About the Book
Mapping the Bodhicaryavatara is an interpretive study of the great Mahayana ethical treatise focusing on Bodhisattvayana as it is variantly called. The Bodhicaryavatara is a world classic, and the author, Santideva is a hallowed name in Mahayana discourse, his views and ideas are regarded as of great authority, and the text is incorporated in the Tengyur, the Tibetan cannon of apocryphal writings.
The Bodhicaryavatara is a philosophical poem, and the theme is the ethicised consciousness of a bodhisattva, the one who vows to dispel the misery of the human kind, and for that noble purpose alone he wishes to attain Buddhahood. His Holiness the Dalai Lama's discourses are replete with inspiration drawn from Santideva's work.
The present study is an analytic- descriptive inquiry into the scope and extent of the paramitas or virtues, and how, when perfected, they lead to the apex of moral endeavour or prajna. The author seeks to situate the text in the continuum of the ethical thinking and literature of the East as well as the West, and even cutting across the so-called Theravada-Mahayana divide. In course of the study the author has raised points of doubt as regards conceptual linkages and ideas in Buddhist ethical thought and practice, and attempted to resolve the issues as well. This is a philosophical study with an East-West perspective in view.
About the Author
Pabitrakumar Roy (born 1936) has been a British Commonwealth Scholar at King's College, Cambridge, and University of Reading; twice Fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla; Senior Fellow, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi; Guru Nanak Dev Fellow, Panjabi University, Patiala and is presently Project Coordinator of Editing Mahayana Sanskrit Texts at Central University of Tibetan Studies, Samath, Varanasi. He has been Visiting Professor at the Universities at Pune, Bhubaneshwar and Jadavpur and IIAS, Shimla. He taught Philosophy for four decades at Visva Bharati and University of North Bengal. He has authored Kant and Hume: A Study in Linkages (London), Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi), Beauty, Art and Man (Shimla), Kani's Theory of the Sublime: A Pathway to the Numinous (New Delhi), David Hume (Kolkata), Towards the Rhythmic Word: Sri Aurobindo's Theory of Poetry (Kolkata), Mapping the Bodhicaryavatara: Essays on Mahayana Ethics (Shimla), and papers in professional journals and anthologies, and edited several volumes of papers on Buddhism. His specializations span Moral Psychology and Theory of Values.
The inspiration in writing this book came from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was blessed with the gift of an English translation of the Bodhicaryavatara. That was decades ago, but the seed germinated through the years. And here now is this book.
My English version of the Bodhicaryiitdra is by Santideva. What sort of text is that? It is obviously a Bodhisattva text; there are several of texts of this genre: the Bodhisattva-bhumi, possibly by Asanga, and the Dasa-bhumika Sutra. But I have grown comfortable with the Bodhicaryavatara through years, and came eventually to love the text.
A text, apropos J. L. Austin, seen as a speech act is either constative or performative. A constative speech act operates mainly in the expositiory mode, while a performative speech act enacts the very doctrine that it preaches. Both modes are discoverable in the Bodhicaryavatara. As a constative text, it explains and clarifies the key notions and motifs of Buddhist virtue ethics, and as a performative text it provides many examples that illustrate how these concepts are deployed in the Madhyamika system. The chapter on prajnaparamita is argumentative, providing detailed logical analysis of some basic terms in relation to the system as a whole. In the argumentative part of the Bodhicaryavatara, Santideva, in consonance with his Mahayana lineage, undoes many categories. At the level of language, he appears to hold that names are empty. A name is empty because the meaning of the name and the name itself are neither identical with, nor different from, each other. But what is the concept of meaning? What if a name is to be empty of an objective referent? If it is dismissed as an objective of attachment, it should be understood as empty of both linguistic sense and objective referent. But if it is amplified by such expressions as dreams, etc., it is empty of an objective referent. The examples of the pranks of the daughter of a barren woman is not only empty of an objective referent, but yields linguistic sense, though illogical. Hence, the meaning and name are non-identical and non-different. If the name were identical with its putative meaning, we would get our mouth burned when we utter the word 'fire'; if different, we would be given a cup of water when we ask for fire. The mystery or even the persuasiveness is involved by a false analogy. The fire that burns the mouth and the association with fire induced in the mind of the listener who has heard the word 'fire' are two different things. One is the referent and the other is the concept of the name 'fire'. Buddhism offers a non-logocentric view. Buddhist texts, and the Bodhicaryavatara is not excepted, anticipated much that is displayed by the post-modern writings, e.g., the primacy of the question of the sign, anti-logocentricism, deconstruction of the binary oppositions of subject and object, and naturalization of the signifier and the signified.
But the task before me was something else. I was interested in ethics, and looked for the foundation of Buddhist ethics in the Bodhicaryavatara. A new horizon arose in the distance: a study of Buddhist virtues or paramitas, as they are called.
