Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying

Taking Hold of Bodhicitta

Taking hold of Bodhicitta is a crucial element of Noble Living and also of Noble Caring. When we wish to live nobly, we give up our own ego-centered point-of-view. Even if we are unable to act in a particular situation, we change our motivation and intention. We recall the suffering and dissatisfaction of all sentient beings, and thereby resolve to put others first. But we go beyond wishing to alleviate suffering. Motivated by bodhicitta, we wish all beings to have happiness and its cause—and thus to become completely awakened buddhas. And we commit to making this a reality. The magical secret of this practice, is that if we truly embrace this training, we will not feel overwhelmed or burdened by our caring practice.

Here we reproduce a message that Phakchok Rinpoche wrote to students in 2008, where he discusses core verses from Śāntideva’s (c. 685-763) Bodhisattvacharyāvatāra or Bodhicaryāvatāra (The Way of the Bodhisattva). Throughout the centuries, this text has inspired countless practitioners to courageously commit to a new vision and way of behaving. Rinpoche quotes frequently from the text to remind us how to embrace bodhicitta in all activities.

Dear All,

Here I am once again on this very auspicious day of the Lotus Born connecting with each and every one of you out there and hoping that you’ve been well and happy. Like my previous messages, I would like to once again take you away for a moment from your samsaric activities and share with you some of Shantideva’s words of wisdom.

In one of his sermons the Buddha explains:

The sphere of living beings is unbounded,
Likewise the desire to help them all.
And even if you lack the strength for altruistic action,
This is something you should constantly intend.
In those who harbor wishes such as these,
Bodhicitta will indeed be born.

Bodhicitta: The wish to attain complete enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.
Bodhisattva: One, who has in all his/her activities, bodhicitta as the primary motivation.

In order for one to be inspired with bodhicitta, it is essential to train oneself in the attitude of the four immeasurables: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. For this is said to be the root of bodhicitta. Though such sentiments are intrinsic to all creatures yet they remain subjective, susceptible to conditions. Therefore it is important that we cultivate and stabilize these sentiments, which is the main purpose and practice of mind training.

Taking Hold of Bodhichitta

Through these actions now performed
And all the virtues I have gained,
May all the pain of every living being
Be wholly scattered and destroyed!

For all those ailing in the world,
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.

For sentient beings, poor and destitute,
May I become a treasure ever-plentiful,
And lie before them closely in their reach,
A varied source of all that they might need.

May I be a guard for those who are protector-less,
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to cross the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

Thus for everything that lives,
As far as are the limits of the sky,
May I be constantly their source of livelihood
Until they pass beyond all sorrow.

—Shantideva (The Way of the Bodhisattva)

Like the timeless frame of Shantideva’s immense aspiration, may we too in his footsteps entirely dedicate all the results of our mind training to the welfare of others.

Sarva mangalam,

Phakchok Rinpoche

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.