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The causes of bodhicitta

The causes of bodhicitta

The text turns to training the mind on the stages of the path of advanced level practitioners. Part of a series of teachings on the Gomchen Lamrim by Gomchen Ngawang Drakpa. Visit Gomchen Lamrim Study Guide for a full list of contemplation points for the series.

  • The causes to develop bodhicitta
  • Bodhisattvas accept that dukkha exists and the responsibility to eliminate it
  • The role of understanding emptiness in developing bodhicitta
  • Equanimity is preliminary to developing bodhicitta
  • The evolution of friend, enemy and stranger
  • The disadvantages of attachment to friends
  • The disadvantages of hating your enemies

Gomchen lamrim 60: The causes of bodhicitta (download)

Contemplation points

The causes for bodhicitta

Think about each of the causes for bodhicitta that Venerable Chodron discussed in the teaching. Some things to consider are: What is it about these factors that makes them a cause for bodhicitta? How do these factors benefit you now and in the future? How do they benefit others? Which of these causes are strong in your life? Which ones aren’t so strong? What can you do to cultivate them? Does meditating on them inspire your mind to practice them?

  1. The desire to have bodhicitta.
  2. Accumulate merit and purify our negativities.
  3. The inspiration of our spiritual mentors.
  4. Live near practitioners of bodhicitta.
  5. Study the texts that describe it.
  6. Hear, think, and meditate on the teachings about bodhicitta.
  7. Remember the qualities of the Buddha.
  8. Value the Mahayana teachings and want them to exist forever.
  9. Cultivate the thought, “If I generate bodhicitta, then I’ll be able to inspire others to do it too!”
  10. Make requests for the inspiration of the Buddhas and bodhisattvas to help you generate bodhicitta.
  11. Have renunciation and the aspiration for liberation.
  12. Have an understanding of emptiness.
  13. Have an awareness that others’ happiness depends on me.

Conclusion: Feel inspired to cultivate these causes that lead to the beautiful aspiration of bodhicitta, to become a full awakened Buddha for the benefit of all beings. Make a determination to make them real in your life.

Cultivating equanimity

Equanimity is the prerequisite for both meditations on developing bodhicitta. Consider the progression of how our bias arises, the disadvantages of the categories of friend, enemy, and stranger, and how you’ve seen this operate in your own life.

  1. Starts with a wrong conception of “I” (self-grasping).
  2. From self-grasping comes self-attachment.
  3. Which gives rise to attachment for your own happiness.
  4. Which gives rise to attachment towards “friends” who help you get what you want.
  5. Which gives rise to hostility towards those who interfere with getting what you want.
  6. Which gives rise to apathy for those who don’t seem to influence your happiness one way or the other.

Conclusion: With a deeper understanding of how the categories of friend, enemy, and stranger come about, and with conviction in their many disadvantages, resolve to cultivate equanimity in your life through study and application of the teachings.


Sometimes when we think of working for the benefit of all sentient beings, it seems like an overwhelming task, but I think we can break it down a little bit and also realize that developing that motivation is a process. It’s not something that we’re going to have all of a sudden. In that light, there are a couple of points that are really important to contemplate, which are that everybody wants happiness and not suffering equally, and that all sentient beings have been kind to us.

When we contemplate those in depth, then automatically there’s a feeling of empathy and a feeling of kindness towards those who have been kind to us. We also start to realize there’s not a lot of difference between us and them in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. If we really think deeply about those two points, caring for other sentient beings comes much more easily. If we don’t train in those points, and we just say, “I should care about everybody,” then it’s going to feel very burdensome, and in our heart we’re not really going to care. It’s important to develop those meditations, really thinking about them repeatedly, and when we do, our attitude towards others changes.

Then on the basis of that, we can generate further aspirations to have the great compassion and great love and the bodhicitta motivation. They are further along on this path, but they won’t seem so out of reach once we have a basic kind attitude towards others. Spend a minute or two thinking about the kindness of others and also their wish for happiness and not suffering that is equal to ours. Then generate the bodhicitta seeking to eliminate all the defilements from our own mind stream so that we can best repay the kindness of others, especially by leading them on the path. Make that the motivation for listening and discussing the Dharma this evening.

The “burden” of caring for others

I was thinking of a comment someone made not long ago, which I imagine is a comment that many people have made throughout history: “It is so much trouble to care for all sentient beings. It’s just too much! It’s just a nuisance!” I think we’ve all felt that way at one time or another: “Why do I have to care about all these sentient beings? Why don’t they just stop bugging me? That’s all I want—for them to stop bugging me!”

This is why I came back to those two meditations—that we all want happiness not suffering equally and that others have been kind to us—because when we really focus on those meditations then caring for others doesn’t seem so burdensome. I think that feeling of, “It’s just too much,” is related to “should” and “ought to,” and it feels burdensome, but when we really see someone’s kindness, it doesn’t seem burdensome to care about them.

