The Nectar of Bodhicitta

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

This book presents Lama Zopa Rinpoche's teachings on bodhicitta, the mind of enlightenment, based on verses from two inspiring bodhicitta texts, The Jewel Lamp: A Praise of Bodhicitta, by Khunu Lama Rinpoche, and A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, by Shantideva. It has been compiled and edited by Gordon McDougall. This book is now available in print and digital formats and as a free audiobook on Google Play.

Khunu Lama Rinpoche
1.4 The Unending Benefits of Bodhicitta

Our ability to be of assistance to others comes, of course, from our desire to help them. With a mind of bodhicitta we can be of the greatest help. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[23] When those wishing to help others
Check up with their great compassion
What the greatest benefit can be,
They discover that bodhicitta is the best.

We don’t have to investigate too deeply to see that every living being only ever wants happiness and to avoid suffering, and of course, that includes ourselves. How can we achieve this for ourselves and others? There is only one way, and that is by cultivating bodhicitta. Therefore, for our own benefit as well as for the benefit of others, we need bodhicitta. Of this Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[12] If you desire to benefit others
You should cultivate bodhicitta.
If you desire to benefit yourself, to take the joyous path,
You should cultivate bodhicitta.

Where all other methods ultimately fail is that they do not recognize the actual method to gain real peace. Many are good at developing great calm or a sense of contentment, but real peace is more than the suppression of suffering; it is more than the temporary absence of disturbance. Without bodhicitta, we can gain some happiness but not the total happiness of enlightenment.

It is virtually impossible to practice bodhicitta in any other realm than this one because of deep ignorance. The beings of the other realms have almost no opportunity to practice any degree of selflessness or to practice any Dharma at all. In the three lower realms the suffering is so intense that there is no freedom to think of any other being, but even in the god realms where there is incredible pleasure there is no freedom to practice in this way. They live in the most wonderful environment, with glorious palaces of lapis lazuli and precious jewels, and pleasure parks full of trees, and flowers more beautiful than we could believe. Their life is totally pleasurable, without the slightest trace of effort. And yet they are intoxicated by this pleasure and unable to create any positive karma at all.

Only we human beings, with our mixture of suffering and happiness, have the chance to go beyond self-interest. We are in such a precious situation, where the Mahayana teachings exist and we have the chance to practice them. Although we have still not fully developed the altruistic mind, we have the potential to do so and are working toward realizing that potential. This is a truly rare state.

Working for the welfare of others, we are also working for our own welfare. Practicing Dharma in order to attain the realizations that lead to full enlightenment also ensures that we can enjoy temporal pleasure. We can see this easily. For instance, a person who has a generous, loving personality has far fewer problems in life than somebody who is selfish and mean. People are always willing to help those who help others. This is commonsense. Life is easier and there is far less confusion. People who help others are always respected and even though they might not care about having a good reputation, one comes to them naturally.

On the other hand, selfish people create all sorts of problems for themselves and others. Life is confused and troublesome, and because others don’t like them they rarely get what they want from people. They create conflict in the family and in the community. For such people, even gaining some temporal happiness is very difficult. Therefore, working for others is the best method for working for ourselves, and the supreme way to work for others is with bodhicitta. With bodhicitta we have the complete understanding of how to best help all other beings.

How can we bring peace to all beings, a total absence of disharmony, conflict and war, while we ourselves still have confusion and partiality? We might try many methods to help others but we are never able to distinguish the most effective methods. We are indecisive and doubtful because there is still the element of self-cherishing in what we do and hence our own interests conflict with the interests of others. With bodhicitta there is no conflict. What the others want and what we want are in complete accord, making them happy and making us happy.

The very first priority in gaining bodhicitta is ensuring that we have another perfect human rebirth in order to continue our journey. That requires, first and foremost, entrusting ourselves to the Three Rare Sublime Ones: the Buddha as our peerless guide, the Dharma as our route out of suffering and the Sangha as our helpers along that route. Taking refuge in these Three Rare Sublime Ones is a necessary step to freedom. Even saying the refuge prayer has incredible power.

There is the story of a thief who was tricked into taking refuge. One day a thief saw somebody offering a fine piece of cloth to a meditator. Determining to steal it he followed the meditator to his hermitage. When he looked through the small hole in the wall where people could offer food, he saw the cloth on the meditator and he demanded it. The meditator said he just had to reach through the hole for the cloth if he wanted it, but when he did that the meditator grabbed both his hands and tied them to a pillar. Then, while the thief was trapped with his hands inside the room and his body outside, the meditator came outside and beat him with a stick, saying the refuge prayer over and over again, and making the thief repeat it. After each repetition, he hit him a little harder. The thief was so scared he ran away, without the cloth of course.

As he was returning home, night fell and he had to shelter under a bridge, but it was a place known to be very dangerous, with harmful creatures, hungry ghosts and spirits roaming about. Because they congregated under the bridge people always avoided it. The thief was terrified. He found a small cave nearby and huddled inside, thinking he would definitely be killed. Unable to think how he could save himself, he remembered the refuge prayer the old meditator had made him recite. He was very pleased and started to repeat the prayer, again and again, all night long. He thought how fortunate that there were only three refuge objects. If there had been more, he would have received even more beatings and he would have been even more bruised and exhausted. He repeated the refuge prayer until morning and that night not one spirit came.

He was saved, not because of the words he said, but because he said it from the heart. Just speaking the words has little effect, but really taking refuge from the heart saves us from all harm. It’s like asking a reliable guide to show us where to go when we are in a new country. If we trust them completely we won’t get lost, but if we say we trust them but have our doubts and don’t follow their advice, then we find ourselves having all sorts of problems.

Even taking refuge in one of the Three Rare Sublime Ones, such as having great faith in one member of the Sangha, can save us from rebirth in the lower realms, therefore, of course taking refuge in all three is even more powerful. Taking refuge is vital throughout our life, but especially when we die, because whatever ripens at the moment of death determines our next rebirth. If we can die with refuge, we are assured a favorable rebirth.

Bodhicitta cannot happen without refuge and enlightenment cannot happen without bodhicitta. Until we attain freedom from suffering we will always need the help of others, the buddhas, the bodhisattvas and the great masters who can show us the path. This is why we need refuge until we actually attain enlightenment. Only then are we self-supporting. “Self-supporting” is a term used in Buddhism to mean we have transcended the need for help from others. This is different from the worldly meaning of self-supporting, which is what people think of when they believe themselves to be independent, with a job and a home and a bank account. To be self-supporting in the Buddhist way is to have attained at least the cessation of suffering, where we no longer have to rely on others to help us be free. The ultimate self-support, of course, is enlightenment, the state where we are totally free from the subtle dualistic mind, and the ultimate tool to gain that is bodhicitta.

