Bodhicitta, the aspiration to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, is something that is truly inconceivable, truly splendid and marvellous. One of the great gurus of Lama Atisha told him that an attainment such as clairvoyance, or a vision of a deity, or concentration as stable as a mountain is nothing compared to bodhicitta. For us, these attainments seem amazing. If we ourselves, or if someone we heard of, had a visioon of a deity, achieved clairvoyance, or through practising meditation attained concentration as stable as a mountain, we would think this to be unbelievably wonderful. However. Atisha's guru said to him: "These are nothing compared to bodhicitta. Therefore, practise bodhicitta."
Even if you practised mahamudra or dzogchen or the two stages of highest yoga tantra [generation stage and completion stage] and even if you achieved the vision of many deities, these are not beneficial if you do not have bodhicitta.
As the great Bodhisattva Shantideva said, "If you churn the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their essence is bodhicitta." By churning milk we get butter, which is the very essence of milk. In the same way, if we examine and churn all the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha, their very essence is the practice of bodhicitta. Therefore, it is extremely important for us to strive to achieve the uncontrived, effortless experience of bodhicitta. At the very least, we should try our best to generate the contrived experience of bodhicitta, the bodhicitta that arises through effort.
There are two main lineages of instructions on the basis of which you can practise and generate bodhicitta. The first is the seven-point cause and effect instruction and the second is the instruction on exchanging oneself and others.
The first, the seven-point cause and effect instruction by which you generate bodhicitta on the basis of developing affectionate love towards all sentient beings, is a practice which was used by such great Indian pandits as Chadrakirti, Chandragomin, Shantarakshita and so forth. The second, the instruction on exchanging oneself with others, comes mainly from Shantideva. Whether you choose to train your miind in the seven-point cause and effect instruction or in exchanging oneself with others, the result is that you will generate bodhicitta in your mind.
The great saint Atisha showed extraordinary interest in bodhicitta. In order to obtain the complete instructions on the practice of bodhiciita, he embarked on a long journey to the Indonesian island of Sumatra to study with the great master Serlingpa, not caring about the many hardships he endured on the way. Today we can travel to Indonesia by a very fast ship or by airplane, but at that time it took Atisha thirteen months to reach Indonesia. Once he arrived, he received the complete expereintial instruction on both the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others from the master Serlingpa. He then practised for twelve years at his master's feet, until he fully developed bodhicitta. Thus Lama Atisha came to possess both instruction lineages: the seven-point technique and exchanging oneself with others.
Although he held both lineages, Atisha would teach only the seven-point technique in public, to large assemblies of disciples, and would teach instructions on exchanging oneself with others secretly to a select group of qualified disciples. When Atisha went to Tibet, he gave the instructions on exchanging oneself with others only to his principal disciple, Dromtonpa.
Later, the great Lama Tsongkhapa, the Protecor of all beings, incorporated the two sets of instructions into a single practice consisting of eleven points. When you are receiving teachings on bodhicitta, you receive the two sets of instructions separately, but when you are actually meditating on bodhicitta—training your mind—then you combine both instructions and meditate on the eleven points. Combining the two instructions into a single practice for the purpose of training the mind in meditation is said to be a particular greatness of the Gelugpa tradition.
In a prayer composed by Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang requesting to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa, he wrote: "By merging the practices of the seven-point mind technique and exchanging oneself with others of the precious mind, this greatness which is not shared by others, may I thus be able to meet the doctrine of Lama Tsongkhapa." "Not shared by others" means that this merging of the two practices devised by Je Rinpoche is a unique approach which is not found in other traditions.
I first received these teachings from the holy mouth of the incredibly kind Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang, when he taught the eight great lam-rim texts over a period of four months at Sera Monastery in Tibet. At that time I was very young. When he reached the point of explaining exchanging oneslef with others, he gave teachings on The Seven-Point Thought Transformation. Later I received these teachings twice from the late Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche.
