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Advantages of bodhicitta

A series of commentaries on Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun by Nam-kha Pel, a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa, given between September 2008 and July 2010

  • The two kinds of bodhisattvas
  • Accumulation of merit
  • The need to develop wisdom alongside bodhicitta
  • Explanation of the Pali path of the arhat and how it differs from the Mahayana path of the bodhisattva
  • The ways we get so easily distracted from our practice of bodhicitta
  • Questions and answers

MTRS 20: Advantages of bodhicitta, part 2 (download)


Let’s cultivate our motivation and really appreciating the bodhicitta and the opportunity to hear teachings on the precious bodhicitta. Then let’s approach this topic with a lot of enthusiasm and eagerness, and a real sense of the fortune we have at hearing these teachings. Because imagine for a minute not having heard teachings on bodhicitta, not even having heard the word bodhicitta or altruistic intention, then where would your life be? And where would your Dharma practice be if even earlier this life you had not heard of bodhicitta. Just think about that for a minute. And really have a special sense of joy at hearing teachings on this topic. And so, of course, let’s do it with the bodhicitta motivation and the long term intention to be of the greatest benefit to sentient beings and thus to attain full enlightenment in order to do so.

Making one’s life useful for others

It’s interesting that with the prison work I do one of the things that speaks very loudly to many of the inmates, why they turn to Buddhism, is the discussion of bodhicitta, the talk of compassion. Now you’d think, for some people who had, said that they had raped, or murdered, or whatever, in the past, because of whatever happened in previous lives, and their upbringing in this life, and their afflictions in the mind—but what spoke to them, spoke so loudly and clearly was this talk of compassion and the idea of making one’s life useful for others. And I think that for many of the inmates, that may have played a fact in feeling very lost earlier on in their life, is that there had been nothing in their lives to say, “How do you make your life useful?” And I know for me personally, this was one of the big things that I was searching for very much before I met the Dharma is, “How do I make my life meaningful?” Because after I die, then so what? You’ve had a lot of pleasures but after you die it doesn’t matter. So what’s going to bring some long term meaning to my life? And so the bodhicitta is the thing that really speaks quite loudly to that.

Nirvana with remainder and nirvana without remainder

And I’ve been doing some study recently, one of my Tibetan teachers asked me to learn more about the Theravada tradition. So I’ve been doing some study and I really enjoy it and it’s a wonderful complement, I’m understanding many things that we hear about in the Sanskrit tradition that aren’t explained fully I’m seeing in the Pali tradition. And seeing many quotations that we use in the lamrim, and finding them in the Pali sutras. And it’s a very exciting process. But one thing that I’ve really been seeing is following this track in the Pali sutras, to become a stream enterer, once returner, a non-returner and then an arhat. And then the discussion of what happens when you’ve become an arhat.

And first of all, sometimes people in the Mahayana tradition look down at the arhats because sometimes in the Mahayana sutras they’re not expressed very favorably. But the Buddha himself said in the Pali sutras that his disciples are there to teach the Dharma for the benefit of the world and the welfare of the world, and with compassion. So it’s quite clear that they have compassion and they want to benefit others. But in thinking about the goal of arhatship and the discussion of what happens when you become an arhat, because when you become an arhat, okay, your afflictions are eliminated. As it’s presented in the Pali canon; you still may have some karma left on your mindstream, but it can’t ripen in future rebirths because your craving and your ignorance have been eliminated. So in the lifetime when you become an arhat, it’s called nirvana with remainder, the remainder being the tainted aggregates that you took at the beginning of that lifetime. Because when you were born at the beginning of that lifetime you were still under the influence of ignorance and so your five aggregates are tainted or contaminated in that way. And they don’t get purified, they’re still the same aggregates you have when you’re born, so it’s called arhatship with remainder of those five tainted aggregates. And then when you die, you become an arhat without the remainder of those five aggregates. But it’s not quit sure what happens. It’s said that you get nibbana-ized.

The Buddha was quite strict, it’s not that you cease totally when you attain arhatship—nirvana without remainder. I mean he was quite clear about when people were asking, “Does an arhat, or does a Tathagata exist after death, not exist, both, and neither?” He very clearly negated the possibility of total non-existence. But they don’t have in the Pali tradition, they don’t really say what happens to the arhat. It’s just they shed these five aggregates and so then there’s nothing with which to identify the arhat with; because without the five contaminated aggregates there’s nothing, where do you say there’s a person? And yet they’re not totally non-existent. That’s how it’s presented in the Pali canon.