If you look at the people who we’re close to in our lives—family members or people who brought us up, who took care of us when we were little, or who took care of us even when we were older but we were sick or whatever—we don’t feel it’s a burden to reciprocate their affection. It feels quite natural: we don’t want them to suffer; we want to benefit them. That comes because we so easily see their kindness. We remember it in our lives.

For other sentient beings, if we don’t feel or experience their kindness in this life, then we just think, “They’re just so troublesome!” That’s why this reflection on their kindness is so helpful. Whether we do it through thinking that they’ve all been our parents and have been kind to us in that way, or whether we just think that we live in an interdependent society in which we really can’t function on our own—if we just think about that, then caring about others isn’t a big deal.

For example, here living at the Abbey, I eat, but I don’t work to earn the money for the food. I don’t spend time shopping. I don’t put the food away here once it’s offered. I don’t have to manage the kitchen and figure out what to eat before it goes bad. I don’t have to plan menus. I don’t have to listen to other people’s complaints about food—well, sometimes a few. There are all these other people living here in the community who just take charge of the kitchen, and they work very hard doing that. Because they work hard doing that, I have a lot of time to do the work that I need to do.

If I remember when I had to live on my own and walk to the supermarket and walk back and cook the food—which wasn’t so good—then I see, “Wow, I really depend on the kindness of people.” I depend not only the ones who shop and cook and prepare the food, but also the people who wash the dishes because it takes a lot of time and effort. Then I think of the cars and who takes care of the cars. It’s not me. There are other people who take care of the cars, and there are other people who clean the different buildings, and there are other people who do all the different things that need to be done to keep the Abbey going.

I don’t greet all the guests. I don’t have to deal with who snores and who doesn’t snore, and making sure that they’re in the room that they like. I don’t have to deal with people saying they’re too hot or too cold; they don’t like the blanket or they want a new blanket. Other people do that, and so that gives me a lot of time. I have it very easy living here—I hardly do anything to keep the community going. I depend completely upon other people who are doing all those kinds of things. When you think like that, then automatically you care for the people you live with, and you care for the people you depend on.

If we look in a larger context, we just get on the road and drive, but who makes the roads? Who has to develop the state budget and plan how much money gets used for roads and how much money gets used for something else? Who has to design the roads and work out in the sun to pave them? Who does the electricity? When we don’t have electricity, who goes out in the middle of the winter storms to fix it? It’s like I don’t do anything! Just look at everything I use and enjoy. It’s so obvious—what would my life be like without electricity and without roads? I don’t do any of that; other people take care of it completely, so in one way, I’m just a spoiled brat. I don’t contribute very much, and other people do a lot. When I think like that, then caring about these other people is not difficult at all. It doesn’t seem burdensome; it just seems quite natural.

It makes me feel like, “Wow, people are doing so much. I’m the one who’s really not contributing a lot. I’m grateful to everybody else for what they do.” Then that feeling of kindness, of care, comes quite automatically, but we have to train our mind to see our dependence on others and to see how they want happiness and not suffering just like we do. If we don’t train our mind in that, then the default feeling is: “Sentient beings are just so troublesome, I just wish they’d leave me alone—and stop bugging me! I just don’t have the energy to care about them. Besides, they’re such idiots sometimes.” That’s kind of the default mode based on ignorance, isn’t it? That’s not really seeing our situation clearly and how much we depend on others.

I think it’s quite important that we train our mind in this way. When we do—when we put the energy into these meditations—then automatically, how we view things changes and our attitude changes. I highly recommend putting energy into these kinds of meditations. If you do, then see how they affect you and what happens.

Wanting to develop bodhicitta

I wanted to share with you some notes from different teachers who have talked about bodhicitta and causes to develop bodhicitta that I’ve accumulated over time. I didn’t look in the lamrim chenmo but some of them are probably there. So, as for the causes to develop bodhicitta, first we have to want to develop bodhicitta. That’s why I spoke last week about the benefits of bodhicitta. That’s the pep talk that goes like, “Wow, bodhicitta is really far out; I want to develop that.”

If it’s something we aspire to develop, then what are the causes for developing it? Well, one cause, one thing we need to do, is to accumulate merit and to purify. Why? If we have a whole stash of negative karma and we haven’t purified it, then we’re still holding on to a lot of negative attitudes towards others—the motivations with which we did harmful actions to them. In order to purify, we have to change those negative motivations towards others. When we do that, then it opens the door to cultivating positive motivations, such as bodhicitta.

We have to purify, and we have to accumulate merit, because merit is like the fertilizer that enriches our mind. It makes our mind flexible and receptive to hearing teachings. If we don’t have merit, then our mind is like a dry desert. We hear teachings and our mind goes, “Yes, so what?” Sometimes it happens in our practice that our mind is like a dry desert, isn’t it? You listen to teachings: “Yes, all sentient beings want happiness and they don’t want to suffer—yes, so what? It’s good to abandon negative actions and create positive actions—yes, so what?” Does your mind get like that?

