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The advantages of bodhicitta

Part of a series of talks on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Aspects of the Path given in various locations around the United States from 2002-2007. This talk was given in Boise, Idaho.

Generating an altruistic intention

  • Bodhicitta within the lamrim and the three paths
  • Ten benefits of an altruistic intention
  • Entering the gateway of the Mahayana

Bodhicitta 01: The advantages of bodhicitta (download)

Questions and answers

  • Having the value of bodhicitta versus practicing it
  • Benefits of the bodhisattva path
  • Cultivating compassion

Bodhicitta 01: Q&A (download)

We are going to start this series on bodhicitta, and it was the bodhicitta that was this motivation that we began our session by cultivating. Those of you who were at Alex Berzin’s teachings last week recall that he talked about bodhicitta being a primary consciousness with two mental factors. The first of these being aspiration to be of benefit to all living beings including one’s self. The second being to become a Buddha—to become fully enlightened so that we will have what it takes from our side to contribute to the wellbeing of others. That is the aspiration that we generated at the beginning of our meditation session.

Closeup of the face of a blue Buddha.

Bodhicitta is the wish to become a fully enlightened Buddha for the benefit of all beings. (Photo by Marcia Portess)

We begin by generating this altruistic intention. It’s good when we hear teachings and when we practice that we begin by thinking like this, but also when we wake up every morning to begin with this kind of aspiration. It really transforms our day. It makes our day very different than if we wake up and say, “What do I aspire for today? Coffee? Breakfast? Money?” That’s all you’re going to get that day and where does that get us? But if we wake up and even before we get out of bed we cultivate this intention for full enlightenment, then it permeates everything that we do during the day, and makes our life very meaningful and worthwhile.

Before going into the bodhicitta teachings I have to give you the publicity for them. Just as the White House gave us all its reasons for the Iraq war, why it is necessary to go in there and do this pre-emptive strike, well this is one similarity between Bush and Buddha. Buddha also gave us all the advantages of doing something before we did it—so now we are going to hear the advantages of bodhicitta. You can check in your own mind how they compare with the advantages of a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. See in your own way of thinking what you find more valuable and meaningful.

It’s funny I was pulling out my notes. They were printed out on—you know how computer paper used to be with the rough edges that you had to tear away and the dots? That is how old these notes are. So I can’t read them. Also, my handwriting shrunk since I wrote it and I can’t read that either.

1. Bodhicitta as the gateway for entering the Mahayana

The advantages of bodhicitta come in a list in the lamrim—the lamrim being the gradual path to enlightenment, a genre of teachings in which it explains all the meditations on the path. One advantage of generating bodhicitta is that it is the only gateway for entering into the Mahayana. Now you are going to go, “What in the world is the Mahayana and why do I want to enter that gate anyway?” The Buddha was a very skillful teacher and he taught different paths for different people with different capabilities. He realized that not one practice, that not one style of teaching, that not one anything is suitable for everybody. So he taught a variety of things. He taught three paths in particular. One is called the path of the hearer, the second the path of the solitary realizer, and third the path of the bodhisattva. Now we are getting into terminology, but you’ll live through it.

The path of the hearer is called this because these are people who hear the teachings and then teach them to others. The solitary realizer is somebody who in their last lifetime before attaining the enlightenment of the solitary realizer path, is born in a world where there is not a manifest Buddha. But due to their own good karma in the past they know how to practice and what to do. So they practice in a solitary way. A bodhisattva is this great being I was talking about—who has this altruistic intention to become a Buddha in order to benefit everybody.

The first two, the hearers and solitary realizers, their main motivation to practice is to get out of cyclic existence themselves; whereas the bodhisattva’s main motive is to benefit everybody, themselves and others. The bodhisattva path is also called the Mahayana. That’s a Sanskrit term. It translates as “great vehicle.” If you have admiration for a vehicle that really talks about working for the welfare of all living beings; and not just working for their welfare but feeling responsible, taking steps ourselves to contribute to that welfare, then we have admiration for the Mahayana and we want to enter that vehicle. The hearers and solitary realizers definitely have love and compassion. It’s not that they are totally bereft of those positive motivations. They have much more love and compassion than we ordinary beings have. But they haven’t necessarily taken the responsibility to improve themselves to the fullest extent where they can be of the greatest benefit to all beings-that aspiration is something for a bodhisattva. And that makes one enter the Mahayana vehicle. So this generation of bodhicitta is the gateway to the Mahayana.

