Bodhicitta


Bodhicitta

In Buddhism, bodhicitta [For definitions of the components of the term see Wiktionary: and .] (Ch. 菩提心, "pudixin", Jp. "bodaishin", Tibetan "jang chub sem", Mongolian "бодь сэтгэл") is the wish to attain complete enlightenment (that is, Buddhahood) in order to be of benefit to all sentient beings -- beings who are trapped in cyclic existence (samsāra) and have not yet reached Buddhahood. One who has bodhicitta as the primary motivation for all of their activities is called a bodhisattva.

Etymologically, the word is a combination of the Sanskrit words bodhi and citta. Bodhi means 'awakening', or 'enlightenment'. Citta may be translated as 'mind' or 'spirit'. Bodhicitta can therefore be translated as 'mind of enlightenment' or 'spirit of awakening'.

Bodhicitta may also be defined as the 'Union of Compassion and Wisdom'. It is a development of the concept of luminous mind in the Pali Canon. [Peter Harvey, "Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha." In Karel Werner, ed., "The Yogi and the Mystic." Curzon Press, 1989, pages 97, 99.] While the Compassion and Wisdom aspects of Bodhicitta are actually highly dependent on each other, in the Mahāyanā tradition they are often referred to as:

* Relative Bodhicitta, in which the practitioner works for the good of all beings as if it were his own.
* Absolute, or ultimate, Bodhicitta, which refers to the wisdom of shunyata (śunyatā, a Sanskrit term often translated as 'emptiness', though the alternatives 'openness' or 'spaciousness' probably convey the idea better to Westerners). The concept of "śunyatā" in Buddhist thought does not refer simply to nothingness, but refers, loosely, to freedom from attachments (particularly attachment to the idea of a static "self") and fixed ideas about the world and how it should be. The classic text on śunyatā is the Prajñāpāramitā Hrdaya Sūtra, a discourse of the Buddha commonly referred to as the "Heart Sūtra."

So, the term bodhicitta in its most complete sense would combine both:
* the arising of spontaneous and limitless compassion for all sentient beings, and
* the falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existent "self."

Some bodhicitta practices emphasize the absolute (e.g. vipaśyanā); others emphasize the relative (e.g. metta), but both aspects are essential to develop on the path to enlightenment. The Relative without the Absolute can degenerate into pity and sentimentality while the Absolute without the Relative can lead to nihilism and lack of desire to engage other sentient beings for their benefit. The cultivation of "both" the relative and absolute aspects of Bodhicitta is an important part of all Mahāyāna practices, including in particular the Tibetan Mind Training practices of tonglen and lojong.

Bodhicitta may be viewed as having different levels: one useful classification is that given by Patrul Rinpoche in his "Words of My Perfect Teacher". He states that the lowest level is the way of the King, who primarily seeks his own benefit but who recognizes that his benefit depends crucially on that of his kingdom and his subjects. The middle level is the path of the boatman, who ferries his passengers across the river and simultaneously, of course, ferries himself as well. The highest level is that of the shepherd, who makes sure that all his sheep arrive safely ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.

Source Texts

Among the most important source texts on bodhichitta, within the Mahāyāna tradition in which the teaching arose, are Śāntideva's "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way Of Life" (c. 700 CE), Thogme Zangpo's 'Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva' [http://buddhism.kalachakranet.org/resources/37_practices_bodhisattva.html The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva] (12th century CE), Langri Tangpa's 'Eight Verses for Training the Mind' [http://www.buddhadharma.org/EightVerses/ Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind] (c. 1100 CE), and the lojong (Mind Training) proverbs authored by Chekawahttp://lojongmindtraining.com Tonglen and Mind Training Community Site] in the 12th century CE.

Luminous mind in the Nikayas

Luminous mind (also, "brightly shining mind," "brightly shining citta") is a term used by the Buddha in the Pali Canon. It is described as the most fundamental aspect of the mind, and is said to be "brightly shining" whether or not this is realized. It is given no direct doctrinal interpretation in the Pali discourses; one way the Mahayana interprets it is as bodhicitta. [Peter Harvey, "Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha." In Karel Werner, ed., "The Yogi and the Mystic." Curzon Press, 1989, pages 97, 99.] The Astasahasrika Perfection of Wisdom Sutra describes bodhicitta thus: "That citta is no citta since it is by nature brightly shining." This is in accord with Anguttara Nikaya I,10 which goes from a reference to brightly shining citta to saying that even the slightest development of loving-kindness is of great benefit. This implies that loving-kindness - and the related state of compassion - is inherent within the luminous mind as a basis for its further development. [Peter Harvey, "Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha." In Karel Werner, ed., "The Yogi and the Mystic." Curzon Press, 1989, page 97.] The observation that the ground state of consciousness is of the nature of loving-kindness implies that empathy is innate to consciousness and exists prior to the emergence of all active mental processes. [B. Alan Wallace, "Contemplative Science." Columbia University Press, 2007, page 113.]

Significance

The emphasis on bodhicitta as the primary positive factor to be cultivated is what distinguishes Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna (or tantric) Buddhism from other Buddhist schools. In Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism, the goal of Buddhist practice is primarily for an individual to escape from samsāra with the aspiration to be reborn infinite numbers of times to liberate all those other beings still trapped in samsāra.

