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Shantirakshita - Google Art Project.jpg
19th-century painting depicting biographical episodes from the life of Shantarakshita.

Shantarakshita (Sanskrit: Śāntarakṣita; Tibetan: ཞི་བའཚོWylie: zhi ba tsho) was a renowned 8th century Indian Buddhist scholar and abbot of Nalanda, who was instrumental in establishing Buddhism in Tibet. He was invited to Tibet by King Trisong Detsen where he founded the temple and monastery of Samyé and ordained the first seven Tibetan monks, thus establishing the Tibetan Sangha, according to Nagarjuna’s Sarvastivadin tradition. He worked extensively to establish the Buddhist teachings within Tibet.

Śāntarakṣita founded the philosophical approach known as Yogācāra-Mādhyamika (c.q. Yogācāra-Svatantrika-Mādhyamika), which united the Madhyamaka tradition of Nagarjuna, the Yogacara tradition of Asanga, and the logical and epistemological thought of Dharmakirti. His philosophic views were the main views in Tibet from the 8th century until it was mostly supplanted by Je Tsongkhapa's interpretation of Prasaṅgika Madhyamaka in the 15th century.[1]

In the late 19th century, Ju Mipham attempted to promote his views again as part of the Rimé movement and as a way to discuss specific critiques of Je Tsongkhapa's interpretation of Prasaṅgika.


There are few historical records of Śāntarakṣita, with most available material being from hagiographic sources. Some of his history is detailed in a 19th-century commentary by Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso drawn from sources like the Blue Annals, Buton Rinchen Drub and Taranatha. Śāntarakṣita was the son of the king of Zahor.[2]

Born in Rewalsar,[3] in the modern-state of Himachal Pradesh in India, Śāntarakṣita was brought to Tibetan Empire at the instigation of Emperor Trisong Detsen sometime before 767 CE. One account details his first trip as unsuccessful and he spent six years in Nepal before returning to Tibet. Once established in Tibet, Śāntarakṣita oversaw the translation of a large body of scriptures into Tibetan. He oversaw the construction of the first Buddhist monastery at Samye in 787 CE and ordained the first monastics there. He stayed at Samye Monastery for the rest of his life, another 13 years after its completion, and this was considered significant by Tibetans later that he stayed and did not return to India. It is said that he was kicked to death by a horse.[4] Also, in some accounts he left Tibet for a time due to the antipathy of Bonpos and interference from local spirits.

He then thought that a teacher possessed of super-natural powers and mystic charms would be able to move deeply the people of Tibet, steeped in sorcery exorcism and the like. Accordingly, he advised the King to invite the celebrated Buddhist teacher Padmasambhava to Tibet and subdue the Tibetan devils and demi-gods.[5]

Tibetan teachings

Śāntarakṣita focused his early teachings in Tibet, directed to the 'seven that were tested', upon the 'ten virtues' (Tibetan: དགེ་བ་བཅུWylie: dge ba bcu; Sanskrit: daśakuśala; Pali: dasa sikkhapadani or dasa sila[6]) and 'the chain of casual relation' (Sanskrit: pratītyasamutpāda). The ten virtues are the opposite of the 'ten non-virtues' (Tibetan: མི་དགེ་བ་བཅུWylie: mi dge ba bcu; Sanskrit: daśākuśala).[7]



Śāntarakṣita's synthesis of Madhyamaka, Yogacara, and Pramana was expounded in his text Madhyamakālaṃkāra.

In the short verse text of the Madhyamakālaṃkāra, Śāntarakṣita details his two truths doctrine philosophical synthesis of the conventional truth of the Yogacara philosophy, with the ultimate truth of the Madhyamaka, with the assistance of Buddhist logic, with a protracted discussion of the argument of "neither one nor many".

In his synthesis text, readers are advised to adopt Madhyamaka view and approach from Nagarjuna and Aryadeva when analysing for ultimacy and to adopt the mind-only views of the Yogacarans Asanga and Vasubandhu when considering conventional truth. He also incorporates the logic approach of valid cognition and the Sautrantika views of Dignāga and Dharmakirti.

Within the Yogacara in that text he also included the Sautrāntika and "consciousness-only" Yogacara views specifically when referring to "conventional truth", one of the two truths doctrine. His view is therefore categorised as "Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamaka" by later Tibetans, but he did not refer to himself that way.


