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.

Shantideva. Photo: Fabio Heizenreder.
2.3 Transforming Lead into Gold

With the next verse, Shantideva emphasizes the strength of nonvirtue and the feebleness of virtue in this world, but shows us that nonvirtue can be overcome if we have bodhicitta. He says,

[1:6] How incredibly powerful the unceasing negativities are,
Whereas virtuous thoughts are so weak.
What other merit besides bodhicitta
Can overcome them?

What he’s saying is incredible. Through the wonderful mind of bodhicitta it’s possible to purify all the powerful nonvirtues that cannot be purified by other virtuous activities.

The reason few of us worldly beings have been able to overcome negativity is because the virtue we have created is feeble in comparison to the nonvirtue and we haven’t created the powerful virtue of bodhicitta. We are unable to control negative minds arising and consequently unable to avoid negative actions and the suffering consequences of those actions. Because of our habituation to negativity, other methods of purification are too weak. Only the mind of enlightenment, bodhicitta, is strong enough to overcome all negative minds. This is the most skillful thing to do, the wisest thing to do.

Even if we are trying to practice bodhicitta but don’t know other skills—different philosophies, different arts, different therapies, different religions—since our training is in bodhicitta what we are doing is far more skillful than any of the other methods. The knowledge we have of the power of bodhicitta is far more useful than any worldly knowledge. If we wish to benefit others, we need the pure thought of bodhicitta; if we wish to benefit ourselves, we need the pure thought of bodhicitta. Of all the tools that the Dharma gives us, bodhicitta is the one that can best lead us from following these harmful minds because bodhicitta destroys our self-cherishing, the root of our problems.

Bodhicitta is incredibly powerful. Without it our nonvirtues will always flourish; with it we can overcome them incredibly quickly. It is like the fire at the end of the eon that destroys the whole universe, burning everything up, even Mount Meru. Likewise, all negative karma and obscurations are burnt up completely in the intense fire of bodhicitta. The great teachers say that just one meditation session training in bodhicitta leaves an impression on the mind that is more powerful, more beneficial, than a hundred years of continuous purification without bodhicitta motivation.

The benefits of generating bodhicitta are so vast we simply can’t fathom them. We can say that having bodhicitta will bring this and that benefit, but really the benefits are beyond number and incomprehensibly huge, so much so that only the buddhas with their omniscience can comprehend them. Of this, Shantideva says,

[1:7] Having checked for many eons what is most beneficial
To bring immediate sublime happiness to infinite sentient beings,
Shakyamuni Buddha and all the buddhas have discovered
It is to have a mind imbued with bodhicitta.

When Guru Shakyamuni checked for many eons the best method to benefit all sentient beings and to help them to enlightenment, he discovered it was bodhicitta. Besides that, incalculable living beings, too many to be counted by the ordinary mind, have become fully enlightened by relying on bodhicitta. This shows how vital bodhicitta is. Because this is the conclusion the Buddha reached when investigating what the most worthwhile mind was, and because countless holy beings have attained enlightenment based on bodhicitta, we should develop bodhicitta. No action we do that helps us develop bodhicitta can ever be meaningless. Whether we call it meditation or not, whatever we do in life that helps us cultivate the pure bodhicitta motivation is the essential meditation.

If a virtuous action done without bodhicitta can ensure a favorable future rebirth for us or even the bliss of nirvana, how can we even contemplate what an action with bodhicitta can bring? But even the most positive action done without bodhicitta, one resulting in the complete cessation of suffering, has limits in its benefits, whereas the benefits of the smallest, simplest action with bodhicitta are limitless.

In the Sutra Requested by Viradatta, Guru Shakyamuni Buddha says,

If the merit of the awakening mind were to take physical form
It would fill the whole of space and extend even beyond that.

A bodhisattva’s only wish is to release sentient beings from suffering and lead them to enlightenment. That depends, of course, on the bodhisattva attaining enlightenment, which in turn depends on their attaining bodhicitta. Therefore, bodhicitta is the prime, supreme cause of the happiness of all sentient beings.

When Shantideva says “sublime happiness” he means there is no higher, no greater happiness beyond enlightenment and this can be obtained “immediately” or quickly. There is nothing to gain beyond that. As we have just seen, with this perfect human rebirth there will never be a better time, and possibly there will never be another time. Even though we might not attain bodhicitta in this life, if through continuous meditation our mind can become as close as possible to this realization, it is possible that in our next life we will be born with strong intuitive compassion, greatly wishing to benefit others, wanting to never give harm to others. Then again, without experiencing many difficulties, we will be able to meet the teachings of the Buddha in general and specifically the Mahayana teachings, and again meet a Mahayana guru and continue to practice and develop bodhicitta.

Attaining the wonderful mind of bodhicitta should be our main concern, our only concern. For instance, when the great pandit Atisha saw his disciples or other people in the street, he didn’t greet them with “Hello, how are you?” as we probably would. All the common greetings, like asking “How are you?” or “Are you well?” revolve around material wellbeing, which didn’t concern Atisha at all. His greeting was always, “Sems sang po shu nge?” which we can translate as “Did you have a generous thought?”

Atisha was the founder of the Kadam tradition, whose teachings are based on bodhicitta and thought transformation. Just as for us the essence of all our activities is self-cherishing, working only for our own comfort in this life, for the Kadampa masters the essence was selflessly working for others, based on attaining bodhicitta. They could see the infinite benefits of bodhicitta for themselves and all others.

