Practicing in Bodhgaya

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bodhgaya, India (Archive #1378)

In this teaching, Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains the benefits of practicing in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. Rinpoche also advises specific practices to be done while on pilgrimage and gives a detailed explanation of how to dedicate the merit.

Excerpted from a teaching given to a Russian group at Root Institute, Bodhgaya, India, on January 26, 2002. Edited by Trisha Donnelly and Sandra Smith.

The lamas with Western Sangha and Mount Everest Center students in Bodhgaya, 1974.

I think you are very fortunate to be able to make time to come to Bodhgaya, where one thousand buddhas will descend, place their holy feet, display holy deeds and achieve enlightenment. Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is the fourth of the thousand buddhas. The rest of the buddhas will also descend here and show the twelve deeds, including the holy deed of achieving enlightenment.

This place is called the Vajra Seat and the ground here is blessed. Before becoming enlightened, the Buddha blessed the ground so it would not be destroyed or cracked, but would remain firm. It is said that there will be no earthquakes in Bodhgaya, where Buddha showed the holy deed of enlightenment, and also, this will be the last place to exist when the world ends.

On top of that, you are receiving blessings from this holy place where the four buddhas already descended and where so many other enlightened beings, yogis and great bodhisattvas came for pilgrimage, to make many prayers and to bless this place. They came here throughout all those past years, for hundreds and thousands of years.

Therefore, it is very good while you’re here to do as many circumambulations and prayers as you can inside the temple in front of the Buddha and especially under the bodhi tree. Even though it is said that the bodhi tree was cut down three times it has the same roots as at the time of the Buddha, when he showed the holy deed and achieved enlightenment.

The great bodhisattva and pandit, Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen from Kinnaur, India—who gave extensive commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara to His Holiness Dalai Lama, but already passed away and reincarnated quite a few years ago—said that when he was circumambulating the stupa one day, something was seeping out of the tree. It was not the rainy season, it was dry, but something was leaking from the tree. He took one drop and put it on his tongue and it was sweet. Of course, he was a great pandit, a yogi, and in reality, it was nectar dripping from the tree while he was circumambulating. It was actually nectar and when he tasted one drop, it was very sweet.

Generally, people know there’s a Tara statue outside the stupa that spoke to Lama Atisha, but actually Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen said all the statues outside the stupa are the same; they all spoke to Lama Atisha when he was here circumambulating the stupa.

In the story you know that inside the stupa the paintings spoke to Lama Atisha. One of them asked the question, “What’s the quickest and best way to achieve enlightenment?” One female aspect answered, “The best and quickest way to achieve enlightenment is bodhicitta.” Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen said all the outside statues spoke to Lama Atisha, not only the Tara statue.

Of course, holy objects such as statues can speak to those who have pure karma and a pure mind, like Lama Atisha. As mentioned in the lamrim teachings by Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo and also in other teachings, the bodhisattva who has achieved the preparatory path, the path of merit, which has three levels—small, middle and great—those bodhisattvas who have achieved the great path of merit see buddhas in the nirmanakaya aspect. They see the statues in nirmanakaya aspect, so the statues speak to them.

The higher bodhisattvas who have actualized wisdom directly perceiving emptiness, who have achieved the right-seeing path, those arya bodhisattvas see the statues in sambhogakaya aspect. Of course, when they become enlightened, they see other buddhas as being oneness. When they become enlightened, they become oneness with all the buddhas, like water coming from the rivers, from many different sources, from different snow mountains, which goes into the ocean and becomes one. Even a drop that goes in the ocean becomes one. All the rivers, the different waters coming from different parts of the world, go into the ocean and become one, like that.

It is very good to use holy places as much as possible to purify your mind of the negative karmas and defilements, and to collect extensive merit, to plant the seeds of the whole path to enlightenment as much as possible.

Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen Rinpoche, the great bodhisattva, usually advised people to recite the extensive dedication prayer, the bodhisattva prayer called the King of Prayers, under the bodhi tree. He gave more emphasis to practicing under the bodhi tree than inside.

It’s also very good to recite any of the lamrim prayers, either based on Guru Puja or Lama Tsongkhapa Guru Yoga. As you recite the lamrim prayer, do meditation and make very strong prayers and requests to the Buddha to receive realizations of each stage of the path.

You should especially meditate on bodhicitta under the bodhi tree, either the seven techniques of Mahayana cause and effect or equalizing and exchanging oneself and others. Meditate on bodhicitta in either way or combine these techniques. To meditate on bodhicitta under the bodhi tree would be your best offering to the Buddha.

Also reciting the Heart Sutra and then doing a little bit of meditation on emptiness is very powerful.

