Verfasst von: Enrico Kosmus | 21. Februar 2021

Bodhicitta – Mind of Enlightenment

By developing the mind of enlightenment, one begins to extend the goal of liberation from oneself to all beings. Through this, one enters the Great Path – called Mahayana. To begin with, bodhicitta – the mind of enlightenment – should not be confused simply with charity or compassion. Although many people feel compassion for poor, weak beings and also have a high level of helpfulness, this attitude is always characterized by dualism and is therefore not a mind of enlightenment. Being a good person is, of course, a socially acceptable attitude, but this perspective is still marred by the stains of ego thinking.

Bringing forth the mind of enlightenment is tremendously important, especially if someone is also following the path of Vajrayana. If one practices Vajrayana without bodhicitta, then the skillful means of Secret Mantrayana will not lead to liberation. The complex meditations and actions of the Nyingma and Sarma traditions will only turn someone who performs them without bodhicitta into a minor sorcerer. Perhaps through these practices one is successful in worldly matters and also charismatic, but since that person still has an eternalist view and motivation, no profound transformation will occur and thus remain only superficial pomposity.

The basics

Since all sentient beings without exception have Buddha-nature, the result of Buddhahood is as certain as death. As noted in the King of Meditation Sutra, „The essence of Tathagatagarbha completely pervades all living beings.“ Yet it is not manifest, but hidden within. Thus, in order to manifest it, certain conditions and actions are necessary. As it is said in the Great Nirvana Sutra, „As milk already contains butter, so all beings are permeated with the essence of Tathagatagarbha.“ In the same way, however, milk must be handled and stirred in the correct way for butter to become manifest.

The view and practice of the heroes of liberation

Let us therefore turn to the view of the Bodhisattvas. The causal condition – Buddha-nature – is innate to every sentient being without exception, including ourselves.The guiding condition is the spiritual friend, the person who teaches the Four Immeasurables mindset.  The objective condition is represented by the beings and their sufferings.And the additional condition is to realize the benefits in developing the Four Immeasurables and the disadvantages in not holding them.

Bodhicitta – the view and action of the bodhisattvas – is first of all the desire to attain perfect enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, in order to be able to lead them to the stage of Buddhahood as well. The cause is again threefold: 1) trust in the Buddha, 2) compassion for sentient beings, and 3) knowing the benefits of bodhicitta. As an accompanying factor, one also needs courage and the superior motivation to take on this burden alone.

The most well-known categories in which bodhicitta are classified are: 1) the relative mind of enlightenment and 2) the absolute mind of enlightenment. As a basis for this, it is popular to cite „The Path of Bodhisattas“ (Bodhicaryavatara) by Shantideva, who therein describes bodhicitta in these two aspects – that of intention or aspiration and then the bodhicitta of practical execution.

As stated in the Bodhisattva Stages, one aligns oneself with enlightenment and sentient beings in order to develop bodhicitta. Specifically, this means, on the one hand, following the original wisdom of Mahayana and, on the other hand, focusing on the Four Limitless Minds.

Just as if one wants to go on a journey, it is not enough to have either the desire for this journey alone or to simply set out on the journey. Rather, these two aspects must go hand in hand. Therefore, bodhicitta encompasses both the desiring and the doing aspects, and these are connected with the orientation toward enlightenment and the compassion that supports it.

So how is bodhicitta developed?

We start from our own experience of not wanting to suffer and experience everlasting happiness, and then conclude that all sentient beings in the six realms, without exception, also want this. As stated in the Lamrim Yeshe Nyingpo – the Wisdom Essence of the Oral Instructions on the Stages of the Path: „Using your own experience as a standard, develop the bodhicitta of aspiration through the Four Immeasurables of love, compassion, joy, and impartiality, so that your mothers, all beings, may be happy and free from suffering.“

Therefore, we first develop the desiring bodhicitta, making two pledges in the process: 1) the pledge of cause and 2) the pledge of result.

The promise of the cause consists of the Four Immeasurables. First of all, we realize that all sentient beings without exception have been our mothers, and so we develop the necessary equanimity, not close to some and far from others. From the realization that all sentient beings have been our mothers, we take responsibility for them and regard them with loving kindness. Further, we realize that their suffering in cyclic existence is unbearable and decide that we cannot give them up. In this way, we develop compassion. Finally, it is a joy for us to see them happy and to know that they are attaining a higher state. These four mindsets are therefore also called boundless, because they are directed at all beings in all realms of existence, without making any distinction or setting any limits anywhere.

The promise of the result is the intention to lead them all to Buddhahood.

