Bodhichitta is much more than kindness and compassion
[There was a] request last time when we [were on] Zoom to say something about bodhichitta. I will try my best. Bodhichitta is like the quintessence of the Mahayana teaching. That’s how it is said. And again, I have to say [that] our language and philology is going to be challenging. I think it’s really difficult to translate [the word] “bodhichitta”.
上次我們在 ZOOM 的時候，有人要求說一些關於菩提心的內容，我將盡力而為。菩提心據說是大乘佛法教學的精髓。並且，我必須再說一次，我們的語言和文字將是一個挑戰。我認為要翻譯「菩提心」這個詞，真的很難。
Anyway, according to the Mahayana sutras and shastras, just the fact that the term bodhichitta is still alive today, and that you and I are talking about it, this alone means that we have done something so good in our past lives. Some sutras say that there will be a day when terms such as bodhichitta and its meaning will no longer exist. And that [will] almost [be] close to [a] dark age. Not the total dark age, but quite close.
Bodhichitta is really vast and deep. This is a big subject for the Mahayana. Of course, initially it was taught by the Buddha. And subsequently there were a lot of [other] teachings on bodhichitta. One of the most popular and revered in Tibet is a text called the Bodhicharyavatara (The Way of the Bodhisattva) written by Shantideva. But it’s not just Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara. [There are] many many other texts [on bodhichitta]. Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara just came into my mind, so I’m saying this.
If you think about the context of Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, it’s quite something to think about. For example, in Peru I think there is a civilization called the Inca civilization. The reason why I’m talking about Peru is [because] at the moment they’re playing football with Brazil, right this very moment. And when the Bodhicharyavatara was composed or written or taught in India (Ed.: in about 700 CE), the Inca civilization was still alive. It was the beginning of the decline, I think. So, this is something to think about.
如果你想一想《入行論》的背景，這是很值得思考的問題。例如，在祕魯，有一種文明叫印加文明 （譯：Part 2 的結尾，仁波切更正了這一點） 。我之所以說到祕魯，是因為此刻他們正在和巴西踢足球，就現在。而當《入行論》在印度被創作、書寫或傳授的時候 （譯：公元八世紀） ，印加文明還存在，但可能已經開始衰退了。所以，這是一個值得思考的問題。
And then in Japan, since it looks like there are some Japanese people listening, [it was the] Nara period. And in India, I think the Pala dynasty in West Bengal was sort of thriving at that time. And this is something to note: at that time, the Jatakamala Sutra was translated into the Arabic language. And in Indonesia, the big stupa at Borobudur was just beginning to [be] constructed. And all this is preparation to say the following: so-called Great Britain didn’t even exist. I hope Richard Dixey is listening. Vikings where are they from, Sweden? The Swedish Vikings were just beginning to go to England and make the English people learn how to at least be like humans.
同時在日本（因為有一些日本人在聽），是奈良時期。而在印度，我認為西孟加拉邦的帕拉王朝在那個時候是比較繁榮的。還有一點值得注意，在那個時候，《本生經》已經被翻譯成了阿拉伯語。而在印度尼西亞， 婆羅浮屠的大佛塔 剛剛開始建造。我說這一切是為了準備說：所謂的大英帝國還不存在。我希望理查德·迪克西 （譯：仁波切弟子） 正在聽。來自瑞典的維京人剛剛開始去英國，讓英國人學會至少像人一樣活著。
So, when we look at this context, as a Buddhist I feel very moved that a concept like bodhichitta is still being studied, practiced and read [today], and [there are] thousands of commentaries.
Bodhichitta is ruthlessly honest
Now, I think the idea, the concept, the term “bodhichitta” has been watered down too much. Bodhichitta is measured or seen as something very philanthropic, compassionate, loving, kind, smiling, nonviolent — that’s about it. People don’t go beyond that. That is a really big downfall. If you really want to know about bodhichitta, there is a big loss [in] approaching bodhichitta this way.
There is an aspect of bodhichitta that is relentlessly ruthless. That is so important. [The aspect that is] ruthlessly honest, ruthlessly raw and ruthlessly blatant or honest or truthful. Not many people pay attention [to] this aspect of bodhichitta. I think partly it’s because of the fault of cultural differences, I would say.
Because when you go to a traditional Mahayana Buddhist temple, a bodhisattva is almost always depicted as someone who’s very compassionate, [with] kind eyes, [like] Avalokiteshvara and Arya Tara. Very nice people basically. Even though if you closely look at Mahayana temples, especially Vajrayana temples, there are a lot of bodhisattvas [who] are not what — in our mundane world — you would call “nice guys”. They don’t look good. They are very wrathful. Their methods may not necessarily be gentle.
And I think this is because, as I said, the aspect of bodhichitta which has something to do with the truth has been watered down, or not emphasized, or forgotten. This is why.
