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 Teachings: Bodhisattva Attitude

How to Dedicate Your Life to Others 75

The verses in chapter 1 are from the great bodhisattva Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, and are to be recited first thing in the morning after you have generated a bodhicitta motivation for life. They explain how you are going to dedicate your life to others by cultivating the bodhisattva attitude. We need this kind of attitude in order to open our minds toward others when working at a center, in the family, in the office, in the government and everywhere. If you can generate this motivation in the morning and then try to live in it throughout the day, your life will become really wonderful. This is the best practice.

It is very good to recite all the verses if you can. If not, you can recite the shorter version, which is the last three verses, from “Like a wish-granting jewel,” or the last two, from “Just like the sky.”

Giving

I shall give away fully with no sense of loss
My body, enjoyments and all merits of the three times (past, present and future)
To accomplish the work for all sentient beings.

The “work” to be accomplished for all sentient beings is the hap­piness of this life and all future lives, liberation from samsara and enlightenment. For that purpose you are “giving away” your body, enjoyments and all your merits of the three times—past, present and future. That doesn’t mean you are going to throw them in the garbage! It means you are completely offering every­thing to sentient beings from your heart without any attachment, miserliness or even the slightest feeling of sadness or loss. You give everything with a completely happy mind, just as you would give to the friend closest to your heart or to the person who has been kindest to you in your life, like your parents, who dedicated their lives to take care of you for so many years since your con­sciousness was conceived in your mother’s womb.

It says here that you are going to give like that to “all” sentient beings. It doesn’t say “except for my enemy and those people I don’t like—who I hate even to see or remember.” It says “all.”

When you recite this verse, it is excellent to do the meditation on taking and giving (tong-len) so that it is not just left as words. That is a most amazing practice. In tong-len there is tong-wa “giving” and len-pa “taking.” Here it doesn’t actually talk about “taking,” it just mentions “giving;” but if you wish you can first do the practice of taking and then do the giving.

The “taking” is taking on the suffering and causes of suffer­ing of numberless sentient beings, along with the suffering of the places where they live. For example, in the hell realms there is the suffering of the burning iron ground, the weapons, the unbelievably huge cauldrons, the extremely hot molten hard-iron,76 the iron burning houses with no doors or windows, and the ice mountains. Once beings are born in the hell realms they suffer for many billions, zillions and trillions of years—a most unbelievable amount of time—until the karma finishes. Then another karma ripens and that has to be experienced for many billions and billions, zillions and zillions of eons until it finishes; and so it goes on. So take into your heart not only the suffering and their causes but also these terrifying places. Think that they melt into smoke, pollution or whatever form is most effective to destroy your ego and absorb to your heart, destroying your self-cherishing thought.

Each time you take on the suffering and causes of suffering from the numberless hell beings, think they achieve the state of dharmakaya, which is beyond suffering. Do the same for the hungry ghosts, animals, humans, suras, asuras and intermedi­ate state beings. When you do this from the heart many eons of negative karma get purified.

When you give, start by giving all your numberless past, pres­ent and future merits. Then give all the resultant happiness that comes from these merits all the way up to enlightenment. After that, give your body in the form of a wish-granting jewel. Then give all your enjoyments, material possessions, the people around you, friends, family, even your children, father, mother, brothers and sisters—everything. Make charity of whatever you have to all sentient beings just as the Buddha did.

My root guru His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche used to say that you cannot give your body to sentient beings in its ordinary form. You should visualize it as a wish-granting jewel and offer it like that, thinking they receive everything they want from it. This is different from chöd practice. In chöd, there is the white distribu­tion and the red distribution. In the red distribution your body becomes mountains of flesh, blood and bones and you make charity of that to the spirits. However, in the taking and giving practice, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche advised to visualize your body as a wish-granting jewel. I think the idea is that sentient beings can receive everything they want from a wish-granting jewel. Visualize not just one small jewel but the whole sky filled with your body transformed into numberless wish-granting jewels as huge as mountains.Think you are giving to every sentient being whatever they need.