A bodhisattva progresses through many levels, but even as a new bodhisattva they have the ability to benefit countless beings. The higher the level of attainment the greater the benefit, until the state of buddhahood is attained, and then the benefits are infinite. At the moment it is difficult for us to help others gain success in their quest for happiness and the avoidance of suffering because we have yet to achieve that ourselves. The benefit we can bring to others is limited. Not only that, even unintentionally we are bound to harm others in small or large ways because we are still not skillful in our methods. With bodhicitta, however, because our mind spontaneously and continuously only works for the benefit of others, we can avoid all harm and our ability to help will be much greater.

Bodhicitta helps us in every positive endeavor we have: helping ourselves, helping others, helping to spread the Dharma, and of course attaining all the realizations on the path. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[26] If you wish to help yourself, generate bodhicitta.
If you wish to help others, generate bodhicitta.
If you want to serve the Dharma, generate bodhicitta.
If you wish the path to happiness, generate bodhicitta.

[216] With bodhicitta your own purpose is accomplished.
With bodhicitta others’ purposes are accomplished.
With bodhicitta you free yourself from the cause of fear.
With bodhicitta you find the antidote to delusions.

Besides helping ourselves and others, Khunu Lama Rinpoche adds that we should develop bodhicitta if we wish to serve the Dharma, free ourselves from all delusions and generate the path to happiness. Serving the Dharma does not necessarily mean working for a Dharma center or something like that; it can be whatever we do in our daily life. No matter what we do, we can transform our attitude and do it with a mind that cherishes others rather than one that works for our own wellbeing alone.

The selfish mind wakes in the morning with the thought, “I am going to work for my own happiness. I must have breakfast then go off to work to earn lots of money so I can have a comfortable life. This is what life is all about.” Instead of that, instead of keeping busy day and night running around trying to fulfill the wishes of the self-centered attitude, concerned only with our own mundane happiness, we can work for others. With such a precious human body, to do anything less is shameful; it’s kind of disgusting when we think about it. Working for others, living our lives with the three principal aspects of the path—renunciation, bodhicitta and right view—whatever we do will be of great benefit to others. Whether we are the director of a Dharma center or we work in the city, we will only be helping others.

Then, there will be fewer problems at work. We will no longer create any negative karma in our relationships with others. Everything will be highly beneficial. Instead of being in competition with others, trying to find ways to exploit them for our own ends, we will see ourselves as their servant, happy to do whatever will help them. If we are an employee, we think we are working to help our boss and our customers; if we are an employer, we think we are developing our company in order to help our employees and our customers. It’s all a matter of transforming our attitude. As Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[114] If you are concerned about stopping
The suffering of not just yourself
But of all sentient beings in the three realms,
Bodhicitta is the best method, one you should never renounce.

Whenever we do something generous, we should feel great joy that we are working on destroying the selfish mind and that we will definitely one day be free from it. In the same way, when we see that we are being mean, we can see how this is the opposite of the bodhisattva’s practice of generosity and determine to overcome it.

It is only due to bodhicitta that every sentient being can be free from the oceans of samsaric sufferings. That means if we have bodhicitta, this is what we must do. Even before the realization of bodhicitta, if we have effortful bodhicitta, it is amazing what we can do with such a motivation, by changing our self-cherishing to cherishing numberless other sentient beings. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[288] Sentient beings, who have been your mother and pervade the whole sky,
Are the cause of all your happiness and freedom from suffering.
Therefore, to free them all from the oceans of samsaric sufferings,
There is only bodhicitta.

For beginningless lifetimes we have only ever worked for one person—ourselves—and because of that we have never progressed on the path, whereas countless others, by renouncing the self and cherishing other sentient beings, have attained enlightenment. Those others, including Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, were once the same as we are now, suffering in samsara, and yet they have already become enlightened.

Meanwhile, we have continuously harmed ourselves, allowing our delusions to torture us. We follow the delusions thinking they will lead us to freedom but all they have done for us is give us every kind of suffering—not only sicknesses but every suffering in the six realms. There is no external thing that tortures us, only our own mind, thinking of samsara as pleasurable. We are like an insect flying into a flame, unable to see how hot it is, seeing it as something wonderful.

Every harm we have had to endure and every harm we have inflicted on other sentient beings, who are limitless like the sky, has come from the self-cherishing thought. Only by reversing this and cherishing others with the wonderful mind of bodhicitta can we overcome this.


With bodhicitta we can subdue our own mind and, by showing others the Dharma, we can help them subdue theirs. What sets bodhicitta above all other minds is that it covers all sentient beings equally. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[72] With bodhicitta you subdue your own mind.
With bodhicitta you subdue the minds of others.
With bodhicitta you respect everybody.
With bodhicitta you see everybody with equanimity.

Having generated bodhicitta, whatever we do only increases that altruistic mind. Listening to teachings, studying, doing retreat, teaching others, working, relaxing—every action becomes a bodhicitta action. If we have been criticized or even beaten by others, rather than becoming the cause of irritation as it is now, it becomes the cause to further subdue our mind and increase the compassion we have. Somebody can steal all our possessions, badly hurt us or even kill us, but no animosity toward that person will occur in our mind at all.

Not only will bodhicitta subdue our own mind, but also because we respect all others equally and because we treat all others with complete impartiality, we do not create the cause for them to be disturbed by us, and hence our own bodhicitta helps pacify them. By teaching or by example, we can lead them toward this precious mind, and of course, when they in turn attain it then their own minds will be thoroughly pacified.

I heard about a geshe from Ganden Monastery who illustrates this incredible impartiality that bodhisattvas have. Although he was never considered a particularly learned geshe he was known as being very simple and good-hearted and with a good understanding of Dharma. People were always happy to see him. He heard a commentary on A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life from the abbot of Namgyal Monastery, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s monastery in Dharamsala. After many years as gekö, the disciplinarian of the monastery, he left the monastery to try to live an ascetic life in solitary places. He moved from one area to another, always experimenting with the best way to attain the three principal aspects of the path, moving from one mountain to another, one forest to another, living with sadhus near Mumbai at one time and then moving to other holy places. During this time he was able to generate bodhicitta.

From Mumbai he went to Dharamsala at the invitation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was quite unique even among the more ascetic monks because he walked everywhere. When he got as far as Delhi, he wanted to see the wonderful statues in Tibet House, and it took him three days to walk there from where he was staying at the Ladakh Buddhist Vihara. That’s the way he traveled, walking the roads and simply dropping down anywhere when it was time to rest.

One day, there was so much rain that it became very uncomfortable. After checking, he was happy to discover that although his body was in a lot of discomfort with the wet, his mind was still very happy. He believed that renouncing negative karma means renouncing delusion, which means bearing whatever hardships are encountered.

When the rain finally stopped, he asked the women from a nearby village if he could use some branches to make a fire for some tea. Because he was a monk it was a moral downfall to take anything without first asking. Although the women agreed, when the owner of the land came out and saw what was happening, he became so angry that he beat the geshe with a stick and kicked him severely.

