Bodhisattva Attitude

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Transforming Your Life Into Gold

Bodhisattva Attitude is a commentary to verses compiled by Lama Zopa Rinpoche to be used each morning as a daily practice after generating a bodhicitta motivation. It contains a wealth of precious and inspiring advice on how to dedicate your life to others by cultivating the bodhisattva’s attitude. Edited by Venerable Sarah Thresher with Megan Evart.

Since we are practicing the Mahayana teachings, our motivation should be to dedicate our lives for others, to free them from suffering and cause them to achieve the state of peerless happiness, enlightenment, along with all the other levels of happiness. By using a lam-rim motivation first thing every morning we can transform our minds into Dharma and especially into bodhicitta, and then not only our meditation, prayers and Dharma study become the cause of enlightenment, but also all our actions of eating, walking, sitting, sleeping, working and so forth. Everything becomes the cause of enlightenment and the cause of happiness for all sentient beings.

“If your mind is gold, your whole life becomes gold.”

Maybe it is not so nice to say this, but when you transform your mind from worldly concern and attachment to this life into a Dharma motivation unstained by attachment, and especially into a bodhicitta motivation, it is like transforming a kaka life into gold. If your mind is kaka then your whole life becomes kaka. I’m sorry to say that but it’s true. But if your mind becomes gold—if you transform your motivation into gold—then your whole life becomes gold. So this is the most important practice to do every day, as soon as you open your eyes in the morning.

Rinpoche prostrating before teaching at ABC Singapore, 2013. (Photo Stephen Ching)
Rinpoche prostrating before teaching at ABC Singapore, 2013. (Photo Stephen Ching)

“If you can truly dedicate your life in the morning to numberless sentient beings it will bring incredible joy and happiness all day long.”

After each motivation there are some verses to recite and contemplate on how to live your life for others. This is something to keep in mind throughout the day as a guide for how to think and behave towards others. If you can truly dedicate your life in the morning to numberless sentient beings it will bring incredible joy and happiness all day long.

The first verse, from Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Thought Transformation, is the root. It explains how to see all sentient beings as kind, precious and wish-fulfilling and therefore cherish them all the time.

Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefitFrom all sentient beings,Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,I shall hold them most dear at all times.

The next verse, from Aryasura’s Aspiration in Seventy Stanzas (v. 20), is a prayer to become wish-fulfilling for sentient beings in return.

May I become like a wish-granting jewelFulfilling all the wishes of transmigratory beings,And like a wish-granting treeCompletely fulfilling all their hopes.

These two verses are the very essence of the practice. Following that are some verses from the great bodhisattva Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (ch. 3, vv. 11-22 and ch. 10, v. 55), which elaborate more on how to live life with a bodhisattva’s attitude.

THE BODHISATTVA ATTITUDE VERSES

I give up my body, enjoyments and wealth,And even all virtues of the three timesWithout any sense of loss,To accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings.

By giving away all I will pass beyond suffering,And my mind will achieve the (non-abiding) sorrowless state (of omniscience).Since everything is given up all at once (at death)It is best to (now) give it away for sentient beings.

Having given this body to all beingsTo use however they want for their happinessEven if they constantly kill me, criticize me, beat me and so on,Let them do whatever they like.

Even if others play with my body,Put me down and make fun of me,Since I have already given this body to them—Why would I resist that?

Let this body do any activityThat doesn’t harm others.When anyone encounters meMay it never be meaningless for them.

Whoever generates a thought of anger or devotionBy looking at me, May that very mindAlways become the cause to accomplish their every success.

May all those who say unpleasant things,Harm me (physically),Or likewise complain about me (behind my back),Have the fortune to achieve enlightenment.

May I become a savior for those who lack a savior,A guide for those who have entered the path,And a boat, a ferry and a bridgeFor those who wish to cross over (water).

May I become an island for those seeking an island,A light for those wanting light,Bedding for those desiring bedding,May I become a servant for all beings who want a servant.

May I become a wish-granting jewel and a wish-fulfilling vase,Actualized knowledge mantras,A great medicine, a wish-granting tree,And a wish-granting cow for those beings.

Like the (four) great elements, The earth and so on, and like the sky, May I always be the means of living in many waysFor the innumerable sentient beings.

Likewise, in every realm of sentient beingEqualing the limitless sky,May I always be the cause of their means of living in every way,Until they all attain the sorrowless state.

As long as space remains,As long as transmigratory beings remain,Until then may I too remain,To dispel the suffering of transmigratory beings.

Cherishing All Sentient Beings

Listen to Lama Zopa Rinpoche teach this verse.

Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefitFrom all sentient beings,Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,I shall hold them most dear at all times.

This first verse is the first stanza from the Eight Verses composed by Kadampa Geshe Langri Tangpa. We visited Geshe Langri Tangpa’s monastery on our third pilgrimage to Tibet and saw the very old statue of him made during his lifetime that is the most precious object of that monastery. I gave a quick explanation of the Eight Verses to the students in the main temple and managed to complete it—which is unusual for me! I was supposed to return later that evening and give a talk to the Tibetans waiting outside, but in the end I didn’t come back because there were too many people and the Chinese authorities wouldn’t have liked it.

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I myself will always cherish all sentient beings.”

In the Tibetan, the first line of this verse starts with the words dag ni, which means “I myself.” Another way of translating this verse is

I myself will always cherish all sentient beings,Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,With the thought of accomplishing the sublime success.

Here what you are saying is whether or not anyone else practices compassion, patience, bodhicitta or the good heart but as for myself—“I will always practice this.” Usually when we are fighting, we accuse the other person of not practicing, “Oh, you don’t have any patience!” or “You’re not being very compassionate!” But of course the main thing is that we ourselves need to practice these things. That’s why here there is an emphasis on “I, myself.” You are saying that it doesn’t matter whether the other person—your enemy—practices or not, “I’m going to practice.” This is a very good sentiment.

What you are going to practice is

Always cherishing all sentient beings.

Here “always” means that it doesn’t matter what is happening in your life—whether you are depressed because you have so many problems, or excited with a lot of happiness and pleasure—you will always cherish sentient beings. It’s not that you will only cherish others when you are happy, but not when you have problems with your relationships, business or at work. No! “Always” means that you will cherish sentient beings from your heart all the time—whatever happiness or misery you may be experiencing. You will always cherish and hold them most dear. And it’s not just some sentient beings you will cherish—those you love—but all of them. “All sentient beings” includes friends, enemies and strangers; it means everyone. You will always cherish all sentient beings and on the basis of that serve them with your body, speech and mind.