We can see how a bodhisattva can help people by simply thinking about Atisha’s life. Through his great bodhicitta he undertook the long trip from Nalanda in India to Tibet to teach the barbaric Tibetans, and seeing they could not comprehend the complex philosophies of the Abhidharma texts studied at Nalanda, he wrote A Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, a short, easily understandable but profound summary of the entire Buddhist path that became the basis for the system of teachings called the graduated path to enlightenment, the lamrim. The lineage of his teachings exists even now and continues to benefit countless sentient beings such as ourselves. Even though we weren’t able to recognize the different delusions before and hence have never known why we suffer, now due to Atisha’s clear and simple outlines we know how to make life meaningful by practicing the lamrim meditations. This is all due to the power of his bodhicitta.

With bodhicitta, whatever we wish to do will be successful because it is untainted by self-cherishing. We will be free of problems because problems are all to do with the self not getting its way; consequently, if we have no regard for the self we will have no problems. The closer we come to attaining bodhicitta the easier and more effortless our work for others will be, and when we do finally realize bodhicitta, we will continuously, spontaneously, joyously and effortlessly work solely for all others. This is the best, the highest work, and one that will enable countless others to quickly attain great bliss.

Whether from the elements, from other humans or non-humans or from being wrapped up in the affairs of this life, whatever distractions we have at present are easily overcome by bodhicitta. Our goal in doing a retreat might normally be beyond us but when we retreat with bodhicitta we can succeed in whatever we want, whether it is our own personal spiritual development or being able to quell famines, earthquakes or floods.

Bodhisattvas are able to bring limitless benefit to limitless sentient beings. They can cure sickness by the power of their compassion. If we taste even the leftovers of their meal, we can be cured from major illnesses; even drinking the pipi of a bodhisattva can cure disease. By just touching or blowing on a person or animal, a bodhisattva can cure a disease that no medicine has been able to. Without reciting certain powerful mantras or doing specific powerful practices, by the power of bodhicitta alone, a bodhisattva can effortlessly do such things.

There was a monk who, through not practicing Dharma well, became a spirit after he died. The spirit possessed a girl in a village near Lhasa and she became crazy. It is normal when this sort of thing happens to call in a lama and get him to do a practice called chöd (slaying the ego), but when the lama started to do the practice, the possessed girl stood up and beat him, scaring him away. Around this time a simple monk from one of the three great monasteries near Lhasa—Sera, Drepung and Ganden—was in the village begging for alms. The family, desperate to help their daughter, asked if the monk could release her. He sat down and didn’t do any special ritual, as the family had expected, but simply meditated on the four immeasurable thoughts and bodhicitta and thus generated compassion. The spirit that possessed the girl recognized the prayers from his previous life and was subdued. He told the monk that the previous lama had tried wrathful mantras on him but that had only increased his anger, whereas hearing the prayers about bodhicitta had reminded him of his previous life and made him see how much he had been hurting the poor girl. With compassion for the girl, the spirit told the monk he would leave the girl and never bother her again, which he did, and the girl was soon better.

In a more recent example, there was a rich Indian family in Mumbai that was plagued with many difficulties, such as financial problems in their business, car accidents, people falling down stairs and things like that. This was caused by a family member who had died with great ill will and who had become a very malicious spirit. In fact, this spirit was like a main spirit, with many other malevolent spirits working for him, as if he were the boss and the other spirits his servants. Although the family was able to see the spirit, nobody else could, and the pujas that the swamis did for them had no effect. The family had great respect for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and in desperation they asked him for help. He asked a meditator called Geshe Jampa Wangdu, a simple monk who lived a very ascetic life in a cave under a rock in Dharamsala, to go to Mumbai to help.

While at the Indian family’s house he did no special preparations but simply stayed there for a few days with an interpreter and meditated. After he returned to Dharamsala the family sent His Holiness a letter telling him that the spirit had gone and the problems had stopped. Simply by meditating on the lamrim, through his deep realization of emptiness and compassion, Geshe Jampa Wangdu was able to subdue the spirit. In that way he was able to solve the problem that nobody else was able to solve.

Bodhisattvas can relieve the suffering of others by averting natural disasters. If a drought threatens, they can bring rain; if a flood threatens, they can stop it. There is the story of the bodhisattva Monlam Pelwa, who stopped a flood that happened near Lhasa. Nobody could stop it, but he wrote on a stone, “If Monlam Pelwa is a bodhisattva, then by that truth may the water be turned back.” He then left the stone in the path of the oncoming flood, and before the water reached the stone the flood receded. Just through the power of bodhicitta, without having to recite prayers or do special practices, simply writing on a stone, the bodhisattva was able to turn the flood back.

In the Buxa Duar refugee camp, where I spent eight years, the local Indian people suffered incredibly from too much rain or not enough, depending on whether the monsoons came or failed. The people began to rely on the monks to help them. When there was a drought, the monks would go down to the river and do a short puja, and very often before they had returned to the monastery there would be rain. Whether it rained or not depended on spirits such as nagas interfering with the lives of the farmers because they were disturbed in some way. By the monks doing pujas, through the power of the bodhicitta generated, the spirits would be pleased and hence the rains could come.