First, give everything to the numberless hell beings; think they received it and they own it. Then give to the numberless hungry ghosts; to the numberless animals and insects; to every human being; every sura; every asura; every intermediate state being; every arhat and every bodhisattva who is free from samsara. Normally we only talk about the six realms, but here we can offer to the arhats and bodhisattvas who are free from samsara, thinking that it helps them to complete the path and become enlightened.

Offer everything to each one of the numberless sentient beings; think they received it and that they own it. It is very good to think that it belongs to them—not that you have given it away but it is still yours. Thinking it belongs to them cuts the self-cherishing thought and the selfish mind.

Next, think that by receiving all these things the sentient beings achieve a pure land where there is no suffering—pure means no suffering—and where they can attain enlightenment. Numberless hell beings achieve a pure land where there is no suffering and only beauty. It is filled with wish-granting trees and whatever they wish for happens.Then numberless hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings also all achieve a pure land. You can also elaborate and think that they all receive a perfect human body, meet the Mahayana teachings and find a perfectly qualified guru who can reveal the path to enlightenment.

The conclusion is that by offering all of this to the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings, they all actualize the complete path to enlightenment in their hearts and are liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering along with all gross and subtle defilements. Then every hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human being, sura, asura and intermediate state being becomes enlight­ened in the form of the deity you are practicing. Rejoice that you have brought them all to the state of enlightenment.

This taking and giving meditation is a most amazing practice. It is the quick way to achieve enlightenment. Even just by doing this meditation once, you become rich in merits and make yourself the most fortunate, lucky person. When you take on the numberless hell beings’ sufferings along with the causes of those sufferings, you collect numberless causes of enlightenment, numberless merits. It is the same when you take on the sufferings of the numberless hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. When you do this practice, you collect seven times numberless merits, or numberless causes of enlightenment. Can you imagine?

Then each time you give your body as a wish-granting jewel to numberless hell beings, you collect numberless causes for enlightenment. It is the same when you offer your possessions and your merits.You have so many belongings and by using them to make charity to the numberless sentient beings, you can collect numberless merits—the causes of enlightenment—with each one. Practicing this way causes the greatest success, enlightenment. By the way, it also causes liberation from samsara, the happiness of future lives and the happiness of this life.

I’m saying what can be done as you recite this verse, how to expand the practice and give everything. But if you can’t do all of this, at least do the meditation on giving, so that it is not just reciting words.

Death

By giving away all, I will be liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering
And my mind will achieve the sorrowless state.
Since I have to leave everything (at death)
It is best to (now) give it away to every single sentient being.

Here, the sorrowless state refers to liberation from all the oceans of samsaric suffering; and not only that, but also to the great liberation of enlightenment. The verse is saying that sooner or later you will die and at that time you have to leave behind everything: your material possessions, family, friends and even this body that you cherish more than numberless other sentient beings or any other precious thing. Even if you are a king with a great entourage, the president of a country populated by millions or just very wealthy with a jeweled palace made of diamonds and gold, you cannot stay forever. No matter how large your family or how great your wealth, no matter how powerful your army or how many bodyguards you have, no matter how beau­tiful the place or country where you live, you will have to leave everything behind. Only the bare consciousness goes to the next life. It is like pulling a hair from butter; the hair is extracted and the butter left behind. Therefore, since anyway you will have to give all these things away, it is best to now give everything to every single sentient being.

Bodhicitta means wanting to be used by others

Having given this body to sentient beings 77
To use however they want that makes them happy,
Whether they always kill me, criticize, beat me or whatever,
It is totally up to them.

