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: Give Up Stretching the Legs

Bodhicitta Motivation for Life 2

The Long Motivation

Go to sleep meditating on the dharmakaya or emptiness. Then, the next morning on waking, rise up from the state of clear light to the sound of the dakas and dakinis playing music and saying,

Give up stretching the legs.
Give up entering samsara.
Generate bodhicitta to achieve Vajrasattva,
the Great Victorious One, for all sentient beings.

GIVE UP STRETCHING THE LEGS

Meditate as follows:

“Give up stretching the legs” means:

Give up clinging to this life and being too lazy to practice Dharma.
Instead, think of impermanence, which is the nature of this life.

Death is definite and can come at any time and any moment, even today. At the time of death nothing can help me except the holy Dharma.

After death, there are only two possible rebirths: a higher rebirth if I have collected virtue or a lower rebirth if I have collected nonvirtue. So far in this life, even though I met the Buddhadharma many years ago, the karma I have collected has been mostly negative. Even in one day I collect mostly negative karma and the negative karmas I create are very powerful because the four parts of the action are more complete. Those actions that become Dharma are extremely rare and they are weaker.

Therefore, if death were to come now, I would defi­nitely be born in the lower realms and I would have to remain there until that karma finishes. Then another karma would ripen bringing another suffering rebirth and it would go on and on like that. It is not sure when I could come back to the human realms.

There is no opportunity to practice Dharma in the lower realms; I would be totally overwhelmed by suf­fering. I could not benefit myself or others. Therefore, right now while I have this perfect human rebirth qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, which is so highly meaningful and difficult to find again, I must practice Dharma and I must practice right away.

GIVE UP ENTERING SAMSARA 

Now think:

“Give up entering samsara” means:

Give up thinking that samsara and samsaric pleasures are good and then clinging to them.
Instead, realize samsara to be suffering as in reality it is only suffering.

Because of always looking at samsara and its plea­sures as real, pure happiness, thinking how good they are and admiring them, attachment arises and then I enter and engage in samsara. I need to give this up by looking at samsara as being only in the nature of suffering.

Samsara is only suffering

Think about the definition of samsara and how this shows sam­sara is only suffering. Then reflect in more detail on the three types of suffering:

The suffering of pain—heat, cold, hunger, thirst and so on—is easy to understand. Even animals can recognize this as suffering and don’t want to experience it.

The suffering of change is far more difficult to realize because it includes all samsaric pleasures. I label pleasure on what is really only suffering. I merely impute pleasure and then it appears back to my hallucinated mind as real pleasure, real pure happiness, but that is completely wrong, it is totally non-existent.

Samsaric pleasure is only suffering because it is labeled on the feeling when a previous suffering that was heavy stopped and a new suffering is beginning from small. While that suffering is still small it is unnoticeable and it is labeled “pleasure,” but the more samsaric “pleasure” is continued, the more it decreases and becomes the suffering of pain again.

All samsaric pleasure is like this, the pleasure de­creases as it continues and becomes the suffering of pain. It is because the pleasure is labeled on the feeling of suffering that it doesn’t last:

  • Samsaric pleasure doesn’t increase: as it continues it becomes suffering again.
  • Samsaric pleasure doesn’t last: even the plea­sure that is generated doesn’t last because it is suffering.

Try to get a good understanding of this. Then think:

The Guru Puja says,

Samsara is extremely unbearable like a prison;
Please bless me to give up looking at it as a very beautiful, happy park.

Because of totally believing that samsara and its plea­sures are real happiness, when in reality they are real suffering, I become attached to them and that ties me to samsara with the chain of the twelve dependent related limbs causing me to continuously be reborn in samsara and experience suffering.

It is because of this that I have been suffering from beginningless rebirths up to now, reincarnating again and again and experiencing all the sufferings in each of the six realms as well as the intermediate state. From beginningless rebirths up to now my life has been totally under the control of delusion and karma. I have never had a break from the suffering of samsara for even one second.