Despite all the hardships, the bodhisattva who became Guru Shak ya-muni Buddha persevered for three countless great eons to attain enlightenment, motivated by seeing the great suffering of all sentient beings and knowing he must do everything possible to alleviate it. He knew that once he had initially attained bodhicitta he needed to develop it to its ultimate and achieve the full awakening of the enlightened mind. This is the knowledge that all bodhisattvas and buddhas hold. This is what Shantideva means when he says that all the buddhas have seen that bodhicitta is beneficial for all the countless beings, that it is the best way to bring them sublime happiness, the supreme state of buddhahood. Having this supreme jewel of a mind means that whatever we do is done purely and therefore the result is obtained much more quickly. Thus, because the result is only to benefit others, we are able to do that skillfully and quickly and on a vast scale.

All sentient beings want to avoid all the countless sufferings of samsara but they don’t understand that the only way to do that is to practice Buddhadharma. Even though they don’t realize it, they need more than just relief from the gross physical sufferings, they need relief from all suffering and that means attaining a better rebirth and progressing on the path to enlightenment. For any of these aims to succeed, bodhicitta is needed. In his next verse, Shantideva says,

[1:8] For those who wish to pacify the myriad sufferings of samsara
And to relieve all sentient beings from their sufferings,
And, besides, who wish to enjoy the myriad happinesses,
Bodhicitta should never be renounced.

Here Shantideva shows the twofold benefit of bodhicitta, where we have the ability to destroy all our own suffering completely and therefore attain all the levels of happiness, while at the same time guiding all beings from their suffering into limitless joy. Whatever happiness we wish is ours, from mundane happiness to the happiness of the god realms, and of course the great happiness of nirvana, the sorrowless state, all the way to the ultimate state of full enlightenment. All this is accomplished by bodhicitta, therefore we should never at any time forsake the wish to attain bodhicitta and, when we do attain it, we should hold it forever at the core of our heart.

If we want great happiness, if we want ultimate happiness for ourselves, we must cultivate and keep bodhicitta. If we want great happiness, ultimate happiness for all others, we must cultivate and keep bodhicitta. Bodhicitta should be the motivation for everything we do, from studying the Buddhadharma to simple everyday activities. With bodhicitta as our only goal, we are making the most of this life, the best preparation for our death and the best insurance policy for all our future lives.

Even having the chance to train our mind in bodhicitta for one minute is unbelievable. Just a minute’s meditation on bodhicitta prepares the way for a happy life and a wonderful death and gives us the chance to secure a rebirth where we can continue our spiritual path.

This is the pure thought, the essence of which is solely caring for others more than we care for ourselves. This is a total thought transformation, from our current sense that we are the center of the universe, the most important thing in our world, to one where we are the willing servant of all other beings, the least important of them all. This is not a mind that is exclusive to Tibetan Buddhists. It can, and should, be cultivated by everybody, no matter what religion, skin color, profession or age. It should be cultivated by rich and poor, by parents and children—by everybody.

The sufferings of samsara that have been with us all since beginningless time are countless and endless, and ordinary, mundane solutions will not rid us of them. The best solution, the only solution is to generate bodhicitta. This is the one infallible remedy to all our own sorrows and the one way we can help all others be relieved of their sorrows. This is the meaning of this verse, how of course with compassion and bodhicitta we focus solely on others and hence are able to benefit them hugely, but also because of the power of that selfless wish we are able to ultimately benefit ourselves.

So this wish encompasses everybody. Perhaps if there were a being who genuinely wished only to continue in the suffering realm, who wished never to have even the slightest samsaric or divine happiness, our altruistic wish would not be relevant. That being wouldn’t want or need our help and consequently, for that being alone it would be unnecessary to practice the stages of the path all the way to bodhicitta and enlightenment. But such a being doesn’t exist. All beings want only happiness and freedom from suffering. No matter what manifests on the surface, even if they seemed to embrace suffering as if they loved it, still they are seeking some kind of happiness. All beings want complete happiness, the happiness of liberation, but most don’t know what liberation is and hence they crave only mundane happiness, mistaking it for real happiness. Without our altruistic help they will be denied even mundane happiness.

Therefore, it is not enough that we ourselves want to be free from all suffering; we need to see that all sentient beings have exactly the same right to be happy as us and we need to work solely for their happiness. And we need to start now. There is no use in delaying and thinking we will practice Dharma tomorrow or when we retire. That pure motivation to attain enlightenment in order to free all sentient beings from suffering can be generated right now, right this minute.

Because it’s impossible to harm any living being with the pure thought of bodhicitta, we are bringing peace to all living beings; we are bringing peace to the world. Whatever actions we do, whatever words we speak, whatever thoughts we have, they are all solely to lead others from suffering and into happiness.

Negative emotions are the cause of disturbances and anger, of fights and disharmony. On a personal scale they break up friendships and families; on a world scale they cause wars and countless deaths and misery. The altruistic mind, on the other hand, causes only peace, to our friends, to our family, to the world and to ourselves. So, just as the disturbed mind brings all suffering, the bodhicitta attitude of peace brings all happiness. Therefore, this is the quickest way to bring world peace.

No matter how many people work tirelessly, no matter how many organizations and government bodies spend countless billions of dollars, all trying to stop war and bring peace, if they only focus on developing external factors and ignore the real cause of disharmony and conflict, the selfish mind, then they will all fail. We need to work toward defeating the selfish mind by developing the selfless mind in ourselves and by helping others develop it.