It’s like, “I just can’t take this stuff anymore. It’s just all so preachy, and it wants me to change, and it doesn’t recognize how much I’m suffering—so what?” When our mind gets like that, what we need to do is refocus on doing a lot of purification and the creation of merit. That’s when we need to really stop studying all the intellectual stuff and do prostrations—get a little bit of humility in there. Do the seven-limb prayer, slowly, really contemplating it—mentally making offerings, rejoicing in the virtue of self and others, requesting teachings. Do mandala offerings; offer water bowls. These may be more devotional practices, but it softens our mind, in some way.

When our mind is like that—“Yes, so what? Make me! Yes, there are the lower realms—yes, big deal. You think I really believe in them?”—when our mind is like that, then we switch into more purification and the creation of merit. Do some Vajrasattva, do prostrations, seven limbs, mandala offerings, water bowls. Do the extensive offering practice that Lama Zopa wrote, that’s in Pearl of Wisdom Book I. Do that. That will really help soften your mind, and then, of course, it helps to generate bodhicitta.

The inspiration of a spiritual teacher

Then, having the inspiration of a spiritual teacher is extremely beneficial. If you look at your spiritual teachers who have bodhicitta, and you see how they act and conduct themselves in the world, you get inspired. You look at His Holiness the Dalai Lama. You look at Zopa Rinpoche. You look at Pari Rinpoche. You look at Geshe Thabkhe. You look at the lamas who have come here and then you see that something is going on with these people. They look ordinary, but the way they conduct themselves is not like ordinary people. You can see their compassion, and that inspires you. It’s like, “Well, if they can do it, why can’t I?”

It’s especially helpful because they’re sitting there telling us how they did it. When Geshe Thabkhe is teaching us those chapters in Aryadeva, especially the wisdom chapters, he’s telling us, “Well, if you want a realisation of emptiness,”—he’s not admitting to having any realization, but you look at how he lives his life and it’s clear something is going on there—and he’s telling you how he did it! We’re getting a first hand report. This is how you do it.

When Zopa Rinpoche keeps you up all night, when you’re totally wiped out and exhausted, he’s telling you: “This is how I did it.” I remember one time when I received the Yamantaka initiation from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and he was giving the commentary, I had the feeling he was the central deity, and he was saying, “In front of me is this and on this side is this and on this side is this. Here is that and there are these walls and there are the half-moons and there are the trusses and there are the this and that.” He’s just sitting there, describing what he sees around him. Well, I’m looking there, and I’m seeing Sam one, Sam two, Sam three! [laughter]

I had many manifestations of Sam in those days, but Ling Rinpoche, he is just telling you what he sees: “There are the cemeteries, and in the cemeteries you have the trees, and you have the skeletons, and you have the yogis, and you have this and that. Then over here, you have the flames that are burning, and then inside there, there’s the whole vajra fence.” He’s just telling you what he’s seeing. When you’re in the presence of somebody who’s really practiced this, it’s very inspiring because you see this can be done. It can be actualised. That becomes a cause for generating bodhicitta.

Living near practitioners of bodhicitta

Then, living near practitioners of bodhicitta is another cause. If you live near people who are practicing it, it rubs off on you. You can see this—have you noticed how many people come to the Abbey? The feedback we get in emails later is: “Everybody was so kind to me there; people were so kind.” Oh, why? We’re all trying to practice bodhicitta, in our own little way, but we’re trying. When you live amongst people who value bodhicitta, who are trying to practice it, then it inspires you, and you want to cultivate it. Afterwards, when you have to go back to work: “Do I still have to not speak about politics? It’s getting too difficult.” [laughter]

Let’s say you had to go and work on the campaign of a candidate who is not a practitioner of bodhicitta, and you were surrounded by the whole mentality of that candidate, would you be inspired to develop bodhicitta? If you were a really strong practitioner, you would, but for most of us, we’d be more inspired to let out our anger, wouldn’t we?

Study the texts that describe bodhicitta

Then, the next cause to generate bodhicitta is studying the texts that describe it. It’s important to read the texts. If we don’t read the texts, if we don’t go to teachings on bodhicitta, bodhicitta is not going to appear in our mind magically. We have to read the texts; we have to attend teachings; we have to think about the teachings afterwards. We have to put some energy into it.

Hear, think, and meditate on bodhicitta

That’s actually the next cause to develop bodhicitta: to hear, think, and meditate. If we hear teachings on something, and we think about and meditate on them, then that’s creating the cause to generate bodhicitta. We are putting that into practice; cause and effect works. If you create certain causes, you’re going to get the result.