This is saying, “I have given this body to be used by sentient beings in whatever way makes them most happy.” This is very, very important. You must have this thought to practice or to actualize bodhicitta. I often hear people say, “Oh, these people are just using me!” Even sometimes at meetings in our centers I hear this. That is because they are not practicing bodhicitta. One time I wrote a letter to a center saying, “Bodhisattvas want to be used by sentient beings.” That is what the bodhisattvas’ attitude is. They actually accept it. The worldly mind thinks that being used by others is bad, the worst thing, but bodhisattvas are most happy to accept this. If you want to achieve enlighten­ment, you have to practice bodhicitta, and this is exactly what the bodhisattvas’ attitude is.Their happiest practice is to be used by sentient beings. It is what they are always looking for.

I heard that Kadampa Geshe Potowa was always happy to find an opportunity to serve others. These are not ordinary beings; they have actualized bodhicitta, the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment, tantric realizations, all of that. Whenever other people asked Kadampa Geshe Potowa to do a puja for them, he was unbelievably happy to do so.

Our motivation should always be to be used by others for their happiness. If you are going to practice bodhicitta, this is what you have to accept. If what you want is to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and enlighten them, you need to achieve enlightenment. If you want to achieve enlight­enment, you need to practice bodhicitta. The bodhisattvas’ atti­tude is to always totally dedicate their lives day and night to be used by other sentient beings for their happiness. This is what they are seeking and wishing for all the time. You have to know that. If you feel like that, there is the opportunity to gradually become closer and closer to bodhicitta and have the realization. If you are able to change your mind into an attitude wishing to be used by others for their happiness, this is exactly what the bodhisattva attitude is.

Anyway, it says here, “I have given this body to be used how­ever they want for their happiness.”This is an incredible complete and total change of mind. It is very important to remember this— especially when somebody slaps you! When we do the Guru Puja every tsog day there is the practice of taking and giving:78

And thus, perfect pure compassionate gurus,
I seek your blessings that all negativities, obscurations
and sufferings of mother migrators
May without exception ripen upon me right now,
And that by giving my happiness and virtue to others
All migrators may experience happiness.

If you have been doing the meditation at that time, then you have already given everything away. If you left out the meditation and just recited the prayer without thinking of the meaning, of course there is nothing. But if you have been doing the meditation, then you have already given your body, your merits and everything to every sentient being many times. Therefore, it makes no sense to get upset when somebody gets angry at you or scolds you. It would be a very good examination if while you were chanting so beautifully about giving everything to sentient beings, somebody who was good at it came along and slapped you!

Once when Kyabje Khunu Lama Rinpoche was giving His Holiness the Dalai Lama an extensive commentary on Shanti­deva’s Guide in Bodhgaya, he told him this story. There was a man sitting meditating outside Tashi Lhunpo Monastery. A per­son passing by asked him, “What are you doing?” and he replied, “I’m practicing patience.” Then that person said to the man prac­ticing patience, “Eat kaka!” and he immediately retorted, “Eat it yourself!” His Holiness has told this story many times.

If you remember the taking and giving practice when some­body slaps you—wow! If you remember all the benefits that you receive from sentient beings—all the numberless past lives’ happiness, all the present life’s happiness, then liberation and enlightenment—it is most unimaginable. Even if you just think of enlightenment. Wow! There is no way to get angry back. There is no way you would take people to court. You only want to respect others and give them happiness in return. Since you have already given your body to be used by sentient beings in whatever way makes them most happy, when you see that they have found your body useful, it is unbelievable, most amazing, the happiest thing.

This is the reality, but if you listen to the advice of mundane worldly people who do not practice Dharma, then of course it will be different. If you listen to Western culture, which is based on anger and attachment, the advice will be totally opposite to the Dharma and totally opposite to bodhicitta. This point is very important.

Even if they play with my body,
Ridicule me, put me down or make fun of me,
Whatever they do, since I have given this body to them,
What is the point of retaliating?

This kind of attitude is totally completely opposite to the way people in the world live their lives. Worldly people think that if somebody harms you, you should harm them back immediately, even twice as much. If a person slaps you once, you should slap them back twice, ten times, even one hundred times in return. This is how they think; their attitude and behavior are totally opposite to bodhicitta.

