6.1 Absolute and Relative Bodhichitta

The mind training slogans are all about loving kindness or bodhichitta. They are about how we can live more sanely and with more effective compassion for others. But they do not immediately launch into the practical application of mind training, or relative bodhichitta. Instead, they begin with what is seemingly impractical, with the recognition of the empty and insubstantial nature of our experience. They begin with absolute bodhichitta. That is the focus of slogans 2-6. But why start there?

In general, we prefer to just get on with it. If the slogans are about cultivating virtues and helping others, why not just go ahead and do it? Why the emphasis on first establishing a certain view of things? Why start with absolute bodhichitta? How does that change things?

The benevolence cultivated in slogan practice is not simply another form of goody-goodyness. Doing good deeds is fundamental—the path of the bodhisattva warrior is not just about talk, but about action. It is important to cultivate virtue, but it is not sufficient. Our attempts at virtue can become heavy-handed and distorted. We can go so far as to use the activity of kindness as a method of self-aggrandizement in the disguise of helping others. Even when our attempts at kindness are not distorted, trying to do the right thing can be wearing. It is a struggle.

The point is that although the kind of behavior being cultivated in slogan practice may on the surface be simply another list of ethical injunctions to follow, underlying the entire list of slogans is the ground of absolute bodhichitta, which makes all the difference. For with this ground, or nonground, the basis for distorted kindness is removed, or at least lessened. Instead of struggling to be kind, we find that true acts of kindness are without struggle. 

Our attitude as we go about practicing loving kindness or bodhichitta makes a huge difference. It’s like the old song that goes, “It’s not what you do but the way that you do it.” So in working with the remaining slogans, it is important not to lose sight of the ground of ultimate bodhichitta that is established at the very beginning.

Today’s practice

Pay close attention to the experience of heavy handedness or light touch in the way you go about your life. In the cultivation of loving kindness, it can be a struggle to try to do the right thing—is it possible to discover a glimpse of spaciousness within that struggle?

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