Bodhisattva Attitude: How to Dedicate Your Life to Others

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Bodhisattva Attitude is the "heart advice" taken from the experiential instructions of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. The topic of Bodhisattva Attitude is how to develop bodhicitta by practicing it throughout the day, from start to finish. The book is drawn from Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s essential teachings given from 2008 onward and is edited by Ven. Sarah Thresher.

This title is out of print, but you can find links here to the ebook version.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche teaching at the Fifth Meditation Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, 1973. Photo: Ursula Bernis.
The Teachings: Give Up Stretching the Legs

Bodhicitta Motivation for Life 2 50

His Holiness Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche would always mention this practice to be done in the morning upon waking. It is another way to generate a bodhicitta motivation and is based on a concise but very effective quotation from tantra. Although it is just a four-line verse there is a lot to meditate on within each word.

In tantric practice there is sleeping yoga without creativity, or mental fabrication, and sleeping yoga with creativity. Sleep­ing yoga without creativity means that either you go to bed meditating on the dharmakaya or you go to sleep meditating on emptiness. Sleeping yoga with creativity means that instead of falling asleep in the state of emptiness, you visualize yourself as the deity in the mandala and so forth, and go to sleep with that pure mind remembering the guru-deity.

Then, the next morning on waking, you rise up from the state of clear light to the sound of the dakas and dakinis playing music and saying this verse:

Give up stretching the legs.
Give up entering samsara.
Generate bodhicitta to achieve Vajrasattva,
the Great Victorious One, for all sentient beings.51


“Give up stretching the legs.”52 That is a very good expression!

When your mind becomes lazy you stretch out your legs, then you stretch out your whole body in the ten directions. Whatever you can, you stretch out. There is no rush to practice. Goodbye Dharma! This life and this moment’s happiness are more impor­tant. It is not expressed in words but physically that is what is being manifested. There is no thought of how sentient beings are suffering and the need to help them by practicing Dharma and becoming enlightened. That is why this line is saying,

Give up clinging to this life and being too lazy to practice Dharma.

Because that is what happens when your mind is in that state. Therefore,

Instead, think of impermanence, which is the nature of this life.

Death is definite and it can come any time. It’s not that your life is permanent by nature but you need to think of it as impermanent. No! The nature of your life is impermanent and if you believe it to be permanent you get into trouble. You get into very long term trouble and have to remain suffering in samsara.There is no enlightenment, no liberation, no happiness in future lives and no happiness or success even in this life.All the actions of your body, speech and mind become negative karma because everything is done out of attachment to this life and is therefore non-virtuous. This most precious human body is totally completely used for negative karma and then you have to be born and suffer in the lower realms.

This human body qualified with eight freedoms and ten rich­nesses is most unbelievably precious. Right now, you have met the Buddhadharma and you have met a guru.With this body you can purify all the negative karmas collected from beginningless time that cause rebirth in the lower realms and you can create all the causes for happiness in future lives as well as ultimate hap­piness, liberation from samsara. You can even achieve the peer­less happiness of great liberation, full enlightenment, and then liberate numberless sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring every one of them to full enlightenment. You can do all this with a human body qualified with the eight free­doms and ten richnesses. For example, Milarepa didn’t have even one single rupee or dollar, he only lived on nettles, but he had a precious human body and by practicing Dharma he achieved enlightenment within a few years of that life.

Therefore, our human body is amazing and precious. It is highly meaningful but difficult to find again. Although we have received it this one time, it won’t last long because its nature is impermanent. Death is definite and can come any time and any moment, even today, and at the time of death, nothing can help except the holy Dharma. After death there are only two possible rebirths—in the lower realms or in the body of a happy trans­migratory being. There is no third option. Where we reincarnate depends on karma. Birth in a lower realm is the result of negative karma; a higher rebirth is due to good karma. Good karma comes only by practicing Dharma.

So far in this life, even though some of us met the Buddha­dharma many years ago, the karma we have collected is mostly negative. Even in one day we collect mostly negative karma and the negative karmas we collect are very powerful because the four parts of the action—the base, intention, action and dedica­tion—are more complete. Even when we do practice Dharma, these four are not usually complete. Often the motivation or dedication is missing and therefore the actions are weaker. It means that if death were to come now, definitely we would be born in the lower realms, and once we are born there, we have to remain until the karma for that rebirth finishes.

A year in a hell being’s life is very long and the length of life of a hell being in even the very first of the eight major hot hells, Being Alive Again and Again, is around two trillion two hundred and sixty billion years.53 That is an unbelievable, unbelievable number of human years. In the next hot hell, the Black Line, the lifespan is twice as long and the suffering is even greater; and so it goes on.

Once you are born in the first hot hell, you have to remain there until the karma finishes, then another negative karma rip­ens bringing another suffering rebirth in the lower realms, and it goes on like that. It is not sure when you can come back to the human realms. That is very difficult to say. There is no oppor­tunity to practice Dharma in the lower realms because you are totally overwhelmed by suffering. You cannot achieve the happi­ness of future rebirths, liberation from samsara or enlightenment. You can neither benefit yourself nor others.Therefore, right now, while you have this perfect human rebirth qualified with the eight freedoms and ten richnesses, which is so precious and so difficult to find again, it is not the time to be “stretching the legs.” You must practice Dharma and you must practice right away.


