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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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Instructions for Equalizing and Exchanging Our Attitudes about Self and Others

Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche I
Munich, Germany, November 1982

Session Five: Developing a Dedicated Heart of Bodhichitta

Unedited Transcript
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I was discussing last evening the methods for being able to develop compassion, which is the wish for everyone to be free from all their problems and suffering. This is something you have to train and purify your heart for, to be able to develop such an attitude. The attitude with which you wish everyone to be happy is what is called love.

We all wish to be happy, but most people do not really know the way to become happy and therefore they get themselves in difficult situations, uncontrollably recurring situations, which just involve a great deal of problems and so they don’t have the happiness that they wish.

It’s very important to develop the strong feeling and attitude of wishing others to be happy. The way that you train is to first think in terms of wishing yourself to be happy, then for your mother to be happy, your father; train further and further thinking of friends, enemies, and then wishing everybody to be happy. This is the manner upon which you meditate on love.

Exceptional Resolve

Then in addition, you need to develop a sense of universal responsibility with which you feel that you take responsibility and feel that “I am actually going to do something to bring happiness to everyone. I’m actually going to try to solve everybody’s problems, and take them out of whatever difficult situation they are in.” You need this exceptionally strong state of mind, which is known as exceptional resolve; that you resolve to do it yourself.


Even if we develop this exceptional resolve with which we feel that “I’m going to bring happiness to everyone. I’m going to help eliminate everyone’s problems,” nevertheless when we examine ourselves, we don’t really have the ability to do this. We can’t really bring happiness to everyone. We can’t really solve everyone’s problems. If we ask who does have the ability to do this, it’s only someone who is totally clear-minded and fully evolved, someone who has reached their fullest potential, namely a Buddha. Therefore if we achieve the state of a Buddha ourselves, then we’ll fully be able to help everyone.

This is something that we can actually accomplish on the basis of this precious human life that we have. We actually can become a fully enlightened Buddha. Therefore the attitude with which we dedicate our self fully to others and to reaching the state of a Buddha in order to be able to help everyone is what is known as the dedicated heart of bodhichitta. Once you actually develop this attitude of a dedicated heart wishing to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all, there are great benefits that follow.

The Benefits of Developing Bodhichitta

It is said that to develop this dedicated heart even for one moment has far greater benefits then if you were to offer the entire world full of jewels and gold and diamonds to the Buddha. If you were to simply offer one flower with a dedicated heart, feeling that you are doing this in order to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone, then since you are doing it with the intention of this being for the benefit of all beings, the positive potential built up by it is proportionate to this aim. It’s equal in size to all beings.

Reaffirming Your Bodhichitta Aim

If when you wake up in the morning you first of all feel how fortunate you are not to have died during the night, that you woke up and are still alive, and then you dedicate yourself, your heart, for the entire day feeling that “Whatever type of positive things I do, may this be for the benefit of everyone,” then whatever positive actions and constructive things you actually do during the day will be carried along by the force of this positive energy and your dedication in the morning. Even if you don’t have this thought at other times during the day, still your entire day will be carried along by this great positive energy that you build up with this strong intention in the morning. Therefore, to have a dedicated heart as your motivation is extremely important.

At the end of the day you should re-examine your behavior, everything you’ve done during the day and, for instance, if you have acted very positively during the day and have been very constructive, you should feel very happy about that. You should then dedicate the potential which has been built up by this actually for your achievement of enlightenment and for your ability to help everyone. You should dedicate the positive energy for the benefit of all beings. Then when you go to sleep, you should likewise set the strong intention that “Tomorrow I am also going to act in a very positive way. I’m also going to work towards enlightenment. I’m going to work to be able to benefit all beings.” If you go to sleep with this attitude, then again this positive energy will carry on throughout your entire period of sleep and that as well will be something positive.

If you dedicate all the positive potential that you’ve built up as a root to ripen into your achievement of enlightenment, then this potential will continue to endure until that enlightenment is actually reached. It will be something that will be long lasting, and not exhaust until the goal that it’s dedicated for, namely your enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone, has been reached. It’s important to dedicate your positive potential in a very far-reaching manner like this.

The Two Stages of Bodhichitta

The dedicated heart of bodhichitta actually has two levels. When you simply wish or aspire to achieve a state of enlightenment as a Buddha in order to be able to help everybody, this is known as the aspiring type of dedicated heart. There’s both an aspiring type and an involved type of dedicated heart.

The involved type of dedicated heart is the state of mind with which you feel that it’s not enough simply to aspire to achieve enlightenment to be able to benefit everyone, but that you have to enter into all the practices of a dedicated being or bodhisattva that will actually bring you to this state. Your heart is completely involved in the practices to bring you to enlightenment and the practice which will benefit everyone. These are abbreviated into what’s known as the six far-reaching attitudes or perfections, and the four ways of being a positive influence on others. The attitude with which you wish to train yourself in all of these is known as the involved or engaged type of dedicated heart.

