Every action we do should be done with bodhicitta
Whatever action we do with a selfish motivation is not only a complete waste of time, it causes only further future suffering. On the other hand, any action done with a selfless bodhicitta motivation is utterly worthwhile. Therefore, every action we do, every action, should be done with the thought to benefit others. As Khunu Lama Rinpoche says in The Jewel Lamp:
 When you walk, walk with bodhicitta.
When you sit, sit with bodhicitta.
When you stand, stand with bodhicitta.
When you sleep, sleep with bodhicitta.
 When you look, look with bodhicitta.
When you eat, eat with bodhicitta.
When you speak, speak with bodhicitta.
When you think, think with bodhicitta.
Twenty-four hours a day, every action we do should be done with bodhicitta, not for ourselves but for others. No matter what action we do, if it’s done with the mind cherishing others it’s a Dharma action, one that will lead us to peerless happiness and lead all others to peerless happiness. On the other hand, as long as our actions don’t oppose the self-cherishing thought, they are worldly actions, done out of worldly concern, and can only result in increasing our ignorance and in having to experience future suffering.
I was so inspired by Khunu Lama Rinpoche’s verses that I thought it might be good to advertise them for people to see them and bring them into their lives. You can have the verses printed on a cup and remember them when you drink coffee or have them as a bumper sticker on your car. (The car I use in America is covered in Dharma slogans!) One way I actually did this was by having some people produce bookmarks with these ideas on them. They became very popular. We modified the verses for the bookmark, which finally said,
Live with compassion
Work with compassion
Die with compassion
Meditate with compassion
Enjoy with compassion
When problems come, experience them with compassion
It is possible to do every action with bodhicitta. When we eat, we can eat to satisfy our greed or we can eat to sustain ourselves in order to best help others.
The purpose of our life is to help free all beings from suffering. That’s the reason we are alive; that’s the reason for our survival, each day, each hour, each minute—to eliminate all the suffering of every kind mother sentient being. With this motivation, every second of our life becomes incredibly meaningful, not narrow but infinite like the limitless sky. It gives meaning to every tiny thing we do. With a bodhicitta motivation, every action becomes a Dharma action; every action becomes immense, with great, great meaning.
When we generate bodhicitta, such as saying the refuge and bodhicitta prayer with our palms together to the Buddha, we collect far greater merit than making offerings of buddha fields equaling the number of grains of sand of the Ganges river, filled with jewels, diamonds, silver and gold. If the benefits could materialize, even the sky would not be enough to hold them.
These verses are very important because they clearly show us that everything we do must be done with bodhicitta. It is hypocritical to pray to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings and then, a few minutes later, continue to work purely for our own happiness. Again, Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,
 Going somewhere, remember bodhicitta.
Sitting down, remember bodhicitta.
Lying down, remember bodhicitta.
Standing up, remember bodhicitta.
During a meditation session, there is generally nobody there to make us angry and there are generally few distractions to bring about strong attachment in our mind. Therefore, the thought of being selfless and serving others comes more easily. When we are in the street, at work, out with friends, out shopping and so forth, the selfless mind does not arise as easily and yet this is exactly when we most need it. In meditation it is easier to have a calm mind; outside of meditation is when the real test comes. Whenever we meet an object that disturbs the mind, either through attachment or aversion, we need bodhicitta.
Khunu Lama’s advice is that in our everyday life, whatever action of body, speech or mind we do, we need to know the most skillful way of beginning the action—the motivation we have before we begin. That skillful way is bodhicitta. Once we have firmly fixed bodhicitta in our heart, whatever action we do will only be of benefit to ourselves and to others. This is how we should spend our day, from the moment we wake up in the morning until the moment we go to sleep in the evening.
No matter how mundane it appears on the surface, any action done with a bodhicitta motivation becomes holy Dharma. It becomes the cause for happiness in future lives, for liberation and for full enlightenment, and it even becomes the cause for the happiness of this life. This is the infallible method to free ourselves from samsara, and so we are doing the best work for ourselves, but because every action is only to benefit others it also becomes the source of happiness for countless sentient beings.