The geshe told me that after he was beaten he didn’t feel the slightest anger toward the landowner, and in fact felt incredible gratitude because the landowner had been able to benefit his mind hugely by the beating. He wanted to offer something to him to show his respect but, on reflection, decided not to offer the few rupees he had in case the other man might feel that beating people in general leads to getting money. When he later asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama about this, His Holiness more or less implied he should have offered the owner something.

His Holiness told the monk the story of Lama Serkhangpa, which means Lama Golden Leg. Once, when he was going around the villages for donations, he and his servants were attacked by robbers. They strung the lama up by the neck and legs and the head robber beat him severely, determined to see if Lama Serkhangpa really did have a golden leg. The shock of the attack was so severe that soon afterwards Lama Serkhangpa gave up his servants and went to a solitary place to do retreat. The unbelievable thought of renunciation came to him and he realized the shortcomings of samsara, all due to the beating the robber had given him. The other realizations of the path came quickly, and each time he remembered the great kindness of the robber. When he did, he put his hands together and thanked his guru, the robber.

This is how bodhicitta changes our life. Whatever the circumstance, whatever happens to us, if we place the other being above us, instead of receiving harm we only ever receive the cause to further subdue the mind. If we have bodhicitta, then just talking to somebody, let alone giving teachings, becomes incredibly beneficial and subdues the mind of the person we are talking to. Even just seeing someone with bodhicitta subdues others’ minds. When we ordinary sentient beings see a bodhisattva, we naturally feel great peace and happiness, like when we see the holy face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

For a bodhisattva, seeing all beings as equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering, all superficial differences fall away. Whatever race, color, sex, religion or social class the person has, whether law-abiding or a criminal, respected or reviled—whatever the external appearance is, each sentient being is absolutely equal in that fundamental aspect and each is equal in deserving respect. For the bodhisattva this thought of complete equanimity arises spontaneously and effortlessly.

Seeing all beings in equanimity, there can never be any thought of partisanship, where we wish to benefit one instead of another. We wish for the welfare of all beings absolutely equally. We learn to respect all, and conversely, because we respect all, we gain respect from all others. Of this, Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[31] Without discriminating between rich or poor,
Without discriminating between wise or foolish,
Without discriminating between higher or lower,
The bodhicitta that benefits all equally should be cultivated.

For a bodhisattva, all beings are worthy of compassion because all are suffering. Bodhicitta does not discriminate between rich and poor, wise and foolish. No matter how wise some beings seem or how stupid others seem, all are the same in wishing to be free from all suffering and the same in being unable to avoid it because of fundamental ignorance. The bodhisattva sees this and hence makes no discrimination but seeks the wellbeing of all equally.

Enlightenment is impossible without bodhicitta, and bodhicitta is impossible without total equanimity. As long as we have any partiality then we are withholding our compassion and care from one sentient being in order to help another. That is not bodhicitta. Therefore, like Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, we need to show respect and compassion for all sentient beings regardless of what they are like. Whether they had taken refuge in him or not, whether they believed in him or not, they still received his guidance. That is the kindness of the Buddha’s bodhicitta, which he received while he was training on the path.

A buddha comes from bodhicitta; bodhicitta comes from great compassion; and great compassion depends on understanding fully the suffering of each and every being—every hell being, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human, every demigod, every god, every intermediate state being. Therefore, it is upon the kindness of every sentient being that we develop great compassion, which leads to bodhicitta which in turn leads to full enlightenment. If we miss out one sentient being, we can’t achieve enlightenment, or to put it another way, we rely on every sentient being to attain enlightenment. Therefore, every single sentient being is incredibly kind. Every hell being is incredibly kind, every hungry ghost is incredibly kind and so forth. All beings are incredibly, unbelievably kind, incredibly, unbelievably precious. Every happiness we have ever enjoyed, are enjoying now and will enjoy in the future is only due to the great kindness of others. Therefore, isn’t it right to respect them in the same way we respect the buddhas and bodhisattvas?

This is explained in Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realization, in his seventy topics where he talks about the qualities of the Buddha. All the qualities of the Buddha are reliant on each sentient being. When we see an insect in the street, we should feel that our own enlightenment is dependent on that insect.

Shakyamuni Buddha worked hard for three countless great eons to attain enlightenment in order to be of most benefit to all other sentient beings. Once, he was a being just like us, and now we are on the same path he trod all those years ago. If we see all the actions we are doing to help others as another step on that path, then we are doing a bodhisattva’s actions. How amazing that is! How fortunate we are!

For a bodhisattva there is absolutely no difference between somebody giving away a billion dollars or offering the most beautiful clothes and food, and somebody with intense hatred hacking at the bodhisattva’s neck with a sword. The wish to help those beings will be exactly the same. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[263] You, bodhicitta, bring extensive benefits,
Not only to those who have helped,
But even to those evil beings
Who have done you great harm.14

When we become a bodhisattva we have transcended that partiality that sees one sentient being as a friend and another as an enemy. Even though all migratory beings have been friendly, antagonistic or indifferent to us countless times, we cherish them all equally, just as a mother loves her beloved child. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[169] Though other sentient beings have been friend, enemy or stranger,
Bodhicitta is the nectar that has one taste,
Showing all beings equal concern,
Like a loving mother for her only child.

This is a good analogy. Children can be caring or naughty. They can even hurt their mother terribly—always being disobedient, disrespectful, giving her a hard time, never giving her any peace, never helping in any way—and she will still love them. They can be cruel, without any loving kindness at all, but from the mother’s side she will still feel great affection for her child, seeing their behavior as like a disease that she wants to help cure in some way. Always concerned about the welfare of her one beloved child, all she wants is for her child to have happiness.

We use the example of the loving mother and her one beloved child because there is no other single example that can compare to this relationship. If the child is ill, maybe suffering from something like leprosy or dysentery, something that would repulse others, the mother feels no revulsion, only great love and compassion, and will do whatever is necessary to help her child. Day and night, she constantly thinks only of her child’s welfare. The bodhisattva feels exactly like that toward all the six realms’ sentient beings. Just as the loving mother will do anything to make her child happy, they will do anything for sentient beings to bring them happiness, no matter how they are treated.

For us ordinary beings, there is nothing higher to cherish than ourselves, but no matter how much we cherish ourselves, that is nothing compared to how much a bodhisattva cherishes all migratory beings. This includes those who help and those who harm, the friend and the enemy. Just as we think we are incredibly important and precious, the bodhisattva thinks all beings are incredibly important and precious, and a bodhisattva’s concern for others is incomparably greater than our concern for ourselves. Seeing how all other beings migrate from one suffering realm to another, always under the control of delusion and karma, without any freedom at all, bodhisattvas feel incredible compassion for all sentient beings in their heart.