It may sound funny when you start. I know for myself personally the more I learned about what bodhisattvas do. Bodhisattvas are beings who have this altruistic intention. The more I learned about what they do, how they practice, how they think and feel, the greater admiration I had for them. Even though what they are doing is way beyond me I want to become like them. I mean why not? We might as well want to have a good role model in our life. Doing it or not is another question. But if we don’t have that aim we’re definitely never going to get there. From the Buddhist viewpoint we all have the potential to get there. It might take us a while, a lifetime, an eon, a few eons, but we have lots of time, what else are we going to do?

If you don’t develop a kind heart and practice love and compassion what else are you going to do in your life? Go to work, make money, get stressed out and die. [laughter] It doesn’t sound like much fun. If you have a commitment to really develop this kind of altruistic intention, then it doesn’t really matter what else happens in your life because you are doing something worthwhile and good.

It’s the only gateway for entering the Mahayana. There’s no back door. You cannot bribe your way into bodhisattva-land. It doesn’t matter how many bodhisattvas you know who are friends of your family, who are willing to do you favors. It doesn’t matter what company you have been a trustee of. Aside from generating the altruistic intention there is no other way to enter the Mahayana. All our worldly connections don’t work and we can’t bribe our way in. So you know whoever is there is someone really good, who got there through their own merit.

2. You receive the name “a child of the Buddha”

The second advantage is you will receive the name “a child of the Buddha.” Now for us again sometimes we go, “Well, so what, ‘A child of the Buddha,’ child of my parents, why should I want to be called a child of the Buddha?” Well, we learn from our parents don’t we? Our parents teach us many things. Our ordinary parents taught us how to talk, how to eat, and they toilet trained us thank goodness. We learn many things from them. The Buddha as our spiritual parent can teach us amazing things. A child often follows in their parents’ footsteps—at least in ancient times they very much did. Being a spiritual child of the Buddha is like we are in that family. We are on our way to emulating our parents and learning from our parents. In this case our parents being the Buddha and our siblings other bodhisattvas. So it is nice to be in that kind of family.

3. We surpass in brilliance all hearers and solitary realizers

A third advantage of bodhicitta is that we surpass in brilliance all the hearers and solitary realizers. The hearers and solitary realizers have accumulated great positive potential, they have realized emptiness, the nature of reality, they have freed their mind of the three poisonous attitudes of ignorance, anger, and attachment. They have done a lot. They are very praiseworthy. But they have not attained full enlightenment. It’s said that a bodhisattva supersedes them or outshines them merely by the power of this altruistic intention. This is because the altruistic intention is the principal cause for full enlightenment. We can attain liberation, we can be free of cyclic existence without the bodhicitta. But to become a fully enlightened Buddha the bodhicitta is really essential. It’s for that reason that somebody with that very noble mind really outshines the brilliance of other practitioners.

This is the traditional list. I think it’s good that we hear the traditional list so we get an idea of how things are put in the text.

4. You will become an object of the highest respect and offering

The fourth is that you will become an object of the highest respect and offering. Now ego likes this one. Have you noticed that ego says, “Enter the gateway of the Mahayana, so what? Become a child of the Buddha, so what? Gain respect and offerings, oh that one sounds good.” Yes, so have you noticed how our ego works? This tells us something about our values. A bodhisattva actually doesn’t care about respect and offering. A bodhisattva has renounced all of those.

From the side of ego we don’t want to generate altruism so that everybody can think that we are really nice because that just corrupts our motivation. The reason that it’s expressed in this way is that in our world those who are highly respected we take more interest in and we value more. Those who receive offerings, you know the powerful people, the rich people we tend to pay more attention to. What it’s saying here is that when we become spiritually advanced, when we have this altruistic intention, then people who have those kinds of values will pay attention. We will be able to lead them on the path. For example, you look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He’s an object of respect and offering, isn’t he? People worldwide respect him and they make offerings. He gives them away. But he is regarded for what he has attained. Because the Dalai Lama has that regard he can use it in a positive way to influence people, to help them deal with the problems that they face, and to create a very loving atmosphere.

