometimes how the teaching of emptiness is misconstrued. The truth of the middle corrects the tendency to overemphasize either emptiness or provisionality and preserves the balance between those two truths which are actually two different ways of saying that phenomena is causally conditioned – therefore provisionally existent and empty of intrinsic existence. In this category the three truths that comprise the threefold truth are viewed as three distinct truths or insights that have not yet been fully integrated, let alone understood in a non-conceptual intuitive manner. In particular, the truth of the middle is seen as an exclusive middle, which is irreducible to either emptiness or provisonality.
  4. Shared to Perfect: This level pertains to those bodhisattvas who are transitioning from the Shared teaching directly to the Perfect teaching. Here again the conventional truth remains the recognition of illusory existence. The ultimate truth, however, shifts to the realization that all dharmas or phenomena are empty and yet not-empty. All phenomena are the Middle Way which is the buddha-nature of which all dharmas are partial manifestations.
    This level is also the second category of the threefold truth. In this category, the truth of the middle is understood to embrace all phenomena and the bodhisattva begins to realize the total integration of the threefold truth.
  5. Distinct: This level pertains to those bodhisattvas who have advanced to the Distinct teaching, embarking upon the long course of cultivating innumerable skillful means in order to attain liberation for themselves and others. At this level, conventional truth is to recognize illusory existence and also its emptiness of inherent existence. The ultimate truth is to realize that ultimately phenomena are neither existent nor empty but transcend such characterizations.
    This level is also the third category of the threefold truth. In this category, the bodhisattva realizes the threefold truth but sees each of the three as distinct from one another as explained under the first category of the threefold truth.
  6. Distinct to Perfect: This level pertains to those bodhisattvas who are transitioning from the Distinct teaching to the Perfect teaching. Here again the conventional remains the recognition of illusory existence and its emptiness of inherent existence. The ultimate truth, however, shifts to the realization that all dharmas or phenomena are included in the Middle Way that is both empty and yet not-empty.
    This level is also the fourth category of the threefold truth. In this category, the bodhisattva begins to realize the total integration of the threefold truth.
  7. Perfect: This level pertains to those bodhisattvas who have advanced to the Perfect teaching. They realize that reality includes provisional existence, emptiness, and neither existence nor emptiness. They have a spontaneous and intuitive inconceivable understanding of the two truths as distinct and yet non-dual.
    This level is also the fifth category of the threefold truth. In this category, the bodhisattva fully realizes the total integration of the threefold truth. Each truth of the threefold truth is integrated and mutually implicative of the other two. The threefold truth is one and yet three, three and yet one. All of reality is empty, is conventionally existent, and is the Middle Way. Here the truth of the middle is realized as an inclusive middle that embraces both emptiness and provisionality.

Zhiyi’s point is that only in the Perfect teaching is provisionality or conventional existence fully rehabilitated, put on a par with and fully integrated with the reality that all phenoena are empty of intrinsic existence and the Middle Way. Only when there is an awakening to the Perfect teaching can all three truths of the threefold truth be intuited in a non-conceptual manner. At that point, there is no longer any need to compare and contrast them, as they each fully implicate one another without becoming indistinct. This is the subtlest, most refined, and perfect understanding of the two truths according to Zhiyi. On this level, the buddhas are perfectly liberated from phenomena (even free of the views that there are or are not anything to grasp as phenomena) and yet perfectly able to embrace and be embraced by all phenomena.

The rest of chapter nine takes up a series of questions dealing with the truth of emptiness. In Zhiyi’s presentation of the four doctrinal teachings (the Tripitika, Shared, Distinct, and Perfect) emptiness is first approached analytically, then intuitively, then in terms of non-emptiness (i.e. provisionality and the middle), and finally as totally integrated with the truths of provisionality and the middle in the threefold truth. The analytic approach of the Tripitika teaching to emptiness means to break down a phenomena into its component parts in order to see that there is not a single unchanging thing that can be identified as its essence or self-nature. The intuitive understanding of emptiness of the Shared teaching is when the practitioner realizes that there can be no end to analysis and that all phenomena on any level of analysis can be broken down into a set of relationships of other factors which are in turn analyzable and so on. At this point, one can let go of analysis and attain liberation from the false view that there is any such thing as an unchanging, uncompounded, and permanent essence or self-nature. Getting to this point is what chapter nine is aiming for. What Zhiyi would call the Distinct and Perfect teachings are not dealt with here, but it would be futile to try to understand the perspectives taken in those teachings if one has not yet comprehended and realized the truth of emptiness. So Tiantai or Nichiren Buddhism might view this chapter as lacking those two higher or more subtle forms of the Buddha’s teachings, but at the same time the chapter deals with the indispensable first two teachings that the bodhisattva must traverse to get to the last two.

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)