When we have bodhicitta, even if all sentient beings were to rise up and attack us with hatred, that would not change how we felt about them. Even if a person were to change their attitude toward us, loving us one day and hating us the next, our attitude toward them would be unchanging. With bodhicitta, we don’t have a single enemy because we always have love for all beings, regardless of the external conditions. No matter what they do, our one concern is to bring them happiness, as if they were our one beloved child.


Khunu Lama Rinpoche contrasts a bodhisattva’s activities, whose benefits never end, with worldly activities, comparing the latter with the water tree15 that bears fruit only once. He says,

[17] After producing its fruit
The water tree cannot give fruit again.
Once bodhicitta produces a result, however,
It continues to increase ceaselessly.

As we enjoy the fruit of a water tree—a tree that grows in dependence on the element of water—it doesn’t increase, it decreases. This is completely different from bodhicitta, the inner all-wish-granting tree, where the more we enjoy the result, the more it increases.

Once the fruit from a water tree has been picked it produces no more; the crop can only be enjoyed once. In the same way, we have to work for samsaric pleasures before we can enjoy them, and then once they have been enjoyed, that’s it; the enjoyment is finished and there can be no more. The happiness we experience from the all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree, on the other hand, never decreases and only ever increases.

This is the huge difference between the external results we see in the natural world and the internal results. We should not rely on external results, the external enjoyments received from external crops, because we can never be finished with the work of trying to acquire such results. The inner crop we receive from the all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree is not like that in the slightest. We develop a good heart and because of that we gain true happiness. Because this happiness does not rely on external, unreliable objects, it does not naturally diminish in the way worldly happiness does.

This all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree causes us to turn away from meaningless work, the endless work of the external crops. This is something we need to start straight away, not in five years’ time or when we have finished our university degree. Since we can’t even be sure we will be here at that time, we must start this work of sowing our inner crop now. Whatever we do we can turn into the cause of reaping the fruit of the all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree by always setting our motivation as a bodhicitta motivation. Whatever we do, we must think, “It is not enough to be free from rebirth in the suffering lower realms or even the upper realms. Most sentient beings are experiencing incredible suffering, and because they are the objects from whom I have received all my past, present and future happiness, I must repay them. Therefore, I must achieve enlightenment in order to lead them to enlightenment.”

The all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree bears endless fruit, even after enlightenment. Of this Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[13] Bodhicitta does not just give its fruit once or twice;
Its benefits increase unceasingly until the omniscient mind is attained.
Even after that, the bodhicitta rain continues from the water holder of the holy body,
Showering down benefits and nourishing the roots of sentient beings’ virtues.

“Water holder” means clouds, so another way of saying this is that an enlightened being brings the rain of the Dharma to all sentient beings, which allows them to develop their virtues. As we have just seen, the pure thought of bodhicitta means having the wish that all sentient beings attain enlightenment and hence the benefits from having such a mind don’t finish until we reach enlightenment ourselves. However, they don’t even finish then. Because a buddha works solely for all other sentient beings, the benefits of the bodhicitta developed as a bodhisattva continue and increase.

Upon reaching enlightenment the holy rain of Dharma falls from the buddha’s holy body (Skt: rupakaya). That means the buddha manifests in whatever way most benefits others, in the enjoyment body aspect (Skt: sambhogakaya) to benefit higher bodhisattvas, or in the emanation body aspect (Skt: nirmanakaya) to benefit ordinary sentient beings. Just as rain from the clouds nurtures the plants that bring us worldly happiness, the holy Dharma from the enlightened beings nurtures the virtues that bring us inner happiness, a happiness that always increases until we attain enlightenment.


Night is characterized by darkness, but it is really the inner darkness that we need to fear. Of this Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[24] The coolness of the moon stops the suffering of heat.
The sky jewel [the sun] dispels darkness.
They cannot be compared to bodhicitta,
The only means of completely dispelling the delusions.

This verse is contrasting the external powers and the internal power of bodhicitta. Just as the sun dispels the darkness of night, bodhicitta dispels the darkness of ignorance. In another verse, Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[15] The sun, the moon, a lamp and a flash of lightning
Can dispel the external darkness,
But how can they dispel the internal darkness?
Bodhicitta is what can help completely destroy the darkness in sentient beings’ minds.

These verses are very powerful in that they show how limited external powers are compared to bodhicitta. The sun, the moon, a lamp in the dark, even a flash of lightning, have the power to eliminate external darkness, but even if there were billions of suns in the sky as well as billions of moons and continuous flashes of lightning, they might be able to dispel all the darkness from the world but they wouldn’t have the power that bodhicitta has to destroy the inner darkness.

The best kind of light is the light of the Dharma, the wisdom and knowledge that illuminates the mind. By igniting the inner light within our mind, our inner darkness is destroyed. The Dharma has the power to do this, and of all the Dharma minds, the best is the mind of enlightenment, bodhicitta. Without relying on bodhicitta, we can never destroy self-cherishing and will therefore always have to rely on external factors to try to avoid suffering and attain happiness. When we light the lamp of bodhicitta in our mind, on the other hand, we can completely destroy the inner darkness of our afflictions. That kind of work is entirely different from samsaric work. At first, because we are unskillful and muddled, it will require effort, but once we have attained bodhicitta there is no longer any need for effort. All our actions will effortlessly benefit others and ourselves.

Khunu Lama Rinpoche also compares the precious mind of bodhicitta to a wish-granting jewel or to nectar.

[25] Bodhicitta is the moon of the mind.
Bodhicitta is the sun of the mind.
Bodhicitta is the jewel of the mind.
Bodhicitta is the nectar of the mind.

The external moon can cool and soothe our body after a hot day but can do nothing about our internal worries. The moon of the mind, bodhicitta, can calm our worries. And just as the external sun can warm us when we are cold and can help the crops grow, the sun of the mind, bodhicitta, can stop the cold of ignorance and help grow the crops of virtuous thoughts, which means the realizations from the very beginning of the lamrim path all the way to enlightenment.

The jewel of the mind is bodhicitta. As we have seen, a wish-granting jewel can bring us any material wish, but the happiness this can give is nothing compared to the happiness of nirvana and the sublime happiness of enlightenment. This jewel of the mind brings all happiness, including even a simple pleasure like a cool breeze on a hot day.

The nectar of the mind is bodhicitta. Here nectar means the very best medicine, that which has the power to cure all possible illnesses and to bring great bliss. External medicine can cure external illnesses, whereas the nectar of the mind can cure all the diseases of the mind, all the delusions, and hence cure all diseases forever.

The sun, the moon, the wish-granting jewel and the nectar of the gods are all examples used to illustrate the most valued of all phenomena, and yet even if we could fully appreciate the value of these precious things, there is no comparison at all between them and bodhicitta. Possessing them all is nothing compared to possessing a billionth part of the mind of bodhicitta because they can do nothing to eliminate our inner problems. Therefore, this most precious jewel of bodhicitta is the one thing we all need to obtain.

