19th century painting depicting biographical episodes from the life of Shantarakshita.
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Śāntarakṣita (Sanskrit; Wylie: zhi ba tsho, 725–788) was a renowned 8th century Indian Buddhist Brahmin and abbot of Nalanda. Śāntarakṣita founded the philosophical school known as Yogācāra-Svatantrika-Mādhyamika, which united the Madhyamaka tradition of Nagarjuna, the Yogacara tradition of Asanga and the logical and epistemological thought of Dharmakirti. He was also instrumental in the introduction of Buddhism and the Sarvastivadin monastic ordination lineage to Tibet which was conducted at Samye.
Shantarakshita's writings, lost for the most part in Sanskrit but preserved in Tibetan translation, give evidence of the encyclopaedic range of his learning, which embraced all the religious and philosophical currents of his time, Hindu and Buddhist alike.
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.
Born in Rewalsar, in the modern-state of Himachal Pradesh in India, Śāntarakṣita was brought to Tibet at the instigation of King 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. 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.
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. 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.
We know that Śāntarakṣita focused his early teachings in Tibet directed to the 'seven that were tested' upon the 'ten virtues' (Tibetan: དགེ་བ་བཅུ, Wylie: dge ba bcu; Sanskrit: daśakuśala; Pali: dasa sikkhapadani or dasa sila) and 'the chain of casual relation' (Sanskrit: pratītyasamutpāda). The ten virtues are the opposite of the 'ten non-virtues' (Tibetan: མི་དགེ་བ་བཅུ, Wylie: mi dge ba bcu; Sanskrit: daśākuśala).
Śāntarakṣita's synthesis of Madhyamaka, Yogacara, and Pramana was expounded in his text Madhyamākalaṃkāra. 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.
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 Sautantrika views of Dignāga and Dharmakirti.
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.
Ju Mipham's Revival of Śāntarakṣita's Tradition
In the 19th century, a movement funded by the secular authorities in Derge, Kham 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. 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. Mipham's commentaries now form the backbone of the Nyingma monastic curriculum. The Madhyamakalankara, which was almost forgotten by the 19th century, is now studied by all Nyingma shedra students.
- Murthy (1989) p.18-27, 41–43
- stanford.edu: Śāntarakṣita (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
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- Shantarakshita & Ju Mipham (2005) pp.2–3
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- Banerjee, 1982 P.5
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- 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.
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