Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  From compassion to Bodhichitta

Generating bodhichitta occurs in a series of steps.  First, we consider others to be precious.  In dependence upon this, we generate cherishing love.  We then consider how those we love suffer, and compassion naturally arises.  On the basis of compassion, we naturally ask ourselves how we can help free them from their suffering.  The answer is to become a Buddha ourselves.

We naturally generate compassion for those we cherish when we consider their suffering.  We find somebody important to us, such as our children, and when they suffer we naturally develop the wish that they be free from their suffering.  The compassion a parent generates for their child is very pure, but it is still quite limited in scope.  We want them to get good grades, get a good job, marry somebody nice, etc.  The compassion of a bodhisattva is much more vast.  The main suffering we consider in the context of generating bodhichitta is the fact that those we love suffer from identifying with contaminated aggregates.  We wish that they were free from all contaminated aggregates and environments.  Contaminated aggregates is the fancy Buddhist name for our ordinary body and mind.  Humans suffer from human problems because they identify with a human body and mind.  Animals suffer from animal problems because they identify with animal bodies and minds.  The same is true for hungry ghosts, hell beings, demi-gods and gods.  Bodhisattva’s see that the root cause of all the suffering of living beings is they identify with the contaminated bodies and minds of samsaric beings instead of the completely pure bodies and minds of enlightened beings.  Having a good job and a nice partner is great; but having the body and mind of a Buddha is so much better.  Besides, if we are a Buddha we have the greatest job (eternally leading others to permanent freedom) and partner (Heruka or Vajrayogini) possible!

The way in which great compassion naturally leads to bodhichitta is explained in the next verses.

(1.15) In brief, you should know
That bodhichitta has two types:
The mind that observes enlightenment and aspires,
And the mind that observes enlightenment and engages.

(1.16) Just as the distinction between wishing to go
And actually going is understood,
So, respectively, the wise should understand
The difference between these two bodhichittas.

Our compassion grows until we realize it is not enough to wish that beings be free from contaminated aggregates, but we ourselves must do something about it.  We take a personal responsibility for making this happen.  This is superior intention.

When we first entered the Dharma, we all felt a strong wish to help others by becoming Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.  Yet, if we are honest, we know we still have an underlying concern arising from a selfish intention.  We still long for the temporary pleasures of samsara.  We still wish we had temporary freedom from any kind of adversity.  So we need to honestly ask ourselves, in our heart, do we have this wish to help others like a Bodhisattva or Buddha?  Or do we still have a deep concern for samsaric life?  There is a big contradiction between these two.  Now is the time for us all to ask:  what do I really want from my life?  What do I want for myself?  What do I want from others?  How much do I want to change?  How much am I prepared to change?  Am I prepared to put myself out for others?

When we contemplate these questions, we realize that as long as we still have contaminated aggregates ourselves we will never be able to help the other person because we won’t know how to, we won’t have the ability to and we won’t be around long enough to be able to.  We then consider who does have such ability, and we realize only a Buddha does.  This naturally leads to the conclusion:  I must become a Buddha for the benefit of all.  This is the precious mind of bodhichitta.

This mind of bodhichitta has two different levels:  aspiring bodhichitta and engaging bodhichitta.  Aspiring bodhichitta is we aspire to become a Buddha.  We maintain this wish throughout our entire spiritual journey, but it arises before we actually do anything about it.  Engaging bodhichitta is when we actually start doing something about it.  It begins when we actually take the bodhisattva vows.  We decide to move beyond aspiration to actually doing what it takes to become a Buddha – namely train in the six perfections.

There are a great many people who have a great interest in Dharma, but there are very few who actually are engaging in the process of changing themselves.  This is true even for changing themselves for their own interest, much less the interest of others.  The resistance to Dharma instructions always becomes the fiercest when it implies that we actually need to change our behavior.  If we check, we want to become a Buddha without having to change a thing about ourselves.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way!


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