The Power of Aspiration

The final chapter of Śāntideva’s Bodhicaryāvatāra is filled with grandiose aspirations ranging from transforming the regions of hell into “glades of delight, with lakes scented by a profusion of lotuses,” chorused by a variety of water fowl to helping “all those in the world [who are] women make progress, becoming men” (10.7; 10.30). My initial reading of this chapter was frankly dismissive; Śāntideva’s aspirations felt empty and unachievable. However, after discussing these verses in our last class, I have come to the realization that my interpretation – or misinterpretation – of these aspirations more so highlight my own naiveté instead of Śāntideva’s shortcomings.

After rereading the “Dedication,” I saw striking similarities between Śāntideva’s aspirations and Microsoft’s mission statement. Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft aims “to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more,” and while their mission statement is equally grandiose as Śāntideva’s aspirations, Microsoft’s mission statement is incredibly inspirational, and perhaps that is most central to what an aspiration is. The “Dedication” read on its own makes little sense, but in context with the preceding chapters, it becomes an inspirational mission statement for the Bodhisattva ideal and the preceding chapters are instructions on how one should achieve this grand vision.

Aspirations are not meant to be tangible; their central function is to inspire. When someone devotes their life to becoming a Bodhisattva, they do so out of compassion, and I now see that Śāntideva hopes to inspire this compassion through his “Dedication”. While many of us may not go on to become Bodhisattvas, I think Śāntideva’s aspirations serve as an inspirational reminder to live with compassion and reduce suffering where we can, especially in these difficult times.

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