Always meaningful for others

Let this body only do actions that cause no harm to others,
And whoever looks at or thinks of me,
May it never be meaningless for them.

This prayer is very important. You are praying to become wish-fulfilling for anyone who looks at or thinks of you, not only other people but even animals, insects and spirits. Just by seeing you, remembering you, hearing your voice, touching you, or whatever, may all their mental and physical sicknesses be healed, may they find faith and devotion in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and may they develop compassion, bodhicitta and the good heart, actual­ize the tantric path and achieve enlightenment.

Whoever focuses on me—
Whether with anger or devotion—
May that always be the cause for them
To achieve every success.

May all who say unpleasant things,
Harm, mock or make fun of me
Have the fortune to achieve enlightenment.

This is the bodhisattva attitude. Even if people get angry at you, make fun of you, criticize, beat or harm you, in return you pray for that only to become meaningful for them and the cause of whatever happiness and success they seek. It is most wonderful to pray like this. It would be very nice if somebody famous could make this into a song for young people to be drawn to and sing. Even just hearing the words and taking these ideas into their lives, would give them more methods, more psychology. All of this is the best and deepest psychology. It does not harm sentient beings, but only benefits and brings happiness to them, and sooner or later the result will be enlightenment.

No matter how others behave toward you, whether they think badly of you or harm you, in return you should pray to become wish-fulfilling for every sentient being, not only human beings but even animals and so on.

May I become a guide for those who are guideless,
A leader for those who are entering the path,
A ship, a boat and a bridge
For all who wish to cross (over water).

There are so many sentient beings, even amongst humans, who are guideless. They are guideless in Dharma and guideless even in worldly activities for the happiness of this life. Pray to become a guide for these numberless beings who need help.

May I become a beautiful garden for those who seek one,
A light for those who look for light,
Bedding for those who wish to rest
And a servant for all who want me as their servant.

Here, the word used for light is mar-me, which means “butter lamp.” Mar is butter and me is lamp, but it is referring to any kind of light. The idea is to become a light for anybody who needs one. Bedding includes a bed, blankets, pillows, everything. In the West there are big beds that you can roll around in and sleep anywhere.

There is no mention of being a toilet. Of course, it would be many thousands of pages if everything was mentioned, so I think Shantideva abbreviated. But if you want, you can pray to be a bathroom for those who need one. Especially when you go to Tibet, most of the time there is no toilet and you have to go outside to the “free bathroom.” Anyway, here we are training our minds in the bodhisattva attitude. Therefore, even if it is not mentioned here, you can pray to become absolutely anything that sentient beings need.

Then pray to become a servant for those who need one. That is a fantastic, most wonderful prayer. It is another total and complete change of attitude. Usually the ego wants other sen­tient beings to become its servant. You can use others who are numberless, but others can’t use you, who is just one. That is the self-cherishing mind’s dictatorship. It has no meaning and makes no sense. But when your mind thinks in this way—wanting to be used by others—you have such an incredibly joyful life. You have the happiest life.There is no unhappiness or depression.You are always so unbelievably happy to be used by others. You feel fortunate to be used by others. Can you imagine what it is like when your attitude has totally changed like that?

The means of living and the cause of happiness for numberless sentient beings

When there is no time to go through all the verses, just do these last three that cover everything. They are really very wonderful. Use them as a motivation in the morning and at other times. Remember them as you go through the day. It would also be good to chant them.

Like a wish-granting jewel,
A wish-fulfilling vase, powerful mantra,
Great medicine and a wish-granting tree,
May I fulfill all the wishes of sentient beings.

Here you are praying to be the “cause of happiness” for sentient beings.79 How? Various examples are given, starting with a wish-granting jewel.

If you have the merit to find a wish-granting jewel in the ocean, you clean it in three different ways, put it on top of a banner on the fifteenth day of the Tibetan lunar month—that night is usu­ally full moon—and put the banner on the roof of your house. Then whatever external enjoyment or material thing that you need, you just have to pray for it and it immediately materializes due to your good karma, merits and the condition of the power of that wish-granting jewel.