While the teaching and terminology of bodhichitta is most developed in Mahāyāna Buddhism, its practice and realization are independent of sectarian considerations since they are fundamentally a part of the human experience. There are, of course, bodhisattvas recognized not only in the Theravāda school of BuddhismGems of Buddhist Wisdom. Publications of the Buddhist Missionary Society. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1983, page 461-471] , but in all other religious traditions and among those of no formal religious tradition. The present fourteenth Dalai Lama, for instance, regarded Mother Teresa as one of the greatest modern bodhisattvas [An Open Heart: Dalai Lama, Richard Gere et al, Page 23] . Buddhism has no monopoly either on compassion or on the realization of the fundamentally illusory nature of our view of "self" and the world. Buddhism teaches that many bodhisattvas neither teach nor announce themselves in any way at all, but live apparently ordinary lives and help other sentient beings by stealth. It is regarded as a very healthy contemplation to hold the view that "all" other beings may actually be hidden bodhisattvas, including those we do not like.

According to the Theravāda school, only a select few are able to attain Buddhahood (or complete enlightenment). Followers of the Mahāyāna, on the other hand, believe that the attainment of Buddhahood is not only possible by all sentient beings, but inevitable. Since we are all karmically connected we are all in the same boat, and either we will all attain liberation or we will all drown in the ocean of samsāra. The Mahāyāna teaches that even those who have initially chosen personal liberation from samsāra will be awakened eventually by Buddhas and entreated to develop bodhicitta and become fully enlightened in order to help liberate all sentient beings.

Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that the broader motivation of achieving one's own enlightenment "in order to help all sentient beings," bodhicitta, is the best possible motivation one can have for any action, whether it be working in one's vocation, teaching others, or even making an incense offering. The Six Perfections (Pāramitās) of Buddhism only become true "perfections" when they are done with the motivation of bodhicitta. Thus, the action of giving (Skt. dāna) can be done in a mundane sense, or it can be a Pāramitā if it is conjoined with bodhicitta.

Cultivation

The seeds of both Absolute and Relative bodhicitta often arise spontaneously -- for example, when seeing someone close to us who is suffering, or in the face of a major unexpected event that upsets our world view. Unfortunately they can also vanish again just as quickly, which is why many Buddhist traditions, and in particular the Mahāyāna, provide specific methods for the intentional cultivation of both absolute and relative bodhicitta. This cultivation is considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of the path to complete enlightenment. Any teaching or activity cannot be held to be a genuine Mahāyāna activity unless it is conjoined with at least a "contrived" bodhicitta. Practitioners of the Mahāyāna make it their primary goal to go beyond contrived forms of bodhicitta and to develop a genuine, "uncontrived" bodhicitta which remains within their mindstreams continuously without having to rely on conscious effort.

Among the many methods for developing uncontrived Bodhicitta given in Mahāyāna teachings are:
* The awareness that all sentient beings have been your mother in infinite previous lives
* Contemplation of the Four Immeasurables (Brahmaviharas) - Immeasurable Loving-Kindness (Maitri), Immeasurable Compassion (Karunā), Immeasurable Joy in the Good Fortune of Others (Mudita), and Immeasurable Equanimity (Upeksa)
* The practice of the Pāramitās (Generosity, Patience, Virtue, Effort, Meditation, and Insight).
* The Taking and Sending (tonglen) practice, in which one takes in the pain and suffering of others on the inbreath and sends them love, joy, and healing on the outbreath.http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/pema/tonglen1.php Pema Chodron on Tonglen] , and the Lojong ('Mind Training') practices of which tonglen forms a part.

Classical Tibetan Mahāyāna teachings hold that there are two distinct lineages by which one may cultivate uncontrived bodhicitta: (1) through the Seven Fold Cause-and-Effect method and (2) by Exchanging Self with Others (which uses the aforementioned "tonglen" practice). These two methods are explained in detail (along with a method for combining them) in Pabongka Rinpoche's seminal work "Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand".

Notes

References

*White, Kenneth R. 2005. "The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment." New York : The Edwin Mellen Press. [includes translations of the following: Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, Sammaya-kaijo]
*Lampert, K.(2005); "Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism". Palgrave-Macmillan
*"Steps on the Path to Enlightenment." Vol. 1. Geshe Lhundub Sopa w/ David Pratt. 2004
*"An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics." Peter Harvey. 2000
*"Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Santideva." (Translation) Marion L. Matics. 1970
*"The World of Tibetan Buddhism." The Dalai Lama. 1995
*"Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism." John Powers. 1995
*"A Guide to the Buddhist Path." Sangharakshita. 1990

External links

* [http://buddhism.kalachakranet.org/compassion.html Compassion and Bodhicitta]
* [http://www.bodhicitta.net/ Bodhicitta.net]
* [http://www.buddhanetz.org/texte/bodhisat.htm The Bodhisattva in Buddhism by Walpola Rahula Thera] - German language
* [http://chamtrul-rinpoche.com Bodhicitta non-profit organization for humanitarian aid in partnership with Chamtrul Rinpoche]
* [http://www.purifymind.com/ListeningTeachings.htm Drikung Kagyu Ngöndro Teaching] By Lama Sonam Jorphel Rinpoche
* [http://www.lotsawahouse.org/lojong/rabjampa_absolute.html Practicing absolute bodhichitta]


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