Usually the last line of this verse is

May I always be able to cherish

But in the One Hundred Thought Transformations it says

I will always cherish

Normally I try to say it this latter way because it is more powerful. You are not just praying to be able to cherish sentient beings but actually making the decision to do so, “I will always cherish all sentient beings!” It is very good even just to say these words, whether or not you can actually make it happen.

CHERISHING EVEN ONE SENTIENT BEING OPENS THE DOOR TO ALL YOUR HAPPINESS

Blessing a farmer in Tingri, Tibet 2002. (Photo Bob Cayton)
Blessing a farmer in Tingri, Tibet 2002. (Photo Bob Cayton)

Of course there’s no question that all the success and happiness of this life comes by cherishing all sentient beings, but this can also happen by cherishing and fulfilling the wishes of just one sentient being. Not only that, but cherishing even one sentient being can bring happiness in your next life and future lives: either by going to a pure land, or by receiving a perfect human rebirth, meeting the Dharma and finding a perfectly qualified Guru. Cherishing even one sentient being can also bring the ultimate happiness of liberation from the oceans of samsaric suffering and attainment of the blissful state of peace. And cherishing even one sentient being can bring the most important and sublime success of Buddhahood, or sang gye in Tibetan, the state of having eliminated all the obscurations (sang) and completed all the realizations (gye).

Whether or not you can achieve the state of omniscient mind and free the numberless sentient beings in each realm from the oceans of samsaric sufferings and bring them to the peerless happiness of enlightenment depends on your ability to cherish even one sentient being. If you can’t cherish one sentient being there will be no enlightenment and you won’t be able to benefit numberless sentient beings. But if you can cherish even one sentient being all of this can happen. That’s why for you, even one sentient being is most kind, precious, dear and wish-fulfilling.

“Whether or not you can achieve the state of omniscient mind depends on your ability to cherish even one sentient being.”

It is because all our happiness comes from sentient beings that the verse says they are

More precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel.

Even Buddha, Dharma and Sangha—that we as Buddhists always take refuge in when we recite, “I go for refuge until I’m enlightened to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,” at the beginning of each practice—come from sentient beings. We take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha in order to actualize the path, free ourselves from suffering and its causes, cease all the subtle obscurations and achieve full enlightenment. But even Buddha comes from sentient beings. That means the Dharma taught by Buddha also comes from sentient beings and of course the Buddha’s Sangha also come from sentient beings. Buddha, Dharma, Sangha come from every single sentient being and that’s why I said that sentient beings are most precious, kind, dear and wish-fulfilling for you. They are the source of all your happiness from beginningless rebirths up to now and of all your future happiness up to enlightenment. Sentient beings are truly wish-fulfilling.

“Even Buddha, Dharma, Sangha come from sentient beings.”

Of course, there is no question that Buddha is more precious than sentient beings in terms of qualities because Buddha has ceased all the obscurations and completed all the qualities. However sentient beings are precious due to their kindness, because the three rare sublime ones—Buddha, Dharma, Sangha—came from sentient beings.

Wish-granting jewels. (Photo Ven Wy Osterfeld)
Wish-granting jewels. (Photo Ven Wy Osterfeld)

Gold, diamonds and sapphires are regarded as precious in this world because they are so rare and wish-granting jewels are even rarer than that. It is said that the Buddha’s relics eventually go into the ocean becoming wish-granting jewels. These jewels are then found by universal kings and bodhisattvas with incredible merit who clean them in three ways, mount them on a banner on top of the house on the fifteenth day of the lunar month and by doing so can receive whatever temporal material resources and comfort they pray for—a car, a house, an airplane, a swimming pool and so on. This happens due to their vast accumulation of merit and the condition of possessing such a jewel.

But even one sentient being is far more precious than a wish-granting jewel—or than wish-granting jewels filling the whole sky. Why? —Because these jewels can only provide for the comfort and necessities of this life. With a wish-granting jewel alone, you cannot purify negative karma, the cause of the lower realms, and achieve a higher rebirth, because that depends upon practicing morality and not harming sentient beings. Nor can you practice the three higher trainings—morality, concentration and wisdom—and achieve the ultimate happiness of liberation from samsara. And you cannot generate loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta towards a wish-granting jewel because it doesn’t have a mind and so doesn’t have suffering.

Therefore, even if you own the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels they cannot give you enlightenment, whereas if you generate compassion and bodhicitta for even one sentient being, that sentient being can give you enlightenment. That shows how incredibly precious sentient beings are, because cherishing even one can give you enlightenment. Owning the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels, diamonds, or billions and zillions of dollars is nothing compared to the benefit you get by cherishing one sentient being. That’s why it says

I myself will always cherish all sentient beings,Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,With the thought of accomplishing the sublime success.

Even one sentient being is priceless, not just one human being but even one tiny insect, mosquito or ant. If you generate compassion and cherish even one insect it gives you enlightenment besides all the other levels of happiness. There is no question that cherishing all sentient beings brings these results but here I’m talking about the incredible benefit from cherishing even one. Enlightenment comes from that. Cherishing even one sentient being opens the door to all your happiness.

CHERISHING OTHERS IS THE HEART PRACTICE

There is a very important stanza in the Guru Puja that illustrates this point. I put it into the Sur practice in the section on making Dharma charity to the spirits and smell-eaters along with another verse from Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (ch. 8, vv. 135-6), and one on karma from The Ritual of Three Parts (cha sum). It is mentioned in the Guru Puja (v. 94)

Cherishing the I opens the door for all (degeneration and) suffering.Cherishing others is the basis of all qualities (including enlightenment).Therefore, please bless me to take as my heart practiceThe yoga of exchanging self for others.

Here we are asking for blessings to make the yoga of exchanging self for others the main practice in our lives.

