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”.
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:
“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.”
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
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.”
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.