Bodhicitta in Buddhism – The Mind of Enlightenment

Bodhicitta in Buddhism

Bodhicitta in Buddhism is a concept which I will be going into in this article.  The word comes to us from Sanskrit, from the words ‘bodhi’ meaning “awakening” or “enlightenment” and citta which means “mind” or “consciousness” (from the Sanskrit root cit which means “that which is conscious”).  Put them together (pronounced Boh-dee-chee-tah) and you get a translation of “enlightenment consciousness”.

bodhicitta in buddhism

Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion (Chenrezig in Tib.)

Defining Bodhicitta

Wikipedia defines Bodhicitta as “a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self”

Bodhicitta is the very foundation of Mahayana Buddhism and represents the ‘supreme mind of enlightenment’.  It means having a good and kind heart and helping others whenever possible, but not out of an egoistic intention to make yourself look better but out of an altruistic intention to help relieve the suffering of others.

Buddhist teacher Robert Thurman defines Bodhi as the mind of the ‘wisdom of selflessness’ and as the mind of “selfless compassion” and Bodhicitta as the “spirit of enlightenment”.

Bodhicitta in Buddhist Tradition

There are two types of Bodhicitta that are mentioned in Buddhist texts which are called “absolute bodhicitta” and “Relative Bodhicitta”.

“Absolute Bodhicitta” is the realization that the ultimate nature of all phenomena is emptiness (shunyata).  However, in order to come to this realization of the nature of reality we must cultivate “relative Bodhicitta”.

“Relative Bodhicitta” is the mindset in which the practitioner practices for the good of all beings as if they were oneself.

How to Practice Bodhicitta

Although bodhicitta is a prerequisite to effective meditation, there are two meditation methods used by Buddhists in order to cultivate bodhicitta which are: Vipasyana (in Pali this is the more familiar Vipassana) and Metta (loving-kindness) meditation and visualization practices.

Vipasyana/Vipassana is a term that translates to “insight meditation” and corresponds to developing insight around “Absolute Bodhicitta” and the concept of emptiness (shunyata), while Metta (Loving-Kindness) practices such as Shantideva’s “Exchanging Oneself with Others” meditation teach us how to see ourselves from the perspective of others which also helps us cultivate a compassionate view toward all other sentient beings.

Here is a guided Bodhicitta Loving-Kindness meditation in the Tibetan tradition led by Khenpo Sherab Sangpo:

Bodhicitta Quotes

Loving kindness is the essence of bodhicitta, the attitude of the bodhisattva.” – Lama Yeshe

“The best dharma practice, the most perfect, most substantial, is without doubt the practice of bodhicitta.” – Lama Yeshe
“Our self-cherishing thought is the root of all human problems.  It makes our lives difficult and miserable.  The solution to self-cherishing, its antidote, is the mind that is its complete opposite – Bodhicitta.  The self-cherishing mind is worried about only me, me – the self-existent I.  Bodhicitta substitutes others for self.” – Lama Yeshe

“With Bodhicitta one enjoys happiness.
With Bodhicitta one enjoys even sorrow.
With Bodhicitta one enjous what is there.
With Bodhicitta one enjoys even what is not there.’ – Khunu Rinpoche

It is the supreme elixir
That overcomes the sovereignty of death.
It is the inexhaustible treasure
That eliminates poverty in the world.
It is the supreme medicine
That quells the world’s disease.
It is the tree that shelters all beings
Wandering and tired on the path of conditioned existence.
It is the universal bridge
That leads to freedom from unhappy states of birth.
It is the dawning moon of the mind
That dispels the torment of disturbing conceptions.
It is the great Sun that finally removes
The misty ignorance of the world.”
– Shantideva

Prayer of Refuge and Bodhicitta

“I take refuge until I am enlightened
In the Buddhas, the Dharma and the Sangha.
Through the merit I create by practicing giving
and the other perfections
May I attain Buddhahood for the sake of all
sentient beings.”

The Four Immeasurable Thoughts     

“May all sentient beings have happiness
and the causes of happiness;
May all sentient beings be free from suffering
and the causes of suffering;
May all sentient beings never be separated from
the happiness that knows no suffering;
May all sentient beings live in equanimity,
free from attachment and aversion.”

 Summary

Bodhicitta can be simply seen as the need that we feel to replace the suffering of others with bliss and contentment.  This is the ultimate altruistic resolve and is incidentally the same intention that Jesus had and that I think all great saints and holy men have no matter what their religion.

I think Buddhism offers us a practical way to develop this quality in ourselves and anyone from any tradition can certainly apply this intention to their own practices.


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8 Responses to Bodhicitta in Buddhism – The Mind of Enlightenment

  1. Daniella says:

    Hi there,

    I found your site as well as the article very interesting and helpful, I was absorbed by the reading! I always admired Buddhists and one of my dreams is to travel to India and do some meditations for few weeks. The absolute Bodhicitta will be perfect for me, I guess?
    I am sure there are lot to learn from Buddhists, they have such control of them self, it’s incredible!!
    I have bookmarked your website so I can read more of your enjoyable articles:)
    Thank you very much!

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Daniella,
      Thanks for your feedback! I’m glad you enjoyed my articles and found them to be helpful. Absolute Bodhicitta and Relative Bodhicitta go hand in hand. Relative Bodhicitta is how we translate our will that all sentient beings be free from suffering into action by reaching out and helping others, doing what we can even if it’s just listening to someone.

  2. Stella says:

    Love this article. Very informative. I follow a lot of the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. Are you familiar with his work? I find that he is able to point you to the same place in a very simple way. His work really resonates with me. I believe he is doing the same thing as Buddhism, but on a more unified level. I have a Christian background and I feel the same about that. He allows the same thing to make sense for everyone. Very inclusive.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Stella,
      Thanks! Yes, I’m familiar with the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and I find many of his ideas to be influenced by or the same as in Buddhist thought.

  3. Marcus says:

    Hi,

    Great site you have here and I must say that I have learn alot about Bodhicitta from this page and the video above. I do agree that irrespective of religion, this practise can help bring greater enlightenment to people and the world in general, with its focus on joy and happiness.

    Marcus

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Marcus,
      Thanks for the comment! Of course when we serve others and wish them to be happy and at ease then we also benefit (as long as it isn’t coming from a selfish intention).

  4. Gail Hope Media says:

    Hi Iansphoto,
    Absolute Bodhicitta and Relative Bodhicitta, both are very new to me but thanks for the introduction . However I have heard about Buddhism and emptiness while meditating. Very interesting concepts. All very peaceful. Your links to books will make it very handy for people who want to search for more information.

    Your layouts and photo setups were well-done, and I found navigating to be easy. Putting the video on the page was a great idea!

    Great job, Iansphoto!

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