The Ritual for Developing a Bodhichitta Aim

The Ceremony for Wishing Bodhichitta, Together with Advice 

When we talk about developing bodhichitta, of course, this is a process that we need to work up to and that requires a great deal of work and effort to sincerely feel. There are stages of meditation for developing this aspiration to achieve our enlightenment in the future to benefit others, and these were outlined earlier in teachings by various Indian masters, like Kamalashila, before Atisha. In the lam-rims that follow from Atisha, these meditation methods are elaborated more fully, because we need to sincerely develop this concern for others, for all others, on the basis of having equanimity or equal regard toward everyone. 

What is also really important in terms of bodhichitta is the confidence that we can actually achieve enlightenment, that it’s not just a nice wish. This, of course, is based on a realistic view of compassion. It’s very nice to wish everybody to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering, but if we don’t actually believe that it’s possible for them to be free of it, then what’s the point? When we take responsibility to actually help others, but we don’t have the confidence that “I can actually do anything,” then we’re promising to do something that we’ll never be able to fulfill, so one has to very seriously think about this.

When we have actually worked on ourselves and really contemplated and meditated, and we start to feel this bodhichitta sincerely as in, “This is my aim. This is my goal. I set my heart on this, focusing on this goal of enlightenment; bodhichitta: I’m going to achieve it,” when we can do that, then it’s very helpful to have some sort of a ritual or a ceremony with which we make that quite formal. Because then, we take this whole state of mind and orientation in life more seriously.

That’s the reason for any sort of ceremony. To mark some sort of a major event in our life, we have a ritual. We could just live with somebody, we don’t have to have the ritual of getting married, but a ritual makes it formal, makes it into an event that one can go back to and think, “Ah, yes, this is where I formally made this commitment.” This is why Atisha is speaking here about a ritual for developing this aspiring bodhichitta.

This bodhichitta has two stages: one is called relative bodhichitta, the other is called deepest bodhichitta or ultimate bodhichitta. Relative bodhichitta is what we’ve been talking about, aimed at enlightenment with the wish to help all beings and to achieve that enlightenment to help everyone more fully. It’s a mind that is aimed at the appearances of all beings, the appearances of everything and how to benefit others in terms of what’s appearing. It’s dealing with the relative truth of everything, of appearances.

Then, deepest bodhichitta is dealing with the deepest truth of everybody and everything, which is their voidness. Voidness is referring to their absence of existing in impossible ways – we’ll talk about that later. When we talk about deepest bodhichitta, we’re talking about gaining the understanding of voidness. It’s a mind focused on the voidness of everyone and the voidness of the enlightened state we are aiming to attain.

Within relative bodhichitta, there’s the aspiring state or a wishing state and the involved or engaged state. The aspiring state is the wish to achieve enlightenment to help others, and that has two stages: the merely aspiring, so merely wishing to achieve enlightenment to benefit everyone, and the pledged aspiring state, in which we pledge that we’re never going to give up until we actually achieve that enlightenment. Then, the engaged state of relative bodhichitta is when we actually take the bodhisattva vows, “I’m going to engage in the bodhisattva behavior that’s going to bring me to enlightenment, and I’m doing that very, very seriously, so that means I’m taking the bodhisattva vows, which are going to shape my behavior, a bodhisattva behavior.”

Setting Up Representations and Offerings

Atisha now first speaks about the ritual for confirming our aspiring state of bodhichitta, and specifically, the pledged aspiring state that, “I’m never going to turn back.”

(7) Before paintings, statues, and so on of fully enlightened Buddhas, as well as stupas and hallowed (Dharma texts), offer flowers, incense, and whatever material things you may have.

This is basically how we start any type of ritual and actually how we start any type of meditation as well. First, we set up some sort of “shelf” for our offerings; that’s often called an “altar,” but since “altar” implies a sacrifice or something from a Biblical religion, it’s not the greatest word to use. On this offering shelf or platform, we set up representations of the body, speech and mind of a Buddha.

The “paintings” and “statues” refer to representations of the body of a Buddha, the physical faculties of a Buddha, the enlightening physical faculties − all the physical features of a Buddha that will help bring and lead others to enlightenment, so I call them “enlightening.” A “stupa” is a little monument that holds a relic of an enlightened being or a great teacher, and here it is regularly used to represent the enlightening mental faculties of a Buddha. Usually, on our shelf, we have some little statue of a stupa. Then, “hallowed (Dharma texts).” The text only says “hallowed” or “holy,” and that’s referring to the Dharma texts, so usually we put a Dharma text; often it’s a copy of The Heart Sutra or one of these short Prajnaparamita Sutras. That represents the enlightening verbal faculties or speech of a Buddha.

