"In brief, the Awakened Mind
Should be understood to be of two types ;
The mind that aspires to awaken
And the mind that ventures to do so."
Śântideva : A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, I:15.
"Thus, whoever wishes to swiftly protect
Both themselves and others
Should practice that holy secret :
The exchanging of self for others."
Śântideva : A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life,
Bodhisattvas and their Bodhicitta
Generating Relative Bodhicitta
Bodhicitta in Ritual
Generating Absolute Bodhicitta
"Bodhicitta" or "awakened mind", "mind of
is the central notion of the
("bodhi" means enlightenment or awakening and "citta" means mind).
Bodhicitta defines the way of the
Bodhisattva, both in the
Great Perfection Vehicle as in
Secret Mantra Vehicle. This is a
special mind one may generate by specific mental training. This mind
seeks awakening, but for the sake of all sentient beings, in other
words, vows to awaken to teach how to cease suffering.
Although various classifications pertain, two types of Bodhicitta
are distinguished : ultimate and conventional (relative).
Usually, the latter is referred to as the mind spontaneously wishing
to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living sentient
beings. Two types of conventional Bodhicitta are given, namely
aspiring and engaging. The former is the mere wish to attain this
special mind, while the latter is actually doing so, holding all
actions by the Bodhisattva Vows.
Two powerful methods are proposed to generate relative Bodhicitta,
and on the basis of this ultimate Bodhicitta : the
sevenfold cause and effect (Aśanga) and equalizing & exchanging self
with others (Śântideva).
Ultimate Bodhicitta is
a wisdom mind motivated by relative
Bodhicitta directly realizing
emptiness. This is the Bodhicitta
of the mind of a Buddha.
and their Bodhicitta
merit by virtuous actions and realizing absorptions are not
typical for the way of the Bodhisattva. Non-Buddhist systems also
maintain moral discipline and develop spiritual exercises, involving
calmness and concentration. Spiritual systems considering
this-life salvation as impossible or very unlikely mostly do not invisage helping
others after being saved. Helping others however is introduced as the best way to
Lesser Vehicle practitioners keep to
themselves and seek
liberation for their own benefit. Although devoid
of the intent of salvation to save others, this does not preclude joy,
love, compassion & equanimity. While the Lesser Vehicle focuses on the
latter, the Great Vehicle is all about
compassion. In terms of Bodhicitta, this
means one vows to seek
Buddhahood to help others thereafter.
Bodhicitta is the mind of enlightenment of the Bodhisattva.
It is said the Bodhisattva, like a good shepherd, vows to postpones his own enlightenment until
all sentient beings attain theirs. He or she enters "nirvâna" only after
the last sentient being has done so.
Why ? Because all other sentient beings are deemed more important than
sentient being. This is the intent. So to convey this universality of
compassion, the Bodhisattva makes sure he or she comes last. It is also said the Bodhisattva is like a boatman, ferrying sentient
beings across, from conventional truth to "the other shore" of wisdom or
These admirable & devotional images, conveying vital information (namely
universality & process), do not represent the Bodhisattva's ultimate intent.
Does the Bodhisattva have the energy or omniscience to stay last & truly
help ? Is he or she able to
serve others with absolute certainty he or she is not self-serving ?
No doubt compassionate, powerful and wise, even the Great Bodhisattvas,
still under the sway of very subtle delusions, must first become Buddhas
to realize their goals, namely the cessation of the suffering of others.
True Bodhicitta must be "king-like". The Bodhisattva seeks full enlightenment
bring, as a Buddha, infinite energy-resources into play to
help (teach, empower, bless) all sentient beings without free will (hell
beings, hungry ghosts, animals, anti-gods, gods) and all humans of good
will. While very powerful, a Buddha is not omnipotent, nor the Creator-God.
To propell him or her into Buddhahood, the Bodhisattva vows to generate the "mind of enlightenment for all
sentient being". According to the
Lesser Vehicle, the
Great Vehicle miscalculates. Lacking time, the
Bodhisattva will never be able to complete his or her training. Liberation
(Arhathood) may be intended, but Buddhahood is extremely rare, if not
impossible. And in a certain way,
Great Perfection Teachings confirm this,
for although Buddhahood is definitely possible, it remains extremely
difficult. To accumulate the necessary merit to clear all the
dross in a single lifetime from scratch was deemed nearly impossible.
This problem is solved by the tantric "turbo", the Fourth
Turning, increasing the accumulation
spectacularly, i.e. allowing the already available Bodhicitta to generate very vast merit
very quickly. The two baskets (of merit and wisdom) thus
rapidly simultaneously (not sequentially) filled, enlightenment is possible in a period of time as short as
three months or a single lifetime ! In exceptional cases, a single
"pointing-out" instruction may suffice (cf.
By itself, this mind of enlightenment is the ultimate vehicle of vehicles.
But, once entering the "Body of Truth" ("Dharmakâya"),
it is no longer necessary. Completing the
Ten Stages of the Bodhisattva training for the sake of the enlightenment
of all sentient beings is therefore the final goal of the Bodhisattva. The
first stage of this training is entered when
emptiness has been directly perceived
(on the Path of Seeing). Then he or she is an "Ârya" or Superior Bodhisattva.
The Mahâsattva Bodhisattva has Buddhahood in sight.
In Tibetan Buddhism, relative & absolute Bodhicitta are distinguished. The
relative mind of enlightenment is subdivided in (a) the intention and wish
to generate this mind of enlightenment for all, called "aspirational"
Bodhicitta, and (b) actually doing so, called "engaging" Bodhicitta.
