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The Teaching on Aspirational Bodhicitta


His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Tibetan Cultural Center
Bloomington, Indiana
July 27, 1996

Translator: Jeffrey Hopkins, Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Virginia

Among the many religions of the world, today I will be speaking about a religion taught by Sakyamuni Buddha. The Buddhist religion, as it has survived in Tibet, is a complete form of Buddhism in that it contains both sutra and mantra, also called tantra, and has the full teachings on all forms of the schools of tenets, both lower vehicle and greater vehicle. I will be speaking today on the perspective of the Madhyamaka, the Middle Way School.

The assumption of the generation of one's mind toward enlightenment will be by way of the first three stanzas on the top of the page, but prior to that we'll be doing the Seven Branches of Worship which begins about mid-way down the page.

First of all, let me identify what the altruistic intention to become enlightened is. Our kind teacher Sakyamuni Buddha, when he first taught the turning of the wheel of the Four Noble Truths, set forth a doctrine that has compassion at its root. So even in the scriptures of the so-called Hearers, like the scriptures of the Theravada , there is mention of Sakyamuni prior to being enlightened when he was in Bodh Gaya as a bodhisattva.

Then with regard to the actual practices of a bodhisattva in the scriptures of the Hearers, there is a short description within the Thirty-seven Harmonies for Enlightenment and there is a slight mention of the Six Perfections. But the real emphasis on the practice of the bodhisattvas is to be found in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. In the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras what is explicitly taught are the teachings about emptiness. But there is a hidden level of meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and these are indicated by the lists of phenomena that are empty of inherent existence, and within that one can find the stages of the path. And in the Lolitavistra Sutras, the bodhisattva deeds are talked about extensively.

In Madkaya's Ornament for Clear Realization there is a description of the altruistic intention to be enlightened or the mind of enlightenment endowed with two aspirations. The one is the aspiration to bring about others' welfare and that condition induces the second aspiration which is to gain enlightenment oneself. Now both of these aspirations one needs to practice. The development of the aspiration to bring about others' enlightenment is brought about by practice in two ways. One is through considering the switching of self and other--the equality of self and other and then the switching of self and other. The other way is through reflecting on the Seven Quintessential Instructions of Cause and Effect. The essence of this process is to realise that all other sentient beings as well as yourself are very similar in that everyone wants happiness and doesn't want suffering and in that suffering is removable. It can be removed. In addition, everyone has the right to remove suffering.

But what is the difference between self and other? Oneself is only one, whereas others are limitless in number. And from another point of view, one's own happiness is related with others' happiness. Thus if others are happy, automatically and naturally oneself is happy. If others suffer, one automatically and naturally suffers. For instance, if you come into a household where people are constantly arguing and they're constantly disturbed--even for just a little while, you will notice the pervasive discomfort in the household, in the family. And if you arrive in the household of a family that is staying with some measure of contentment and happiness, living together peacefully, you yourself will have a sense of comfort shortly after arriving in their house. Thus, in this way, others' happiness and suffering has a close relationship with your own happiness and suffering.

And then from the point of view of the Buddha's teaching, if you have an attitude of altruism, of benefiting others, so much will you benefit yourself--so much will you accumulate merit that helps yourself. For instance, if you engage in one single practice, such as a prayer or any other type of virtuous practice, if you do this with a motivation of obtaining liberation from cyclic existence for yourself--or if you do that same activity with the motivation to obtain the omniscience of highest enlightenment in order to be of benefit to limitless sentient beings, then the difference in strength--the power--of that virtue, is very great in the sense that both sides of your motivational aim--what you're seeking to accomplish and for whom you are seeking to accomplish it--are vastly different. Thus, when one's field of motivation is the welfare of a limitless number of sentient beings, then the virtue accumulated through the practice is extremely vast. Thus, in the Great Vehicle when it speaks about the accumulation of huge amounts of merit, that merit is achieved through the kindness of other sentient beings.

Now if you ask, "How could it be feasible to conceive of everybody--of all sentient beings--as having this kindness when some don't have a motivation to help others and how could it be possible that one would be conceiving them, nevertheless, to be kind? And the answer is that the valuing of other sentient beings is not dependent on their motivation.

