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The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

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Stages of Bodhichitta

Alexander Berzin
April 2001

Conventional and Deepest Bodhichitta

Corresponding to the two truths as defined in the Mahayana tenets, there are two bodhichitta aims:

  • conventional bodhichitta (kun-rdzob byang-sems, relative bodhichitta),
  • deepest bodhichitta (don-dam byang-sems, ultimate bodhichitta).

With a conventional bodhichitta aim, our minds focus on the future enlightenment imputable on our mental continuums that we will attain, based on our Buddha-natures, when the circumstances are complete. Accompanying it are the intentions to attain that enlightenment and to benefit all limited beings by means of that attainment.

With a deepest bodhichitta aim, our minds focus on voidness, with the force of having conventional bodhichitta.

[See: Conventional and Deepest Bodhichitta and the Two Truths in Anuttarayoga Tantra.]

The Stages of Developing a Conventional Bodhichitta Aim

The conventional bodhichitta aim to achieve enlightenment to benefit all limited beings has two stages:

  • aspiring bodhichitta (smon-sems),
  • engaged bodhichitta (‘jug-sems).

Aspiring bodhichitta is the aspiration to achieve enlightenment to benefit all beings. It has two stages:

  • merely aspiring bodhichitta (smon-sems smon-pa-tsam), with which we merely aspire to reach enlightenment to benefit everyone as much as is possible,
  • pledged aspiring bodhichitta (smon-sems dam-bca’-can), with which we pledge never to give up our bodhichitta aim until we reach enlightenment. This stage entails pledging to do certain actions that will help us not to lose our aim in this lifetime or in future lives, all the way to enlightenment.

[See: Actions for Training from Developing the Pledged State of Aspiring Bodhichitta.]

Engaged bodhichitta has, in addition to the two aspiring states, the bodhisattva vows and bodhisattva behavior to practice the six far-reaching attitudes (six perfections), which will actually bring us to enlightenment.

[See: The Root Bodhisattva Vows and The Secondary Bodhisattva Vows.]

Additional Mental Factors Accompanying Engaged Bodhichitta

In An Auto-Commentary to the Difficult Points of “Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment” (Byang-chub lam-gyi sgron-me’i dka’-’grel), Atisha quoted The Sutra Requested by the Arya Gaganaganja (‘Phags-pa nam-mkha’ mdzod-kyis zhus-pa'i mdo). There, Buddha explained that engaged bodhichitta has two mental factors included in it:

  • sincerity (bsam-pa),
  • exceptional sincerity (lhag-bsam).

Sincerity

Sincerity has two factors included in it:

  • lack of hypocrisy (g.yo-med) – not hiding our own faults,
  • lack of pretension (sgyu-med) – not pretending to have qualities that we do not have.

Lack of hypocrisy has two factors included in it:

  • being honest and straightforward (drang-po),
  • being clear and open (gsal-ba).

Lack of pretension has two factors included in it:

  • not being contrived or artificial (not making things up) (bcos-ma ma-yin-pa),
  • having a pure motivation (bsam-pa dag-pa), not mixed with any ulterior motives.

Exceptional Sincerity

Exceptional sincerity has, in addition to the factors comprising sincerity, two more factors:

  • nonattachment (ma-chags-pa),
  • going forward in a special way (khyad-par-du ‘gro-ba).

Nonattachment has two factors included in it:

  • not liable to suffer a loss of mind (giving up bodhichitta) because of attachment to some other goal (sems ma-god-pa),
  • not liable to suffer a loss of joyful perseverance because of attachment to something else (brtson-‘grus ma-god-pa).

Going forward (proceeding to enlightenment) in a special way has two factors included in it: proceeding with:

  • an enlightenment-building network of positive force (bsod-nams-kyi tshogs),
  • an enlightenment-building network of deep awareness (ye-shes-kyi tshogs).

Thus, although the Tibetan term for exceptional sincerity (lhag-bsam) is also the term for the exceptional resolve that is the sixth of the seven-part cause and effect quintessence teaching for developing a bodhichitta aim, the term has a different meaning here. Exceptional resolve is taking universal responsibility actually to help alleviate the suffering and bring happiness to all beings. As a cause for developing a conventional bodhichitta aim, it is a mental factor that accompanies both aspiring bodhichitta and engaged bodhichitta.

[See: The Seven-Part Cause and Effect Quintessence Teaching for Developing Bodhichitta.]