In the Sanskrit canon, or at least in the Tibetan tradition, when you have arhatship without remainder you abide in meditative equipoise on emptiness for a long, long time. So consciousness still exists, the person still exists, it’s merely labeled in dependence upon those aggregates, which are not tainted aggregates, but not completely purified aggregates. Although they’re free from ignorance, so they’re untainted. Yes, they would be untainted. They still have the cognitive obscurations but they would be untainted. So you abide in the nirvana for eons in your meditative equipoise until eventually the Buddha wakes you up and says, “You have to work for the benefit of sentient beings, your job isn’t really done.” So that’s from a Mahayana viewpoint, what’s happened to the arhats.

And in doing all this study I realized that there’s something about that kind of arhatship, that it’s wonderful to be out of samsara, but I don’t feel super inspired by it. Because yes, samsara is awful, and yes, I want to get out; but then to stay in my own meditative equipoise afterwards, then there’s still the thing of what’s the purpose. I accomplished my own purpose and got out of samsara, but what’s the purpose in the long term? And so I think that’s where bodhicitta, at least for me personally, gives some kind of vision that goes on into the future that is really how to make your existence quite valuable and meaningful over a long period of time. Because as a Buddha you then have the ability to manifest in may different forms and many different bodies to work for the benefit of sentient beings. So you’re always busy.

Ways of getting sidetracked from true bodhicitta

So then me with my questioning mind, I look and I can see, “Well, maybe it’s because part of my nature is like, ‘I don’t like to sit still. I want to do something!’” So maybe the idea of buddhahood appeals to me because I like to do something. So I have to watch out for that because it has to be a pure motivation and not just an, “I can’t sit still, let’s do something” motivation. And I was also thinking that there’s also in generating the wish to become a Buddha, if we haven’t realized emptiness there’s still this thing of, “I’m becoming a Buddha.” There’s still so easily this grasping at inherent existence because we have so strongly this feeling of, “Well, I need to be something.” So I’m fed up with being an ordinary person, so I’ll be a bodhisattva or a Buddha. But still there’s this thing of, “I have to be something.” Whereas when we really think about realizing emptiness, it’s like, you aren’t anything. You aren’t anything. What we label the person is really just something that’s labeled, there’s absolutely no person there. But when we don’t look, when we say, “I want to,” when we aren’t analyzing and we’re saying “I want to become a bodhisattva.” you say “I want to be something.”

Yes, because when you really think about the emptiness of true existence, you aren’t anything, there is no person there. There are the five aggregates there, but there’s absolutely nothing personal about the five aggregates. And in addition, when you look at the five aggregates, you can’t even find them. All you find is their parts. And when you look at their parts, you can’t even find them. So if you really have an analytical mind, it’s impossible to hold on to being something. But when you aren’t analyzing, our mind that always wants to feel like, “Hey, I exist.” Well now it’s like, “I’m going to exist as a bodhisattva.” So, of course, that’s better than, “I’m going to be a cab driver,” “I’m going to be a capitalist,” or “I’m going to be a doctor.” [It’s better than] these things. But we’re still wanting. There’s still the grasping at true existence that’s going on that we really have to eliminate. So what I’m talking about is when you’re aiming for buddhahood, little ways that I’m discovering where you could go off because you’re still grasping at true existence and get sidetracked there. Or because you can’t sit still, then you want to do something for sentient beings. So the motivation is not 100%, it’s better than it was before, but it’s not 100%. So all sorts of things like this.

Getting sidetracked in the Pali tradition

And similarly, in the path to arhatship there I’m noticing too all sorts of ways that people can go off [track]. Because you’re meditating very strongly there on the three characteristics: that things are impermanent, that they’re unsatisfactory in nature, and that they are without a self. And you very easily can go, when you’re understanding what samsara is and the nature of samsara: how it’s really impermanent, how it’s unsatisfactory. If you’re not real clear on your wisdom, you could very easily go in and because it does say you develop the knowledge, seeing samsara as fearful, you develop the knowledge seeing samsara as dangerous. That if we’re not completely right on our knowledge, then we get into this psychological fear and the psychological danger. And then people get this thing of, “I’m rejecting the world.” Because sometimes the Theravada language can come off like that: you’re rejecting the world because it’s fearsome and dangerous and things. And if people don’t understand what that means properly, and if they have a tendency themselves towards aversion and rejection, they could easily go off base there. Whereas actually, what’s meant is that you see the unsatisfactory nature with wisdom. And you see that it’s not that the world is dangerous, but one’s own clinging to it is dangerous, one’s own ignorance about it is dangerous. And therefore you want to escape from the origin of the suffering as well as the suffering; but it’s not because the world’s inherently bad or evil or something like that. So somebody could go off track on doing that path as well if you don’t understand those things.

