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Introduction to Bodhichitta

Alexander Berzin
Riga, Latvia, June 2003

Unedited Transcript
Listen to the audio version of this page (0:47 hours)

What Is Our Sincere Motivation?

As we progress along the Buddhist path, we need to put a great deal of emphasis on our motivation, our goal: why are we practicing Buddhism; why are we following this spiritual path; and what do we want from it, what are we trying to achieve by it. This is true of anything in life – we need some sort of goal, some sort of meaning of doing something; otherwise it becomes a bit pointless.

As we mature spiritually, our goal is going to grow, to change. What I mean by that is that not just intellectually that our goal is going to change, but what really is most important is what do we sincerely feel in our hearts. Because it's very easy to just repeat words in a ritual "I want to achieve enlightenment, to become a Buddha to benefit sentient beings," but usually that doesn't really have very much meaning to us. It's just words. First of all, we don't really have a clear idea of what enlightenment means or what it would mean to achieve it; and to benefit all sentient beings, that means an awful lot of beings throughout the universe, and are we sincerely working to benefit every insect in the universe? That's really hard to feel sincerely, isn't it? It's hard to really feel that deeply and sincerely. And to pretend that's really our motivation when it's not makes the whole Buddhist practice a little bit of a game.

Although it is quite important to have some idea of this motivation and goal as something that eventually we would like to work ourselves up to really feeling, really be sincere in our hearts, we need to be very honest in terms of where we are right now and what really we feel right now. If we examine ourselves honestly – not pretending to be a great spiritual practitioner when we're not – if we look at ourselves honestly, we find that most of us are following a spiritual practice, a Buddhist practice, primarily to try to improve the quality of our lives, now. In other words we have difficulties in our life: we face difficult circumstances; we might have difficulties in our close relationships with others; our emotions, we might have some problems with that; and so on, and so we would like to improve that. And we're looking at the Buddhist teachings, the Buddhist methods as a way to help us in this situation.

Buddhism certainly has a great deal to offer us that can help us in improving the quality of our daily lives – that's for sure. But if we look in the actual Buddhist teachings, it says that this type of motivation to improve things in this lifetime is not really a Buddhist motivation, it's not really Dharma. If we look in the Buddhist teachings, it says that the borderline between what's Dharma and what's not is in terms of whether or not we're working to improve future lives.

For most of us really having a clear understanding of the Buddhist teaching on rebirth, and confidence that it's true – it's something that's a bit beyond us, that's not really a part of our cultural backgrounds. And so if we don't even believe in future lives, it would be very hard for us to really sincerely want to improve them. But if we look a little bit further, what we see is that this type of aim or motivation to have a better future rebirth is not something that is specifically Buddhist; this is held in common with many religions.

Christianity also talks about going to heaven after we die, so what's that? That's a better rebirth, isn't it? So that's not really our ultimate aim in Buddhism at all. But rather we are aiming for something much more than that. But having a rebirth that is filled with continuing opportunities for continual growth is necessary for reaching deeper goals, because the actual Buddhist goals are very difficult to achieve and it can take a long time, more than one lifetime probably.

What we're aiming for is actually complete liberation from rebirth. When we talk about refuge in Buddhism, we are not talking about some higher power that is going to save us, which perhaps the word “refuge” might imply. But rather what the word “refuge” implies, what it means, is putting a safe direction in our life. That's a direction, something active that we are doing, we're going in a direction in our lives, and that direction is a safe one. In other words, the further we go in that direction, the more we that protect ourselves, the more that we avoid suffering ourselves.

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha taught what's called the four noble truths, which are four facts of life that any highly realized being would see are true. First is that we all face a lot of problems in our lives. We face a lot of pain and unhappiness, and even the happiness that we experience doesn't last – it doesn't solve all our problems to have a nice meal. And we never know what we're going to experience next, because our moods change all the time. So even if we're happy, we have no idea how we're going to feel the next minute. So life, it's very unstable, very insecure, we don't know what's coming next. It goes up and down all the time.

But the biggest problem is that basically our whole experience is filled with this. Our bodies go up and down, sometimes we feel healthy, sometimes we don't; our minds go up and down; our emotions go up and down. And it continues not just throughout this life, but from the Buddhist perspective it continues forever – no beginning – and this goes on and on to future lives as well.