It is mentioned in the lamrim texts that for whatever we do to become Dharma there must be three things: the preparation, the actual body and the completion. The preparation is the motivation, transforming the mind from a negative one—a mind overwhelmed by the eight worldly dharmas, the attachment clinging to this life—into Dharma, in order to save ourselves from the suffering of the lower realms. Even more important than that is to make whatever we are doing—walking, eating and so forth—the cause of liberation and enlightenment. When our action is unstained by the self-cherishing thought, when it is done with bodhicitta, the pure mind cherishing others, it becomes the cause of enlightenment. Every step we take with bodhicitta is the cause of enlightenment.
Every thought should be with bodhicitta
Any action done with a sincere Dharma motivation for the happiness of future lives or for liberation—not just saying the words without feeling them in the heart—will create great merit, but with the ultimate motivation of bodhicitta, done sincerely from the heart purely for others, we create unimaginable merit, shooting us to enlightenment incredibly quickly.
This is of course particularly true of our Dharma practice. Whenever we do a Dharma activity, it can be a pure Dharma action, suffused with bodhicitta, or a worldly action, a nonvirtuous action disguised as something holy. Khunu Lama Rinpoche advises,
 If you are going to start something, start it with bodhicitta.
If you want to think about something, think of it with bodhicitta.
If you want to examine something, examine it with bodhicitta.
If you want to watch something, watch it with bodhicitta.
Whatever Khunu Lama Rinpoche advises comes from his own direct experience, from his own practice. He is not just saying dry words; every word has great meaning. Here he tells us we must start each action of our body, speech and mind with bodhicitta. Before we start any action at all we need to ensure that it is done with a good heart, and we do that by remembering bodhicitta.
From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, the very last action of our day, if we can always start our action with bodhicitta then every moment of our day becomes holy Dharma. It becomes the cause of happiness in this life and beyond this life, and the method to liberate ourselves and all other sentient beings from the sufferings of samsara.
Beginning each action with bodhicitta becomes the cause for enlightenment because we are doing that action for the sake of others—not just hundreds or thousands or millions, not just billions but all other sentient beings. Because the number of beings we are benefiting with our action is infinite, the merit we accumulate with the action is infinite. And if we have taken one or more of the vows we can take as a Buddhist, then that infinite merit continuously accumulates.
In our Buddhist practice, we need to study or think about a subject, examine it thoroughly and then in meditation analyze it until it becomes a realization. All these phases of coming to know a subject such as impermanence and death should be done with a bodhicitta motivation. To begin any action with bodhicitta is to free ourselves from the self-cherishing thought that turns that action into nonvirtue. Then whatever Dharma activity we do doesn’t become just mouth Dharma, just words coming through the mouth without any meaning. Everything is done sincerely, from the heart, purely for the sake of others.
When we meditate we need to have a firm foundation of bodhicitta otherwise as we try to concentrate on a subject, reflecting on it, analyzing it, trying to fully understand it, the superstitious mind will arise, interfering with what we are trying to do. Whenever there is self-cherishing, there is space for the unsubdued mind to arise. Then, we can spend hours alone in our meditation room thinking we are in meditation when all that is happening is that our internal television set is playing program after program to us, keeping us completely preoccupied. We have our own samsaric television station transmitting programs on anger and attachment to us all day, teaching us self-grasping perfectly. We can become so absorbed in this that we spend our whole day there, even forgetting to eat.
Then, when we come out of our meditation room we feel very depressed because we realize we have wasted a huge amount of time. We might impress other people, looking like a great meditator, perfectly using our dorje, bell and damaru, but we know our perfect human rebirth is being wasted like this.
If we want to think about something it should done in the light of bodhicitta. Rather than thinking about our own problems, we should be thinking about others with compassion, day and night, all the time. Dwelling on our own problems just makes them seem bigger and bigger. Our partner criticizes us and, thinking our relationship is finished, we dwell on it over and over and the problem becomes huge. So much time gets wasted with this kind of self-obsessed thinking. The best thinking is thinking of bodhicitta.