We all desire to have profit and to avoid loss, which means attaining happiness and being free from suffering. The achievement of bodhicitta is the greatest possible profit. Whether we have even heard the word bodhicitta, let alone understood what it is, this is what we are all craving.


For bodhicitta we need to purify

Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[57] Just as the wheel-turning kings do not go to impure places,
Bodhicitta cannot be realized in an evil mind.
If you wish to generate bodhicitta,
It’s necessary to purify your mind using the four remedies.

While there is self-cherishing in our mind, all the other delusions such as anger, covetousness and so forth will flourish, leaving no way for bodhicitta to develop. Khunu Lama Rinpoche compares this to the great wheel-turning kings (Skt: chakravartin), those kings who rule over the four continents16 using only the Dharma to guide the beings of those continents. These kings will not go to impure places.

Therefore, we need to root out and destroy all the negative emotions that we currently harbor. We need to purify our mind using the four remedies—the four opponent powers of the object, regret, resolve and remedy. Based on strong refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha and bodhicitta, we look at the nonvirtue we have committed and have a genuine feeling of regret, reflecting on the shortcomings of creating negative karma, how this causes incredible suffering for ourselves and others, and how it blocks our path to enlightenment. Seeing how damaging those actions have been we determine not to repeat them—the power of resolve—or, if that is unrealistic, to not repeat them for a feasible period of time like a week, a day or even a few hours. Finally, with the power of remedy, we do a practice, like a purification practice or mantra recitation. Any virtuous practice that we do is a remedy to our negative karma, and therefore this fourth power can be reading a text that explains emptiness, meditating on bodhicitta or any virtuous action of body, speech or mind. It doesn’t have to be a specific practice, as long as we base it on refuge and bodhicitta, combine it with strong regret and resolve not to do those negative actions again. While any Dharma action purifies our negativities, combining it with the practice of the four opponent powers makes it stronger and it becomes incredibly powerful.

The sword that cuts all afflictions

Bodhicitta destroys our delusions. In that way it is like a sharp knife that can easily cut down poisonous plants. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[41] Bodhicitta is like a sword
That cuts the stems of the afflictions.
It is the weapon that protects
All sentient beings.

To get through a jungle we need a very sharp weapon, like a machete. Our delusions are like a thick jungle of poisonous weeds and bodhicitta is that weapon. It alone has the ability to cut through all our delusions.

We ordinary people have all sorts of weapons in order to get what we want. To get rid of our enemies and take what they have, we have guns, knives, bombs and planes. Bodhisattvas also have a weapon and that weapon is bodhicitta. With this weapon they can acquire exactly what they want, a fully renounced mind and the full realization of the absolute nature, emptiness. Bodhicitta is the most powerful weapon. None of the external weapons of all the strongest governments—all the atomic bombs and rockets, all the billions of rifles and weapons—have any power at all to destroy our delusions and bring us happiness. Even if we detonated every atomic bomb in the world at the same time, this could not destroy or even diminish one single negative mind. External weapons can only bring harm to others, destroying others’ lives and peace, and even though they might make us physically safer for a while they will also destroy our peace because we invariably use them with hatred and anger.

While an external weapon may destroy the physical body of our enemy, it can do nothing to eliminate the actual enemy, which is our own hatred, triggered by our self-cherishing. As long as we have hatred we will have enemies and no matter how many we kill there will always be more. Even if we could destroy every other living being in order to be safe, the internal enemy would still be there and we would still suffer. Therefore, trying to find peace by relying on external weapons and controlling others is nonsense; it is something that has no end and only locks us into greater and greater suffering.

The internal weapon, bodhicitta, is completely different. The mind wishing only to benefit others sees the real enemy, the self-cherishing thought, and does what is needed to destroy that. The more we use the internal weapon of bodhicitta, the more peace there is in our heart, the more help we can give to others and the closer we get to our ultimate goal of enlightenment.

Destroying the self-cherishing thought is the same as destroying all the external enemies there could ever be. We don’t have to shoot even one being; we don’t have to insult one being or try to ruin their reputation. By destroying this inner enemy all external enemies are automatically destroyed at the same time because our external enemies come from the self-cherishing thought.

This is very easy to understand by simply relating it to our everyday life, to how much peace or confusion we experience based on how we see others. In our family, at work or with friends, when we cherish ourselves more than others there is more confusion, more conflict, more disharmony, more problems. At other times, when we have thoughts of loving kindness and compassion toward others, when we feel our happiness is less important than others’ happiness, there is less confusion, more harmony, more peace—in short, more happiness.

With the precious mind of bodhicitta we have a happy, controlled mind, free from dissatisfaction or attachment. Even if we suffer pain in some way the mind remains happy. Even if we receive criticism or something is stolen from our house, the mind remains happy. Living alone or living with others, the mind remains happy. With loving kindness, compassion, patience, we never feel we are fed up with others. We never think we would sooner live alone in a forest than deal with others.

I remember an Australian student telling me one day he was going to go into the bush—in Australia there is a huge amount of bush—and just walk and be alone, camping and making lemongrass tea. He was just looking for some peace. He wanted a new experience in life, but unless he took a good heart with him there wouldn’t be any chance of peace and satisfaction.

On the other hand, with bodhicitta it doesn’t matter where we go, there will always be peace and satisfaction. When we see ourselves as the servant of others, cherishing them more than ourselves, wherever we are there is happiness for ourselves and for them. We think, “My life is for others. The purpose of every breath is for others. Everything I do is for all other sentient beings, to serve them, to free them from all suffering, to lead them to enlightenment.” Because we have such an attitude, our problems naturally diminish and we are not troubled by the delusions of anger, jealousy and the like. Even if problems arise, they become weaker and weaker.

By destroying the self-cherishing attitude, we become the friend of every sentient being. There is nobody who doesn’t love and appreciate the good heart. Everybody likes to be helped, to be shown some kindness, to be made happy. Therefore, when we have bodhicitta we are protected from the harms of the world. Even evil beings will not harm us. Bodhicitta is the foundation that stops us harming others and stops others harming us because the nature of bodhicitta is cherishing others, wanting to benefit them. Therefore we don’t create any negative karma at all and consequently we can’t experience the results of negative karma. In this way we can bring peace to our family, our society and the world.

We won’t be free from samsara until we have destroyed our own fundamental ignorance, which means realizing the ultimate nature of reality. We are currently trapped in the delusion that things and events have their own nature, that they exist independently of other things, and the most dangerous mistake we make is to regard the I as a permanent, independent entity. From this basic wrong concept, all the other delusions flow—the three poisons of anger, attachment and ignorance, the negative minds like jealousy, miserliness, covetousness and so forth, in fact all the 84,000 delusions. To be free from samsara, we need to cut the very root of samsara, and that means a direct realization of emptiness.

