Nightmarish, No-nonsense, Direct: My Relationship to the Bodhicaryavatara

Saddhanandi and Nagabodhi will lead a retreat at Adhisthana for the Order based on the Bodhicaryavatara titled Summoning the World to Buddhahood. And later this year we’ll have our first-ever Summer Sanghas Retreat on the same theme. Below, Saddhanandi reflects on her long-standing personal relationship with the text.


The Bodhicaryavatara is a text that has had a profound impact on my life. I first encountered it in 1985, when I went to stay in a large women’s community for a few months. I took the Bodhicaryavatara with me, having never read it before, and would read it late at night. I found it to be a nightmarish, yet uplifting text that I didn’t fully understand as a young mitra, but I loved it nonetheless. Looking back, I realize that I always had a faith response to it.

What drew me to the text was its uncompromising, no-nonsense tone and its practical, direct approach. It lays bare the mind behind so much of our reactivity. Shantideva, aware of the relentless demands faced by Dharma farers, shows sympathy for us as lowly, half-hearted beings and offers encouragement to persevere.

Years later, in 2008, I led a week-long study phase on the Bodhicaryavatara during a three-month retreat. I gave a talk each morning and wrote the next one in the afternoon. It was a wonderful and complete experience for me. It’s such an integrated text. I loved the journey from the idealism of the opening chapters, through the “bad hair day” of resistance, and into the unfoldment of the path of transformation in the form of the perfections. I drew on Bhante’s material in the Survey on the six perfections and looked at Know Your Mind to clarify the mental events that Shantideva was revealing to us.

From 2009 to 2015, I led a Mitra retreat at Taraloka based on the Bodhicaryavatara. As I gave talks every day, I often wondered what more there was left to say, as the text stands so fully on its own merits and needs very little commentary to support it. However, during those talks, I would often have an “ah ha” moment when a deeper realization would rise to the surface. And the audience seemed to enjoy watching me learn while delivering the material. I suppose the focus of a speaker is on delivering the material, but in that process, one’s understanding moves from first level of wisdom towards the second.

Sitting here today, I can see that I haven’t just fallen in love with the text, I have lived within it and developed a long-term relationship with it. Shantideva spells out how to lead the Dharma life by realising the insight of our interconnected relationship to others. For this reason, it is the perfect text to reveal so much of the flavour of Sangharakshita’s presentation of the Dharma and our principles and approach to practice.