The problems of this world do not lie with not having enough material things but in the minds of hatred and greed. Because of neediness, people take what belongs to others or feel jealous when somebody has more. One person hates another and wants to harm them; one country sees another as the enemy and invades it to take its resources. But the problem is not lack of external resources, it is lack of inner peace. War can never bring peace. To kill another being for our own happiness is nonsensical even on a mundane level; on a deeper karmic level it is a fundamental cause of terrible suffering. Peace is only possible through destroying our inner enemy, ignorance, not external enemies.

As we have seen when we looked at the wonderful verses from The Jewel Lamp, Khunu Lama calls bodhicitta the best medicine, curing all diseases.30 This is why we should never renounce bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the best medicine, the best method, the only way to ensure the great peace of enlightenment for ourselves and others. Nothing else will get us there. If we have not generated bodhicitta, this should be our one great goal; if we have generated it, we should never let it degenerate and must always remind ourselves of its supreme importance.


A being with bodhicitta, a bodhisattva, is an object of great respect, no matter what their external appearance is. Of this, Shantideva says,

[1:9] The very second bodhicitta is attained
By the poor, suffering being bound in the samsaric prison,
That being is called a Child of the Enlightened Ones
And is revered by both humans and worldly gods.

In the very second that we attain bodhicitta we become an object of prostration for worldly people and samsaric gods. We take the name “Child of the Enlightened Ones” because, just as a child is physically created by the union of their father and the mother, we have attained bodhicitta through taking refuge in the Three Rare Sublime Ones—Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, his Dharma teachings and his Sangha—and will become a buddha by depending on them.

Shantideva shows us that even though we are trapped by delusion in samsara, “bound in the samsaric prison,” if we can attain the mind of bodhicitta, the very second we attain it we become a holy being to be revered by all. All other human beings and higher samsaric gods will prostrate to us and admire us, no matter what our external appearance might be.

As we saw in the section on The Jewel Lamp where Khunu Lama Rinpoche says bodhicitta is the best beauty, it does not matter how ugly or poor we are by worldly standards, we become an object of reverence because of our amazing altruistic mind. A bodhisattva might be a beggar, they might be penniless and filthy, with torn rags for clothes and dirty matted hair; externally they might look and act completely crazily, but because of their bodhicitta, in the very second they generate it, they are considered a holy being, an object of veneration. A rich businessman, on the other hand, might have the cleanest, most spotless complexion and the most immaculate and expensive clothes but can never be an object of respect. No matter how rich, how learned, how influential or how famous, they can’t receive this name or be venerated in that way. Somebody who has realized emptiness and removed all gross delusions, becoming an arhat, is still not considered a child of the buddhas like a bodhisattva is.

Becoming a bodhisattva is an incredible thing. With the power to lead all of us out of the sufferings of samsara, the bodhisattva’s mind has the power to shake samsara. It is said that when someone first attains bodhicitta, not only does the physical world shake, so do the thrones of the buddhas.

There is nothing more beneficial or powerful than this mind and consequently the great Dharma practitioners value even the slightest suggestion of it more than even the highest psychic powers. The Kadampa Geshe Chengawa asked one of his disciples, Geshe Tsultrim, which he would prefer to have: psychic powers or lamrim realizations. He could have many magical powers, the eight common siddhis, single-pointed concentration that lasted for eons and the five forms of clairvoyance, all these amazing powers. Would he prefer that or one lamrim realization? Of course, the answer is that one lamrim realization is infinitely preferable.

We have had all these powers numberless times in the past. We have been a formless realm god numberless times in the past as a result of the perfect concentration we attained, but these powers have not helped us in the slightest. One lamrim meditation, on the other hand, would be of incredible benefit. One lamrim realization, such as impermanence or karma, is worth more than any mundane thing. While these common siddhis might seem unbelievable to us, they are nothing compared to the smallest atom of Dharma. To see very far, to have knowledge of past and future lives, to travel anywhere instantly without any resistance—these are all powers that can definitely be developed through great concentration, but they are totally insignificant if they don’t lead us toward liberation or enlightenment. The mind of awakening is more precious than all these mundane accomplishments.

Some texts compare bodhicitta with a wish-granting jewel and all the other worldly treasures. No other treasure, or even all other treasures in all the universes, can compare to a wish-granting jewel. Likewise, the texts compare a king’s child with any other child. A king’s child, even as a tiny baby before being able to speak or write, even before being able to walk or talk, is still more important and more revered than the highest noble by way of their position. Although still a baby, they have the power to control a whole kingdom. In the same way, a bodhisattva, no matter what external manifestation or how poor or uneducated, has earned the title “child of the buddhas” and receives more respect than even the arhats.

The buddhas are all overjoyed when a being attains bodhicitta and becomes a bodhisattva, calling them the child of the buddhas because, just as a prince has the potential, as the future king, to serve his whole country, the bodhisattva has the potential when they have realized enlightenment to serve all sentient beings. Nothing could make the buddhas happier.

The big difference between an arhat and a bodhisattva is the mind of bodhicitta. An arhat may have a direct realization of emptiness and may have eliminated all the gross delusions and therefore be free from all suffering—an incredible accomplishment—but they do not have the mind that seeks the ultimate happiness of all living beings. The poorest, lowest bodhisattva, one who has just attained bodhicitta and is just starting on the bodhisattva’s path, does have this inestimable mind and so in that respect is the richest person in the world and the one most worthy of respect.

