Developing Aspiring and Engaged Bodhichitta

[The recording of the session on verse 10, which preceded this session, has been lost.]

(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.

Brief Review

We have been speaking about love and compassion. Compassion is the attitude where we wish everyone to be free from suffering and love is the attitude where we wish everybody to be happy. Before we can develop these two, it’s necessary to train in the various meditations to gain a state of equanimity toward everyone. We also need to train in the various methods for equalizing and exchanging our attitudes with regard to ourselves and others.

The Seven-Part Cause and Effect Meditation for Developing Bodhichitta

  • The development of love and compassion begins with equanimity. This particular type of equanimity eliminates attitudes of either attraction, repulsion or indifference by developing an unbiased attitude toward everyone. 
  • The next step is recognizing all beings as having been our mother in some previous lifetime, 
  • Followed by remembering their kindness. There’s also the special way of being mindful of the kindness of others – namely, remembering their kindness even when they have not been our mothers. 
  • The step after that is to meditate on repaying that kindness. 

That makes four steps, although counted among the seven-part cause and effect meditation are only the three that follow from equanimity. To repeat, we have: equanimity or an unbiased attitude, recognizing everyone as having been our mother, remembering their kindness, and wishing to repay that kindness. 

  • The fifth step is to develop what’s known as “heart-warming love.” It’s not necessary to do any separate meditations to develop this attitude of heart-warming love. If we’ve meditated properly on the four topics mentioned, preceded by equanimity, then automatically we will develop heart-warming love. Because of that, it is not counted among the seven parts of this sequence.

What is this heart-warming love? It’s an attitude with which we cherish others and would feel very concerned and upset if anything went wrong for them. Although we have the term “love” being used quite frequently, this type of heart-warming love is slightly different from the love defined as the attitude with which we wish everybody to be happy. They each have a slightly different feeling to them.  

  • After that, we have the attitude of compassion with which we wish everybody to be free from suffering. 
  • We follow that with developing what’s known as the “exceptional resolve.” This is the attitude with which we take the responsibility of, “I myself am going to separate everyone from suffering and bring them to happiness.” 
  • Then after that, we meditate with the enlightening motive and aim of bodhichitta itself.  

There are two ways to train the mind to develop this enlightened attitude of bodhichitta. The process that we just described is known as the seven-part cause and effect meditation. However, there’s also another way of doing it.

Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others

We begin the same way, through the same three steps up to remembering the kindness of others, with the special way of remembering their kindness. To be more specific:

  • We meditate on equanimity, 
  • Recognize everyone as having been our mother, 
  • And remember their kindness, each as in this previous meditation. 
  • After that, we meditate on equalizing our attitudes toward self and others. The type of equanimity that is involved here is a different way of equalizing our attitude than in the previous step. What we try to develop here is an attitude with which we would equally wish to benefit everyone. In other words, we wish to not only benefit our friends but also to benefit our enemies too. We try to develop an equal concern and wish to benefit everyone. 
  • At this point, we meditate on all the faults and everything that’s wrong with self-cherishing or selfishness. 
  • Following that, the next step is to think about how all advantages and benefits come from cherishing others. 
  • We then recognize the faults of selfishness or self-cherishing and the advantages of cherishing others, alternating them one at a time in terms of the ten destructive and ten constructive actions. 
  • Then we think about this point: “Am I really capable of exchanging my attitudes concerning self or others?” We should resolve that “yes,” we are capable of doing this.  
  • We need then to make the firm decision to actually do the meditations of exchanging self for others that are the means for changing our attitude. Previously, our attitude was that we mainly thought only of ourselves and not of others. Now we should only think about others and how to benefit them and completely disregard or ignore our own selfish purposes. At this point, we make the strong resolve that “I’m going to just totally devote myself to the benefit of others.”


Based on this firm decision, the next step is to meditate as before on compassion. In other words, we meditate on the attitude with which we wish for everyone to be parted from suffering. This would follow very well from what has preceded. To develop this compassion, we should think of some creature that’s in a terribly difficult or painful situation. For instance, we can think of the way water buffalos are killed in some places in Asia. They are killed with a wooden club or something like that and they’re bashed on the head maybe twelve or thirteen times before the poor beast finally dies. We should think of all the terrible suffering that such an animal experiences when it’s being killed. 

Likewise, we can think of the way large tortoises are killed in some places where they slice the flesh off the tortoise while it’s still alive. We should think about that type of suffering. We can also think about how some small sea creatures are boiled alive or fried alive and the type of suffering they experience when they’re cooked that way.  