With bodhichitta, we’re aiming for achieving this. Or when we speak just in terms of safe direction, this is the direction that we want to go in; we want to achieve the enlightening physical, verbal and mental faculties of a Buddha. When we spoke about the Dharma source of safe direction, that was a state in which all the shortcomings, the problems, sufferings and their causes are removed. The state of mind − and not only state of mind, but the appearances of that mind that will eliminate the shortcomings, etc. − that is the result of that elimination, is what is present when that elimination has been attained.

The body, speech and mind of a Buddha actually represent the goal, just as the Dharma represents the goal. With safe direction or refuge, that’s the direction we want to go in, and with bodhichitta, this is representing our own future attainment of these enlightening faculties that we wish to attain. It’s also representing the enlightening faculties of the Buddhas of the past who have achieved this and shown the way to achieve this goal ourselves.

We then set up offerings in front of this, so that’s why Atisha says, “Offer flowers, incense, and whatever material things you may have.” Normally, we put seven water bowls representing the seven-limb offering that’s mentioned in the next verse. Atisha taught the Tibetans that even if we don’t have anything to offer, at least use our teacup or bowl and offer a bowl of water; at least offer something. The water in Tibet was very pure and clean, so this was a very good offering.

Obviously, the Buddhas don’t need our offerings. What’s Buddha going to do with a stick of incense or a candle or a piece of fruit? They don’t need that. The point is that we are offering this to our future enlightenment; we are offering everything and the material offering is just representing that. We want to offer all our study, all our insights, all our time, all our effort, to reaching our future enlightenment so that we can truly help others, and in this way, we offer everything that we have to others.

Making offerings builds up a great positive force of energy – “merit,” as it’s usually translated – a very positive force to actually achieve these goals and the positive force to enable us to help others. In tantra, when we make offerings, we always make offerings to the Buddhas and to all sentient beings. It’s through offering to the Buddhas that what we offer can then go to all sentient beings. In other words, by offering everything we have to our achievement of enlightenment, that will enable us to offer it in the fullest way to everyone.

Seven-Limb Practice

Then, we sit down, and Atisha says:

(8) Also with the seven-limb offering mentioned in (The Prayer of) Excellent Conduct, with the mind never to turn back until the ultimate (realization) of your Buddha-essence,

(9) With supreme belief in the Three Supreme Gems, with bent knee touching the ground and palms pressed together, firstly, take safe direction three times.

The seven-limb practice comes from this text, The Prayer of Excellent Conduct. Shantideva also speaks very extensively about it in Bodhicharyavatara (Engaging in Bodhisattva Conduct). These seven are:

First, we make prostration. We have our own enlightenment as a focus and the Buddhas representing that, and with prostration, we throw ourselves fully in this direction, represented by throwing ourselves down on the ground, a full prostration; we’re throwing very literally our whole energy in this direction. Showing respect to those who have achieved the goals that we want to achieve, enlightenment mainly, the Buddhas and the great masters, and showing respect to our own ability to achieve this, so our own Buddha-nature. These are the factors that we all have that will enable us to become a Buddha and we show respect to our own future attainment of enlightenment, our own enlightenment in the future.

Then, the second limb is when we make offerings. Again, we imagine offering everything. We’ve offered something material as a representation. We imagine offering everything – our energy, our efforts, our time, our hearts, our minds – everything, to reaching enlightenment and to benefiting others.

The third limb is openly admitting that we have difficulties and problems in helping others and achieving these goals – we’re lazy, we are confused, and so on. Then, we apply the four opponent forces: “I sincerely regret that I’m like that; I really wish I were not like that. I’m really going to try not to repeat it. I’m going to try to get out of these negative habits. And I reaffirm my foundation. What am I doing in life? Safe direction, bodhichitta. Whatever positive things I do, whether it’s study, meditation, or having this ritual of aspiring bodhichitta, whatever I do, I want to apply it as an opponent to overcome these shortcomings I have.”

The fourth limb is rejoicing, “I rejoice in the fact that the nature of mind is pure,” and so, “I have Buddha-nature, I have the ability to get rid of all of this; it is possible,” and “I rejoice in the Buddhas and the great masters that have taught the way to do this, have taught bodhichitta, and I rejoice that they actually have taught all of this. Thank you.” 