The false sense of a permanent, independent I is what must be destroyed. It is not as if there is no I at all, but there is no I that exists independently of the base, which is the group of five ever-changing aggregates. How the I is seen to exist, what it is in fact empty of and why it is the root of our problems is a vast subject that dominates the debates of the four schools of Buddhist philosophy, each school having a more subtle explanation of emptiness.17 It is possible to study this subject for many years and know everything there is to know about it, and yet to actually have little benefit from it. This is something that has to be actualized at a heart level, not understood purely intellectually.

That’s why all the other subjects in Buddhism are equally as important as emptiness. Some people who don’t know the correct way of practicing Dharma have a mind so hung up on emptiness that they don’t bother to investigate the suffering nature of samara. Without having strong renunciation of samara, however much we meditate on emptiness our habitual nonvirtues can never be overcome. However skilled we become at explaining emptiness, there is no inner change and the old thoughts and ways remain, keeping us trapped in samsara forever. To escape samsara we must escape our habitual, self-centered thinking that places our needs before others’. This is why the renunciation of samsara and the realization of bodhicitta are every bit as vital as the realization of emptiness.

To realize emptiness, we need the incredibly subtle mind that combines the clarity of single-pointed concentration with the profound analysis of emptiness. We can’t do this without renunciation, and that can’t come while we are still chasing the wishes of the self-cherishing attitude. We need a huge reserve of positive energy—merit—to purify our defilements, and that can only happen by creating nothing but positive actions. Only then can we realize emptiness and cut the root of samsara.

How can we acquire all this merit and destroy all these negative imprints? The best and easiest way is to concentrate on the cultivation of bodhicitta. When we do that, everything else will flow effortlessly and quickly. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says of this,

[8] Even with Saraswati in your throat it is extremely difficult
To attain all success, but from the all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree,
Which grows from the water of love and the ground of compassion,
All wishes are obtained.

Saraswati is the deity of knowledge, music and science, and therefore to attain this goddess—to have “Saraswati in your throat”—is to easily achieve incredible wisdom. Any subject we undertake is easy; everything seems to flow without much effort. (Saraswati in Sanskrit actually means “she who flows.” Her Tibetan name, Yangchenma, means “melodious lady.”) Even so, it is difficult without bodhicitta to fulfill others’ wishes. With bodhicitta, on the other hand, it is incredibly easy, as exemplified by the all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree. Just as the wish-granting tree—the tree that has the power to grant all worldly wishes in the same way as a wish-granting jewel—grows from the earth and is nurtured by water, the all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree grows from the ground of compassion for all sentient beings and is nurtured by love. Attaining enlightenment without relying on bodhicitta is impossible, no matter how hard we try. If bodhicitta can bring about all the ultimate wishes of all sentient beings, which means liberation and enlightenment, then of course, as a byproduct, it can bring about all the temporary worldly wishes, such as happiness in this lifetime.

Usually the flight from New York to Delhi stops in London. We don’t plan this; it just happens. In the same way, we are planning to travel from where we are now to the most sublime happiness of enlightenment, and on the way, as a kind of stopover, we experience all the temporary, mundane enjoyments of this and future lives. Therefore, bodhicitta is the most skillful method for attaining all goals: mundane happiness, emptiness, liberation and full enlightenment.

The nectar of bodhicitta destroys the poison of self-cherishing

Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[108] How could a living being
Who possesses the ornament of bodhicitta
Ever have ill will toward others?
A bodhisattva abandons ill will naturally, without persuasion.

When we wear the ornament of bodhicitta there is no way we could ever harbor ill will toward any other being, no matter what that being might do to us. This is the power of bodhicitta. Our mind only ever thinks of benefiting other living beings, instinctively, spontaneously, without being told to do it. Destroying our own self-cherishing, we no longer harm others and because of that we are protected from harm ourselves.

The self-cherishing attitude is the creator of all hindrances. With it, we are constantly beset with problems; without it there can be no external problems because there are no internal disturbances.

With a good heart, not even the realization of bodhicitta, we have no enemies because enemies are self-created. Whoever we meet, they are only friends. Because of our good heart we induce goodness in others. With loving kindness, with strong concern for others, we influence everyone around us, softening others’ attitudes, bringing them to have thoughts of loving kindness. Rather than being ruled by self-interest and only creating negative karma by trying to grab what we want—and creating enemies and unpleasant situations in doing so—we only help others, protecting them from harm and in doing so we ourselves are protected from harm. Even extremely selfish people are influenced by our loving, caring attitude and become less selfish as a consequence.

A classic example of this is Lama Yeshe. Because of Lama’s great attitude of loving kindness and bodhicitta, people who met Lama, even though normally they might have quite a negative personality, became good people around him. Toward others they might still be quite negative, selfish, impatient, with uncontrolled minds, but in Lama’s presence they changed and were very loving to Lama and would never think of harming him. So, Lama never found an enemy, a bad person, because Lama himself had that personality, being kind to everybody, being concerned for everybody. In Lama’s kind presence, others naturally became kind. Just seeing Lama’s holy body, just hearing Lama’s holy words, their negative thoughts were subdued.

How we perceive somebody, as friend or enemy, is completely dependent on our own mind. How that person acts toward us, as a friend or enemy, is also up to us, up to our attitude. With a self-cherishing attitude we cultivate enemies, whereas by developing a mind of loving kindness and bodhicitta our world will be full of friends and we will never harm others or be harmed by them. This shows how extremely important it is to change our attitude from self-cherishing to cherishing others.

Whether we accept reincarnation or not, whether we accept the need for refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, we must accept this basic fact, that as long as we want happiness and to only have friends we must renounce self-cherishing, the creator of all hindrances. With a good heart, we are treated kindly. People wish us health and a long life and like us, regardless of whether we are wealthy or poor. Until we have attained bodhicitta, however, there will always be some problems, therefore it is vital to do whatever we can to cultivate this most precious mind.

Bodhicitta is like nectar that destroys the poison of self-cherishing. Of this, Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[257] When you have bodhicitta
You see self-cherishing as poison and stop it.
When you have bodhicitta
You see cherishing others as nectar and embrace it.

Because self-cherishing is the most dangerous thing, we ordinary beings must be incredibly careful in this samsaric environment. Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, can live in samsara without being poisoned by it. In the Wheel-Weapon Mind Training, the great yogi Dharmarakshita offers the beautiful metaphor of peacocks that feed on poisonous plants and are not only unharmed but in fact the glory of their tailfeathers is enhanced as a result. In the same way, samsara is poison for beings overcome with self-cherishing but bodhisattvas thrive on it, for here is the field where they can most quickly develop to full enlightenment. Dharmarakshita says,

When the peacocks roam the jungle of virulent poison,
The flocks take no delight in gardens of medicinal plants,
No matter how beautiful they may be,
For peacocks thrive on the essence of virulent poison.