Arya Asanga from Sera Je Monastery debate courtyard, India. (Photo Roy Harvey)
Arya Asanga from Sera Je Monastery debate courtyard, India. (Photo Roy Harvey)

Asanga and the maggot-infested dog

There are many stories to help us understand this. For example, Asanga did twelve years of retreat because he wanted to see Maitreya Buddha. First he did three years of retreat but nothing happened. He didn’t see Maitreya Buddha so he gave up and left. On his way out he saw a man cutting through the rock with a tiny cotton thread. Seeing that inspired Asanga and he thought, “If he can do that—why can’t I achieve Maitreya Buddha?” He went back and did another three years of retreat but again nothing happened and he left. This time he saw a bird that had made its nest in a hole in the rock. The constant brushing of the bird’s wings against the sides of the rock as it flew in and out of the hole had worn the rock down. Again he was inspired and thought, “If the bird’s wings can do this—why can’t I achieve Maitreya Buddha?” He went back and did another three years of retreat but again nothing happened and he gave up. This time as he was leaving he saw that the constant dripping of water had worn a hole into the rock. Again he was inspired and went back to the cave to do another three years of retreat.

Now it was twelve years and still nothing had happened so again he came down from his retreat. This time he saw a dog in the road, the lower part of its body badly wounded and infested with maggots. Feeling the most unbearable compassion for the dog, he cut his thigh and spread out the flesh for the maggots to eat. Then he bent down with his eyes closed and tongue outstretched to pick up the maggots. But he couldn’t feel them. When he opened his eyes instead of seeing the dog he saw Maitreya Buddha. It wasn’t a dog at all—it was Maitreya Buddha! Only when Asanga had generated such strong compassion that he could sacrifice his life for the maggots was he able to see Maitreya Buddha who was right there in front of him.

Maitreya, the Buddha of loving-kindness. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Maitreya, the Buddha of loving-kindness. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

Asanga immediately grabbed Maitreya Buddha and said, “Why didn’t I see you before in the cave?” Maitreya replied, “But I was always there. Look, you used to spit on the ground and here are the marks,” and he showed Asanga the spit-marks on his robe. It is good for us to know this. We often think to ourselves, “I’m alone. Nobody loves me. Nobody wants to talk to me. Nobody is there for me.” Many people think like this in their normal life or when they are doing retreat. But Buddha is with us all the time.

Asanga was not able to see Maitreya Buddha until his mind was purified and he wasn’t able to purify his mind in the cave. It was only by generating great compassion and sacrificing his life that he was able to purify his obscurations and see Maitreya Buddha. Before that he could only see Maitreya as a wounded dog filled with maggots because that was the view of his obscured mind.

Maitreya asked Asanga, “What do you want?” and he replied, “I want teachings.” So Asanga took hold of Maitreya’s robe and Maitreya brought him to Tushita pure land, Ganden Yiga Chodzin, where he gave him the five teachings—Abhisamayalamkara, Mahyanasutralamkara and so on—in one morning of Tushita time which was fifty years of human time. When he returned Asanga wrote down five commentaries.

Since that time up to now so many meditators and Dharma practitioners have achieved the path explained in the Abhisamayalamkara. First they studied the teachings in the Sakya, Nyingma, Kagyu and Geluk monasteries of Tibet—and now India and Nepal—then they completed the path and achieved enlightenment. Lama Atisha wrote the Light of the Path based on these teachings and Lama Tsongkhapa composed his lam-rim teaching, the Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, on the basis of that. Numberless beings, Dharma practitioners and meditators, have achieved enlightenment by using the teachings that Maitreya Buddha gave to Asanga.

It was only when Asanga had generated compassion and dedicated his life to one sentient that he was able to purify his karmic obscurations and see Maitreya Buddha. Before that, even though Maitreya Buddha was right there in front of him, all he could see was a terribly wounded dog—the view of his own obscured mind. We shouldn’t think such things only happened to Asanga. No. The same thing has also happened to us many times. We see sentient beings with incredible suffering but our minds are so heavily obscured that we can only see them as ordinary.

“We often think we are alone but Buddha is with us all the time.”

Asanga was able to cherish, generate strong compassion and dedicate his life to just one sentient being—that dog. Just one! But the benefit that came from that action has been unimaginable. Numberless beings have been enlightened by those teachings that Asanga received from Maitreya Buddha. Studying the Abhisamayalamkara opened their eyes to see the whole path of method (compassion) and wisdom, goal of the dharmakaya and rupakaya, and base of the two truths—the absolute truth and truth for the all-obscured mind. When we understand how all this benefit to numberless sentient beings came from Asanga cherishing and generating unbelievable compassion towards just one sentient being, we will understand why it says

I will always cherish all sentient beings

It is so important to cherish and generate compassion towards even one sentient being.

Getsul Tsembulwa and the leper-woman

There is another example in the life stories of the lineage lamas in the Vajrayogini Commentary. The great yogi Drubchen Nagpo Chöpa used to travel by flying in the sky surrounded by five hundred dakinis singing and playing damaru and bell. One time he wanted to go to Oddiyana to practice tantric conduct, the last practice before enlightenment. He came to a big river and there was an extremely pitiful-looking lady waiting there, her body completely covered with leprosy and oozing pus and blood. She asked the great yogi Nagpo Chöpa, “Please carry me on your back to the other side of the river,” but he didn’t pay any attention and just kept going. Then his disciple who was living in the thirty-six vows, Getsul Tsembulwa, came along and she asked him, “Please take me to the other side of the river.” When Getsul Tsembulwa saw how pitiful she looked, oozing pus and blood, he felt such incredible compassion that even though he was a monk and not supposed to touch women, he immediately grabbed her and put her on his back without the slightest concern for catching leprosy himself. He carried her across the river but when they reached halfway the lady suddenly became Dorje Phagmo—the same as Vajrayogini—and took Getsul Tsembulwa in that same body and without needing to die to Vajrayogini’s pure land, Tharpa Khachö, where he could become enlightened.

Dorje Phagmo, or Vajravarahi, from a fourteenth-century thangka.(Photo Wikipedia)
Dorje Phagmo, or Vajravarahi, from a fourteenth-century thangka.(Photo Wikipedia)

The lady was actually the deity Dorje Phagmo, an enlightened being, from the beginning but the monk could not see that because his mind was obscured; all he could see was a pitiful lady full of leprosy. It was only after he generated strong unbearable compassion and was able to cherish her with no space in his mind to worry about catching leprosy himself that he purified the karmic obscurations blocking his mind from seeing her as Dorje Phagmo. At that point, halfway across the river, she took him to the pure land where he became enlightened. This is what happened to Getsul Tsembulwa in that very lifetime because he was able to cherish and generate strong compassion for just one sentient being. The lady had also asked his teacher, the yogi Nagpo Chöpa, to carry her across the river but he didn’t pay any attention and so received no benefit.