“Give up entering samsara”54 means:

Give up thinking that samsara and samsaric pleasures are good and then clinging to them.
Instead, realize samsara to be suffering as in reality it is only suffering.

Because of always looking at samsara and its pleasures as real, pure happiness, thinking how good they are and admiring them, attachment rises and then we enter and engage in samsara. This is what needs to be given up by thinking how samsara is only in the nature of suffering.

What is samsara?

It is very important to be aware of what samsara is, otherwise you won’t know exactly what you want to be liberated from and there can be a lot of misunderstanding. Samsara is not this earth, the houses, factories or even Disneyland. It is not even exactly this body and mind; these aggregates. Samsara means “circling” (khor-wa) and that refers to the continuity of these aggregates. Lama Tsongkhapa explained in the Great Treatise that samsara is:55

The part of the continuity of the contaminated aggregates caused by delusion and karma.

The Tibetan is zag-che nyer-len gyi phung-pöi gyun-gyi-cha. Zag­-che: “the contaminated seed of delusion”; nyer-len: “caused by delusion and karma”; phung-pöi gyun-gyi-cha: “the part of the continuity of the aggregates.”

Zag-che is the “contaminated seed of delusion.” Here the word used for “delusion” is zag in Tibetan and it literally means “to fall down.” If you have delusion you always stay in samsara and you can never achieve liberation. You “fall down” to the lower realms, then you are reborn in the higher realms, then the lower realms, over and over like this. What is being expressed here is that the aggregates are “contaminated” by the seed of delusion. They are contaminated because they contain the seed of delu­sion and from that seed, delusion arises. Delusion then motivates karma, which plants a karmic seed on the mental continuum that throws us into future rebirths. The seed of delusion compounds the suffering of the mind and body this life. It also compounds future rebirths and future lives’ sufferings. That is why these aggregates and all six realms are pervaded by suffering. The desire, form and formless realms 56 are all pervaded by suffering; they are in the nature of suffering. The contaminated seed of delusion is in the nature of suffering and therefore the aggregates are pervaded by suffering. That is what is being described in “pervasive compounding suffering.”57 It is the seed of delusion that compounds the sufferings of both this and future lives. The aggregates are also pervaded by suffering because they are caused by delusion and karma; therefore the body and mind are in the nature of suffering.

Pung-pöi gyun-gyi-cha is “the part of the continuity of the aggregates.” Here, the word “part” is used to express that the con­tinuity of the aggregates ceases for a meditator who has attained the path of meditation.There are five paths: the path of merit, the preparatory path, the right-seeing path, the path of meditation and the path of no more learning. When a meditator attains the path of meditation, his or her aggregates will no longer continue to circle to a future life; the continuity has ended. That meditator still has samsara 58 but by achieving the path of no more learning, the aggregates will not continue to the next life because delusion and the cause, or “seed,” of delusion—the negative imprint—are ceased. Therefore, there is nothing to reincarnate and nothing to cause reincarnation. The word “part” refers to the aggregates of the meditator who has attained the path of meditation. For the rest of us, who have not achieved this, who have not ceased the seed of delusion and whose aggregates will continue to circle to the next life, there is no need to say “part of the continuity ...” just “the continuity . . .”

Nyer-len means “caused by delusion and karma.”59 To under­stand this, you have to think about the twelve dependent related limbs, then you can see how all this is caused by delusion and karma. Delusion and karma are the main causes.

His Holiness the Seventh Dalai Lama and Kyabje Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo describe samsara as:60

The part of the continuity of the birth of the contami­nated aggregates caused by delusion and karma.

Kyabje Denma Lochö Rinpoche also explains it that way. This is the precise meaning of samsara; the name is given according to the function of the action of “continuity” or “circling.”When the continuity of these contaminated aggregates caused by delusion and karma taking birth again and again is stopped—wow! Then liberation from samsara is achieved. This happens only by ceas­ing the causes, delusion and karma. Pabongka Dechen Nyingpo says that these samsaric aggregates are not the actual samsara; it is the action of this continuity that is what samsara really is.

By understanding what samsara is, you can see how it is only in the nature of suffering.

Samsara is only suffering

All the suffering in samsara is of three types: the suffering of pain, the suffering of change and pervasive compounding suffering. It’s very important to meditate on these because then you can realize how samsara is in the nature of suffering.

The suffering of pain—heat, cold, hunger, thirst and so on—is easy to understand, even animals can recognize this as suffering and don’t want to experience it. The heaviest suffering of pain is experienced in the lower realms but even in the human or deva realms where there is samsaric pleasure still it is only in the nature of suffering, it is the suffering of change.

The suffering of change includes all samsaric pleasures. We label pleasure on what is really only suffering. We merely impute pleasure and then it appears back to our hallucinated mind as real pleasure, real pure happiness, but that is completely wrong, it is totally non-existent. There is a very good verse in the Guru Puja to help us realize that samsara and its pleasures are only in the nature of suffering. It talks about the mistake of viewing samsara as “a very beautiful, happy park”:61

Samsara is extremely unbearable like a prison;
Please bless me to give up looking at it as a very beautiful, happy park.