The Seven-Point Cause and Effect Instruction
As for the seven points of the cause and effect instruction, one begins by meditating on equanimity and then proceeds through the following steps:
1. Recognising all sentient beings as one's mother
2. Recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings
3. Repaying their kindness
4. Affectionate love
5. Great compassion
6. The extraordinary intention
The first six points, recognising all sentient beings as one's mother and so forth, are the casues which give birth to the result, bodhicitta.
The way in which these realisations come about, step by step, is that bodhicitta, the thought of attaining enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings, arises from and must be preceded by a sense of responsibility. In Tibetan the term is lhagsam, which is sometimes called "extraordinary intention", or "exceptional attitude, or "universal responsibility"—it is a feeling of responsibility to benefit all sentient beings. For this intention to come about you must have a powerful wish for all sentient beings to be free from suffering—that is great compassion. For that to arise you must have developed affectionate love towards all sentient beings. At the moment we have affectionate love for our dear ones, but we don't have affectionate love for those who are not dear to us. In order to generate this affectionate love for everyone, you must develop a deep sense of closeness toward sentient beings, and the way to do that is by recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and generatiing the wish to repay their kindness. This instruction is called the cause and effect technique because the later points arise after genterating the preceding points.
You should not approach this practice with a short-sighted mind, thinking, "Oh, this practice is too advanced for me. It will require so much time and energy. I will not be able to develop such a precious mind." This is not the right attitude. You should not have such fears because these instrtuctions are very profound and powerful. If you continuously train your mind, step by step, with persistence, there is no doubt that you will succeed. Generally speaking, all the instructions from the old Kadampa tradition are very powerful and effective. On top of that, there are the instructions combined by the great Lama Tsongkhapa, whose experience was based on his special relationship with Manjushri, with whom he had direct communication. These instructions are extremely powerful and effective, so you should not think they are too advanced for you and that you will not be able to develop bodhicitta.
Before beginning to train your mind in the first step, recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you should develop the thought of equanimity. It is similar to painting a picture: if you want to paint a picture on a surface, you must first make sure that the surface is smooth and even and has no rough or uneven spots on it. In the same way, before you can train your mind in the meditation on recognising all sentient beings as your mother, you must make your mind even with equanimity towards everyone. In other words, you must learn to stop discriminating among sentient beings, feeling close to some and distant from others, and the way to do this is by developing equanimity.
Now I will explain the way to meditate in order to develop equanimity. Those who are familiar with these instructions, please meditate while I am explaining. Those who are new, please pay special attention and try to retain the instructions in your mind. All of you please try to have the intention to develop bodhicitta, thinking that you must generate this realisation in your mind. As I mentioned before, these instructions of the Kadampa lamas are so powerful and effective, especially the instructions on merging the seven-point cause and effect technique and exchanging oneself with others as taught by Lama Tsongkhapa. So please be attentive and generate this strong intention: "I am definitely going to practise and develop bodhicitta in my mind."
Visualise in front of you three people: first, someone who upsets you—just by seeing or thinking about him or her, your mind becomes unhappy. Next to him or her, visualise someone you love and are close to—just by seeing this person your mind becomes happy. And next to that person, visualise a stranger, someone who is neither beneficial nor non-beneficial. When you think about these people, you feel aversion towards the person you dislike, attachment towards the person who is close to you, and indifference towards the stranger.
Now, thinking about the person you dislike, ask yourself, "Why do I dislike this person? What is the reason I get so upset? What has he done to me?" You will realise that this is because he has harmed you a little bit in this life. At this point you should think about the uncertainty of friends and enemies as explained in the lam-rim, in the section for the person of intermediate scope. This is one of the disadvantages of cyclic existence: you cannot be sure of friends and enemies; sometimes a friend becomes and enemy and sometimes an enemy becomes a friend. Think in this way: "Although this person has given me a small amount of harm in this life for a very short time, in many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, this person has shown me great affection and has been very close to me for a very long time. The harm he has given me in this life is so small compared to the closeness and affection we have had since beginningless time, yet I treat him like my ultimate enemy, the ultimate object to be avoided. This is completely wrong!" You need to think in this way again in order to subdue your feelings of aversion for this person.