Where a bodhisattva has trod—the atoms of the dirt of their footprints—becomes an object of prostration, an object of veneration. Even though a bodhisattva has not attained full enlightenment or eliminated all gross and subtle delusions or developed all positive qualities to their ultimate in the way a buddha has, still a bodhisattva is an object of respect for all the buddhas. The Buddha himself has said, “Those who devote themselves to me should prostrate to the bodhisattvas, not the buddhas.” He also said, “Even if a bodhisattva wanted to travel by chariot purely for their own pleasure, I would willingly pull it for them.”

We need to purify and collect merit to attain bodhicitta, but when we have bodhicitta it purifies countless eons of negativity and accumulates infinite merit. The Kadampa Geshe Nyukrumpa31 says, “Merely having bodhicitta purifies vast amounts of negativity, collects vast amounts of merit and dispels all distractions to the practice of Dharma as well.” Here, he is talking from his own experience.

That’s why Shantideva, Khunu Lama Rinpoche and many of the other great pandits emphasize that nothing else matches the awakening mind. Therefore we should make bodhicitta our great project, no matter how difficult it is to cultivate or how long it takes, even if it takes many lifetimes.

In the next verse Shantideva says,

[1:10] Like the best alchemy, the supreme paint,
Which turns base metal to gold,
Bodhicitta transforms my body into the priceless jewel of a buddha’s body.
Therefore I need to firmly and strongly hold the awakened mind.

Does the West have a special paint or something that has the ability to turn ordinary base metal into gold? I suspect not or there wouldn’t be any iron left anywhere; it would all be gold. There is a story about Nagarjuna becoming the manager of Nalanda Monastery. At that time there was a terrible famine in India and the thousands of monks of Nalanda had very little to eat. They asked Nagarjuna to become the manager, hoping he would be able to help them. To do that he produced a special elixir that turned metal into gold, and, taking many pieces of iron, he created gold from them, selling it to buy food for the monastery. Then he went out and helped the many starving people around, turning iron into gold and thus being able to buy food for all the people. He was also able to build many temples and stupas in this way. Of course, this transformation does not only require a base metal and an elixir; it needs the power of the mind as well.

Nagarjuna could do this because there was such a huge difference between the value of base metal and gold. One is practically worthless and can be picked up on the road, rusting and useless; the other is to be truly prized. In the same way, this normal, impure body we have is nothing compared to the body of a being with bodhicitta. Just as it seems impossible that cheap metal can be turned into priceless gold, it seems impossible that in this very body we could attain bodhicitta and transform our body into the body of a buddha when we consider the way we are controlled by delusion and karma. It is possible, however. Through the power of bodhicitta, our body can become an enlightened being’s body, completely without defects, completely pure, completely clean.

An ordinary being’s idea of cleanliness is being cleansed of exterior dirt. When we have dirt on our body we wash it with soap and water and our body is clean. This cleanliness is always unsatisfactory and temporary. We always need more soap and more water and more rubbing, and still, sometime later, our body is dirty and smelly again. This is because the nature of the body is polluted, having been caused by karma and delusion. While that is so, there will never be an end to the need for soap and water and effort. As long as the mind is not cleansed of obscurations we have eons of soap and water and smelliness to endure. Only when the body is not caused by karma and delusion will we be able to stop the continual round of getting dirty and having to become clean.

Our present body is full of impurity. It is a bag filled with bones, marrow, flesh, blood, bile, excrement and so on and so forth. There is not an atom that is not impure, because it is the product of karma and delusion. Nagarjuna explains that this body is the container of thirty-two impurities. This is the reality, but it doesn’t appear to us in that way. We see the body as clean, as desirable—the complete opposite of reality. All the things that fill up a septic tank come from this body. Food is clean before it enters our body but, as Khunu Lama Rinpoche says, nobody wants to eat it after it has left our body.

Bodhicitta can completely turn that around, turning this impure body into the holy body of a buddha. The enlightened being’s holy body has not one tiny defect or delusion—it is a completely pure, holy body, the creation of a completely pure, holy mind, an omniscient mind. How is it possible to go from this impure body we now have to the completely pure body of a buddha? It seems impossible. But the vital ingredient—the elixir that turns metal into gold—is bodhicitta, which turns an impure mind and body into a pure mind and body. This is the alchemy of bodhicitta.

Bodhicitta has that much power. The merit gained through attaining bodhicitta is so great that it has the potential to destroy all the 84,000 delusions, eliminating all the gross and subtle delusions of our mind. Of course, to destroy the very root of ignorance, we must realize the absolute true nature of self and phenomena, but that is impossible without a huge accumulation of merit and wisdom and bodhicitta is the means of doing this. This is why bodhicitta is the “priceless jewel,” the elixir for turning delusion into wisdom.

Shantideva then says we must firmly and strongly hold this precious mind. Here he shows us this as an instruction; it is not a piece of hypothetical knowledge. This is something that anybody wishing to cease all suffering and attain enlightenment must understand and diligently work toward. This advice is vital. It is like a drink for a person dying of thirst.