It is not that I have been constantly experiencing the suffering of pain or the suffering of change, but I have never had a break from pervasive compounding suffering because these aggregates are pervaded by suffering being under the control of delusion and karma. That is why this body and mind are in the nature of suffering all the time.

Also any suffering or happiness that I am experienc­ing now is nothing new. It may be new for this life, but whatever it is, I have experienced it numberless times in the past. It is just that I can’t remember this.

My mind is so blocked, so obscured, that I can’t see all the unimaginable sufferings of past lives and I can’t see that I will have to go through all the same sufferings in future lives. As my mind is purified, I will gradually be able to remember all the experiences from thousands and billions of past lives. I will also see many hundreds of thousands of lives into the future.

I will see that being in samsara for even a second is like being in the very center of a fire; it is totally scary. I will understand that reincarnating again in samsara is most terrifying. Like a prisoner trapped in his cell, I won’t want to be imprisoned even one more minute or one more second. I will only want to be free. To be in samsara is unbelievably, unbelievably sad.

Therefore:

  • Please grant me blessings to give up attachment to the “extremely unbearable prison” of samsara by no longer looking at it as “a very beautiful, happy park.”
  • Please grant me blessings to practice the antidote to samsara, the three higher trainings.
  • Please grant me blessings to achieve the result of liberation.

GENERATE BODHICITTA TO ACHIEVE VAJRASATTVA, THE GREAT VICTORIOUS ONE,
FOR ALL SENTIENT BEINGS
 

Now think:

The reason to “generate bodhicitta to achieve Vajra­sattva, the Great Victorious One, for all sentient beings” is as it says in the Kadampa teachings:

I is the root of all negative karma; it is to be instantly thrown very far away.
Others are the originator of my enlightenment; they are to be immediately cherished.

Think how self-cherishing is the cause of all your problems and the root of all suffering (see appendix 6):

I is the root of all negative karma; it is instantly to be thrown very far away.

Then consider how the I you are cherishing is not actually there because that is the truly existent I that doesn’t actually exist. Therefore, it is very foolish and harmful to cherish the I since in reality there is nothing there to cherish. Make the decision that from now on you will cast away self-cherishing as though it were a deadly poison.

Now think how cherishing others brings every happiness:

Others are the originator of my enlightenment.

That means not just my friends and those people or animals that I like, maybe some cat or dog, but every single one of the numberless sentient beings in each realm. “Others” are:

  • Everybody around me here, right now;
  • Every insect, every bird and every worm that I see on the road when I go outside;
  • Numberless hell beings and hungry ghosts;
  • Numberless animals, big and small, including insects, bugs, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats, scor­pions and all the tiny creatures that live inside the body;
  • Numberless human beings—no matter how they look or act;
  • Numberless sura, asura and intermediate state beings.

Every single one of these numberless beings is the origi­nator of my enlightenment; therefore, each one is to be immediately cherished, cared for and served with my body speech and mind.

Even if all these sentient beings get angry, criticize or abuse me, don’t like me, don’t love me, always look down at me and always complain about me, no matter how much I try to help them or how hard I work. Whatever story I may have about them—that their way of thinking is bad or their manner harmful— still they are the originator of my enlightenment. No matter what they do, they are the originator of my enlightenment.

And it is not only enlightenment. Every single sen­tient being is the originator from whom I receive all my numberless past, present and future happinesses:

  • Every single temporary pleasure;
  • The happiness of all future lives;
  • Liberation from samsara;
  • Full enlightenment.

What better gift is there than this?

Then generate bodhicitta by thinking:

Therefore, in my life there is nothing to do except cher­ish other sentient beings, work to free them from all the sufferings and their causes and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone. Therefore I must achieve full enlightenment.

Then generate the special tantric motivation to achieve enlighten­ment, the unified state of Vajradhara, in the quickest way, which is the meaning of Vajrasattva the Great Victorious One:

From my side, to bring each and every single sentient being to enlightenment, even if I need to be born in the hell realms and suffer for eons equaling the number of drops of the ocean or atoms of this earth, I can do that. But from the side of sentient beings, since they would have to suffer for a most unimaginable amount of time, I need to liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, I need to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, from now on I am going to do all the virtuous activities as well as eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, working and so forth, to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, to liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.