Next to him is the person you feel close to, who makes you feel so happy as soon as you see him or her. You regard this person as your ultimate friend, the person who is closer to you than anyone else. You have so much attachment for this person you may feel that you don't want to be separated from him or her for even a moment. If you examine the reasons why this is so, it is because in this life he has benefited you in some way such as with resources and so forth. On the basis of some very small benefits and for very limited reasons, your mind becomes so happy and excited. However, you should think, "Although in this life he has benefited me a little, he has not always been my friend. In many previous lifetimes since beginningless time, he has been my enemy. He harmed me so much that just by seeing him I felt very strong aversion. It is not reasonable for me to have so much attachment and desire for this person just because he has benefited me, is beneficial to me and will benefit me, because he has also been the opposite." By thinking in this way over and over again, you can subdue your feelings of attachment.
Now turn to the stranger. The attitude you have toward this person is: "I don't know this person and I don't care about him. He hasn't connected with me in the past, he is not connecting with me now and he will not connect with me in the future, so who cares." This attitude is also completely wrong, so you should think, "In this life, this person is neither an enemy nor a friend, but in previous lives he was my enemy many times, and also many times he was my dearest friend, someone I was very close to. Therefore, it is completely unreasonable to be indifferent to this person." Just as you equalised your feelings towards the friend and the enemy, you should equalise your feelings towards the stranger by thinking this way again and again.
Therefore when you meditate, you first think that there is absolutely no reason to be so upset and feel so much aversion towards the enemy who has been your dearest friend so many times. You need to think about this again and again in order to subdue your aversion and equalise your mind towards this person. Likewise, think that there is no reason to be so attached to the person you are close to, your friend, because he has been your enemy so many times. Think about this again and again to subdue your attachment and equalise your mind towards this person.
When we perceive these three different people, we perceive them in terms of these three categories: friends, enemies and strangers. However, none of them exists in this way forever—no one is a friend, enemy or stranger for all time. Therefore, they are all the same. There is absolutely no reason to feel attachment towards one person, to feel aversion towards another, and to feel detached and indifferent towards yet another.
If we examine what they actually are, from their side, they are sentient beings. And they are all exactly the same in that they all wish to be happy and free from suffering. Thus there is not the slightest reason to discriminate between them with attachment, aversion and indifference. They are all exactly the same. You must come to this conclusion and meditate on it again and again. By meditating on this over and over again, you will reach the point where you actuall develop equanimity towards all sentient beings. You will feel that they are all the same to you; your feelings towards them will be equal. This is the result that should come about.
Although you might recite every day the prayer of the Four Immeasurable Thoughts "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; may all sentient beings be free from suffering and its causes" and so forth—until you have actually developed equanimity, in reality it will be as though you are saying, "May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes and be free from suffering and its causes—but only those I like and not those I dislike." No matter how frequently and fervently you recite the Four Immeasurable Thoughts, until you have developed equanimity, they are only words. They don't become the actual Four Immeasurable Thoughts. Therefore, it is extremely important to develop equanimity, and even if you spent months and years meditating solely on equanimity in order to develop this realisation, it would be an extremely worthwhile method of practising meditation. If you can pacify your feelings of attachment and aversion towards friends and enemies, it will be very beneficial to your mind.
Recognising All Sentient Beings as One's Mother
The next point, recognising all sentient beings as one's mother, is actually the first step in developing bodhicitta. Lama Pabongka Dorje Chang said that this point is not easy and takes quite a long time to develop. However, it is crucial and indispensable, because only on the basis of this recognition can you develop the following steps. We cannot progress without it, so it is very important to give it a lot of attention.