These true problems have a true cause – that's the second fact – and that's basically our confusion about reality: about how we exist, how others exist, how everything exists. It's like for instance there's a little voice in our heads, which is talking all the time and worrying what should I do now, what do other people think of me, complaining – all these sort of things. And it seems as though there's somebody inside talking, I mean who's the author of this voice? And so we think, "Well that's me!" And that “me” is something that seems to be totally separate from our bodies, and from our minds, and from our emotions, and which is commenting and complaining about it as if it were controlling it.

And we think that this is real, this is how we exist, and it's not that we're stupid, it's just that it really feels like that, because of this voice, primarily. Because of that confusion of believing that we exist that way, then of course we feel very insecure about this “me” and we feel that we have to protect it; we get paranoid; we have all sorts of desires; we try to get things to make us secure, get rid of things that we feel threaten us. Each moment of our experience is brought on by this type of confusion; and is mixed with this confusion, it's part of it; and it generates more experience that's the same, it perpetuates this whole confused situation.

That confusion is the true cause of our continuing experience throughout our lives, throughout future lives, of everything going up and down. We feel happy when we get what we want, we feel unhappy when we don't get what we want, and we get into all sorts of problems and difficulties with others, trying to satisfy this seemingly concrete separate “me.”

So, the third true fact is that it is possible to achieve an end to that and there is a state in which all of this suffering and all of the causes are completely stopped – it's a true stopping, a true cessation it's sometimes called.

The fourth fact is that in order to achieve this true stopping of confusion and the problems that come from it we need to generate a correct understanding of reality, in other words what's the exact opposite of confusion? If we can generate that and have it all the time, then we wouldn't have confusion, and if we don't have confusion about reality, we won't have any problems.

Now we have to be very careful here. We're not saying that I don't exist. We do exist of course – I'm talking, I'm listening, I'm sitting here. But this I, this me, doesn't exist in this impossible way, as some separate entity somewhere findable inside us, separate from the body and mind that's sort of taking in information from a screen and headphones and then pressing buttons to make the body move and do things. Nobody exists that way.

Safe Direction (Refuge)

So, when we talk about safe direction or refuge, the direction we're going in is to achieve a true stopping of all our problems and their causes, and a true path, the wisdom, the understanding that will lead to it. That's what we are aiming for, that's the direction. In other words the actual safe direction of the third and fourth noble truths. That's called Dharma. That's the Dharma refuge, Dharma Jewel. And then there are of course the teachings and the text that teach us how to achieve that, that represent the Dharma. And the more that we go in that direction, the more that we are able to get rid of the problems and their causes and develop wisdom, naturally we are protected from suffering.

Now, true stoppings and true paths don't just exist up in the sky somewhere, they have to exist on someone's mental continuum. “Mental continuum” means continuity of someone's mind, mental activity, moment to moment to moment. Here's where the Buddhas come in. The Buddhas are those who have achieved total stopping, total cessation of all the problems and their causes and the full total wisdom or path that gets rid of that. The Buddhas have achieved that in full.

Then we have the Sangha, the Sangha is referring to the Arya Sangha. This is, in other words, the group of people who have had direct nonconceptual perception of reality. They have achieved some true stoppings, some part of the true path, but not the total thing all the time. So the Buddhas are represented by statues and paintings, but that's not really indicating the direction, it just represents it. And the monks and nuns represent the Sangha, but they're not actually the Sangha refuge, they just represent it, because there are many monks and nuns that still have lots of confusion, lots of problems.

In the West, people have started to use the Sangha just to refer to the members of the Dharma center, and that is a totally non-traditional usage of the word, it's never used in that meaning in Asian societies. We basically use it like that to mean something equivalent to the members of the church. And although the various members of a Dharma center can help each other – optimally – they certainly are not a refuge, they're not a source of safe direction. There can be very disturbed people in our Dharma centers. So it's very important to be quite clear what is refuge, what is the safe direction we're aiming for with our Buddhist practice.

