Reading “Adopting the Awakening Mind,” the first chapter of this week’s reading, I was concerned that our narrator, in his own awakening, was inadvertently contributing to the suffering of others. I may be interpreting his language more critically than one should, but it was my view that Santideva, in his discussion of the Awakening Mind, was undermining the principal aim of the Mahayana bodhisattva: the introduction and teaching of “the Path” to others.
In the Mahayana tradition, it is the responsibility of bodhisattvas to delay their attainment of nirvana; they use their knowledge of the Path and the Awakening Mind to guide other sentient beings away from suffering. In “Adopting the Awakening Mind,” Santideva writes that he “rejoice[s] at the deliverance of embodied beings from the suffering of cyclic existence.” (20) He goes on to commend the bodhisattvas for their role in this deliverance, describing them as “saviors.” Here, Santideva appears to appreciate the responsibilities of the bodhisattva, and he supports the altruistic intentions of Mahayana Buddhists in their pursuit of nirvana. On the following page, however, Santideva makes several assertions which – in my reading of the text – contradict his aforementioned appreciation for the work of the bodhisattvas.
“Enlightenment is my heart’s goal,” Santideva says. (21) To achieve enlightenment, he believes that it is necessary that he abandon all things, leaving them to the Earth’s unenlightened sentient beings. Santideva announces that he will leave his body to the world, and he encourages the world to use and punish his body as harshly as they desire. “Let them continually beat it, insult it, and splatter it with filth,” he writes. “Let them be derisive and amuse themselves. I have given this body to them. What point has this concern of mine?” (21) In later verses, Santideva reiterates his intention to share his Awakening with all sentient beings, as every bodhisattva should. He wishes to become “the boat, the causeway, and the bridge” for those who long to reach the further shore. (21) In my view, these latter expressions of altruism are undermined by Santideva’s encouraging of sentient beings to inflict their rage and desire on his abandoned body. In doing so, he is allowing the unenlightened to engage in behavior which will only prolong their suffering and attachment. These verses struck me as antithetical to the bodhisattva mission, and I was curious how Santideva might reconcile these points with his broader inclination to help others achieve their Awakening. Did anyone else share in my concern or have a different/more charitable interpretation of this chapter?