In general, when you meditate you use perfect reasoning as well as quotations. Here, with this point of recognising all beings as your mother, it is very important to use reasoning. Although you can also develop the same understanding on the basis of quotations, there is a difference in the way the mind is activated on the basis of quotations and on the basis of reasoning—it is more powerful on the basis of reasoning. The specific reasoning to be relied upon here is the beginningless continuity of mind.
First you have to establish that the continuity of the mind is beginningless. Start by thinking that your mind of today is the result of the mind of yesterday. And yesterday's mind came from the mind of the day before yesterday. In that way, you go back, day by day. Each day's mind is the result of the mind of the preceding day. Also, the mind of each moment is the result of the preceding moment.
Continue to go back, all the way to the moment of conception, and think about how the mind of the newborn baby is also a continuity which needs a preceding moment of mind in order to be generated. The mind of the newborn baby is the continuation of the mind of the fetus which was in the womb of the mother. And if you go back in this way, you will not be able to find a beginning.1 You cannot find a moment which you can point to as the beginning of the mind and say, "The mind began there." this is because any moment of mind would need a preceding moment in order to be generated. In this way you can establish that the continuum of the mind is beginningless. There is no single moment of mind which you can point to as being the first.
Following these reasons, you conclude that the number of times you have taken rebirth is countless. Not only that, but in all those rebirths, just as in this life, you needed a mother. For one hundred rebirths, you would need one hundred mothers; for one thousand rebirths. you would need one thousand mothers, and so forth. Sinceyou have had countless rebirths, you have had countless mothers.
So if you think very carefully about these points, you will realise that not only have you had countless rebirths, you have also had countless mothers. Furthermore, although sentient beings are also countless, the number of sentient beings that exist is fewer than the number of mothers you have had. You have taken rebirth countless times in all different types of bodies, and the number of sentient beings you need to have been your mother is greater than the number of sentient beings in existence. Therefore, since the number of times you have taken rebirth and the number of mothers you have had is greater than the number of sentient beings, it means that every single sentient being has been your mother not just once, but countless times.
Start with your own mother, thinking that you mother of this life was your mother countless times in previous rebirths. When you have gained some expereince of this idea such that your mind is transformed towards your mother, then think about it in relation to your father—that your father has been your mother countless times. Following that, think about how your friends have been your mother countless times. Then think about your enemies—even your enemies have been your mother so many times. Finally, widen your scope to include all sentient beings—meditate on how all sentient beings have been your mother.
You have to meditate on this subject again and again over a long period of time. While you are training your mind in this subject, you should rely on different lam-rim scriptures which explain various points and ways of meditating and can give you a lot of inspiration. You should request your spiritual teacher to give you explanations to help clarify your mind, and you should also discuss the subject with your Dharma friends. By thinking in this way again and again, you will reach the point where you realise that all sentient beings have been your mother, even down to a tiny insect like and ant. Even when you see a tiny insect you will feel certain that many times this being has been your kind mother, who took the greatest care of you and in whom you placed your trust. It is said that the great Atisha—who completely realised this point —would be immediately filled with a deep sense of respect whenever he met any sentient being. He would fold his hands and say, "Precious sentient being, so kind."
Recognising the Kindness of Mother Sentient Beings
The next step in the meditation is recognising the kindness of mother sentient beings. It is not enough just to recognise that all sentient ebings have been your mother, you must also recognise the depth of their kindness. For example, your mother of this life was so kind, carrying you within her for nine long months from the time of conception, always being very careful about what she ate and drank, and doing everything with the sole thought of taking care of you. Even the fact that you are alive and are able to learn and practise the Dharma is completely due to the kindness of your mother, who caried you in her womb and took such good care of you since the time of conception.
She took care of you while you were in her womb, and also after you were born. When you were born you were completely helpless, like a little bug, unable to do anything. Nevertheless, your mother treated you as if you were a priceless jewel—continuously taking the greatest care of you, day and night, with no other thought in her mind than concern for your welfare. She fed you, bathed you, dressed you in soft clothing, took you here and there to make you happy, and even made funny faces or gestures to make you smile. Becasue of her constant feeling of love and concern for you, her mind was always full of worry that you might get sick or hurt—so much so that she would have difficulty sleeping at night.