Next, we should think, “I have committed all the destructive actions and built up all the negative karmic potential to be born in this type of situation and to experience the type of suffering that they have.” Then we should think about how awful it would be. What would it be like if we actually were in the situation of these types of creatures? 

Then, likewise, we should think of our mother of this lifetime and how she has also built up so much negative karmic potential from her destructive actions. If she were to be born like this and to undergo this type of suffering, then how would that be? We should think of her having to experience this type of suffering. 

When we become strongly mindful of the experience of this type of suffering in relation to our own mother, then we should think in terms of our own father. After training in this, we can expand and think of someone else who’s not necessarily related to us. After we’ve dealt with somebody that’s not related, a stranger, then we would think in terms of an enemy. We think if he or she were to experience this type of awful suffering, how terrible would that be? Following that, we should think in terms of all living beings and develop the attitude with which we couldn’t stand for anybody to have to experience this type of suffering. In this way, we develop compassion, the attitude of wishing everybody to be free from suffering.  


Following the development of compassion, we should meditate on love, the attitude of wishing everybody to be happy. Everybody wants to be happy, but most people don’t know the ways to make themselves happy. Some people search for happiness by having material comfort and wealth. When they haven’t achieved that and can’t afford something, they might go out and steal, thinking that this will bring them this happiness. In fact, this just brings them a great deal of trouble, difficulties and suffering. 

People might even go out and commit murder to become happy, or they try to gain some kind of advantage over others in order to bring about their own comfort. However, none of these are methods that can actually bring about happiness. We should try to develop this attitude of love with which we wish to bring happiness to everyone.  

The Four Immeasurables

At this point in our meditation, we can bring in the meditations on the “four immeasurable attitudes.” Each immeasurable has four steps. With immeasurable compassion, for example: 

  • We first develop the “immeasurable intention” of wishing, “How wonderful it would be if everybody could be free from suffering.” 
  • And then the “immeasurable aspiration,” “May they be separated from their suffering.” 
  • Next comes the “immeasurable exceptional resolve,” “May I myself bring this about. I shall separate them from their suffering.” 
  • Then lastly, the “immeasurable request” in which we visualize before us a Buddha or some object of refuge and request that they inspire us to actually be able to do this, to free everybody from their suffering. 

Like this, meditation on each of the four immeasurable attitudes has four steps.

We continue this four-step process with immeasurable love by thinking, 

  • “How wonderful it would be if everybody had happiness” 
  • “May they have happiness”
  • “May I myself be able to bring them happiness”
  • And following this, requesting the visualized Buddhas or gurus before us, “Please inspire me to be able to do this, to bring them happiness.”  

We continue the four-part meditation with immeasurable joy. Here, we are completely joyous about how wonderful it would be if everyone never met with suffering and always had happiness. We follow the same process:

  • First thinking in terms of the immeasurable intention of wishing, “How wonderful it would be if everybody never had any suffering and always were happy.” 
  • We then have the immeasurable aspiration, “May they become like this.” 
  • Like before, this is followed by the immeasurable exceptional resolve, “May I be able to bring them never to be parted from happiness.” 
  • Lastly, we have the immeasurable request, again, of asking for the gurus to inspire us to be able to do this. 

The final step is immeasurable equanimity, the wish for everybody to become free from attachment, aversion and bias. Again, we start with: 

  • “How wonderful it would be if everyone were free from attachment and aversion and bias”
  • Then, “May they always be free from attachment, aversion and bias. May they have equanimity”
  • Next, “May I be able to cause them always to be unbiased”
  • Followed by requesting the gurus and Buddhas to inspire us to be able to do this.  

In this way, we have the four immeasurable attitudes: 

  • Immeasurable compassion
  • Immeasurable love
  • Immeasurable joy
  • Immeasurable equanimity. 

This is the way we meditate upon these four immeasurables, with each one having four parts as just described. In this way, there are actually sixteen topics involved in this meditation.  

Giving and Taking, Tonglen

Not only should we think of everybody being free from their suffering, but we can also do further meditations, where we actively think of taking on the suffering of others. We should imagine others in difficult situations and how they experience a great deal of suffering. Then, we should imagine in our visualization that all their suffering leaves them from their left nostrils, and it comes out and enters into us. We accept and take on their suffering for them. 