Śāntarakṣita is also known for his text Tattvasamgraha (Compendium on Reality), which is a more encyclopaedic treatment of the major philosophic views of the time and survived in translation in both Tibet and China. A Sanskrit version of this work was discovered in 1873 by Dr. G. Bühler in the Jain temple of Pārśva at Jaisalmer. This version contains also the commentary by Śāntarakṣita's pupil Kamalaśīla.



Rimé movement

Śāntarakṣita's philosophic views were the main views in Tibet from the 8th century until the 15th century, when it was mostly supplanted by Je Tsongkhapa's interpretation of Prasaṅgika Madhyamaka.[1] In the late 19th century, Ju Mipham attempted to promote his views again as part of the Rimé movement and as a way to discuss specific critiques of Je Tsongkhapa's interpretation of Prasaṅgika.

The Rimé movement was funded by the secular authorities in Derge, Kham, and began to establish centres of learning encouraging the study of traditions different from the dominant Gelug tradition in central Tibet. This Rimé movement revitalised the Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma and Jonang traditions, which had been by almost supplanted by the Gelug hegemony.[8] As part of that movement the 19th century Nyingma scholar Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso wrote the first commentary in almost 400 years about Śāntarakṣita's Madhyamakalankara. According to his student Kunzang Palden, Mipham had been asked by his teacher Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo to write a survey of all the major Mahayana philosophic shastras for use in the Nyingma monastic colleges.[8] Mipham's commentaries now form the backbone of the Nyingma monastic curriculum. The Madhyamakalankara, which was almost forgotten by the 19th century,[8] is now studied by all Nyingma shedra students.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham (2005) pp.5–6, 12–16
  2. Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham (2005) pp.2–3
  3. Omacanda Hāṇḍā, Buddhist Western Himalaya: A politico-religious history, Indus Publishing, p. 314
  4. Banerjee, 1982 P.5
  5. Banerjee, 1982 p. 3
  6. [1]
  7. [2]
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham (2005) pp.4–5


  • Banerjee, Anukul Chandra. Acaraya Santaraksita in Bulletin of Tibetology, New Series No. 3, p. 1–5. (1982). Gangtok, Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology and Other Buddhist Studies. [3]
  • Blumenthal, James. The Ornament of the Middle Way: A Study of the Madhyamaka Thought of Shantarakshita. Snow Lion, (2004). ISBN 1-55939-205-3 – a study and translation of the primary Gelukpa commentary on Shantarakshita's treatise: Gyal-tsab Je's Remembering The Ornament of the Middle Way.
  • Doctor, Thomas H. (trans.) Mipham, Jamgon Ju. Speech of Delight: Mipham's Commentary of Shantarakshita's Ornament of the Middle Way. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications (2004). ISBN 1-55939-217-7
  • Ichigō, Masamichi (ed. & tr.). Madhyamakālaṁkāra of śāntarakṣita with his own commentary of Vṛtti and with the subcommentary or Pañjikā of Kamalaśīla". Kyoto: Buneido (1985).
  • Jha, Ganganath (trans.) The Tattvasangraha of Shantaraksita with the Commentary of Kamalashila. 2 volumes. First Edition : Baroda, (G.O.S. No. Lxxxiii) (1939). Reprint ; Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, (1986).
  • Murthy, K. Krishna. Buddhism in Tibet. Sundeep Prakashan (1989) ISBN 81-85067-16-3.
  • Prasad, Hari Shankar (ed.). Santaraksita, His Life and Work. (Collected Articles from "All India Seminar on Acarya Santaraksita" held on 3–5 August 2001 at Namdroling Monastery, Mysore, Karnataka). New Delhi, Tibet House, (2003).
  • Phuntsho, Karma. Mipham's Dialectics and Debates on Emptiness: To Be, Not to Be or Neither. London: RoutledgeCurzon (2005) ISBN 0-415-35252-5
  • Śāntarakṣita (author); Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (commentator); Padmakara Translation Group (translators)(2005). The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with commentary by Jamgön Mipham. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-59030-241-9 (alk. paper)
  • Sodargye, Khenpo (索达吉堪布) (trans.) . 中观庄严论释 (A Chinese translation of the Mipham's Commentary of Ornament of the Middle Way). online version

Further reading

External links

  • Blumenthal, James. "Śāntarakṣita". In Zalta, Edward N. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
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