Some of you may have seen a piece His Holiness wrote that was published in The New York Times on the 26th. Jack brought it in. You can get it on the web. It’s very nice because in the middle of what is going on in the world today His Holiness talks about the necessity of positive qualities. He cites scientific evidence for the possibility of their development and the value of their development. If I wrote that piece nobody would listen because I’m not an object of respect and offering. But if His Holiness writes it they will publish it in The New York Times and people will read it. They’ll begin to think about it. That can influence others in a very positive way, and give people a sense of hope and optimism. So this thing of becoming an object of highest respect and offering is not for our own benefit. It is so we can really contribute something valuable.

5. Our collections of merit and insight will be easily completed

The fifth advantage is that our collections of positive potential and insight will easily be completed. What are the collections of positive potential and insight? Some translators use the word merit, I like to use positive potential. It’s two different English terms for the same translation term. Merit means the collection of positive energy through having wholesome and skillful attitudes. That’s one of the things we want to collect on the path.

The collection of wisdom means accumulating wisdom in our mind; primarily, the wisdom that understands reality, but also the wisdom that understands the dependent arising nature of things. So these two, the collection of positive potential and the collection of wisdom are often said to be like the two wings of a bird. For a bird to fly it needs two wings. One wing and the bird is not going to go very far. With two wings a bird can really take off. Similarly in our spiritual practice if we create a lot of positive potential and we generate a lot of wisdom then all the realizations and attainments come very quickly.

How does bodhicitta accumulate positive energy or positive potential? First of all bodhicitta is working for the benefit of each and every living being. Because our aspiration, our motivation is very widespread and it is concerned with everybody, we get the positive energy of doing something beneficial for everybody. If our motivation is “I want to help this one being,” we create the positive energy of helping one being, which is fantastic. It’s much better than harming one being. If you have the aspiration of helping two beings, or three beings, or ten, then the amount of positive energy we create in our own minds increases according to the number of beings we have in mind through our motivation. If we are able to generate this very broad mind that really cares about everybody, then you feel really connected to everybody and our aspiration is to really do something that benefits the entire planet.

You can get a sense of that. The more you meditate, and if you start to do these lamrim meditations you do get a feeling of what these kinds of things mean because you get a feeling of it in your own mind. Like when you have a very selfish motivation, “I want these people to like me and invite me to their party.” And your mind is ruminating, “Why haven’t they invited me? They should invite me. I’m so wonderful. How come I’m not included? I want to be there.” Do you know what the energy of your mind is like when you think that kind of thought? Do you have sense of the energy in your mind, of your mood?

Now what is the energy in your mind, what is your mood like if instead of having that thought you have the thought, “There’s a homeless person. I wish they had a home. May they have a home and feel safe.” Is there a different energy in that kind of thought? Does your mind feel different? Which mind is happier? The second mind, isn’t it? Now imagine, generate the mind for a minute, “May everybody who is homeless, you know all those people in Turkey who lost their homes, all the people in Iraq who lost their homes, all the homeless in our country. May they all have homes and live in a place where they feel safe.” Do you feel the energy of just that thought in your mind? Thoughts are very powerful, aren’t they? They’re incredibly powerful.

Imagine having the thought “May everybody be free of whatever suffering and discontent they have. May they all actualize their deepest potential and Buddha nature.” When you have that kind of thought, what is the energy in your mind? You can see very clearly, can’t you? Just through that you can see why bodhicitta creates so much positive potential and positive energy. You can feel the energy of that thought and how it reverberates in you. Then if you act based on that kind of thought and aspiration, what you do, what you say, is putting that energy into the world. So what you do, what you say, becomes very powerful because of the power of that virtuous aspiration.

In that way our own spiritual development really expands. What we are able to do to benefit others also expands. You can get a feeling of it. So that is why the fifth advantage is our collection of merit and insight expands. What I have just explained is why our collection of merit, or positive energy, or positive potential expands.