The fifth limb is requesting teachings, “Please, Buddhas, teachers, please teach me. I’m not just going to have this ritual here, but teach me the way, guide me. I really, really want to learn. I’m absolutely determined to follow this path, so please teach me; my mind is open.”

The sixth limb, “Don’t pass away!” “Buddhas, teachers, please don’t go away, don’t leave me. I’m absolutely sincere. I’m not just a Dharma tourist coming for a quick look and leaving, but I want to go all the way to enlightenment. Continue teaching me all the way. Don’t go away.” 

Finally, the seventh limb is the dedication, as we had yesterday; “Whatever positive force comes from this, may it act as a cause for reaching that enlightenment to truly be of best help to everyone.

Generating Pledged Bodhichitta

The first thing is that we’ve set up the shelf, made offerings, and we do the seven-part practice – or the seven-limb prayer or offering – and then we have, he says, “a mind never to turn back until the ultimate realization of your Buddha-essence.” “Buddha-essence” is referring to Buddha-nature; the ultimate realization of Buddha-nature is our attainment of enlightenment. Buddha-nature is referring to the factors we have that will enable us to reach enlightenment. “I’m going to go all the way. I’m not going to turn back until I reach enlightenment.”

Then, “with supreme belief in the Three Supreme Gems,” “belief” here has a very specific meaning in Buddhism; it’s a little bit different from our Western concept of belief. It doesn’t mean faith in our Western sense, but it means to “believe a fact to be true.” It’s not, “I believe that it’s going to rain tomorrow.” That’s just a guess, as we don’t really know. Or, “I believe in God,” which we can’t really understand, but it’s just sort of something “I believe.” Further, it’s not that “I believe in Santa Claus,” or something that doesn’t exist. However, we believe in something which is true, a fact.

What do I believe about it? “I believe that that fact is true.” Here, what are we talking about? The Three Supreme Gems, so, “I believe that it is a fact. It’s true that there is this state from which all problems, shortcomings, and so on are removed from a mental continuum and that mental continuum then fully uses all its potentials. That is something that I believe is true; it’s a fact that there is such a thing – that’s the Dharma. The Buddhas have achieved it in full and the Sangha have achieved it in part.”

There are three types of beliefs here. There’s the confident belief based on reason, “I am convinced that this is the case based on reason – that the mind is by nature pure and that those stains of the mind can be removed and that the potential of the mind is that the mental continuum has all these incredible qualities to be able to perceive everything and to have a heart which is open equally to everybody. Based on reason, I’m confident that this is so.” This is the first type of belief here.

Then there’s the aspiring belief, “I am convinced that this is something attainable and I wish to achieve it and I’m confident that it is possible for me to achieve that.”

Next, is the clear-minded belief, which is, “In believing these facts to be true, I’m totally convinced of it, and it clears my mind of disturbing emotions.” “I don’t have doubts about it. I’m very secure about that. It makes me very emotionally stable.” It’s not a state of, “I believe the Buddhas are so wonderful and I’m such a horrible creature down here. I can’t achieve anything.” That’s very neurotic. I’m not talking about that. This is a belief in something that makes us more emotionally stable.

Then, “with bent knee touching the ground and palms pressed together” – that’s just the posture of respect, undoubtedly coming from customs of ancient India – we “take safe direction three times;” in other words, we reaffirm, “This is the direction that I’m going in.”

(10) Next, with a mind of love toward all limited beings as a start, look to all wandering beings, barring none, suffering from birth and so forth in the three worse realms, and from death, transference, and so on.

(11) Then, with the wish that all wandering beings be liberated from the suffering of pain, from suffering, and from the causes of suffering, generate pledged bodhichitta with which you will never turn back.

It says that we start “with a mind of love;” in other words, we need to build ourselves up, work ourselves up to this bodhichitta aspiration, and the next step after we have this safe direction, we reaffirm and work for this. Then, we think of love toward all beings. It refers to “all limited beings” – this is how I translate the word “sentient beings,” as it’s referring to everyone who’s not a Buddha, so they’re still limited, they have a limited mind.

It is a “mind of love.” Love, as we said, is the wish for everybody to be happy and to have the causes for happiness. We want them to be happy, but they’re not happy, so we remind ourselves that they’re not happy and have a lot of problems.