Now you can see the reason why I emphasize the benefit of cherishing even one sentient being with great compassion. It is such a strong, easy way to purify negative karma and quickly achieve enlightenment. Asanga spent twelve years in retreat but nothing happened. You have to analyze to understand this point. It’s not a question of doing retreat or not, the main thing is generating compassion and cherishing sentient beings. That’s the very essence. Generating great compassion to even one sentient being brings enlightenment quickly.

HAPPINESS COMES FROM EVERYONE INCLUDING OUR ENEMY

Another thing to understand is that all our three times’ happiness—the happiness from beginningless rebirths, our present happiness as well as our future lives’ happiness up to and including the ultimate happiness of enlightenment—comes from good karma. It all comes from our positive thought and healthy mind. Our good karma, or virtuous thought and virtuous action, is Buddha’s action. Buddha has two kinds of action, one is within us sentient beings and the other is within Buddha, it is possessed by Buddha’s own mind.

Blessing a nomad above Erdenzuu, Mongolia 2010. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Blessing a nomad above Erdenzuu, Mongolia 2010. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

Therefore all our good karma comes from Buddha; Buddha comes from a bodhisattva; bodhisattvas come from bodhicitta; bodhicitta comes from great compassion; and great compassion is generated in dependence upon the kindness of suffering sentient beings. It is because there are sentient beings who are suffering and obscured that compassion can be generated—so now you can see their kindness. All sentient beings have obscurations (if they were free from obscurations they would be enlightened) and therefore all your past, present and future happiness comes from the kindness of each one.

That means great compassion is also generated in dependence upon the kindness of the person whom you call an “enemy.” Great compassion is generated in dependence upon the suffering of that person who gets angry at you and blames you even when you have done nothing wrong, who provokes you, puts you down and looks down their nose at you whenever they see you. From the great compassion generated in dependence upon the enemy comes bodhicitta; from bodhicitta comes the bodhisattva; from the bodhisattva comes Buddha; from Buddha come the Dharma and Sangha as well as all your past, present and future good karma; and from your good karma comes all your past, present and future happiness including enlightenment.

“Generating compassion to even one sentient being brings enlightenment quickly.”

Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessing ants in Washington. Rinpoche has written a special practice for making Charity to Ants. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche blessing ants in Washington. Rinpoche has written a special practice for making Charity to Ants. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

Therefore all your past, present and future happiness come from this person whom you call an “enemy.” It all comes from this person that you don’t like due to being hallucinated and due to misconception. You receive all your past, present and future qualities, including enlightenment, due to the kindness of this person. You receive all the amazing qualities of the bodhisattvas who have achieved the paths of merit, preparation and so on, due to the kindness of this person. You receive all the qualities of the ordinary bodhisattvas who possess the five types of clairvoyance and so on, due to the kindness of this person. You receive all the qualities of the arya bodhisattvas who have achieved the ten levels from this person. Even Buddha, Dharma and Sangha came from this person whom you call an “enemy.” Can you imagine their kindness? Wow, wow, wow!

And then as I mentioned before, this person whom you call an “enemy” is cherished as most precious by numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas. Numberless sentient beings practiced in the past, purified obscurations and developed realizations in order to achieve enlightenment for this person, this insect, this ant or this mosquito. Having achieved enlightenment these numberless beings then revealed the Dharma, just as Shakyamuni Buddha did, for this same person.

That is why whatever happens, whether you are happy or depressed, you should always cherish sentient beings as far more special than the whole sky filled with wish-granting jewels “with the thought of accomplishing the sublime success.” Cherish everyone the same—friends, enemies and strangers—and treat them just as a mother treats her most beloved child. Those people who can generate greater compassion are so fortunate, whether they understand Dharma or not, because that is how enlightenment is quickly achieved.

Now you can see why for you every sentient being is most precious, dear, kind and wish-fulfilling and why we need to cherish and serve each one. That is the real Dharma and the quickest way to achieve enlightenment. As I have already explained many times, the more you can cherish sentient beings and serve them, the greater the purification will be, and the quicker you will achieve realization and enlightenment. So pray to be able to change your mind into this attitude of cherishing others without even a second’s delay.

Watch Rinpoche teach this verse. Light of the Path 2014.

Wish-fulfilling for Others

Listen to Lama Zopa Rinpoche teach this verse.

The next verse is from Aryasura’s Aspiration in Seventy Stanzas (v. 20)

May I become like a wish-granting jewelFulfilling all the wishes of transmigratory beings,And like a wish-granting treeCompletely fulfilling all their hopes.

The previous verse talked about the kindness of sentient beings—how they are most precious, kind, dear and wish-fulfilling for you. Now here you pray to become wish-fulfilling for others in return.

The Tibetan word for “transmigratory beings” is dro wa, which literally means “goers” or “those who are going.” This has two meanings. Firstly, sentient beings are “goers” because they are continually reincarnating in the six realms of samsara totally under the control of karma and delusion, experiencing the oceans of suffering of each realm over and over again. Secondly, from the moment of birth sentient beings are continually running towards death—not just year-by-year, month-by-month, week-by-week, day-by-day, hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute, but even second-by-second right down to the split second—with no freedom at all.

Writing blessed mantra on a goat's horns, Tingri, Tibet. (Photo Bob Cayton)
Writing blessed mantra on a goat’s horns, Tingri, Tibet. (Photo Bob Cayton)

When you think how transmigratory beings are completely under the control of karma and delusion compassion has to arise. Generally speaking all six realms’ sentient beings suffer like this. Of course Buddha doesn’t have suffering but manifests suffering and there are also arya bodhisattvas without suffering and lower bodhisattvas who reincarnate due to their strong prayers only to benefit sentient beings, but all other transmigratory beings in the six realms are born totally under control of karma and delusion with no freedom at all.

For example, tigers, snakes, monkeys, mosquitoes, ants and tiny insects are born that way because they weren’t able to purify the negative karma for those rebirths before reincarnating. Either they didn’t meet the Dharma and therefore weren’t able to practice and purify or, even if they did meet the Dharma, they didn’t practice but spent their lives totally distracted. It’s very sad. Once that human life is finished it is difficult to meet the Dharma again for many eons or even to hear a human voice. We all have so much past negative karma collected from beginningless rebirths. There are numberless karmas to take all kinds of different rebirths even as animals. There are animals that look like flowers or plants but are actually sentient beings. There are also plants and flowers that are not sentient beings but can harm sentient beings like insects that come near due to that sentient being’s karma.

