Generating the Bodhimind
by His Holiness Kyabje Ling
Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, the senior tutor of
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is the 97th holder of the Ganden throne and thus head of the
gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He was ordained by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, to whom
his predecessor had also been tutor. This teaching was given at Tushita Mahayana
Meditation Centre On November 14th, 1979.
The enlightened attitude, the bodhimind
that has love and compassion as its basis, is the essential seed producing the attainment
of buddhahood. Therefore it is a subject that should be approached with the pure thought,
"May I thus gain enlightenment in order to be of greatest benefit to the world."
However, there are but very small
spiritual effects in hearing teachings on the bodhimind if we lack a certain spiritual
foundation. Consequently, most teachers insist that disciples cultivate various
preliminary practices within themselves before approaching this higher precept. If we wish
to go to university, we must first learn to read and write. While merely hearing about
meditation on love, compassion and the bodhimind does leave a favorable imprint on our
stream of consciousness, for the teaching to produce a definite inner transformation we
trainees should first meditate extensively on the preliminaries (such as the preciousness
of the human opportunity, death and its significance, the nature of karma, and samsara,
refuge, and the higher trainings in ethics, meditation and wisdom).
If we wish to attain the state of the full
enlightenment of buddhahood as opposed to the lesser enlightenment of arhantship, our
innermost practice must be cultivation of the bodhimind. Were we instead to make
meditation on emptiness our innermost practice, there would be the possibility of falling
into the arhant's nirvana instead of gaining buddhahood. This teaching is given in the
saying, "When the father is the bodhimind and the mother is wisdom, the child joins
the caste of buddhas." In intercaste marriages in ancient India, children would adopt
the caste of the father, regardless of whether the mother were of higher or lower caste.
Therefore the bodhimind is like the father: if one cultivates the bodhimind, one enters
the caste of buddhas.
Although the bodhimind is the primary
force producing buddhahood, bodhimind as the father must unite with wisdom, or meditation
on emptiness, as the mother, in order to produce a child able to accomplish buddhahood.
One without the other will not bring full enlightenment. The bodhimind is the essential
energy that produces buddhahood, yet throughout its stages of development it should be
applied to meditation on emptiness. In the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, where
Buddha spoke most extensively on emptiness, we are constantly reminded to place our
meditations on emptiness within the context of the bodhimind.
What precisely is the bodhimind? It is the
mind strongly characterized by the aspiration, "For the sake of all sentient beings I
must attain the state of full enlightenment." It is easy to repeat the words of this
aspiration to ourselves but the bodhimind is something much deeper than this. It is a
quality within the mind systematically cultivated by one of a number of methods, such as
those called "Six Causes and One Effect," or "Exchanging Self(-Awareness)
for (Awareness of) Others."
Merely holding in mind the thought,
"I must attain enlightenment for the sake of benefitting others" without first
cultivating the prerequisite causes, stages and basic foundations of this thought will not
give birth to the bodhimind. For this reason the venerable Atisha (1lth century) once
asked, "Do you know anyone with bodhimind not born from meditation on love and
compassion?" What benefits arise through having generated the bodhimind? If we know
what qualities good food has we will attempt to obtain, prepare and eat it. Similarly,
when we hear of the efficacy of the bodhimind we shall seek to learn the methods and
practices by which it is generated.
The immediate benefit of having given
birth to the bodhimind within our mindstream is that we enter the great vehicle leading to
buddhahood and gain the title of bodhisattva, a son of the buddhas. It does not matter
what we look like, how we dress, how wealthy or powerful we are, whether or not we have
clairvoyance or miraculous powers, or how learned we are: if we have generated the
bodhimind we are bodhisattvas, and regardless of our other qualities, if we do not have
the bodhimind we are not bodhisattvas. A being with the bodhimind who incarnates as an
animal is respected by all the buddhas as being a bodhisattva.
The great sages of the lesser vehicle
possess innumerably wondrous qualities, yet someone who has developed merely the initial
stages of the bodhimind surpasses them in terms of his nature. This is likened to the baby
son of a universal monarch who, although only an infant possessing no qualities of
knowledge or power, is granted a higher status than any scholar or minister in the empire.
In terms of conventional benefits, all the
happiness and goodness that exists is a product of bodhimind. The buddhas are born from
bodhisattvas, but the bodhisattvas are born from the bodhimind. As a result of the birth
of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, great waves of enlightened energy spread throughout the
universe, influencing sentient beings to create positive karma. This positive karma in
turn brings them much benefit and happiness. On the one hand, the mighty stream of
enlightened and enlightening energy issues from the wisdom body of the buddhas, but as the
buddhas are born from bodhisattvas and bodhisattvas from the bodhimind, the ultimate
source of the universal reservoir of goodness and happiness is the bodhimind itself.