So, when we talk about our goal, our aim in Buddhist practice, our actual aim is to achieve true stoppings and true paths of mind that will lead to those stoppings to get rid of true suffering and it's true causes. That's our actual goal in Buddhist practice, and the goal of having better rebirth and conditions and so on – that's not an ultimate goal, but it's a stepping stone and it's a necessary stepping stone because it's not so likely that we're going to reach that goal in this lifetime. It's a lot of hard work, it's not so easy and so we're going to continue to need precious human lives with all the opportunities and abilities to continue our practice. So that's a temporary goal, to have continuing better rebirths, but as a means for achieving the actual goal which is these true stoppings and true paths – the way the Buddhas have done in full, the way that the highly realized Sangha have done it in part.

So, like that then we can look at what is our actual motivation now, what do we actually feel sincerely, which is to try to improve this lifetime. This is likewise not our ultimate goal, just as getting a better rebirth is not our ultimate goal. But having things be a little better in this lifetime is a very important and necessary stepping stone. It's because if we have deep emotional problems and these sorts of things, it's very difficult for us to really work on improving ourselves, and so naturally we have to take care of these things in this lifetime. That's fine.

But it's very important to see this as a stepping stone on the way to working toward liberation – the true stoppings and the true paths. Because without that, then our Buddhist practice just really degenerates into another form of psychotherapy, nothing more than that. Just as if we're only working to improve future lives, then Buddhism becomes just another form of Christianity, working to go to heaven. Go to a pure land, a Buddha land, and then its paradise and everything will be wonderful – well that's no different from a Christian praying to go to heaven. That's not Buddhism.

Of course we have practices in Buddhism – powa [transference of consciousness] and these sorts of things – to go to a pure land, but we have to understand what that actually means. Going to a pure land doesn't mean that then we sit around the swimming pool and play cards and enjoy ourselves with our friends. The whole point of a pure land is that this is a situation in which we work unbelievably hard all the time on meditation and practice. That's what you do in a pure land, you don't just sit around and have a good time. Because everything is conducive: you don't have this type of body so we don't have to worry about working, getting a job, feeding ourselves, paying rent, paying taxes, getting sick – you don't have to worry about all of that, so you can spend all of your time practicing intensely. That's what a pure land is all about. So a pure land is a stepping stone, where things are the most conducive for really putting in all our efforts into working to achieve true stoppings and true paths.

Dharma Lite” and “Real Thing Dharma

So we have to try to understand, there's a difference between what I call “Dharma Lite”, like Cocoa Cola light, and “Hard Core Dharma”, the real thing. Dharma Lit is basically practicing Dharma and Buddhism to just make things nice in this lifetime – be a nice person and all of these sorts of things. Whereas the real thing, the hard core Dharma is working to overcome rebirth and gain liberation and enlightenment. Now, Dharma Lite is only really a problem if we see that as that's all that Dharma is, that's all that Buddhism is, that it's our ultimate goal – then that's the problem. But if we work to improve things in this life as a stepping stone for improving future lives, gaining liberation, enlightenment, these true stoppings and true paths, then that's perfectly okay, because we're not making it into something more that what it is.

When we look at ourselves now, as I say it's very important to really be honest. What is our goal? What is our motivation? And put it in its proper perspective – not just make it “that's it” for what Buddhism is – then we can really put our hearts into the practice. We acknowledge that "Well, I don't really understand fully what Buddhism means by rebirth, I don't really understand fully what liberation means or enlightenment means, but I acknowledge that these are very important things and they're something that I would like to understand better. So as my learning and experience and meditation improve, gradually I hope to understand that, and then sincerely feel in my heart that I'd like to work for these things.”

We were speaking this morning about renunciation, which means a determination to be free of our problems and their causes and the willingness to give them up, and we saw that this requires having confidence that it's possible to actually get rid of them. If we are not confident that we can get rid of suffering and its causes, then this wish to be free of them is just a nice wish; it doesn't go anywhere.

Renunciation

We can see there are many stages to this renunciation. First we would look at the different problems that we experience in our daily lives – difficulties with people we live with, people that we work with and so on, and we would be determined "I really want to get free of that, I've had enough of that, enough already." And so we work to improve things in this lifetime. Then we would think about all sorts of terrible rebirth situations in which we're in a concentration camp, or starving to death, or really being abused, and "I really don't want to experience that." And so we have a determination to be free of that in future lives. So we are willing to give up the causes of that, which is basically acting destructively, hurting others. We create pain for others, we experience that pain ourselves.