An example for understanding the difference between these two types of heart would be, for instance, if you thought to go to India, merely the wish to go would be the aspiring type of heart. But it’s not enough simply to wish, to want to go to India. You actually have to involve yourself in the various steps for getting there. You have to obtain a visa, you have to get a plane ticket, make the reservation and so forth, and when you involve yourself in this process, this is similar to the involved type of heart.


For the ways in which you train yourself with this attitude, the first is to develop a giving attitude. Generosity or a giving type of attitude is the attitude with which you are willing to give everything to others. Whatever type of things that we have in this lifetime that we enjoy, all our possessions and so forth, all of these things are the result of the generosity that we’ve practiced in previous lives. In general, there are many objects to whom you can give. You can offer things up in a giving manner to the Buddhas, and likewise you can offer things to others who are in need; for instance, the sick, the poor, and the needy. For instance, you can offer to someone who is in a very difficult and unpleasant situation, you can offer them something that is very pleasant.

There was an example from a previous lifetime of the Buddha when there was a hungry tigress that was in a very difficult situation with her cubs, and in the previous life of the Buddha he was willing to give up his body to feed the hungry tigress. The body, after all, is something that we cherish the most and the Buddha had such a giving attitude that he was willing to feed himself to the hungry tigress. This is a well-known account.

Ethical Self-Discipline

The second far reaching attitude is to keep a strict moral discipline and this refers to the ethical discipline of, for instance, holding yourself back from killing, taking the life of other creatures or beings, and holding yourself back from acting in any of the ten destructive manners. This is what ethical discipline is about. If you don’t have any type of ethical self-discipline, then there’s no way that you can achieve a rebirth as a human being or as a god. Therefore it’s very important to keep strict ethical self-discipline if you wish to continue with a good rebirth.

If you practice generosity but do not have any type of ethical self-discipline, then the result of this is a rebirth that will not be one as a human being but we will be reborn, for instance, as an animal that will have a great deal of material possessions. From the giving attitude you get material possessions, but because you had no self-discipline, no ethics, then you’re not reborn as a human but as an animal, and there are many animals that have a lot of possessions that they hoard.


The third thing is to build up tolerance and patience as a beneficial habit of mind. If you don’t have tolerance and patience then you will get angry, and when you get angry it completely devastates and destroys whatever positive potential and energy you’ve been building up. You’re building it up but when you get angry it completely destroys it, like for instance, having an exposed film and taking it through an x-ray machine at an airport, it erases the film. Once you get angry, it’s very difficult to just immediately calm back down, but you should train yourself to think about all the disadvantages that follow from getting angry and this way you will help prevent yourself from losing your temper.

There are some types of people whose disposition is such that due to previous habits and instincts that they’ve built up in the past, they have a strong tendency always to be unhappy and miserable and always to lose their temper and be angry. This does exist: there are angry people that all the time lose their temper. These types of things occur. If that type of situation arises in which you are always angry and always frustrated in a certain situation, when you meet a certain type of person or object or whatever it is that always annoys you, sometimes it can be very helpful to leave that area where you are staying and completely avoid whatever it is that always makes you angry. In this way, by not coming into contact with the thing that is always making you angry, this can be very helpful in helping you get over such an angry temperament.

Likewise, there are various causes that make you angry and it’s best not to think about it. It’s best not to poke around and always try to investigate the causes for your anger, but best to just forget about it and not give it any thought. The reason for this is that when you have various types of learning, if you don’t think about it, you then forget what you’ve learned and likewise when you don’t think about your anger, you’ll forget it.

If you’re able to overcome your anger in this way so that you never become angry, you never lose your temper in any situation, then you’ll find that everyone will like you and admire you and say, "What a wonderful person, this person never loses their temper." If you don’t manage to control your anger but you always give into it, then you’ll find that you’re going to become angry even at the slightest thing. Someone’s going to say to you “you have funny nose,” and you’ll just immediately explode in anger.

If you become angry then you are not able to maintain any type of harmony or balance with others and then you won’t be able to accomplish anything that you wish to set out to do. If you want to accomplish your purposes you need to have a harmonious relation with others and you’ll never get that if you’re always angry with others. If you’re able to have harmony with others that you’re working with then you’ll be able to accomplish great things. You’ll be able to build up a strong working force with others if you have a harmonious relation.

Positive Enthusiasm

The next far-reaching attitude is that of positive enthusiasm, which is the feeling of enthusiasm and happiness about doing something positive. If you just work very hard and put a great deal of effort into ordinary, worldly matters that's not called positive enthusiasm. If you put a great deal of work and effort into spiritual matters and training, that's what's called positive enthusiasm.