Summing up

So what I’m saying, just to sum up, is we have to really watch our mind and be aware of our motivation and our understanding at all times, so that very afflicted mental states don’t mix with our understanding of the Dharma, so that we misunderstand the Dharma. And either bring grasping in true existence into wanting to be a bodhisattva, or bringing psychological escapism into wanting to be an arhat, those kinds of things. So that’s one point.

And then just the point for me personally, as I was saying that for me the idea of bodhicitta just seems really inspiring because, okay, you do attain your own nirvana—but then you get to benefit so many beings. So it seems to have a meaning that goes beyond my own nirvana, because until my own nirvana, okay, I can hold that out as something to look for. Maybe I’m just a goal-oriented person. Yes? High achieving Jewish girl – what to do? [laughter] So imprinted solidly.

But okay, so that can be one goal of arhatship. But then you attain that and so what, in a way? Whereas if you attain buddhahood, I don’t think you get to buddhahood and say, “So what?” It’s like there are too many things to do for sentient beings. And since sentient beings are infinite, and sentient beings’ afflictions are infinite, and the Dharma paths are infinite, then it’s going to take a lot of work to help. So you have your work cut out for you. And there are no days off. And there are no sick days. And there’s no overtime compensation. In fact you don’t get paid anything at all, can you imagine?

So, let’s go on to our topic this week. That was a bit of an introduction there. We had a couple of questions and then I’ll go back to the text.

Questions1 and answers

What’s a consciousness?

So one person was getting confused because I was saying that when we say Great Vehicle, that vehicle is a consciousness; when we say path (path of seeing, path of meditation), path is a consciousness; grasping at true existence is a consciousness; self-centered thought is a consciousness. So they’re saying, “I’m confused, what’s a consciousness?” Well, I’m using the word consciousness interchangeably with mind. So it’s just something that’s clear and aware by nature. And so anger is a consciousness, it’s not a primary consciousness, we have six primary consciousnesses: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. But anger is a mental factor, so it’s a consciousness. So there are some consciousnesses that can be abandoned on the path. The clear and knowing of that consciousness, is not something that it gets abandoned, but the afflicted part of that consciousness is something that gets abandoned. That’s one question.

Contentment and dissatisfaction

[Reads question] “Can you explain how contentment works in relationship to dissatisfaction? Is it an antidote or a way of coping? Perhaps contentment counteracts the inappropriate attention. Can you talk about contentment in relationship to pain, since the mind is the one that experiences pain, not the body.”

This is another question with about 15 sub-questions in it. Okay, so contentment and dissatisfaction, we can think of them in two ways. There’s a good kind of dissatisfaction and an afflicted kind of dissatisfaction; there’s a good kind of contentment and an afflicted kind of contentment. So if we look at dissatisfaction, when we’re dissatisfied due to attachment, and our complaining mind takes over, and our whining mind takes over, “I don’t like this. I don’t like that. And I want more. And I want better. And how come they have it and I don’t? And how come I have to do this and they don’t? And it’s not fair.” Okay, that kind of mind, you know that one? That kind of dissatisfaction—clearly afflicted. But when we look at what cyclic existence is, and how the nature of cyclic existence is unsatisfactory, and it’s insecure, and it’s getting born and dying again and again, and you are dissatisfied with remaining in cyclic existence—that kind of dissatisfaction is a virtuous mind. It’s a mind of renunciation that wants to attain liberation. So being dissatisfied with cyclic existence is something virtuous. But do you see, we use the English word dissatisfaction in both scenarios, but it’s actually quite different, isn’t it? But the English word fits both ways.

Similarly with contentment, if we’re just content with our samsara, “Yes, samsara is pretty good, I have a job, and a family, and an income, and things are kind of going along. And yes, it still is impermanent, but I’ve got a pretty good life.” And we’re kind of coasting along being very complacent, that kind of contentment is clearly something that’s afflicted, isn’t it? I mean we’re content with drinking poison because we don’t realize it’s poison. Well, something’s wrong. But when you have a state of contentment that says, “There’s no sense hassling about these small things in samsara that come and go, and come and go, and so I’m just going to let that be, but focus my eyes on my long term goal, and stop complaining about this and that, and whining about this and that.” That kind of contentment—you’re content with your worldly situation. You’re not looking for more status, you’re not looking for more possessions, you’re not looking for another love affair. You’re content with what you have. Then that kind of contentment is something good, because it’s very pacifying to the mind and gives you a lot of space to go forward in your practice. Okay?