How can we develop the bodhimind? There
are two major methods, as mentioned above. The first of these, the "Six Causes and
One Effect," applies six causal meditations-recognizing that all sentient beings were
once one's own mother; the kindness of a mother; the wish to repay such kindness; love;
compassion; and the extraordinary thought of universal responsibility--to produce one
result: the bodhimind. The second technique is a meditation whereby one directly changes
self-cherishing into the cherishing of others.
In order to practise either of these
methods of developing the bodhimind we must first develop a sense of equanimity toward ail
living beings. We must transcend seeing some beings as close, some as alien and some as
merely unknown strangers. Until we have this equanimity toward all beings, meditation to
develop bodhimind will not be effective. For example, if we wish to paint frescoes on a
wall we must first remove any cracks or lumps from its surface. Similarly, we cannot draw
the image of the bodhimind within ourselves until the mind's view has been made clean from
the distortions of seeing others in terms of friend, enemy and stranger.
The way we impute this discrimination upon
others is quite automatic, and as a result of it, when we see someone we have labelled as
'friend,' attachment arises within us and we respond with warmth. Why have we labelled him
as 'friend'? Only because on some level or other he has benefitted or supported us.
Alternatively, whenever we encounter someone whom we have labelled as 'enemy, aversion
arises within us and we respond with coldness. The reason will be because he has once
harmed or threatened us in some way. Again, when encountering a stranger we simply have no
feelings toward him.
Yet if we examine this method of
discrimination we quickly see that it is an unstable process. Even in this life, people
once regarded as friends become enemies and enemies often become friends. And in the
countless lives we have taken since beginningless time while spinning on the wheel of life
there is not one sentient being who has consistently been either our friend or enemy. Our
best friend of this life could easily have been our worst enemy in a previous incarnation,
and vice versa. A friend who mistreats us quickly becomes an enemy, and an enemy who helps
us soon becomes a new-found friend. Someone who last year was regarded as a friend because
he had been kind to us, this year harms us and is seen as an enemy; last year's enemy this
year helps us and becomes a friend. So which one is really the friend and which one the
enemy? Instead of responding to them on the basis of the ephemeral benefit or harm they
have brought us, we should meditate that all have alternately benefitted and harmed us in
the stream of past lives, and thus abandon superficial discriminations.
A root cause of this discriminating mind
is the self-cherishing attitude, the thought that considers oneself to be more important
than others. As a result of self-cherishing we develop attachment to those who help us and
aversion to those who give us problems. This in turn causes us to create countless
negative karmas in trying to overcome the 'harmers' and support the 'helpers.' Such
actions bring great suffering upon ourselves and others, both immediately and in future
lives, as these karmic seeds ripen into suffering experiences.
There is a teaching that says, "All
happiness in this world arises from cherishing others; every suffering arises from
self-cherishing." Why is this so? From self-cherishing comes the wish to further
oneself even at others' expense. This causes all the killing, stealing, intolerance and so
forth that we see around us. As well as destroying happiness in this life, these negative
activities plant karmic seeds for a future rebirth in the miserable realms of
existence--the hell, hungry ghost and animal realms. Self-cherishing is responsible for
every conflict from a family problem to an international war, and for all the negative
karma thus created.
What are the results of cherishing others?
If we cherish others we shall not harm or kill them. This is conducive to our own long
life. When we cherish others we are open and empathetic with them, and live in generosity.
This is a karmic cause of our own future prosperity. If we cherish others, even when
someone harms or makes problems for us we are able to abide in love and patience, a karmic
cause of having a beautiful form in future lives. In short, every auspicious condition
arises from the positive karmas generated by cherishing others. These conditions
themselves bring joy and happiness, and in addition they act as the causes of and
circumstances leading to nirvana and buddhahood.
How? To gain nirvana one must master the
three higher trainings: moral discipline, meditation and wisdom. Of these the first is the
most important because it is the basis for the development of the other two. The essence
of moral discipline is abandoning any action that brings harm to others. Anyone who
cherishes others more than he cherishes himself will not find this discipline difficult.
His mind will be calm and peaceful, which is conducive to both meditation and wisdom.