This happens. Someone [might] say, “Oh, he’s really like a bodhisattva”. What does this mean? Usually [they are referring to someone who is] not short tempered, very forgiving, patient, soft spoken. Usually [when] we say “He’s a bodhisattva”, we are hardly [ever referring to] someone who shouts, yells, [or is] rude. We hardly [ever] say [of a person like that], “Oh, he’s a great bodhisattva”.
Bodhichitta is like alchemy
Bodhichitta also gets interpreted as some sort of a kind heart and kind mind. And that’s it. That’s where it stops. It doesn’t really go beyond that. Then you are missing a big part of bodhichitta. In the Mahayana sutras and shastras, they say that bodhichitta is like alchemy. If bodhichitta is just a kind heart, kind mind, loving, compassionate — if that’s all there is, then bodhichitta can never become alchemy.
菩提心被解釋為某種善良的心和善良的思想，然後就止於這一層意思，並沒有真正超越這個範圍。這樣你就錯過了菩提心的一個重要部分。在大乘佛經和論典中，他們說菩提心就像鍊金術 （譯：能改變一切的意思） 。如果菩提心只是一顆善良的心，善良的思想，慈悲的思想，如果這就是全部，那麼菩提心永遠不可能成為鍊金術。
We also read in the Mahayana texts that if you have bodhichitta [then] there’s nothing, not a single thing that you do, that will not become beneficial to sentient beings. Such a statement is [possible] because bodhichitta is not just kind, gentle, soft, compassionate. It is beyond that. That’s why [the Mahayana texts] can afford to say such things.
So I will try to decipher some of the reasons why bodhichitta is not just kind, compassionate, loving kindness.
How is bodhichitta to be understood?
(1) Freedom from suffering and the causes of suffering
At a glance, one would think that bodhichitta is the mind that wishes to free sentient beings from suffering, which is sort of correct. [It’s] not complete, but it has some element [of that]. However bodhichitta is not [just] a mind that wishes to free beings from suffering, not just that. It has to go beyond that. It [also] has to have the element [of wishing] to free beings from the cause of suffering.
Now, even more complicated is — what is suffering? And here again, I have to remind people, the English word “suffering” may not be doing justice [as a translation of] the word dukkha in Sanskrit. Of course, I don’t need to say that nobody wants to suffer. I mean, that’s standard. That’s given. Who wants to suffer? Nobody wants to suffer. And if we know the cause of that kind of suffering, we will also try to do something [to remove the cause of suffering].
現在，更復雜的是：什麼是苦？在這裏，我必須再次提醒人們，英語中的 suffering（受苦）一詞用來翻譯梵文中 dukkha（苦）這個詞，可能並不全面。當然，不說也明白，沒有人願意受苦，那是最低標準，那是肯定的。但如果我們知道痛苦的原因，我們也會嘗試做一些事情以消除痛苦的因。
(2) Freedom from happiness and the causes of happiness
[The] wish and effort to go away from suffering that we usually talk about, that exists with everyone. But not everybody wishes to be free from happiness. When we talk about bodhichitta, from the bodhichitta point of view, happiness is also problematic. I mean, the happiness that you and I think and talk about. Because from the bodhichitta point of view, from the Bodhisattvayana point of view, [the] so-called happiness that we have is actually untrustable. It’s conditioned. It’s fabricated. It’s dependent [on] lots of causes and conditions. Therefore, you can’t really rely [on it]. You can’t trust [it].
As I’ve already said, we want to be free from suffering. Bodhisattvas want [this as well], but bodhisattvas also want to be free from happiness. That is what makes bodhichitta kind of special, [although] a lot of [other] Indian wisdom traditions [also] have that kind of guts or courage to free ourselves from happiness and the cause of happiness. It’s not really Buddhism or Mahayana exclusive.
(3) Freedom from all phenomena
Now, the third one [is] even more important. Bodhichitta is the wish to free all sentient beings from all phenomena. Now, this is what makes bodhichitta special. Just so that we can understand what I’m talking about, [the term “phenomena” refers to] the moment there is a concept, such as values [or] language. The bodhisattva even wishes to be free from the very path that the bodhisattva or the practitioner is practicing. So I would say this makes bodhichitta unique.
I’m sorry, probably I’m putting it in a very academic and complicated way. I will try to simplify as we go. An example I often use when I teach the Mahayana path is when a mother is playing with her kids in the sand at the beach. And the kids construct a sandcastle and the mother also really helps to build it. But there is an element, a part in the mother that knows that this sandcastle is not really a real castle [Ed.: for example, she knows it will be washed away as the tide rises]. This is probably a good example for bodhichitta.
對不起，可能我把它說得很學術，很複雜。讓我嘗試簡化一下。我在教授大乘法道時經常使用的一個例子是，一位母親與她的孩子在海灘上玩沙，孩子們建造了一個沙堡，母親也真的幫助建造了它。但是有一個因素，母親在心裡清楚知道這個沙堡並不是真正的城堡 （編：例如，她知道它將在潮水上漲時被沖走） 。這可能是菩提心的一個好例子。
Earlier I was talking about being ruthlessly truthful, so to speak? By the time it’s eight o’clock in the evening, the mother will say to the kids, “Okay, let’s pack, let’s go back”. Being honest about the facts, [the truth]. I think this element is something that Mahayana practitioners really can’t afford to miss when we talk about bodhichitta.