Similarly, when the heroes roam the jungle of cyclic existence,
They do not become attached to the garden of happiness and prosperity,
No matter how beautiful it may be,
For heroes thrive in the jungle of suffering.18

No matter how beautiful the flowers and fruit of the plants in the medicinal gardens are, the peacocks have no attraction for them. Instead they eat the poisonous plants, thriving on what would make us sick, becoming healthy and magnificent as a result. Similarly, bodhisattvas shun a life of luxury and self-indulgence and thrive on working tirelessly for others, no matter how difficult it may be. These brave ones are not attracted at all by pleasure.

In the normal world, people think somebody is brave and heroic when they defeat an enemy and win the victory for themselves. In reality, selfishly taking something for yourself is creating negative karma, therefore that “hero” is a loser. Bodhisattvas are the true heroes, only ever performing actions to benefit others and never thinking of their own interests. They brave the dense jungle of samsara. In a thick jungle the sky is blocked by a tangle of trees and vines and getting anywhere is difficult and dangerous. Samsara is just such a jungle, filled with the forests of attachment, hatred and ignorance. The supermarkets and department stores are filled with the entangling forests of desire—the desire to buy and the desire to sell. Cities are full of the forests of anger, ignorance and desire. When we objectively observe people going about their busy lives in any city we will see they are stumbling through this jungle, their minds obscured as if by a thick fog. Even though it’s daytime it looks like night. Their delusions are so pervasive they can hardly see the sky.

When the brave holy beings enter this samsaric environment they are never tempted by the samsaric pleasures or material comforts they encounter—the beautiful gardens, the luxurious swimming pools, the expensive hotels—nor are they concerned with reputation or power. They see clearly the shortcomings of samsaric attractions, the suffering below the surface.

Just as the peacocks use the poisonous plants to enhance their beauty, bodhisattvas use samsara with all its sufferings to complete the practices they need in order to attain full enlightenment. They use whatever they encounter to develop these most precious qualities, the six perfections of charity, morality, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom.

For instance, when they experience hardship they use it as a means to enhance their patience. There are three types of patience: the patience of disregarding the harm done by others, the patience of accepting suffering, and the patience of gaining certainty about the Dharma.19 Protected by these three types of patience, bodhisattvas work tirelessly for other sentient beings, voluntarily taking on their sufferings and difficulties. Like the peacocks that become healthier and have more glorious colors by eating poisonous plants, bodhisattvas, by taking the sufferings and problems of sentient beings upon themselves, purify their obscurations and accumulate extensive merit. This causes them to develop their minds and achieve enlightenment more quickly.

At present we can’t eat poison and turn it into nectar. I think if we tried, we would be very sick. This reminds me of a particular plant that grows in the mountains in India and Nepal called datura. It’s often fatal if taken and if it doesn’t cause death, it can cause terrible hallucinations. It seems that goats can eat it and experience very pleasant effects, but not humans! Before the power of the drugs wears off, some people have very peaceful experiences, such as seeing a mandala, but many have very terrifying appearances, like seeing the ground turned into squirming worms, with everything moving.

I myself haven’t taken datura but an American student who spent six months in Lawudo, near Mount Everest, tried it. He had a tent and he used to move around to different spots on the mountain. At that time there was no electricity up there, but he had electricity by using a solar panel to store the electricity during the day. Inside the tent it was very pleasant. One time he put his tent on the roof of the rock above the Lawudo cave, but while he was sleeping, every time he moved his head his sleeping bag made a squeaking sound that annoyed the dogs that were around. There was one that thought he was guarding the center and barked so loudly that he awoke the American. Every time he went to sleep his sleeping bag squeaked, the dog barked and he woke up. He got incredibly angry with the dog, not realizing it was his own head on the sleeping bag that was the cause.

One day the student found some datura growing some distance away from Lawudo and decided to cook it in a pot. I knew nothing about this until he came to tell me all his experiences. He said he had almost died. When we saw him it was some days later, otherwise we wouldn’t have recognized him. He told us that after he had cooked and taken the datura he heard many noises, like people talking, and the whole ground started moving like everything was alive, like it had become creatures squirming everywhere. I think he had a very hard time. His mouth became very dry and his lips cracked. He managed to meet an Italian student who was retreating in a nearby village, who helped him recover from his frightening experience with the drug.

If he had known the effects of datura, of course he would have avoided it. Datura or any dangerous drug is nothing compared to the self-cherishing attitude, and yet we embrace self-cherishing like a priceless jewel. Bodhisattvas can see the poison of self-cherishing, but, unlike us, they can remain in samsara without being poisoned by it, like the peacock in the poisonous garden. We see the poison of working only for ourselves as nectar; bodhisattvas see working for others as nectar and, forsaking the bliss of nirvana, are able to bear whatever hardships, no matter how great, in order to benefit them. Seeing this, we need to do whatever we can to renounce our selfish attitude and likewise work solely for others.

Actually, comparing working for selfish concerns to poison is inaccurate because working for the self is far more dangerous than the most lethal poison. Poison can cause momentary discomfort, even agony, or at the most it can cut off our life, causing death. That is all. It has no power to destroy the achievement of ultimate happiness and the perfections. If we haven’t created the negative karma to be reborn in the suffering lower realms, eating poison alone can’t cause this.

Seeing working for the self as poison, bodhisattvas completely renounce it and instead embrace working for others. How could they do otherwise? They have a wisdom we do not. They see the truth beneath samsaric pleasures. For instance, we might have some Dharma knowledge, but we are still driven by self-interest. Perhaps we feel we have realized impermanence and death but when we are about to die there will probably still be fear because of the worldly thought that we are leaving this precious body, our loved ones and all our beloved possessions. Or maybe we feel because we are great meditators we must at least die in a meditation posture in order for people to see how advanced we are. Even at the moment of death we are clinging to reputation! To die with bodhicitta, on the other hand, means we will die with the thought to only benefit others.


To become a buddha, we must first become a bodhisattva. For that we need bodhicitta—bodhicitta is the vital ingredient in becoming enlightened. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[102] The omniscient mind arises only from bodhicitta.
Therefore, those who desire
The complete release from suffering
Find it greatly worthwhile to practice bodhicitta.

We can attain individual liberation without bodhicitta but going on to attain full enlightenment requires the destruction of even the most subtle self-cherishing. Therefore, bodhicitta is the key to enlightenment. There can be no such thing as a buddha who hasn’t been a bodhisattva, a being with bodhicitta.

Within Buddhism there are two main divisions, Hinayana, which shows the path to individual liberation, and Mahayana, which shows the path to full enlightenment. Bodhicitta is a Mahayana practice, and although there is no “superior” or “inferior” path, if we are a Mahayana practitioner, the motivation should always be this most precious mind, and we should not allow ourselves to stray into the wish for the great bliss that liberation from our own suffering brings. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[46] Bodhicitta is the great path that leads
To the city of non-abiding nirvana,
Saving you from falling into the two extremes,
Of either samsara or everlasting happiness for yourself alone.

