The Nectar of Bodhicitta

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
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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.

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Lama Zopa Rinpoche with LYWA publication "The Nectar of Bodhicitta", October 2021. Photo: Lobsang Sherab.
Editor's Preface

While coming to understand the nature of reality is a vital aspect of developing the Buddhist path, altruism, opening our heart to others, is the factor that gives us the determination to continue. Bodhicitta is the ultimate open heart.

For me, the way that Mahayana Buddhism marries the emotional with the rational is what makes the teachings on bodhicitta incredible. We need to move from our closed, selfish world view to one that embraces all beings equally, but just wishing to be loving to others won’t get us there. In the methods Buddhism uses to achieve this supremely altruistic mind there is a deeply logical understanding of the shortcomings of the self-cherishing attitude and the benefits of the attitude of cherishing others. But even so, the road from our habituated self-centeredness to a thoroughly selfless attitude is a long one.

We need have strong determination that the goal of bodhicitta is attainable and desirable. For that we need inspiration, and, to my mind, there is nothing more inspirational than Khunu Lama Rinpoche’s Jewel Lamp and the first chapter of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. These two great bodhisattvas have given us verses of inspiration that are beautiful and profound; verses that are good to read and reread many, many times.

A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva’s eighth century classic, lays out the entire path for a person who wishes to realize bodhicitta and engage in the activities of a bodhisattva. For anybody interested in Mahayana Buddhism it is indispensable. The first chapter of the book is about the benefits of bodhicitta. Khunu Lama Rinpoche’s great book, The Jewel Lamp, written the year the Chinese army invaded Tibet, is purely a book of inspirational verses, written into a diary one verse a day for about a year. The first chapter of Shantideva’s text and the entire Jewel Lamp say all that needs to be said about why we need to develop this most incredible mind of bodhicitta.

As he says in the opening section of this book, Lama Zopa Rinpoche used verses from both these books as motivation for the day’s teachings, meditation and other Dharma activities at courses he taught in the 1970s—the one-month courses at Kopan Monastery in Nepal and the other long courses he taught at that time. His format was to recite a verse and then explain it, ending with an entreaty such as: “Motivate like this, that the action of listening to the Dharma becomes the cause of enlightenment, thinking, ‘I must release all sentient beings from all suffering and the cause of suffering and lead them to the most sublime happiness of enlightenment and the cause of happiness. Therefore I must achieve enlightenment. In order to achieve enlightenment I must complete the realization of the whole graduated path. Therefore I am going to listen to the teaching on the graduated path.’” He would then move onto the subject he was teaching. This is how he would start each morning discourse, no matter what the main subject matter was—a brief teaching on bodhicitta and a request to listen with bodhicitta motivation.

It is mainly from these morning motivations that this book has been compiled. Rinpoche generally chose no particular order to the verses he used, with a few exceptions where he worked through the first chapter of Shantideva’s text, taking a verse each day. Whereas Shantideva develops an idea within his first chapter and it’s therefore easy to use verse order to present Rinpoche’s commentary on them, Khunu Lama Rinpoche’s verses seem to have a “thought for the day” kind of randomness and he would return to a theme at various times. For that reason I have arranged his verses together according to content rather than verse order.

Because the text of this book comes from the short (and sometimes not so short) motivations Rinpoche gave each day, sometimes a theme hasn’t been explained as fully as it would have been in a main teaching, and sometimes the same point is repeated in different verses. I’ve pruned a little but wanted to keep the flavor of Rinpoche’s motivational teaching. I suggest that you use this book as Rinpoche intended when he gave the talks, as motivations, thoughts to take with you as you do whatever comes after. Rather than read it as a book, maybe take one verse or one section and read that before you start your day or your meditation session, and use that as the focus for what you do from then on. Just as Khunu Lama Rinpoche wrote one verse a day as a motivation for his day, we can read one verse a day for the same reason. I have been continually inspired while editing this collection of commentaries and I hope you will be as inspired reading them.

The Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive grew from the understanding that students of early Kopan courses had of the importance of recording Lama Yeshe’s and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachings in full. Over the decades we have collected more than 2,000 teachings—ranging from a single evening’s discourse to a full three-month retreat. This collection was formalized in 1996, when Lama Zopa Rinpoche established the Archive. In 2007, Publishing the FPMT Lineage commenced, a project to make accessible Lama Zopa’s teachings on the lamrim—the graduated path to enlightenment as explained in Tibetan Buddhism.

For this book I collected and assembled as many of Rinpoche’s motivations that used the verses of Khunu Lama Rinpoche and Shantideva as possible. The whole text was then edited. The edited text comes from verbatim transcripts that have been checked for accuracy, therefore we can be confident that what is here is exactly what Rinpoche taught. Mistakes and confusion belong one hundred per cent to the editor.

Compiling this text from so many sources, with Rinpoche teaching to different audiences at different times, there will inevitably be some sections that reflect others. Hopefully these will only serve to reinforce the message rather than create any sense of tedium. I have used Rinpoche’s own translations of the verses, checking them against the other translations available, especially Stephen Batchelor’s translation of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and Gareth Sparham’s of The Jewel Lamp (published as Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea), both excellent and poetic translations.

I worked with Archive documents from over 100 courses. How many hours of labor does that represent for all those many people involved? And how many people have actually been involved in the creation of this book? I can’t start to name names; there are just too many. All I can do is offer each and every one of you who have given so much a huge thank you.

But most of all, I wish to thank from the bottom of my heart Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the inspiration for all this, the source of all this incredible knowledge and a living example of how one person can make a huge difference, and how everything is possible when one’s mind has compassion and wisdom. We read about bodhicitta; he is bodhicitta. May whatever small merit gained from the creation of this book be dedicated to his continued long life, health and the attainment of all his holy wishes and the wishes of all the great teachers, especially those of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Gordon McDougall
Bath, UK
November 2020