Because of totally believing that samsara and its pleasures are real happiness when in reality they are real suffering, we become attached to them and that ties us to samsara with the chain of the twelve dependent related limbs and causes us to be continu­ously reborn in samsara and experience suffering. It is like tak­ing poison with the total belief that it is medicine and having to continually experience many unwanted suffering results includ­ing death as a consequence, but not realizing that this suffering is the result of a wrong concept. Or it is like walking over a cliff because of wrongly believing there is a real path there, then fall­ing and being injured and dying, but being unable to see that it came from a wrong belief.

Samsaric pleasure is only suffering because it is labeled on the feeling of relief when a previous suffering that was heavy has stopped and a new suffering is beginning from small. “Plea­sure” is labeled on that feeling, but it doesn’t last. It is not like Dharma happiness, which can be developed and completed.62 The more samsaric “pleasure” is continued, the more it decreases and becomes the suffering of pain again. Every samsaric pleasure is like that, whatever base it is labeled on, whether it is the pleasure of sleeping, the pleasure of playing music, the pleasure of eating food, the pleasure of sex or whatever.

When a previous suffering, which was great, stops, the action compounding the next suffering begins. While that suffering is still small it is unnoticeable and is labeled pleasure, but as it increases the pleasure goes away and it becomes the suffering of pain. It is because the pleasure is labeled on the feeling of suf­fering that it doesn’t last. First of all, samsaric pleasure doesn’t increase, unlike Dharma happiness, which can be fully developed. Second, it doesn’t last. Even the pleasure that is generated doesn’t last because it is suffering. We have to understand this well.

Lama Tsongkhapa explained the suffering of change very clearly in the Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment.63 For example, when the body is exposed to the hot sun there is a feel­ing of suffering. On entering the cold water of a river, swimming pool, lake or ocean, there is a feeling of relief because the previous suffering of being hot that was great ceases. But the action of entering the water starts another suffering of being cold. At the beginning, since one suffering has stopped and the next suffering is small, that feeling is labeled “pleasure.” But after some time, as it continues, it becomes unbearable; it becomes the suffering of pain again.

It is the same with eating. First the action of not eating com­pounds hunger. Then when you start the action of eating, the previous suffering of hunger stops from being great and the new suffering of eating begins. The discomfort starts immediately you begin eating but because it is unnoticeable that feeling is labeled “pleasure.” That is why, as you continue eating, the plea­sure you experienced at the beginning is no longer there. As you eat a second plate, a third plate and so on—depending how big your stomach is!—it changes and becomes more and more uncomfortable.

Sometimes the food might be very salty but when you start eating it is not noticeable. The first plate of food is OK but when you get to the second plate you feel, “Oh, this food is really salty!” I am telling you this from my own experience. It is interesting because you cannot taste the salt at the beginning so I am not sure which plate you regard as being salty and which non-salty? Anyway, as you continue to eat you realize there is too much salt.

There are many other examples, even sleeping. First you think, “Sleeping is so comfortable.” But although sleeping for eight hours may be possible, if you try to continue sleeping for twenty-four hours, two days, three days or a week, after some time you get bored. The pleasure doesn’t increase and doesn’t last. As the action continues it becomes the suffering of pain. That shows that it is not real happiness. The “pleasure” is merely labeled on a suffering feeling.

All samsaric pleasure is like this. At the beginning it is OK, but after some time it gets boring; it is the suffering of change. That is why worldly people change their lives so much going from one trip to another trip because they cannot get satisfac­tion. Whatever they do it is not real happiness, so they get bored and keep changing.

Of course in the West, generally karma can change and people begin to look for a spiritual life, an “inner” or “truthful” life. In the past, they could not find satisfaction and had many problems, and now they look for something meaningful and worthwhile. There are people in the West whose minds are quite sharp and even without hearing any Dharma, they cannot find any meaning in the life they are living. People have told me that they always found life meaningless; they always felt something was missing and were never happy until they met the Dharma.

Of course, if you are not living your life with compassion and benefiting others, even if you are a billionaire, trillionaire or zillionaire, it is totally meaningless. But if you have a good heart and are serving others, even if you have no religion and haven’t met the Dharma, there is meaning to your life. Since you are creating good karma, there will be happiness for others and happiness for you in the future. As a result of even one act of kindness you will experience happiness for many hundreds of thousands of future lifetimes. You may not be doing anything to free yourself from the prison of samsara, from the oceans of samsaric suffering and its causes, delusion and karma, but if you have a good heart and are helping others, there is meaning to your life. And if you are wealthy and using your wealth to help others, there is meaning to that. Otherwise there is nothing, just an empty life, like an empty container. All your actions of body, speech and mind—your whole life from morning to night, from birth to death—become only negative karma. It is a very sad life. Even when you try to attain pleasure, it is only for yourself. Therefore it is a very sad life.