Our insight also expands because motivated by that altruistic intention we then want to become a Buddha very badly. It’s not grasping, “I want to become a Buddha, I want to become a Buddha.” You know because I want to sit there and look at everybody, and I want them to give me some mangos. That’s not the reason and we do not become a statue when we become a Buddha. Becoming a Buddha means developing our wisdom, our compassion, and our skillful means to the utmost and having a number of different clairvoyant and kind of magical powers in which we are able to really act for the benefit of others most constructively and most effectively.

When we have the intention to be of service that gives us great energy and aspiration in our practice. You know how important energy and aspiration are in your practice. You know how it is when you wake up in the morning and your mind says, “I should meditate this morning.”

Do you all know that? “Yes, I should meditate this morning.” What usually happens after that? “Well, I’m running late for work and I really need to have a good strong breakfast today because I have a lot of stress at work. I better not meditate today, and make myself a really nice breakfast—for the benefit of sentient beings of course—so I can manage the day. I’ll meditate tomorrow morning.” Right? Do you know that scenario? You can see that our actual aspiration for meditation, our aspiration to gain wisdom is not very strong because our aspiration to have a really nice breakfast is much stronger.

The thing is, when we generate the bodhicitta, and really think of these advantages of bodhicitta, and we think what we will be able to do as a Buddha, that aspiration becomes very strong. Then when you wake up in the morning you don’t even have the thought, “I should meditate this morning.” You have the thought, “I want to meditate this morning because that is really going to help me go forward in what is valuable and meaningful in my life.” Your stomach doesn’t present a problem to you, it doesn’t distract you. This is because you have a different aspiration. Therefore you have much more motivation to develop wisdom when you have this altruistic intention.

The power of caring about others can really do wondrous things to our mind. Here’s just a very simple example of this. The first time I did a teaching tour of America was in 1989. It was a while ago. Somebody else arranged the tour so I wound up going to all these places where I didn’t know anybody. I was in Pensacola, Florida. Pensacola, Florida, have any of you been to Pensacola, Florida? This woman picked me up at the airport and we were driving through the countryside. I remember it was a convertible and everything including my robes was blowing. She was telling me a little about her background. She had been very deeply into drugs—I mean really deeply into drugs. When she got pregnant she quit drugs because of her baby. I thought, “Wow, this is the power of compassion.” She wouldn’t stop taking drugs for her own benefit even though she was suffering so much because of taking them. But because of her love for somebody else she had the discipline to stop taking drugs. That’s the power of compassion.

You can see that if we create compassion in our own lives, things that might be difficult for us now become very easy because of the power of the love and compassion we have for others. I’m sure you can all think of instances of similar kinds of things? I thought that woman’s love for herself was much less than her love for her child. She wouldn’t stop for herself but she would stop for her child. Think how much the love and compassion that we have for others can make our own mind not only happy, but very strong, very courageous. Much more courageous than if we are self-centered and just care about our own benefit. She wouldn’t stop for her own benefit, but she would stop for the benefit of somebody else. I think there is something powerful there when we are really able to open our heart and have that kind of love and compassion for others.

You know this story of the Iraqi lawyer who told the Americans how to find Jessica Lynch? I was so taken with his story because he was risking his own life. He didn’t need to do that. Somehow he had very strong principles about what is good and what is bad, and he was determined to do them, to live by them. I was very moved by that—to put one’s own life at risk for the benefit of a total stranger. It was a personal ideal. It wasn’t like he knew her or anything like that. So when we have an altruistic intention our mind can move in very positive ways; and in ways that maybe we never thought we could do before. We have a lot more confidence then.

6. Obstacles presented by our negative karma get eliminated quickly

The sixth advantage is that the obstacles presented by all of our negative karma get eliminated very quickly. So not only does our positive potential and energy increase, but all this negative potential of our previously created negative karma decreases. How does generating an altruistic intention counteract negative karma? Well, think about it. Remember the four opponent powers (for those of you who have studied before)? The four opponent powers are four kinds of thoughts that we generate to purify mistakes that we have made in our life. One of them is taking refuge and generating bodhicitta. One of those has to do with generating love, compassion, and altruism as a way to purify. Why do we do that? When we have done something harmful to somebody else it has always been through having a negative intention in our own mind. We do not harm others deliberately because we love them. When there is an intention to cause harm it is because we have an unwholesome thought in our mind. We want revenge, we feel jealous, we feel resentful, and we feel frustrated. Those are the kinds of things that make us do the things that harm others.