What’s the point of dwelling on our own personal problems? Soon enough we will be separated from them. The friends we love, the people who give us a difficult time, money worries, health worries—all these will cease to exist in a very short time. When we die, and that could be at any moment, the only thing that will matter is our state of mind. With a positive state of mind we can be assured of a fortunate rebirth; with a negative state of mind our next life will be one of incredible suffering. These are the only two choices. By remembering the causes of the lower realms and of the upper realms we need to determine to spend every moment meaningfully and hence ensure we will have a fortunate rebirth.
By thinking about bodhicitta, meaningless actions are automatically stopped. Whatever we do is transformed into virtue, into holy Dharma. We concentrate on all other beings, on their terrible sufferings and on how to best help them. Great compassion for them naturally arises and whatever problems we might have naturally fall away. From thinking that we are the most important thing in the universe and all others are insignificant, we come to understand that we are just one, totally insignificant, whereas all others are infinite and they are the important ones. Instead of self-love we change the object to loving others.
How much we can help others, how quickly we can lead them from suffering, depends on how quickly we can develop bodhicitta. Therefore, Khunu Lama Rinpoche advises us to examine everything with bodhicitta. The route to enlightenment is a long one and we must learn many skills, but each must be seen within the framework of bodhicitta.
We must watch with bodhicitta. Here Khunu Lama Rinpoche is referring to the practice of mindfulness. All the time, every moment, from morning to night, we should be mindful of our actions, watching the mind vigilantly to ensure we never commit nonvirtuous actions. Without watching our mind there is no way to practice holy Dharma. Without constant awareness of what our mind is doing there is no way to transform it from nonvirtue into virtue. And of course, no way to transform it into bodhicitta.
It’s very good to develop mindfulness, but we can be mindful and nonvirtuous at the same time. We can watch the mind very carefully, “Now I am eating. Now I am lifting the spoon to my mouth. Now I am chewing the food. Now I am swallowing the food. Now it is going into my stomach. Now I am taking another spoonful of food.” And so on and so forth, watching the act of eating very carefully but never addressing the attachment we have to that food. And to steal something like a piece of expensive jewelry we have to be very mindful, checking when the owner of the jewelry we want is away or asleep, watching that we are silent as we creep in, recognizing the place where the object is, making sure we don’t trip up as we run away. There is a lot of mindfulness in stealing! Similarly, we can be mindful we are getting angry without doing anything to remedy that emotion.
Therefore, it’s not sufficient just to be mindful. We must be virtuously mindful, to not only be aware of what is happening in our mind every moment but to observe whether or not it is beneficial for others. We can see whether it is a mind possessed with self-cherishing or one cherishing others. By ensuring whatever we do starts with bodhicitta, we can always create virtue. Let’s say we are doing our daily meditation practice. We start with a bodhicitta motivation and then about halfway through the practice we check again in order to see that our mind is still in that same virtuous state, that it hasn’t slipped in any way. It’s easy to do our practice for the happiness of this life alone but we need to make sure this doesn’t happen. Again, as we end our practice we need to check that our mind is still one with bodhicitta.
Bodhicitta as our heart practice is like the foundation of a house. It should be there no matter what we do, no matter how we feel. Without a firm foundation, the house will crumble; with a firm foundation we can build whatever house we want. With bodhicitta, whether we are happy or sad, well or sick, living in a city in a high-pressure job or in a cave in meditation, whether we have friends or are completely alone, whatever we do, however we feel, we have that foundation that will take us all the way to enlightenment.
Because we are habituated to self-cherishing, thinking only of others does not come naturally to us. We therefore need skillful methods to develop the habit of caring for others. A very useful practice is to take each one of our everyday actions and relate it to helping others. The Noble Great Vehicle Sutra: “The Jewel Cloud” has a list of actions and how they can be seen as specific Dharma actions. In The Wish-fulfilling Golden Sun, the book I tried to write for the early Kopan courses but never really finished, I took the bodhicitta mindfulness practice described in this sutra as an exercise in thought transformation, although I adapted it somewhat. Another teaching I gave on this practice has also been made into a book, Bodhisattva Attitude.