So give up being attached to samsara and its pleasures, wealth and enjoyments, by realizing that they are all only in the nature of suffering. As the Guru Puja says, “Samsara is extremely unbear­able like a prison; give up looking at it as a very beautiful, happy park.” Give up the attachment to samsaric pleasures that arises by thinking, “How good this is, how good that is . . .” because that continuously ties you to samsara. It is like chaining yourself to a huge block of wood that is blazing with fire and then getting attached to the chain. It is because of being attached to samsara and its pleasures, that we have been suffering from beginning-less rebirths up to now, taking birth and dying again and again in samsara and experiencing all the sufferings in each of the six realms, as well as the intermediate state. That is how our lives have been from beginningless rebirths up to now: totally under the control of delusion and karma. We have never had a break from the suffering of samsara for even one second. I am not only talking about this life but from beginningless rebirths up to now. Up to this second, we have never had one moment or one second’s break, holiday or vacation from the suffering of samsara. Not one.

It doesn’t mean that we have been constantly experiencing the suffering of pain. I am not saying that. It doesn’t mean that we have been experiencing the suffering of change continuously without break. I am not saying that either. It is the third type of suffering, pervasive compounding suffering—which is the aggregates—that we have never had a break from up to now. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, these aggregates are pervaded by suffering being under the control of delusion and karma and that is why this body and mind are in the nature of suffering all the time. The desire, form and formless realms are all like that.

In the desire realm there are all three types of suffering. The form realm doesn’t have the suffering of pain but according to Geshe Sopa Rinpoche they “might” have the suffering of change. The formless realm doesn’t have the two other sufferings, but it has pervasive compounding suffering. In the formless realm there is no body—just the mind—but still the aggregates are caused by delusion and karma, so they are in the nature of suffering. The philosophical texts and the lam-rim mention that because the aggregates of the formless realm contain the contaminated seed of delusion, they are pervaded by suffering.

First, understand the meaning of “pervasive,” then under­stand the meaning of “compounded.” It is very good if you can understand the Tibetan. Khyab-pa means “pervasive,” du-je is “compounded.” The seed is compounded for us here in this life; it compounds our physical and mental suffering. As I mentioned before, it also compounds our future lives’ rebirths and suffering. Therefore, these aggregates are “pervasive compounding suffer­ing” (khyab-pa du-je kyi dug-ngäl).64

So “give up entering samsara” by realizing that samsara, its pleasures and perfections—wealth, reputation, enjoyments and all these things—are only in the nature of suffering. Give up look­ing at samsara as good and samsaric happiness as real happiness, instead of looking at it as suffering. Remember the quotation from the Guru Puja about looking at the extremely unbearable prison of samsara as a “very beautiful, happy park” and bring it here. Because of attachment to samsara and its pleasures, we have suffered from beginningless rebirths up to now and why we are still suffering is because of that.

How samsara cheats us

Samsaric pleasure is very deceptive. It is like a friend who always says nice things but in reality is totally cheating you. To your face that person always praises and says how fantastic you are, but behind your back he is stealing your things and using them; then he kills you.

Remember the story of the cannibals. You find yourself in a land where there are many cannibals and at the beginning the cannibals say lots of nice things to you. They tell you how much they like you and how if you leave them they will suffer unbeliev­ably, they will be so unhappy and sad. They talk like this, blah, blah, blah, and you believe them, thinking you will be safe if you stay there, you will be really happy and things will turn out well. Then once you trust and have decided to live with them, they eat you.

It’s the same when you trust and get attached to samsara and its pleasures. A mouse sees food in a trap and runs inside, lured by the pleasure of the food, only to get trapped. A fish sees a worm wriggling on a hook and hurries toward it, lured by the pleasure of something to eat, only to get caught with the hook in its mouth, which causes unbelievable pain, and then sliced and gutted while still alive. Moths see the flame of a candle as something very beautiful and fly into it, only to be instantly burned and enveloped by wax. That is what happens when you are attached to samsaric pleasure thinking it is wonderful and good; the result is only suffering.

Take the example of alcoholics. They look at drinking alcohol as being real pleasure instead of seeing that it is only in the nature of suffering. In reality, drinking is the suffering of change because the pleasure it brings doesn’t continue and doesn’t increase. Because they look at drinking as good, attachment arises and they get addicted. It destroys their whole life. Drinking harms them and their family, the wife or husband and children. It wastes so much money and causes so many problems.They suffer unbe­lievably but can’t stop.

This is without talking about all the negative karma that is created by drinking. According to a student who worked in a hospital in the United States, people who are alcoholics usually experience a very heavy death with a lot of suffering. Then, after death they will have to suffer for an unimaginable amount of time in the lower realms. Even if they are again born human due to some good karma ripening after a long time, because of the previous addiction they do the same thing again. Again they become alcoholic and again they waste their whole life, unable to practice Dharma. And so it goes on and on like this for hundreds of thousands of lifetimes: suffering in the human realms and then the lower realms over and over again. The same sufferings and the same problems are experienced endlessly. They can never be free until they purify, practice Dharma and abandon the negative habit of drinking.

