Cultivating Bodhicitta

If you ask how we should engage in listening, contemplating, and meditating on the teachings, we need to do so not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of all beings. So how do you generate bodhicitta? First you meditate on loving kindness, and then compassion. So how do you know if you have bodhicitta? Someone who does not distinguish between friend and enemy has bodhicitta. This is quite difficult for beginners, don’t you think so? So why is it difficult? From beginningless time we have grasped at the false concept of I and have wandered through samsara.

After all this time, even if you meditate on bodhicitta it does not arise easily. So how can we develop bodhicitta? It’s like feeding children. You start by giving them soft, easily digested food. When Shariputra was first generating bodhicitta a man asked for his eyeball. Shariputra gave it to him and the man put it on the ground and squished it. When Shariputra asked why, he said that when you squish an eyeball, it makes a nice sound. So Shariputra decided he would follow the shravaka path instead. Jigten Sumgon said that when you practice tonglen you cannot jump immediately to the finish line. When we do tonglen we take the sickness, suffering, and unhappiness from others and give them our happiness. This is what tonglen is. If we do the practice from the bottom of our heart it will happen that we are able to take others sickness on ourselves. If this happens and you have gone too fast, you may regret the practice, which would be a waste. Then all the benefit of your practice would be lost.

So when is it appropriate to start doing tonglen? If you know your mind will not waver no matter what negative experiences arise, you should do tonglen. So how should beginners practice tonglen? Beginners can see the sufferings of others and have compassion and empathy for them and make prayers for them. These prayers can have a lot of power. Just to sit down and saying you’re going to do tonglen is not enough. It requires a stable mind to have the power to accomplish the practice. If you have the desire to benefit others then your prayers will be successful. But if you lack a one pointed mind your prayers will have no benefit.

So how do we generate bodhicitta? I’ve taught this before so it should be familiar. Buddha said you could start the practice of generosity by passing something from one hand to another. You can start by donating things without much value, like giving yellowed vegetables. If you go step by step then your generosity will grow more and more and your desire to practice generosity will grow greater and greater. Jigten Sumgon said that before you have stabilized your mind there is no way you can give away your body. Some traditions say you should start with tonglen and give as much as you can. But if you practice the path step by step you’ll see you can’t start with tonglen or giving your body away. If we engage in generosity step by step by first giving away yellowed vegetables, we’ll reach the point when we can give away our body. At that point you will have no more attachment to the body than the yellowed vegetables. If you reach this point, you can engage in generosity of the body.

When you engage in these practices your mind becomes clear and you reach a place when there is no suffering. At this point cutting off a limb will not cause suffering. When practicing one monk gave away his body. Indra asked him if he had any regrets. The monk responded, no because I have no attachment. And because of the force of my meditation I can replace my limbs though my prayers. One time Jigten Sumgon got quite sick from leprosy. He said that he didn’t mind death, but dying from such an awful disease made him sad. Then he meditated on compassion and saw his own illness was quite small compared to the sufferings of all beings. He started meditating in the morning when the animals were sent to pasture. By evening when they returned he had achieved an unshakable compassion for all beings and was cured of his illness. That’s what it says in his secret biography. In his common biography it says he was cured in three days, because he didn’t think that people would believe him if he said that he had been cured in one day. When we start meditating on compassion we should first generate compassion for our mother in this life. I have explained how to recall the kindness of our mother in previous teachings.

At the beginning we need the instruction of our lama, to read scripture, and listen to teachings. But study is not enough. We need for what we learn to be enshrined in our mind. If you meditate on how precious your mother is you will feel it from the depths of your heart. If you don’t practice, if someone comes along and criticize your mother, you may be swayed by that opinion. That’s because your mind isn’t stable. You need to meditate step by step, starting with your family members. So what are we trying to arrive at? A point when our enemies and friends are indistinguishable. At that point it can be said you really have bodhicitta.

From Jigten Sumgon’s biography we can see the power of bodhicitta. It is the root of the 84,000 teachings. If you don’t have bodhicitta, whatever practices you do, you can’t become enlightened. The power of mantra is great. Space cannot be exhausted, but the power of mantra is even greater than this. The force behind mantra is bodhicitta. There is a story. A magician had great power though his use of mantra and became very rich and famous. Magicians can cast spells to cause injuries to others using the power of mantras. Once he surrounded a torma three times with a chain and by the power of reciting mantras his practice burst the chain. But because this magician had no bodhicitta he was born as a large fish in a lake.