Then we go further and we think about this whole samsaric situation – all our experience going up and down and up and down, life after life, more and more problems, and we get completely bored with that and disgusted with that and say, "Enough." So we renounce that – determination to be free. We see that the true cause for that is our confusion of how we exist, how others exist. So we are determined to be free of that and we're willing to give that up. So we're determined to achieve a true stopping of that by means of developing a true path, a true understanding of reality. This is what's called aiming for liberation, nirvana. As we discussed this morning, it's important to realize and to understand and to have conviction that it's possible to achieve this, and to have conviction that I'm able to achieve this, not just Buddhas, or lamas in Asia.

And we saw that this confusion is not part of the nature of the mind, not part of our experiencing of things; it doesn't have to be there. If we can have that correct understanding all the time, then this confusion won't arise again – a true stopping of it.

Aiming for Enlightenment

Now, this is talking about our own liberation, but we're not alone in this universe – there's everybody else, and everybody else is in the same situation. We're all equal, everyone wants to be happy, no one wants to be unhappy. We don't exist as some little entity in our head, totally disconnected to our bodies and minds, and similarly, we don't exist as some separate entity totally separate and independent from everyone else; we're all interrelated, interconnected. So it would be really wonderful if everybody could overcome their suffering and limitations, if everybody could achieve true stoppings and true paths. And how wonderful it would be to be able to help them to do this.

But we examine ourselves and we're very limited in our ability to help others, so this is what we are determined to be free of; this is what we want to renounce. We want to get rid of this inability to be able to help everybody as much as possible, and we want to get rid of the cause of that inability. That cause is basically our limited bodies, our limited minds, our limited perception. Because as it is now, we don't really know all the causes going back to the beginningless time for why people are acting the way that they have, why they have the problems that they have, what are all the influences and causes.

If we help them in some way or teach them something, we're very limited because we don't know what the effects of that are going to be, not only now but in the future lives of this person and everybody that this person meets and interacts with, what the effect is going to be from what we taught this person on these other people – I mean it's unbelievable, all the effects that could arise, and we're very limited, we really don't know. It's as if we all were submarines and our perception is like through the periscope of the submarine – we're only able to see a little bit of everything, through our little periscope. We just see what's in front of our eyes, we can't see what's behind our heads. This is what we really want to renounce, we're determined to get free of that, because it's ridiculous.

Again, what is the cause of this? The cause of this is basically still our confusion, it's the habits of our confusion. We're so used to seeing ourselves isolated, as a separate entity from everything else. And we're so used to seeing all things as separate entities, that that's how they feel to us. And we're not able to see the interconnectedness of everything. We're so used to just thinking in terms of me and ourselves, that our perspective is very limited; we don't think in terms of everybody and all the interconnection of everybody – we can't even see it.

So we're determined to be free not just of confusion, but of the habits of confusion which make us have this limited perception of things and this limited type of body that can only see what's in front of my nose and can only be in one place at one time. And so what we're aiming for is enlightenment – that's more than just liberation. It's the true stopping of not just the obscurations or obstacles that prevent liberation; it's the true stopping of these obscurations that prevent us from being able to know everything and how to help everybody, what's the most skillful thing to do to teach others, to help others. And just as it is absolutely essential to be convinced that it's possible to achieve liberation – liberation from confusion, the true stopping of that – it's absolutely essential for us to be convinced that it's possible to achieve enlightenment. Just as confusion is not an integral part of mind – of experiencing things, this mental activity – similarly, experiencing of things doesn't need to be limited.

The Unlimited Capacity of Mind

Because remember, experiencing things – what we mean by “mind” – is making mental appearances of things and some mental engagement with it – knowing it, seeing it, hearing it, etc., without there being a separate “me” making it happen, because this mental activity, the experiencing, is happening without a separate “me” that's making it happen. Then it's not limited by this small concept of a separate “me” in a separate little body with a separate little capacity, and so on – it's not limited by that. It's not limited to being – if we can use an analogy – inside a little camera, either a little camera or a big camera, or this kind of camera or that kind of camera. So it's not limited, it's just experiencing.