The world is full of examples showing how if you get attached to samsara and its pleasures thinking they are real happiness, you are totally cheated and suffer. In meditation, use as many of these examples as possible to get a clear understanding of the need to give up thinking samsara is good and engaging in it. This is very, very important. With this way of thinking, you can continuously practice Dharma. Otherwise, even if you try to practice, it doesn’t really become Dharma, a cause to achieve liberation; it just becomes another cause of samsara because the motivation is attachment.

By looking at samsara, which is in the nature of suffering, as being in the nature of suffering, and looking at samsaric happi­ness, which is the nature of suffering, as being suffering, you are not cheated. You are not deceived by your attachment and your actions do not become a cause of samsara. Then you can be free from samsara and achieve liberation.

Being in samsara is totally scary

The Guru Puja says,65

Disturbed by the extremely violent waves of delusion and karma,
Attacked by the many sea monsters of the three kinds of sufferings—
Please grant me blessings to generate a very intense strong wish to be liberated
From this very terrifying great ocean of samsara with no beginning.

Samsara is like a great ocean and delusion and karma are like the extremely violent waves that disturb the ocean. Because of that, there are many sea monsters 66 of the three types of suffer­ing constantly attacking and harming us. This is what being in samsara is like. There is no happiness. We are constantly being harmed by the suffering of pain, samsaric pleasure—which is the suffering of change—and pervasive compounding suffering. Therefore, we ask the Guru Puja merit field to grant us blessings to give rise to “a very intense strong wish to be liberated from this very terrifying great ocean of samsara with no beginning.” We have been experiencing the suffering of samsara from begin­ningless time, and if we don’t practice Dharma, the suffering will have no end.

Also any suffering or problem we are experiencing now is nothing new. This is not the first time. And any samsaric hap­piness or pleasure is nothing new. Remember that. It may be something new for this life but, whether it is suffering or pleasure, you have experienced it numberless times in the past. Whatever each individual thinks of as being samsaric pleasure, whether it is a relationship or going to the moon with a rocket or with­out a rocket! Whatever the pleasure is, this is not the first time; we have experienced it numberless times from beginningless rebirths. The problem is that, because of looking at samsaric pleasure as real happiness and being attached to it, we have died and taken rebirth, experiencing the suffering of each realm, numberless times. It is just that most of us cannot remember it. Those whose minds are more purified and have developed reli­able clairvoyance through calm abiding or tantric realizations by achieving the Six Yogas of Naropa can see all this.

For example, when Lama Atisha took the aspect of being sick and having diarrhea, his disciple Dromtönpa, the embodiment of the Compassion Buddha and one of the previous incarnations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, cleaned it with his own hands. Dromtönpa offered service without the slightest thought that the holy kaka 67 was dirty and with full devotion that Lama Atisha was a buddha.The guru devotion teachings mention that because of his devotion, he was suddenly able to read the minds of not only human beings but also ants and other small insects and creatures up to the distance it takes an eagle eighteen days to fly. Suddenly he could read everyone’s mind very clearly. There are many other stories like that; it didn’t only happen to Dromtönpa. And, of course, the guru is the most powerful object.

As your mind is purified, gradually you are able to remember the past and also see many hundreds of thousands of lives into the future. It happens more and more as you actualize the five paths and ten grounds. It is most amazing. You can remember all the experiences of thousands, billions and zillions of past lives. You can remember being in the lower realms and you can remember experiencing the most unbearable sufferings in the human realms. Wow! Then you can’t stand being in samsara for even a second. It is like being in the very center of a fire or sitting naked on a thorn bush or on the tip of a needle—there is no happiness or peace at all. You want to get out right this second. It is just that we can’t remember.

Our minds are so blocked, so obscured, that we can’t see all the unimaginable sufferings of past lives and we can’t see that we will have to go through all the same sufferings of the six realms again in future lives. Not just for one future life, but for numberless future lives. Wow! Being in samsara is totally scary. Reincarnat­ing again in samsara is totally scary. Like a prisoner trapped in his cell, when you realize how most terrifying it is to be in samsara even one more second, you won’t want to be imprisoned for even a minute or a second longer. You will only want to be free. To be in samsara is unbelievably, unbelievably sad.

Therefore, give up admiring samsara and then entering and engaging in it, because attachment to samsara and its pleasures is what sets off the cycle of the twelve dependent related limbs. As long as you admire and are attracted to samsara you are always cheated by your hallucinated mind, by attachment and ignorance—the concept of true existence. Then you experience the suffering of samsara endlessly, not only from beginningless rebirth but endlessly. Being in samsara is an extremely serious matter. Remember the verse from the Guru Puja:

Samsara is extremely unbearable like a prison;
Please bless me to give up looking at it as a very beautiful, happy park.
By keeping the treasure store of the arya beings’ wealth, the three higher trainings,
May I hold the banner of liberation.

First we request blessings to be able to give up samsara by no longer “looking at it as a very beautiful, happy park.” Then we request blessings to apply the antidote by practicing the path of the three higher trainings, “the treasure store of the arya beings’ wealth.”68 Finally, we ask blessings “to hold the banner of libera­tion,” which means to achieve liberation. This verse has a very rich, fantastic meaning.