It is very important to fully understand the importance of attaining bodhicitta. This is not a mind we can attain effortlessly and quickly. Given the delusions we carry around all the time, it will need a lot of effort and take a long time, therefore we need great determination to persevere. Only by seeing its importance will we be able to do this. To climb a high mountain we need to make extensive preparations, buying tents, sleeping bags, food, good boots and so forth. To attain the mountain of bodhicitta we also need to collect all the necessary conditions. This is a mental mountain we are climbing, not a physical one, and reaching the top is an arduous journey, but far more worthwhile than scaling the highest mountain. The equipment we need for this trip is the precious human body with its eight freedoms and ten richnesses, which we have, and therefore to use it for anything less is incredibly foolish.

Every day the television news is full of stories about violence, not only in the Middle East and other places but in the streets and homes of Western cities. There is incredible suffering—killings, torture, poverty—happening all over the world and it is increasing. These problems don’t come from outside but from the minds of us all. I feel the real solution to world peace is to establish more meditation centers where people can do retreats and practices, including taking vows such as the eight Mahayana precepts. The real solution to world peace starts with us, through determinedly stopping harm to all other beings. As long as we are controlled by delusions, others can harm us and we can harm others. The solution is to destroy our delusions. Our delusions are the real terrorists destroying our peace. By following them we are allowing ourselves to be led into great suffering. Like the terrorists destroying the Twin Towers, our delusions are blowing up our own enlightenment, our own liberation, our happiness for future lives, our own peace of mind.

The moment we start practicing Dharma we start distancing ourselves from our delusions. If we follow our delusions, nothing we do becomes Dharma; if we stop following delusions, everything we do becomes Dharma. Then we will gradually be able to actualize the path and overcome our delusions, making it impossible for them to arise again by eliminating the seed of delusion. By developing the path still further, we then cease even the subtle faults of the mind, the subtle imprints left by ignorance, the concept of inherent existence, and achieve full enlightenment.

In the next verse Shantideva says,

[1:11] With his limitless mind, the One Leader of the World
Has thoroughly investigated and seen it is so precious.
Therefore, because it has such great value, all beings wishing to be free
Should firmly hold the thought called bodhicitta.

The One Leader of the World is of course an epithet for Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, the perfect leader, the one to lead all sentient beings from suffering to full enlightenment. The Buddha is omniscient; he has the ability to faultlessly perceive infinite objects of knowledge simultaneously. He sees every single existence of all three times: past, present and future. There is no way we can comprehend the scope of his understanding. If we tried to explain all the qualities of the Buddha’s mind we would never be finished. Not until we ourselves attain enlightenment will we fully know all the qualities of the Buddha.

With his infallible wisdom, through thorough investigation, the Buddha checked and saw how precious bodhicitta is. He saw that bodhicitta is the source of happiness of all beings: all worldly beings, all beings who have transcended worldly existence and even the fully awakened beings. There is no happiness that does not arise from bodhicitta. Every single pleasure we worldly beings have ever experienced, even a gentle breeze on a hot day, has arisen from bodhicitta. This is not talking about transcendental happiness, which comes once we have achieved one of the great Mahayana paths, which, of course, requires bodhicitta; this is simply talking about ordinary worldly happiness. There is not one single worldly happiness that has not come from bodhicitta.

We can see this quite simply when we consider karma. All happiness comes from virtuous actions; it is impossible to experience happiness from nonvirtue. How are virtuous actions created? Only by practicing Dharma, which means following the guidance of the enlightened beings, the buddhas. Where do buddhas come from? From bodhisattvas, and bodhisattvas are born from the wonderful mind of bodhicitta.

As the only source of all happiness, we should strive to attain bodhicitta and when we have it we should firmly take hold of it, never letting it degenerate in the slightest. There is nothing on earth that can compare to the mind of bodhicitta, no phenomenon, no experience, no pleasure. There is no material object, no jewel, no achievement that compares. Everything else is utterly worthless in comparison.

We need to begin to develop this mind right now, this very moment. We simply don’t know how long we have before we leave this body and take another, and, unless we can take the mind of bodhicitta with us into the next life, we have no way of knowing when we can even try to develop it again, let alone attain it.


Shantideva says,

[1:12] All other virtues are like a water tree
That bears fruit only once and then perishes.
But the perennial bodhicitta tree not only always bears fruit
But also increases unceasingly.

Here Shantideva compares all other virtues and the wonderful mind of bodhicitta with two kinds of tree. The water tree32—a tree that grows by relying on the water element—bears fruit once. After the fruit from a water tree has been picked it stops producing; the crop can only be enjoyed once. This is like virtues created without bodhicitta, where we do something virtuous and will attain a good result from it, but after that result has ripened we cannot receive any further benefit from it. The all-wish-granting bodhicitta tree, on the other hand, continuously bears fruit in that the happiness we gain from bodhicitta just creates more seeds of virtue and more happiness; it is never ending and always increasing.

Of course, it is good to always create virtue, but we should be aware of the limits of normal virtue, virtue not inspired by bodhicitta. The result is experienced just once and then it is finished. Unless we do another virtuous action we will not be able to experience the happy result. If we perform an act of charity or refrain from stealing, for instance, in our next life that positive karma can result in our obtaining a human body with all its great enjoyments, but once we have experienced that particular result it is finished. There are no further positive results from that act that allow us to gradually generate the whole path to enlightenment.

With bodhicitta, on the other hand, the results never finish until we attain enlightenment. The more we enjoy the positive karma accumulated with bodhicitta, the more it increases. Our good qualities naturally develop, we enter the Mahayana path and, as we progress through the levels of the bodhisattva, our skill at benefiting others and our wisdom develop. Then, after attaining enlightenment, the results of bodhicitta never finish. We unceasingly continue working for all sentient beings until each is enlightened.