We can practice it in terms of our breathing process. When we breathe in, we should imagine that we take on all their suffering through our right nostrils and it goes inside of us. In this way, we free them from their suffering and take on the suffering ourselves. When we’ve eliminated all their suffering and taken it on ourselves when we breathe in, then with our out breath, when we exhale, we should imagine that we give them various things in order to benefit them. 

First, we should think in terms of giving them a precious human rebirth as a working basis to be able to practice. We should then think of all the positive potential – all these constructive roots from the constructive actions that we’ve done – that would ripen into having a precious human rebirth in the future and imagine that all of this leaves us through our nostrils as we breathe out and ripens on these other beings. 

Next, we should think in terms of giving others the perfect place to live, where they will have everything conducive for their Dharma practice. Again, we should think in terms of the roots from the constructive actions that we’ve committed ourselves that would ripen into having a perfect place to live. We imagine that we send these out and give these to other beings and that it ripens upon them. We also should imagine sending out all the proper facilities and objects in the places where they live that will be conducive for their practice. 

Next in our visualization, we should imagine sending out our Dharma teachers to them and all their teachings on the various practices. We should imagine that all the roots from our constructive actions within ourselves that would ripen into our own realizations of renunciation, an enlightening motive of bodhichitta, voidness, and all other Dharma topics, ripen on all these other beings and that they gain these realizations. In short, what we should wish for and practice is that everybody’s suffering ripens onto us and that all our happiness and good things ripen on them.  

The great lama Kalu Rinpoche described an old man in the area of Kham where he came from who did this type of practice for someone who had a very bad head injury and "sickness. He did this practice, “May this sickness fall upon me,” and he was actually able to take this sickness on himself and cure this other person.  

In review, we have the attitude of compassion, the wish for everybody to be free from their suffering; the attitude of love, wishing everybody to be happy; and then on top of this the exceptional resolve, “I myself will take it upon myself to bring them happiness and free them from their suffering.” If we think about who has the ability to actually do this, to bring everyone happiness and free them from suffering, we can see that we don’t have the ability ourselves now and it’s only a Buddha who does. Therefore, we should develop the strong wish, “I must attain the enlightened state of a Buddha myself in order to actually be able to do this.” Such an attitude or motive is known as the “enlightening motive of bodhichitta.”  

The Enlightening Motive of Bodhichitta

Two things are involved in the development of this enlightening motive of bodhichitta: 

  • The intention of benefiting all living beings
  • In order to be able to do this, the intention to work to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. 

Simply wishing to attain the enlightened state of a Buddha by itself is not sufficient to be bodhichitta. Bodhichitta has to have the intention with which we wish to attain enlightenment in order to be able to benefit all others. 

We then focus our attitudes of love and compassion on all beings with the bodhichitta intent to free them from suffering and bring them happiness through our attainment of enlightenment. The aspect that this state of mind takes in regard to compassion is wishing for others to be free from suffering. Because the aim of this mind takes as its object all living beings, the benefits of developing such an attitude are equal in number to this infinite number of beings in existence. 

If done in this way, the positive qualities of developing this attitude are extremely extensive. Even if we develop the wish in terms of one other being – may that person be free of their headache – this is something very beneficial. However, if we think in terms not only of one other being but of all other beings, then it’s even more powerful and beneficial. 

The Pledged State of Aspiring Bodhichitta

Atisha goes 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.

All of what we’ve been discussing so far has dealt with what’s known as the “aspiring state of bodhichitta.” Once we have first developed this mere wishing state of aspiring bodhichitta, we need to further enhance it by generating it over and again. Likewise, we should have the attitude that, “I’m never going to give up this enlightening motive of bodhichitta, this intention to attain enlightenment in order to benefit others. I shall never give it up until I actually do attain enlightenment.” 

This is the pledged state of aspiring bodhichitta, where we’ve given our promise and have committed ourselves to safeguarding this mind of bodhichitta and to not giving it up until we’ve actually attained enlightenment. 

That’s what is meant in the text when it says generate pledged bodhichitta with which you will never turn back.

The Benefits of Developing Bodhichitta

The development of bodhichitta has a great many benefits, and Atisha mentions this here in the text: 

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

The Sutra Spread Out Like a Tree Trunk (sDong-po bkod-pa’i mdo, Skt. Gandavyuha Sutra) describes the benefits of developing bodhichitta with more than 200 examples. In Compendium of Training (bSlab-btus, Skt. Shikshasamucchaya), Shantideva describes 16 examples or analogies of the benefits of developing this enlightening motive of bodhichitta. If we were to begin to describe all the benefits there would be no end; so, in the future, ask the many good geshes about this and learn about it, as it would be very beneficial to everyone’s practice.  