All of his students were born as little fish that ate his body. What is the reason for this? He did dharma practice if you only judge from the standpoint of doing the sadhanas, but he didn’t have bodhicitta, so he went down the wrong path. All the yogas and tantras have great powers, but if you don’t have bodhicitta, it’s like doing the practices of a non-Buddhist tradition. If you don’t have the time to sit down and meditate on bodhicitta, you can do it during your daily life. If you work with the desire to help others, you can generate bodhicitta in that way.

We do not achieve Buddhahood because we grasp at an “I.” The supreme antidote to this is bodhicitta. By practicing bodhicitta our grasping grows smaller. Suffering comes from grasping at a self. With the practice of bodhicitta this grasping at a self diminishes. The source of happiness is bodhicitta. When we have good fortune and comfort, we think that we have happiness. But this isn’t happiness because our circumstances can change. But if we have bodhicitta our happiness will endure from lifetime to lifetime.

So we will have questions now.

Q: How can we train our minds so that they are not affected by the pains and problems of our bodies?

A: Our bodies are the fruits of our previous actions and our minds are dependent on them. The thought “I am tired” is created by mind. When we get old we have diseases and we think I am sick, which increases our sufferings. Because we grasp at experiences, we amplify our sufferings. If a practitioner doesn’t fall under the sway of these thoughts they will not suffer. A monk at my monastery died at the age of 88, but was healthy until then. Two months ago he said this is an auspicious day, and ate a meal and passed away. These advanced practitioners don’t fall under the sway of their bodies. When I was doing retreat in India a nun passed away. We took her to the hospital and she was quite calm and said if I die, I die. She dismissed everyone, sat up straight and passed away. If we have strong practice we don’t forget about it when we die and through that we gain control over our future lives.

Q: In tonglen if someone takes on someone’s cancer, do they feel the suffering of that cancer?

A: When it’s appropriate to do tonglen, you will take the suffering of others. But if you have generated bodhicitta, your mind will have freedom and self control and you will persevere through the suffering. You can have intense suffering and sickness from this practice. For example, when Milarepa was poisoned, the person who did it asked to take on his suffering. Milarepa said you won’t be able to bear it. I’ll just give you a tiny part of it. After just a few minutes he said take it back and confessed and repented of his act.

Q: Would a Tibetan physician use tonglen?

A: I would guess some of them do. Jigten Sumgon has taught there is a proper occasion for this practice.

Q: Can pain come to a physician simply through their compassion for the patient?

A: If you don’t meditate on tonglen, you won’t spontaneously take on the suffering of others. If this happens otherwise, it’s the result of your karma. But you can make prayers and aspirations when you become sick and include other beings in your prayers.

There are two kinds of meditation, analytical and placement meditation. With analytical meditation we consider the Madhyamika view and look at objects and consider their nature. This is one way to realize emptiness. Placement meditation is divided into meditation with support and without support. When we do meditation with support we can use whatever suits us, like a stick or stone. Or we can use a Buddha statue and focus on the hair between his eyebrows. Then we check if our attention has wandered from this spot. At first your mind will wander, but that is not a problem. This is because we are recognizing that our minds are not still. The same thing happens inn our daily life but we are not aware of it. So if we continue to practice our mind will be able to stay on our object of meditation. When you are able to do this, you should do meditation without a support. When your mind can meditate without concept all sorts of blissful experiences will arise in your body. Some people say this is very wonderful and wish to remain in this. So some people are able to remain in this blissful state for as long as they want. But this not the goal of meditation, and you should not cling to it. If you are not attached to bliss, you will have experiences of mental clarity. Then after that you will have experiences of non-conceptuality where you see all of samsara as emptiness.

The word for meditation in Tibetan means gaining experiences. To say everything is empty is not enough. Practice is required to see it. Some people get lost in the view that virtue and non-virtue do not exist. Through this they gain a great deal of non-virtue. So we will do five minutes of shamatha now. If your body is healthy it’s best to take the seven point posture. But the point is not to get caught up in the posture, it’s to be able to really relax. It’s like cutting the cord that binds a bundle of grass. It lies as it falls. Letting your body and mind be natural and relax.

Earlier we talked of loving kindness and compassion. Is there a connection between loving kindness and compassion and shamatha meditation?

Nyima responded, if you don’t cultivate loving kindness your mind will be filled with negative emotions when you try to meditate. Pete said that when you do shamatha your mind opens up and you are naturally compassionate. Michael said that when you see emptiness and you realize others do not and suffer for that, your mind naturally develops compassion to them.