Remembering the qualities of the Buddha

Remembering the qualities of the Buddha is another thing that can inspire us to generate bodhicitta. When you just sit down and contemplate the qualities of the Buddha it’s like, “Wow, this is amazing!” When we do the incense offering, the last lines where we’re paying homage to the Cloud Canopy Bodhisattva—I’m kneeling at that point in it—we’re singing “bodhi” and “sattva.” When we’re spending time on the word “bodhi”—when we’re chanting it—I’m thinking of the four buddha bodies. That’s what bodhi is. When you just think about what the four Buddha bodies are, it’s just like, “Wow!”

Then “sattva” is a being who is aspiring for that bodhi, and so it’s like, “Wow!” Sometimes even doing the chanting—and thinking about what you’ve studied while you do the chanting—that really inspires you. Even when we say “the endowed transcendent destroyer,” there’s so much meaning in “endowed,” “transcendent,” and “destroyer.” If we study these things and think about them, then when we recite them, or when we sit and do a meditation session on them, some feeling comes, and then of course we want to be like the Buddha and generate bodhicitta.

Wanting the Mahayana teachings to exist forever

Another cause to generate bodhicitta is to really value the Mahayana teachings and want them to exist forever. We just finished the section in Precious Garland about the value of the Mahayana teachings, doesn’t that inspire you? Even just that one verse of the Mahayana teaches the six perfections, and what’s there to complain about the six perfections? Nothing. They’re wonderful! The teaching that explains how to develop those six perfections—wow! How stupendous. You think about that, and you value the Mahayana teachings for your own personal practice; then of course, you want everybody to have access to them.

You want to have access to them, not only in this life, but in all your future lives because there’s no surety that in future lives we’ll be born human—or even if we are, that we’ll meet the Mahayana teachings. Maybe we’ll have the karma to meet the Mahayana teachings, but they will have died out because people haven’t practiced them properly. Maybe the transmitted and the realizational Dharma will have died out, and we’ll have no access to them.

If you really think about that, then you want the Mahayana teachings to exist forever, so then you feel like, “Well, I can’t just leave it to everybody else to make them exist forever. I have to contribute to this and do my best. How do I do my best? I learn the transmitted teachings; I think about them, and I meditate on them and try to gain the realized teachings, the realized Dharma.”

Wanting to inspire others to generate bodhicitta

Then another thing that will create the cause for us to realize bodhicitta is to think, “If I generate bodhicitta, then I’ll be able to inspire others to do that, too.” Often, we think about the state of the world and people who have no inspiration in their life. They just wake up in the morning, go to work, go do this, do that. You think of our families even. How much inspiration and feeling of joy do they have in their lives? Then you think, “I want to be able to spread some joy,” and so we think, “If I’m able to generate bodhicitta, then other people will notice some kind of change. They’ll get interested in it and they’ll want to generate it.” They’ll think, “What’s going on here?” Even if we don’t generate bodhicitta, even if we’re a kinder person than we used to be, people will notice it, and it will give them some inspiration.

People always ask me, “How do I get my family interested in the Dharma?” First thing I tell them is, “Take out the garbage.” Your family will see the change in you when you take out the garbage because maybe for the last 40 years you’ve never taken out the garbage. Now you’re beginning to have some appreciation for others’ kindness and some wish to repay it, so you go and take out the garbage in your family’s house. Believe me, your parents notice that. Then they’ll say, “What’s going on here?” Just in general, if you’re becoming a kinder person, the people who you used to hang out with are going to notice that there’s some difference, and they’ll wonder. That’s how you really benefit them.

That way of benefiting them is much better than waiting until they die and then doing pujas. If you benefit them while they’re living, then they can create some merit themselves. Then if you do pujas after they die, they’ll have some merit to ripen. If you’re really thinking how to benefit the people you care about, then practicing the bodhicitta teachings is really the way to do it.

Making requests

Another important element in this is to purify, create merit, and do the seven-limb prayer. Usually when we have the different pujas with the seven-limb prayer, there’s also a section on requests. In the Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga, in the Guru Puja, there’s requests. Even making a request for the inspiration of the buddhas and bodhisattvas to generate bodhicitta is very, very helpful because to make a sincere request we have to really mean what we’re saying. When we mean what we’re saying, then we’re already on the way to producing what we’re requesting.

Having renunciation

Similarly, another important cause for generating bodhicitta is to have renunciation and the aspiration for liberation. Those are definitely prerequisites to generating bodhicitta—wanting to leave behind the dukkha of samsara and an aspiration to get out of samsara. As Mahayana practitioners, we don’t stop at that aspiration. We try and steer our mind instantly to the aspiration for everybody to be free of cyclic existence. Those are some of the causes and things that can help us.