What can you do if you are born as a monkey or snake or mosquito? Once the karma to be born that way is experienced it’s too late. Or if you’re born as a tiger—what can you do? You have to live your life as a tiger hunting pitiful animals like deer and zebra for food. There’s no other choice because tigers are not vegetarian and can’t eat plants or grass. In a tiger’s rebirth you create heavy negative karma all the time by killing other animals and causing them to suffer, and that in turn creates the cause for you to be killed a hundred thousand million billion times in the future. It’s very, very sad.

Now you can see how transmigratory beings suffer because of being totally under the control of karma and delusion with no freedom at all.

Watch Rinpoche teach this verse, Light of the Path 2014.

THE POWER OF PRAYER

Once you understand how sentient beings are suffering, you will see how important it is to help them. That’s why here we are praying to fulfill all their wishes for happiness.

May I become like a wish-granting jewelFulfilling all the wishes of transmigratory beings,And like a wish-granting treeCompletely fulfilling all their hopes.

There are wish-granting trees in Amitabha’s pure land with the power to grant all wishes and we are praying to be able to fulfill all the hopes and desires of the numberless sentient beings of the six realms in the same way. We are praying to fulfill their wish for happiness not only for today or for this life but for millions, billions, zillions and numberless future lives up to the peerless happiness of the state of omniscient mind.

OM MANI PADME HUM mantra with mongoose gushing wish-granting jewels. (Art by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)
OM MANI PADME HUM mantra with mongoose gushing wish-granting jewels. (Art by Lama Zopa Rinpoche)

I’m sorry but I’ll tell you a true story. Normally when I’m dedicating merits, I pray like this:

May all the sufferings of body, speech and mind of anyone who relies upon me, whom I promised to pray for, or whose name was given to me, immediately be pacified,And may all their wishes succeed according to the holy Dharma.May everything they do become the cause of enlightenmentAnd may they achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible.

And when I’m at a center I dedicate the merits in a similar way to the staff as well as to all those who have come to the center in the past, are coming now and will come in the future.

Recently when I was in Australia a lady came to thank me for saving her dog. It seems the dog got sick so she took it to the vet for treatment, but the vet told her there was nothing they could do and she should take it back home to die. So she took the dog home, did some prayers and put my picture (sorry to say that) next to where the dog was lying. She told me the dog completely recovered and now it was fine. There was another similar story about a sick child whose mother put my photo at the child’s heart and it got better. Hearing these stories convinced me of the benefit of always making this kind of prayer. The Vinaya teachings say

Whatever prayer you make, the result will come accordingly.

And it is mentioned in a sutra

All phenomena depend on the tip of the wish.

This means our prayers generate a wish that brings a result. This has been my own experience from always praying this way. Therefore, if we pray and dedicate every day as it is mentioned in this verse, it will definitely have an effect due of the power of mind.

The Bodhisattva Attitude

The essence of the bodhisattva attitude is already contained within the first two verses. Now there are some verses by the great bodhisattva Shantideva expanding on this with more very precious advice on how to live our lives for others.

THE BODHISATTVA ATTITUDE VERSES

I give up my body, enjoyments and wealth,And even all virtues of the three timesWithout any sense of loss,To accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings.

By giving away all I will pass beyond suffering,And my mind will achieve the (non-abiding) sorrowless state (of omniscience).Since everything is given up all at once (at death)It is best to (now) give it away for sentient beings.

Having given this body to all beingsTo use however they want for their happinessEven if they constantly kill me, criticize me, beat me and so on,Let them do whatever they like.

Even if others play with my body,Put me down and make fun of me,Since I have already given this body to them—Why would I resist that?

Let this body do any activityThat doesn’t harm others.When anyone encounters meMay it never be meaningless for them.

Whoever generates a thought of anger or devotionBy looking at me, May that very mindAlways become the cause to accomplish their every success.

May all those who say unpleasant things,Harm me (physically),Or likewise complain about me (behind my back),Have the fortune to achieve enlightenment.

May I become a savior for those who lack a savior,A guide for those who have entered the path,And a boat, a ferry and a bridgeFor those who wish to cross over (water).

May I become an island for those seeking an island,A light for those wanting light,Bedding for those desiring bedding,May I become a servant for all beings who want a servant.

May I become a wish-granting jewel and a wish-fulfilling vase,Actualized knowledge mantras,A great medicine, a wish-granting tree,And a wish-granting cow for those beings.

Like the (four) great elements, The earth and so on, and like the sky, May I always be the means of living in many waysFor the innumerable sentient beings.

Likewise, in every realm of sentient beingEqualing the limitless sky,May I always be the cause of their means of living in every way,Until they all attain the sorrowless state.

As long as space remains,As long as transmigratory beings remain,Until then may I too remain,To dispel the suffering of transmigratory beings.

GIVING EVERYTHING AWAY

The first two verses are about giving.

I give up my body, enjoyments and wealth,And even all virtues of the three timesWithout any sense of loss,To accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings.

Here you are giving away your body, enjoyments (food, clothing, shelter, wealth and so on) as well as all your virtues of the past, present and future “to accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings.”  The welfare of all sentient beings is two, that of yourself and of others. Your own welfare is the cessation of all the obscurations and the welfare of others is the completion of all the realizations. We need to accomplish both of these to be able to bring happiness to all sentient beings in this and all future lives, liberation from samsara and enlightenment.

When it talks about “giving up” everything, that doesn’t mean throwing it in the garbage! It means completely offering to sentient beings from your heart without any attachment, miserliness or even the slightest feeling of sadness or loss. You dedicate everything to others with a completely happy mind, just as you would give to the friend closest to your heart, or to the person who has been kindest to you in this life—such as your parents who cared for you so many years since your consciousness was conceived in your mother’s womb. It says here that you are going to give like that for “the welfare of all sentient beings,” not just for your friends and people you like. This is actually a fundamental practice before taking a great initiation. It is a part of the bodhisattva vow. If you can’t do this, how can you take the bodhisattva vow? No way!

“Cherishing, serving and caring for sentient beings is the best service to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, while harming, speaking badly and hurting sentient beings is harming them.”