In relation to sentient beings, the Four Immeasurables appear just in their conceptuality.  In relation to ultimate nature, with the realization that they are of unborn nature, they appear as the four states, free from concepts.

Specific exercises to generate these Four Immeasurable States of Mind are many. The simplest exercise to develop loving-kindness is to think of a small child, to imagine it. Even if we see any young animals, we automatically develop a feeling of loving kindness. To develop compassion, it is recommended that we imagine someone suffering from a terminal illness.  For developing joy, we think of a person who is a friend of ours, whom we have not seen for a long time and with whom we will now soon meet. Equanimity comes from being free of preferences and knowing that all sentient beings, without exception, have been our mothers.

As proclaimed in the Jewelry of Manifest Knowledge, „Bodhicitta is accomplishing the benefit of others by desiring that they may attain perfect enlightenment.“ The reason developing bodhicitta is important is because, as Buddha Shakyamuni said, it is a means to quickly attain Buddhahood without studying many Dharma teachings. By developing and implementing this one attitude – that of Great Compassion – it is as if one has all the Buddha’s teachings in one’s hands.

Having become aware of the basis – the Buddha-nature inherent in all beings – and having generated the desire to lead all beings without exception to liberation, the question is how to put this into actual practice. This then encompasses the aspect of acting bodhicitta.

The active bodhicitta

First, the active bodhicitta includes the intention that one wishes to attain Buddhahood for oneself and for the benefit of all sentient beings. This intention is carried out through the six paramitas – the six transcendent actions.

One enters the path of Mahayana through the gate of bodhisattva vows. In order for these to be taken, refuge in the Three Jewels must first have been taken and the vows of personal liberation (monastic or lay vows) must have been taken. There are various rituals for this, which come from the profound view tradition, the broad action tradition, and the mantrayana tradition. Basically, there are two lineages for taking bodhisattva vows: 1) that of Buddha Shakyamuni, to Manjushri, to Nagarjuna and to Shantideva, and this consists of three parts, and 2) that of Buddha Shakyamuni, to Maitreya, to Asanga and of Dharmakirti, this consists of two parts. In these, the taking of vows is done in the presence of a qualified master. However, one can also take the Bodhisattva vows by using a prop of the Three Jewels – a statue or a thangka – or by simply visualizing them in front of oneself. Generally, the initial transmission of the bodhisattva vows is done by a qualified master, while their regular renewal is done by saying the required verses in front of a support.

Actually putting into practice the mind of enlightenment involves the application of mindfulness, wakefulness, and diligence in general, and accepting or abandoning the eight „white and black actions.“ The four whites are: 1) not consciously lying, 2) guiding everyone to the profound path of Mahayana, 3) respecting and praising sublime beings, and 4) acting with superior intention with regard to sentient beings. The four blacks to give up are: 1) deceiving those worthy of worship, 2) generating regret without cause, 3) publicly saying unpleasant things about exalted beings, and 4) acting with cunning and craftiness against beings.These are the resolutions of the aspiring bodhicitta.

The resolutions of active bodhicitta include three parts: 1) practicing oneself in the six transcendent actions, 2) bringing others to maturity by practicing in the four ways of attracting disciples, and 3) training the mind by embodying the above resolutions. Or as Gampopa notes in Precious Ornament of Liberation: 1) training in higher discipline, 2) training in higher consciousness, and 3) training in higher wisdom.

The first five virtues listed represent the aspect of method. But we are to infuse and enliven them with wisdom – the sixth virtue. And with a wisdom that is free from the three circles – the ideas of subject, object and action. We should perform actions free from attachment and expectation, and in the end devote actions free from conceptions. By doing so, these virtues will grow and be truly adorned with emptiness and therefore represent pure compassion. Finally, the paramitas thus become the armor of the bodhisattvas.

Liberating Qualities

„Paramita“ describes something that leads beyond. The six transcendent actions or liberating qualities are therefore called paramita because they lead beyond worldly references. These transcendent actions are: 1) generosity, 2) ethical discipline, 3) patience, 4) diligence, 5) collection, and 6) supreme insight of wisdom.

Liberating generosity involves 1) giving material things, 2) giving protection, and 3) giving the Dharma. The essence of generosity is giving one’s possessions without attachment. Generosity serves to eliminate poverty and scarcity thinking and increase wealth, and should be motivated by a genuine interest in the welfare of others.