To practice in the following way is also good. After you sit down, remember the kindness and qualities of Buddha, whatever you know and can remember. Buddha sacrificed his life, he made charity of his life for three countless great eons. He practiced morality, patience, perseverance, concentration, wisdom and so forth for three countless great eons, then he completed two types of merit—the merit of wisdom and virtue—and then he achieved full enlightenment and revealed Dharma to us sentient beings. All of this was done for sentient beings, for our benefit.

Think, “Buddha sacrificed his life and made charity of his limbs to other sentient beings for my benefit. That is unbelievably kind. He did this for one year, for one eon, for three countless great eons. He practiced morality, patience, perseverance and so forth for three countless great eons for me. He sacrificed his life and completed the two types of merit for me. He achieved enlightenment for me and revealed all these teachings for me. How kind Buddha is, like limitless skies. Buddha is that much kinder than all the rest of the buddhas. How kind he is to me, like limitless space, like the sky, kinder than all the buddhas.” Think like that a few times—ten, fifteen, twenty-one times—how Buddha is kind to you; think over and over like this, meditating on the kindness of Buddha.

Then recite:


To the founder, the endowed transcendent destroyer, the one gone beyond, the foe destroyer, the completely perfected, fully awakened being, perfect in knowledge and in good conduct, sugata, knower of the world, supreme guide of human beings to be tamed, teacher of gods and human beings; to you, the completely and fully awakened one, the endowed transcendent destroyer, the glorious conqueror, the subduer from the Shakya clan, I prostrate, make offerings and go for refuge.

Recite the Buddha’s name, which expresses all the Buddha’s qualities, maybe twenty-one times. Then visualize nectar emitting from Buddha and entering into your body and mind, purifying you and all sentient beings.

After reciting the Buddha’s name, if you have any prayers praising Buddha—like the praise to Buddha written by Lama Tsongkhapa called Dependent Arising: A Praise to the Buddha, having found the realization that all phenomena are unified with emptiness and dependent arising—it’s good to recite that praise to the Buddha if you have it.

After that, Buddha melts into light and absorbs into you, and you become empty, as it is, empty. Then your wisdom seeing emptiness arises in the aspect of Buddha. Visualize the mantra at your heart, emitting beams. As soon as the beams touch the hell beings, instantly their negative karma and defilements are purified and they all become Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Similarly, beams are emitted to numberless hungry ghosts and, as soon as the beams touch them, all their defilements and negative karma are completely purified and they all become Guru Shakyamuni Buddha. Similarly, think that the numberless animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings all become Shakyamuni Buddha when touched by the beams. Then rejoice, “How wonderful that I have enlightened all the sentient beings into the essence of Buddha.”

After that you can do the dedication to actualize bodhicitta and by sealing it with emptiness, dedicate to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings.

You may not have this prayer, but there is a prayer that contains the stories of Buddha’s past lives, when he was a bodhisattva. Buddha became a king, and gave charity to others; he gave charity to a tiger family by sacrificing his life for them. If somebody harmed him, Buddha cherished that one most and in return gave only benefit. There are different prayers about Buddha in his bodhisattva times, and how he gave incredible benefit to other sentient beings. In the Tibetan text about chöd practice—chöd is slaying the ego, cutting the ego—at the end of that there’s a prayer which contains the bodhisattvas’ life stories, Jataka Tales. So that’s very, very good, very inspiring to pray to become like this, praying, “May I be able to practice like you, who did this.” It is very good to pray like this to the Buddha from the heart. Then you do the dedication.

Finally, dedicate the merits. “Due to all the past, present and future merits collected by me and the three time merits collected by others, may the bodhicitta which is the cause and source of all happiness for myself and for all sentient beings be generated within my mind, in the minds of my family members and in the minds of all sentient beings, without delay of even a second, and may that which is generated be increased.”

Make very, very strong prayers. Especially these days, the world is suffering even more than usual with so much killing and so many wars between countries. There is so much torture and unbelievable suffering happening in the world due to the turmoil of the negative emotional minds of anger, desire and the self-cherishing thought. So it’s very important to make strong prayers to actualize bodhicitta within oneself and in the mind of all sentient beings; to make strong prayers and dedicate the merits for that.

If we dedicate the merits to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings, it’s like putting a drop of water in the ocean. We can enjoy the drop all the time and it never finishes because it’s mixed with the ocean. Until the ocean finishes we can always enjoy it. If we dedicate the merits to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings it becomes inexhaustible, just as a drop of water put in the ocean becomes inexhaustible.

When we dedicate the merits, dedicate not only what we collect now, but also all our past, present and future merits, and the three times merits collected by numberless sentient beings. Put it all together. Particularly, there are numberless bodhisattvas who collect limitless skies of merit in every second because their motivation is bodhicitta, in order to benefit all sentient beings without discrimination. Whatever action they do, every second they collect limitless skies of merit; even each in- and out-breath is for the benefit of all sentient beings, so they collect limitless skies of merit each time.