This last line is the special motivation to practice tantra, to achieve the unified state of Vajradhara or full enlightenment in the quick­est way possible for sentient beings. His Holiness Serkong Tsen­shab Rinpoche explained that Vajrasattva, the Great Victorious One (Dorje Sempa Gyälpoche), has both an interpretive and a definitive meaning.69 The rough meaning of this is:

Generate bodhicitta to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings.70

The Kadampa teachings explain the reason for doing this:

I is the root of all negative karma; it is to be instantly thrown very far away.
Others are the originator of my enlightenment; they are to be immediately cherished.71

Give up the I

The I is like a very dangerous and immediately lethal poison or like garbage.72 Therefore, it is something to be “instantly thrown very far away.” Here I added the word “instantly”—meaning without even a second’s delay—because I think it is more exact. You can also think the way it is normally explained in the lam-rim:

I is the root of all suffering; it is to be instantly thrown very far away.

Also, you must understand that the I you are cherishing is not actually there. The I that you think is more important than num­berless sentient beings and buddhas is not actually there because that I is the truly existent I, existing from its own side, which doesn’t exist. So there is nothing to cherish. This is what we have to remember when we do the practice of taking and giving in daily life.

Even if it was the merely labeled I that you were cherishing, which does exist but is empty, still there is no logical reason why it is more important than anyone else, any other person or insect. That is just the ego’s trip. There is no logic or proof; it is just the ego’s dictatorship.

The great bodhisattva Shantideva says,73

If you don’t give up the I
Your suffering can’t be stopped
Just as if you don’t get rid of fire
The burning can’t be stopped.

Therefore, to pacify your own sufferings
And to pacify the sufferings of others,
Give yourself up for others
And cherish others as yourself.

This is the total solution and method to pacify your own suffer­ing and the suffering of other sentient beings, who are number­less. Give yourself up to others and cherish them as yourself. This is the attitude we need to practice Dharma and this is the attitude to have when working at a center, in a company, in the government and in the family. Cherish others and think of others as yourself.

Cherish others

Others are the originator of my enlightenment; they are to be immediately cherished.

When the Kadampa masters say that others are the originator of your enlightenment, they are not only talking about your friends or people you like. “Others” doesn’t refer to only an animal you like, maybe a cat or a dog, a butterfly, snake, ant or cock­roach. “Others” means every sentient being: numberless animals, insects, cockroaches, mosquitoes and bugs. It includes all those creatures people are scared of, like rats and scorpions, and every single animal, big or small, as well as all the creatures that live inside our body. It includes numberless hell beings, numberless hungry ghosts and numberless human beings. “Others” means every single human being, however they look and however they act, whether positive or negative. It includes every sura, asura and intermediate state being. “Others” means every single one of the numberless beings in each realm.

When you think of “others,” start by looking at everybody around you right now. Then relate it to every insect, every bird and every worm that you see on the road when you go outside. All these “others” are the originator of your enlightenment. The Tibetan says “they are a phenomenon to be immediately taken.” This is an expression of the Kadampa geshes. To “immediately take something” means to “cherish it.” If there were some poo-­poo and some wish-granting jewels, you would throw away the poo-poo but immediately seize and cherish the wish-granting jewels. Similarly, the I is like poo-poo to be immediately thrown away, while “others” are like the wish-granting jewels.Therefore, the numberless sentient beings are to be immediately cherished, cared for and served with your body, speech and mind. They are to be freed from suffering and brought all happiness, especially the happiness of future lives, liberation and enlightenment.

“Others” means not just one but all sentient beings and it can have the meaning: “Even if they get angry with me, criticize or abuse me, don’t like me, don’t love me, always look down at me and always complain about me no matter how much I try to help them or how hard I work.” Whatever story you may have about them—that their way of thinking is bad or their manner harmful—still they are the originator from whom you receive enlightenment. No matter what they do, they are always the originator of your enlightenment. So it is unbelievable; it is incredible!

And you have to understand that it is not only enlightenment that you receive from others. The numberless sentient beings without exception are also the originator from whom you receive all your numberless past, present and future happinesses.74 In other words, you receive the happiness of all future lives, libera­tion from samsara, full enlightenment and every temporary hap­piness right down to the smallest comfort in a dream from every single sentient being. When you think of sentient beings as the originator of your enlightenment, remember all these other levels of happiness as well. Even if you only think of enlightenment—what better gift is there than that? A piece of cake?! Maybe when you are very hungry, a piece of cake or a banana is more important than enlightenment!

Next generate bodhicitta by thinking:

Therefore, in my life there is nothing to do except cher­ish other sentient beings, work to free them from all suffering and its cause and bring them to enlighten­ment by myself alone. Therefore, I must achieve full enlightenment.

After that, think:

From my side, to bring each and every single sentient being to enlightenment, even if I need to be born in the hell realms and suffer . . .

For how long? For eons! For how many eons?

. . . for eons equaling the number of drops of the ocean or atoms of this earth, I can do that. But from the side of sentient beings, they would have to suffer for an unimaginable, unimaginable, most unimaginable amount of time.

