First of all, each practitioner should decide if he wants to be a genuine follower of Buddhism. If he does, he needs to study earnestly and cultivate Bodhicitta and the enlightened attitude. These will lead to Enlightenment.
Now what is Bodhicitta? Bodhicitta is not a single attribute. It is the combination of many positive attributes such as the application of compassion, kindness, right view and wisdom. Development of these is, thus, development of Bodhicitta and all these positive actions lead a person towards enlightenment.
Bodhisattvas do not rest in their peaceful state. They have a great deal of loving-kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings and they are neither trapped in samsara, nor have they entered into nirvana. They take on the role of bridging samsara and nirvana. According to the Mahayana view, the great Bodhisattvas, such as Avalokitesvara, Manjushri and others are nearing Enlightenment, which means that they are not yet fully enlightened. Why are they nearing Enlightenment? Because they have great compassion and want to serve all sentient beings. They have made a commitment that all sentient beings will enter nirvana and because of this commitment they choose to remain as Bodhisattvas and not enter the supreme enlightened state. On the other hand, the Vajrayana teachings state that all these manifestations were fully enlightened long ago, but for the accomplishment of others they function as sambogakaya forms to benefit sentient beings unconditionally.
The Mahayana and Vajrayana viewpoints may seem contradictory on the surface. In actual fact, they are not. They merely appear contradictory, as people of different levels of understanding and awareness perceive different qualities in Bodhisattvas who have attained their status through the development of the aspiration and application aspects of Bodhicitta. Just as a king who is walking along the street may be seen and recognised by those who know him as a king; and by those who don’t, as a merely distinguished, or noble-looking gentleman.
The aspiration aspect of Bodhicitta is when one learns and understands the result of the development of Bodhicitta and has the desire to achieve that goal. To do that one makes a commitment of aspiration Bodhicitta. “Application Bodhicitta” is when after one has made a commitment, one follows the path to fulfil that commitment and in the process becomes a Bodhisattva.
We can develop Bodhicitta through loving-kindness and compassion. Generally, each and every body has the ability to be kind and compassionate. Even tigers and snakes, which can be ferocious towards other animals, are compassionate to their offspring. This is true of many other sentient beings, including human beings, who do have a compassionate nature that is inherent. It is due to the lack of right view and wisdom that this inherent nature becomes corrupted loving and compassion. It is corrupted in that once the emotion forms an attachment, it generates defilement. That is why we are not able to develop with good results because we have the motive to benefit ourselves.
If we are kind to someone, we also expect to be kind to one we know and that kindness has self-involved. The involvement of self-interest will contaminate the exercise of loving kindness and compassion and so the results of that are not so effective or pure. The development of a selfless kind of loving-kindness and com-passion is not an easy task. It is quite difficult and impossible at first, because we need a good basis and only from there are we able to develop accordingly. The good basis is that we must have a certain kind of understanding of loving-kindness and compassion even though it may at first involve self-interest. Somehow we must know the characteristic of loving- kindness and compassion so that we can express it with people we know and then gradually and increasingly to others. That kind of expanding improvement we will be to do if we have a good basis. Everybody has loving-kindness even though some may initially be very weak and some very strong. We all have to develop from wherever we are. That basis is the starting point. To develop the selfless view we have to start from the self and then, through wisdom and right view, gradually develop a selfless attitude. We develop loving-kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings selflessly without any expectation. That is selflessness. The selflessness is initially generated by self and then it is transformed into selflessness through wisdom and right view. Poison can kill a person, but if used properly, poison can also save a life. Everything is inter-related. If one wants to know selflessness, first one needs to know selfishness and recognise it and then from the nature of that recognition, one realises selflessness.
The cause of all sufferings that we experience is the grasping of the self. It is clear that once one grasps the notion of self, for example, that I want to be happy, that I do not want to suffer or that I need material things, etc, then one has to undergo all the necessary processes in order to get things done. Yet all these processes are not easy to undergo. A great deal of effort is required at each stage. We may get what we want or we may not. At a certain point, there is usually uncertainty as to whether a goal can be accomplished or not.
Even when we get what we wish for, it does not bring lasting happiness and the achievement becomes a cause of suffering. All these processes cause us many sufferings. The root of the processes and the suffering is the attachment towards the self of ‘I’ or ‘me’. So long as we have that attachment, things are always constantly torturing and bothering us. In order to be non-attached, we must meditate to investigate the ‘I’, to establish whether the ‘I’ exists or not. Whether it has form or colour, etc.
After investigation, we will realise that the ‘I’ cannot be found. The non-finding is the finding of the ultimate state of self itself. So that is why we do not grasp the existence and non-existence of phenomena; because both cannot be found. That state of mind is then free from the extreme; beyond description. We must develop that kind of realisation. As Buddha said, existence is one extreme, non-existence is another extreme. Therefore, beyond these two extremes is the middle way or path and that is the Ultimate. So the Bodhisattvas have that level of understanding of the Ultimate, and they do not want to rest in the state of meditation of peace, but to be constantly benefiting all sentient beings. Buddha accomplished the two purposes, the “self-purpose” and “other-purpose”. These two together are the causes of Buddhahood: that is developing the wisdom and the method. Method means development of loving-kindness and compassion.
The power of compassion is very great. We experience much suffering, such as when enemies disturb us, or when physical and mental problems torture us. We suffer because we do not have the quality or perception to prevent or absorb the obstacles into the positive view. Therefore, everything becomes unfavourable to oneself. But loving-kindness and compassion can convert all situations into favourable ones. So for all the 84,000 defilements, only one type of medicine can help and that is compassion. All the great masters and Bodhisattvas agree on this point. Of course that compassion must be pure, genuine and selfless. Therefore, that kind of compassion is the remedy for all our sufferings.
When practising Bodhicitta, cultivating the right intention is most important. Initially, when we try to develop the intention to benefit sentient beings, it may be difficult and we may waver. This is because of our habitual tendency of selfishness, which is firmly established in our mind. That is why the practice may sometimes flicker as we hesitate. Sometimes, we may even think of changing our mind or intentions. It is critical, therefore, that we first develop firm and full understanding about what we intend to do and what the result will be. Once we are firm in our intention, then the next stage is for us to correct our behaviour so that any defilement will be effectively diminished. This cannot be accomplished merely with a one-off practice. Constant mindfulness and awareness have to be applied. Once these qualities are attained, we are closer towards the state of enlightenment and we also directly and indirectly benefit sentient beings constantly.
The Buddha, in the course of his development, gave his body to needy people,
a tiger, etc, without regret and
without fear of pain but with joy and happiness. The Buddha dedicated himself to others and that most perfect kind of loving-kindness and compassion is what we need to develop. And so we need to change and develop our intention. In doing so, we have to examine our own capabilities and not force ourselves to do something beyond our abilities.
To work within our abilities, without hesitation and just for the benefit of others. This is the true Buddhist way of life.