It says, “look to all wandering beings.” “Wandering beings” are those that wander through samsara, in the sense of wandering from one rebirth to another rebirth, sometimes better states but sometimes worse states. It says to look at all of them, “barring none,” don’t leave any out. This is a very important point, and when we talk here about love and compassion, we’re talking about what’s called “great compassion,” what we are aiming at everybody, including even arhats, liberated beings. When we talk about bodhichitta, we’re aimed at everybody. To be aimed at everybody requires equanimity toward everybody, so everybody’s equal; it’s not having attachment, repulsion, or indifference toward others.

Although we could focus on the Buddha-nature of everybody and, in that sense, see everybody as equal, it becomes far more profound if we bring in rebirth here. When we think in terms of rebirth, we’re thinking of individual mental continuums, everybody’s individual mental continuum with no beginning and no end. That mental continuum, although it’s individual – I’m not you and you’re not me, even in enlightenment Buddhas are still individual – it does not have an inherent identity when reborn as this life form or that life form, as a mosquito, as a human, or this or that gender, as male or female.

It’s just a matter of karma that’s built up in terms of that mental continuum such that in this particular lifetime, this particular rebirth, it manifests this type of life form and this gender, or in another lifetime, another life form and another gender. That mental continuum is not inherently my friend or enemy or somebody that I don’t know and so on, because it’s beginningless. It’s been everything; it’s manifested as everything. It’s a “wandering being;” each one is a wandering being going from one lifetime to another, appearing in one form after another, constantly changing, although individual, in individual sequence.

It’s on this basis that we can then open up to everybody – there’s no difference to whom we are open. This is yet another reason why the Real Thing Dharma really requires an understanding of rebirth, past and future lives.

From one point of view, we can say that everybody is this sort of almost impersonal mental continuum that doesn’t have an inherent identity, but it’s dangerous to just focus on that and ignore the relative appearance that it has now. Because if we ignore the relative appearance that each has now, as a dog or a man or a woman or whatever, then we can’t really relate to them in a close way. We need to be able to see two levels here – that, on the one hand, it’s a beginningless mental continuum with no inherent form, constantly changing, yet to relate to this person, we need to relate to what age they are now, what gender, what life form, culture, and so on.

What is the condition of these wandering beings, of everybody? Atisha says they’re “suffering from birth and so forth” – sickness, old age, that’s what’s included here in the “so forth” – “in the three worse realms,” but also in any realm, whether it’s the worse realms or the better realms. In the worse realms, as animals, insects, etc., they have the most sufferings. In each birth, there’s the problem of suffering from “death,” suffering of “transference,” which means transference to yet another rebirth state; it just goes on and on and on.

Thus, everybody’s the same, and then the “so on” after that means that there’s never any satisfaction, there’s never any certainty, no security of what’s coming next. Then, we have “the wish that all wandering beings be liberated from” all this “suffering,” so that’s compassion.

So, what kind of suffering do they have? First, the “suffering of pain,” sometimes called the “suffering of suffering,” so in other words, being unhappy and having pain, the gross sufferings that we all recognize as suffering. The next “suffering” in the line is referring to the two other kinds of problems or sufferings. The first of these is the second kind of suffering, the problem of change or the suffering of change. That’s referring to our ordinary happiness. It’s a big problem because it changes, it doesn’t last, and we never know what’s coming next. The third kind is the all-pervasive suffering, the all-pervasive problem, which is that we’re constantly being reborn with aggregates; in other words, body, mind, all these things, which are just going to help us to perpetuate the cycle in terms of more karma, more disturbing emotions, more problems, and so on.

We don’t just want everybody to be free from all these problems and suffering, we want them to be free from the causes of them so that they never experience them again. That means we understand that the causes of their problems are not external, but the causes refer to the confusion, the disturbing emotions, the karmic impulses, and so on, that are on each individual mental continuum.

With this compassion – and what’s not mentioned here is the extraordinary resolve to take responsibility to do something about it – then we “generate pledged bodhichitta with which we will never turn back.” This is not just merely the aspiring bodhichitta of, “I just wish to achieve enlightenment to help them,” but a much stronger state that, “I’m not going to turn back until I actually achieve it”; that’s the pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta.

The text is not simply referring to the first time that we do this, that we have a ritual that marks that, but each day in our meditation, to accustom ourselves to this; it’s very helpful to follow this type of procedure because then it makes it much more firm in us, rather than just thinking, “Well, yeah. I think like that.” By making it into a personal ritual that we do each day with offerings and so on, that’s really showing respect to ourselves and to what we’re doing with our lives.