The type of camera that it's in, the type of physical body that it's in – that's not a determining factor. The determining factor is just experiencing. Experiencing has the capacity to experience everything. And we all have the capacity, the ability, to be like that, because we all have what's called “Buddha-nature” – the factors that allow us to become a Buddha. We all have minds, in other words we all have experiencing of things; we all have understanding; we all have basic warmth; we all have energy that radiates out, so the ability to communicate. And confusion does not have to be part of that – it's not an integral part of it, not the nature of it. Neither is limitation an integral part of that.

We have to be very careful here. When we talk about experiencing of things – our mind – it's always individual and subjective. Buddhism is not the same as Hinduism. Hinduism says that we're all one, all one universal mind, and so on. Buddhism doesn't say that. Buddhism always says we're always individuals. Buddha Shakyamuni is not Buddha Maitreya – they're not the same person. So it's like you can have many, many mirrors that reflect the entire universe, but still they are individual mirrors. They all reflect the same thing, but they are individual. Not one mirror.

Bodhichitta

So, bodhichitta, what is bodhichitta now? Bodhichitta is… First of all, we are moved very much by the intention that "I want to be able to help everybody as much as possible." That's moved by love, which is the wish for everybody to be happy and have the causes for happiness; and compassion, which is the wish for everybody to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering; and what's called an “exceptional resolve” or the extraordinary wish, which is basically taking responsibility ourselves – it's called “universal responsibility”, His Holiness the Dalai Lama uses this term – taking universal responsibility to do something about it ourselves to help others. Bodhichitta is much more than this. But bodhichitta is not any of these; bodhichitta is much more than this. It's not just love or compassion, or this universal responsibility. It is one step further – we realize that to be able to really help others in terms of this responsibility that we take, we need to reach enlightenment. We have to overcome all our limitations and realize all our potential and abilities to help others. We have to achieve a true stopping of all of that.

So, bodhichitta is moved by this. But that itself is not bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is more, it's a very specific state of mind. In order to know what this state of mind is, you need to know what it's focused on and how does it actually regard that object that it's focused on. So in order to know what this state of mind is we need to know what it is focused on, and how does it actually regard that object that it's focused on. In order to meditate, in order to familiarize ourselves with bodhichitta, with this state of mind, we need to know these two things.

What we're focused on is enlightenment. Now, very important point: we are not focused on enlightenment in general; we're not focused on the enlightenment of Buddha Shakyamuni, or the enlightenment of any great guru. We're focused on our own individual future enlightenment, in other words the state of our own mental continuum somewhere in the future, with the intention to help all beings – that's what's driving us there – and the attention to reach that future state, and, and obviously when we reach that, to benefit others as much as is actually possible. And it's based on a total conviction that this is not just some impossible thing in the future, but that this future condition of our mental continuum is something which is actually possible to achieve.

If we're not convinced that we can become enlightened, it's a farce to aim to try to become enlightened, it's a joke. Also we need to know what would it mean to be enlightened – at least have some idea of what it is. The idea that we have of it may be not very precise – unless we're enlightened it's hard for us to really know what it would be like – however we need some sort of idea that can represent it so that we can actually aim for it.

So that is bodhichitta, and when we meditate, meditation means to familiarize our way of thinking with this or with any positive state so that eventually it becomes automatic – a natural part of ourselves – by repeating it over and over and over again.

To really work on bodhichitta and developing this, we have to really work beforehand on having some vague idea of what enlightenment means, and work on this whole thing of becoming convinced that it really is possible to achieve it; it is a goal that is achievable, not just a wild dream. And to achieve it, this also has to be realistic, namely how we do achieve it. We achieve it by a determination to be free – (to attain a) true stopping of all the obstacles, all the limitations; and here the problem is our inability to really know how to help others. That means getting rid of not only our self-centeredness, self-preoccupation, selfishness and all of that, but also to get over the habits of that which cause us to perceive things in a very limited way.