How do you feel when you are jealous? Remember a time when you were jealous. What is the energy in your mind? Yuck! Isn’t it? Anybody enjoy being jealous? It is horrible, isn’t it? I mean it’s really a horrible feeling emotion. We suffer tremendously from it. You can see that generating love and compassion, the energy in your mind when you generate affection and see others in beauty is totally the opposite from the energy in your mind when you are jealous towards them. That’s why those positive attitudes or emotions counteract the negative ones, because they’re totally the opposite. You can’t feel jealous when you really feel love. So for those of you who think that you’re jealous because you love somebody? Uh-Uh. I mean that’s the reason we tell our selves, isn’t it? I love somebody so much that is why I protect them with my jealousy. No! When we really love somebody there’s just that positive energy in the mind. There is no space for that horrible energy of jealousy.

You can see that when we generate altruism it overcomes the energy of these negative emotions and attitudes that we have. It replaces them with something else. It shows us—love and compassion actually show us why our negative emotions are incorrect. It shows us why they are distorted consciousnesses (for those of you who attended Alex’s teaching). Remember distorted consciousnesses? That’s attachment, ignorance, anger, those are all distorted consciousnesses. This is because we are misapprehending the object; we do not perceive it correctly. Even though we think we do at the time that we are having that feeling. When we then later can open our mind and have a feeling of actual love, we can then really see how distorted the emotion like jealously is.

Let’s look into this. When we really love somebody, the mind just wants them to be happy. That is all, no strings attached. You just want them to be happy. When you’re jealous of somebody do you want them to be happy with no strings attached? No. Either you want them to suffer because they got something that you did not get, or you want them to be happy because they like you, right? So there is a very different flavor there.

When we have strings attached in our love for somebody, in our wish for them to be happy we are setting ourselves up for a lot of misery. “I want you to be happy because you love me. The only way you are allowed to be happy is through loving me. You cannot care anything about anybody else. It has got to be me that makes you happy.” That is a set-up for pain, isn’t it? It’s a total set-up for pain. We can see how our mind sets us up for pain. It is not the other person’s fault that our mind is setting us up by having that kind of thought.

You can see replacing that kind of thought with one that says, “I want you to be happy simply because you exist.” There is so much space in that thought, isn’t there? There is so much space. “I want you to be happy because you exist.” It doesn’t matter if I am the one who makes you happy; it doesn’t matter if you say thank you to me afterwards. My whole focus is that I want you to be happy. That’s it. You can see there how positive attitudes and thereby positive actions counteract these distorted emotions. That’s how the karma gets purified because it’s totally removing all that negative energy of the motivation that caused the action.

7. Whatever you wish for, in general, will come about

The seventh advantage of bodhicitta is whatever you wish for, in general, will come about. Ego likes that one, doesn’t it? “Oh, whatever I want is going to happen if I generate bodhicitta. Fantastic!” The problem with that is that what we want now and what we want after we have generated bodhicitta are two different things. What do we want now? I want to be rich, I want to be famous, I want to be loved, I want to hear nice music, I want to have a good sex life, I want to have chocolate, I want this and I want that. Then ego says, “Oh well, I’ll get all that by generating bodhicitta.” [laughter]

Actually this is very skillful, you know, for then we start practicing bodhicitta. One of the topics as we get into the bodhicitta teachings is the disadvantages of self-centeredness. How self-absorption causes us pain, and all the misery that is brought about by being self-absorbed. Then we come to see that this clinging for, “I want to be rich, and famous, and appreciated, and loved, and talented. And I want a new car, and I want a new house, and a raise, and I want job security, and I want this and that.” We come to see how those kinds of thoughts again are a set-up to be miserable. Aren’t they? I mean it becomes real clear that all this self-absorbed rumination that we do, “I want this, I want that,” we are just setting ourselves up. This is because somehow we think the universe is going to go along with everything we want. That, “It’s the universe’s duty to provide me with everything I want and it does not matter if I have to take it away from somebody else to get it.”