You learned how to walk because of the kindness of your mother—she would help you stand up and take your first step, then the second step, and so forth. You also learned how to pronounce your first words because of the kindness of your mother and also your father. As time went on, you were able to study and learn many other things, but only on the basis of knowing how to walk and speak, which you learned because of the kindness of your mother.
In the preceding step you realised that all sentient beings have been your mother, and with this meditation you realise that not only has your mother of this present life been incredibly kind to you, but all the countless sentient beings have been just as kind.
Repaying Their Kindness
The next step is generating the wish to repay the kindness of all mother sentient beings. Ask yourself, "Am I able to repay their kindness?" Then think, "I should be able to repay their kindness because I'm in such fortunate circumstances: I have met the Dharma, I have met perfect teachers, I have met the path, and I have all the right circumstances to practise. Therefore I must do as much as I possibly can to liberate them from their suffering and to bring them the happiness that they wish for. I must do this in order to repay their kindness."
Of course, repaying the kindness of sentient beings includes helping them on a conventional level, by doing as much as you can to give food to those who are hungry, drink to those who are thirsty, clothing and other material things. But the most important way of helping is by completely relieving all sentient beings of all their sufferings and giving them all the happiness that they could wish for. You should bring this thought to your mind again and again.
The next step, affectionate love, is the kind of love that a mother feels when looking at her only child. When a mother looks at her child, he appears to her in a very beautiful way, and she feels great love for him. Here, you generate this same kind of affectionate love towards all sentient beings, perceiving all beings in a beautiful, glowing way.
Actually, if you generated to previous step of recognising all sentient beings as your mother, recognising their kindness and wishing to repay their kindness, then you won't need extra effort or extra thought in order to develop affectionate love. It will arise spontaneously, due to the force of the preceding realisations.
When you meditate on affectionate love, you also need to reflect on the fact that all sentient beings, although wishing to be happy, are completely devoid of happiness, especially pure, uncontaminated happiness. By meditating in this way, you generate the strong wish that all sentient beings posess happiness and its causes, and that they actually abide in happiness. On top of that, you should also generate the wish that you yourself will make that happen. From the depths of your heart, request your lama to grant you blessings to be able to do this.
The next step is great compassion. This is one of the special characteristics of the Buddha's teachings, and Lama Tsongkhapa in particular placed a great deal of emphasis on it as a very special cause that gives rise to very special effects. Also, the great Chandrakirti, in the introduction to his Entering the Middle Way, pays homage to great compassion, saying that it is extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. At the beginning, it is the seed which enables you to enter the Mahayana path. In the middle, while you are engaging in the bodhisattva's practice of the six perfections, it is the very soul of your practice. At the end it causes the result, Buddhahood, to ripen and makes possible all the Buddha's wonderful deeds for the benefit of sentient beings. Therefore, great compassion is praised as being extremely important at the beginning, in the middle and at the end.
It is said that in the beginning, in order to develop great compassion, it is very beneficial to observe and reflect on the way a butcher slaughters an animal—cutting the throat, ripping out its insides, pulling off its skin. Using this as an example is an easy and powerful way to meditate on great compassion. Here in Singapore,there is a market where we go to buy animals to liberate. It would be extremely beneficial to go there and observe the situation, reflecting both on the animals which are being slaughtered and those who are slaughtering them.
Once you have started to generate great compassion, then you reflect on the same meditations that you used while training your mind in the small scope section of the lam-rim, by thinking in detail about the sufferings of the three lower realms, the hells and so forth.2 However, this time you generate compassion by thinking of the sufferings of the specific sentient beings: the sufferings of extreme heat and extreme cold of the hell-beings, the sufferings of extreme hunger and thirst of the pretas, and the sufferings of the animals.
