What is the promise of bodhichitta? The real promise is the promise to eventually become a Buddha and then lead all living beings to full enlightenment. So it is a decision about the final destination you want to head towards. For me, the easiest way to arrive at this decision is by asking myself the question, “is there something more meaningful I can do with my eternity?” When we meditate on this question again and again we eventually arrive at the conclusion that there is not and we can make the decision.
It is not enough to make this decision intellectually, but we need to pose this question to our heart to come to an actual decision that this is what we are going to do. We should start by making this promise with respect to a few people, such as our friends, family, neighbors and work colleagues, and then gradually we expand the scope until it includes all living beings. If this is too much for us, in the beginning we can simply make a promise that moves in that direction, such as I will confront all of my delusions or issues that are preventing me from being able to one day make this promise.
(1.17) From the mind that aspires to enlightenment,
Great effects arise while in samsara;
But an uninterrupted flow of good fortune does not ensue
As it does from the engaging mind.
Of course the engaging mind of bodhichitta is superior to aspiring bodhichitta, but that doesn’t mean aspiring bodhichitta alone is not a very beneficial and sublime mind. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking, “because there is something better, this lesser thing is somehow bad.” This is totally wrong. For example, sometimes people think, “I love my family and I do much for them, but I do little to nothing for anybody else. Maybe I shouldn’t be so biased towards my family.” Then, we start to cherish our family less and so we cherish everyone equally. Obviously cherishing others equally is a good thing, but why cherish our family any less? Instead of loving them less, we should use them as an example of what it means to cherish others, and then gradually we strive to cherish all beings in the same way as we do our family. Cherishing our family is good, cherishing all living beings is even better.
In the same way, the mind of aspiring bodhichitta is good; but engaging bodhichitta is even better. Just because it is even better doesn’t mean aspiring bodhichitta is somehow bad. We can sometimes feel guilty thinking, “I want to become a Buddha, but if I am honest I don’t really do anything about it to make it happen.” And since we aren’t yet ready to do anything about it, we stop wanting to become a Buddha. This is exactly wrong. It is by continually fanning the flames of wanting to become a Buddha that we eventually will one day do something about it.
Wanting to become a Buddha alone brings enormous benefits. Many factors go into determining what karma we create, but our intention is by far the most important factor. In the same way, the karmic benefits of bodhichitta are nearly limitless, but it is the aspiring intention which is the most important factor.
(1.18) For whoever takes up the engaging mind of bodhichitta
With the intention never to turn back
From completely liberating
The infinite living beings throughout all realms,
(1.19) From that time forth, for him there will arise –
Even if he is asleep or apparently unconcerned –
Vast and powerful merit, equal to space,
That flows without interruption.
With engaging bodhisattva vows, we are actually doing things which takes us towards our goal. Geshe-la said that it is not enough to just enjoy Dharma, there needs to be movement in the mind. We need to move somewhere. The mind of engaging bodhichitta is a mind that is ready to do “whatever it takes” to accomplish the final goal. It is a courageous mind that will “never give up” no matter how hard it is and no matter how long it takes. When we offer a mandala, mentally we imagine we are offering up a pure universe. But in reality, we are offering up a promise: the promise that we won’t stop working until we have made this pure world a reality.
With engaging bodhisattva vows on our mind that we keep, everything we do becomes a cause of our enlightenment. Geshe-la says we need to be like a businessman who never forgets his projects. A very good friend of mine from college is a very successful businessman. Because he never stops thinking about how to make money, wherever he goes he “sees” business opportunities, risks and rewards. Whether he is eating at a restaurant or riding a roller coaster at an amusement park, he is constantly learning business lessons. In the same way, if we are as obsessed with attaining enlightenment as my friend is with making money, no matter where we go or what we are doing, we will see the connection between what we are doing and the accomplishment of our bodhichitta wishes. All of our goals in life fuse together into one overarching goal of becoming a Buddha for the sake of liberating others. Even taking out the trash or brushing our teeth becomes part of our bodhisattva’s training.
Miraculously, as long as we never make the decision to abandon our prior promise, we continue to accumulate infinite merit even when we are not thinking about bodhichitta or even while dreaming. It is like a snowball we have set in motion within our mind that, unless we make the decision to abandon it, it continues to roll. All good fortune comes from merit, or positive karma. If our wishes are not being fulfilled, it is because we lack sufficient merit. But with bodhichitta, we never want for merit, but we become spiritually very rich, so much so that we generously give away all our merit on a regular basis knowing we have within ourselves an inexhaustible fountain of new merit. In this way, all of our wishes, both temporary and ultimate, are easily fulfilled.