In the case of pain, when you experience pain, then you might say, “Well how can I be content with pain?” In one way you can bring forth the mind, you can use the pain to generate renunciation and the determination to be free by saying, “Why do I have pain? It’s because I haven’t done anything to get out of cyclic existence. I haven’t been unsatisfied with cyclic existence. I’ve been content with cyclic existence, that’s why I am experiencing this pain.” And so then you use that pain to become dissatisfied with cyclic existence and to aim for liberation. At the same time that you have that kind of dissatisfaction, you can also be content in the sense of, “I have this pain, it’s the result of my own negative karma, I accept it. Let’s go on and make my life meaningful and useful. And even I’m lying in bed I’m going to practice the Dharma; and I can do the taking and giving meditation. And I’m not fighting the reality that I have this.” Then that kind of contentment is something that’s useful for us. So then you can be content and dissatisfied at the same time. [laughter] If you have the virtuous kind of dissatisfaction and the virtuous kind of contentment. Okay, got it?

So let’s go on. So we’ll read from the text now. It’s on the chapter about appreciating the value of the awakening mind, which is the entrance to the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle.

Respecting the Pali tradition

By that way, before I get there—you know me, I always have to have a distraction. This thing about Great Vehicle. Because you find a lot in the Tibetan teachings that they say Mahayana and Hinayana. I don’t want to hear anybody at the Abbey say that. Because what happens is it becomes a very detrimental way of talking about other Buddhist practitioners. And it’s very offensive to people. And I don’t think that term [Hinayana] should be used. The way His Holiness talks about different Buddhist traditions now is he’ll talk about the Fundamental Vehicle and then the Mahayana. Or you talk about the Hearer Vehicle, the Pratyekabuddha Vehicle, the Bodhisattva Vehicle—those kinds of things. Or what he often uses, and what you hear me say is: the Pali tradition, the Sanskrit tradition. Now that’s a very general thing because all of the things we’re calling the Sanskrit tradition weren’t necessarily in Sanskrit. Some of them were in Prakrit, some of them were in other central Asian languages. But we’re just calling it Sanskrit because it’s easier. That’s what His Holiness often uses to differentiate those two branches at least.

And also this thing about—because you do find sometimes—it depends on the Mahayana scriptures; some of the later Mahayana scriptures tended to portray the arhats in a very disadvantageous way. And sometimes you hear people speaking about arhats as if they are just so self-centered and selfish, and don’t care beans about anybody else. And that is not true at all. The arhats have eliminated attachment and they also have compassion, so they’re much higher spiritually advanced than the rest of us are; so there’s no reason to put them down. And there’s no reason to put down people who aspire to become arhats; because that’s what makes sense to them and that is according to their interest, and their disposition, and their faculties, and so on.

And then this whole thing about, “Oh, the people in the Fundamental Vehicle are selfish, but the Mahayana people are so compassionate.” [sighing and rolling eyes] I remember one time I was going to visit one country and there had been a Mahayana Dharma center who had invited me. But when I got there, for whatever reason, they didn’t want to pay the airfare and reimburse the airfare. And so there was a temple, a Sri Lankan temple, when they heard about the situation then they gave me the money for the airfare—because all the “compassionate” Mahayanists were busy doing something else.

So this thing about sticking your nose up in the air, I think is really very unbecoming. And so whether you practice in the Fundamental Vehicle or the Mahayana Vehicle—because both vehicles have misunderstandings about each other. But the thing is that they all come from the Buddha. And so to criticize: for the Fundamental Vehicle to criticize the Mahayana, for the Mahayana to criticize the Fundamental Vehicle? You’re criticizing Buddha’s teachings, it’s like criticizing the Buddha. That ain’t good! So if we really respect the Buddha and if we really respect that sentient beings have different dispositions—we want everybody to benefit according to what makes sense to them, then we should respect all the traditions that come from the Buddha. And for that reason we should even respect all religious traditions because Buddhism isn’t going to be the thing that excites everybody. So if somebody else finds another religious tradition that still teaches compassion, and love, and ethical conduct; that’s very good. We shouldn’t criticize their tradition.

