Bodhisattva Attitude: How to Dedicate Your Life to Others

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Bodhisattva Attitude is the first book in our new Heart Advice series, a series of core teachings—the "heart advice"—taken from the experiential instructions of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The topic of Bodhisattva Attitude is how to develop bodhicitta by practicing it throughout the day, from start to finish. The book is drawn from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s essential teachings given from 2008 onward and is edited by Ven. Sarah Thresher.

The Motivations: Cutting the Concept of Permanence

Bodhicitta Motivation for Life 1

The Long Motivation

CUTTING THE CONCEPT OF PERMANENCE

Start by thinking:

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha descended into this world from Tushita Pure Land and showed the twelve deeds of a buddha. He taught the Dharma by expounding the 84,000 teachings and enlightened numberless sen­tient beings, not only in this world but also in other universes. In this way the benefits to sentient beings were as limitless as the sky.

In the general view, the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma three times. He taught the four noble truths in Sarnath, the middle Wheel of Dharma revealing the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras at Rajgir and the final Wheel of Dharma teaching the three characteristics at Vaishali. Then the Buddha manifested into Buddha Vajradhara and deities to reveal the tantric teachings. He manifested into Chakrasamvara and revealed the Chakrasamvara teachings on the top of Mt. Meru, into Yamantaka at Orgyen in Pakistan and into Kalachakra at Amaravati in India.

Finally, the Buddha showed impermanence to us sentient beings and passed away into the sorrowless state. All that is left now are scriptures and some ruins at holy places like Rajgir and Sravasti.Therefore, there is no question that I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

Then there were the two close disciples of the Bud­dha, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana; the Six Orna­ments, the pandits Nagarjuna, Asanga, Chandrakirti and so forth; and many other great Indian yogis such as Naropa,Tilopa and Saraha.They wrote many texts, taught and gave unbelievable, incredible benefit to sen­tient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha in this world. Now I can only hear their names and see the texts they left and some caves and places where they meditated and achieved realizations. Therefore, there is no question that I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

After that, many great lamas appeared in each of the four traditions in Tibet, including Padmasambhava and Longchen Rabjampa; Marpa and Milarepa; the five great Sakya pandits; Lama Tsongkhapa and his disciples, and so forth. They completed the path to enlightenment and gave incredible benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha. Now I can­not see them, just the places where they practiced, like the caves of Lama Tsongkhapa and Milarepa, and their texts, nothing else. They all passed away. Therefore, I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

Even in this life, I have met many virtuous friends who were kinder than all the numberless past, pres­ent and future Buddhas and who have passed away. I made a Dharma connection and received teachings from virtuous friends who were great yogis and schol­ars, but now I cannot see them. Now, those aspects no longer exist. Therefore, I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

Then there were all my family members who passed away, as well as many friends and people I knew who have died. Therefore, I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

So many people who were born on the same day as me in this world and who were the same age have already died. Therefore, I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

Each time you think of death like this, cut your attachment.

So many times I have almost died

Then think:

So many times already in this life, I have almost died. I have almost had a fatal car accident or a fall. Somehow death has not yet come, but if I had died already, by now I would be in the lower realms. By now: 

  • I could be a fish caught with a hook in its mouth and sliced alive.
  • I could be a worm pierced by a bird’s beak or being eaten by hundreds of ants. 
  • I could be in the most terrifying hell realms.

This could happen because I have collected so many causes to be born in the lower realms since beginningless rebirths and they are not yet purified.

Therefore, right now I must abandon negative karma, the cause of suffering, and practice only virtue, the cause of happiness.

Bring it to this conclusion.

Death can come any moment

After that, remember what Nagarjuna explained in the Precious Garland:

Life—my life—is like a butter lamp in a strong wind; (it can stop any time.)

Therefore, death can come any moment. Meditate on that. Also:

This life is more impermanent
Than a water bubble blown by the wind.
How wonderful it is to be able to wake up from sleep—
(The fragile state of) simply breathing in and out!

Last night so many people in this world died. They went to bed with many plans for things to do tomor­row, this year, next year and so on. This morning their bodies were corpses.

If I had died last night, by now I would be in the lower realms, because although I did study Dharma and do some practice and retreat, I didn’t engage in contin­ual intensive Dharma practice. Then anger, ill will and many other things destroyed whatever merits I created.

Therefore, there was no really serious, continual, pure Dharma practice and purification, and if death had come to me last night, by now I would be in those most frightening hell realms.

THE GREAT MEANING OF THIS HUMAN LIFE

Now try to feel how incredibly precious this life is:

How most unbelievably fortunate it is that today I have the freedom to wake up and practice Dharma. In every second there is so much I can do with this human body, not only a precious human body extremely rare to find, but one with eighteen qualities almost impos­sible to achieve again. Wow!

In each second I have the great freedom and opportunity to create the cause of:

  • Happiness in all my future lives—by generating renunciation of this life;
  • Ultimate happiness, liberation from samsara—by generating renunciation of future lives and actu­alizing the right view;
  • Enlightenment—by generating bodhicitta.

I can create the cause for all of this temporary and ultimate happiness even in one second. Therefore, each second of this perfect human rebirth that I have is much more precious than:

  • Mountains of gold and diamonds; 
  • Gold and diamonds the size of this earth; 
  • The whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels.

Even if I owned skies filled with wish-granting jewels, the value of all that would be nothing compared to one second of this perfect human rebirth, because with all that wealth I still could not achieve the happiness of future lives, liberation from samsara or full enlight­enment for sentient beings that I can with this perfect human rebirth.

Therefore, I must not waste even a second of this life! I must make it meaningful by practicing Dharma. Prac­ticing Dharma means:

  • Practicing the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment—renunciation, bodhicitta and right view—as a foundation, and then tantra— abandoning impure appearance and impure thought; 
  • Living in three levels of vows—pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric.