The wish-granting jewel is given as an example because it is the most valuable of external precious materials, but of course it can only give material comfort; it can’t give realizations or a good rebirth, and it can’t give liberation from samsara or enlighten­ment. Therefore, when you pray to become like a wish-granting jewel for sentient beings, don’t think only of giving them material things. Pray to be able to purify their negative karma, cause them to get a higher rebirth and stop reincarnating in the lower realms, and guide them to liberation from samsara and enlightenment.

Then pray to become like a “wish-fulfilling vase” for other sentient beings, so they immediately receive whatever happiness they think of, and to be like a “powerful mantra.” When some­body has chanted many hundreds of thousands or millions of mantras, they can succeed in everything they need to do to benefit others, whether it is healing sicknesses, controlling the weather, pacifying, increasing, controlling or wrathful actions. Therefore, pray to become like this for sentient beings.

“Great medicine” might be arura. There is ordinary arura, which is one of the three fundamental medicines; the Tibetan Medical Centre uses this to make medicine. Then there is real arura, which is extremely rare and can cure all sicknesses. That is what Medicine Buddha is holding. There is said to be real arura offered inside the heart of the Maitreya Buddha at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet as a relic. The statue is about four stories high and I heard that if you stand at the second level against the heart all your sicknesses are cured. Some medicines used to contain real arura. His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche had a medicine from Tibet containing real arura that had incredible healing powers when worn. Pray to become healing for sentient beings like this great medicine.

Then pray to become like “a wish-granting tree.” In the pure lands there are wish-granting trees and whatever you pray for is actualized immediately. It is great to pray to become like this for sentient beings.

In this text, which comes at the end of the chöd practice com­posed by the great lama Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, the last line of this verse is “May I become wish-fulfilling for sentient beings.” In Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, the last line is different.80

When you need to abbreviate the verses even more, you can just read these last two verses. Even that much is very good.

Just like the sky and the great elements
Earth, (water, fire and wind),
May I always be the means of living and the cause of happiness
For sentient beings equaling the limitless sky.

Here you are praying to become the means of living in so many different ways for the unimaginable number of sentient beings, like the earth and the other great elements.

The earth is used by sentient beings to make roads, build fac­tories and houses to live in, as fields to grow crops in, and in so many unbelievable ways for their happiness. Pray to be used exactly like that by sentient beings.This is an unbelievable prayer. Water is used for drinking, washing, sailing and for pleasure in so many different ways by sentient beings for their happiness. Pray to be beneficial and used exactly like that by others. Fire is used by sentient beings to cook, keep warm, heat cold places and so on. Pray to be used exactly like fire in so many different ways by sentient beings. Then pray to be used exactly like the wind, which sentient beings use for breathing or air conditioning; and like the sky, which they use for travelling and movement. Pray to be beneficial and to be used by sentient beings however they wish for their happiness, just like these great elements.

It says here, “May I always be the means of living and the cause of happiness” for others. That means not only when your mind is OK and you are in a good mood, but all the time, even when you are in a bad mood or depressed. You are praying to be used like this always and forever.

This bodhisattva attitude makes your life so beneficial and meaningful for sentient beings. You are praying to be used by others for their happiness however they want. The point is that this practice of bodhicitta is totally against the ego. It is totally opposite to the self-cherishing thought. It diminishes the self-cherishing thought and the selfish mind that hinder your achieve­ment of enlightenment, liberation from samsara, the happiness of future lives and even the happiness of this life. The selfish mind harms you and harms all sentient beings from life to life, and this bodhisattva attitude totally eliminates that.

At the end, I think it is very good to recite the prayer that His Holiness the Dalai Lama always explains when giving the bodhi­sattva wishing vows. It is not in this text but it is also from A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life.81

As long as space exists,
As long as sentient beings exist,
May I too abide and eliminate the suffering of sentient beings.