Inter-religious respect, even if not on same path

Now, on points of theology or points of philosophy, there you can debate. Because you debate, “Do things exist this way?” “Do things exist that way?” “Is this a right understanding?” “Is that a right understanding?” But there you’re using logic and reasoning in order to debate the nature of how things exist. But that’s very different than criticizing a tradition that teaches ethical conduct and love and compassion, or criticizing a person who benefits form that kind of tradition. So you’re getting what I’m saying? So for religious harmony we don’t need to say all of the paths go up the same mountain. Or all of the paths lead down to the same valley. I’ve found that sometimes people [in order] to have religious harmony they need to say, “Well, we’re all getting to the same place.” I don’t know if we’re all getting to the same place. I haven’t even gotten to the goal of my own tradition, let alone understand the goal of other people’s traditions. I have no idea of where Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Wicca, and everybody else—what their goals are. I haven’t even gotten to the end of the Buddhist goal. So I can’t say whether or not they’re all going to the same place. And it doesn’t really matter; I don’t think it matters anyway. The thing is everybody benefits, that’s the point: that people benefit from what they’re doing. Whether they’re going to the same place or not, I don’t know. And I remember His Holiness at one time, one inter-religious dialogue, there was one Catholic priest who was saying, really drawing on the similarities and how much we’re the same, and this kind of thing: “We’re all going up to the same mountain.” And His Holiness also said, “You know, we don’t need to be the same in order to get along.” So we don’t need to say all the religions are the same in order to get along. I don’t know if they’re the same or not. But they all nourish people spiritually, so I can respect all of them. Communicating? Are you getting what I’m saying? Okay.

Mind Training Like the Rays of the Sun

Okay, now let’s see if I can start the text, So our author says,

So, whether you are considered a practitioner of the great vehicle or not depends simply on whether you possess this attitude [meaning the bodhicitta2]. In fact, the great vehicle is indicated by nothing but the presence or absence of this very state of mind.

So this is exactly the thing that either makes you a Mahayanist or doesn’t, that makes you enter the bodhisattva vehicle or doesn’t—the presence or absence of bodhicitta.

In this context, the “Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life” [Which was authored by…? Shantideva.] says,

“The instant the awakening mind is activated
Those bound up in the prison of cyclic existence
Come to be known as children of the Buddhas Gone to Bliss.”


“Today I have been born into the family of the Buddhas
And have become a child of the awakened ones.”

Now what does it mean to be a “child of the awakened one,” because we think: “Going back to the inner child? Or what’s the story here?” The idea is, in ancient societies—whatever the parent did, the child did. You inherited the occupation of your parents. So you were like a novice, a trainee, under the guidance of your parents because you took over the family business. So here, when you’re a child of the Buddha, you are the junior who is training, who is going to take over. It’s not like you’re going to kick the Buddha out. But you are going to take over and join in the family “business” of enlightening sentient beings. So that’s why you’re called a child of the Buddha. Okay? So you join the family of the Buddha. Sometimes you’ll read the scriptures, they’ll say, “Oh, child of a good family?” What a good family there means, it doesn’t mean that you’re born in an aristocratic family or in a wealthy family, it means the family is the Buddha’s family. Your lineage is the Buddha’s lineage. That’s what it’s referring to.


“The instant the awakening mind is activated
Those bound up in the prison of cyclic existence
Come to be known as children of the Buddhas Gone to Bliss.”


“Today I have been born into the family of the Buddhas
And have become a child of the awakened ones.”

So when you generate bodhicitta, you become a child of the awakened ones. You’re still bound up in samsara at that point even though you may have spontaneous bodhicitta. If you’re somebody who is newly practicing the Mahayana tradition, you’re not free of samsara.

The two kinds of bodhisattvas

There are two kinds of bodhisattvas. There are the bodhisattvas who are newly entering the Mahayana, going from ordinary beings into the Mahayana path, starting with the Mahayana path of accumulation. So the dividing line to enter the Mahayana path of accumulation is this spontaneous bodhicitta. So if you don’t have any other realizations, you enter the Mahayana Vehicle freshly in that way. It’s also called being definite in the Mahayana. But then there are other people who practice the Fundamental Vehicle and became arhats. They realize emptiness, they eliminate the afflictive obscurations, they become arhats; and then when the Buddha calls them out of their meditative equipoise on emptiness. Then they start all over at the beginning of the bodhisattva path—with the bodhisattva path of accumulation. So even though they’ve gone through the five paths, let’s say of the hearer: path of accumulation, preparation, seeing, mediation, and no more learning—which is arhatship. And even though they have realized emptiness, when they start the bodhisattva path they have to start with the bodhisattva path of accumulation.