When doing a ritual like this each day, a ritualized practice, which means following a set procedure, then we really have to watch out for it becoming mechanical with no feeling in it. That would be doing it out of duty and obligation, and if we don’t do it, then we feel guilty; so we do it just to avoid the feeling of guilt, or we do it just to please our teacher because the teacher said to do that. Those are very neurotic ways of approaching this type of practice, and so it’s really quite important to think of the benefits of doing this. That’s why Atisha next talks about the benefits of this type of state of mind, this type of practice, and to have it be very sincere, with feeling. 

Benefits of Developing a Bodhichitta Aim 

Atisha was describing the ritual with which we can generate and then reconfirm our pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta, and then he goes on to mention the benefits. He says:

(12) The benefits of generating aspiring minds like this have been thoroughly explained by Maitreya in The Sutra Spread Out Like a Tree Trunk.

This uses the word in the plural, the “aspiring minds like this,” and it’s referring to the two stages that we mentioned, the merely aspiring and the pledged aspiring states. This sutra – in Sanskrit, it’s called The Gandavyuha Sutra – is a very famous sutra about the bodhisattva path, and it explains a great deal about the benefits of developing bodhichitta. Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition, praises it a great deal. He says that one of the reasons why teachings about bodhisattva are so widespread is because of this particular sutra.

Atisha doesn’t mention the specific benefits here, but the benefits are also discussed by Shantideva. It’s very, very important when one tries to develop a certain state of mind to understand what the benefits of it are; then, we appreciate it much more fully. By reminding ourselves of the benefits over and again, that encourages us to go further in this direction.

If we always are keeping this bodhichitta in mind, we’re always keeping this goal of focus on our future enlightenment in mind. When we speak about a state of mind, Tsongkhapa says quite clearly that we need to know what it is focused on and how does the mind take that object. Here, as I said, with bodhichitta, it’s focused on our own future enlightenment, our individual enlightenment that has not yet happened. The way that our mind takes that object, our future enlightenment, is with the intention, “I’ve got to help everybody. I really want to help everybody, and in order to help them the best, I need to achieve this future enlightenment. When I achieve that, then I will benefit others as much as I can.”

Of course, there are long lists of the traditional benefits that are mentioned in the texts, but if we speak in general, here our whole mind is opened up completely. It’s aimed at the fullest development that we can possibly achieve; we’re always thinking, “I need to achieve this, I want to achieve this and I can achieve this.” We’re thinking in terms of the highest state of evolution that’s possible, that “I’m going to do it” and “I can do it.”

We’re doing that in order to be able to help others, “It’s not just because of myself.” The mind is expanded to being able to help everybody, so the mind is as vast as it can possibly be. This gives us a tremendous amount of energy, much more than if we’re just thinking in a very limited way of doing something to benefit ourselves, or to benefit just a few people.

We know this from just a simple example, like if we’re living by ourselves and we have a headache, we don’t feel very well, then we might not bother to make a meal when we come home in the evening. We just go to sleep. However, if we have children, obviously, we can’t do that. Our concern for our children gives us the strength to overcome that headache that we might have and it doesn’t stop us. We’re able to do something helpful for somebody else, so we make a meal for our children.

The way it’s explained in the texts is that we’re not thrown off by obstacles because of the need that everybody has. The need for us to grow and overcome these obstacles gives us the strength to break through. Although we can have, let’s say, safe direction in life, refuge, our life has a meaning, but there’s much more urgency to it. There’s much more energy to it when we really want to reach this goal because of our concern for others, and it gives us the energy to undertake huge things.

Look at people who are working for the cause of Tibet or for anti-war causes. They’re thinking in terms of the welfare of everyone. That gives this tremendous energy to do something really big, not just sit in our homes and think only about ourselves and worry. It gives us the courage to try new things, to try to discover new abilities, new talents that we have and use them, to use them as fully as possible, which we might not have the energy to explore otherwise.

(13) When you have read this sutra or heard from your guru concerning this, and have become aware of the boundless benefits of full bodhichitta, then as a cause for making it stable generate this mind over and again.

When we learn about these benefits from either reading about them in this sutra, or we’ve listened to our spiritual teacher explaining them, and we become aware of this, that doesn’t mean that we just find out about it, but we really know it and we know it from the depths of our heart; we really feel this and we’re convinced “of the boundless benefits of bodhichitta”; then we need to try to make this state of mind stable and a very firm part of ourselves, a whole way in which we’re always thinking, in which we’re always moving forward in our lives.

