Lama Tharchin Rinpoche

Just as refuge defines Buddhist thought and practice, bodhicitta, the spirit or heart-mind of awakening, differentiates the Hinayana and Mahayana. When I spoke about refuge, I taught the various views of refuge according to the different yanas. The same can be done for bodhicitta. The sutra Mahayana tradition teaches relative bodhicitta -- the aspiration and practice in order to attain awakening for the benefit of beings, and it also teaches absolute bodhicitta -- the truth of emptiness. The tantric Mahayana tradition speaks of bodhicitta variously but before I go into this, I would like to make some general comments.

There are many perspectives or ways of presenting bodhicitta. The perspective of relative bodhicitta says that all beings are the intended recipients of bodhicitta, we are the ones who are arousing bodhicitta, and bodhicitta as loving kindness and compassion liberates all. Clearly, this is based on the concept of subject, object, and interaction. However, the perspective of ultimate bodhicitta as emptiness says that there is no separation between subject, object, and interaction. This might seem contradictory – maybe we feel that the former is about a heart feeling and the later about some intellectual understanding. But they are not contradictory. They work together as complementary definitions of a single reality – if you live with love and compassion, you will find the great wisdom of emptiness because they are inseparable.

Mahayana bodhicitta teaches us to include all events and all beings in our life. Because it encompasses everything, it has the power to liberate all the six realms of existence. If we approach our practice with this expansive outlook, our results will also be expansive. But without bodhicitta, whatever profound teachings we receive, whatever deities we visualize, or whatever empowerments we receive, we are only building a more elaborate prison – a prison of concepts and falsehoods. To avoid this pitfall, always generate bodhicitta. It is the single factor that distinguishes samsara and nirvana. It’s as simple as that.

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