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Peter Della Santina

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Peter Della Santina was born in the USA. He has spent many years studying and teaching in South Asia and East Asia. He received his BA. in religion from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA in 1972 and a MA in philosophy from the University of Delhi, India two years later. He did his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies also from the University of Delhi, India in 1979.

He worked for three years for the Institute for Advanced Studies of world Religions, Fort Lee, New Jersey as a research scholar translating 8th century Buddhist philosophical texts from the Tibetan. He taught at several Universities and Buddhist centers in Europe and Asia including, the University of Pisa in Italy, the National University of Singapore and Tibet House in Delhi, India. He was the Coordinator of the Buddhist Studies project at the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, a department of the Ministry of Education from 1983 to 1985.

More recently, he was a senior fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Simla, India and taught Philosophy at the Fo Kuang Shan Academy of Chinese Buddhism, Kaoh-shiung, Taiwan.

For twenty-five years Peter Della Santina has been a student of H.H. Sakya Trizin, leader of the Sakya Order of Tibetan Buddhism and of eminent abets of the Sakya Tradition. He has practiced Buddhist meditation and has completed a number of retreats.

He has published several books and articles in academic journals including Nagarjuna's Letter to King Gautamiputra, Delhi 1978 and 1982 and Madhyamaka Schools In India, Delhi 1986 and the Madhyamaka and Modern Western Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, Hawaii, 1986.

Who is Peter Della Santina?

By Siddhartha Della Santina

Who is Peter Della Santina? It is a difficult question. Peter Della Santina was my father, and I knew him at first as such, a teacher in the baffling arts of living. Later I would know him as a dear friend.

Many of you who will read this will recognize him rather as an instructor and guide, but probably you will know him also as a Buddhist scholar, and perhaps you will have encountered him first through one of his books. But of course he was not only this, he was also a husband, as my mother knew him.

Long ago many would know him as a Greco-roman wrestler during his high-school years in Connecticut, or as an avid fan of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan at Wesleyan University. In India, he had long hair, wore beads and dressed in sandals and white kurta-pajamas. I never knew him like that, but equally uncharacteristically for the person he would later become, I knew him during a time when he shaved his beard, dressed in suits and ties, and wore calf leather shoes. In Italy, among the family friends he was known as a gifted cook, a great traveler and a gifted writer. Many of my friends have known him as a bantering philosopher late into the night. Various people variously knew him as Pete, Doc, Peter, Pietro, Peter C. Della Santina, Peter D. Santina, Peter Santina, in a particularly unfortunate corruption, Peter Dallas, and during a foray into fiction writing, Conrad Ellasan. I knew him as Dad. To each name there is attached a different person that I can distinctly recall. He was many things, to many people, at many times. If this sounds banal, in mythology the capacity to change forms is usually the reserve of Gods.

Some metamorphoses were particularly considerable. I was told that many of you would like to know how my father became blind. I had very little conception of my father being blind. He certainly did not act as if he was blind. To our exasperation he would have rather uncompromising opinions on what color to paint the house, and would not decline from playing ping-pong or football with me as a child. I think my first realization of my father’s blindness came by way of a classmate’s question: Your father is blind? Well, yes, clinically speaking. The result of Infantile Glaucoma, a relatively rare, and now easily treatable malformation that prohibits fluids within the eye from draining. The pressure caused thus leads to a progressive deterioration of sight, culminating in blindness, as it did with my father at the age of 11. He never spoke of it as a trauma or a loss, but quite to my astonishment, as a positive development, perhaps even a great opportunity. As a child he was fascinated with guns, knives and all sorts of other weapons used in hunting. The blindness, he would say, ridded him of his interest in this rather macabre paraphernalia; he had, after all, no way of using it. And the blindness occasioned some rather remarkable capacities: he had keen hearing, and was a most attentive and perceptive listener, as I am sure you have come to appreciate as his students and associates. And his capacity for conceptualizing space was so acute that I would turn to him with questions of geography rather than consult an atlas. It is said that the senses compliment each other; that the loss of one results in the concomitant sharpening of the others. My father was a case in point, and I think he was well aware of it. Those who knew him certainly were.

At about the same time that my father became blind he had his first encounter with Buddhism, possibly the greatest transformative event in his life. It was certainly not an intellectual encounter, not yet, but came by way of a statue of the Buddha, found by chance in a storage room. If I remember the story correctly, my grandfather had wanted to throw it away, or perhaps sell it, but my father had an instinctual liking for it, for no apparent reason at the time (he had never heard of the Buddha and knew nothing of Buddhism yet), but the statue found a place on the dresser in his room. It would take him a decade and a half more after that auspicious event for him to find his calling, during which time he was diversely a student of Political Science, a moderately debauched Hippy in Spain, an Anthropologist, an English teacher in Peru, and finally a student of Buddhism in India. It was a conversion that throughout the remainder of his life gave him incredible clarity of mind, strength, and a boundless love his family and friends cherished dearly. It is a love I am sure will long remain luminous as his passing marks his latest transformation, just another change of forms.

In Memory of Dr. Peter Della Santina

From IBC students, faculty, and staff.

Dr. Peter Della Santina will always be dearly remembered by his students and friends at IBC. He was a very skillful teacher, who taught by understanding his students' needs and guided them in their learning of Buddha's teachings in academically analytical way and also in practical way by taking examples from everyday life to illustrate certain concepts and teachings. To the Theravada students unfamiliar with Mahayana concepts, he showed them the common link that runs through the 'various yanas' of Buddha's teachings, the seeds of Mahayana concepts as found in the Pali Canon. He interviewed each of the students in his class, listened to them and identify individual differences in learning, adapt to them and help them resolve any difficulties or problems or mental blocks. He was a teacher dedicated to Buddhist practice, committed to his students and imparting his knowledge to his students, in establishing warm friendly relationship with them, in deriving joy in sharing with his class. He was a 'one in a million' kind of instructor, warm, compassionate, understanding. His students love and miss him dearly. We were fortunate to have him with us for a while, and the opportunity to know and learn from him as a teacher, as a friend.

He lives on in the teachings he leaves behind, in his warmth and compassion as a model kalyanamitra. Dr Santina, it is our fortune to have known you as a kalyanamitra. Thank you for your big heart; thank you for listening so well; thank you for showing us the meaning of honour in words and deeds; thank you for the wisdom you shared with us.

Autobiographical Note

I am one of those people you call a citizen of the world. I belong everywhere and nowhere. I am always an outsider. This accords well with my practice, because it is better not to stay at home where attachment and aversion are strong.

I enjoy my itinerant lifestyle, student, scholar and teacher by turn. But I also enjoy getting away from my desk. I like swimming, doing yoga, intelligent company, and I enjoy good food. I like nothing better than getting into the kitchen to prepare one of my favourite dishes, perhaps a hearty traditional recipe from Tuscany.