What is the measure or sign of having generated great compassion in your mind? It is that you feel towards all sentient beings the same wish for them to be free of suffering that a mother would feel for her only child. When a mother sees her child going through intense suffering, she feels an unbearable wish for the child to be completely free from this suffering. Feeling this same strong wish towards each and every sentient beings is the sign that you have generated great cmpassion.
The Extraordinary Intention
The next step is the extraordinary intention. This is when you have the feeling that you yourself, alone, have the responsibility of eliminating all the sufferings of all sentient beings. and bringing to them all the happiness that they wish for. It is the same sense of responsibility that a child would feel towards his or her mother—feeling responsible to make her happy and free from suffering. So when you feel that way towards all sentient beings and feel that you yourself alone will achieve this goal, then you have generated the extraordinary intention. It is "extraordinary" because it is more exceptional or supreme than the intention of the Hearers and Solitary Realisers, those who practise the individual vehicle.
The extraordinary intention is similar to being in the position of saving someone from falling off a cliff, where you feel responsible to save the person. In the same way, when you feel a deep sense of responsibility for eliminating the suffering of all sentient beings and for giving them all the happiness they wish for, that is the extraordinry intention. It can also be called the "exceptional attitude" or "universal responsibility".
The next step is the actual generation of bodhicitta, also called "the generation of the mind". This comes by reflecting, "Do I really have the capacity to accomplish this goal of eliminating all the suffering of sentient beings and bringing them to happiness? Actually, at this point I can't accomplish that even for one sentient being. And if I check who does have the complete capacity to accomplish this goal, it is only the Buddha. Only the Buddha has the right qualities, because of his power, his knowledge, and his capacity to accomplish spontaneously the benefit of all sentient beings." At this point you have to reflect on the qualities of Buddha as a worthy object of refuge, as you did in the lam-rim meditation of the individual of the small scope.
Following this, you generate the thought that you will accomplish the benefit of all sentient beings by achieving the qualities of the Buddha yourself. This means that you generate the mind of bodhicitta, thinking, "I must achieve the supreme enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings." This wish to become a Buddha is not just to abandon whatever has to be abandoned in order to achieve the complete purpose for yourself. Previously you generated great love and great compassion in order to achieve the benefit of all sentient beings, therefore it is for that purpose that you now generate the wish to become a Buddha.
You must also check: "Am I actually able to do it?" Yes, you are definitely in a position where you can become a Buddha for the benefit of all sentient beings. In fact, there is no better situation than the one you are in now. You have a precious human rebirth, and you have met perfect teachers and the Mahayana path. This means you are actually in the best situation to achieve Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Furthermore, you have met the perfect teachings of the great Lama Tsongkhapa. By relying on these incredible teachings, many practitioners of the past, on the basis of having achieved a precious human rebirth, were able to achieve the supreme realisation in that very lifetime. Some individuals, such as the omniscient Gyalwa Ensapa, were able to achieve this realisation in an even shorter period of time—twelve years or even three years. These practitioners had the same basis—the precious human body and other conditions— that you now have. Therefore you should feel a sense of confidence in having the basis that enables you to become a Buddha.
The contrived form of bodhicitta—the experience of bodhicitta which arises through effort—is known in Tibetan as "the bodhicitta which is like the outer layer of the sugarcane". The uncontrived form of bodhicitta is when the thought of wanting to achieve supreme enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings arises spontaneously in your mind as soon as you meet any sentient being, no matter who he or she is. Having the uncontrived, effortless experience is the sign that you have achieved the actual realisation of bodhicitta. And once you have generated the realisation of bodhicitta, you earn the name "Child of the Victorious Ones".
This concludes the explanation on how to generate bodhicitta by way of the seven-point cause and effect instruction.
1. The implication here is that the mind of the newly-conceived child is the continuation of the mind of a previous life, which in turn came from another life, and so on without beginning. [Return to text]
2. In the small scope section of the lam-rim, one imagines being reborn in the lower realms so as to generate a healthy fear and the determination to avoid such rebirths by taking refuge and living in accordance with the law of karma. [Return to text]