Namo Dharmaya !
Hail to the Teachings
"All the peace and happiness of the whole globe,
the peace and happiness of societies,
the peace and happiness of family,
the peace and happiness in the individual persons' life,
and the peace and happiness of even the animals and so forth,
all depends on having loving kindness toward each other."
Lama Zopa Rinpoche
The Three Scopes
Methods to Generate Bodhicitta
Taking and Giving - Tong Len
The Bodhisattva Vows
Practising the 6 Perfections
Advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
To explain the different motivations of engaging in Buddhist practices, one
can distinguish the three different scopes.
With the lowest scope of motivation, one realises the problems one can encounter in the next life, and is concerned about working to achieve a good rebirth. In fact, this is not even a spiritual goal, as it relates to worldly happiness for oneself.
With the medium scope of motivation, one realises that within cyclic existence there is no real happiness to be found, and one strives for personal liberation or Nirvana.
With the highest scope of motivation, one realises that all sentient beings are suffering within cyclic existence, and one strives to free all beings from suffering.
A praise of compassion by Lama Zopa Rinpoche:
"Live with compassion
Work with compassion
Die with compassion
Meditate with compassion
Enjoy with compassion
When problems come,
Experience them with compassion."
The definition of compassion is: wanting others to be free from suffering. So compassion is the definition of the highest scope of motivation. It is said that to generate genuine compassion, one needs to realise that oneself is suffering, that an end to suffering is possible, and that other beings similarly want to be free from suffering.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
"Nirvana may be the final object of attainment, but at the moment it is difficult to reach. Thus the practical and realistic aim is compassion, a warm heart, serving other people, helping others, respecting others, being less selfish. By practising these, you can gain benefit and happiness that remain longer. If you investigate the purpose of life and, with the motivation that results from this inquiry, develop a good heart - compassion and love. Using your whole life this way, each day will become useful and meaningful."
More teachings of H.H. the Dalai Lama on Compassion, the Supreme Emotion.
'Bodhi' is Sanskrit for Enlightenment and 'Citta' is Sanskrit for Mind. It
refers to the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient
beings. A 'Bodhisattva' is a being (sattva) with the bodhicitta motivation.
A short story:
An enthusiastic student asks his teacher: "Master, what can I do to help all the suffering beings in this world?" The teacher answers: "Indeed, what can you do?"
So, even if I am genuinely concerned about the welfare of others, when
I am hopelessly lost in my own problems, trying to deal with the world, how can
I help others? I would be like jumping into a river where someone is drowning,
when I cannot swim myself...
Therefore, I should first learn to swim myself, learn to deal with my problems, learn how to become liberated from my problems, or at best, become all-knowing or enlightened. The realisation comes: "change the world, start with myself".
This idea is called Bodhicitta in Sanskrit: the wish to become an omniscient Buddha so I can be of perfect help for others.
However, in order to collect enough positive power or momentum to become a Buddha, I need to help others as much as possible on my path. But I should realise that at this moment my help is limited, simply because I don't know all the results of my actions. Also while helping others, we should not forget the goal out of becoming a Buddha to be a much better help, therefore one should be mindful of dedicating one's positive energy to this goal.
Some reflections by the Indian saint Shantideva:
"Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world,
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.
But what need is there to say much more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them!"
Or, as Shantideva reflected the far-reaching thought of Bodhicitta:
"May I become food and drink in the aeons of famine for those poverty-stricken suffers.
May I be a doctor, medicine and nurse for all sick beings in the world until everyone is cured.
May I become never-ending wish-fulfilling treasures materialising in front of each of them as all the enjoyments they need.
May I be a guide for those who do not have a guide, a leader for those who journey, a boat for those who want to cross over, and all sorts of ships, bridges, beautiful parks for those who desire them, and light for those who need light.
And may I become beds for those who need a rest, and a servant to all who need servants.
May I also become the basic conditions for all sentient beings, such as earth or even the sky, which is indestructible.
May I always be the living conditions for all sentient beings until all sentient beings are enlightened."