Rinpoche at the Dharma shop in Singapore, 2013. (Photo Stephen Ching)
Rinpoche at the Dharma shop in Singapore, 2013. (Photo Stephen Ching)

Practicing taking and giving  

As you recite this verse, it would be excellent if you can do the meditation on taking and giving (tong-len) so the meaning is not just left as words. Taking and giving is such an amazing practice. Here it doesn’t actually talk about taking (len-pa), just giving (tong-wa), but if you wish you can start with the practice of taking.

Taking involves taking on the actual suffering, the causes of suffering and the suffering environments of numberless sentient beings. For example, in the hell realms, there are the burning iron ground, weapons, huge cauldrons of extremely hot molten hard-iron, burning iron houses with no doors or windows, ice mountains and so on. Once they are born into the hell realms the hell beings have to suffer for billions, zillions and trillions of years—an incredible length of time—until the karma for that rebirth has finished. Then another karma ripens that has to be experienced for zillions of eons until it finishes; and so it goes on. So take into your heart not only the suffering and causes of suffering of the hell realms, but also the terrifying environment. Think this all melts into smoke, pollution, or whatever is most effective to destroy your ego. It absorbs to your heart and destroys your self-cherishing thought.

Detail of White Mahakala holding a wish-granting jewel. (Thangka by Gen Migmar ITTA tibetanartschool.com) 
Detail of White Mahakala holding a wish-granting jewel. (Thangka by Gen Migmar ITTA tibetanartschool.com) 

Each time you take away the suffering and causes of suffering of the numberless hell beings, think they achieve the dharmakaya, which is a state beyond suffering. Do the same for the hungry ghosts, animals, humans, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. When you meditate like this from the heart, many eons of negative karma get purified.

When you do the practice of giving, start by giving all your numberless past, present and future merits. Then give all the resultant happiness that comes from these merits up to enlightenment. After that, give your body in the form of a wish-granting jewel. Then give all your enjoyments, material possessions, and your entire family and circle of friends, relatives and so on—everything. Make charity of whatever you possess to all sentient beings just as the Buddha did.

My root guru His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche used to say that you cannot give your body to sentient beings in its ordinary form but should visualize it as a wish-granting jewel. This is different from the chöd practice. In chöd, there are the white and red distributions. In the red distribution your body becomes mountains of flesh, blood and bones, which you give to the spirits. However, in the taking and giving practice, His Holiness advised to visualize the body as a wish-granting jewel and think that sentient beings receive whatever they want from that. Visualize not just one small jewel, but the whole sky filled with your body transformed into numberless wish-granting jewels as huge as mountains and think you are giving every sentient being whatever they need.

Rinpoche giving to the beggars in India. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)
Rinpoche giving to the beggars in India. (Photo Ven Roger Kunsang)

First, give everything to the numberless hell beings and think they received it and own it. Then give to the numberless hungry ghosts, animals and insects, humans, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings. Normally we only talk about offering to the six realms’ sentient beings, but here we can also offer to the arhats and bodhisattvas who are free from samsara, imagining that our offering helps them complete the path and achieve enlightenment. After offering everything to all sentient beings, think they have received it and now own it. It is very good to think that it belongs to them—not that you have given it away but it is still yours. Thinking it belongs to them cuts the self-cherishing thought and the selfish mind.

“Even just the thought to benefit sentient beings creates far greater merit than offering to the buddhas.”

Next, imagine that by receiving all these things sentient beings achieve a pure land where they can attain enlightenment. There is no suffering in the pure lands, only beauty, and the environment is filled with wish-granting trees that grant all wishes. You can also think that sentient beings receive a perfect human body, meet the Mahayana teachings and find a perfectly qualified guru who can reveal the path to enlightenment. To conclude, imagine that through this offering numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras and intermediate state beings, actualize the complete path to enlightenment in their hearts, are liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering along with all gross and subtle defilements, and become enlightened in the form of the deity you are practicing. Rejoice that you have brought them all to the state of enlightenment.

A Summary of the Taking and Giving Meditation

Begin the meditation by generating compassion. Then take from the numberless sentient beings

  • All their sufferings.
  • All the causes of those sufferings, karma and defilements, including even the subtle defilements.
  • The suffering environments where they live.

Think that all of this absorbs to your ego and destroys your self-cherishing thought. Also think that having taken this away from sentient beings, they achieve the state of dharmakaya, which is beyond suffering.

Then give

  • All your numberless past, present and future merits and all the resultant happiness that comes from these merits up to enlightenment.
  • Your body visualized in the form of numberless wish-granting jewels filling the whole sky.
  • All your enjoyments, material possessions, the people around you and even your family and friends.

Offer all of this to

  • All the numberless hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, human beings, suras, asuras, intermediate state beings.
  • Every arhat and every bodhisattva who is free from samsara.

Think that by receiving all this

  • They achieve a pure land where there is no suffering and only beauty. It is filled with wish-granting trees and whatever they wish for happens.
  • They receive a perfect human body, meet the Mahayana Dharma and find a perfectly qualified guru who can reveal the path to enlightenment.
  • They actualize the complete path to enlightenment in their heart and are liberated from the oceans of samsaric suffering, along with all the causes, delusion and karma, including both the gross and subtle defilements.
  • They all become enlightened in the form of the deity you are practicing.

Rejoice that you have brought them all to the state of enlightenment.

“This taking and giving meditation is a quick way to achieve enlightenment.”

This taking and giving meditation is a quick way to achieve enlightenment. Even doing the meditation once, will make you rich in merits and very fortunate. Each time you take on the numberless hell beings’ sufferings along with the causes of those sufferings, you collect numberless merits and that means numberless causes of enlightenment. It is the same each time you take on the sufferings of the other realms. Therefore in total you collect numberless causes of enlightenment seven times over. Can you imagine that? Then each time you give your body as a wish-granting jewel to numberless hell beings you again collect numberless causes of enlightenment. It’s the same each time you offer your possessions and merits. Since you have many belongings, use each one to make charity to the numberless sentient beings. That way you will collect skies of merit. This way of practicing is a cause to achieve the great success of enlightenment. And by the way, it will bring liberation from samsara, the happiness of future lives and the happiness of this life.

Even just the thought to benefit sentient beings, Kopan 2015.

Here I explained how to expand the practice of giving as you recite the verse. If this is not possible, at least do a short meditation on giving so that you are not simply reciting words. Even if you earn a billion dollars a day it is nothing compared to the merits you gain by doing this meditation. In the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (ch. 1. v. 27), Shantideva says

Even just the thought to benefit sentient beingsCreates far greater merit than offering to the buddhas.