GENERATING BODHICITTA

Now think:

Since I am going to die today, what should I do? I must practice bodhicitta.

Begin by reflecting on the shortcomings of cherishing the self, which opens the door to every suffering and obstacle, and on the benefits of cherishing others, which brings all the happiness up to enlightenment to you and to numberless sentient beings, as well as every quality (see appendix 6).

Then do the practice of exchanging self for others, along with the practice of taking and giving. While you are doing taking and giving you can chant the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM.

Taking away the suffering of others

First, do the practice of taking by generating compassion for the numberless sentient beings suffering under the control of delu­sion and karma. Then take:

  • The suffering of the places where they are born;
  • All their sufferings; 
  • The causes of those sufferings, karma and defilements, including the subtle defilements.

Take all of these one by one or all together from each:

  • Hell being,
  • Hungry ghost,
  • Animal,
  • Human being,
  • Sura,
  • Asura,
  • Intermediate state being.

Take all of this into your heart and give it to the self-cherishing thought—like putting a bomb on top of your enemy—and com­pletely destroy it. Meditate a little that the truly existent I, the real I that the selfish mind cherishes but which is not actually there, becomes totally non-existent even in name.

You can also take on all the obstacles to:

  • Your gurus’ holy actions to benefit others according to the view of sentient beings;
  • The spreading of the teachings of the Buddha;
  • The benefactors who serve the Dharma and the Sangha.

The taking can be done in an elaborate, medium or short way by taking all the sufferings together; it just depends on time.

Giving every happiness to others

For the practice of giving, first generate loving kindness and then give to all the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings:

  • All your past, present and future merits;
  • All the resultant happiness of these merits up to enlightenment;
  • All your material possessions and even your family and friends.

Think that by receiving these things, the numberless sentient beings:

  • Receive a perfect human body, meet the Dharma and meet a virtuous friend;
  • Gain perfect enjoyments, perfect companions and are born in a pure land;
  • Actualize the complete path to enlightenment and are liberated from all suffering and its causes;
  • Attain the unimaginable qualities of a Buddha and become the deity you are practicing.

The giving can also be done in an elaborate, medium, short or very short way according to time. Each time you do the practice of taking and giving, you create unimaginable merits and become closer to enlightenment, which means closer to liberating num­berless sentient beings.

CONCLUDING PRAYERS

After that, think:

This is just visualization. In reality sentient beings are still suffering. I must liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering along with its causes, karma and defilements, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment. Therefore, I am going to engage in virtuous activities. May all my activities of body, speech and mind become the cause to achieve enlightenment and enlighten all sentient beings.

Also you can pray:

From now on, may I be like Lama Tsongkhapa, by having the same qualities, and may I be able offer limitless skies of benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha.

Now read and contemplate the Bodhisattva Attitude, chapter 10.

The Short Motivation

CUTTING THE CONCEPT OF PERMANENCE 

Reflect that death is definite and everyone dies. Even Guru Shakyamuni Buddha and the great pandits and yogis of ancient India and Tibet passed away. Remember your gurus who have passed away, as well as your family members and friends, and think about the many people born on the same day as you who have already died. Make the decision:

Therefore, I myself can die even today. I am going to die today.

Meditate that death can come at any moment. As Nagarjuna said,

Life is like a butter lamp in a strong wind; (it can stop any time.)

THE GREAT MEANING OF THIS HUMAN LIFE

Now try to feel how unbelievably fortunate it is to wake up today with a precious human rebirth that gives every opportunity to practice Dharma. In every second you have the freedom to create the cause of:

  • Happiness in all future lives—by generating renunciation of this life.
  • Liberation from samsara—by generating renunciation of future lives and actualizing the right view.
  • Enlightenment—by generating bodhicitta.

Think:

Each second of this perfect human rebirth is more precious than even the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels. Therefore I must not waste even a second, I must make it meaningful by practicing Dharma—living in vows and practicing the three principal aspects of the path along with tantra. Especially, since I am going to die today, I must practice bodhicitta.

GENERATING BODHICITTA

Now reflect on the shortcomings of cherishing the self and the benefits of cherishing others (see appendix 6). Then do the prac­tice of exchanging self for others along with giving and taking while chanting OM MANI PADME HUM.

First, generate compassion for the numberless sentient beings in all the six realms suffering under the control of delusion and karma and take into your heart:

  • The suffering of the places where they are born;
  • All their suffering;
  • The causes of that suffering, delusion and karma.

Taking all of this into your heart, destroy your self-cherishing thought completely. Meditate that the truly existent I becomes totally non-existent, even in name. You can also take on obstacles to your gurus’ holy actions to benefit others, the spread of the teachings of the Buddha and all the benefactors.

Then generate loving kindness and give to all the numberless beings:

  • All your past, present and future merits;
  • All the resultant happiness of these merits up to enlightenment;
  • All your material possessions and even your family members and friends.

Think that by receiving these things they:

  • Receive a perfect human rebirth and meet the Dharma and a virtuous friend.
  • Gain perfect enjoyments, perfect companions and are born in a pure land.
  • Actualize the complete path to enlightenment and are liberated from all suffering.
  • Attain the unimaginable qualities of a buddha and become the deity you practice.

After that pray:

This is just visualization. In reality sentient beings are still suffering. I must liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering along with its causes, delusion and karma, and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment. There­fore, I am going to engage in virtuous activities. May all my activities of body, speech and mind become the cause to achieve enlightenment and enlighten all sentient beings.

You can also pray:

From now on, may I be like Lama Tsongkhapa by having the same qualities and may I be able offer limitless skies of benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha.

Now read and contemplate the Bodhisattva Attitude, chapter 10.