Looking at it another way, cherishing
others is the proper and noble approach to take. In this life everything that comes to us
is directly or indirectly due to the kindness of others. We buy food from others in the
market; the clothing we wear and the houses in which we dwell depend upon the assisting
participation of others. And for attaining the ultimate goals--nirvana and buddhahood-we
are completely dependent upon others: without them we would not be able to meditate upon
love, compassion, trust and so forth, and thus would be unable to generate spiritual
experience. Also, any meditation teaching we receive has come from the Buddha through the
kindness of sentient beings. The Buddha taught only to benefit sentient beings; if there
were no sentient beings he would not have taught. Therefore, in his Bodhisattvacaryavatara,
Shantideva comments that in terms of kindness, the sentient beings are equal to the
buddhas. Sometimes, mistakenly, people have respect and devotion for the buddhas but
dislike sentient beings. We should appreciate sentient beings as deeply as we do the
If we look at happiness and harmony we
will find its cause to be universal caring. The cause of unhappiness and disharmony is the
At one time the Buddha was an ordinary
person like ourselves. Then he gave up self-cherishing for universal caring and entered
the path to buddhahood. Because we still hold the self-cherishing mind we are left behind
in samsara, having benefitted neither ourselves nor others.
The Jataka Tales (Previous Lives
of Buddha) relate that in one earlier incarnation, the Buddha had been a huge turtle
who took pity on several shipwreck victims and carried them to shore on his back. Once
ashore the exhausted turtle fell into a faint but as he slept he was attacked by thousands
of ants. Soon the biting of the ants woke the turtle up, but when he saw that if he moved
he would kill innumerable creatures, he remained still and offered his body to the insects
as food. This is the depth to which the Buddha cherished living beings. Many of
Ashvagosha's Jataka Tales are dedicated to relating similar accounts of the
Buddha's previous lives, in which the importance of cherishing others is exemplified. The
Wish-Fulfilling Tree has 108 such stories.
Essentially, self-cherishing is the cause
of every undesirable experience, and universal caring is the cause of every happiness. The
experiences of the lower realms of existence, all the suffering of mankind and every
interference to spiritual practice are caused by self-cherishing, and every happiness of
this and future lives comes from universal caring. The subtle limitations of lesser
enlightenment are also caused by self-cherishing,
We should contemplate the benefits of
cherishing others and try to develop an open, loving attitude toward all living beings.
This should not be an inert emotion but should be characterized by great compassion-- the
wish to separate others from their suffering. When we meet with a being in sorrow our
reaction should be like that of a mother witnessing her only child caught in a fire or
fallen into a terrible river: our main thought should be to help others. Toward those in
states of suffering we should think, "May I help separate them from their
suffering," and for those in states of happiness we should think, "May I help
maintain their happiness." This attitude should be directed equally toward all
beings. Some people feel great compassion for friends or relatives in trouble but none for
unpleasant people or enemies. This is not spiritual compassion, it is merely a form of
attachment. True compassion does not discriminate between beings; it regards all with an
Similarly, love is the desire to maintain
the happiness of all beings impartially, regardless of whether we like them or not.
Spiritual love is of two main types: that merely possessing equanimity and that possessing
the active wish to maintain others' happiness. When we meditate repeatedly on how all
beings have in previous lives been mother, father and friend to us, we soon come to have
equanimity toward them all. Eventually this develops into an overwhelming wish to see all
beings possess happiness and the causes of happiness. This is great, undiscriminating
By meditating properly on love and
compassion we produce what are called the eight great benefits. These condense into two:
producing happiness in this and future lives for both ourselves and others, and developing
along the path to full and perfect buddhahood. It produces rebirth as a man or god, and
fertilizes the seeds of enlightenment.
In brief, we should have the wish to help
others maintain their happiness and separate from suffering regardless of whether they
have acted as friend or enemy to us. Moreover, we should develop a personal sense of
responsibility for their happiness. This is called "the special thought" or
"the higher thought" and is marked by a strong sense of responsibility for the
welfare of others. It is like taking the responsibility of going to the market to get
someone exactly what he needs, instead of just sitting reflecting on how nice it would be
if he had what he wanted. We take upon ourselves the responsibility of actually fulfilling
Then we should ask ourselves, "Do I
have the ability to benefit all others?" Obviously we do not. Who has such ability?