The practice is to apply a bodhicitta motivation to every single action of the day. If we can do this, our life becomes incredibly meaningful; a day full of actions with this motivation is a day full of bodhicitta. Whether we are walking, standing, sleeping or sitting—whatever we do brings benefit to all sentient beings, to every dog, every cat, every insect, every worm, every fish in the Pacific Ocean, beings so small you can only see them with a microscope or as large as a mountain. When we get up in the morning, from our heart, we should think that we are going to act in accordance with bodhicitta. When we go to bed, we should think that we are going to do so with bodhicitta. In bed, we should examine our motivation to ensure that it does not become the opposite of bodhicitta.
For instance, when you get up in the morning, think as you arise that all sentient beings are rising up from the great ocean of samsaric suffering. Think that, and recite a short prayer to that effect. And then, after that, every action relates to an aspiration you have for all sentient beings. While getting dressed, pray that all sentient beings are clothed in “shyness and shame,” that is, they are conscious of any action that harms themselves and others and refrain from that action, thus ensuring they never create negative karma. Putting on a belt, think that all sentient beings are bound by the three higher trainings of morality, concentration and wisdom, and taking off a belt, think that they are released from the bonds of karma and delusion.
When you clean your room, especially before a meditation session, you can think you are sweeping away all defilements, and when you sit in a cross-legged position you pray to lead all sentient beings to immoveable concentration and to enlightenment. Whenever you do prostrations, you can visualize you are leading all sentient beings in those prostrations. When you offer flowers or incense, pray that the bad odor of impurity is removed from sentient beings’ minds. When you light a candle, imagine the darkness of ignorance being destroyed in the minds of all sentient beings.
In this way, not one action of your day is wasted. Washing yourself, imagine the stains of all sentient beings’ delusions are washed away. Preparing food, as you slice the vegetables imagine that the knife is Manjushri’s sword of wisdom, cutting through wrong views, and that all sentient beings’ ignorance, holding the I to be truly existent, is destroyed. Similarly, when you make a fire, even if these days that means turning on the stove, think that you are burning all sentient beings’ delusions in the fire of transcendental wisdom.
Possibly you already have a practice you do before you eat, even if it is just saying om ah hum to bless the food, but you can add a bodhicitta mindfulness activity by seeing the hunger that all sentient beings have for happiness is sated by your food offering.
Whatever Dharma activities you do during the day can be enriched with a bodhicitta motivation. Meeting your guru or teacher you can pray that all sentient beings meet such a peerless teacher. Looking at holy objects such as stupas or statues, you can pray that all sentient beings attain the holy body, speech and mind of a buddha. Whenever you discuss the Dharma you can imagine your audience is all sentient beings, praying that they understand all the points of the Dharma and quickly attain all the realizations.
As you move about during the day, you can likewise use all your actions in this way. Entering any place you can pray that you are able to lead all sentient beings to the city of the sorrowless state, which means liberation and enlightenment. As you leave a place you can imagine leading all sentient beings out of the prison of samsara. You can imagine opening a door as opening the door of the hells to release all those suffering beings, and in the same way closing a door is closing the door to the lower realms for all beings.
Wherever you go, you can feel you are leading all sentient beings to enlightenment. If you are going down a hill or descending in an elevator, you can think you are going to the lower realms in order to free all the beings there. Being in a quiet place, you can pray that all sentient beings are freed from the noise of confusion, the minds of attachment, aversion and ignorance.
Whatever you are reading, you can imagine all sentient beings reading the holy Dharma without confusion, and whatever you are writing you can imagine all sentient beings understanding even the most subtle points of the Dharma.
Helping others, you can imagine yourself as Chenrezig or you can imagine all other sentient beings as Chenrezig; both you and all others are imbued with great compassion and only doing work for others.
Taking medicine is no longer solely to alleviate some physical or mental problem you have, but you are taking it to remain healthy in order to be of most benefit to all sentient beings. You can visualize the medicine as nectar, the essence of the Medicine Buddha’s holy mind, saying the Medicine Buddha’s mantra over it and in that way ensuring it doesn’t become the cause for self-cherishing to arise.
Even going to the toilet can become a Dharma activity. You can imagine your pipi or kaka as dark smoke, which is all the delusions of all sentient beings, going into the mouth of Yama, the Lord of Death, whose mouth is the toilet bowl. As you flush, by reciting om ah hum, the waste is transformed into nectar, pleasing Yama, and all the delusions are flushed away, completely eliminated.