The opposite of positive enthusiasm is what is known as laziness. There are three different types of laziness. First there’s the type of laziness that is a feeling of inadequacy. For instance, you look at all these marvelous deeds that the dedicated beings have done in terms of feeding their bodies to others and so on, and feel totally inadequate and you feel that “I can’t possibly do something like that,” and that’s known as a feeling of inadequacy. It’s a type of laziness, and it is a type of laziness because if you train and if you practice, you actually can reach that point where you can do such things.

Then the second type of laziness is the laziness of giving up; this is when you set out to do something positive, you work like a fanatic for a few weeks or a month or so and then you don’t accomplish what you want to do and then you give it up. This is a form of laziness and it’s important not to have that type of attitude but to persevere with a steady type of effort and not give up.

Then the next type of laziness is the laziness of procrastination, of always putting things off until tomorrow. You feel “Well, I’ll do it tomorrow or the next day," and you constantly put it off. This is an extremely poor attitude. If a person is lazy then it’s going to be very difficult for them to develop any good qualities, for them to gain any learning or to master anything. Laziness by nature might seem to be something that doesn’t have such a great fault attached with it, but actually it’s something that is an extremely negative thing because it makes us waste our entire life. Therefore it’s extremely important to develop an attitude of enthusiasm.

In the past there was a great master called Dromtonpa who was an emanation of Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara, and he had a whole-hearted commitment to a spiritual master and served him very sincerely, the master called Setonpa. The way that he would practice is he would sit and with his feet he would soften the leather hides of his master, and with his hands he would churn the milk, and with his back he would rock back and forth to make yoghurt. And then he would put his textbooks to the side of him as he was doing all of this and he would study in that manner with great enthusiasm. He would step up and down on the leather hides to soften the leather, the skins of animals. If you want to soften them you step up and down on them. With his hands he churned the milk, churning the milk, and with his back, he would rock back and forth to make the yoghurt. When Atisha came to Tibet and he met Dromtonpa, he asked him about what he had done in the past and Dromtonpa explained this. Then he said, “Out of all the spiritual practices that you did, the most positive was this type of service that you did, this type of action.”

If you are a very capable and competent person then you’ll be able to do both worldly types of activity and spiritual activity very well; but, if you are an incompetent person you won’t be able to do either. Therefore I’m very happy to see people like yourselves who hold jobs and work during the day and in the evenings come to various spiritual teachings and activities. This is something that makes me extremely happy to see.

Constancy of Mind

The next far-reaching attitude is one of having constancy of mind. You need to develop a state of mind that has concentration and mental constancy. What is required is a certain method to settle your mind and this is done by focusing on an object of concentration. Whatever type of object you choose, then you do a type of mediation of fixating and focusing on that object. You should choose an object carefully and whatever object you have, then don’t change it but try to settle your mind in a focused state on that object. If you practice correctly you can gain a serenely stilled and settled state of mind (shamatha) with total concentration within six months.

When you start to meditate or try to build up beneficial habits of the mind through learning to concentrate you should have very short but frequent sessions. You should have, for instance, something like eighteen short sessions a day and then your practice will go well. We do all sorts of recitation practices of various deities; we try to gain visions of them and to actualize the deity, but we don’t succeed. The reason that we don’t succeed is because we don’t have a serenely stilled and settled state of mind. We don’t have concentration. You sit and try to recite a rosary of OM MANI PADME HUM and although your body is there, in your mind you’re going all over the place and wandering throughout your recitation.

There was a person who always used to forget what he was doing. He’d forget everything in his business affairs and when that would happen he would tell people to “Wait a second, I’ll sit down and start saying my prayers and then I’ll remember.” It’s important to be very strong and to be very determined that you’re going to, for instance, say a whole rosary of OM MANI PADME HUM and that during that entire time you’re not going to allow your mind to wander at all; and if you can do this, you will reap many great benefits from this practice.

If you can develop a serenely stilled and settled state of mind, then whatever type of positive thing you want to put your energies into, you’ll immediately be able to send your mind in that positive direction. If you can develop a serenely stilled and settled state of mind, then it’s on this basis that you’ll be able to develop extrasensory perception. You won’t be able to have any type of ESP unless you have a serenely stilled and settled mind.

If you can develop a serenely stilled and settled state of mind it’s like having a great airplane at your disposal. Whatever positive thing you want to set your mind out to do it will immediately go there with great force and energy and wherever you want to set your mind down it will just stay there and be immoveable.

Even if you develop a serenely stilled and settled state of mind, that by itself is not sufficient. In addition you need to develop an exceptionally perceptive mind as well, the mind of vipashyana, because your mind has to be both serenely stilled and settled and exceptionally perceptive and aimed at reality.

