BSO 201 | Bodhicaryāvatāra:

How to Lead an Awakened Life

18-hour online course
with Dr. Jay Garfield


How do we live a life informed by wisdom, compassion, and bodhicitta? How can we transform our way of seeing the world?  

Join professor of Buddhist Studies, Dr. Jay Garfield, and a global cohort of students for this unique opportunity to dive deep into a key text in Buddhism through a close textual study of the Bodhicaryāvatāra"How to Lead an Awakened Life." 

A Classic of Buddhist Literature

Bodhicaryāvatāra was composed by the Buddhist monk and scholar Śāntideva sometime during the 8th Century CE. It stands as one the great classics of world philosophy and of Buddhist literature, and is enormously influential in Tibet, where it is regarded as the principal source for the ethical thought of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

The title is variously translated, most often as A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life or Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds, translations that follow the canonical Tibetan translation of the title of the book (Byang chub sems pa’i spyod pa la ‘jug pa) and the commentarial tradition of Tibet. But that translation itself is a bit of a gloss on the original Sanskrit, and a more natural English rendering of the Sanskrit title is simply How to Lead an Awakened Life, and that indeed describes the content of the text admirably. In this text, Śāntideva provides a guide to moral development open to any of us.

In this course, we will explore this key text chapter by chapter over the course of six weeks, and we will follow’s Śāntideva’s account of moral transformation. As we read, we will explore such ideas as refuge, bodhicitta, the relative roles of individual agency and dependent origination, the nature of the mind, emptiness, and the meaning of engaged bodhicitta. We will also consider the broader questions of where ethics fits into the Buddhist path. What is Buddhist ethics, and what is the relationship of ethics and awakening? How do texts like the Bodhicaryāvatāra aim to transform readers?

"An accessible, Harvard-quality course in Buddhist Studies"

Course Modules


Module 1 — Introduction to the Bodhicaryāvatāra (Chapters 1-2)

Module 2 — First Steps on the Path (Chapters 3-5)

Module 3 — Counteracting Pathology and Working on Perfections (Chapters 5-6)

Module 4 — Solidifying Bodhicitta: Two Chapters on Meditative Exercises (Chapters 7-8)

Module 5 — Reasoning One’s Way into Ethical Vision (Chapter 8)

Module 6 — Wisdom and Dedication (Chapters 9-10)

Students enrolled in this course will receive:

  • 18 pre-recorded video lectures + audio recordings (3 X 30 min per Module)

  • 6 recordings of Zoom Q&A sessions (90 min each)

  • 5 BSO Credits

  • Course Syllabus (PDF)

  • Course Readings (PDF)

  • 6 Weekly Handouts (PDF)

  • 6 Weekly Quizzes

  • Access to private Community forum

  • Certificate of Completion (PDF)

Your Instructor


Dr. Jay Garfield

Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Buddhist Studies, Smith College

Jay L. Garfield chairs the Philosophy department at Smith College. He is also visiting professor of Buddhist philosophy at Harvard Divinity School, professor of philosophy at Melbourne University and adjunct professor of philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies.

Garfield’s research addresses topics in the foundations of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind; metaphysics; the history of modern Indian philosophy; topics in ethics, epistemology and the philosophy of logic; the philosophy of the Scottish enlightenment; methodology in cross-cultural interpretation; and topics in Buddhist philosophy, particularly Indo-Tibetan Madhyamaka and Yogācāra.

Garfield’s most recent books are Knowing Illusion: Bringing a Tibetan Debate into Contemporary Discourse (with the Yakherds, 2021), Buddhist Ethics: A Philosophical Exploration (2021), What Can’t Be Said: Paradox and Contradiction in East Asian Thought (with Yasuo Deguchi, Graham Priest, and Robert Sharf, 2021), Minds Without Fear: Philosophy in the Indian Renaissance (with Nalini Bhushan, 2017), Engaging Buddhism: Why it Matters to Philosophy (2015), Moonpaths: Ethics and Emptiness (with the Cowherds, 2015).

He recently finished a book on selves and persons, Losing Yourself: How to Be a Person Without a Self, to be published in February 2022, and is working on several other projects.


Student Testimonials

"BSO 201 provided me with the opportunity for an in-depth study of a key text, the complexities of which would be difficult to unravel without expert guidance. Dr. Jay Garfield is a very engaging teacher who brought the work to life and was able to provide insight and context to deepen my understanding of Buddhist ethics."

— Nigel Meeson (United Kingdom)

"It has been a real privilege to study under Dr. Jay Garfield. His deep knowledge of Buddhist and Western philosophy and systematic elucidation of the text has opened up many new dimensions for me. Dr. Garfield made the academic content relating to how to lead an ethical life pertinent to our own lives here and now. I loved studying and discovering Santideva's text and really appreciated how the recorded lectures were structured to facilitate study during each week of the course."

— BSO 201 Student

"Dr. Jay Garfield led a highly engaging and accessible introduction to this text that really shifted my perspective and gave me so much food for thought. This isn't just a course, it really gave me tools to engage with a text that I know I'll come back to again and again."

— Sabbi Lall (Boston, Massachusetts USA)

"I have rarely taken a course where I found the subject matter so profound and the exposition so brilliant. Dr. Jay Garfield is not only an extremely knowledgeable person on this particular subject, but he also imparts this course with a passion and contagious enthusiasm that has allowed me to appreciate it in the best way. My deep thanks to Dr. Garfield and all involved in putting this together. Brilliant in all aspects for me!"

— Malcolm Chapman (Spain)