Finally, when you go to sleep at night you can dedicate for all sentient beings, determining to lead all beings to full enlightenment.
We do thousands and thousands of actions every day. Each one of those actions can be nonvirtuous or virtuous, depending on our motivation, but we can take it even further than that. Each action we do, no matter how trivial, can be made into a bodhicitta activity by engaging in this bodhicitta mindfulness practice. It means that every moment of our day, every action of our day, is solely for the welfare of all other sentient beings. This is incredible.
Any emotion should come from bodhicitta
In the same way that whatever we do should be done with bodhicitta, whatever we feel should be imbued with bodhicitta. Physical or mental pain, physical or mental pleasure—any emotion, any state of mind whatsoever should never be separated from bodhicitta. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says this in various verses,
 When you are depressed, remember bodhicitta.
When you are scared, remember bodhicitta.
When you suffer, remember bodhicitta.
When you are happy, remember bodhicitta.
 When your mind is weak, remember bodhicitta.
When you lose heart doing things for others, remember bodhicitta.
When you become lazy, remember bodhicitta.
When you get upset, remember bodhicitta.
The practice of Mahayana thought transformation (Tib: lojong), particularly the practice of taking and giving (Tib: tonglen), is a wonderful tool whenever there is a painful or negative emotion. By taking on the suffering of others and giving them all our virtues and happiness, we transform our selfish concern, the reason we have such a negative emotion, into the path to enlightenment.
This is what Khunu Lama Rinpoche is saying with these verses. When hardship makes us miserable, it is the self-cherishing mind hating the thought of having to bear that hardship that is the suffering, not the hardship itself. We can apply the techniques of thought transformation to any problem we have, from a slight headache to a heart attack or cancer. Even though we aren’t advanced enough to feel extremely happy about it, like the great thought transformation practitioners we can at least feel comfortable about the situation.
If we are depressed, we can remember bodhicitta and do the tonglen practice. We can meditate on the suffering of others and particularly on those beings who are also depressed but in a much worse state than we are. Then, in our tonglen meditation, we take all the depression of all the depressed beings right into our self-cherishing heart with the in-breath, in the form of disgusting black smoke or sludge or things like scorpions, and then with the out-breath we give them all the good qualities and happiness we have, in the form of bright white light. The self-cherishing gets heavier and heavier, denser and denser, blacker and blacker until it explodes into brilliant white light, pouring out of us and into the other beings. If we do this meditation properly there is no way we can stay depressed for even a second; the gloom of our depression is instantly dispelled by the sun of bodhicitta. We destroy our own depression and we generate great compassion for all other beings. This is how powerful such a meditation can be.
Remembering bodhicitta, whatever fear we have disappears. Even if we have leprosy, cancer, epilepsy or some other terrible disease—whatever dangers we face—there is no fear in our heart. Normal people are terrified because their health and wellbeing are threatened, but we experience the disease on behalf of all other sentient beings and hence it is not wasted; it becomes a very worthwhile thing to experience. Instead of rejecting the situation, our mind accepts it and uses it to develop bodhicitta even more. When we feel fear, instead of allowing it to overcome us, we face it and accept it not just for our own sake but for others, taking the fear of all other beings. With bodhicitta, the fear of death is totally transcended.
Whenever we feel fear, we should meditate on bodhicitta. We might face the terror of being bombed in a war, being in an earthquake or trapped in a burning house. If we ever find ourselves in such a terrifying situation, the best thing to do is meditate on bodhicitta. It is the most helpful thing, the very best preparation for whatever we are facing.
Even though we might have listened to many teachings on thought transformation, when we are told we have cancer or our partner leaves us, unless we remember bodhicitta, we will fall into misery because we see we are about to lose what we are so attached to. Bodhicitta, the mind that cherishes others, is the complete opposite of the self-cherishing thought, so when we meditate on bodhicitta all the fears that our attachment brings us cannot arise.
I remember there was a Swiss student who lived in Kathmandu who had very high blood pressure. I advised him to do tonglen. Each time he did this, and he usually did it for about half an hour, his blood pressure dropped a lot. This happened several times.