Discriminating Awareness

It’s necessary to develop discriminating awareness, with which you understand reality, voidness, the absence of all fantasized ways of existing and this brings us to the sixth far-reaching attitude which is the far-reaching attitude of discriminating awareness or wisdom. This discriminating awareness is the awareness with which you understand that there’s no such thing as a true identity for yourself or any self.

When this type of statement is made you should understand that what’s being denied is a fantasized thing, namely that people or yourself have a true findable identity; but it’s not denying that there are persons, or there’s a self in general. It’s just denying that there’s a true findable concrete identity.

It’s very important to try to differentiate correctly two types of “I”s; there are two types of “I”s that appear, the “I’ or self that appears. There’s the self that is just the conventional ordinary self and then there’s the self that is completely fantasized and to be refuted; and if you don’t differentiate these two carefully then you are going to get into a lot of trouble.

The conventional self is the self that just goes back and forth. I eat, I walk, I do negative things, and then experience problems from them. I do positive things and I experience happiness. It’s just this regular “I.’ It’s a conventional self. But, in addition there’s a fantasized type of an “I.” which is an “I” that exists concretely from its own side. It doesn’t exist merely as what can be imputed on the aggregate factors of your experience, but seems to stand out there all by itself independent of everything else. That’s something that is a total fantasy and is to be refuted; but, not the conventional ordinary “I” of, I walk around and I do things.

Therefore on the basis of this precious human life that we have, we should try to develop this discriminating awareness with which we understand that there’s no such thing as true findable identities and so on. Likewise we should try to develop in addition to this a dedicated heart of bodhichitta, in which we’re fully dedicated to others and to achieving enlightenment and have a kind and warm heart for others. These are things we should try to do on the basis of our precious human life.

If you have this discriminating awareness with which you understand voidness, the total absence of all fantasized ways of existing, then you can eliminate all your problems and gain of state of liberation from all difficulties. But, if in addition to this you have a heart that is totally dedicated to others and to achieving a state of total clear mindedness and full evolvement dedicated to achieving the state of a Buddha, then you actually will be able to achieve that state of a Buddha. Having achieved a precious human life you should try your hardest and your best to practice these two things.

Final Advice

If you simply use your life in the pursuit of material things and constantly are after more and more material possessions in this life, you never will feel that you have enough and you’ll always be dissatisfied. Therefore it’s very important to develop an attitude with which you are satisfied with what you have, and aren’t always seeking for more and more without any end. You should know when enough is enough. If you have no concept or feeling for when it’s enough already, then even if you were to have all the possessions and wealth of the entire world you would still feel that it wasn’t enough and you would want more.

If you have some type of food that you consider extremely delicious and you like very much but you have no idea of when enough is enough, then you eat so much of it, it will make you sick and throw up. You should learn to have some satisfaction, to feel satisfied, to know when enough is enough, and to have thoughts to help others and never hurt anyone and try your best to practice to have a warm and kind heart and say OM MANI PADME HUM's. To practice like this will make your life very meaningful. Don’t waste your life in just being involved in trying to accomplish trivial things, but try to accomplish something very great.

Work to bring about benefit in all your future lives. Really the main point of practice is to always have a kind and warm heart; to always feel happy with others. Whenever you meet someone, to feel happy and pleased and always to be kind; this is really the main, main point. Never have any type of feelings or thoughts with which you would want to hurt or harm anyone. Getting rid of all harmful thoughts and developing thoughts of kindness and wishing to help others, these are the main points of practice.

If you’re working like this for others and to bring others to a great state, you’ll find that you yourself will achieve enlightenment. You yourself will become a Buddha first. For instance, if you train yourself to have all good qualities and become very well-educated and learned, then you yourself will first become a great official. Then having achieved that powerful position, and influential position, then you really will be able to help others effectively. Therefore, it’s important to take this dedicated heart with which you dedicate yourself to helping others and to achieving your fullest potentials in order to be able to do so, to take this type of dedication as your basic practice. If each day you could constantly renew your dedication, to always rededicate your heart over and again to others, over and again to reaching your fullest potential, over and again to wishing everybody to be free from their problems and everybody to be happy, then this would be extremely beneficial.

When you hear about these various instructions about love and a dedicated heart, you should take this as personal advice and something that you should try to develop right now. You shouldn’t think of it as something that is practiced way off in the future and something very advanced that you’ll never be able to get to. For instance when you first go to school, then immediately once you get there you would start to learn how to write the alphabet, to start with the letter A. From there you make progress; therefore, by the same example you should start from the beginning to dedicate your heart to others and to achieving your fullest potentials. If you rededicate your heart over and again in this way, then you’ll build this up as a beneficial habit of mind and it will come naturally so that this dedicated heart will be something very stable within you. Therefore you should try to practice changing your attitudes concerning self and others.

Thank you very much.