That means the merit from offering a universe filled with gold and jewels to the Buddha is small compared to even just having the thought to benefit another living being, whether or not you do actually help them.

Death

Next Shantideva says

By giving away all I will pass beyond suffering,And my mind will achieve the (non-abiding) sorrowless state (of omniscience).Since everything is given up all at once (at death)It is best to (now) give it away for sentient beings.

Sooner or later you will die and leave everything behind—material possessions, family, friends and even this body that you cherish more than numberless other sentient beings or any other precious thing. You may be a king with a large court, president of a populous country or an extremely wealthy person living in a palace made of diamonds and gold, but you cannot stay forever. No matter how large your family, how vast your wealth, how powerful your army, how great your circle of bodyguards, or how beautiful the place you live, you will have to leave it all behind. Only the bare consciousness goes to the next life. It is like pulling a hair from butter; the hair is extracted and the butter left behind.

Since you must leave everything at death, the best idea is to give it away now to every single sentient being. Why? Because from that, you can achieve the “non-abiding sorrowless state,” which means enlightenment. Then you can free numberless sentient beings from suffering and bring them to the state of omniscient mind.

Beat the recession by giving! Kopan 2015.

Do you understand the benefit of giving? Right now there is an economic recession in the world and people always advise to keep money, save it for the future and not spend it. But you could die even today. What about that? You could die tomorrow, or you could die tonight—and then what? Your family will fight over your money. That’s what normally happens. Ordinary people never think about the fact that death can happen any time.

My idea or philosophy (well actually it is Buddha’s philosophy!) is that the best thing to do with money is either offer it with devotion to Guru, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha or spend it sincerely with compassion to help sentient beings. Those are very safe ways to use money because they create the cause to receive wealth again in the future. It is the same with inner wealth. When you dedicate your life and make charity to others, you are creating the cause to receive wealth in the future. Worldly people tell you to save money and not spend it—that’s because they don’t understand karma. If you follow their advice you will become more and more poor because miserliness is the cause of poverty. Not making charity of your wealth or even using it for yourself creates the cause to be poor. So my philosophy is to practice charity as much as possible because even a small offering made with compassion creates the cause to receive wealth for a hundred thousand lifetimes. I’m telling you this from my own little experience (sorry to say that). Worldly people are afraid to give to others because they think they will lose out, but that mentality causes poverty. Then when they die the family fights over their wealth and things like that. There is so much merit to be collected by helping others. The result of even one good karma of making charity to others, whether big or small, can be experienced for one hundred thousand lifetimes.

“My philosophy is to practice charity as much as possible because even a small offering made with compassion creates the cause to receive wealth for a hundred thousand lifetimes.” 

Rinpoche making charity respectfully to a beggar at Vulture’s Peak, India. (Photo Andy Melnic)
Rinpoche making charity respectfully to a beggar at Vulture’s Peak, India. (Photo Andy Melnic)

Many years ago when I was giving the hundreds of initiations of the Rinjung Gyatsa in Bodhgaya I thought to myself that giving to the beggars is the best offering to numberless buddhas and bodhisattva. That’s because what they cherish most is sentient beings. Buddhas and bodhisattvas cherish you hundreds of thousands of times more than you cherish yourself. They don’t have self-cherishing thought for even a second. What the buddhas and bodhisattvas cherish most is the numberless sentient beings including every single ant and right down to the tiniest creature that can only be seen through a microscope and not with the naked eye. So making charity to sentient beings is also the best offering to numberless buddhas and bodhisattvas. Since that time, whenever I make charity to the beggars I try to hold the money respectfully between the palms of my two hands and as I give to each beggar I reflect on their kindness and how all my past, present and future happiness including enlightenment comes from each one. I also try to remember that giving to sentient beings is the best offering to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. This is what pleases them most.

“Giving to sentient beings is the best offering to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas.”

Whatever great or small help you can offer sentient beings, whatever you can do to take care of them, relieve their problems and bring happiness—all of this is the best offering and service to all the buddhas and bodhisattvas and that means it is the best offering and service to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, Manjushri, Yamantaka, Heruka, and your deity. Cherishing, serving and caring for sentient beings is the best service to the buddhas and bodhisattvas, while harming, speaking badly and hurting sentient beings is harming them. Just as when you speak badly to a child it harms the mother because she cherishes her child so much; similarly harming sentient beings affects all the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Practicing the Mahayana teaching means really cherishing sentient beings. That is what purifies obscurations, accumulates all the merit and brings enlightenment quickly.

The great bodhisattva Shantideva from Sera Je Monastery debate courtyard, India. (Photo Roy Harvey)
The great bodhisattva Shantideva from Sera Je Monastery debate courtyard, India. (Photo Roy Harvey)

BODHICITTA MEANS WANTING TO BE USED BY OTHERS

Having given this body to all beingsTo use however they want for their happinessEven if they constantly kill me, criticize me, beat me and so on,Let them do whatever they like.

Once you have given your body to all sentient beings, it is important to remember that it is up to them to decide how to use it for their happiness and not up to you. There is no reason to be attached to your body or get angry when others do something you dislike. This is the kind of attitude we need in order to practice and actualize bodhicitta. I often hear people say, “Oh, these people are just using me!” I even hear this from people at meetings in our centers. That is because they are not practicing bodhicitta. Once I wrote a letter to a center saying, “Bodhisattvas want to be used by other sentient beings.” That is what the bodhisattva’s attitude is. The worldly mind thinks being used by others is bad; it’s the worst thing. But this is what makes bodhisattvas happy. If you want to achieve enlightenment, you must practice bodhicitta, and this is exactly what the bodhisattvas’ attitude is.

“Bodhisattvas are always looking for ways to be used by others.”

Bodhisattvas are always looking for ways to be used by others. I heard that Kadampa Geshe Potowa was always happy to find an opportunity to serve. He was not an ordinary being but had actualized bodhicitta, the three principal aspects of the path to enlightenment and tantric realizations. Yet whenever other people asked him to do a puja for them, he was incredibly happy to do so. Our motivation should be to always want ourselves to be used by others for their happiness. If you are going to practice bodhicitta, this is what you have to accept. If what you want is to liberate sentient beings from the oceans of samsaric suffering and bring them to enlightenment, then you must first achieve enlightenment and for that you must practice bodhicitta. The bodhisattvas’ attitude is to totally dedicate their lives day and night to be used by other sentient beings for their happiness. This is what they seek and wish for all the time. You have to know that. If you feel like that, there is the opportunity to gradually come closer and closer to bodhicitta and achieve the realization. If you are able to change your mind into an attitude wishing to be used by others for their happiness that is exactly what the bodhisattva attitude is.