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METHODS TO GENERATE BODHICITTA
The '4 Point Mind Training' is based on cultivating four realisations:
1. Equanimity: One can cultivate the realisation that all sentient
beings are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Beings cannot
really be divided into friends, enemies or strangers because friends may turn
into enemies, enemies may become friends, and strangers may become friends or
2. Faults of self-cherishing: a consequence of karma is that self-cherishing is the only cause of my problems.
3. Good qualities of cherishing others: a consequence of karma is that cherishing others is the cause of all happiness.
4. Exchanging self & others: being intelligently selfish, by continually trying to put oneself in the place of others, and then acting.
The '7 Point Mind Training' is based on cultivation in 7 steps:
2. All sentient beings have been or, at least, could have been my mother as I have lived innumerable lives.
3. Remember the kindness of your mother in this life, all she did for you, the problems she went through to take care of you.
4. Would it be great if I could repay her and all previous mothers' kindness.
5. Generate great love: may all mother sentient beings have happiness and the causes for happiness.
6. Generate great compassion: may all mother sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering
7. I should give up all self-cherishing and egoism, and work to bring them happiness and release them from their suffering: therefore, may I become an omniscient Buddha, as he is the perfect doctor to cure the suffering of all mother sentient beings.
For a sample meditation see the
Another famous teaching in the Tibetan tradition on practising the Bodhisattva path are the "37 practices of a Bodhisattva", teachings by the American nun Thubten Chodron on the web.
In the Tibetan tradition, following verses are often recited to direct the mind towards generating Bodhicitta:
With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.
Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
today in the Buddhas' presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispell the miseries of the world.
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TAKING AND GIVING - TONG LEN
This practice is possibly the ultimate practice in altruism. It is definitely not easy, but if done well, it undermines one's selfishness quickly.
Shantideva expressed the value of this practice as follows:
"If I do not actually exchange my happiness
For the sufferings of others,
I shall not attain the state of Buddhahood
And even in cyclic existence I shall have no joy."
Look here for a detailed description of the meditation of taking and giving.
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There are two levels in the development of bodhicitta; aspiring and engaging bodhicitta. A person with the aspiring intention wants to attain enlightenment to help others, he or she is not yet prepared to engage in all of the practices and activities necessary to do so. On the other hand, someone who has generated the engaging altruistic intention and is prepared to joyfully undertake the Bodhisattva's practices six perfections, can take the bodhisattva vows. The difference between aspiring and engaging bodhicitta is similar to the difference between wanting to go somewhere, and actually travelling there. The vows are taken on the basis of having taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) and some or all of the five lay precepts. Details on the precepts of engaging in aspiring bodhicitta can be found on the Aspiring Bodhicitta page.
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THE BODHISATTVA VOWS
One can take the Bodhisattva vows, if one wants to commit oneself to the path of wanting to help all sentient beings, and therefore striving for Buddhahood. A Bodhisattva (bodhi = enlightenment, sattva = being) is a person with the bodhicitta motivation. This is not necessarily a practice for small minded or fearful people, as Lama Anagorika Govinda writes in A Living Buddhism for the West:
"Fearlessness is the most prominent characteristic of all bodhisattvas and all who tread the bodhisattva path. For them, life has lost its terrors and suffering its sting. Instead of scorning earthly existence, or condemning its 'imperfection', they fill it with a new meaning."
Going through the ritual of taking the vows does not really 'give' the vows.
It is said that you only really receive them if you genuinely experience
development of bodhicitta, which is a deep realisation. The ceremony is intended
to give imprints on the mind so we can develop this precious altruistic
The main vow is to always work for the benefit of all sentient beings. The Bodhisattva vows go beyond just this life, and are basically being taken until all sentient beings are enlightened!
The Bodhisattva vows consist of the so-called 18 root (or main) vows and the
46 minor vows, which are given in the page on Bodhisattva
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PRACTISING THE 6 PERFECTIONS
On the path of a Bodhisattva, one should practice what are called
the six perfections of: giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration
and wisdom. The first five are methods, the last, wisdom, is necessary for any
of them to function.