These are times of degeneration, where beings are overwhelmed with negative minds and it’s almost impossible to meet the Dharma, but somehow we have met these profound, infallible, pure holy teachings shown to us by the enlightened beings. How did we come to have this incredible opportunity? It’s not purely from our own side, our own efforts; it also comes from the bodhicitta generated by the enlightened beings. As a result of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha’s bodhicitta, we have the chance to develop our inner wisdom, to discriminate between virtue and nonvirtue. Even though we have been blind in previous lives, now, in this degenerate time, we have this chance. This seems almost impossible but it is here, due to the Buddha’s bodhicitta, born when he was a bodhisattva.

He was not eternally a buddha, forever with an enlightened mind. Before his enlightenment he had an ordinary mind like ours, a samsaric mind living in ignorance. Attaining enlightenment was not a spontaneous thing, done without effort. For that he had to follow the path to enlightenment and slowly achieve realizations on the path. As he did his delusions gradually decreased and his merits gradually increased until he attained enlightenment. His mind opened like a lotus and his understanding grew until there was not one existence he did not perceive.

Similarly, as we follow the path, our mind will open like a lotus. Developing bodhicitta is the quickest way to be able to experience all the external objects without error. Through bodhicitta our qualities increase unceasingly. Upon achieving enlightenment, we are able to do limitless work for all sentient beings, spontaneously and effortlessly. Therefore, even after enlightenment the benefits of bodhicitta still haven’t finished. So, you can see how training in bodhicitta gives the greatest possible meaning to this human existence.

Bodhicitta is something we can completely trust. It completely frees us from all fear. Of this Shantideva says,

[1:13] Just as I can free myself from great danger
By relying on an influential or brave person,
Bodhicitta can free me from inexhaustible negative karma in a second.
Then why don’t conscientious beings rely on this?

If we commit a terrible crime and are caught, we will certainly be punished by the law. At that time we have great fear. What can we possibly do? The only recourse is to throw ourselves on the mercy of a great person, a judge or a highly placed politician—some immensely influential person—and plead to be saved from punishment. Perhaps, by confessing our guilt and vowing never to do it again, we will be let off or at least given a lighter sentence.

Just as an influential person can free us from the danger of jail, bodhicitta can free us from the danger of our negative karma. Here, when Shantideva talks of the “inexhaustible negative karma” he is referring to the five immediate negativities: killing one’s parent or an arhat, drawing blood from a buddha or causing disunity in the Sangha. These are deeds so negative that by doing any one of them, when this life finishes we will “immediately” be reborn in the hell realm, that is without any other life intervening. We will then have to experience eon after eon of the most unbearable suffering without the slightest respite. Of course, this is a good reason for us to be terrified.

Here, Shantideva tells us that even if we have created such heavy negative karma, just as a person afraid of being punished relies on a great person to be released from that great danger, we need to rely on bodhicitta to be released from the danger of the consequences of our negative actions.

Just as the criminal needs to confess their crime to the influential person, we need to face up to our negative actions, to confess them in purification practices. The stronger our bodhicitta motivation, the stronger and more effective our confession will be. With a strong bodhicitta motivation, heavy negativities created over several lifetimes can be purified in a very short time. This is why Shantideva says that bodhicitta has the power to protect us from the consequences of having committed any of these five immediate negativities or even all five together. This is why we should entrust ourselves to bodhicitta.

Shantideva finishes the verse by asking, “Why don’t conscientious beings rely on this?” Of course, anybody who is conscientious, who has investigated and seen how they can be saved from all suffering, will see that this will happen only by having trust in bodhicitta, and of course that is what they will do. That is what we should do too. When we need to cross a busy city street, we are aware of all the dangers, very careful and very conscious not to make a mistake. This type of mind, conscientiousness, is one of the most important minds we can have, because it allows us to watch our karma and ensure we don’t create negativity.

When we have conscientiousness we are very careful of every action of body, speech and mind, watching for any nonvirtuous action that we might do. Somebody who is not conscientious, on the other hand, is heedless of any nonvirtue, or may even be aware but dismissive, thinking that it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they think an action will have no consequences or that the results might be so far in the future that they will probably disappear. This lack of fear of the consequences of karma leads to terrible nonvirtue and suffering.

If our doctor tells us we have cancer, we are overcome with self-cherishing, crying out in self-pity that nobody could ever suffer like we do. Through compassion, through thought transformation, we can reverse that and actually use whatever problem we have to develop our mind and become truly happy. As we have seen, in the wonderful technique of taking and giving, tonglen,33 we take other sentient beings’ sufferings and the causes within ourselves, destroying our ego, and then give them all our happiness, our merit, our body—we give everything to other sentient beings. We dedicate this for others and think they have received whatever they need, and that we have caused them to actualize the paths of method and wisdom, and then they all become enlightened. It is such a brave mind and if we do it powerfully enough there is no space at all for self-cherishing. When that happens, there can be no suffering, only happiness.

Even having compassion collects incredible merit in our daily life, therefore how much more so if we can develop bodhicitta. Many of the realizations we need along the path to enlightenment need huge merit, especially the mind that directly realizes the nature of reality, emptiness. It is like the need for millions of dollars before starting a huge project, such as building a dam to bring water to millions of people. Emptiness is our multimillion-dollar project, and only the funds that bodhicitta brings will do that. If we focus on only benefiting others, realizing emptiness will come by the way. That is the power of bodhicitta.

