A poet’s view


The tenth chapter of Śāntideva’s poetic work of philosophy and inspiration is called pariṇāmanā paricchedo (transformation section), in which these passages occur:1

10.2 Through my merit, may all those in all directions who are afflicted by bodily and mental sufferings, obtain oceans of joy and contentment.

10.3 As long as the cycle of existence lasts, may their happiness never decline. May the world attain the constant joy of the Bodhisattvas.

This is followed by a very long litany of specific ways in which suffering beings might be transformed from unpleasant to pleasant ways of being. Śāntideva asks that all those who are suffering from the cold find warmth; that all those who are hot find refreshing breezes and cool water; that all those who are hungry find food; that all those who are suffering the tortures of hell suddenly find themselves in beautiful and delightful places; that animals who risk being eaten find themselves in a land free of predators; that those who are fearful find protection; that those who are depressed find joy. Among this litany there are some interesting ones pertaining to women. He asks that all pregnant women have childbirth without pain; and that all women find all the clothing, food, drink, flower garlands, sandalwood-paste, and ornaments that their hearts desire. A little later on, however, he asks that all women simply be transformed into men and therefore liberated from the suffering associated with being women. After this long list of what might be seen as prayers of intercession on behalf of all the suffering beings of the world, Śāntideva concludes with these words:

10.55 For as long as space endures and for as long as the world lasts, may I live dispelling the miseries of the world.

10.56 Whatever suffering there is for the world, may it all ripen upon me. May the world find happiness through all the virtues of the Bodhisattvas.

This verse is especially striking. Not only is Śāntideva offering to give away his own merit for the happiness and well-being of others, but he even offers to take on their suffering and to experience for himself all the ripening of their negative karma so that they need not suffer the natural consequences of their own actions.

Exactly how all this transformation of negative situations into positive ones is to take place is never explicitly explained, but we do get a hint in the last two verses of Śāntideva’s Bodhi-caryāvatāra:

10.57 May teaching that is the sole medicine for the suffering of the world and the source of all prosperity and joy remain for a long time, accompanied by riches and honor!

10.58 I bow to Mañjughoṣa, through whose grace my mind turns to virtue. I salute my spiritual friend through whose kindness it becomes stronger.

The very last verse of the text uses the Sanskrit word prasāda twice. This word has a wide range of meanings in Sanskrit. The following range of meanings is listed in the Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary:

  • clearness, brightness, pellucidnees;
  • purity;
  • calmness, tranquillity, absence of excitement, serenity of disposition;
  • good humour; graciousness, kindness, kind behaviour;
  • favour, aid, and mediation.

The English translation I have cited above translates the word in two ways. We have “through whose grace my mind turns to virtue.” And the second use of the word is rendered “through whose kindness it becomes stronger.” In both of these the idea is conveyed that it is somehow or another through the kind help of Mañjughoṣa that Śāntideva is enabled to do his share in alleviating the suffering of other sentient beings. The potential problem that this raises will be discussed a little later in this module. But first, let’s look at one more dramatic example of the transfer of merit in what is known best in the West as Pure Land Buddhism.

  1. The translation of these verses and the ones that follow comes from The Shantideva Online website at http://www.shantideva.net. ↩︎

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