Absolute Bodhicitta is the vision of the true, fundamental nature of all
phenomena, the direct, undeluded experience of emptiness. This wisdom-mind
or "son" prehends the matrix or "mother" out of which all phenomena emerge
and to which all return.
The way of the Bodhisattva is the appropriate means to generate relative
Bodhicitta, while the Ten Stages train the former to realize the ultimate
wisdom of absolute Bodhicitta, i.e. totally remove substantial
instantiation of objects.
These divisions again illustrate the importance of the proper
understanding of the nature of intra-mental ideality (the ego, self, the mind)
and extra-mental reality (the other, the world).
To generate relative Bodhicitta during
meditation, the sevenfold instruction on
cause and effect by Aśanga is to be applied :
beings as mothers : if we realize the cycle of death &
rebirth has caused every
sentient being to be one's mother, father, husband, wife, closest friend,
etc. many times before, then we bring everyone within the context of one's
mind, and establish equanimity towards friends, neutral persons & enemies
kindness : becoming aware that at some point all sentient beings have been
close & kind to us, helps to extend kindness to all ;
cultivating the intention to repay the kindness of all sentient beings
develops a sense of being in contact with them, it opens our heart to all, and
cuts off the notion of being isolated or unable to be kind ;
love : generating love
towards all sentient mother-beings, i.e. wishing them to be free from
suffering and the causes of suffering, helps the mind to find pleasantness in relation to
compassion : generating
compassion towards all sentient mother-beings, i.e. helping them to
actually realize their
greatest happiness, namely freedom
from suffering and the causes of suffering, results in a
spontaneous & universal intent ;
great compassion : the
attitude stating one will actually & constantly free each and every sentient being
throughout space from suffering and the causes of suffering, changes an
ordinary being into a person of great capacity, with a perspective beyond
one's own benefit ;
aspiration to enlightenment :
realizing the aim of great compassion can only be fulfilled after
enlightenment, makes one vow to attain the highest enlightenment for the
sake of freeing all sentient beings from suffering and its causes. With
this mind, Bodhicitta has been generated.
Another method, proposed by Śântideva
involves equalizing & exchanging self with others. First one regards
others as precious & important while contemplating the disadvantages of
self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others. After thus
having equalized self and others, one trains to exhange self with others. Success
in this comes when one spontaneously cherishes others in the same way as
one used to cherish oneself.
In the last phase of this training, one
practices taking & giving (Tib. "tonglen"). One (a) takes the suffering,
fear, unhappiness, faults etc. of another (visualized as black smoke
inhaled and drawn into our own heart, the seat of our self-cherishing
mind), (b) mixes these contaminations with the causes of our own
suffering, namely the Three Poisons (attachment, hatred & ignorance),
allowing this smoke to consume our self-cherishing, and then (c) returns
our very best to the other, visualizing how they have become pure,
uncontaminated and in great bliss.
The generation of Bodhicitta presupposes a whole series of preliminaries,
summarized by the sevenfold prayer, involving refuge & prostrations,
offerings, confession, rejoicing in virtue, supplications, turning of the
Wheel of Dharma and dedication. Once generated, Bodhicitta has to become
spontaneous. In order to prevent it from degenerating in this lifetime,
four precepts are kept :
remembering the benefits of
Bodhicitta : if we remember the benefits often, we will be more motivated to
generate Bodhicitta ;
Bodhicitta six times a day : generating Bodhicitta every four hours allows this mind to become
a habitual formation ;
never abandoning any sentient
being : while sentient beings may hurt us or abandon us, the
Bodhisattva never generates the intent to reject another permanently and
accumulate merit & wisdom
by daily adding merit to our field of merit and deepening our
understanding and/or experience of emptiness, we create the causes &
conditions to maintain Bodhicitta.
At some point, when Bodhicitta is
stable and no longer degenerates, it will become spontaneous. Only
has happened, the Bodhisattva may enter the
In Mahâyâna ritual, Bodhicitta may be generated by the
Four Immeasurables ("brahmavihâras"), also used in the
meditations of the
Lesser Vehicle and later incorporated in
Yoga-sûtra, the canon of the Hindu
mother-sentient beings enjoy happiness and the causes of happiness" : this
is the act of rejoicing in the happiness of others. Taking joy in the
merits visible in this world opens the mind to the truth, the beauty & the
goodness present around us in every moment, but often we are taken by
unawareness. Seeing these virtues, opens & feeds the mind with positive,
"may all mother-sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes of
: this is wishing every other not to be afflicted with suffering. If we
can love our enemies, our friends and the strangers we encounter, we have
conquered our own self-cherishing. Wishing all living beings happiness
broadens the mind even further, for not only do we rejoice in their virtue,
but we also wish to increase it ;
compassion ("karunâ") :
"may all mother-sentient beings realize the greatest happiness : freedom of
suffering" : this moves beyond merely wishing, but refers to actually
realizing or contributing to the happiness of every other being. Here we
engage and so
actually do something. Afterwards we check whether
sustainable improvement has been generated and correct our efforts if
necessary, and this again and again and again ... ;
equanimity ("upeksâ") :
"may all mother-sentient beings abide in equanimity, free from attachments
to loved ones, free from hatred of foes" : this is dealing with every other
in an impartial way. While acting, and contributing to the happiness of
other sentient beings, they are not considered to be inherently different
from one another, while their functional, dynamical distinctions are
Generating absolute Bodhicitta, or realizing the