And pray to be like Lama Tsongkhapa:

Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and by all sentient beings, may I have all the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa and offer extensive benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha in all my lifetimes.

Now read and contemplate the Bodhisattva Attitude, chapter 10.

The Short Motivation

Go to sleep meditating on the dharmakaya or emptiness. Then, the next morning on waking, rise up from the state of clear light to the sound of the dakas and dakinis playing music and saying,

Give up stretching the legs.
Give up entering samsara.
Generate bodhicitta to achieve Vajrasattva,
the Great Victorious One, for all sentient beings.

GIVE UP STRETCHING THE LEGS

Think:

“Give up stretching the legs” means:

Give up clinging to this life and being too lazy to practice Dharma.
Instead, think of impermanence, which is the nature of this life.

Remember how precious this human rebirth is and how death can come at any moment. At the time of death a higher rebirth comes only from virtue and a lower rebirth from nonvirtue. Think how often and how easily you create nonvirtue and how powerful those nonvirtues are. Make the decision to give up being lazy and clinging to this life and instead immediately put full effort into practicing Dharma.

GIVE UP ENTERING SAMSARA

Think:

“Give up entering samsara” means:

Give up thinking that samsara and samsaric pleasures are good and then clinging to them. Instead, realize samsara to be suffering as in reality it is only suffering.

Now remember the definition of samsara and reflect on how samsara is only suffering. Contemplate the three types of suffering of samsara and particularly the suffering of change. Look at how easily you get attracted and attached to samsaric pleasures which are only in the nature of suffering by wrongly believing they are real happiness. Because of this, you have been reincar­nating in samsara continuously up to now, totally under the control of karma and delusion. Your body and mind are in the nature of suffering all the time. Make the determination right now to give up looking at samsara and its pleasures as real hap­piness and instead work for liberation.

GENERATE BODHICITTA TO ACHIEVE VAJRASATTVA, THE GREAT VICTORIOUS ONE,
FOR ALL SENTIENT BEINGS

Think:

The reason to “generate bodhicitta to achieve Vajrasattva, the Great Victorious One, for all sentient beings” is as it says in the Kadampa teachings:

I is the root of all negative karma; it is to be instantly thrown very far away.
Others are the originator of my enlightenment; they are to be immediately cherished.

Think how self-cherishing is the cause of all your problems and the root of all suffering.Then consider how the I you are cherish­ing is not actually there because that is the truly existent I that doesn’t actually exist. Therefore, it is very foolish and harmful to cherish the I since in reality there is nothing there to cherish.

Now think how cherishing others brings every happiness. Every single one of the numberless sentient beings—no matter how they look or what they do—is the originator of all your numberless past, present and future happiness.

Make the decision that from now on you will cast away self-cherishing as though it were a deadly poison and instead only cherish and serve others.

Then generate bodhicitta by thinking,

In my life there is nothing to do except cherish other sentient beings, work to free them from all the suf­ferings and their causes and bring them to enlightenment by myself alone. Therefore I must achieve full enlightenment.

And generate the special tantric motivation to achieve enlightenment:

From my side, to bring each and every single sentient being to enlightenment, even if I need to be born in the hell realms and suffer for eons equaling the number of drops of the ocean or atoms of this earth, I can do that. But from the side of sentient beings, since they would have to suffer for a most unimaginable amount of time, I need to liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, I need to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, from now on I am going to do all the virtuous activities as well as eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, working and so forth, to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, to liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.

Pray to be like Lama Tsongkhapa:

Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and by all sentient beings, may I have all the qualities of Lama Tsongkhapa and offer extensive benefit to sentient beings and to the teachings of the Buddha in all my lifetimes.

Now read and contemplate the Bodhisattva Attitude, chapter 10.