Recalling the Benefits of Bodhicitta
March 15, 2017
Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
The Karmapa continued speaking on the topic of the precepts of aspirational bodhicitta from chapter ten of Gampopa’s Ornament of Precious Liberation, focusing on the precept of recalling the benefits of bodhicitta. He noted that this precept and not giving up on others ensure that our bodhicitta does not wane and that we do not forget it in this life.
The benefits of bodhicitta are listed in the Gandavyuha Sutra (Marvelous Array Sutra) and also in the root text and autocommentary of the Lamp for the Path to Awakening by Jowo Atisha. In the latter text, it is explained that there are two hundred and thirty similes for the benefits of bodhicittaas presented in the Gandavyuha Sutra, and they are summarized into four different categories: (1) the wellspring of benefits for oneself, (2) the wellspring of benefits for others, (3) benefit of eliminating all impediments, and (4) benefit of causing accomplishment of all the favorable conditions. Recalling these not only protects bodhicitta from decreasing during this life but also develops so we take delight and joy in our bodhicitta. For this reason, we need to continually remind ourselves of bodhicitta, even if it is only one time for each of the six periods the day.
The Karmapa emphasized that it is important for us to remember the benefits of bodhicitta, which is not merely thinking about its results; we need to remind ourselves that the Dharma we are practicing is indeed virtue. The Karmapa explained that if we only think about results, we will not feel much delight or joy in the process of arriving there: “When we get the result, we think, ‘I got it!’ and we feel excited. But here it is different. To increase our enthusiasm, we need to remember that bodhicitta by nature is virtue itself, and so practicing bodhicitta is also by nature virtuous. Reflecting on this, we can develop enthusiasm even before achieving bodhichitta’s result or buddhahood. These days, we have high hopes and expectations for immediate results; our attention spans are so short that we lack the patience for long-term results. Only when the result is immediate, do we feel happy. We must, therefore, distinguish between benefits as they arise along the path and results.”
The Lamp for the Path to Awakening explains the precept of gathering the two accumulations, which strengthen bodhicitta. The accumulation of merit is the aspect of skillful means, and the accumulation of pristine awareness is the aspect of profound wisdom; together they comprise perfect enlightenment. The Karmapa summarized from the Sutra of the Inconceivable Secret that a bodhisattva seeks to gather the accumulations of merit and wisdom. The accumulation of merit comprises the first five perfections (paramitas), which relate to skillful means, and the accumulation of wisdom is the sixth perfection of wisdom (prajna paramita). In this way, the two accumulations encompass the six perfections. Furthermore, the accumulations include all the practices and the entire path of the bodhisattva; they are the favorable conditions for achieving liberation and omniscience.
Drawing from Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way, the Karmapa used the simile of a bird in flight to illustrate the gathering of the two accumulations. Birds such as geese migrate long distances each year and need two wide, broad wings to cross over oceans. If a goose has only one wing, it is, of course, unable to fly. Likewise we also need two wings: one of merit and the other of wisdom. With these, we can cross the ocean of the Buddha’s qualities. So having only prajna or only merit is not enough. The shravakas and the pratyekabuddhas, for example, realize emptiness and selflessness but lacking the aspect of means, they are unable to develop bodhicitta. The two accumulations in union are what we seek.
For this reason, in the Ornament of Precious Liberation, this third precept is given for strengthening bodhicitta. Gathering these accumulations of merit and wisdom is like planting crops: the main work is providing the nourishment of water and fertilizer, which requires a lot of effort. For a bodhisattva, practicing bodhichitta also demands a great deal of work in gathering the two accumulations. The Karmapa noted, however, if you offer properly a single mandala, do a single prostration in the right way, or repeat one mantra correctly, all six perfections are complete within it and this can complete the two accumulations.
The Karmapa turned to the fourth precept, which is training repeatedly in bodhicitta to increase it. (This is emphasized in Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment and his Ceremony for Developing Bodhicitta.) The Ornament of Precious Liberation states that we need to train in the causes of bodhicitta, in actual bodhicitta, and the conduct of bodhicitta. Training in the causes of bodhicitta means primarily training in loving-kindness and compassion, which are the roots of great compassion. Training in actual bodhicitta is training in bodhicitta itself. Training in the conduct of bodhicitta is first developing aspirational bodhicitta and then engaged bodhicitta.
The example given for this is like a mother with an only child, whom she loves dearly. If an enemy stole this child, the mother would think about her child all the time, whether sitting, walking, or lying down. Her only thought would be, “What can I do get my child back?” Similarly, when bodhisattvas arouse bodhicitta, they are consumed by loving-kindness and compassion: their only thought is for all sentient beings who suffer in the three realms of samsara. The bodhisattva is never separated from concern for all sentient beings, and this is the method for training in bodhichitta. A ritual or ceremony to develop bodhicitta, whether it be long or short, can help. What is most important is that our mind is inspired by what we do.
The Ornament of Precious Liberation describes two ways of cultivating bodhichitta: (1) the wish to benefit others and (2) the wish to purify our own being. For the first, we need to be willing to dedicate our bodies and all we have for the benefit of others. There is an aspiration for this by the Great Drikung Kyabgön in the Kagyu Monlam Book: “May my body be beneficial to living beings. May my speech be beneficial to living beings. And may my mind be beneficial to living beings.”
To clarify this first point, the Karmapa gave an example. Many types of people come to see him stating that they wish to help others. They say, however, they do not have the capacity to benefit all sentient beings since they do not have great wealth or power. So they ask me, “Please give me great wealth so I can benefit others.” Or they request, “Please give me great power so I can do good in the world.” But having wealth and power does not guarantee that we will help others. Actually, the first thing we must do is direct our body, speech, and mind toward assisting them. With this motivation, whether we are wealthy and powerful or not, we will definitely benefit others through using the main tools we have—our body, speech, and mind. If our altruistic mind can direct our body and speech, we will be able to practice the six perfections.
The second way to cultivate bodhichitta is the wish to purify our own being. From the outside, it may look like we are benefitting others, but on the inside our hearts are not aligned with a pure motivation. Just projecting the image of benefitting others may not benefit them at all. Thus, it is always necessary to check our motivation and make sure that it is genuine and pure.
In the aforementioned prayer by the Great Drikung Kyabgön, immediately following is the aspiration: “May I never have the affliction of desire. May I never have the affliction of hatred. May I never have pride or envy. May I never have the attachment to gain or respect. May I never have any thought of this life. May I always have bodhicitta in my mind.” This is the aspiration for the purity of our mind, which follows on wishing to benefit others.
The Ornament of Precious Liberation counsels that we should recognize and enumerate all of the downfalls. A six-session guru yoga in the Gelukpa tradition has a passage for enumerating the downfalls of the three different types of vows: pratimoksha, bodhisattva, and samaya. The Karmapa also noted that when he wrote the Dusum Khyenpa Guru Yoga, he included the identification and enumeration of the three different types of vows and the downfalls. It is good to memorize and recite such texts so that we can recognize these and refrain from them. With this practical advice on how to bring the teachings into practice, the Karmapa concluded his talk.