It is said that mainly the first three are practices for the lay people, joyous effort and concentration mainly refer to meditation practice.
Giving one's possessions, virtues, even one's body if needed.
Giving of fearlessness, or protection to others.
Practising mentally giving to others.
Giving of Dharma, teachings.
Keeping one's vows.
Working for sentient beings.
Restraining from negative actions.
Collecting merit (with the motivation of helping others).
Having patience in understanding Dharma and gaining faith.Joyous effort / perseverance
Being undisturbed by anguish from suffering.
Practicinge patience before getting angry.
Having patience in accepting problems.
Being undisturbed by inflicted harm.
Collecting merit and helping othersConcentration
Delighting in virtue and every beneficial action.
Avoiding putting off; craving worldly pleasures and discouragement
Developing quiescence; single pointedness, stability & firmness (meditation) This brings great progress in any meditation practice and supernatural powers.Wisdom
Cultivating inner needs: to have few wants and generating contentment, abandoning demands of the world, and have pure ethics.
Creating outer needs: conducive place: quiet, easy food & water, blessed place, not too comfortable and a helper.
Generating ultimate wisdom (emptiness) to achieve liberation and Buddhahood.ADVICE FROM HIS HOLINESS THE 14th DALAI LAMA
Generating relative wisdom in practising the first five perfections and understanding karma.
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Recently a group spent days visiting with H.H. Dalai Lama focusing upon what they believe the five most important questions to be considered moving into the new millennium.
The five questions were:
1. How do we address the widening gap between rich and poor?
2. How do we protect the earth?
3. How do we educate our children?
4. How do we help Tibet and other oppressed countries and peoples of the world?
5. How do we bring spirituality (deep caring for one another) through all disciplines of life?
The Dalai Lama said all five questions fall under the last one. If we have
true compassion in our hearts, our children will be educated wisely, we will
care for the earth, those who "have not" will be cared for.
He shared the following simple practice that will increase loving and compassion in the world. He asked everyone in the group to share it with as many people as they can.
1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same things (to be happy and be loved) and we are all connected to one another.
2. Spend 5 minutes -- breathing in - cherishing yourself; and, breathing out - cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.
3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet. Practice cherishing the simplest person (clerks, attendants, etc., as well as the "important" people in your life; cherish the people you love and the people you dislike).
4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.
These thoughts are very simple, inspiring and helpful. The practice of cherishing can be taken very deep if done wordlessly; allowing yourself to feel the love and appreciation that already exists in your heart.
Some additional thoughts of the Dalai Lama, from "The Meaning of Life" (slightly edited):
"One technique for developing altruism is called equalising and switching self and other. Here, one should investigate which side is important, oneself or others. Choose. There is no other choice - only these two. Who is more important, you or others? Others are greater in number than you, who is just one; others are infinite. It is clear that neither wants suffering and both want happiness, and that both have every right to achieve happiness and to overcome suffering because both are sentient beings.
Let me describe how this is practised in meditation. This is my own practice, and I frequently speak about it to others. Imagine that in front of you on one side is your old, selfish I and that on the other side is a group of poor, needy people. And you yourself are in the middle as a neutral person, a third party. Then, judge which is more important - whether you should join this one selfish, self-centred, stupid person or these poor, needy, helpless people. If you have a human heart, naturally you will be drawn to the side of the needy beings.
This type of reflective contemplation will help in developing an altruistic attitude; you gradually will realise how bad selfish behaviour is. You yourself, up to now, have been behaving this way, but now you realise how bad you were. Nobody wants to be a bad person; if someone says, "You are a bad person," we feel very angry. Why? The main reason is simply that we do not want to be bad. If we really do not want to be a bad person, then the means to avoid it is in our own hands. If we train in the behaviour of a good person, we will become good. Nobody else has the right to put a person in the categories of good or bad; no one has that kind of power."
For more meditations, see the List of Sample Meditations.
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Last updated: April 28, 2001