A great collection of aphorism, but also a sophisticated philosophical consideration of two major problems for salvific religions: if I'm concerned with my own salvation, should I care about other people, and why The obvious answer, of course, is that your treatment of other people is intimately related to your own salvation, but that's much harder to justify than you might think. Santideva was a monk, writing to other monks, and prone to answering questions like how will all this meditation really help other people though by saying things like "The perfection is the mental attitude itself." Because you kind of have to say that if you're going to defend withdrawal from the world, and you kind of have to withdraw from the world if you're going to live a life of purity, which is the only way to save yourself... right
Well, what follows the above quote (5.10) is a pretty good try to get out of that logic.
The other problem concerns the value we place of this world. In Santideva's understanding of Buddhist cosmology, nothing exists, everything is illusion, and this causes some pretty obvious problems: why should I bother trying to avoid rebirth, if it's all just illusion anyway Isn't the process of trying to avoid rebirth just as illusory as the pleasure we take from a nice meal Book 9 tries to answer such questions, not very well in my eyes, but with a great deal of thought. And this is, again, applicable to all salvific religions: how do you balance the desire for a better state of existence with the needs of the present state This is connected to the first problem, of course.
The Oxford World's Classics translation is a good one, scholarly but not obtrusive. The notes are helpful, while, of course, avoiding much discussion of the tremendous cosmology needed to justify the idea of rebirth. There's a lot of suffering and hell in this book, and the editors take the easy "oh, it's just in your mind" way out, which means they don't have to tell us anything about the various levels of hell and so on. That's okay, you can't annotate everything. I just want to know more about the levels.