Understanding emptiness

Understanding emptiness is also an aid to generating bodhicitta, just as bodhicitta is an aid to understanding emptiness—the two complement each other. When we have some understanding of emptiness, then we can more easily see how sentient beings suffer because of their ignorance, and we can see that there’s a way out of sentient beings’ suffering. If they were able to realize emptiness, they could remove their ignorance and the afflictions and so on that cause rebirth for them. That also is a cause for generating bodhicitta.

Thinking that others’ happiness depends on oneself

Then, it’s helpful in a general way to think, “Others’ happiness depends on me.” That doesn’t mean feeling like, “Oh, this is such a burden, their happiness depends on me.” I’m not saying that we should be people pleasers in response to that, but what we say and do influences other people. If we want to live with people who are happy—because that’s also nicer for us, isn’t it—then cultivating love and compassion and bodhicitta creates that kind of feeling and enables that to come about. This is more skillful than just sitting there and making all sorts of prayers: “May this person be relieved of this problem and that person be relieved of that problem.” It’s good to make prayers, but if we do something to bring even a little bit of happiness into somebody’s life, that also can go a long way.

Sometimes you just need to do small things and people feel recognized; they feel important. For example, a couple of weeks after each course, Venerable Jampa sends around a letter to all the course participants and says, “How are you? Remember, we learned these things on the course. How are you doing in your practice? We hope you’ll come visit us again, and we love having you here so much.” I think that that’s nice for the people who attend the course because they know that we care about them.

In an impersonal society like this, just knowing that, “I went somewhere, and the people there care about me enough that they’re even going to write me an email that is more than one sentence long, and they want to hear back from me,” then that helps. It’s a small thing that doesn’t take much time, but it really helps people.

The responsibility to eliminate suffering

I wanted to share with you something that one of my teachers said. He said, “Bodhisattvas totally accept suffering and the responsibility to eliminate it.” They accept that suffering exists instead of freaking out. They accept it exists, and they accept their responsibility to eliminate it. On one hand, there’s a total acceptance of suffering and the responsibility to eliminate it, and on the other hand, there’s a total refutation of suffering when we meditate on emptiness. That’s interesting, isn’t that, to think that on the side of conventional bodhicitta there’s an acceptance of suffering, that it exists. We want to take on others’ suffering and give them happiness. At the same time, when we meditate on emptiness, we’re refuting suffering by seeing it as empty of inherent existence.

This is actually quite skillful because sometimes when we think about dukkha, dukkha seems so concrete. That’s why the idea of caring about sentient beings and working for their happiness and eliminating their suffering seems so heavy because we see these things as truly existent. When we meditate on emptiness and we see that these things arise dependently—that they’re mutually dependent, that they depend on being conceived and designated by mind, that they depend on causes and conditions—that loosens up our feeling about dukkha, so it enables us to accept it more easily. That’s something I think needs a little bit of contemplation.

We should contemplate these two things: accepting dukkha on a conventional level and refuting it on an ultimate level. This is how people put conventional and ultimate bodhicitta together. Especially somebody who’s going to practice Shantideva’s Engaging in the Bodhisattva’s Deeds, such a bodhisattva has two characteristics: one is, out of compassion, they direct their mind to sentient beings, and out of wisdom, they direct their mind to awakening. Here again, it’s the two wings of the bird: wisdom and compassion. You can see that this encompasses the two aspirations that are part of generating bodhicitta.

What is bodhicitta? It’s a primary mind with two aspirations: one is to eliminate the dukkha of others and bring them happiness; the other is to attain enlightenment or awakening in order to do so. What is it that makes us want to attain awakening? It’s the compassion for sentient beings. What is it that gives us the ability to attain awakening? It’s the wisdom realizing emptiness. We need those two: the compassion directed towards sentient beings; the wisdom aspect directed towards awakening. The first aspiration that we generate is the aspiration to work for the welfare of sentient beings. Then, in order to do that, we have to attain full awakening. That last aspiration is the [point where they come together], when the bodhicitta is complete.

There’s a big difference in our compassion when our compassion is without wisdom and when it is with wisdom—and here we’re talking specifically about the wisdom realizing emptiness. Our compassion that is not affiliated in any way with the wisdom realizing emptiness could make the bodhisattva always think of others and work for them, but this compassion is still very much at the level of aspiration and wanting to free others from suffering.

When the compassion is conjoined with wisdom, then you’re already in the process of really practicing to eliminate your defilements so that you can work more effectively for the benefit of others. When your compassion is conjoined with an understanding of emptiness, then you have not only empathy, but your compassion is combined with knowledge that self-grasping ignorance is what binds sentient beings. If sentient beings can generate that wisdom realizing emptiness, they can unbind themselves from samsara.

These bodhisattvas understand that a path to liberation exists. They know that sentient beings suffer unnecessarily because they don’t have to have afflictions. It’s possible to eliminate the afflictions. Then they take the initiative to be able to free their own mind from the afflictions, so that then they could be more effective in helping other beings to free themselves from the afflictions. Do you see the role of understanding emptiness? It helps you understand on a deeper level how sentient beings are bound by dukkha, what causes their dukkha. It helps you to know that there’s a path out of dukkha, and it helps you follow that path and to have faith in that path, that eliminating the suffering is possible.