You can’t stand how long they would have to suffer. It is too much:

Therefore, they need to be liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering and brought to enlightenment as quickly as possible. Therefore, I need to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

This is the special tantric motivation Dorje Sempa Gyälpoche to achieve enlightenment, the unified state of Vajradhara in the quick­est way. Then think the same way I mentioned previously:

Therefore, from now on I am going to do all the virtuous activities as well as eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, working and so forth, to achieve enlighten­ment for sentient beings, to liberate them from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to full enlightenment.

Then pray to be like Lama Tsongkhapa. After that, there are some verses from A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life as a motivation.There is a long and short version so it depends which one you want to do (see Bodhisattva Attitude, chapter 10).


50 This commentary combines Light of the Path, 10 September (afternoon) and 11 September (evening) 2009. It also draws from Most Secret Hayagriva Retreat, 6 March 2010, and 7 October 2010, Shedrup Ling. [Return to text]

51 The Tibetan for this verse is

Kang-pa kyang-pa pang-nä-ni.
Kor-wai ngag-zhug dor-nä-su.
Dor-je Sem-pa Gyal-po-che.
Yang-dang yang-du kul-war-ja.

Although the original has four lines, Rinpoche usually uses only the first three and that is why the fourth line is omitted here and in the commentary. It can be translated in various ways. In the Most Secret Hayagriva Retreat, Rinpoche roughly translated it as:

Having abandoned stretching the legs,
Give up looking at samsara as good and engaging in it,
Generate bodhicitta to achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.

In Shedrup Ling:

Give up stretching the legs,
Give up being attracted to samsara,
Achieve enlightenment for sentient beings.

An older and alternative translation of the verse by Rinpoche and Basili Llorca— which includes all four lines—is in the Heruka retreat instructions, The Good Vase of the Dakinis’ Secret Treasure Nectar:

Abandon stretching out the legs,
Give up serving samsara.
Vajrasattva, the great Victorious One.
Persuades us again and again.

The source of the verse is not clear; however it is mentioned in the Heruka Body Mandala commentaries of Pabongka Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche as the advice given to the great mahasiddha Luipa by Heruka. For an older and alternative teach­ing on these verses, see “Four Fundamental Retreats,” Heart Advice for Retreat, pp. 41–68. [Return to text]

52Kang-pa kyang-pa pang-nä-ni. “Give up stretching the legs.”This line contains all the meditations of the path for the lower capable being: perfect human rebirth, death and impermanence, suffering of the lower realms, refuge and karma. Here it is clinging to this life and being too lazy to practice Dharma that is to be given up. Rinpoche is not saying you can’t stretch out your legs to go to sleep at night, but don’t be lazy and put off practicing Dharma thinking it doesn’t matter and that there is plenty of time, because that’s not true. [Return to text]

53 Rinpoche gives the number of years as two great tra-trig, two great ter-bum, then six ter-bum. One ter-bum is 1 billion. Ten ter-bum (10 billion) is a great ter­bum (ter-bum chen-po). Then ten great ter-bum (100 billion) is one tra-trig. Then ten tra-trig (1 trillion) is a great tra-trig. See for a complete table of Tibetan numbers. [Return to text]

54Kor-wai ngag-zhug dor-nä-su. “Give up admiring and entering samsara.” Rin­poche explains that ngag has the meaning of praising or admiring samsaric plea­sures, thinking over and over again how wonderful they are, looking at them as being real happiness and then being attracted to them. Because of that wrong view, we enter (zhug) or engage in samsara. Therefore, what is to be given up here is the mind that views samsaric pleasure as happiness instead of viewing it as suffering, which is the reality. This line contains all the meditations of the middle capable being: contemplating how samsara is only suffering, understanding the cause of samsara and generating the path to liberation. [Return to text]

55 I have not managed to locate this in the Great Treatise. However, there is a similar definition of samsara in Liberation, Part Three, pp. 2–3. [Return to text]

56 The six realms are contained within the three realms of desire, form and formlessness. [Return to text]

57 In this paragraph, Rinpoche is explaining pervasive compounding suffering, which is the third of the three types of suffering in samsara and the main suffer­ing to be understood in order to appreciate what samsara is and what it means in Buddhism to achieve liberation. Pervasive compounding suffering is the foundation for the other two sufferings (the suffering of pain and the suffering of change) and by freeing ourselves from that the other two sufferings are ceased and liberation is achieved. [Return to text]

58 The meditator still has samsara because he or she still has the samsaric aggre­gates they were born with. That is what the word “part” refers to. Once those aggregates cease, no new aggregates will be produced and they will achieve the state of no more learning—passing into the state of nirvana. This seems to be referring to meditators on the Lesser Vehicle path. [Return to text]

59 Rinpoche’s translation here and above is not literal but thought provoking. A more literal translation of nyer-len gyi phung-po would be “aggregates (which are products) of (karma and) delusions.” The aggregates (phung-po) arise from the afflictions and—as Rinpoche goes on to explain—by implication karma is involved. Pabongka Rinpoche explains that the aggregates are connected to the afflictions in three ways, see Liberation, Part Three, pp. 2–3 and notes, pp. 40–41. [Return to text]