Atisha refers to this point as follows:  

(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.

This refers to the point that we should meditate on the enlightening motive again and again. To develop such an enlightening motive on our mental continuums brings benefits that will have no end; they’re countless, fathomless. 

An example of the benefits that can be given in brief is that if such a motive were to have a physical form, the entire space of the universe would not be big enough to contain it. It would be too big to be able to actually fit into the universe. It would exceed that measure. 

Another example is to think of the grains of sand at the bottom of all the oceans and on their shores and to think of Buddhas equal in number to all these grains of sand. If we were to make offerings to each of these Buddhas with precious gems that would fill the entire universe, still the positive potential gained from that would not equal the amount of positive potential we would gain from developing the enlightening motive of bodhichitta. 

The text reads:

(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:
(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.”

Furthermore, once we’ve developed such an enlightening motive, it’s extremely important to make it increase and grow even stronger. For this, we need to build up a great deal more positive potential. We do this with the four trainings for our development of bodhichitta not to decline in this lifetime. 

  • The first thing we do in order to enhance our bodhichitta motive is to remember the benefits of having such an attitude
  • And secondly, to reaffirm our development of it by generating it again three times each morning and three times each evening. 
  • Thirdly, we should make as many offerings as we can to the Triple Gem. This could be even offering a single glass of water, as in a water bowl, or offering a single stick of incense, or even a single flower. We can also make offerings to our parents, or various members of the monastic community, the Sangha, and offer them food or drink or things like this. That is also extremely beneficial. It’s beneficial as well to make offerings to various invisible spirits that are around with crumbs of biscuits and things like this. We should also give help to the poor and needy and those who are sick. Likewise, even putting out sugar on the ground for the ants to eat is extremely beneficial. 
  • The fourth point is that we should never give up on anybody and decide not to work for this being’s sake. We should never give up on anyone. 

These four are the trainings Atisha refers to in the next verse: 

(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.

The fifth piece of advice is that we should rid ourselves of the four types of murky behavior for not losing our bodhichitta motive and aim in future lives.

  • The first of these murky – literally, “black” – actions would be to purposely confuse or deceive our parents, our teachers, our spiritual masters or our gurus. 
  • The second is to have ulterior motives other than the enlightening motive of bodhichitta. In other words, to have ulterior motives other than the exceptional resolve and to have a pretentious and deceitful attitude toward others. 
  • The third is to cause others to regret the constructive actions that they’ve done.
  • The fourth is to criticize or say bad things about a bodhisattva.  

The opponents to these are their opposites, the four lustrous – literally, “white” – actions. 

  • As for the first, we should never deceive or confuse or tell lies to our parents, teachers and spiritual masters. 
  • The second is that we should never be pretentious or have deceitful attitudes toward others; rather, we should always try to recognize everyone as our teachers. 
  • The opponent to causing others to regret the constructive actions that they’ve done, is to try to lead everyone toward developing love, compassion and the enlightening motive of bodhichitta. 
  • The fourth is that we should see everyone in a pure appearance. In other words, we should never criticize and say bad things about others. 

If we follow this advice and type of training, not only will our development of this enlightening motive of bodhichitta not degenerate during this lifetime, likewise, it will not degenerate in future lifetimes either. 

The Engaged Stage of Bodhichitta

It’s not enough to simply have the aspiring state of bodhichitta. We need also to have what’s known as the “engaged state of bodhichitta,” the stage at which we’re actually engaged in the practices that will bring us to enlightenment. What we’ve described so far is merely the aspiring stage of bodhichitta.  

What is this engaged state of bodhichitta? It’s the attitude that it’s not sufficient merely to wish to attain the enlightened state of a Buddha in order to be able to benefit others, but rather, “I must actually engage in the practices that will bring me to this state.” This is mainly the practice of the six far-reaching attitudes – the six paramitas, the six perfections. To be engaged in these practices is known as the “engaged state of bodhichitta.” 

For example, if we were to think of wanting to go to India, then all our thoughts and intentions toward this goal would be analogous to the aspiring state of bodhichitta. However, simply wishing or aspiring to go to India isn’t sufficient for getting there. What we must actually do is go see about tickets, visas and travel arrangements, buy the tickets, and so forth. Being engaged in all of these different types of activities would be analogous to the engaged stage of bodhichitta.