How to generate bodhicitta

There are two ways to meditate to generate bodhicitta. One is the seven-point cause and effect instruction, and the other is equalizing and exchanging self with others. Preliminary to both of those is the meditation on equanimity. The meditation on equanimity is not one of the seven parts of cause and effect. It’s preliminary to that. It’s also preliminary to equalizing and exchanging self and others.

There are a few different things to contemplate regarding equanimity here. First of all, what are we trying to develop equanimity for? Here, we’re trying to develop equanimity between friends, enemies, and strangers. This is different then equalizing—which comes in equalizing self and others—because equalizing is saying there’s no difference between ourselves and others. Here, we’re not to that point yet. Here, we’re just trying to have some equanimity for friends, enemies, and strangers.

One thing that’s important is to understand the evolution of friends, enemies, and strangers, how this comes about. First of all, we have the wrong conception of ourselves as a truly existent person. There’s that self-grasping. From self-grasping arises self-attachment. Remember this term “attachment to self” I mentioned before? I’ve been looking at this term, and it means a whole bunch of different things in different situations. It doesn’t seem completely equal to self-centeredness, but it’s more just some attachment to our own happiness. Actually here, it says, “The wrong conception of the self gives rise to self-attachment, which gives rise to attachment to our own happiness, which gives rise to attachment to the friends who help us”—who give us either the affection or the praise or the material goods, whatever it is that we see as the source of our happiness. We very easily develop attachment to friends.

Then, since we’re attached to ourselves, we develop antipathy towards those we call “enemies.” Enemy doesn’t mean somebody that you’re in a battle with; it means somebody that you don’t want to be around. You feel threatened by them or they’ve harmed you or you just feel uncomfortable. We’ll just throw all of that into the category of enemy. It doesn’t mean you have to be actively fighting them and throwing things at them. When we become attached to our happiness then whoever interferes with our happiness, we don’t like them. Not only do we not like them—because it’s not like you have to like everybody—but we have active antipathy and hostility and animosity towards them.

Then when we look at people who don’t influence us one way or another, and we feel just apathetic. It’s important to really contemplate that evolution of friend, enemy and stranger, looking at how they evolve, and checking our own experience.

The disadvantages of hating our enemies

Then, another element that’s important in this meditation is seeing the shortcomings of being attached to our friends and having aversion to our enemies. If we don’t see the shortcomings of this, then we’re not going to want to equalize ourselves.If we still think attachment to somebody is the cause of our happiness, then we’re not going to want to give up attachment to the people that we’re attached to. If we think that anger gives us purpose in life, then we’re not going to want to give it up. If we think that anger protects us, we’re not going to want to give it up.

We have to see the shortcomings of hating our enemies and being attached to our friends. Tell me, what are the shortcomings of being attached to your friends? Well, first of all, that’s a little bit more difficult. Let’s start with the easy stuff. What are the disadvantages of hating your enemies?

Audience: Ulcers.

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Ulcers, yes.

Audience: You’re miserable.

VTC: You’re miserable.

Audience: You create negative karma.

VTC: You create negative karma, why?

Audience: Because you’re angry.

VTC: Yes.

Audience: You cause others to also be angry.

VTC: You create negative karma by being angry and acting out your anger towards others. Then that invokes them to be angry and act out their anger on you.

Audience: It just poisons your mind, so all your relationships are affected by it, not just the person you see as your enemy, but everything you can see through it.

VTC: Yes. When you’re angry, it really affects all your relationships, doesn’t it, because you’re in a foul mood.

Audience: Complaining and backbiting and slander.

VTC: Yes. You complain, you backbite, you slander, because you’re angry and you’re upset, and you want to vent. Then people don’t like you so much as a result of that. What else?

Audience: You’re not living up to your potential.

VTC: You’re not living up to your potential.

Audience: Destroys your merit.

VTC: Destroys our merit.

Audience: It’s time consuming. [laughter]

VTC: It’s very time consuming. Anger consumes so much time—and it’s exhausting.

Audience: It can make you ill.

VTC: It makes you sick.

Audience: It impacts your immune system.

VTC: It impacts your immune system. Also, when you’re angry you more easily get into accidents, don’t you, because you’re more careless and less careful.

Audience: It puts you at odds with somebody who if you saw them differently might even be a good friend.

VTC:  Yes, you create a lot of enemies yourself. You have anger towards one enemy, and then you create more enemies. Whereas if you don’t do that, it’s possible that these people could be your friends.

Audience: Everything is self-referenced, so you’re just spinning around yourself the whole time.

VTC: Yes. You’re spinning around yourself the whole time. That’s exhausting, isn’t it?