To do that, we need to “generate this mind over and again.” That means to strengthen it, to reaffirm it over and over again. In the beginning, we’re going to have to work ourselves up to feeling this state of mind, so we would need to go through a process in meditation of taking love and compassion and how to help others in the best way, which is to become enlightened, and like that, we work ourselves up to this bodhichitta. This is natural; this is the way that we need to do it at first.

It’s like when we work with understanding of voidness, we need to go through the lines of reasoning over and again to reconfirm that conviction in voidness and be totally convinced that this is how things exist. With voidness, it’s being convinced that things don’t exist in certain impossible ways, to be more precise. Once we are able to build ourselves up to this state of mind, whether it’s bodhichitta or the understanding of voidness, through a process, and we do that over and over and over again, eventually, it’ll reach a point where it becomes so familiar that, without going through this line or process, we just feel it instantly.

If we skip this step of working ourselves up to bodhichitta through a process and in the very beginning just instantly go, “May I achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings,” if we do it like that, then there’s a danger that we won’t feel very much of a positive emotion behind the bodhichitta; it’s not going to have the strong support of love and compassion that needs to accompany bodhichitta.

In other words, in saying, “May I achieve enlightenment to help all beings,” we just say that in a very casual type of way, but we don’t really feel it. We’re not really reminding ourselves of the suffering that others have and how terrible that is and how we really would like to do something about it and, “This is what I’m going to try to do to help them.” There should be an emotion behind it, a feeling behind the bodhichitta.

This is very important because it’s very easy to just skip over that, and then bodhichitta is just words, it’s not really a felt emotion. By reminding ourselves of the benefits of bodhichitta, this gives us even more incentive to really work on it in a proper way.

(14) The positive force of this is shown extensively in The Sutra Requested by Viradatta. As it is summarized there in merely three stanzas, let me quote them here.

When I say “positive force,” this is what’s usually translated as “merit,” and it is referring to the positive energy. It’s the positive energy that comes from developing this state of mind, and that positive force is something which is very, very strong. It gives us tremendous momentum to achieve this goal. If we look at these three verses from the sutra, it says:

(15) “If the positive force of bodhichitta had form, it would fill completely the sphere of space and go beyond even that.

(16) Although someone may totally fill with gems Buddha-fields equal in number to the grains of sand on the Ganges and offer them to the Guardians of the World,

(17) Yet should anyone press his or her palms together and direct his or her mind toward bodhichitta, his or her offering would be more especially noble; it would have no end.”

When we are working with bodhichitta, we’re thinking to achieve enlightenment, and enlightenment is something in which our minds and hearts are going to be open as broadly as is all of space; we’re going to think to benefit everybody throughout all of space. That is really quite extraordinary that we’re thinking on such an unbelievable scope; obviously, the positive force from thinking on such a large scope, likewise, is going to be as enormous.

If we think about that, to take that seriously, even if we’re not thinking in terms of past and future lives, to really be sincere about, “I’m going to try to liberate and bring to enlightenment every insect in the world, every cockroach, every mosquito, and so on,” that’s extraordinary, isn’t it? It’s unbelievable that one could actually be totally serious about that and actually feel that, that somebody could really be like that, and not only that somebody could be like that, but that “I can be like that.”

If we were to actually be able to reach that state and be totally sincere about that, the positive force of that, the energy that that would give us, it’s inconceivable. As it says, “it would fill” all “of space,” just as our mind fills all of space, and it would be even more than that.

Of course, to reach that state we have to work in stages. Very often, people say, “Oh yes, I want to benefit all sentient beings.” However, we’re not really taking seriously all sentient beings in this statement, so it’s almost meaningless; it’s jargon. We need to work on a small scale first: think in terms of ourselves, people that we know, friends, neutral people, people we don’t like, and extend it to everybody in our city, our country, this planet, different life forms and other planets.

We work gradually in steps. We can’t just go instantly, “all sentient beings,” and have that really be meaningful on an emotional level. Somebody who’s saying that they’re working for all beings, but there’s no time for their family or their friends, then what is the meaning of working for all beings?