So those bodhisattvas still have a realization of emptiness, even though they are on the path of accumulation; whereas the bodhisattvas who are new don’t have that realization of emptiness. But still they say that the new bodhisattva is going to become a Buddha more quickly than the bodhisattva who became an arhat first and then came back into the bodhisattva vehicle. Why? Because that person who was an arhat, who became an arhat, has to overcome that tendency of really seeking their own liberation—because that’s imprinted in them strongly. So they have to work more to eliminate that. And also because they have the tendency to just go into meditative equipoise on emptiness and stay there a long time; whereas the new bodhisattva is busy accumulating merit. And the person who became the arhat, who starts over at the beginning of the bodhisattva path, they still have to accumulate just as much merit as the new bodhisattva; because it’s the accumulation of merit as well as the accumulation of wisdom that moves you along the bodhisattva path.

Can one accumulate merit just by developing wisdom?

Audience: It just seems like accumulating wisdom you would generate a whole lot of merit along the way.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Yes, you do generate merit along the way but you spent your time generating wisdom. And you haven’t spent time practicing generosity, doing all the practices like the ethics of benefiting sentient beings, the ethics of accumulating positive potential. You haven’t practiced patience because when you meet somebody who’s quarrelsome, you just go into samadhi. You haven’t practiced the kind of joyous effort that a bodhisattva has. You haven’t done all these bodhisattva practices which take a long time. So you have to spend a long time accumulating merit. If you go on the hearer path, they say, what is it? Well, if you become a stream enterer in that life, then at most, seven more lifetimes and then you’re at arhatship. And then sometimes, I mean, you can accumulate merit for three lives and then that’s it. Whereas a bodhisattva on the sutra path? You have to accumulate merit for three countless great eons. A little bit longer! And you see this is also one of the reasons that makes the tantric path quicker, is because it combines wisdom and method in a certain way so that you can accumulate the merit more quickly. That’s one of the factors that makes tantra very profound. There are other reasons too, but that’s one special reason. Okay? But still, on the bodhisattva path, I mean three countless great eons, you need to have some energy there. Okay? Yes?

Audience: What about somebody who realizes emptiness and then generates bodhicitta?

VTC: Okay, usually if you’re on the hearer path….

Audience: No, I mean on the bodhisattva path.

VTC: Oh, they’ve realized emptiness and then generate bodhicitta? Usually their realization of emptiness is a conceptual realization. It’s not a direct perception. So they have a realization of emptiness and that greatly aids their generation of bodhicitta. When I talked about it in Chandrakirti’s Homage to Great Compassion, the three kinds of compassion; then you see there especially in the third compassion—the compassion of the unapprehendable—that if you see sentient beings as empty of true existence, it really helps you a lot in generating your compassion. [It] makes your compassion much more profound. But you still have to practice the wisdom and the bodhicitta together. You’re still on the bodhisattva path, you have to do the two together; that’s why they say accumulate merit and accumulate wisdom, both of them.

Analogies describing the awakening mind

This shows that as soon as you generate the awakening mind, you become a son or daughter of the Conquerors. The ”Life Story of the Exalted Maitreya”also says,

“O child of my family, here are some analogies. (The awakening mind) is like a diamond, even a fragment of which surpasses all other kinds of valuable ornaments such as gold, which retains the name diamond and can eradicate all poverty.”

So the idea is that a diamond is a diamond even if it’s a little small piece. And a little bit of diamond it still, can do things that a lot of gold can’t do.

“O child of my family, in the same way the precious diamond-like mind which gives rise to omniscience, even when it is weak, outshines all the golden qualities adorning the Hearers and Solitary Realizers. Because of it you retain the name Bodhisattva and eradicate all thepoverty of cyclic existence.”

So even though in terms of wisdom, some of the arhats or the beings on the Hearer Vehicle maybe have a greater understanding of emptiness, still then the new bodhisattva becomes a child of the Buddha. And their [the new bodhisattva’s] bodhicitta is like a diamond because even though it’s very small, it still outshines the gold of all the qualities of the arhats.

So, even though your conduct may not be distinguished, [this is our author speaking] if you have engendered such a mind, you’re referred to as a Bodhisattva, an awakening warrior.

Now warrior, the image of war, you’ll find this periodically through the bodhisattva path, that the image of war comes up. And the Buddha himself is known as the “conqueror.” And in Shantideva you’re fighting the afflictions and things like that. So just remember, it’s an analogy, you don’t have to get too bound up in it. Sometimes people, we’ve been on so many peace marches that we can’t relate to the war-like language. But for some people it works well. And the idea of your real enemy is the self-centered mind, the self-grasping ignorance, not other sentient beings. But it’s just an analogy, so don’t get upset by it. Okay?