As Shantideva says in his Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, among the three refuges, the actual refuges are the true cessations of the obstructions and the paths to achieving those true cessations. Now those true cessations themselves, or the path consciousnesses themselves, don't have any motivation to help you, but they provide great protection. Thus the valuing, the having a sense of cherishing or valuing of things, does not depend upon their having the motivation to help you. Thus from the perspective of practicing the path, it is in dependence upon this value or kindness of the limitless number of sentient beings that it is possible to proceed ahead on the path. In terms of the ordinary state, also, most of our provisions--food and clothing and fame and so forth come by way of others. It is in dependence upon them in terms of the resultant state, also, that comes by way of the value or the kindness of other sentient beings. Thus it is said, that it is in dependence upon the kindness of our fellow beings that we achieve even small pleasures and so forth within ordinary life and it is in dependence upon others that the great achievement of Buddhahood and so forth is brought about. So it is through our fellow beings, it is in dependence upon them that we achieve anything. Now the problem with those who are just seeking release from cyclic existence for themselves is that their lower or smaller motivation means that they are neglecting their fellow sentient beings. Thus they are falling into a self-centered, solitary peace. Thus it is said that the childish beings--people who are immature like children--are seeking their own welfare by putting themselves first, but actually this is inducing more suffering, whereas someone like the Buddha puts others first and works for their welfare, and the result of this is the obtainment of Buddhahood. So this is the main way that one trains in the development of altruism of "otherism.

So then what is the other aspiration--the aspiration to one's own enlightenment? And as Dajen Gyeba Singjai, the Indian pundit--an important disciple of Nagarjuna--said, enlightenment is not something given to oneself from the outside. The causes of enlightenment are not possessed by somebody else. Rather the very factors that make enlightenment possible are contained within oneself--this being the luminous and cognitive nature of the mind, and one needs to manifest this oneself and, thereby, manifest enlightenment oneself. As Nagarjuna himself said, through the extinguishment of contaminated karma, contaminated actions and affective emotions, there is liberation. So then what are contaminated actions and afflictive emotions? Contaminated actions are induced by afflictive emotions. Afflictive emotions are induced by improper mental activities . Improper mental activity is induced by the elaborations of the conception of inherent existence. Those elaborations of the conception of inherent existence are extinguished through emptiness--meaning through realizing emptiness. There is another form of the last line which says elaborations of the conception of inherent existence are extinguished in emptiness. (This means in the sphere of the reality of emptiness, the emptiness of inherent existence.) So then how is that through meditating on emptiness one can cease the elaborations of the conception of inherent existence? In order to understand this, one needs to form comprehension of the two truths and the four truths. The four truths that the Buddha originally set forth are the very foundation of his entire teaching.

In the Great Vehicle there is mention of the three phases of the teaching of the Buddha called the Turnings of the Wheel of Doctrine, the first being the teaching of the Four Noble Truths which I just mentioned. The middle wheel doctrine expands on the third of the Four Noble Truths, True Cessations, and explains in detail about True Cessations. The final wheel of the doctrine expands on the Fourth Noble Truth, True Paths, and also expands upon the third of the Four Noble Truths, True Cessations. Thus it has these two functions of speaking more about True Cessations and speaking more about the Path. With regard to the Path, it addresses emptiness. It is necessary to know a presentation of these faults of the afflictive emotions and so forth in fine detail..

All four schools of Buddhist tenets agree that ignorance is the basis from which all of the other afflictive emotions are produced. But the four schools present in great detail different opinions on just what ignorance is, and these opinions need to be known. Thus it is necessary to know in detail what the ignorance is that serves as the root of the other afflictive emotions. It is not sufficient just to think, "Oh, ignorance is the root of the afflictive emotions." One needs to know and identify well what this ignorance is. To get a clear understanding of what ignorance is, it is important to get an idea of how phenomena actually do exist. One cannot be just satisfied with how things appear; rather, one needs to have an idea of how they actually exist. And when one has some idea of how actually things do exist, then you can understand that ignorance is a matter of conceiving phenomena to exist in the opposite way to which they actually are. Thus, it is very important to delineate how phenomena actually abide. So then within the Great Vehicle systems of tenets, there is the Cittamatra or Mind Only system and the Madyamaka or Middle Way system. In the Mind Only system, a type of reasoning is used to analyze phenomena that appear to be external objects and through that reasoning to determine that these externally appearing objects really are not made up of building blocks of external particles; rather, they are appearances within the entity of internal consciousness. Thus, they hold that the way phenomena actually abide is as of the same entity as internal mind, that they don't exist as they appear--as external objects. Thus the Mind Only system sets forth an emptiness of a difference of entity of subject and object.

Now Chandakirti, the name of the proponent of the Madhyamaka or the Middle Way school, answers them by saying just as you have searched with reason to investigate external objects, so one should search and investigate the nature of mind, and that under such analysis one won't find some concretely existing mind, also. Thus both external phenomena and internal phenomena are similar in that when they are analyzed in such a way they are not found, but this does not have to mean that they don't exist. Thus Chandakirti asserts external objects.

What does this non-finding upon searching analytically indicate? It indicates that phenomena do not exist objectively in their own right. So then how do phenomena, that is to say objects and subjects, actually exist. They exist imputedly, designatedly. The source for this position is in the writings of Nagarjuna himself who said that whatever is a dependent arising is necessarily empty and there is no phenomenon that is not a dependent arising. And everything is posited in dependence upon other factors. Because phenomena are imputed in dependence upon other factors, they are neither non-existent or inherently existent, but rather they exist in a middle way, and this is the Middle Path. Thus, the true mode of abiding of phenomena, the true way that phenomena exist, the true mode of existence is that they are imputedly existent; they are dependently and designatedly existent.

