In Buddhism, bodhicitta,[a] "enlightenment-mind", is the mind that
strives toward awakening, empathy, and compassion for the benefit of
all sentient beings.
4 Origins and development
4.1 Use in early Mahāyāna
5.4 Two Practice Lineages
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Etymologically, the word is a combination of the
Sanskrit words bodhi
Bodhi means "awakening" or "enlightenment".
Sanskrit root cit, and means "that which is conscious" (i.e.,
mind or consciousness).
Bodhicitta may be translated as "awakening
mind" or "mind of enlightenment".
Various indigenous terms for the concept include Sanskrit:
बोधिचित्त; Chinese: 菩提心, putixin; Japanese:
菩提心, bodaishin; Standard Tibetan:
transliteration: byang chub kyi sems; Mongolian: бодь
сэтгэл; and Vietnamese: Bồ-đề tâm.
Bodhicitta is a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by
great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling
away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing
The mind of great compassion and bodhicitta motivates one to attain
enlightenment Buddhahood, as quickly as possible and benefit infinite
sentient beings through their emanations and other skillful means.
Bodhicitta is a felt need to replace others' suffering with bliss.
Since the ultimate end of suffering is nirvana, bodhicitta necessarily
involves a motivation to help others to awaken (to find bodhi).
A person who has a spontaneous realization or motivation of bodhicitta
is called a bodhisattva.
Different schools may demonstrate alternative understandings of
Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche
Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche and Surya Das, both Nyingma masters of the
non-sectarian Rime movement, distinguish between relative and absolute
(or ultimate) bodhicitta. Relative bodhicitta is a state of mind in
which the practitioner works for the good of all beings as if it were
their own. Absolute bodhicitta is the wisdom of shunyata
Sanskrit term often translated as "emptiness", though
the alternatives "vast expanse" or "openness" or "spaciousness"
probably convey the idea better to Westerners). The concept of
Buddhism also implies freedom from attachments[b] and
from fixed ideas about the world and how it should be.[c]
Some bodhicitta practices emphasize the absolute (e.g. vipaśyanā),
while others emphasize the relative (e.g. metta), but both aspects are
seen in all
Mahāyāna practice as essential to enlightenment,
especially in the Tibetan practices of tonglen and lojong.
Without the absolute, the relative can degenerate into pity and
sentimentality, whereas the absolute without the relative can lead to
nihilism and lack of desire to engage other sentient beings for their
In his book Words of My Perfect Teacher, the
Tibetan Buddhist teacher
Patrul Rinpoche describes three degrees of bodhicitta: The way of
the King, who primarily seeks his own benefit but who recognizes that
his benefit depends crucially on that of his kingdom and his subjects.
The path of the boatman, who ferries his passengers across the river
and simultaneously, of course, ferries himself as well, and finally
that of the shepherd, who makes sure that all his sheep arrive safely
ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.
Origins and development
Use in early Mahāyāna
Describing use of the term bodhicitta in Tibetan Buddhism, Paul
Williams writes that the term is used differently in early Mahāyāna
works, referring to a state of mind in which a bodhisattva carries out
We are describing here the late systematized Indo-Tibetan Mahāyāna.
It seems that in the relatively early Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra, for
example, the bodhicitta is a much vaguer concept, more "a certain
state of mind" in which a
Bodhisattva acts (Nattier 2003a: 148). [...]
Pagel points out that many
Mahāyāna sūtras, including the
Bodhisattvapiṭaka, hold that the arising of bodhicitta
(bodhicittotpāda) is not simply a static thing that occurs just at
the beginning of the
Bodhisattva path. Rather it is continuously
retaken and evolves through practice.
Among the most important later source texts on bodhicitta, used by
traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, are:
A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way Of Life
A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way Of Life (c. 700 CE),
Thogme Zangpo's Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva (12th
Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind (c. 1100 CE),
Geshe Chekhawa Training the Mind in Seven Points in the 12th century
Buddhism propagates the Bodhisattva-ideal, in which the Six
perfections are being practiced. Arousing bodhicitta is part of this
Vajrayāna Buddhism, the goal of Buddhist practice
is primarily to be reborn infinite numbers of times to liberate all
those other beings still trapped in samsāra.
Buddhism teaches that the broader motivation of achieving
one's own enlightenment "in order to help all sentient beings" is the
best possible motivation one can have for any action, whether it be
working in one's vocation, teaching others, or even making an incense
offering. The Six Perfections (Pāramitās) of
Buddhism only become
true "perfections" when they are done with the motivation of
bodhicitta. Thus, the action of giving (Skt. dāna) can be done in a
mundane sense, or it can be a
Pāramitā if it is conjoined with
Bodhicitta is the primary positive factor to be
The Mahāyāna-tradition provides specific methods for the intentional
cultivation of both absolute and relative bodhicitta. This cultivation
is considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of the path to
complete awakening. Practitioners of the
Mahāyāna make it their
primary goal to develop a genuine, uncontrived bodhicitta which
remains within their mindstreams continuously without having to rely
on conscious effort.