The wisdom that we need, the understanding of reality to get rid of either the confusion or also the habits of the confusion, that's the same wisdom, the same understanding of reality. Reality is reality, either you understand it or you don't understand it. We need to have that (understanding be) nonconceptual, which means not through some idea, but directly. But to become a Buddha, we have to have this all the time. And, we need a special force behind this understanding, behind this wisdom, to cut through all this limitations. It's not enough just to have the force of determination to be free of our own problems; we have to have that force of determination to be able to help everybody else be free of their problems – that's compassion.

How to Achieve a Bodhichitta Aim

So, there is this conviction that it's possible to achieve enlightenment; there's this understanding of how to achieve enlightenment, what we need; and a realistic attitude about it, that it's going to take a long time and is very difficult. Progress isn't going to be linear; it's not going to get better every day. It can go up and down, but over a long period of time we make progress. So hour to hour, day to day, it does up and down. And we also need to realize that there are different levels of how do we actually put ourselves into this state of mind so that we really sincerely feel it. In the beginning we have to work ourselves up to actually feeling it. In other words, we have to rely on certain steps – so it's like this and then like this and then like this and so on – and that will lead us to feeling this bodhichitta.

There are two main ways to do that which are taught in Tibetan Buddhism – all traditions have this. The first one is called the seven-part cause and effect meditation. I'll just mention it very briefly, we don't really have time to go into it in detail this evening. First we start off with the basis – it's not part of the seven. The basis is equanimity. Equanimity here means that we're not attracted to some people, repelled from other people, and ignoring yet other people, but we're equally open to everybody. So what we're focusing on here is to overcome attraction, repulsion, and ignoring some. We think in terms of how everyone sometimes acts nice toward us, sometimes nasty, sometimes they're strangers – I mean everybody over a long period of time is in each of these situations, so no one is absolutely in one category or another.

Then we start the seven-part cause and effect. Six steps are the cause and then the final one is the result, effect. First we try to recognize that everybody has been related to us in past lives – this is the actual meditation in terms of either having been our mother or our father or our closest friend or something like that. The second step is that they have been very kind to us and helped us when they have been our mother or father or closest friend. The Dharma Lite version, if we can't deal with past lives, would be that everybody could be very nice to us – anybody could take us home, and feed us, and take care of us. Then the third step, we would like to repay that kindness. Then love, the wish that they'd be happy and have the causes of happiness. And compassion – may they be free of suffering and the causes of their suffering. Then taking this universal responsibility to do something about it and then, on the basis of that, the only way I could truly help them is to become a Buddha. So then we focus with bodhichitta on our future enlightenment. “I have to attain it to be able to help everybody and I'm going to attain it.” So we work ourselves up through each of these steps – and each of them is a meditation – until we get to this actual bodhichitta.

The other method that we commonly use is called equalizing and exchanging ourselves with others. It starts with the same step of this equanimity – to get rid of our attraction and repulsion and ignoring of others – and then equalizing our attitude about everyone. And by everyone we're including ourselves as well. We're all equal, everyone wants to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy – everybody else and also me too – just like I want to be happy and don't want to be unhappy.

There are many, many different points of view through which we can convince ourselves that we're equal; it's actually nine that we work with. Just to give an example, we all have the same right to be happy and not to be unhappy. If there are ten children and they're all hungry, they all have the same right to be given some milk and cookies – not just the ones that we like. If we're a doctor, every patient who comes to see us – not just the ones at the beginning of the day when we have a lot of energy, but the last ones as well – all of them have the same with so be cured, and the same right to be treated with our fullest ability. Then we think about how if we only think about ourselves and are selfish and very limited, how that just makes us very, very unhappy. It's the cause of our misery. If we think just of my problem, my unhappiness, then it becomes a monstrous thing because we're very limited in the way that we're looking at things, so it really makes us suffer much more; whereas if we think of others and work in terms of others, then this is a source of happiness. The best way to overcome a depression is not to just sit there and get deeper and deeper into "poor me," but to go out and actually do something to help others, be involved – whatever it might be.

