Tibetan master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is the guiding teacher for Meditation Month 2022, Tricycle’s free 31-day meditation challenge. Click here to learn more and sign up to join us starting January 1. The theme for this year’s challenge is The Bodhisattva’s Path of Meditation. In the excerpt below, adapted from Tergar’s Way of the Bodhisattva online immersion course, Mingyur Rinpoche explores bodhicitta as the greatest motivation along the spiritual path.
The greatest love and compassion is wanting to help all beings. Because beings are limitless—immeasurable—our love and compassion become immeasurable. That’s how we develop bodhicitta — bodhi meaning “enlightenment,” and citta meaning “mind.” We all have this enlightened nature, no matter who we are. Even crocodiles, ants, and mosquitoes. All of us have this wonderful enlightened nature. Nature-wise, we are equal and pure. Our fundamental nature is like the sky.
Ignorance creates this world, body, subject and object, grasping, perception, and concepts—all of which becomes like a prison. Then, we become the crocodiles or humans. But, on the fundamental level, everybody has an opportunity or chance, and wishing to help all beings fully connect with their true nature is bodhicitta: the greatest purpose.
Now I would like to read some verses from the first chapter of The Way of the Bodhisattva, [by Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva].
Those who wish to crush the many sorrows of existence,
Who wish to quell the pain of living beings,
Who wish to have experience of a myriad joys
Should never turn away from bodhicitta.
— Shantideva’s chapter 1, verse 8
Shantideva is saying that if we really want to help countless beings to be free from suffering and problems, and if we really want to help other beings connect with happiness and the causes of happiness, then we need bodhicitta. Once we develop bodhicitta—once we set that intention, purpose, or motivation—then all action comes automatically.
In ancient times, there was a saying: “When the king goes, all the retinue goes, too.” Another example: when the sun rises, the sunlight comes along with it. In other words, things come slowly—not right away. But eventually, bodhicitta comes spontaneously. So if we really want to help others, we first help ourselves to develop this great, genuine motivation. Then, after that, whatever we do becomes genuine, and it will have a really deep impact upon others.
Should bodhicitta come to birth
In those who suffer, chained in prisons of samsara,
In that instant they are called the children of the blissful one,
Revered by all the world, by gods and humankind.
— Shantideva’s chapter 1, verse 9
Although you are in samsara, and it looks like you are weak, have a lot of mental afflictions, have karmic imprints, and so many different things, the moment you develop bodhicitta for one second, you become precious. You become the child of all the enlightened ones and a source of respect even for gods, goddesses, and all beings in the world.
There is a story that Shakyamuni Buddha was, in a previous life, a potter who was born into a family of potters. He saw one buddha, and he was so happy and inspired, he offered that buddha a piece of clay pottery. He really wanted to develop bodhicitta. “I would like to be like you. You are helping many beings. From today on, I really want to help all beings and to help connect all beings to their true nature. Therefore, I am going to follow the path.”
In that instant, the Buddha was developed. Just one second was the cause for enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha. He came into this world because of that instant motivation. Shakyamuni Buddha gave great teachings, which many people followed to achieve liberation. Just one second was the cause of all that.
For like the supreme substance of the alchemists,
It takes our impure flesh and makes of it
The body of a Buddha, jewel beyond all price.
Such is bodhicitta. Let us grasp it firmly!
— Shantideva’s chapter 1, verse 10
Here, Shantideva is giving the example of alchemy. This comes from an ancient story of a special potion or magic, perhaps liquid. Whenever this liquid touches iron, the iron becomes gold. If we had that now, it would be good, no? I am just kidding. But we can use any example. Similarly, bodhicitta is almost like alchemy. Once we have bodhicitta, even actions that are neither positive nor negative, but neutral, become meaningful. Even when we sleep or are just wandering here and there, virtue continues to develop because of bodhicitta.
This is true even though we are born with this flesh and blood body, with suffering, crazy monkey mind, and sometimes diseases. Life is up and down, like the waves of the ocean—or like the stock market. We all make mistakes. But if we develop bodhicitta, then we are on a great journey—a great, meaningful path. Eventually, bodhicitta will transform our lives, minds, and bodies, like alchemy.
Since the boundless wisdom of the only guide of beings
Perfectly examined and perceived its priceless worth,
Those who wish to leave this state of wandering
Should hold well to this precious bodhicitta.
– Shantideva’s chapter 1, verse 11
Here, the meaning is that once you develop bodhicitta, you become the helper of beings, the servant of beings, or the leader to help other beings. Whatever you call it, the meaning is the same. What you need is the motivation of bodhicitta. Once you hold this bodhicitta, then your benefit to other beings comes spontaneously. Once a person has bodhicitta, then whoever sees that person feels the impact. What we learn from words is only seven percent, right? The other 93 percent is nonverbal. That is when the connection comes. That is when positive influence and genuine transformation comes.
All other virtues, like the plantain tree,
Produce their fruit, but then their force is spent.
Alone the marvelous tree of bodhicitta
Constantly bears fruit and grows unceasingly.
– Shantideva’s chapter 1, verse 12
Whatever virtuous deeds we do without bodhicitta—even generosity, social work, or meditation—the benefit is limited. That is because you have set your mind to a meaning that has limitations. Normally, people think, “I just want to help, that is all.” Or, “I want to help just to free myself from samsara.” Or, “I want to help because it is a good thing to do.” Or “I want to help because I see there is some problem. Maybe I will just help remove that problem, and that is all.” But if you help others through bodhicitta, that helping of others becomes a wheel of accumulating virtue that purifies negativity, and gives us greater and greater karma that can enable us to help more genuinely and powerfully in the future.
Therefore, once we develop bodhicitta, the results never cease. They come back here and there, again and again. That is because you have set the motivation: “I want to help all beings until they fully recognize their true nature and are freed from suffering completely.”
If you want to go somewhere, you may think, “Okay, I want to go from here to there in one hour.” You have to set that goal or motivation. Then the action is finished. After one hour, you will finish the journey. If you set a goal of one thousand miles, then you will keep going because of that motivation. You will look for solutions, have courage even though there will be obstacles, and you might think of different ways you can travel that one thousand miles. But if you do not have the motivation in the first place, even if you have a good car, maybe a jet flight, maybe even a rocket, you will not reach that place. Likewise, the motivation of bodhicitta is really important.
Now we will do a simple meditation practice.
Please keep your spine loosely straight. Feel your body, and relax your mind and body together. Appreciate that “I am going to learn bodhicitta — love, compassion, and bodhicitta. This is wonderful.