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Shantideva (Skt. Śāntideva; T. zhi ba lha ཞི་བ་ལྷ་) was a 8th-century Indian monk and scholar at the monastic university of Nalanda. He is best known as the author of the Bodhicaryavatara (The Way of the Bodhisattva), a classic guide to the Mahayana path that presents progressive stages to the development of compassion and wisdom (bodhicitta).

According to his traditional biography, when Shantideva was a student at Nalanda university, he was considered the laziest, most stupid student among them.

Apparently he was one of those people who didn't show up for anything, never studying or coming to practice sessions. His fellow monks said that his three “realizations” were eating, sleeping, and shitting.[1]

The other students resented Shantideva's behavior, and they devised a plan to drive him out of the university by requesting him to give a public teaching on a topic of his choice. They were hoping that Shantideva would become so embarrassed by his lack of knowledge, that he would just run away. To the surprise of these students, Shantideva agreed to give the public teaching, and in that teaching he presented his now-famous text, the Bodhicharyavattara (Way of the Bodhisattva).

The writings of Shantideva are considered to be a major contribution to the Madhyamaka philosophy of great Indian scholar Nagarjuna (c. 150 – 250 CE).


Biographical data

Contemporary translator Andreas Kretchmar writes:

The earliest known biographical data on Śāntideva is given by Vibhūticandra in the 13th century. This Indian Sanskrit scholar came to Tibet in 1204 as part of the entourage of the famous Kashmiri paṇḍita Sakyasribhadra (1127-1225) and wrote a commentary on the Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra, which contains a short biography of Śāntideva.
Another important early biographical account of Śāntideva is found in a 14th century Nepalese manuscript fragment in Newari script. It was edited by Haraprasad Sastri and is very similar to Vibhūticandra’s Tibetan account of Śāntideva’s biography. Both texts—the Nepalese manuscript and Vibhūticandra’s biography of Śāntideva—were analyzed by J.W. De Jong, who concluded that they were based on a common but no longer extant source.[2]

Two Tibetan sources of the life of Shantideva are the historians Buton Rinchen Drub and Tāranātha. An accessible account that follows the Butön closely can be found in Kunzang Pelden, The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech.[3][4]

Traditional biography

The following biography of Shantideva is based on an oral teaching by Ringu Tulku. Ringu Tulku based this biography on Drops of Nectar, a commentary on the Bodhicharyavatara by Khenpo Kunpal.