Liberating ethical discipline is the embodiment of the four wholes, or taking vows or promises and keeping them, and includes 1) giving up or refraining from negative actions, 2) accumulating and increasing positive actions, and 3) working for the benefit of sentient beings. Ethical discipline serves to lessen the agony of the negative and should be borne of a sincere motivation of mind training.

Liberating patience involves 1) steadfastly abiding in the face of suffering, 2) facing suffering joyfully or accepting suffering, and 3) striving to attain true knowledge of reality or certainty about the Dharma. Patience serves to eliminate anger and grief. Through patience, one’s selfless attitude becomes unshakable and irreversible in the face of hardships, etc.

Liberating diligence is the enthusiasm for positive action and the absence of laziness. Transcendent diligence is composed of 1) a diligence equal to armor, 2) a diligence in execution or application, and 3) a diligence for the benefit of others. Diligence makes the power of the wholesome increase and causes one’s previous wholesome actions to last long, resulting in great courage.

Liberating concentration is the single-pointed focus on the wholesome and includes 1) concentration that produces a sense of well-being in this life, i.e., it is about the nine kinds of mental tranquility, 2) concentration that gives rise to excellent qualities, and 3) concentration to benefit all sentient beings. Concentration reduces the disturbing emotions. However, meditative concentration requires some preparation, since the root of anguish and suffering lies in our ordinary minds. Therefore, we must also 1) lay the causes for this concentration, such as giving up distractions, etc. 2) give up the five faults, and 3) rely on the eight types of mental application by transforming ourselves into a suitable vessel.

Liberating wisdom is the intelligence that completely distinguishes the nature of all phenomena and includes 1) the wisdom of hearing, 2) the wisdom of reflecting, and 3) the wisdom of meditation. Through wisdom, the two kinds of veiling – that of disturbing feelings and that for omniscience – are eliminated. Even though wisdom is innate to Buddhahood, it can be cultivated through the three kinds of wisdom.

The six transcendent actions are called transcendent because their performance is free from the concepts of a performer, a receiver, and the idea of the action. They are also divided into two groups, with generosity, ethical discipline, and patience leading to a higher rebirth, and diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom leading to „true good“ – as Gampopa calls it – or Buddhahood.

Also, the six paramitas lead to an accumulation of positive force through the practice of generosity and ethical discipline, and to an accumulation of awareness through wisdom. Patience, diligence, and meditative concentration belong to both accumulation groups.

Finally, each of these six transcendent virtues can also be divided into another six aspects, making it „the armament of realization,“ as noted in the „Jewelry of True Knowledge,“ ultimately arriving at 36 subgroups: 1) generosity is to introduce other beings to the respective, specific transcendent virtue, 2) ethical discipline is to refrain from anything adverse, 3) patience is to be steadfast in the face of difficulties in performing the respective paramita, 4) diligence is to perform each paramita with joyfulness, 5) collection is to focus the mind single-pointedly on the wholesome goal of the respective virtue, and 6) wisdom is to practice all paramitas free from the three circles – subject, object, and action.

In the Ornament of the Sutras, it is noted that there are exactly six virtues that make one realize one’s own goal by working for the good of others. „Eliminating poverty, avoiding all suffering, enduring hostility and not being discouraged in work, making others happy [through powers of meditative concentration], and making clear declarations – on the basis of these, the aims of others are fulfilled and so is one’s own aim.“

The six liberating qualities are liberating only when generosity is without expectation, ethical discipline is not seeking a higher birth, patience is given in everything, diligence is an accumulation of good qualities, likewise meditative concentration is not to be immersion in the formless, and wisdom must be accompanied by skillful means. These are then the paramitas in their proper application.

The mind of enlightenment is described in the Jewel of True Knowledge with 22 examples of how it unfolds from the ordinary man to the level of a Buddha. Since the excellent mind of enlightenment is centered on both enlightenment and sentient beings, it forms the basis for attaining the two kayas – the dharmakaya and the rupakaya (form body).

Taking the Bodhisattva Vows

The ceremony of taking the bodhisattva vows according to Shantideva, as mentioned earlier, includes three sections – preparation, main part and conclusion. The preparations begin with the prayer of the Seven Branches, consisting of bowing, offering, confessing, rejoicing, requesting, supplicating, and dedicating. Then, the main part expresses the commitment, saying both the vows of the desiring mind of enlightenment and the active mind of enlightenment. After saying the appropriate words of the vows three times, one concludes by making offerings to the Three Jewels and allowing an excellent state of mind to arise.

