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: Four Wrong Concepts

A Motivation for Taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts

The Long Motivation

Think:

I and all sentient beings have been suffering in samsara from beginningless rebirths up to now because of these four wrong concepts.

ONE: LOOKING AT THE AGGREGATES AS BEING THE SELF

While the aggregates are not I, the self,
Because of looking at the aggregates as the self and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born and suffered in samsara
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

There is no I, or self, inside this body. (The I or self are the same thing.) My body is not the self, nor is my mind. To elaborate:

  • Form is not I.
  • Feeling is not I.
  • Cognition is not I.
  • Compounding aggregates are not I.
  • Consciousness is not I.

None of these five aggregates is I and even all together they are not the I. The aggregates themselves are not I, nor can I be found on the aggregates. Nowhere from the tips of my hair down to my toes can the I or self be found.

There are two things that can’t be found:

First, the real I that I believe right now is taking the eight Mahayana precepts: “I am here taking the eight Mahayana precepts.”That is the “real” I and it can’t be found. “Real”means “not merely labeled by the mind” or “existing from its own side” and in reality there is no such thing. Nowhere can that be found.

Second, even the merely imputed I that does exist can’t be found. It can be found in this country and right now it can be found here in this place, but it can’t be found on these aggregates. If I look for the merely labeled I, I will not find it.

Now focus:

Therefore, this real I that is now taking the eight Mahayana precepts is not there. It can’t be found in this body or on these aggregates. It is totally empty. That I has total non-existence from its own side. It is totally non­existent right there from where it is appearing to my hallucinated mind.

And:

This I is totally empty not only now, not only from last night, not only from birth, but from beginningless time. It has been empty and non-existent from the beginning. It never came into existence. But while it is like that, I have the hallucination that the I exists from its own side.

The I that is just this second merely imputed by the mind, the very next second appears back to my hallucinated mind as not merely labeled. Then I let my mind hold onto that appearance as one hundred percent true and in that moment, I create the root of samsara, ignorance.

The evolution of samsara and the suffering of the six realms

The reason I hold onto the I as true and create the root of samsara is because I have been following ignorance and have been under the control of ignorance from beginningless rebirths. Ignorance has been my guru and I have been listening to everything it says with total trust up to now. Because of that, all the other negative emotional thoughts and wrong concepts arise: anger, attachment and ignorance along with all the many different branches and types of these three poisonous minds.

Ignorance motivates karma, which plants a karmic seed on the mere I. From that seed, rebirth is produced. It is because of this ignorance—the self-grasping of the person and self-grasping of the aggregates—that I have been suffering in samsara from beginningless rebirths up to now:

  • Numberless times I have been born in each of the hell realms—the eight major cold hells, the eight major hot hells and the neighboring hells;
  • Numberless times I have been born in the hungry ghost realm and experienced the heaviest suffer­ing of hunger and thirst, unable to find a spoonful of food, a drop of water or even dampness on the ground for hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of years;
  • Numberless times I have been born as an animal and experienced the suffering of being extremely foolish and ignorant, as well as the unbelievably heavy suffering of being eaten alive;
  • Numberless times I have been born as a human being and experienced the sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, death, meeting what I don’t want, not being able to find what I want, not getting any satisfaction when I do find what I want and the suffering of the aggregates;
  • Numberless times I have been born as suras and asuras. The mental suffering I experienced as a sura when nearing death was even heavier than the physical sufferings I experienced as a hell being.

Now think of the three other wrong concepts that come from ignorance:

TWO: LOOKING AT SAMSARIC PLEASURE AS REAL HAPPINESS

While samsaric pleasure is only suffering,
Because of looking at samsaric pleasure as real happiness and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born and suffered in samsara
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

Samsaric pleasure is only suffering, but because of labeling it and looking at it as real happiness, and then being attached, I have been continuously suffering in samsara from beginningless rebirths up to now.

THREE: LOOKING AT THE BODY AS CLEAN

While this body is dirty,
Because of looking at the body as completely clean and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born and suffered in samsara
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

My body is like a garbage can or a septic tank that collects all the waste from the toilet. Nagarjuna said the body is “a container of thirty-six dirty things.”

Khunu Lama Rinpoche explained that before food is eaten, it is clean, but after going inside the body, it is dirty. Whether it comes out of the mouth, the ears or the holes in the lower part of the body, it is dirty because the nature of the body is dirty.