So you all have some experience of meditation. Just as you mentioned there are two types of bodhicitta, relative and absolute. Emptiness is absolute bodhicitta. The most important thing is that the lama has compassion for all beings. The lama having realized emptiness feels compassion for beings who have not realized it. Compassion and emptiness are inseparable. If we think that we don’t have to worry about conduct after realizing emptiness, that is not the case. If you want to tell if someone has realized emptiness, watch how they talk on cause and effect. If they have realized emptiness, they talk about it very carefully. Jigten Sumgon said if you are engaged in non-virtue, even a tenth stage bodhisattva will fall down. The main point is to see the unity of emptiness and compassion.

What you have said is good. It’s good to study the dharma, but then you have to put your mind in meditative equipoise. The dharma is very precious. Shakyamuni talked about how precious hearing one verse is. In a previous life Buddha offered his body as a lamp for the sake of a single verse of dharma. In Tilopa’s and Milarepa’s life stories it talks about how precious they considered the dharma. It’s precious because we make it so with our practice. Tilopa said my teaching is only precious if you practice it. When you understand the unity of emptiness and compassion if someone else asks to buy it, they will not be able to no matter how much they offer. But you can create it for yourself with your practice.

We all say we want happiness. If someone gives rise to bodhicitta, they will help anyone regardless of circumstances and others will be pleased with them. If someone is poor but has loving kindness and compassion they won’t have mental problems regardless of their circumstances. If you have loving kindness and compassion, if you meet an enemy you will be delighted with the opportunity to practice bodhicitta.

So we have attained this precious human body with its freedoms and endowments and have met and have an opportunity to practice the dharma. Attaining this human form is a result of many lives of accumulation of merit and wisdom. When we talk about tantra, the teaching that gives enlightenment in one lifetime, without having worked hard in many previous lifetimes we would not have met the tantra or if we did, we would not have had faith and devotion to it. So we have spent many lifetimes accumulating merit and wisdom. Maybe we have been born at this time to spread the dharma in America. Before there was Buddhism in Tibet, many beings took birth in Tibet so that Buddhism would flourish there. In this same way in our previous lives we must have made aspirations and generated the karma so that we could meet together here. If you take myself as an example, I left Tibet because there was famine after the Chinese came. In the 80’s I felt the dharma was precious so I went to India to practice. It was very dangerous, but I made it through so that I could practice. When I left Tibet I had no plan to come to America, I was just carried along by karma.

So if you have questions.

Q: Can you explain about torma offerings for local spirits?

A: There are all sorts of things we do for these spirits. These include smoke offerings, special torma offerings, white and red sur offerings, The red sur (meat) is only done by high lamas. There are serkyim offerings.

Q: What do you mean when you say we should have faith in the dharma?

A: there are different kinds of faith. There is clear faith, desiring or yearning faith, and confident faith. The most important is confident faith. First we have to analyze the dharma to see if it is beneficial. It’s like testing gold that you are buying. After you test it you have confidence that it is gold. In the same way after examining you decide the dharma is beneficial. This is confident faith.

Q: Can you tell us how we can bring our practice with us into our work?

A: Generally the main reason we work is money. But when we go to the office, we should try to accomplish our boss’s aim and we should do this sincerely without pretense. So some bosses are good and some are not.. Even if your boss is not good if you keep this mind, you will change them. We shouldn’t criticize others which only brings sufferings but act so we can transform their attitude. If someone is harming you you should practice patience three times. About 90% of the time other people will be impressed. But in the rest, they won’t change their behavior. After the third time, speak up. Some people are overwhelmed by afflictive emotions and won’t be reformed.

Q: All day long people say I want this, which only increases my own egotism. How do you deal with this?

A: We need to have compassion. You understand the problem with egotism, but they do not. Try being patient three times. If we don’t have patience, other’s negativity causes more in us and vice versa.

When we practice dharma we need to do it over and over again. Eventually your mind will become stable. We have to habituate the mind. If we don’t our afflictive emotions will come into retreat with us. If we practice we will meet our yidam deity in retreat. If our conceptual thoughts and affliction are strong in retreat our thoughts will only become stronger. We will see the people we dislike in retreat and they will talk to us, even though this is only a projection of mind. One meditator I knew was able to survive without food in retreat. But because of his anger against the Chinese his dharma practice didn’t stabilize and he became sick. He said these days the Chinese spies are everywhere, they come into our houses at night when we sleep. The main point is there are no enemy who can harm us at every moment because they have their own lives. But our afflictive emotions harm us at all times, even in our dreams when we sleep.