As the second two verses say, developing this bodhichitta attitude, this bodhichitta mind, is generating far more positive force than making offerings to all the Buddhas. Buddhas don’t need offerings of gems and so on; what are they going to do with money? That’s not what a Buddha needs to be able to benefit others. I mean, of course, if they’re great beings who are working to help others, obviously, they do need some sort of financial help and so making offerings for great projects of service to others, of course, is beneficial. However, actual Buddhas in Buddha-fields, that’s something else.

If we develop this attitude ourselves, it has far more positive force, because that really is going to drive us on to reach this state of enlightenment ourselves and bring much more help to everyone.

The Trainings from Having Developed the Aspiring States of Bodhichitta 

(18) Having generated the aspiring states of bodhichitta, ever enhance them with many efforts; and, to be mindful of it in this and other lives too, thoroughly safeguard as well the trainings explained in the texts.

Once we’ve “generated” these two “aspiring states” of mind – merely wishing to achieve enlightenment and pledging not to ever turn back until we reach that enlightenment – we need to strengthen them, and strengthen them with a lot of work, as it says, “with many efforts.” We want to strengthen them so that we don’t have to work ourselves up to this state of mind through the meditations on love and compassion, but it just comes instantly on a very sincere level.

Then, we want to strengthen them even further so that we have them all the time, not just when we remember. In order to remember it – that’s what it means when we say here “to be mindful of it in this and other lives too” – there’s a certain set of trainings that helps us to achieve this. 

Training for Our Bodhichitta Resolve Not to Decline in This Lifetime

There are four things that we train in that are going to help our bodhichitta resolve not to decline, not to get weaker in this life:

The first of these is each day and night we recall the advantages of having this bodhichitta motivation. Well, every day and night − sometimes I say, “Do it three times in the morning and three times in the evening,” − it doesn’t matter; as much as we can. Atisha himself was pointing this out in an earlier verse, that when we think about the benefits of bodhichitta, if we are mindful and remember these benefits every morning and evening, for instance, in our meditation, then this resolve is not going to weaken.

The second training is to reaffirm and strengthen our bodhichitta motivation by rededicating our hearts to enlightenment and others three times each day and three times each night.

Then, the third is to strive to build up these − what I call “enlightenment-building networks of positive force and deep awareness.” This is often called “the collections of merit and wisdom,” but here we’re talking about the positive force, rather than merit, of doing many constructive things, like actually helping others, meditating on bodhichitta. It’s not that we’re getting points for every time that we help somebody, and we’re collecting points like in the “collection of merit,” it’s not like a collection of stamps. Rather, that positive force from all of these constructive actions is going to network with each other. We’re dedicating it to enlightenment, so it’s going to build up a force to bring us to enlightenment, to actually have a physical body of a Buddha that can fully help others.

And then the other network is deep awareness, which is our awareness of voidness. The more frequently that we meditate on voidness, that deep awareness that we get of voidness is also going to network with each other, so that our understanding becomes deeper and deeper, becomes firmer and firmer. That is also going to be enlightenment-building, as it builds and acts as the main cause for having a mind of a Buddha.

If we’re always working to try to strengthen these networks, these enlightenment-building networks, all the time, obviously, we’re doing that with bodhichitta, because what is the purpose of it? It is to achieve enlightenment; the purpose of it is to be able to benefit others more as we progress further and further toward enlightenment and ultimately when we achieve enlightenment.

The further that we go along this path of strengthening these networks, then as a result of that, our resolve is going to get stronger and stronger. We’ll start to get some benefits from these networks in terms of our whole way of being. Our life becomes very, very meaningful, very directed, and our mind stays in a more positive state more and more frequently. This helps our bodhichitta resolve not to decline, not to weaken in this life.

The fourth training is never giving up trying to help anyone, or at least wishing to be able to do so no matter how difficult the person might be. If we give up on somebody, then our resolve to be able to help everybody is obviously going to get weaker and weaker. “Because I really don’t want to have to deal with that one, and that one over there is just too terrible, too difficult.”

Even if we can’t help somebody and it would be not a very productive use of our time, because there are many other people that we can benefit more fully and so think, “OK, temporarily I’m not going to make a big effort with you”; at least we would still maintain the wish to be able to benefit this person when they become more receptive, more open and so on. If we never give up on anyone, likewise, this resolve will not decline. Those are the four trainings for our bodhichitta resolve not to decline in this lifetime.