This was the advice that Tara gave Longdöl Lama Rinpoche, a great yogi from Sera Je Monastery. He was so advanced he was able to see Tara, the female deity who is the embodiment of all the buddhas’ holy enlightened actions. Tara advised him to practice tonglen, saying that if he did, the realization of emptiness would naturally come as a consequence.

All negative minds and suffering come from self-cherishing; all positive minds and happiness come from bodhicitta. From self-cherishing comes anger and attachment, and from them come jealousy, bitterness, meanness, low self-worth and the many other negative states that plague our life. Their antidote is destroying self-cherishing, which means developing the mind cherishing others, which means compassion and bodhicitta. With bodhicitta, even if every other sentient being becomes angry with us, harms us, takes all our possessions and so forth, we only ever feel great compassion for them. With such a mind, no negativity can ever arise. Naturally, this is the quickest route to free ourselves from the great danger of the negative mind and to attain full enlightenment. When we are conscientious of our actions we will see this and then, of course, we will rely only on bodhicitta.

In the next verse, Shantideva shows how bodhicitta burns up negativity like a great fire.

[1:14] Just like the fire at the end of an eon,
Bodhicitta destroys all great negativity in an instant.
Its limitless benefits were explained
To the bodhisattva Sudhana by the wise Lord Maitreya.

If from morning until night every single action of the three doors of body, speech and mind is done with a bodhicitta motivation—with aspirational bodhicitta if not engaging bodhicitta34—we accumulate extensive merit. There is no need to go to an isolated place for this, like a cave in the Himalayas. This is something we can do in the middle of a busy city while we are leading our normal life, working in an office or doing business in a shop. Each action done with the motivation of bodhicitta accumulates unimaginable merits in such a short time, even in a second. Similarly, all the heavy negative karma we have done in this life and in all past lifetimes, all those obscurations get purified in one second.

I think the meaning of this verse is quite clear. The end of an eon Shantideva refers to is the end of this world system. There are said to be four great eons in one cycle of a world system—an eon of evolution when the world system comes into being, of existence when sentient beings exist, of decay and of emptiness. Buddhas only appear during the eon of existence, when there are beings capable of benefiting from them. The very end of the world system’s physical existence occurs at the end of the third eon, when all becomes empty. At that time there is a great destruction with the final decay of the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire. The last is the karmically created fire that consumes everything else, leaving not an atom of substance.

I saw an example of intense fire in Hawaii when some students took me to a volcano. We saw a stream of molten lava but we couldn’t get anywhere near it because it was too hot. We think of lava as being incredibly hot, but even that isn’t hot enough to melt the rocks underneath. The fire at the end of the universe is far hotter than that.

To us, such heat is unimaginable. In the same way, the power of bodhicitta to destroy negativities is equally unimaginable. In one second, bodhicitta has the power to purify all delusions, like that fire at the end of the world system. As we saw before, even if we have committed one or more of the five immediate negativities, bodhicitta has the power to purify the karmic consequences of that action. It is said that just one meditation on bodhicitta where even a hint of that mind is left on the mindstream is worth more than a hundred years of continuously trying to purify the mind without bodhicitta.

In the Mahayana teachings there are many stories about bodhisattvas who dedicated their lives for others, thus showing the advantages of developing bodhicitta and the disadvantages of not developing it. There are thousands of pages of texts that expound the advantages of bodhicitta in this way. Shantideva specifies that this was explained by Maitreya, the great bodhisattva and the next buddha of this fortunate eon, to his disciple Sudhana.

In a sutra, the Buddha says,

Bodhicitta is the seed of all the buddhas’ realizations.
It is like the field from which all sentient beings’ white dharma increases.

White dharma simply means virtuous actions, as opposed to black dharma, the worldly dharmas or actions that are motivated by concern only for this life. He compares bodhicitta to a field, the soil from which we receive everything. The soil is the foundation for the plants and the materials we need to create our universe. Similarly, bodhicitta is the foundation of all our peace and happiness. And just as the food, shelter and so forth that come from this soil protect us from harm, bodhicitta protects us from all suffering. It’s the means for us to destroy our only enemy, the self-cherishing thought. Bodhicitta can destroy it instantly and completely.


30 See “Bodhicitta Is the Best Medicine” in Part One, Chapter 3. [Return to text]

31 Nyukrumpa Ts.ndrü Bar (1042–1109) was a student of Chengawa and is in the Kadampa lineage of pith instruction. For a teaching by him, see The Book of Kadam, pp. 588–98.    [Return to text]

32 See note 15 for Rinpoche’s use of the term “water tree.” [Return to text]

33 See also “Whatever We Feel, We Should Remember Bodhicitta” in Part One, Chapter 2. [Return to text]

34 Aspirational or wishing bodhicitta is the wish to attain full bodhicitta; engaging bodhicitta is where the mind has moved beyond the wish and is actually engaged in practicing the six perfections on the basis of having taken the bodhisattva vows. Although Rinpoche does not comment on the verses in this context, Shantideva makes the distinction between the two types of bodhicitta in the Guide, chapter 1, verses 15 & 16, where he says that they are the “mind that aspires to awaken and the mind that ventures to do so.” [Return to text]