We begin to see this as we generate bodhicitta; then we stop having these very self-centered cravings, and we drop a lot of the kind of machinations that go on in our mind. Because we all have these little schemes, don’t we? We have these little schemes of what we’re going to do so that finally somebody realizes how wonderful and valuable we are. Don’t you have that kind of scheme? [laughter]

So either your spouse finally realizes just how lucky they are to be married to you or your boss realizes how lucky they are to have you as an employee. We have all these little schemes. All the schemes, like what we are going to do so that other people do things my way. I mean we are just full of it. [laughter]

When we generate real love and compassion we release all that. Our mind becomes so much more relaxed. “People don’t appreciate me? It’s okay.” Imagine thinking like that. Try that for one minute. Imagine thinking, “It’s okay that people don’t appreciate me.” Can you even let that thought into your mind? Can you? It is hard isn’t it? Can you really say with truthfulness, “It is totally okay if these people I care about do not appreciate me.” That’s tough. Tough, isn’t it? Or may be you have a different kind of personality. Try, “It’s totally okay if not everybody thinks I am right. [laughter] It’s totally okay that not everybody thinks my ideas are right and my way of doing things is right.” Can you think that? [Venerable laughs] Okay, a little bit, a split second.

You can get an idea here of how if we generate bodhicitta these other kinds of thoughts come in our mind very easily, “It’s okay that not everybody appreciates me, it is okay that they all do not know how right I am.” Why? This is because I’m not even thinking “I am right” any more. I’m not being attached to being right.

The seventh advantage is whatever you wish for, in general, will happen. You can see here how when you really generate bodhicitta, the old things you used to wish for you don’t wish for any more. This is because you see how stupid they are—”I want everybody to appreciate me.” Well, even if the whole world appreciates me, are we going to feel good about ourselves? No, of course not. Even if the whole world thinks we are right, are we going to feel secure? No. With bodhicitta we begin to see the things we thought we wanted before are not very interesting and they are not really going to bring us the happiness we want.

So we change our attitude and we start to want something else. What do we want? We want beings to be well and happy. We want them to be free of fear. We want them to feel safe. We want them to feel loved and appreciated. We want them to feel valued. Then, of course, everything is going to come about—because other people are loved and appreciated and valued and everything. Also because of that, the force of the positive energy or the positive potential we create through acting with this intention that cares for countless limitless sentient beings, then we’re going to create so much good karma that happiness comes our way. We do not have to struggle for happiness but it just kind of knocks at our door.

We struggle for happiness a lot now don’t we? Do you feel like your life is struggling to be happy? You’re struggling to be happy. I think that comes very much from the self-absorbed thought. “I want this. I want that. How come it’s not like this? How come it’s not like that? How can I make this happen? How can I make that happen?” You know, when we relax a lot of that thinking or attitude then things are really different.

8. It prevents and overcomes harm and interferences

The eighth advantage of bodhicitta is that it prevents and overcomes harm and interferences. Sometimes other people may want to harm us. The power of love and compassion can overcome those harms and interferences. There is this story of the Buddha. You know I love this story. I love the story of the Buddha’s life. I find it very inspiring. One of the little episodes—he had a cousin named Devadatta, and if you think you have problems in your family: Devadatta was a real loser. He was constantly jealous of the Buddha, and constantly trying to harm him out of this jealousy ever since they were little kids. Devadatta was so jealous and had so much animosity toward the Buddha that one time he sent a mad elephant to stomp on the Buddha and kill him. If Devadatta and the Buddha lived now, then Devadatta would have done a terrorist attack instead, or dropped a bomb, or something like that. That is the scope of sending out a wild elephant in ancient India. The wild elephant comes charging toward the Buddha and the Buddha is sitting there meditating on love. The elephant is charging toward the Buddha and then falls on its knees, so the story goes, and bows to the Buddha because the power of the Buddha’s love subdued him.

We can see that very often in different situations in life how the power of love prevents damage to ourselves. In Asian cultures they very often believe in spirits and spirit harm. One of the best recommendations for that is meditating on love and compassion for the spirit who’s harming you. So whenever you feel somebody, or if there is some negative energy around you, or you feel that some other person is trying to harm you, try doing some meditation on love and compassion—wishing that person well, wishing them to be free of suffering. See how that influences the situation. Very often just the power of thought, thought is so powerful.