Awakening to the truth
Once we understand this aspect, then we will realize that with bodhichitta, we can actually turn many so-called non-virtuous [thoughts and actions] into [something] virtuous. And this is why you hear things that non-Mahayana people or other religious people may [find difficult to] understand. [For example,] Mahayana [people] say, “Oh, you know, a bodhisattva could tell a lie and that lie could be virtuous.”
And usually, when we explain this, we always talk about intention, “Oh, for the sake of saving lots and lots of people, maybe a bodhisattva could tell a lie to [mislead] a killer”, and so forth. But actually, it’s not just the intention. It’s knowing the truth. Because of that, if a bodhisattva has that kind of realization of the truth, [then] even the bodhisattva’s nonvirtuous action becomes virtuous.
And, even more importantly, not all virtuous actions become a path to enlightenment. Many virtuous actions [only] end up becoming a cause for a higher birth or good experience. For example, you could even build a hospital [and] save thousands of people’s lives and so forth, but [if you do not realize the truth] it might still not be a path to enlightenment. But with bodhichitta not only [does] the nonvirtuous become virtuous, [but also] virtuous actions become what we call [a] path to nirvana.
I will try to explain this from a slightly different angle. Fundamentally bodhichitta is [the] union of wisdom and skillful means. You know, we Mahayana practitioners always say that we have to have bodhichitta. And the way we practice bodhichitta is usually like, “For the sake of the enlightenment of all sentient beings, I shall do this and that”.
Here again, sometimes we get bogged down by terms such as “enlightenment”. When we say “For the sake of the enlightenment of all sentient beings”, what we really mean is “For sentient beings to awaken to this truth, one way or another I shall do this and that. I shall light a lamp. I shall burn incense. I shall circumambulate a stupa, whatever”.
So next time when we think about “To enlighten all sentient beings”, I think it would help if you think in this context — to awaken sentient beings to the truth. If you can really contemplate on this, it’s really the highest wholesome thought that exists. From the Mahayana point of view, the wish to awaken others to the truth is far greater than wishing to build a lot of hospitals and saving lots of lives and so forth.
So if you think about concepts such as love, compassion, and bodhichitta, you can [differentiate] these three:
Wishing somebody [to be] happy and have the causes of happiness is considered love, kindness. Wishing others to be free from suffering and the causes of suffering is considered compassion. This is a very standard way of explaining. But bodhichitta has to have this element of [wishing to] awaken beings to the truth. In other words, to place them in the state of enlightenment.
Bodhichitta is the union of skillful means and wisdom
Remember I was talking about the union of skillful means and wisdom? Wishing to free others from suffering and wishing them to be happy, these are skillful means. [In addition] there are methods such as discipline, ethics, patience, and samadhi, such as mindfulness. These are all skillful means. But these skillful means without wisdom, without prajña — without the quest for the truth, let’s say for now — all these skillful means are very blind and also very misleading.
還記得我說過的方便和智慧的結合 （雙運） 嗎？希望把別人從痛苦中解脫出來，希望他們獲得幸福，這些都是方便。還有一些方便，如戒律、道德、忍辱和三昧、正念，這些都是方便。但是，如果沒有般若智慧，也即沒有對實相的追求，我們可以這麼說：所有這些方便都是非常盲目的，也是非常誤導性的。
Pick one. [For example], we wish other people to be happy, [but] without the wisdom aspect. This is very vague. First of all, we don’t even know what is happiness. We wish no harm to others. But that’s also very vague. I mean, the best we could do is “What I don’t want, I guess others don’t want. Therefore I will not give him or her what I don’t want or what I don’t like”. That’s about the best thing we could do.
Or whatever you think you are happy with, or [what makes] you feel blissful, [you might think] “I guess others also wish [for this], so I give [this to them]”. That’s very good. I’m not condemning this. It’s good. It’s very sweet. It’s very nice. But it’s very vague. There’s not much guarantee there. Who knows? Maybe what you like is what the other person really detests. So if you shove what you like down their throat, probably you are not doing a good thing.
So this is why if you miss this wisdom aspect, the Mahayana idea of bodhichitta ends up becoming very limited and very mundane. Bodhichitta is not mundane, that’s what I’m trying to say.
Okay we’ll take a break here, and then we will resume again.
宗薩欽哲仁波切，於 2021年7月5日 在美國加利福尼亞州，給予了關於《菩提心》的開示。英文部分由 Alex Li Trisoglio（仁波切指定的佛法老師）聽寫，並分段和添加標題，發布在 Madhyamaka.com。中文部分由 孫方 翻譯。並在翻譯過程中，根據視頻做了文字上的修訂，所以中英文部分可能會有可忽略不計的微小差別。