I found my text charting the Bodhisattva path. The person entering this path aspired to be compassionate and self-sacrificing. His path would be long, as he would need to build up moral and spiritual perfection not only for his own exalted state of Buddhahood, but also so as to be able altruistically aid others by teaching, good deeds and merit transference. While compassion had always been an important part of the Buddhist path, it is now more strongly emphasized, as the motivating factor for the whole Bodhisattva path. My task was to understand the Buddhist path, not Theravadan or Mahayana, I found that there runs an organic continuum of method and purpose. The analytical psychology of Abhidharma enters into the later understandings of springs of action, say, in Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa, or Tsong-kha- pa's celebrated Lam rim. Even to go by what the Visuddhimagga has to say, the arhat is one who has finally destroyed the 'I am' conceit, the root of all egoism and selfishness, and can equally be described as imbued with loving kindness and as compassionately teaching others. It is acknowledged in no less a measure that the nirvana of countless beings is an essential component of the path to Buddhahood. What was reckoned as a way for the heroic few only came in later centuries to be turned into a universal prescription. The charisma enshrined in the ideal elicited a conversion experience of profound psychological effect. The new dispensation was called the Bodhisattvayana, or vehicle of the Bodhisattva, comprising compassionate motivation, directed at the nirvana of countless beings, and the profundity of the wisdom it cultivated, as the goal, omniscient Buddhahood.
As a text, the Bodhicaryavatara belongs to that class of literature which extols prajna, which is a paramita and also the other perfections involved in the Bodhisattva path. To Nagarjuna it appeared that Abhidharma analytical thinking was not enough; it could lead to a subtle form of intellectual grasping: the idea that one had 'grasped' the true nature of reality in a neat set of concepts. The Abhidharmic contrasting nirvana with conditioned dharmas making up a 'person' hid a subtle form of spiritual self- seeking, the desire to 'attain' nirvana for oneself, to get something one did not have. It was not realized that everything is not-self (anatmani or empty (sunya) of self. The pre-Mahayana persuasions or dispensations understood the non-selfness of persons (pudgala- nairatmya), the absence of a permanent substantial self in a person, but what it did not understand was the non-selfness of dharmas (dharma-niratmya). The earlier analysis saw dharma as an ultimate building block of reality, with an inherent nature of its 'own', and held that it can be identified without reference to other dharmas on which it depends. This implies that it can exist independently, making it a virtual self. The dharma analysis, developed as a means to undercut self-centred attachment, falls short of its mark.
Nagarjuna's critique of the notion of one's own-nature (svabhava, Mula-madhyamaka-karika, chapter 15) argues that anything which arises according to conditions, as all phenomena do, can have no inherent nature, for it depends on what conditions it. Santideva gives an eloquent rendering of the argument in the Bodhicaryavatara (IX. 115-118). Moreover, if there is nothing with own-nature, there can be nothing with 'other-nature' (parabhava), i.e., something which is dependent for its existence and nature on something else which has own-nature. Furthermore, if there is neither own-nature nor other-nature, there cannot be anything with a true, substantially existent nature (bhava). If there is no true existent, then there can be no non-existent (abhava); for Nagarjuna takes this as simply a correlative term denoting that a true existent has gone out of existence. The prajnaparamita literature regards all dharmas as like a dream or magical illusion. There is something there in experience, and one can describe it well in terms of dharmas, so it is wrong to deny these exist; yet they don't have substantial existence either. What we experience does not exist in an absolute sense, but only in a relative way, as a passing phenomenon. The nature of dharmas lies in between absolute 'non-existence' and substantial 'existence'. This is what Nagarjuna means by the Middle Way.
Santideva and the Bodhicaryavatara
Buddhist Ethics: Morality and Theory
Opening Ideas: Bodhicaryavatara:
Method and Approach
From Bodhicitta to Prajnaparamita
Buddhist Virtues: Paramitas
The Bodhisattva and his Career
The Motivational Context of Maitri and Karuna
Danaparamita: The Virtue of Charity
Sila: The Buddhist Concept of Ethics
Karuna: The Supreme Emotion
Ksantiparamita: The Virtue of Forbearance
Samprajanya-raksana: Guarding Mindfulness
Prajnaparamita: Human Excellence - Eudaimonia
Duhkha: The Human Predicament
The Problematic of Altruism and Rebirth:
Persons and the Problem of Altruism
Bodhicaryavatara, 8: 101-3
Meditation and Action: Problematic Polarities?
A Piece of Prthagajana Logic
The Lesson and Relevance of
the Bodhisattva Ideal
Bhavana and Action: Buddhist Ethics
Concluding Thoughts: Buddhist Ethics
Bodhicaryavatara: IX.1 - Unity of the Paramitas
The Bodhisattva Ideal and its Recent Assertions
Language & Literature (443)
Sacred Sites (102)
Tantric Buddhism (87)
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend