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Reviewed by:
  • Readings of Sāntideva's Guide to Bodhisattva Practice ed. by Jonathan C. Gold and Douglas S. Duckworth
  • Amod Lele (bio)
Readings of Sāntideva's Guide to Bodhisattva Practice. Edited by Jonathan C. Gold and Douglas S. Duckworth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. Pp. xxvi + 310. Paperback $30.00, isbn 978-0-23-119267-5.

Śāntideva's Bodhicaryāvatāra (usually abbreviated BCA, rendered in the volume considered here as Guide to Bodhisattva Practice or just Guide) is an extraordinary text. Its ethical arguments, with their metaphysical grounding, are among the most explicit in classical Indian literature (see Lele 2015). This fact alone is sufficient to place the BCA among the most important texts of classical Indian philosophy. But the BCA's importance goes well beyond philosophy as such, as the Readings volume reviewed here shows amply: it is a work of poetic and literary brilliance with ritual and meditative significance in Tibet and elsewhere. (There is nothing wrong with the Readings volume's English translation of the title as Guide to Bodhisattva Practice, but it is not a translation I have seen elsewhere; I think that the more standard practice of abbreviating the Sanskrit title makes it clearer which text is being referred to.)

Readings has an intriguing concept: fifteen short chapters (including a longer introduction), each by a different scholar, whose only point in common is that they are all, in one way or another, about the BCA. Each of these chapters makes an independent contribution, and a reader who selects individual chapters out of context will find they each independently enhance the reader's understanding of the BCA even if no reference is made to the others. The great diversity of the volume's chapters lends support to Roger Jackson's claim within it that a classic like the BCA will "overflow with meanings and uses" (p. 162). Because the number of chapters is large and they are so divergent from each other, I can give only the briefest of summaries of the individual chapters – a task that I nevertheless take to be important, so that readers may discern which chapters may be of greatest interest to them. I will also attempt to reflect on the nature of the book as a whole and the role the chapters play in that whole.

Jonathan Gold's introduction introduces the BCA's major themes and reception history as well as the volume's chapters. Paul Harrison's chapter 1 reads the BCA in the light of Śāntideva's other extant work, the Śikṣā Samuccaya (Training Anthology), with some additional reference to the earlier Dunhuang recension of the text. (Other chapters all take up the BCA only in its received canonical form.) [End Page 1]

The next five chapters generally perform close readings of various parts of the BCA taken by itself. One exception is Matthew Kapstein's chapter, which reads the BCA's ninth (metaphysical) chapter in the light of the text's major Indian commentator, Prajñākaramati. (Because of this, I think it would have made considerably more sense to place Kapstein's chapter later, along with other chapters discussing the commentarial tradition, but this is a quibble.) Amber Carpenter identifes the ways in which the BCA seeks to transform its reader as a protreptic, a "turning toward" reality. Sonam Kachru probes the text's wealth of poetic and literary devices. Janet Gyatso explores the ways in which BCA chapter VIII turns its reader to seeing the world through others' eyes. Reiko Ohnuma examines the text's multivalent attitudes to the human body and the ways in which these form a coherent vision of the bodhisattva's potential transformation.

The following four chapters turn to the BCA's reception as a revered text in the Tibetan cultural area. Eric Huntington's chapter 7 reads the BCA in the light of contemporary Tibetan-influenced ritual culture (illustrated with colour plates). Thubten Jinpa interrogates the commonly made claim that the BCA is the origin of the Tibetan meditative practice of lojong/blo sbyong or "mind training", pointing out that this tradition of practice adds a great deal that is not found in the BCA itself. Roger...


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