Training for Not Losing Bodhichitta Resolve in Future Lives

Further, there are various points of training for not losing this bodhichitta resolve in future lives. The training for not losing our bodhichitta resolve in future lives is to rid ourselves of the four types of murky behavior and to develop instead the four lustrous types of behavior. The literal Tibetan words are the four “black” actions and the four “white” actions, but that’s not very politically correct nowadays to use that type of terminology, so I use instead “murky” and “lustrous.” The first one is the negative action that we avoid, and the second one in each of these pairs is the positive one that we adopt.

The first is that we need to stop deceiving, ever deceiving our spiritual teachers or our parents or the Triple Gem, and instead to be honest with them concerning our motivation and our efforts to help others.

It’s very important to be honest about how much we are actually helping others, how much we are actually thinking of others, and not pretend that we’re such wonderful, great bodhisattva practitioners when, in fact, we’re not; we’re just very, very selfish. Again, it’s important to be realistic about this. Just as samsara and our moods are going to go up and down until we become a liberated being, until we become an arhat, similarly, until we completely rid ourselves of any type of grasping for a solid “me,” our motivation is always going to be slightly mixed with some selfish thoughts.

Again, we’re not going to get rid of that until we become a liberated being, an arhat. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, if we’re honest and we look at ourselves, we always find that we’re going to have a mixed motivation: part is going to be altruistic, but there’s going to be a little bit of self-interest in there as well. Don’t worry about that, but try to make the altruistic part stronger than the self-interested part. Thus, we need to be honest about this and not deceive our teachers, our parents, ourselves and the Triple Gem.

The second training is to stop ever faulting or being contemptuous of bodhisattvas. However, only Buddhas can be certain who are actually bodhisattvas. “How do I know if that person is a bodhisattva or not?” We don’t know, so since only a Buddha can really know, then we try to regard everyone in a pure way as our teachers. Even if people act in terrible ways, still they can teach us to not act like that, so we follow that way of thinking.

If we are not honest about our motivation, then obviously in future lives that’s going to go down and down. How are we going to really continue in that direction if we’re not being honest about it, if we’re deceitful about it? Similarly, we want to work toward enlightenment in future lives as well, to work as a bodhisattva. If other people are working in that direction and we say, “Oh, what you’re doing is no good and it’s too big,” or “...not the way that I would want to do it,” like that, then again, that’s going counter to this whole direction of bodhichitta. Naturally in future lives, we’re not going to continue to have that resolve.

We don’t need to agree with everything that everybody is doing, but it’s not helpful to have a very critical, negative mind. If we don’t agree with what the person is doing, we can think, “But I can learn from that, reaffirm in myself not to act like that,” for example. Always try to see the positive side of things: “What is it I can learn from things that really is in the flavor of bodhichitta?” When we’re thinking of the positive goal that we want to attain, rather than “all my shortcomings,” we think of all our good qualities that we want to develop more and more; in terms of the shortcomings, think, “That’s what I want to eliminate.” Likewise, regarding other people and the shortcomings that they have, think, “Well, I’d want to eliminate them in myself as well.” They teach us; it’s something positive that they’re doing.

The third is to stop ever causing others to regret anything positive that they’ve done. If we ask somebody to help us, let’s say, to type something on the computer, and they make a lot of mistakes, if we yell at them, then they may never offer to help us again. They were trying to help us; they were trying to be positive, to develop more and more, and we say, “You’re stupid. You can’t do anything.” Then, they regret and turn away from trying to act positively, and that also has a negative effect on our own future development.

Instead, what we try to do is to encourage others to be constructive and – if they’re receptive – encourage them to work on overcoming their shortcomings, realizing their potentials, to be of more benefit to others; in other words, we encourage them in the Mahayana path, but not as a missionary pushing them, and only if they’re receptive.

Finally, the fourth, the last one, is to stop ever being hypocritical or pretentious in our dealings with others; in other words, hiding our faults and pretending to have qualities that we lack. Instead, we take responsibility to help others, and we’re always honest and frank about our limitations and about our abilities. If we’re trying to help somebody, we don’t promise more than we’re capable of doing – that’s important; otherwise, we let them down. They get very disappointed, and then we get discouraged as well. Don’t pretend to be able to do more than we can and don’t hide the faults and limitations that we have; this is very important.

These are the trainings that enable us not to lose this bodhichitta resolve in future lives. When Atisha says “to be mindful of it,” meaning bodhichitta, “in this and other lives,” in future lives “too, thoroughly safeguard as well the trainings explained in the texts,” that’s referring to these trainings.