If the bodhisattva vows are taken in the tradition of Dharmakirti, this ceremony consists of two parts – the bringing forth of the aspiring mind of enlightenment and the vow of the applied mind of enlightenment. In the aspiring bodhicitta, the request for it is brought forth first, followed by the increasing of the accumulations and the special refuge. In the main part, the master gives the disciple teachings about the living beings and the realms of existence, the emotional delusions and karma, and the suffering of beings. Further, the master asks the disciple to focus the mind completely on love and compassion for all sentient beings and then to develop the desire to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of beings in order to lead them to perfect Buddhahood. The disciple then repeats the verses of the vow three times. Having received the vows in this way, one gives great joy at the conclusion and receives further instruction from the teacher for practical application.

Benefits of the mind of enlightenment

The benefits of taking the bodhisattva vows are many. Dagpo Lharye (Gampopa) lists countable and uncountable benefits. By taking the bodhisattva vows, we enter the Mahayana – the Great Vehicle or the Great Path. Since the training of bodhisattvas consists of discipline, meditation, and wisdom, by taking the vows we acquire the foundation for this and can thus stabilize the enlightened state of mind. Since the best of wholesome actions is the mind of enlightenment, all negative actions are stopped once and for all because „like the fire at the end of an age, it effortlessly burns up great negativity in a single moment.“ By developing the mind of enlightenment, the seed for enlightenment is set as the mindstream becomes imbued with love and compassion so that the actions leading to enlightenment (e.g., the 37 actions of a bodhisattva) can spread and the fruit of Buddhahood eventually ripens. Furthermore, countless merits are acquired, the buddhas and bodhisattvas are pleased, benefits arise for all beings, and we finally attain perfect Buddhahood quickly. These are the benefits of aspiring bodhicitta.

The benefits of applied bodhicitta are formed from the benefits of aspiring bodhicitta plus two additional benefits. Thus, unceasing benefit arises for ourselves and benefit arises for others.

Disadvantages of giving it up

Giving up the mind of enlightenment can be done, of course, but the consequences are seen as threefold: 1) a birth in the lower realms of existence, 2) one performs fewer and fewer actions for the benefit of others, and 3) one wanders around for a long time without reaching the bodhisattvabhumis – the stages of bodhisattas.

Now, how can the mind of enlightenment be lost? The desiring mind of enlightenment is lost when we 1) exclude living beings from our mind, 2) commit the four negative actions, or 3) develop a mindset that is not consistent with the mind of enlightenment. When one gives up the aspiring mind of enlightenment, one has also lost the active bodhicitta. The desiring mind of enlightenment is damaged or abandoned when one performs the four actions that correspond to moral defeat, i.e., 1) praising oneself and belittling others out of desire for gain and prestige, 2) not giving teachings or material things to the defenseless and suffering out of stinginess, 3) blaming someone out of anger without listening to their apologies, as well as 4) abandoning the Mahayana and teaching something that is only Dharma in appearance. In order for this rupture to be complete, the corresponding action must be 1) performed constantly, 2) performed shamelessly, and 3) performed with joy, as well as 4) one must take pride in the result. Of course, it can also be less if only one to three of the aspects just mentioned are involved.

Restoring the Bodhisattva Vows

Since damage and breakage of vows happen quite often consciously and unconsciously, it is necessary to renew these vows regularly. In the case of damage to vows, it is sufficient to make a confession and repentance. If the vows are broken, the bodhicitta vows must be taken again.

As mentioned earlier, the mind of enlightenment is the seed for enlightenment. This mind of enlightenment – bodhicitta – is rooted in the Four Immeasurable Minds – loving-kindness, compassion, compassionate joy, and equanimity. This also immediately describes the desiring mind of enlightenment.

The applied mind of enlightenment consists in the application of the six transcendent actions – the six paramitas. Through this, we bring ourselves to maturity. Another aspect of applied bodhicitta is the practice of tonglen – receiving and sending out. But first, one practices the four ways of attracting disciples: 1) generosity in teaching, practicing, and guiding others to practice, 2) speaking pleasantly, 3) acting in accordance with what is said, and 4) giving appropriate advice. By doing this, we lead others to maturity.

The entire practice of a bodhisattva can be summarized into three main points: 1) by meditating on love and compassion, the cause is laid; 2) by taking the bodhicitta vows daily, the main point is put into practice; and 3) finally, there is the putting into practice of life or training in behavior. In this last point, one dedicates one’s positive actions to the welfare of others and strives in the practice of sending out happiness and receiving the suffering of others – in Tonglen. As the eleventh verse of the 37 Exercises of a Bodhisattva says, „All suffering – without exception – arises from the desire for one’s own happiness. From the attitude of mind directed toward the welfare of others comes perfect liberation. Therefore, exchange your own happiness completely for the suffering of others. This is how bodhisattvas practice.“

Tonglen – Taking & Giving

As Shantideva said, „Those who wish to quickly be a refuge for themselves and others should exchange „I“ and „others“ and thus grasp a holy mystery.“ Through the mind training of tonglen, one absorbs the suffering of others and gives one’s own happiness to others. This exchanging is an essential practice of applied bodhicitta in all schools.