Only an enlightened being, a buddha. Why? Because only those who have attained buddhahood
are fully developed and fully separated from limitations: those still in samsara cannot
place others in nirvana. Even sravaka arhants or tenth level bodhisattvas are unable to
benefit others fully, for they themselves still have limitations, but a buddha
spontaneously and automatically benefits all beings with every breath he takes. His state
is metaphorically likened to the drum of Brahma, which automatically resounds teachings to
the world. Or it is like a cloud, that spontaneously takes cooling shade and life-giving
water wherever it goes. To fulfill others' needs we should seek to place them in the total
peace and maturity of buddhahood, and to be able to do this we ourselves must first gain
buddhahood. The state of buddhahood is an evolutionary product of the bodhimind. The
bodhimind is born from the special thought of universal responsibility--the thought to
benefit others by oneself. To drink water we must have both the desire to drink and a
container for the water. The wish to benefit others by placing them in buddhahood is like
the desire to drink, and the wish to attain enlightenment oneself in order to benefit them
in this way is like the container. When both are present, we benefit ourselves and others.
If we hear of the meditations that
generate the bodhimind and attempt to practise them without first refining our minds with
the preliminary meditations, it is very unlikely that we shall make much inner progress.
For example, meditating on compassion without first gaining some experience of the
meditations on the four noble truths, or at least on the truth of suffering, would lead to
a merely superficial understanding. How can we experience mature compassion, the
aspiration to free all beings from suffering, when we do not know the deeper meanings and
levels of suffering that permeate the human psyche? How can we relate to others' suffering
when we do not even know the subtle levels of frustration and tension pervading our own
being? The nature of suffering must be known in order to know the workings of our own
mind; only then shall we be in a position to empathize with the hearts and minds of
others. We must have compassion for ourselves before we can have it for others.
Through meditation on suffering a certain
amount of renunciation or spiritual stability will be generated. This stability should be
guarded and cultivated by the various methods taught on the initial and intermediate
stages of training, which are the two main steps in approaching the meditations on the
bodhimind. As we progress in our meditations on the suffering nature of being and on the
causes of this suffering, we begin to search for the path leading to transcendence of
imperfection. We meditate upon the precious nature and unique opportunities of human
existence, which makes us appreciate our situation. Then we meditate upon impermanence and
death, which helps us transcend grasping at petty aspects of life and directs our minds to
search for spiritual knowledge. Because spiritual knowledge is not gained from books or
without a cause, its cause must be cultivated, which means training properly under a fully
qualified spiritual master and generating the practices as instructed.
Merely hearing about the bodhimind is very
beneficial because it provides a seed for the development of the enlightened spirit.
However, to cultivate this seed to fruition requires careful practice. We must progress
through the actual inner experiences of the above-mentioned meditations, and for this we
require close contact with a meditation teacher able to supervise and guide our evolution.
In order for his presence to be of maximum benefit we should learn the correct attitudes
and actions for cultivating an effective guru-disciple relationship. Then step-by-step the
seeds of the bodhimind he plants within us can grow to full maturity and unfold the lotus
of enlightenment within us.
This is but a brief description of the
bodhisattva spirit and the methods of developing it. If it inspires some interest within
anyone I shall be most happy. The basis of the bodhimind--love and compassion--is a force
that brings every benefit to both yourself and others, and if this can be transformed into
the bodhimind itself, your every action will become a cause of omniscient buddhahood. Even
if you could practise to the point of even slightly weakening the self-cherishing attitude
I would be very grateful. Without first generating the bodhimind, buddhahood is completely
out of the question. Once the growth of the bodhimind has started, perfect enlightenment
is only a matter of time. We should try to meditate regularly on death and impermanence
and thus become a spiritual practitioner of initial scope. Then we should develop the
meditations on the unsatisfactory nature of samsara and the three higher trainings, which
make us practitioners of medium scope. Finally, we should give birth to love, compassion,
universal responsibility and the bodhimind, thus entering the path of the practitioner of
great scope, the mahayana, which has full buddhahood as its goal. Relying on the guidance
of a master, we should cultivate the seeds of the bodhimind in connection with the wisdom
of emptiness and for the sake of all that lives quickly actualize buddhahood. This may not
be an easy task, but it has ultimate perfection as its fruit.
The most important step in spiritual
growth is the first: we must begin by making a decision to avoid evil and cultivate
goodness within our stream of being. On the basis of this fundamental discipline every
spiritual quality becomes possible, even the eventual perfection of buddhahood. Each of us
has the potential to do this, each of us can become a perfect being. All we have to do is
direct our energies at learning and then enthusiastically practising the teachings. As the
bodhimind is the very essence of all the Buddha's teachings we should make every effort to
Edited by Nicholas Ribush from an oral
translation by Lama Gelek Rinpoche. From Teachings at Tushita, edited by Nicholas
Ribush with Glenn H. Mullin, Mahayana Publications, New Delhi, 1981. A new edition of this
book is in preparation. Tushita
Mahayana Meditation Centre is the FPMT centre in New Delhi, India.