The bodhisattva attitude

By dedicating your life to others in this way, you can enjoy every day. There is always deep happiness in your heart instead of jeal­ousy and so many other sufferings. When you follow your ego, negative emotional thoughts and self-cherishing, even though nobody else tortures you, you are constantly tortured by attach­ment, anger and so on. You create so many problems and so much negative karma and then you suffer. You harm others and yourself and then you have to experience the result by again hav­ing so many problems. Your whole life goes by like this until one day death comes and that’s it; your life finishes in suffering.

With this bodhisattva attitude, you can enjoy life, because you experience it with Dharma by letting go of delusion, ego and especially the self-cherishing thought. You can live with inner peace and happiness, in deep joy and satisfaction by practicing Dharma. Then your heart is opened all the time day and night. You are able to help other sentient beings and yourself. All your activities are accomplished and you achieve enlightenment, ceas­ing all gross and subtle delusions and completing all the qualities of realization. You are able to liberate others from suffering and delusion and bring them to enlightenment.

If you can live your life in this way, with this total change of mind to the bodhisattva attitude, you will have deep happiness all the time. There will be no regrets now and no regrets in the future, just greater and greater happiness up to enlightenment. You will be able to help both yourself and others.

In the West, millions of people suffer from depression, but if you dedicate your life in the morning to numberless sentient beings, you will have unbelievable joy and happiness the whole day. Cherishing the I opens the door to all suffering, while cher­ishing others opens the door to all happiness. When you live your life every day for others, the door to depression, relation­ship problems and all such things is closed and instead there is incredible joy and excitement.

With the bodhisattva attitude you become wish-fulfilling for others. All sentient beings have been wish-fulfilling and kind to you since beginningless rebirths and now you become wish­fulfilling for them. From this, all your wishes for happiness will be fulfilled, even your wish to achieve liberation and enlighten­ment and to benefit others by causing them to have happiness in this and future lives, liberation and enlightenment. You will become the cause of all this for others. This is how to overcome all problems.

Recite this motivation in the morning and then during the day, if somebody gets angry with you, scolds or abuses you or says nasty words, whatever happens, remember this motivation. If you ask somebody for help and they refuse, remember this motivation. Then, instead of generating anger, delusions and all that junk and garbage, you will have great peace and happiness. The point is to generate this motivation in the morning and then remember it throughout the day, especially when something happens and there is the danger of harmful thoughts of anger, attachment and so forth arising. By remembering this motivation and keeping your mind in it, you will free yourself from creating negative karma. There will be so much peace and happiness in your life now, and in future the result will be enlightenment for you and for all sentient beings.


NOTES

75 This commentary is drawn from four teachings by Rinpoche: Light of the Path, 10 September (afternoon and evening) 2009; Most Secret Hayagriva Retreat, 14 March 2010; Chinese New Year, 14 February 2010, Amitabha Buddhist Centre; 21 October 2010, Shedrup Ling. [Return to text]

76 See note 48. [Return to text]

77 Rinpoche’s comment: “The term used here for sentient beings is lu-chen— ‘physical beings.’ lu is body, chen means having, so lu-chen refers to all sentient beings or to ‘those having a physical body.’ Probably it means ‘those who take birth under the control of delusion and karma,’ but I’m not sure why it is used here, because not every sentient being has a body. Formless beings don’t have a body and intermediate state beings don’t have a gross body. There might be a reason, but I haven’t seen it yet.” [Return to text]

78 V. 95.This verse is not Rinpoche’s translation; it comes from the FPMT Retreat Prayer Book. [Return to text]

79 See the next verse “May I always be the means of living and the cause of hap­piness for sentient beings equaling the limitless sky.” [Return to text]

80 Stephen Batchelor and Alan Wallace translate this verse (Guide, ch. 3 v. 19/20) with the additional prayer to become like a wish-granting cow. [Return to text]

81 Ch. 10, v. 55. [Return to text]