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Home > Daily Practice > Vows and Commitments > Actions for Training from the Pledged State of Aspiring Bodhichitta

Actions for Training
from the Pledged State
of Aspiring Bodhichitta

modified, March 2002, from
Berzin, Alexander. Taking the Kalachakra Initiation.
Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1997.

Aspiring and Engaged Bodhichitta

Bodhisattvas are those with bodhichitta (byang-sems) –  a heart totally dedicated to others and to achieving enlightenment in order to benefit them as fully as possible. There are two levels of bodhichitta:

  1. aspiring (smon-sems),
  2. engaged (' jug-sems).

Aspiring bodhichitta is the strong wish to overcome our shortcomings and realize our potentials to benefit everyone. Engaged bodhichitta means engaging in the practices that bring about this goal and taking bodhisattva vows to restrain from actions detrimental to it. The difference between the two levels is similar to that between wishing to become a doctor and actually entering medical school.

Merely Aspiring and Pledged Bodhichitta

Through participation in a special ceremony, we may generate the aspiring state of bodhichitta. Doing so, however, does not entail taking bodhisattva vows.

Aspiring bodhichitta has two stages:

  1. merely wishing to become a Buddha for the benefit of others (smon-sems smon-pa-tsam),
  2. pledging never to abandon this aim until it is achieved (smon-sems dam-bca'-can).

With the pledged state of bodhichitta, we promise to train in five actions that help us never to lose our resolve. Developing the merely wishing state does not involve this promise. The first four trainings help our bodhichitta resolve not to decline during this lifetime. The fifth training helps us not to lose our resolve in future lives.

Four Trainings for the Development of a Bodhichitta Aim Not to Decline in This Life

(1) Each day and night, recalling the advantages of the bodhichitta motivation. Just as we readily overcome our tiredness and tap our energies when we need to attend to our children, we easily surmount all difficulties and use all our potentials when our primary motivation in life is bodhichitta.

(2) Reaffirming and strengthening this motivation by rededicating our hearts to enlightenment and others three times each day and three times each night.

(3) Striving to strengthen enlightenment-building networks of positive force and deep awareness (collections of merit and insight). In other words, helping others as effectively as we can, and doing so with as much deep awareness of reality as possible.

[See: The Two Enlightenment-Building Networks (The Two Collections).]

(4) Never giving up trying to help anyone, or at least wishing to be able to do so, no matter how difficult he or she may be.

Training for Not Losing the Bodhichitta Aim in Future Lives

The fifth point for training entails ridding ourselves of four types of murky behavior (nag-po'i chos-bzhi, four "black" actions) and adopting four glowing ones (dkar-po'i chos-bzhi, four "white" actions) instead. In each of the following four sets, the first type of behavior is the murky one that we try to stop and the second is the glowing one that we try to adopt.

(1) Stopping ever deceiving our spiritual teachers, parents, or the Triple Gem. Instead, always being honest with them, especially about our motivation and efforts to help others.

(2) Stopping ever faulting or being contemptuous of bodhisattvas. Instead, since only Buddhas can be certain who actually are bodhisattvas, regarding everyone in a pure way as our teachers. Even if people act in crude and distasteful manners, they teach us not to behave in these ways.

(3) Stopping ever causing others to regret anything positive they have done. If someone makes numerous mistakes when typing a letter for us and we yell with outrage, the person may never offer to help again. Instead, encouraging others to be constructive and, if receptive, to work on overcoming their shortcomings and realizing their potentials to be of more benefit to everyone.

(4) Stopping ever being hypocritical or pretentious in our dealings with others, in other words hiding our faults and pretending to have qualities we lack. Instead, taking responsibility to help others, always being honest and frank about our limitations and abilities. It is very cruel to promise more than we can deliver, raising others' false hopes.