When high lamas are dying, they feel very happy, like they are going on a picnic or going back to their parents’ home, so of course there is no fear. Even if they have not reached that stage, they can still die happily, thinking that their next life will be an even better opportunity to develop on the path and benefit others.
When we are happy, we still need to remember bodhicitta. This way whatever happiness we feel does not become confused with attachment and pride and other negative attitudes. Usually, we feel happy because we have obtained something we want, a desirable object, praise from others or the like, and this causes attachment to arise. Then our mind becomes disturbed, the very opposite of peace, and our self-cherishing increases. When we reflect on bodhicitta, however, the mind does not become agitated and self-cherishing, desire, pride, arrogance and the other afflictions do not arise in connection with that object of pleasure.
Furthermore, we can use that happiness, that experience, on the path to enlightenment by dedicating it to all other sentient beings. In that way we have no need to avoid pleasurable experiences. By constantly working for others, whatever we experience, whether it’s pleasant or not, is part of our path to enlightenment.
When we are weak, remembering bodhicitta makes us strong. Weakness comes from feeling inadequate, and when we are focused on helping others we develop strong willpower. Nothing is more important than helping them; that is our only wish, and hence we have no room for insincerity, carelessness and so forth. Feeling we can make a difference to others gives us great strength.
In that way, we overcome all laziness. At present there is a child’s voice inside us saying, “I don’t want to do any more meditation. I’m tired. It’s boring. It’s uncomfortable.” And so on and so forth. If we look, we can find many reasons not to meditate. Maybe it’s very cold in the morning and our bed is wonderfully comfortable. Laziness is not about being exhausted; it’s about finding ways of avoiding Dharma practice. Enjoying gossip more than talking about the Dharma is a form of laziness. There are many different types of laziness.
By reflecting on the great suffering of sentient beings and the great kindness they have shown us, there is no way we can be lazy. These kind mother sentient beings have helped us again and again in so many ways and now they are suffering in the terrible lower realms, as hell beings, hungry ghosts or animals, or even as human beings in suffering situations. They are utterly unable to help themselves; only we can do it.
Whenever we feel tiredness or laziness overcoming us, we should reflect on bodhicitta. Very often when I teach into the night, I see the students slouched over, their heads on their stomachs, not hearing a single word. With bodhicitta, this doesn’t happen. By remembering the kindness of sentient beings and the suffering they are enduring, all tiredness disappears and all we want to do is to work for them ceaselessly.
Whatever problem happens in our life, the best solution is to think of bodhicitta. As Khunu Lama says,
 Meditate upon bodhicitta when afflicted with disease.
Meditate upon bodhicitta when sad.
Meditate upon bodhicitta when suffering occurs.
Meditate upon bodhicitta when you are scared.
Bodhicitta should be the first thing we think of. Instead of thinking of medicine, we should think of bodhicitta. Instead of thinking of money, we should think of bodhicitta. If we meditate on bodhicitta when we experience sickness, then we experience that sickness for all sentient beings. In this way, not only do we not torture ourselves when we are sick but we also experience it with happiness.
Even though the body might be suffering, our mind experiences only happiness. If our mind becomes sad, we experience that sadness for all sentient beings and it becomes so worthwhile. Any difficulty, danger or fear that we face, if we do so with bodhicitta it becomes a cause for enlightenment, a reason for rejoicing, because we are experiencing it for all sentient beings, to free them from difficulties, danger and fear, and to lead them to full enlightenment.
This is unbelievable. When we meditate on bodhicitta, when we remember bodhicitta, the catastrophe we are experiencing is transformed into the path to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings, to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. In that way, our suffering is transformed into happiness. If we have bodhicitta, regardless of whether we are carefree or our life is filled with problems, whether we have a home and many material possessions or nothing, our mind is happy and joyful.
Sick we are happy, well we are happy
If we have bodhicitta we are always happy, no matter what external circumstance occurs or how our body suffers. There is no difference to our state of mind whether we are in good health or poor health, whether we are fit and young or old and sick. Even if we are dying of a chronic disease, we are perfectly happy. In The Jewel Lamp, Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,
 When you have bodhicitta you are happy.
If you are sick you are happy, if you are well you are happy;
Even if you are dying you are happy.
Listening, studying, meditating, whatever you do, you are happy.