Nirvana is a wonderful state; it is total freedom from all suffering. For the Mahayana practitioner, however, it is not the final goal, which is to continue the journey until we attain complete enlightenment, where we are not only free from suffering but also able to remove even the very subtle stains in order to free all other beings. That’s the goal, therefore we must not become stuck in the state of extreme bliss—where it’s very difficult to see the suffering of others and hence to work for their happiness—but pass beyond it. This is why a bodhisattva should be careful to avoid the two extremes, the extreme of worldly pleasures and the extreme of the great peace of nirvana.

Bodhicitta is the road that leads us between these two extremes, straight to enlightenment, which Khunu Lama Rinpoche here calls “non-abiding nirvana” to distinguish it from the abiding nirvana of the arhat, where the mind rests in great bliss without the wish to move on. Attaining enlightenment by this route is a shortcut compared to first following the individual liberation path and attaining the state of an arhat, then remaining in great bliss for many, many eons before being awakened to the need to benefit others and only then following the Mahayana path to enlightenment. That is why it’s most beneficial from the very start of our Buddhist path to understand the amazing mind of bodhicitta and to always motivate whatever we do with the wish to benefit all other beings.

No matter what stage of the path we are at, bodhicitta is essential. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,

[139] At the beginning, in the middle,
And at the end, bodhicitta is the supreme thought.
It is the indispensable method
To attain non-abiding nirvana.

Bodhicitta leads us into understanding not only the extent of others’ suffering but also why they suffer. We come to see how all sentient beings are confused by ignorance and stumble after things that can only make them suffer more, wrongly believing them to be the source of happiness. This is the spur that gives us the determination to attain enlightenment for their sakes, the beginning of our great journey. While we are on the path, bodhicitta is the mind that keeps our resolution firm. We feel that for all other sentient beings to continue suffering in the way they are is unbearable, and to have to wait eons before we ourselves are enlightened and can fully help them is unendurable as well. Therefore, we determine to take the lightning-quick path of Vajrayana, the tantric path, that allows us to become enlightened in one brief lifetime of this degenerate time. Vajrayana is like a rocket capable of reaching the moon in seconds, but it is useless without the fuel of bodhicitta. Therefore, bodhicitta is essential at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of our Buddhist path.

Bodhicitta is like the root of the tree and the future buddha we will become is its fruit. Just as the fruit of the tree is reliant on the tree’s root, our future enlightened mind is reliant in developing bodhicitta, and our bodhicitta grows from our current practices where we develop love and compassion and the other virtuous qualities.

The great Indian philosopher Chandrakirti begins his treatise on emptiness, A Guide to the Middle Way (Skt: Madhyamakavatara), with verses of admiration for great compassion. He says,

Shravakas and those halfway to buddhahood arise from the Mighty Sage,
And buddhas are born from bodhisattvas.
Compassion, non-duality and bodhicitta
Are the causes of the children of the Conqueror.20

This is the road of the Great Vehicle, the Mahayana. Without bodhicitta, we can’t enter the Mahayana, the path that leads to enlightenment. Khunu Lama Rinpoche reflects on Chandrakirti when he says,

[298] Without the life force of bodhicitta
You cannot even enter the Mahayana.
If that is so, how will you ever attain
The supreme state of buddhahood?

[154] Even though you practice calm abiding and special insight,
And through the union of the two attain the level
Of shravaka or pratyekabuddha,
Without bodhicitta, complete buddhahood is impossible.

Without the essential life force, the life that flows through our body, none of the other powers can function. A corpse still has eyes, a nose and so forth, but without the primary life force these sense organs can’t function. In the same way, all the other realizations on the path need bodhicitta to become the cause for enlightenment. By developing shamatha (calm abiding) meditation we can attain a very advanced state of concentration and even the levels of shravaka, or hearer, or pratyekabuddha, or solitary realizer. What those advanced practices can’t do, however, is take us all the way to enlightenment, unless we have bodhicitta. Therefore, just as we zealously guard our life force, thinking of it as incredibly precious, we should do the same with bodhicitta. Whatever we do, wherever we travel, we are always very aware of things that might threaten to snatch our precious life force from us. In the same way, at all times we should guard against anything that might threaten our bodhicitta.

We are incredibly fortunate that we have the opportunity to develop this most amazing mind. We have met the Mahayana teachings on bodhicitta and we have the time and the inclination to study these teachings and to meditate on them. How incredible that is! And how rare that is.

It’s worth thinking of how few people, let alone animals and other sentient beings, have this opportunity. When we think about the billions of people on this planet, how many have the chance we have to develop on the path? We could have been born as a peasant or a migrant worker, we could have been born into a refugee family or in a war zone. There are many terrible lives we could have had that would mean nothing but poverty, hardship and misery, where there would be no freedom at all to do anything, where it would be just the most basic survival. The vast majority of sentient beings have no choice; they must kill, steal, lie or do any of the other nonvirtuous actions just to survive. A beggar has no choice, a soldier has no choice. Even a general in an army must order others to kill, creating terrible negative karma every day.

We have managed to avoid all of these types of existence. At this moment we are living in a situation where we can avoid creating negative karma. But we have been even more fortunate than that. There are comparatively few people who are able to follow any spiritual path. And of those who do, how many have met the Buddhadharma, and how many of those have met the Mahayana? We can see that this is the one route not just to attain total freedom from suffering but to gain full enlightenment. This is why it is vital to habituate our mind to bodhicitta. This is why the time we have now is unbelievably rare and valuable.

This is why we must grasp the importance of attaining bodhicitta and why these inspiring verses by Khunu Lama Rinpoche are incredibly important.


14 Compare this to verse 36 from chapter 1 of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, which Rinpoche discusses in the section on “The Power of the Bodhisattva” in Part Two, Chapter 4.  [Return to text]

15 Rinpoche consistently translates this as “water tree” whereas other translations (and the corresponding Shantideva quote) usually use “plantain.” Whatever the terminology, the meaning is the same—a tree that bears fruit only once.  [Return to text]

16 According to Buddhist cosmology, this universe consists of four continents grouped around Mount Meru.  [Return to text]

17 The four schools are the Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Cittamatra and Madhyamaka.  [Return to text]

18 Vv. 1 & 2 of the Wheel-Weapon Mind Training, by Dharmarakshita, an eleventh-century Indian scholar and guru of Atisha, in Peacock in the Poison Grove: Two Buddhist Texts on Training the Mind.  [Return to text]

19 See Rinpoche’s The Six Perfections and Patience for an explanation of these three types of patience.  [Return to text]

20 A Guide to the Middle Way, v. 1.  [Return to text]

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