Audience: Then, of course, it gets in the way of creating bodhicitta.

VTC: Yes. Well, that’s kind of what she said—it interferes with living up to your potential.

Audience: Modelling negativity.

VTC: Yes. Modelling negativity. Yuck!

That’s good. There are some disadvantages to hating people, [laughter] some disadvantages to being angry.

The disadvantages of attachment towards your friends

Now, what are the disadvantages of attachment towards your friends and the people that you’re really fond with? What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with that! It makes you feel so good. You have a best friend;; you have support. There’s always somebody that you can lean on when you feel down. What’s wrong with being attached to people?

Audience: You get disappointed when that person is overcome by their afflictions.

VTC: You get disappointed when they’re overcome by their afflictions.

Audience: They act in a way that you don’t expect them to act.

Ven. Chodron: Oh yes, that happens sometimes, doesn’t it?

Audience: Always.

VTC: Yes, when they don’t do what we want—but so often they do what we want! Then I feel loved, supported, needed, wanted, appreciated, important. Those are regular normal human needs—it even says so in the NVC booklet! [laughter]

So, why shouldn’t I have those needs fulfilled when being attached to somebody fulfills them?

Audience: Because they’re impermanent, and they will soon part and then purge your happiness.

VTC: Yes. They’re impermanent and you separate, then you crash.

Audience: The pressure and the expectation on this person is so incredible that they’re going to fail.

VTC: Yes, we have so much expectation on them that they can’t possibly live up to it.

Audience: They can’t deliver, or they’ll run away.

VTC: Yes. They can’t deliver, so we’ll be unhappy with them and we’ll criticize them and we’ll walk away, or they’ll feel too pressured. They’ll say, “Ciao, I can’t handle this.”

Audience: I was reading somewhere that most people really only have about three or four friends. If you’re going to put all your eggs in one basket, what about the other seven billion humans on the planet? Not to mention other sentient beings!

VTC: Yes. It really restricts our ability to feel connected with others because we only think, “I’m going to be happy with these few people.” What else?

Audience: You create negative karma trying to keep them in your life—you go drinking together, drugging together.

VTC: How do you create negative karma by keeping them in your life?

Audience: If they ask you to lie for them or else they won’t be your friend.

VTC: You have to lie for them. What else?

Audience: Doing drugs or drinking together.

VTC: You have to go drinking together.

Audience: You lie for them.

VTC: Yes, you lie for them—that’s what she was saying.

Audience: We stir up their attachment as well.

VTC: Yes, you stir up their attachment—but we want to stir up their attachment [laughter] because we want them to be attached to us. They’re attached to us and we’re attached to them, then we live happily ever after. Isn’t that so?

Audience: When they die, you have to find someone new to replace them.

VTC: Yes. When they die you have to find somebody to replace them.

Audience: It makes the whole dying thing miserable, then all this will come up.

Audience: The separation.

VTC: Yes. Yes.

Audience: You are outward oriented instead of inward oriented.

VTC: What’s wrong with being outward oriented instead of inward oriented?

Audience: We don’t develop our own mind; we expect somebody else to fulfill what’s not fulfilled within.

VTC: Yes, we’re putting it on others to fulfil our needs instead of developing our own abilities to do that.

Audience: We cannot see them or the relationship and situation clearly because we’re exaggerating and projecting.

VTC: Yes. Certainly we’re not seeing things clearly. It’s interesting to think about the negative karma we create in relationship to the people we’re attached to. We hardly ever think about that. We think about the disadvantages: yes, we’re going to separate some time. But we don’t think about our actions: what we do to defend that person, to please that person, to cover up for that person. We have to do a lot. If somebody else criticizes them, then we get angry and stick up for them.

Audience: If they turn and look at somebody else.

VTC: Ooh, if they turn and look at somebody else. Yes, boy—poof!

Audience: Jealousy.

VTC: A lot of jealousy and you can create a ton of negative karma out of jealousy—you go punch somebody because you’re jealous.

Audience: People can lose their sense of self sometimes because they’re other directed. They don’t even know who they are.

VTC: Yes, you lose your sense of self, and they don’t function well in the world. What other kinds of negative actions do we do out of attachment?

Audience: You can even kill.

VTC: You can even kill—if somebody is threatening the person you love. We steal for the benefit of our family. We don’t want to pay taxes that we should pay. We want to take a little bit here and a little bit there from other people for the benefit of the people that we’re attached to. We create harsh words to defend the people we’re attached to. We lie—again, to defend them and cover up for them. We lie to them so that they’ll like us and they’ll think we’re wonderful. We create a lot of harsh words when they don’t do what we want. We utter a lot of harsh words when other people criticize the people we’re attached to. We spend hours in idle talk with them, hours upon hours.

Audience: These are the 10 destructive actions, most of them.

VTC: Yes.

Audience: We neglect our spiritual practice so we can spend time with them.