However, the phenomena that we internally experience and the external phenomena that we experience, we have to admit don't appear to be imputedly existent; they appear to be existent from their own side, in their own right. Inside our minds, we have a strong sense that these internal phenomena and external phenomena indeed exist the way they appear. Now this is what is called the misconception of inherent existence or the misconception of true existence. Thus, one should be contemplating or reflecting on the fact that it is within such a misapprehension that we are generating afflictive emotions and are being drawn into contaminated actions. What we are doing is misconceiving the nature of ourselves and others, self and others appearing to inherently exist, whereas they don't, but we go right on along with the appearance of self and other as existing in their own right and in dependence on that generate afflictive emotions that themselves induce contaminated karmas.

Thus what is this ignorance that we keep talking about? It is the assent to the appearance of beings in the environment as if they exist the way they appear, then too, how they appear. That's ignorance and that type of assent to this false appearance as if objects exist in their own right induces desire and hatred. That desire and hatred in turn induce contaminated actions. Thus, the ignorance that is assenting to the appearance of objects as inherently existent does not have a valid foundation, does not have a foundation certified by valid cognition; whereas the realization that phenomena do not exist this way does have a certification by valid cognition. Thus, the basis, the foundation of ignorance is not firm, no matter how powerful it has been over time, its foundation is not firm; whereas the foundation of wisdom is firm. It is in this sense that the defilements can be extinguished. And thus wisdom acts as a counteractive factor to ignorance. And it is by way of the fact that the wisdom realizing selflessness, the absence of inherent existence, is a quality of mind, that is to say, it is a quality that depends on the luminous and knowing nature of the mind that it is said that it is stable. Since it is stable, it can be familiarized with greater and greater clarity. This is the way that you can think about that line, mentioned earlier, that the afflictive emotions which depend on the conceptual elaborations of inherent existence are ceased by emptiness or are ceased in emptiness. Thus, realization of the emptiness of inherent existence is the reason why--the realization of the actual nature of phenomena--is the reason why the defilements can be removed. And once the defilements can be removed, then liberation from cyclic existence is possible. And, also, the predispositions that are established by the misconception that phenomena exist in their own right, these predispositions that cause phenomena to appear in this false aspect and prevent knowledge of all phenomena, these predispositions also are suitable for removal and can be removed. Since the mind naturally has an essence or nature of being luminous and knowing, once these obstructions are removed, then the mind can know everything. Thus one can understand that full enlightenment is possible and that it would also be possible within one's own continuum to attain this. And this is how, by contemplating this way, you can gain the aspiration to gain your own enlightenment.

Then just as it is possible oneself to extinguish one's own defilements in the sphere of reality through mediating on emptiness and the other obstructions that prevent omniscience, so it is true with respect to each and every other sentient being. Their defilements and obstructions are suitable to be removed, and thus they also are suitable to obtain the highest enlightenment as a Buddha. Thus with the aspiration to bring about their highest enlightenment, one has been in aspiration to bring one's own enlightenment in order to help them. So then how is it that your own enlightenment can serve as a contributing factor to others' enlightenment? It is said that a buddha does not wash away others' ill deeds with water. A buddha does not remove the suffering of others' by way of laying on hands. A buddha can not give to others that buddha's realizations. It is by way of teaching to others those qualities of the path that Buddha developed by experience that a buddha can help others achieve enlightenment. So this is the procedure by which one develops an altruistic intention to become enlightened--Bodhicitta, the Mind of Enlightenment, endowed with the two aspirations, the aspiration to bring about others' welfare and the aspiration to bring about one's own enlightenment.

So now what you will be doing here today is with this formation of an understanding of these two types of aspirations-- the aspiration for others' welfare and the aspiration to one's own enlightenment--you should be one-pointedly concentrating on achieving these two and develop the wish to achieve this altruistic enlightenment. And then to think that--to make the decision that--in all circumstances and at all times I am not going to forsake this attitude, and I'll do this by developing further and further familiarization with the processes of altruism. And thus, today, if there is somebody who is familiar with this type of practice, you can also develop an intention never to let it slide.

So then, first of all, please recite the Seven Branches of Worship which is about a third of the way down the first page. Then, first of all you should consider, based on the image of the Buddha that is on the wall, that the actual Buddha is present. And you should consider that the great beings who have taught Buddhism in India and Tibet and so forth are also present. And then imagine that around you, spreading out around you are all sentient beings. And then think that I am going to achieve the exalted physical, verbal, and mental qualities of enlightenment for the sake of bringing help and happiness to all sentient beings, and within this motivation, this attitude, recite the Seven Branches of Worship.

Say with me: The Buddhists should put their palms together: