Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, the senior tutor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was 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 14, 1979. 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.
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 arhatship, 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 arhat'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 was 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 benefiting 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 (11th 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 practice either of these methods of developing the bodhimind we must first develop a sense of equanimity toward all 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 labeled as 'friend,' attachment arises within us and we respond with warmth. Why have we labeled him as 'friend'? Only because on some level or other he has benefited or supported us. Alternatively, whenever we encounter someone whom we have labeled 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 benefited 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 buddhas themselves.
If we look at happiness and harmony we will find its cause to be universal caring. The cause of unhappiness and disharmony is the self-cherishing attitude.
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 benefited 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 equal emotion.
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 love.
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 others' requirements.
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 arhats 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 fulfil 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 practice 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 practice 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 practicing the teachings. As the bodhimind is the very essence of all the Buddha's teachings we should make every effort to realize it.