The protector Nagarjuna writes in his ”Precious Garland,”

“If you and the world wish to attain
Unsurpassable full awakening,
The source is the awakening mind,
Which should be as stable as the King of Mountains.”

The ”Vajrapani Initiation Tantra [okay, so here’s from a tantra] also says,

“O great Bodhisattva, the great mysteries of this extremely vast mandala of dharani, which are extremely profound, unfathomable, rare and secret, should not be revealed to evil beings. O Vajrapani, what you have said is unique and extremely rare. Therefore, how is one to explain it to those beings who have never heard it before?”

To this, Vajarapani replied,

“O Manjushri, at such a time that anyone, who is engaged in meditation on the awakening mind, has achieved that state of mind, then O Manjushri, those who perform the activities of a Bodhisattva, specifically the activities involving secret mantra, should enter into the dharani mandala by receiving the great wisdom initiation. Anyone who has not accomplished the awakening mind should not engage in these (practices). They should neither view nor enter the mandala. To them the gestures and details of secret mantra should never be shown.”

What this means is that if you want to engage in the practice of Vajrayana, then you need to generate bodhicitta. So the best vehicle to receive the initiation in highest class tantra is, of course, somebody who has renunciation, full bodhicitta, realization of emptiness. What His Holiness says is, if we wait until we have those, we may never, not never, but not for a long time, take initiation; and since not all the Buddhas give tantra initiation, it’s very valuable to at least take some tantra initiation in your lifetime, to put those imprints on your mind; so to cultivate renunciation, bodhicitta, wisdom as best as you can. But this is really emphasizing that if you want to get somewhere in your Vajrayana practice, you really need to have bodhicitta in order to do so. And you can see why, because bodhicitta and the wisdom realizing emptiness are going to keep you straight on the path. And if you don’t have them, you can really go way off.

Okay, then,

This is also stated in ”The Array of Tree Trunk Sutra,”

“O child of my family, the awakening mind is like the seed of all the teachings of the Buddhas. It is like the field in which the positive actions of all wandering beings prosper. It is like the earth on which the whole world depends. It is like the son of the Lord of Wealth who completely eliminates all kinds of poverty. It is like the father completely protecting all Bodhisattvas. It is like the king of wish-granting jewels which perfectly fulfills every purpose. It is like the miraculous vase which acts to accomplish every wish. It is like a spear vanquishing the foe of disturbing emotions. It is like the armor guarding you from improper thoughts. It is like a sword beheading the disturbing emotions. It is like an ax felling the tree of disturbing emotions. It is like a weapon staving off all kinds of attack. It is like the hook which draws you out of the waters of cyclic existence. It is like the whirlwind which scatters all mental obstructions and their sources. It is like the condensed teaching that encompasses all the prayers and activities of the Bodhisattvas. It is like the shrine before which all the gods, humans and demigods of the world can present their offerings. O child of my family, the awakening mind is endowed like this with these and immeasurable other excellent qualities.”

It’s very beautiful imagery, isn’t it? So you can take this kind of imagery and really explore it in your meditation. And think, “Well, why does he say it’s like a field? Why is it like a seed? Why is it like this?” And really think about the imagery and the role of bodhicitta. It’s a way to think about the advantages of the bodhicitta which is what we’re focusing on in this section here. Because when you know the advantages of bodhicitta, then you want to generate it.

The need for wisdom as well as bodhicitta

I want to finish the next two paragraphs which complete this one section.

So, the awakening mind is explained in this way as the exclusive entrance [Exclusive! For everybody who wants to be exclusive, it’s] the exclusive entrance for venturing into the great vehicle that enables you to accomplish the state of a completely awakened being. The moment it is born within your mindstream, all the obstructions from previously accumulated actions are burnt up.

Is that true? That the moment you generate bodhicitta, that all the obstructions from previously created karma is burnt up?

[Audience shaking heads indicating “No.”]

No. Okay?

Audience: What about with ultimate bodhicitta?

VTC: Well even with ultimate bodhicitta, even your first non-conceptual realization, it doesn’t get rid of all the defilements all at once. So this is an example of how they’re emphasizing something for the sake of making a point, but we don’t need to take it totally literally.

It acts to protect you from all miseries and fears.

Will it protect you from all miseries and fear?

Audience: Eventually.

VTC: Eventually. Can bodhicitta alone protect you from the misery of cyclic existence?

Audience: No.

VTC: No. But because with bodhicitta you want to become a buddha, then generating the wisdom realizing emptiness becomes very important to you. And that wisdom realizing emptiness is what helps you eliminate all the miseries and fears. Okay?