As Khenpo Kunpal explains, Shantideva was born in the South of India, in a place called Saurastra. His father was King Kalyanavarnam, and his given name was Shantivarnam. When he was young, he naturally acted in the way of a bodhisattva. He had a great faith in the Mahayana teachings, great respect for his teachers, and he was diligent in his studies. He was always helpful to the king’s ministers and to all the subjects. He was very compassionate to the poor, the sick, and the lowly, giving them aid and protection. He also became very learned and skillful in all the arts and sciences.
During his youth, he met a wandering yogi who gave him the teachings on the Tikshna Manjushri Sadhana, and through this practice he established a strong connection with the bodhisattva Manjushri and attained a high level of realization.
When Shantideva’s father passed away, the ministers of the kingdom wanted to make Shantideva the next king, and they prepared a great throne for his enthronement ceremony. But the night before he was to be enthroned, Shantideva had a dream in which he saw Manjushri sitting on his throne, and Manjushri said, “My son, this is my seat, and I am your teacher. How can we two sit on the same seat?” Shantideva interpreted the dream as an indication from Manjushri that it is no use to become king. So he fled the kingdom, leaving everything behind.
He went to the monastic university of Nalanda, where he become a monk under Jayadeva, who was the head of the five-hundred panditas (scholar-practitioners) at Nalanda. It was at that time that he was given the name Shantideva.
At Nalanda, Shantideva studied all the teachings of the three pitakas and meditated on their meaning. But he studied and practised on his own, in private, and within himself, focusing on the meaning of the teachings and practice. He secretly composed two treatises that condensed the meaning of the pitakas: the Compendium of Trainings and the Compendium of Sutras.
Although Shantideva had these great qualities of realization and renunciation, he remained in Nalanda without doing anything outwardly. To the other students, he seemed to be the laziest person there, so they called him bhusuku. Bhu comes from bhukta, which means eating. And su comes from susta, which means sleeping. And ku comes from kuchiwa, which means just walking. So bhusuku is one who just eats, sleeps, and goes out to the toilet.
The students at Nalanda thought that he was a disgrace to them, because everybody else was studying and debating and giving teachings—everybody was busy doing something, and Shantideva was doing nothing. He was just sleeping in his small room, eating their food, and strolling around. They wanted to expel him, but they couldn’t find an excuse to expel him because he had done nothing wrong—because if you don’t do anything, you can’t do anything wrong! So he didn’t break any rules or do anything that was against the law. Since they couldn’t just ask him to go away, they tried to find a way to drive him away.
Then somebody had a great idea and said, “We should make a new system that all the students in the university have to give a teaching. When his turn comes, he won’t know how to teach, so he will run away!” They all agreed to this and they asked Shantideva to give a teaching. But Shantideva wouldn’t agree to teach. He just said, “Oh, please don’t ask me. I don’t know anything.” So they asked his teacher to order him to teach. So Shantideva’s teacher ordered him to teach, and then Shantideva agreed to teach.
By now the other students really wanted to embarrass him, so they built a huge throne and put it at the center of a big open field, and then they invited everybody from the whole community around the university to come and listen to Shantideva. They really wanted to make him run away!
Finally, when the time came for him to give the teaching, Shantideva just appeared on the throne. No one saw him arrive or climb onto the throne, and they couldn’t figure out how he got there. Then Shantideva said, "What kind of teaching should I give? Something that has been given before, or something which has never been given before?” Of course, everybody shouted, “Something that has never been given before!”
Shantideva replied, “I have these three teachings. Compendium of Trainings is too long, and Compendium of Sutras is too short, therefore I will give you the Bodhicharyavatara, which is of middle length.”
Shantideva then recited the Bodhicharyavatara from memory, and it is said that many people saw Manjushri in the sky above his head as he recited the text. Legend has it that when Shantideva reached the thirty–fourth verse of the ninth chapter, which is the most difficult part of the book, he and Manjushri levitated off the ground, and rose up higher and higher into the air until they disappeared. Shantideva's voice could still be heard until he finished the teaching.
Afterwards, everyone was very impressed! A few panditas with extraordinary memory had written down notes, but when they tried to compare their notes, there were two different opinions on what was said. According to the panditas from Kashmir, the text had nine chapters and seven hundred stanzas. But a group of panditas from central India thought it had ten chapters and one thousand stanzas. In addition, they did not know what Shantideva meant by these two books, Compendium of Trainings and Compendium of Sutras, which were referred to in the teaching.
So they searched for Shantideva all over India, and after quite some time they found him at the stupa of Shridakshina, in the south. The Nalanda scholars went there and invited Shantideva to come back to Nalanda and teach. He would not go with them, but he settled their disagreement about the text, and said that it has ten chapters and one thousand stanzas. Then he told them where to find the two other books that he had written: Shantideva had written the texts on palm leaves and hidden them under the thatched straw roof in his room. He also gave them the reading transmission and explanations of these texts.
The three books written by Shantideva are Compendium of Trainings, which is quite long, Compendium of Sutras, which is very short, and Bodhicharyavatara, which is of medium length. The Bodhicharyavatara was written for all beings generally, but especially for these five hundred panditas of Nalanda University, to show them the genuine path of a bodhisattva. It is said that there were one hundred and eight commentaries written on the Bodhicharyavatara in India.[5]

Other historical figure with the same name

The Zhansi Lun of the East Asian Mādhyamaka identifies two different individuals given the name "Shantideva": their founder of the Avaivartika Sangha in the 6th century and a later Shantideva who studied at Nalanda in the 8th century and appears to be the source of the Tibetan biographies. Archaeological discoveries support this thesis.[6][7]


Bodhicaryavatara (Way of the Bodhisattva)

Shantideva is particularly renowned as the author of the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra (also known as Bodhicharyavatara). The title for this text has been translated as The Way of the Bodhisattva or Introduction to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life or Engaging in the Conduct of the Bodhisattva.

This text is a classic guide to the Mahayana path. It presents progressive stages to the development of bodhicitta, by focusing on the six paramitas. This text is highly esteemed in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Shikshasamucchaya (Compendium of Training)

The Shikshasamucchaya (“Compendium of Training”) presents a detailed explanation of the conduct of a bodhisattva. It consists primarily of quotations from sutras — generally those sutras associated with Mahayana tradition, including the Samadhiraja Sutra.[8]

Sutrasamucchaya (Compendium of Sutras)

Shantideva's text of this name has been lost.


  1. "Cutting Ties: The Fruits of Solitude". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved October 28, 2015. 
  2. Drops of Nectar, Khenpo Kunpal's commentary on Shantideva's Entering the Conduct of the Bodhisattvas, Volume 1, page 6, translated by Andreas Kretschmar.
  3. Pelden, Kunzang. The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech: A Detailed Commentary on Shantideva's Way of the Bodhisattva. Shambhala Publications, 2010.
  4. Shantideva (1997), The Way of the Bodhisattva, translated by the Padmakara Translation Group, Boston l: Shambala, ISBN 1-57062-253-1 
  5. RW icon height 18px.png Shantideva, Rigpa Shedra Wiki
  6. Rahsid, More Harunur (2012). "Deva Dynasty". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. 
  7. Bodhicaryāvatāra Historical Project Archived March 6, 2016, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Amod Lele, "Śāntideva", Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 


External links

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