Then we try to exchange out attitudes: "Instead of being focused just on me and ignoring everybody else, I'm going to focus on others, and ignore just my own selfish concern" – although of course we still have to take care of ourselves, but not exclusively just me. And are we capable of taking care of somebody else, somebody else's body and problem the same way as we would take care of ourselves? Yes, because this body that I cherish so much, actually it's not my body at all; it came from the sperm and egg of two different people – my parents. It didn't come from my own sperm and egg. So if I can take care of a body that came from somebody else's sperm and egg, and consider it mine and it's so precious that I have to take care of it, I can take care of anyone’s body that comes from anybody's sperm and egg. What's the difference? So I can wipe my nose, I can wipe the nose of my baby, I can wipe the nose of the drunk on the street – what's the difference? It's wiping a nose. Wiping a nose is wiping a nose.

Then again we think in terms of compassion – I'm going to then take and deal with other people's suffering and problems the same as I would with my own. And I'm going to try to give them happiness, in other words give them solutions to their problems and help them just the same way as I would do for myself. That's love, the wish for them to be happy. And as we had with the first method, I don't just wish to be able to do these things, but actually take the responsibility to do these things: universal responsibility. Then in order to do that I really need to become a Buddha, to overcome all my limitations so I can do that fully; so bodhichitta.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says that this second method is more stable that the first method. Because this first method, unless it's really combined with wisdom about how I exist, it can degenerate into "I want to help others only because they've been kind to me." So one has to watch out to avoid that extreme when working with the first method. The first method is very helpful but one has to be a little bit careful with it.

Stages of Bodhichitta

With bodhichitta, first we need to work ourselves up to feeling it by relying on one of these methods. Then eventually when we get enough familiarity with this – in other words we've meditated enough, we've gone through this process a sufficient amount of time – then it will come naturally, automatically, without having to work ourselves up to it. And with bodhichitta,

  • there's what's called the aspiring or wishing state of bodhichitta, in which we just wish to reach enlightenment to be able to help everyone. That’s the merely wishing state.
  • And then there's the pledged state, in which "I'm not going to turn back until I actually reach enlightenment."
  • Then there's the engaged state, in which we really engage ourselves full-time in the practices that are going to bring us to enlightenment. It's with that engaged state that we take the bodhisattva vows.

Bodhichitta in Our Daily Lives

If we ask well how does all of this translate into our daily lives, it's not merely just having love and compassion for everybody – may they be happy, may they not be unhappy – it's not only that, and not just stopping being selfish and think of others. That of course if part of it, but that's not bodhichitta itself, that's the preliminary for it. But it's when we encounter other people's problems, other people's suffering, then we try to help them as much as we can, and we realize that in order to be able to help them fully, I really have to overcome my limitations, and realize all my potentials, and so that pushes us to go beyond out limitations. So even if I'm tired, even if I don't feel like helping you, if I'm feeling lazy, or I don't like you – I'm going to push myself beyond that, I have to overcome that limitation, to push myself as much as is possible to actually help as much as I can now.

It gives us tremendous strength to really work as much as we can to help somebody, concretely, now. Also it gives us much more strength to work on our practice even when we're not directly helping others – to meditate, to try to really familiarize ourselves with these positive states of mind, to transform out attitude – this is what Buddhism is all about. Transforming out attitudes – this is what meditation means – into positive ones. So it gives us (the attitude) "I've got to do this." "How can I deal with my children and help them if I am always losing my patience and getting angry? I've got to overcome that. I'm really going to work hard on that." So it gives us great strength, but with conviction that it's possible. It's possible for me to develop more, to overcome these limitations. But with a realistic attitude, which is we don't push ourselves too much, to the point where it becomes counterproductive. You know when to take a break, you know that I can probably do a little bit more than I think I can do, but there are certain realistic limits that I have now, which I hope to be able to go beyond in the future, but we respect that. I need to sleep sometimes, I need to eat, I need to take a break – of course. But we don't treat ourselves like babies; the first moment that we get a little bit tired and we don't feel like helping somebody, we don't.

So, that's some basic points about bodhichitta. What questions to you have? Yeah.

Questions

Participant: [inaudible]

Alex: So the question is, can I repeat a little bit why one has to be careful with this seven-part cause and effect meditation for developing bodhichitta, the one that is involved with everyone as having been our mothers.