VTC: Definitely. We neglect our spiritual practice so that we can spend time with them, and they are demanding our time. It’s not just a partner, it’s children. Children definitely take up so much time, an incredible amount of time—even when they’re older. I remember one of my friends in Singapore, her teenage children wanted to go out whenever and come back home whenever, but when Mom went out to Dharma class, they didn’t like it. They wanted the security of mom being at home, even though they could go out and do things. You’re attached to your kids—you give up your life to raise your kids, to do what pleases your kids.

Audience: We have a painful death.

VTC: Yes, we wind up with a very painful death because we’re separating from the people we care about and we feel lost without them. Death becomes quite difficult.

Audience: We become very hurt and confused if they don’t reciprocate that.

VTC: Yes. We’re hurt and confused if they don’t reciprocate. How could they not reciprocate! We’ve done so much for them! We’ve loved them so much! Look what they’re doing to me!

Audience: Even though we talk about being outwardly focused, so much is self-centered.

VTC: Yes. That’s the point, isn’t it? It looks like we’re doing things for others, but it’s basically involved in self-centeredness. It’s helpful also to think about the shortcomings of hating the enemy, being attached to a friend. This has caused us to be reborn in samsara since beginningless time. Attachment and hatred keep fuelling our samsara, don’t they? We’ll keep being born in samsara as long as we have this kind of partiality. That’s what gets to be really scary. If I nurture my partiality, I’m keeping myself stuck in samsara, and it prevents us from generating bodhicitta—we have big problems that way.

Apathy towards strangers

Audience: Apathy towards strangers has its negativities too.

VTC: Yes. What are the disadvantages of the apathy towards strangers?

Audience: It distances us from other sentient beings. I think about how His Holiness says he feels connected to everybody—I could have that!

VTC: Yes, when we’re apathetic then we feel very disconnected whereas somebody like His Holiness, wherever he goes, he feels connected to other sentient beings. Wouldn’t that be nice, to feel connected to others everywhere you go. Every time you sit on an airplane, you feel connected to the people on either side of you. Every time you’re stuck in traffic, you feel connected in a kind way with the people around you. It would be quite nice, wouldn’t it? That ignorance about strangers, it’s mind numbing, isn’t it? It just numbs us out, and we start seeing people as objects instead of as living beings with feelings.

Audience: I think that can lead to on one hand, not helping beings socially, but also how we birth atrocities.

VTC: Yes. That kind of apathy allows for atrocities: “As long as it’s not harming my family, I won’t rock the boat and speak out.”

Audience: You don’t ever get to see the incredible dependency. I mean there’s no sense of gratitude or appreciation or acknowledgment or recognition, all these wonderful feelings.

VTC: Yes. You go through your whole life without feeling gratitude and appreciation. That’s a very dry life, isn’t it? To go through life with no sense of gratitude, appreciation, connection.

Audience: It’s interesting that emergencies, like an accident, will jolt us out of this. Often its extreme things, for then people come together and see each other as human beings.

VTC: Yes. It’s amazing how it takes something very strong to help us connect to sentient beings again. There’s nothing like a common enemy to make you connect to the people around you, but then you develop hostility, so we’re not talking about that. But what you were saying about an emergency of some sort, it doesn’t have to be one where there’s an enemy, but a natural catastrophe—

Audience: An accident.

VTC: It brings out qualities in people that are quite wonderful.

Audience: We share the natural catastrophe with samsara.

VTC: Yes. Actually, if you get rid of the apathy then you don’t feel so alone in your samsara because you realize, “Boy, everybody else is stuck in it just like me.”

Let’s think about that, then we’ll continue on next week. I think there’s enough to think about.

Audience: I just did want to share. You started off with both seeing the kindness of others and just seeing beings as wanting to be happy and not suffer. I used that one a lot this year with looking at the political arena—to really see how sentient beings go to some amazing extremes in their seeking and how so many times it causes suffering instead. I bring my mind to, “This is a pursuit of happiness. All this confusion, all this hostility, this drama—is all wanting to be happy, and getting totally confused on how to go about that.” It gets some compassion in my mind about what’s happening.

VTC:  Yes, especially in an election year, and all the confusion and the negativity that’s been spread in election years because the election seems to drag on and on and on. It’s helpful to see that everybody is just trying to be happy. They’re trying to be happy, and they don’t know how.

We do all sorts of things—“If I can trash that person, then I’ll be happy; if I can protect myself against this person, then I’ll be happy”—without understanding karma, and so in their pursuit of happiness, they are creating more immediate pain and a lot of negative karma that will produce pain in future lives. It keeps us bound in samsara caring about all that stuff—caring about, “Who criticized me,” and “I have to criticize them more than they criticize me,” and “I need to ruin their reputation before they ruin mine.” It’s important to just see that sentient beings are trying to be happy and are very confused.

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.