It begins to provide you with the inexhaustible fruits of higher states of rebirth and the definite goodness of liberation. It is like the quintessential butter arising from the churning of the ocean of scriptures.

I always get this image of the scriptures and this Tibetan thing that they make Tibetan tea in; and you go like this [gesturing stirring] and like, “No, I don’t want to do that to a scripture!” But what it means is, if you’re churning milk the butter comes to the top. So if you were to “churn” all the teachings of the Buddha, so that the richest kind of part came to the top, the bodhicitta would come to the top.

It is like the seed that is the exclusive proximate cause leading you to the fully awakened state of being.

Is that true? It’s the exclusive proximate cause? A proximate cause is the moment before. So is bodhicitta the only thing going on the moment before you attain enlightenment?

Audience: No.

VTC: No. Okay. You have to have wisdom going on in there. But without that bodhicitta, that wisdom won’t lead you to the bodhisattva’s path of no more learning.

Audience: That seems true.

VTC: Yes, so it’s really essential, but maybe not exclusive.

In realizing such benefits of the awakening mind, your heart-strings should resound with joy, for although life as a free and fortunate human being generally provides you with an opportunity to practice the sacred doctrine, the wonderful discovery of the chance to practice the awakening mind specific to the great vehicle is sure to be a source of great encouragement. This is an event of major importance.

So really knowing the benefits of bodhicitta is something that’s very, very important. Because if you have no idea of the benefits you won’t want to cultivate it; and if you don’t cultivate it, then you won’t attain full enlightenment. So it’s very important to meditate on these benefits.

Questions and homework: the benefits of bodhicitta

Okay, a couple of minutes for questions. You had some homework last week, didn’t you? Come up with your own list of the benefits of bodhicitta. So who would like to read it? Why don’t you start, K?

Audience: Okay. So on my list was just a peace of mind, much more relaxed way of being, just to get along better with others. More sense of contentment, a sense of ease, no worries and really a deep acceptance and understanding of others.

VTC: Good, your turn.

Audience: Okay. So it helps overcome your self-centeredness, so it reduces your own suffering. It leads to buddhahood. You have to cultivate equanimity, love, and compassion to develop it, so your mind is happier. The people around you are happier. Bodhicitta gives you a life purpose. Bodhicitta gives hope. It overcomes cynicism and despair. It makes the mind vastly expansive. It overcomes attachment. It gives a good reason to overcome … something I can’t read but it must be something awful. We create tons of merit. Leads to a precious human rebirth so you continue to practice the path in future lives. It eventually gives you the courage and the compassion of the bodhisattvas. And it can be strong enough to take your mind off of superficial difficulties onto something greater.

VTC: Good.

Audience: I think pretty similar, but, so same sort of stuff. The life becomes more meaningful, purposeful, has a sense of direction. It improves our ethics and patience, leading to a better future life. You get to put three great eons of benefiting sentient beings on your application for buddhahood. [laughter] One size fits all. You could drive off with the Mahayana vehicle today.[laughter] You could put those supernatural powers to good use. How many people can say they have become enlightened for the benefit of others? And then I started thinking about some of the same stuff: that it benefits us in our current life, and then it benefits us in our future lives because we do practice ethics more purely, this life for future lives, when we want to attain buddhahood, and then, of course, ultimately becoming a Buddha.

Audience (other): I didn’t write my own down. But I thought about them. So one is that you move from a joy to a joy, which is appealing. And then another is just my own personal thought of that because it seems like it’s such a complete antidote to the self-centered thought, that’s huge. I mean it would be wonderful. It’s a kind of virtue that never gets….

VTC: Consumed….

Audience: …consumed. So every other virtue we have will be or can be consumed. And then the other is: I can’t personally see how you could do this path without bodhicitta. It’s just my own view.

Audience (other): I didn’t make a list because I could only think of one thing and that’s exactly what you were talking about at the beginning of the teaching, which is that it’s the only thing that really seems to have any true purpose. As compared to anything else, everything else falls short. And the reason that is, is because if one is to attain, if one does attain buddhahood, then you’d be able to benefit people without anything stopping you from your own side, which is just incredible.

VTC: Achala? Manjushri? [the cats] Okay, so it’s time to close. But that’s very good that you’ve been thinking about the benefits of bodhicitta, so continue this week to think about the benefits and really do some meditation on them.

  1. Questions were written in and Venerable Chodron reads or paraphrases them and responds. 

  2. Venerable Chodron’s commentary appears in square brackets [ ] within the root text. 

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.