Have you ever noticed that when somebody is terrified of something, very often what they are terrified of happens because the power of their terror attracts that. You go into a room and you are afraid that nobody is going to like you—and sure enough nobody likes you. Why? Because you are going in there all set for nobody to like you. So you make them not like you because you are uptight, you’re not friendly, and you don’t smile. Of course they’re not going to like you. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the mind is relaxed and not afraid about whether other people like us or not, we go into the room, we act totally different and everybody likes us. When we have fear, the fear very often makes what we are afraid of happen because the fear changes our actions. I’m not saying that it is all the time that our fear makes what we are afraid of happen. Lots of times we are afraid of things and they never happen. But some of these things in which the fear influences how we act, which influences what we do, which influences what we receive in return. There we can see how our own mind can bring things about.

Bodhicitta prevents and overcomes harm and interferences. It’s interesting because I just moved here to Boise two and half weeks ago. Idaho has a certain reputation in the country. Oh, you don’t know what Idaho’s reputation is, really? It’s interesting because I grew up in California. California has its own separate reputation in the country. In the course of being here I have met so many people who are the total opposite of the stereotype that I came to Idaho with. Not only the people in the Buddhist group, but a couple of days ago I went down to Minute Man Press because we are printing the brochure for Sravasti Abbey. I had to choose the colors for the brochure for the guy in Seattle who’s doing it. So I went down there and just started talking to the lady who works in there, you know this is just downtown Idaho. It turns out her daughter has been to Dharamasala. The conversation ends with her saying, “Good luck on establishing your abbey.”

If I had gone in thinking, “All these people from Idaho are like that” … what is the guy’s name that is in charge of the Aryan Nation? If I had gone into that shop with, “Everybody is like Richard Butler,” I would never have had that conversation with that lady. I never would have started talking with her. We were talking, guess what colors I picked out? [laughter] You know, gold and maroon. You know, team colors. [more laughter] And then I said to her, “I bet you are wondering what I am?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Yes, a lot of people wonder what I am. I’m a Buddhist nun and a student of the Dalai Lama.” That’s when it came out that her daughter had been to Dharmasala. But if I had been uptight I never would have started chatting with her.

I know by now people look at me and they all wonder, “What are you?” So you just take the words out of their mouth. The attitude we go into a situation with influences how we perceive it. And so I am meeting all these people and like I say, they don’t fit my stereotype. I went to the Holocaust Remembrance at the Capital and again it’s like, “Wow, here are all these people remembering the Holocaust, they don’t fit the stereotype of Idaho.”

9. We will quickly complete all the realizations of the path

The ninth advantage is that we will quickly complete all the realizations of the path. Bodhicitta is the primary motivation for entering the Mahayana which is the path to Buddhahood. It is the primary thing that makes us create so much positive potential or merit so quickly. It enriches our wisdom because we are so motivated to meditate, so of course all of the realizations of the path are going to flow into our mind very quickly. It only follows very naturally from there.

10. We will become a source of comfort and happiness for all sentient beings

The tenth benefit of bodhicitta is that we will become a source of comfort and happiness for all sentient beings. That’s a nice thought to think my existence, or the thoughts in my mind, can be a source of comfort and happiness for other sentient beings. For example, just even knowing that there is a human being like the Dalai Lama, even though you never met him, but maybe you read a book or you have seen him on TV. Does that give you some sense of comfort and happiness? Just that there is one living being who is like that; it gives us, “Wow, I can become like that. Wow, not everybody is corrupt.” It’s a real comfort for our own mind and he provides such a positive example for us in our lives, even if we don’t know him. You can see how if we follow in his footsteps and cultivate the same kinds of meditations that he did in our own mind, then because cause and effect function, we can become that same kind of source of comfort and happiness for others.

Those are the ten advantages of bodhicitta according to the usual description. There are some other ones but I think that because time is running maybe I better give you some time for questions and some discussion about this.

Note: The audio recording of the questions and answers session has not been transcribed.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.