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In Buddhism, bodhicitta (Sanskrit: बोधिचित्त; Chinese: 菩提心, putixin; Japanese: 菩提心, bodaishin; Standard Tibetan: བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་, Wylie transliteration: byang chub kyi sems; Mongolian: бодь сэтгэл; Vietnamese: Bồ-đề tâm), "enlightenment-mind", is the mind that strives toward awakening and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings.
- Etymology 1
- Spontaneity 2
- Levels 3
Origins and development 4
- Use in early Mahāyāna 4.1
- Late Mahāyāna texts 4.2
- Ideal 5.1
- Paramitas 5.2
- Cultivation 5.3
- Two Practice Lineages 5.4
- Universality 5.5
- See also 6
- Notes 7
- References 8
- Further reading 9
- External links 10
Etymologically, the word is a combination of the Sanskrit words bodhi and citta. Bodhi means "awakening" or "enlightenment". Citta derives from the Sanskrit root cit, and means "that which is conscious" (i.e., mind or consciousness). Bodhicitta may be translated as "awakening mind" or "mind of enlightenment".
Bodhicitta is a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self.
The mind of great compassion and bodhicitta motivates one to attain enlightenment Buddhahood, as quickly as possible and benefit infinite sentient beings through their emanations and other skillful means. Bodhicitta is a felt need to replace others' suffering with bliss. Since the ultimate end of suffering is nirvana, bodhicitta necessarily involves a motivation to help others to awaken (to find bodhi).
A person who has a spontaneous realization or motivation of bodhicitta is called a bodhisattva.
Different schools may demonstrate alternative understandings of bodhicitta.
One tradition distinguishes between relative and absolute (or ultimate) bodhicitta. Relative bodhicitta is a state of mind in which the practitioner works for the good of all beings as if it were his own. Absolute bodhicitta is 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 to nothingness, but to freedom from attachments and from fixed ideas about the world and how it should be.
Some bodhicitta practices emphasize the absolute (e.g. vipaśyanā), while others emphasize the relative (e.g. metta), but both aspects are seen in all Mahāyāna practice as essential to enlightenment, especially in the Tibetan practices of tonglen and lojong. Without the absolute, the relative can degenerate into pity and sentimentality, whereas the absolute without the relative can lead to nihilism and lack of desire to engage other sentient beings for their benefit.
- The first
- 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 second
The path of the boatman, who ferries his passengers across the river and simultaneously, of course, ferries himself as well.
- The third
That of the shepherd, who makes sure that all his sheep arrive safely ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.
Origins and development
Use in early Mahāyāna
Describing use of the term bodhicitta in Tibetan Buddhism, Paul Williams writes that the term is used differently in early Mahāyāna works, referring to a state of mind in which a bodhisattva carries out actions:
We are describing here the late systematized Indo-Tibetan Mahāyāna. It seems that in the relatively early Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra, for example, the bodhicitta is a much vaguer concept, more "a certain state of mind" in which a Bodhisattva acts (Nattier 2003a: 148). [...] Pagel points out that many Mahāyāna sūtras, including the Bodhisattvapiṭaka, hold that the arising of bodhicitta (bodhicittotpāda) is not simply a static thing that occurs just at the beginning of the Bodhisattva path. Rather it is continuously retaken and evolves through practice.
Late Mahāyāna texts
Among the most important later source texts on bodhicitta, used by traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, are:
- Śāntideva's A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way Of Life (c. 700 CE),
- Thogme Zangpo's Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (12th century CE),
- Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind (c. 1100 CE), and
- Geshe Chekhawa Training the Mind in Seven Points in the 12th century CE.
Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that the broader motivation of achieving one's own enlightenment "in order to help all sentient beings" 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. Bodhicitta is the primary positive factor to be cultivated.
The Mahāyāna-tradition provides 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 awakening. Practitioners of the Mahāyāna make it their primary goal 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:
- Contemplation of the Four Immeasurables (Brahmaviharas):
- 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, and the Lojong (mind training) practices of which tonglen forms a part.
- Viewing all other sentient beings as having been our mothers in infinite past lives, and feeling gratitude for the many occasions on which they have taken care of us.
Two Practice Lineages
Tibetan Buddhists maintain that there are two main ways to cultivate Bodhichitta, the "Seven Causes and Effects" that originates from Maitreya and was taught by Atisha, and "Exchanging Self and Others," taught by Shantideva and originally by Manjushri.
According to Tsongkapa the seven causes and effects are thus:
- recognizing all beings as your mothers;
- recollecting their kindness;
- the wish to repay their kindness;
- great compassion;
- wholehearted resolve;
According to Pabongka Rinpoche the second method consists of the following meditations:
- how self and others are equal;
- contemplating the many faults resulting from self-cherishing;
- contemplating the many good qualities resulting from cherishing others;
- the actual contemplation on the interchange of self and others;
- with these serving as the basis, the way to meditate on giving and taking (tonglen).
The practice and realization of bodhicitta are independent of sectarian considerations, since they are fundamentally a part of the human experience. Bodhisattvas are not only recognized in the Theravāda school of Buddhism, 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.
- "The Practice of Tonglen". Shambhala International. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
- Williams, Paul (2008). Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.
- "The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva". Archived from the original on June 3, 2004. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
- "Eight Verses for Training the Mind" (PDF).
- Rinpoche, Pabongka (1991). Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.
- White, Kenneth R. (2005). The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment. The Edwin Mellen Press. [includes translations of the following: Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, Sammaya-kaijo]
- Lampert, Khen (2006). Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism.
- Harvey, Peter (2000). An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics.
- Matics, Marion L. (1970). "Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Santideva".
- Powers, John (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.
- Compassion and Bodhicitta
- Drikung Kagyu Ngöndro Teaching By Lama Sonam Jorphel Rinpoche
- Berzin, Alexander (2001). The Berzin Archives. Stages of Bodhichitta.