Among the many methods for developing uncontrived
Bodhicitta given in
Mahāyāna teachings are:
Contemplation of the Four Immeasurables (Brahmaviharas):
Immeasurable Loving-Kindness (Maitrī),
Immeasurable Joy in the Good Fortune of Others (Mudita), and
Immeasurable Equanimity (Upekṣā)
The practice of the Pāramitās (Generosity, Patience, Virtue, Effort,
Meditation, and Insight).
The Taking and Sending (tonglen) practice, in which one takes in the
pain and suffering of others with the inhalation and sends them love,
joy, and healing with the exhalation, and the
training) practices of which tonglen forms a part.
Viewing all other sentient beings as having been our mothers in
infinite past lives, and feeling gratitude for the many occasions on
which they have taken care of us.
Two Practice Lineages
Tibetan Buddhists maintain that there are two main ways to cultivate
Bodhichitta, the "Seven Causes and Effects" that originates from
Maitreya and was taught by Atisha, and "Exchanging Self and Others,"
Shantideva and originally by Manjushri.
Tsongkapa the seven causes and effects are thus:
recognizing all beings as your mothers;
recollecting their kindness;
the wish to repay their kindness;
According to Pabongka
Rinpoche the second method consists of the
how self and others are equal;
contemplating the many faults resulting from self-cherishing;
contemplating the many good qualities resulting from cherishing
the actual contemplation on the interchange of self and others;
with these serving as the basis, the way to meditate on giving and
The practice and realization of bodhicitta are independent of
sectarian considerations, since they are fundamentally a part of the
human experience. Bodhisattvas are not only recognized in the
Theravāda school of Buddhism, but in all other religious
traditions and among those of no formal religious tradition. The
present fourteenth Dalai Lama, for instance, regarded
Mother Teresa as
one of the greatest modern bodhisattvas.
^ For definitions of the components of the term see Wiktionary: bodhi
^ particularly attachment to the idea of a static or essential self
^ The classic text on śunyatā is the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya
Sūtra, a discourse of the Buddha commonly referred to as the "Heart
^ Das, Surya (1998). Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for
the Western World. Broadway Books. pp. 145–146.
^ Das, Surya (1998). Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for
the Western World. Broadway Books. p. 149.
^ a b c Fischer, Norman (2013). Training in Compassion:
on the Practice of Lojong. Shambhala Publications. p. 11.
^ a b c Khenpo, Nyoshul; Das, Surya (1995). Natural Great Perfection.
Snow Lion Publications. p. 56. ISBN 1-55939-049-2.
^ Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Shambhala
Publications. pp. 197–199. ISBN 978-1570629570.
^ a b "The Practice of Tonglen". Shambhala International. Archived
from the original on February 12, 2015. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
^ Rinpoche, Patrul (1998). Words of My Perfect Teacher. Shambhala
Publications. p. 218. ISBN 1-57062412-7.
^ Williams, Paul (2008).
Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal
Foundations. Routledge. p. 355. ISBN 9781134250578.
^ "The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva". Archived from the
original on June 3, 2004. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
^ "Eight Verses for Training the Mind" (PDF). Prison Mindfulness
Institute. Retrieved April 3, 2015.
Tsongkapa (2004). The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to
Enlightenment Volume 2. Snow Lion Publications. p. 28.
^ Rinpoche, Pabongka (1991). Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand.
Wisdom Publications. p. 598. ISBN 978-0861711260.
^ Dhammananda, K. Sri; Maha Thera, Piyadassi (1983). Gems of Buddhist
Wisdom. Buddhist Missionary Society. pp. 461–471.
Dalai Lama (2002). An Open Heart: Practicing
Compassion in Everyday
Life. Back Bay Books. p. 23. ISBN 978-0316930932.
Gyatso, Tenzin (1995). The World of Tibetan Buddhism: An Overview of
Its Philosophy and Practice. Wisdom Publications.
Harvey, Peter (2000). An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 978-0521556408.
Lampert, Khen (2006). Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to
Social Activism. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1403985279.
Matics, Marion L. (1970). "Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The
Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Santideva". Macmillan.
Missing or empty url= (help)
Powers, John (2007). Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. Snow Lion
Publications. ISBN 978-1559392822.
Sangharakshita (1990). A Guide to the Buddhist Path. Windhorse
Publications. ISBN 978-1907314056.
Geshe Lhundub; Pratt, David (2004). Steps on the Path to
Enlightenment Vol. 1. Wisdom Publications.
Wangchuk, Dorji (2007). Studia Philologica Buddhica XXIII. The Resolve
to Become a Buddha: A Study of the
Bodhicitta Concept in Indo-Tibetan
Buddhism. The International Institute for Buddhist Studies.
White, Kenneth R. (2005). The Role of
Bodhicitta in Buddhist
Enlightenment. The Edwin Mellen Press.
ISBN 978-0-7734-5985-4. [includes translations of the
following: Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, Sammaya-kaijo]
Bodhicitta in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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