One of the steps of that is when we remember the kindness of others, who have been our mothers, then we want to repay that kindness – they've been kind to me, therefore I want to repay their kindness. So if we don't have a clear understanding of how the "I" exists, then it could be mixed with some attachment for me – I'm kind to them because they were kind to me. So it implies if they weren't kind to me, I wouldn't want to be kind to them. Whereas the other method – equalizing and exchanging method – we want to help others whether they've been kind to us or not, even when they're not kind to us. So, for that reason one has to be a little bit careful in terms of really supplementing the first method with more wisdom about the "me." Of course the second method has to be supplemented by that as well; otherwise how can we really think in terms of others as the same as ourselves, but in that first one a little bit of selfishness could creep in. Both methods are valid of course; in any method you have to watch out for what are the possible places where you could get it wrong, where you could have difficulties. It's very helpful to know in any meditation practice so one can avoid any mistakes.

Yeah.

Participant: [inaudible]

Alex: The question is if there are two creatures that need our help – let's say a spider and a fly, or a cat and a mouse – and one is going to kill the other, then who do we help, because if we help one, the other is going to suffer.

Well, that's a very difficult decision to make of course. If we think in terms of the spider and the fly, if we help the spider to eat the fly then the fly is going to die, it's finished for the fly; whereas if we help the fly to escape, the spider could catch another fly, it's not going to die instantly from that. Now, no matter what we do, the fly is eventually going to die; and no matter what we do, the spider is going to continue to eat other flies. So we try to decide in that particular moment, where we can affect, which is the greatest suffering: the death of the fly or the hunger of the spider, and death is a worse suffering than the hunger.

In other situations we have to decide in terms of which of the creatures is able to benefit others more in this particular lifetime. Ultimately everybody can benefit everybody, but in this particular lifetime. And so if it's a choice between our child and the worms inside the child's stomach that may kill the child, then the child can do much more in this lifetime – make much more spiritual progress, help others much more – than those worms. So it's clear that we would choose the child. And it’s the same thing in terms of if we have worms in our stomach.

Participant: What about beggars on the street?

Alex: What about beggars on the street, how do we help them? Basically, if we're able to give them something, then we give them; and if we don't have anything, at least we don't look down at them, or give them a dirty look, or ignore them. At least give them a smile; they're a human being. Here it's very helpful to look at the beggar as if “what if it was my mother sitting there on the street begging?” or “what if it was my best friend sitting there on the street begging?” and what's the difference? It's the same. So at least generate some respect, some sort of feeling for this person as a human being. But of course as in the teachings on generosity, we don't give things to others that would be harmful to them. So if there's a drunk alcoholic or a drug addict, we don't necessarily give them money to buy more drugs or to buy more alcohol. Give them food or something like that.

So, anything else?

Dedication

OK, so then let's end here with a dedication. Let me repeat what I said this morning about dedications, since it's a very importance point. When we do something positive and constructive, like listening to a Dharma lecture, or meditating, or helping somebody, it builds up some sort of positive force – that's usually called "merit," but that's not a very good translation. That positive force, if we don't dedicate it, then automatically what it would do is just build up good karma, and that positive karma will ripen into being able to do something enjoyable, something nice, in samsara. So, as a result of listening to this lecture, then we might be able to have an interesting conversation over coffee with our friends about bodhichitta, and they will be amused and they'll like us and think how clever we are. That's not what we want as a result of coming to this lecture. That wasn't the purpose of coming here; that wasn't our motivation, our aim. What we need to do is very consciously dedicate that positive force “may it act as a cause for reaching enlightenment, being able to benefit everyone.”

The analogy that I find very useful for this is from computers. If we type a document and then save it, then automatically it will go into the samsara file. Now, we don't want it to go into the samsara file. So in order for that document – that positive force – to be saved in the enlightenment file, we have to very consciously press the button to save it in the enlightenment file. That's the dedication. That's what we need to do, that this positive force doesn't just go into the samsara folder; it goes into the enlightenment folder. That's the dedication. What's really nice is that even if it's been saved in the samsara folder, we can transfer it, move it, to the enlightenment folder – if we haven't deleted it. You have to be careful that you haven't erased it. But if you haven't erased it, by getting angry and doing something really negative, then you can transfer it over to the enlightenment folder – but better to put it in the enlightenment folder to start with.

So we think whatever positive force has been built up by this may it act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of everyone.