In doing so, one imagines that one joyfully and willingly, without hesitation, absorbs all the burdens of beings in their misery, the causes of their misery (their deeds and disturbing emotions) since beginningless time, and also their experience of suffering as a result of it, and gives to all beings without exception all one’s own merit, one’s own good, all that one has accumulated in countless lifetimes, and also all the consequences that show themselves physically as well-being and spiritually as happiness. As it can be read in the Lojong: „Giving and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should be accompanied by the breath“ and „Whatever happens to you unexpectedly, combine it with meditation: insight into emptiness and exchanging [Tonglen].“ This practice of exchanging should also be combined with certain visualizations and the breath.

„Protectors and sons (buddhas and bodhisattvas) please think of me! Through the Four Immeasurables, I will act for the benefit of beings. Holding the mind of enlightenment, I will practice the six paramitas. May the effortless accomplishment of the two purposes be gloriously attained!“

One recites this as often as possible. While doing this, one practices the mind training of exchanging by equating oneself with others. For this, one performs the visualization of giving one’s own happiness and receiving the suffering of others. H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche describes this in detail in his commentary „A Torch Shining the Way to Freedom“ on the Ngöndro „The Chariot of the Path to Unification“. After taking refuge and expressing the wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, one imagines collecting all the negative deeds, veilings, and sufferings of all sentient beings as a black mass, inhaling them through the nostrils, and dissolving them in one’s own heart. In this way, one liberates the beings from the negative deeds and suffering. When exhaling, imagine exhaling one’s own happiness and good deeds through the nostrils as a brilliant white stream, as if it were rays of moonlight, and these dissolve in all beings so that they immediately attain Buddhahood. One can also say suitable aspiration prayers. After meditating bodhicitta in this way for a long time, one dedicates the wholesome and the root of the wholesome to the liberation of all beings and dissolves the visualization.

Ultimate view & action inseparable

The essence of relative bodhicitta is compassion and depending on this, absolute bodhicitta is born. All sentient beings are equal to us in that all wish to attain happiness and avoid suffering. As a starting point, we begin the practice of tonglen with ourselves. Also, the root verses of Serlingpa note, „Begin taking with yourself.“

Through the practice of compassion, we eventually realize that all things are truly without fault. And so we eventually experience genuine, unaffected bodhicitta. This enables us to direct this to all beings who have not yet realized it. In this way, we will be able to sincerely benefit others with body, speech and mind. Through this practice, attachment to an ego is actually reduced and eventually dissolved. In this way, all adverse circumstances are brought into the path and used to attain liberation. As Serlingpa says, „Bring all blame to a point: attachment to an ego is the root of all suffering.“

By recognizing ourselves equally with others on the relative plane, we also come to the realization that all beings have the same ultimate nature – namely, no inherent, innate existence. Through this view, we realize that others are much more than oneself and are therefore more important. The wish for all beings to attain the level of Buddhahood is not a mere intellectual exercise, but requires application in everyday life, starting with getting up in the morning, walking, sitting, standing, eating, going to bed in the evening (and finally sleeping). Since in all these situations the focus is on the welfare of others, we develop a tremendous amount of constructive potential or merit, and by recognizing them as equal to us, a great deal of wisdom. This allows bodhicitta to grow. As the saying goes, „Happiness and love increase when they are shared.“ And the saying goes, „A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.“

In verse 20 of The 37 Exercises of a Bodhisattva, it is said, „As long as you have not overcome your inner enemy, hatred, your outer enemies – even if you defeat them – will always rise up. Therefore, tame your mind with all the power of love and compassion! This is how bodhisattvas practice!“

While giving up attachment is central to Hinayana, overcoming hatred is central to Mahayana. Both vehicles are about the realization of lacking an inherent identity. In Hinayana, this is done through the realization that there is no separate, inherent I, and in Mahayana, this is done through the realization that experience in relation to others is nothing but an illusory projection of the mind. As a result, the dualistic conceptions first diminish and dissolve, and so we finally arrive at the action that transcends the limitations of ordinary reference.


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