Dedicate like this, “All my three times merits and all the three times merits collected by sentient beings, particularly all the bodhisattvas’ and buddhas’ merit, the appearance of which is a hallucination….” The merit appearing to us is empty, all these merits appearing as truly existing from their own side are totally non-existent, empty in reality. Then, “Due to that, may I…” When we think “I,” how does the I appear to us? It doesn’t appear as merely labeled by mind, it appears as not merely labeled by mind, which is the very subtle refuting object of the Prasangika Madhyamika school. This is totally a hallucination; it is totally empty.  “May I achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment….” Think of enlightenment. How does enlightenment appear to us? Similarly, we think it’s not merely labeled by mind, we think enlightenment exists from its own side, but it is a hallucination, it’s empty. Then, “all sentient beings,” when we think of all sentient beings, how do they appear? Again, even though they are merely labeled by mind, they appear to us as not merely labeled by mind, so again that is a hallucination, empty. “Lead them to that enlightenment, which is empty,” Guru Shakyamuni’s enlightenment is empty, and “…by myself alone,” again it seems like a real one coming from there, but it is a hallucination, it’s empty. So while we are dedicating we meditate on the emptiness of each one, each phenomenon, and in this way it becomes perfect, pure, stainless dedication.

There are two things to explain about the dedication. When dedicating merit we collect, whether small or great, to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, by putting together our and others’ merits, it becomes inexhaustible both ways. If a virtuous action is not done with bodhicitta nor dedicated to achieving enlightenment, it can be destroyed completely when anger arises. But merit dedicated to achieving enlightenment can’t be completely destroyed when anger arises; the merit is only made weaker, it becomes less. It’s like a huge mountain—if we take many trucks of stones from the mountain, it becomes less, but still the big mountain is there. Similarly, merit dedicated to achieving enlightenment for sentient beings becomes less [if anger arises] but cannot be completely destroyed. This is mentioned in a sutra and also by Pabongka quoting the sutra. So there’s a great advantage and even if anger arises, it can make the merit less but cannot destroy it completely. This is the method to protect the merit from becoming less, from being destroyed (here “destroyed” means less, making weaker.) At other times it can be completely destroyed if it is not dedicated to achieving enlightenment and is not done with bodhicitta motivation.

Now here, the protection, the best method for protecting the merits is to dedicate the merits by sealing with emptiness. The way to do that is either by looking at everything as empty or by meditating on dependent arising as we go through each phenomenon as merely labeled. Think, “Due to the three times merits which are merely labeled by mind, may I, who is merely labeled by mind, achieve Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s enlightenment, which is merely labeled by mind, to lead all sentient beings, who are merely labeled by mind, to that enlightenment, which is merely labeled by mind, by myself alone, who is also merely labeled by mind.”

If you dedicate the merits by meditating on subtle dependent arising you reach the same conclusion. Either use that method or meditate on emptiness by looking at everything as a hallucination, as your hallucinated view, as I mentioned before. What appears to you as existing from its own side is a hallucination; you look at the hallucination as a hallucination and that brings the conclusion that it’s empty.

As I mentioned before, you can dedicate the merit either way, by meditating on their nature as subtle dependent arising or by looking at the hallucination as a hallucination. When you look at it like that, the effect in your heart is “empty,” in your heart that is empty. So, if you dedicate the merit by meditating on emptiness, the merit is protected, and then if anger or heresy arises it cannot destroy that merit.

If you dedicate the merit to the spread of Buddhadharma, for Buddhadharma to exist for a long time and spread, that includes everything; however, dedicate for the Buddha of Compassion, His Holiness Dalai Lama, the one object of refuge for all us sentient beings, and for the other virtuous friends to have a stable life and for all their holy wishes to succeed immediately. You can dedicate like this, “May His Holiness Dalai Lama, the Buddha of Compassion, and other holy beings have long lives and may the Buddhadharma and especially Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings exist for a long time and be spread.” It is very important to pray for their long lives.

Then dedicate the merit according to the condensed verses of the extensive bodhisattva’s prayer, the King of Prayers: “I dedicate all the merits to be able to follow the holy extensive deeds of the bodhisattvas Samantabhadra and Manjugosha.” And then, “I dedicate all the merits in the same way as the three times buddhas and bodhisattvas, as they admired that the most.”1

After that, dedicate for Lama Tsongkhapa’s teaching to be completed within your own mind and in the world. You can also dedicate that your family members meet and completely actualize the teachings. Dedicate particularly for Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings to spread in the world, to exist for a long time and to spread. Dedicate the merits like that.


1 In order to train just like
The hero Manjushri who knows reality as it is
And just like Samantabhadra as well,
I completely dedicate all this goodness, just as they did.

With that dedication which is praised as greatest
By all the buddhas gone to freedom in the three times,
I, too, dedicate all my roots of goodness
For the attainments of the bodhisattva practice.

(- King of Prayers)  [Return to text]