Bodhicitta Buddhism


Bodhicitta (Sanskrit: बोधिचित्त) or mind of Awakening (bodhi: awakening; citta: heart-mind) is the aspiration and commitment to attain Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, in order to bring all sentient beings to it, and thus free them from the suffering inherent (duhkha) in cyclic existence (Saṃsāra).

One who engenders this motivation and takes formal vows (praṇidhāna) is called a bodhisattva, literally: being of Awakening, often translated as hero for Awakening.

Bodhicitta and bodhisattva, its corollary, are central to Buddhist thought, particularly in the mahāyāna and vajrayāna; so much so that they justify the appellation "bodhisattvayāna," vehicle of the bodhisattva, often given to the mahāyāna.

Lojong ("mind training" in Tibetan) is a practice for developing bodhicitta.

The current Dalai Lama says, "This mind of enlightenment transforms all beneficial actions into a true catalyst for the emergence of Buddhahood. [In the ocean of practices that lead to Buddhahood, bodhicitta acts like a tidal wave.

Aspiration and commitment


First, we recognize:

Aspirational bodhicitta, through the practice of the four Incommensurables (brahmavihāras), or spiritualized loving feelings of benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

These feelings are "radiated" to the entire universe, and can be maintained throughout the day. One aspires that others in infinite number all over the universe will know well-being and supreme bliss; and one wishes them the perfect and incomparable full Awakening. Our mind is thus focused on their Awakening, not only on ours. Our awareness of others and our empathy increase.

The other great technique is called giving-receiving (tonglen in Tibetan) or equalizing and exchanging oneself with others: On the inhale, one takes upon oneself with compassion the suffering of others, a specific person or the whole world; on the exhale, one gives back benevolence and peace. This allows us to gradually put others before ourselves.

We then distinguish :

the bodhicitta of application or commitment, through the actualizing practice [unclear] of the six, or ten, perfections of virtue, the pāramitās. This exercise of mindfulness in turn justifies the name "pāramitāyāna" often given to the great vehicle.


Shantideva explains in his Bodhicaryāvatāra the relationship between the bodhicitta of aspiration and the bodhicitta of commitment through the metaphor of the desire to travel and the journey itself.

"In summary, the mind of Awakening

Should be known as having two aspects:

The mind of aspiration to wholeness

And the mind of commitment to wholeness.

Their difference is the same as that between

The desire to leave and the setting out.

The wise understand their respective specificity.

Their respective specificity" (§15-16, I)

To go on a trip, you must have previously nourished the desire or the wish to go somewhere on a trip. You must have made your travel plans and arrangements. This is a necessary step without which there would be no travel. Similarly, aspiring with all one's heart and training one's mind is an absolutely necessary prerequisite to the actual action for the good of beings.

This distinction is important to Shantideva in order to emphasize inner motivation. Although great fruits are born in the samsarah of the mind that aspires to enlightenment, it does not produce an uninterrupted flow of benefits like the mind of commitment.

" But Shantideva also knows that intention is also very important, since intention systematically precedes action. It is therefore important to work deeply on our intentions in meditation, so that our actions gradually begin to reflect the qualities of enlightenment and the perfections of the bodhisattva, opening our existence to a vast and unlimited perception: "

From the moment one has perfectly grasped this mind, With the thought of not turning away from it, In order to fully liberate the beings of the infinite worlds,

From that moment, Even in sleep or inattention, In many ways, the force of merits Like space flows uninterruptedly"(§18-19, I)

The relative and the absolute

A distinction is also made between absolute and relative bodhicitta, to be put respectively in correspondence with the Two Realities, absolute or ultimate, and relative or conventional.

"Absolute reality," (paramārtha-satya), refers to phenomena as they essentially are, as opposed to "relative reality" (saṃvṛti-satya), which then refers to phenomena as they "realistically" appear and function at the pragmatic level. The Lojong contains a training of the mind in the two bodhicittas. These two bodhicittas operate from each of these two perspectives:

From the ultimate perspective, our ignorance manifests or projects Buddha-nature as a universe of autonomous, substantial objects. This projected substantiality is imaginary, identical to the dream; this is its emptiness, which the bodhisattva trains himself to recognize.

However, nothing appears in a fictitious "outside" of the great primordial perfection (dzogchen). We must therefore consider that the universe, this life, is still a skilful means (upāya) by which our essential nature represents itself to us, and compassionately tries to bring us back to ourselves, to our authentic destiny, Awakening.

This compassion inherent in all manifestation is absolute bodhicitta. When it unfolds through the imperfect and dualistic activity of a bodhisattva, it is relative bodhicitta. However, the bodhisattva can work directly in harmony with absolute bodhicitta, channeling it, so to speak, once he or she has clearly perceived and integrated the wisdoms of emptiness and non-duality.

The practice of absolute bodhicitta is therefore this training in the recognition of emptiness, conceptual and analytical meditation at first, then non-verbal and intuitive at a later stage, "dwelling in the natural state of mind" where the prajñā can reveal the nature of reality.

The union of the bodhicitta

When this understanding completely saturates everyday perceptions, we speak of the union of bodhicittas, absolute and relative. This bodhisattva is also said to have gone beyond the preliminary stages and reached the first land, or stage of his vocation, called Great Joy. He is then called a Ārya Bodhisattva, where ārya, noble, rather means sublime.

Among the texts dealing with bodhicitta and bodhisattva are Śāntideva's Bodhicaryāvatāra and Thirty-Seven Stanzas on the Practice of Bodhisattvas by Gyalsé Togme Zangpo, of the Sakya tradition:

" 11. All suffering comes from the wish for one's own happiness.
Perfect Buddhas are born with the intention of helping others.
So exchange your own happiness
For the suffering of others -
This is the practice of the bodhisattvas." [...]

" 16. Even if a person whom you have cared for
As your own child, now treats you as an enemy,
Cherish him or her even more especially, as a mother
does for her child, afflicted with disease -
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas." [...]

" 20. As long as the enemy, your own anger, remains unsubdued,
Though you defeat external adversaries, they will only multiply.
So, with the militia of benevolence and compassion
Subdue your own mind -
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas." [...]

" 22. Whatever appears is your own mind.
Forever its nature is free and beyond extreme elaborations.
Understanding this [non-dual] nature, do not conceive
A [truly existing] object and subject.
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas."

" 23. When you encounter attractive objects,
Consider them to be of the same beauty
As rainbows in summer, devoid of substance,
And let go of all attachment -
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas."

" 24. The various sufferings are like the death of one's child in a dream.
Holding these illusory appearances as real wears you out in vain.
So when you encounter adverse circumstances
Approach them as illusions -
This is the practice of the Bodhisattvas. "

Ngulchu Gyalsas Thogmed Zangpo (1295-1369)

Bodhicitta in the Theravāda

Theravāda Buddhism does not recognize the concept of bodhicitta: the term never appears in the Tipitaka. Some commentators see the "luminous mind" mentioned in the Pale Canon as a reference to bodhicitta:

This mind is luminous, O monks, and it is free from adventitious defilements (Anguttara Nikaya, I, 6, 1-2)
Ajahn Brahm indicates that this is not a reference to any "original mind," but to a mind freed from the five impediments, "luminous" because it is seen through the nimitta.

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