With bodhicitta the mind is always happy. Because we only want happiness for others, it is of no concern to us whatever we experience. When we are well we are happy, when we are sick we are happy. Even if we are dying we are happy. Whatever we encounter, we remain very happy because we have bodhicitta. If there is great pain we are very happy to experience it because we are experiencing it for the sake of others. We experience sickness for the sentient beings, sort of as their representative, taking it on instead of them.
Disease is a natural thing in life; it happens whether we want it or not. What we do when we find we have a major disease is another thing. Even if we have a disease that medicine does not yet have a cure for, such as cancer, we can still be so happy by experiencing that disease with effortful bodhicitta. We can think we are experiencing that disease for the sake of all sentient beings. Even if we are dying, we can die for all sentient beings. To dedicate our life for the numberless sentient beings, so that not even one sentient being is left out, is naturally a cause for great happiness.
The higher bodhisattvas are able to make charity of their body, such as the famous story of the Buddha before his enlightenment when he gave his body to the starving tigers. No matter what pain the physical body might have, the spiritual body has no suffering; it is beyond old age and sickness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says that he admires the new bodhisattvas who are not yet beyond that and consequently undergo hardships and suffering despite the pain, whereas it’s much easier for the higher bodhisattvas who are beyond that.
For a person with bodhicitta, the disease can be an excellent opportunity to develop even further on the path. The disease is not wasted; it is made very worthwhile. The bodhisattva understands how to use the pain and discomfort of the disease in order to benefit others, and hence instead of recoiling from the thought of the disease, the bodhisattva embraces it. With bodhicitta, we experience the pain of that disease for the sake of others—for all sentient beings but especially for the beings who suffer from the same disease—and again we can do tonglen meditation, taking all their disease into us and giving them all our happiness. This is what bodhisattvas do when they get sick.
Bodhisattvas, whose holy minds are enriched with bodhicitta, sincerely wish to experience the suffering of others, and therefore their experience of pain is entirely different from ours.
Geshe Lama Konchog was a great meditator who, after many years meditating in a cave in the Himalayas, became a teacher at Kopan Monastery in Nepal. Once, when we were walking down the steps outside the old gompa in the rain, in the square where the Tara statue is, he slipped on the cement because it was so slippery. He fell heavily and must have hurt himself but he was unbelievably happy. He told me he instinctively, instantly felt that he had taken on my life obstacles with that fall and that was why he felt so happy. That really shows how he had trained his mind well in lojong, taking the suffering of others.
Having wished for the suffering of others, when a bodhisattva experiences it, they are very happy because they have achieved their wish. And this doesn’t just have to be a mental thing. There are many stories of bodhisattvas who have literally taken on the suffering of others, such as leprosy, and in doing so have cured the sick being. This has happened many times with ascetic monks and meditators, but I have even heard of this happening in the West, in Italy. There was somebody who had leprosy, his whole body was full of it, and there was nobody to take care of him, but a priest took the responsibility, dedicating himself completely to the patient. Without having that very precious mind that cherishes others more than ourselves, this practice is impossible.
At present, we are almost the complete opposite of this. Leaving aside a fatal illness like cancer, even if we just have a small toothache, we immediately forget everything but trying to be free from it. Any thought of seeking happiness for others goes out the window and all we can think about is happiness for this one poor suffering sentient being! If we have to go to the dentist, we demand to be let in first. We need painkillers for it, no matter what. If they don’t help, we pay any amount to have pujas done, even though we don’t even think of having pujas done when we hear of somebody else with a major problem. The self-cherishing attitude can’t stand the slightest pain for even a second.
We should know that pain, illness, problems and all such things will happen, that is only natural, and we shouldn’t be frightened or unhappy. Since we all want happiness, rather than dwelling on why our happiness is blocked, we should try to see it the other way. Whenever an undesirable thing happens, big or small, something opposite to our desire, we should train our mind, thinking we have found a weapon to destroy our self-cherishing thought. In that way, we should feel very happy. When our partner fights with us, when our most loved friend no longer cares for us, we can still be happy by using that situation as a bomb that totally destroys the self-cherishing thought.
And we can be happy even if we are dying, knowing that we will never be reborn in the lower realms. The Kadampa Geshe Chekawa always prayed to be reborn in the hells in order to help all the hell beings, but at the time of his death he saw visions of a pure land, showing him where he would be reborn. He told his attendant that his prayers to be born in the hells had not succeeded. By the strength of his bodhicitta, his next rebirth was going to be in a pure land.
Other than developing bodhicitta, how else can we be happy? Following the self-cherishing thought can only mean endless suffering in the lower realms. Since beginningless time the self-cherishing thought has never let us have even one moment’s happiness. It has always been our worst enemy. Whatever undesirable things that have ever happened to us, big or small, have been caused by it. Why not then practice thought transformation in this way, using our problems to destroy our self-cherishing and attain happiness and, ultimately, enlightenment?
Bodhicitta dispels negative emotions
No matter what occurs, with bodhicitta we experience it with an incredibly positive mind. Then, nothing can harm us; nothing can create negativity in our mind. Khunu Lama Rinpoche says,
 Even though we are rich, any pride is dispelled;
Even though we are poor, happiness is generated.
Cultivating bodhicitta is the only thing
That never betrays us in samsara.
When things are going well, we can be inflated with arrogance about our own accomplishments, proud of our possessions and disdainful of those not in our fortunate position. Conversely, when things are going badly, we can become obsessed with our own misfortunes, unable to think of anything else, jealous of those with more and angry at those who block our happiness. With the precious mind of bodhicitta, on the other hand, although there might still be times when things go well and times when they don’t, there is no problem in the mind. Wealth doesn’t lead to pride and poverty doesn’t mean unhappiness.
Worldly people suffer terribly when they are poor and they see others with more. They feel jealous and long to obtain what the others have, even stealing to get it. This is common in the world: between couples, in groups, in whole societies and between countries. We can’t trust samsaric things, whether possessions, money or reputation, nor can we trust samsaric relationships; they will cheat us every time. As long as we are in the cycle of death and rebirth called samsara, it’s definite we will live with frustration and unhappiness while we are ruled by ignorance. Nothing lasts; there is nothing to trust and by following the deluded mind, we cheat ourselves.
The one thing that will never cheat us, the only thing we can rely on completely, is our own achievement of bodhicitta. Among all the minds, bodhicitta is the mind that is completely trustworthy. It’s the pure medicine that will cure every disease and therefore it’s the mind most worthwhile to cultivate.
Needing friends, we travel to many countries looking for happiness and freedom from problems, giving gifts to win friendship, trying to make people like us, and because of that we encounter all sorts of problems of jealousy, animosity, greed and so forth. We could cultivate billions of friends in every country in order to always be happy, but we have no guarantee; they could all cheat us in some way.
Much more worthwhile is the cultivation of bodhicitta. Surrounded by an ocean of friends, we are never free from attachment, but with bodhicitta we have our best friend in our mind; it cannot be stolen, destroyed or killed. Because bodhicitta is something that nobody can take from us, it is therefore the most worthwhile friend to cultivate. We don’t have to give material things to this friend, bodhicitta, or flatter it or pay it compliments; there’s nothing to worry about. Even if we want the peace of this life, there’s still nothing to worry about; we will certainly find greater peace than if we had billions of friends. Our closest friend can become an enemy, the creator of problems. With the inner best friend, however, the longer we live, the more content and happy our mind becomes. Our bodhicitta helps us subdue negative minds and always brings us closer to enlightenment.
Furthermore, Khunu Lama says,
 With bodhicitta one drives out feelings of pain.
With bodhicitta one overcomes harm.
With bodhicitta one cures unhappiness,
With bodhicitta one gets rid of fear.
Even if we don’t have actual effortless bodhicitta, just effortful bodhicitta, by practicing tonglen we can easily eliminate any pain we have. And even if we are unable to totally eradicate pain, we are able to experience it to progress along the path. If we have bodhicitta, it overcomes whatever harm a human or nonhuman tries to give us. Similarly, it cures any unhappiness or fear we have and allows us to use it on the path to enlightenment.
8 See Rinpoche’s Cultivating Mindfulness of Bodhichitta in Daily Activities and Bodhisattva Attitude, pp. 203–14. [Return to text]