60Zag-che nyer-len gyi phung-pöi kye-wäi gyun-gyi-cha. See note 55 above. [Return to text]

61 V. 88. [Return to text]

62 See note 37 contrasting samsaric happiness and Dharma happiness. [Return to text]

63The Great Treatise, Volume One, pp. 291–92. Lama Tsongkhapa does not use the specific example that Rinpoche gives here, but there is a similar example in Liberation, Part Three, p. 39. [Return to text]

64 Rinpoche’s comment: “Normally this is translated only as ‘pervasive suffering’ but that is not a complete translation of the Tibetan. There are quite a few things in English not translated exactly according to the Tibetan because many of the translations are from the very early times in Dharamsala. Now people have become familiar with those terms and everybody uses them, but they are not exact. It is very good to translate exactly according to the Tibetan even though it may sound a bit awkward in English. There is a very rich meaning if you translate each word. If you know the commentary, then a few words give the whole view.” [Return to text]

65 V. 87. [Return to text]

66 Tib: chu-sin. I am using the word “sea monster.” Rinpoche says: “chu-sin means water lion but here it could be whales, I am not exactly sure. It is used as an example for the three types of suffering—the suffering of pain, the suffering of change and pervasive compounding suffering.” [Return to text]

67 Rinpoche’s comment: “In the Lhasa dialect there is an honorific word for the kaka of holy beings, so-gya, but I’m not sure about holy pipi, or urine.” [Return to text]

68 These are the seven treasures of arya beings—faith, ethics, study, generosity, shame, conscientiousness and wisdom. The principal wealth of the aryas is the three higher trainings.[Return to text]

69 Buddhist texts often have different levels of meaning. The definitive meaning is the one that is no longer open to interpretation. The definitive and interpretive meanings of Vajrasattva the Great Victorious One (Dorje Sempa Gyälpoche) are not clarified here; instead Rinpoche gives us a rough meaning to work with: “Gen­erate bodhicitta to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings.” Why Rinpoche translates it this way can be understood by referring to an earlier commentary: “The ‘vajra’ in Vajrasattva refers to the unification of the vajra holy body and vajra holy mind of the Vajradhara state and ‘sattva’ refers to bodhicitta, the altruistic thought that wants to achieve that state. And ‘the great king’ refers to the tantric path. Vajrasattva, the unification of the vajra holy body and vajra holy mind, is not separate from the altruistic mind of bodhicitta.” See “The Four Fundamental Retreats,” Heart Advice for Retreat, p. 62. [Return to text]

70Dor-je Sem-pa Gyal-po-che. Literally, “Vajrasattva, the Great Victorious One” (see explanation above). This line contains all the meditations of the path for the higher capable being contained in the Mahayana Sutrayana and Maha­yana Vajrayana. Here it is the I—self-cherishing and self-grasping—that is to be given up and the special bodhicitta motivation for practicing tantra that is to be generated. [Return to text]

71Dag-ni lä-ngän tsa-wa-te
Gyang-kyi kyur-wäi chö-chig-yin.
Zhän-ni jang-chub jung-kung-te,
Chang-te len-päi chö-chig-yin.

The Tibetan uses the term “phenomenon,” chö-chig-yin, in both phrases; I have changed this to “it” and “they.” Rinpoche has adapted the slogan and personalized it by using the word “my.” The original can be found in Lama Serlingpa’s Leveling Out All Conceptions, see Mind Training, p. 196, v. 7. [Return to text]

72 It is not exactly the I but self-grasping and self-cherishing that are dangerous and to be thrown far away. In the next paragraph, Rinpoche goes on to explain how we grasp at a truly existent I that doesn’t exist and this is the I that we cherish more than anyone else. There are many reasons why this obsessive concern with oneself at the expense of others is harmful (see appendix 6). This doesn’t mean we should hate ourselves or lack self-esteem, rather we need to understand that cher­ishing this I that doesn’t exist gives rise to negative emotions and negative actions and suffering—that is why it is the “root of all suffering.” For more on this, see chapter 6, Four Wrong Concepts. [Return to text]

73Guide, ch. 8, vv. 135–36. This quotation from Shantideva is taken from a talk by Rinpoche on Give Up Stretching the Legs, 7 October 2010, Shedrup Ling. The full commentary to the third line given during that teaching can be found in Service as a Path to Enlightenment, pp. 5–17. See also “The Third Power: Blaming the Ego,” Practicing the Five Powers near the Time of Death. [Return to text]

74 How is it that sentient beings are the originator of all our happiness? In the talk at Shedrup Ling cited above, Rinpoche explains that all our happiness comes from virtue and “our virtue is Buddha’s action.” Buddha in turn can only come into being by depending on sentient beings because “Buddha comes from a bodhisattva, a bodhisattva comes from bodhicitta, bodhicitta comes from great compassion and great compassion is generated by depending on the existence of suffering sentient beings.”Therefore, all our happiness can be seen to have arisen due to the kindness of every single sentient being. In fact, each sentient being is the source of all our happiness because without them there would be no Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. See Service as a Path to Enlightenment, p. 8. [Return to text]