While the nature of my body is dirty, because of looking at my body as completely clean and being attached, I have suffered in samsara from beginningless rebirths up to now.

FOUR: LOOKING AT IMPERMANENT PHENOMENA AS PERMANENT

While all compounded phenomena are in the nature of impermanence,
Because of looking at compounded phenomena as permanent and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born in sam­sara and suffered
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

My life, this I, these aggregates, my possessions, the people around me and my family members are all impermanent in nature. They are impermanent because they’re compounded by causes and conditions and therefore under the control of causes and condi­tions. That is why everything decays and nothing lasts. Things change not only day by day, hour by hour, min­ute by minute and second by second, but even within each second. But because of not meditating, not being aware and not realizing that all phenomena are im­permanent in nature, I live my life with the concept of permanence and when things change, when death or decay comes to me or someone in my family, it is an unbelievable shock.

Finally, think:

LETTING GO OF THE I AND CHERISHING OTHERS

Because of being under the control of these four wrong concepts, I and all sentient beings have been suffering since beginningless time. If I continue to follow these wrong concepts, I will have to keep experiencing all these unimaginable sufferings endlessly.

Just myself being free from the ocean of samsaric sufferings and its causes is not enough:

All sufferings, obstacles, misfortunes and undesirable things come from cherishing the I.

It all comes from the I. Therefore the I is something to let go of.

All happiness—my past happiness from begin­ningless rebirths, present happiness, future hap­piness, liberation and enlightenment—comes from the good heart cherishing and wanting to benefit others, bodhicitta.

That means all my happiness from beginningless rebirths as well as all my present and future happiness up to enlightenment comes from others. It comes from numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings.

  • I receive all my past happiness from beginningless rebirths from numberless sentient beings. There­fore, each one is unbelievably precious, kind and dear.
  • I receive all my present happiness from numberless sentient beings.Therefore, they are even more kind, precious and dear.
  • I receive all my future lives’ happiness from num­berless sentient beings. Therefore, they are much kinder, much more precious and dear.
  • I receive liberation from samsara—which is ultimate happiness—from numberless sentient beings. Wow! Now, they are unbelievably, unbelievably precious, kind and dear.
  • I receive enlightenment from numberless sentient beings. Wow! Now every sentient being is the dearest, kindest, most precious one in my heart. They are kinder even than Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, because Buddha, Dharma and Sangha come from the kindness of sentient beings.

Sentient beings are the most precious, kindest and dearest ones in my life. Therefore, anything I can do to help anybody, however great or small the service or benefit, is the happiest, most meaningful, and most joyful thing.

Therefore, in order to cause sentient beings to have the happiness of this life; more importantly, the happiness of future lives; even more importantly, ultimate happiness; and most importantly, enlightenment; I myself must achieve enlightenment. Therefore, I am now going to take the eight Mahayana precepts.

The Short Motivation

Think:

I and all sentient beings have been suffering in samsara from beginningless rebirths up to now because of these four wrong concepts:

While the aggregates are not I, the self,
Because of looking at the aggregates as the self and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born and suffered in samsara
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

While samsaric pleasure is only suffering,
Because of looking at samsaric pleasure as real happiness and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born and suffered in samsara
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

While this body is dirty,
Because of looking at the body as completely clean and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born and suffered in samsara
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

While all compounded phenomena are in the nature of impermanence,
Because of looking at compounded phenomena as permanent and being attached,
I and all sentient beings have been born in sam­sara and suffered
Numberless times from beginningless rebirths up to now.

If I continue to follow these four wrong concepts, I will experience unimaginable sufferings endlessly. Just myself being free from the ocean of samsaric sufferings and its causes is not enough:

All sufferings, obstacles, misfortunes and undesirable things come from cherishing the I.

Therefore the I is something to let go of.

All happiness—my past happiness from beginningless rebirths, present happiness, future hap­piness, liberation and enlightenment—comes from bodhicitta, the good heart cherishing and wanting to benefit others.

Therefore other sentient beings are unbelievably precious, kind and dear. To cause the numberless sentient beings to have the happiness of this life, future lives, liberation from samsara and enlightenment, I myself must achieve enlightenment; therefore I am going to take the eight Mahayana precepts.