Outside the Panchen Lama's monastery Tashi Lhunpo, in Tibet. (Photo Bob Cayton)
Outside the Panchen Lama’s monastery Tashi Lhunpo, in Tibet. (Photo Bob Cayton)

“If you are able to change your mind into an attitude wishing to be used by others for their happiness that is exactly what the bodhisattva attitude is.”

Anyway, it says here “I have given this body to others to use however they want for their happiness.” This is a complete and total change of mind from ordinary thinking. It is very important to remember this—especially when somebody slaps you! When we do the Guru Puja every tsog day there is a verse for the taking and giving practice (v. 95):

And thus, perfect pure compassionate gurus,I seek your blessings that all negativities, obscurations and sufferings of mother migratorsMay without exception ripen upon me right now,And that by giving my happiness and virtue to othersAll migrators may experience happiness.

If you normally do the meditation as you are chanting, then you have already given everything away. Of course, if you left out the meditation and just recited the prayer without thinking of the meaning, there is nothing. But if you have been doing the meditation, then you have already given your body, merits and everything else to every sentient being many times over. So it makes no sense to get upset when somebody is angry at you or scolds you. It would be a very good examination, if somebody were to come along and slap you while you were chanting very beautifully about giving everything to sentient beings!

Tashi Lhunpo monastery, Tibet, from the outer circumambulation path. (Photo Bob Cayton)
Tashi Lhunpo monastery, Tibet, from the outer circumambulation path. (Photo Bob Cayton)

When Kyabje Khunu Lama Rinpoche gave the extensive commentary to Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Bodhgaya he told this story: There was a man sitting meditating outside Tashi Lhunpo Monastery and a passer-by asked, “What are you doing?” The man replied, “I’m practicing patience.” So the passer-by said, “Eat kaka!” and the man who was supposed to be meditating on patience immediately retorted, “Eat it yourself!” His Holiness has told this story many times.

If you can remember the practice of taking and giving when somebody slaps you—wow! If you can remember all the benefits that you receive from sentient beings—all the numberless past lives’ happiness, all the present life’s happiness, then liberation and enlightenment—wow! It is unimaginable. Even if you just think of enlightenment. Wow! There is no way to get angry back. There is no way you would want to bring charges against someone or take them to court. You would only want to respect that person and give them happiness in return. Since you have already given your body to be used by sentient beings for their happiness, it is an amazingly joyful thing to see that they have found your body useful.

This is the reality, but if you listen to the advice of worldly people who do not practice Dharma, then of course it will be different. If you listen to Western culture, which is based on anger and attachment, the advice will be totally opposite to the Dharma and to bodhicitta. This is a very important point.

Having given this body to others, Light of the Path 2009.

The next verse continues

Even if others play with my body,Put me down and make fun of me,Since I have already given this body to them—Why would I resist that?

This kind of attitude is completely opposite to the way worldly people think and live their lives. Worldly people think that if somebody harms you, you should immediately harm them back. If a person slaps you once, you should slap them back twice, ten times, or even a hundred times in return. That worldly samsaric attitude and way of behaving is totally opposite to bodhicitta. Here you are saying that since you have already given your body to others, it is up to them to do what they want with it and no reason for you to retaliate or resist.

Rinpoche entering the foyer at Light of the Path 2014. (Photo Roy Harvey)
Rinpoche entering the foyer at Light of the Path 2014. (Photo Roy Harvey)

ALWAYS MEANINGFUL FOR OTHERS

Let this body do any activityThat doesn’t harm others.When anyone encounters meMay it never be meaningless for them.

This is another very important prayer. You are praying to become wish-fulfilling for anyone who looks at or thinks of you, not only other people but even animals, insects and spirits. Just by seeing you, remembering you, hearing your voice, touching you, and so on, may all their mental and physical sicknesses be healed, may they find faith and devotion in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and may they develop compassion and bodhicitta, actualize the tantric path and achieve enlightenment. I have already mentioned the benefit of making such prayers.

Whoever generates a thought of anger or devotionBy looking at me, May that very mindAlways become the cause to accomplish their every success.

Pray that whatever thought of anger or devotion others generate towards you may immediately become the cause for the success of all their temporary and ultimate wishes. If you can think and pray like this, then not only will others experience success but naturally all your own wishes will succeed. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama always says, “If you are going to live life with a selfish mind then at least be intelligently selfish.”

Rinpoche entering the venue at Light of the Path 2014. (Photo Roy Harvey)
Rinpoche entering the venue at Light of the Path 2014. (Photo Roy Harvey)

May all those who say unpleasant things,Harm me (physically),Or likewise complain about me (behind my back),Have the fortune to achieve enlightenment.

This is the bodhisattva attitude. Even if people are angry at you, make fun of you, criticize, beat or harm you, you pray for that to be only meaningful for them in return and the cause of enlightenment. It would be very nice if these prayers could be set to music and sung by somebody popular with young people. If they could even just hear words like this and take such ideas into their lives it would give them more methods. This is the best and deepest psychology. There is no harm to sentient beings but instead benefit and happiness. Sooner or later the result of this way of practicing is enlightenment.

May I become a savior for those who lack a savior,A guide for those who have entered the path,And a boat, a ferry and a bridgeFor those who wish to cross over (water).

Geshe Gelek and Ven Steve watch Rinpoche teach at Light of the Path 2014. (Photo Roy Harvey)
Geshe Gelek and Ven Steve watch Rinpoche teach at Light of the Path 2014. (Photo Roy Harvey)

There are so many sentient beings, even amongst humans, who lack a guide. They are guideless in Dharma, not knowing what Dharma is, how to practice it, or how to go about finding a guru. They are also guideless in worldly activities and unable even to achieve the happiness of this life. So pray to become a savior in all your lifetimes for those who need help.

Buddhas and higher bodhisattvas on the eighth, ninth and tenth levels who have achieved very high realizations have the power to become anything that is needed to help sentient beings. They can actually manifest as a mountain, a bridge, a road, water and so on. As we recite the prayer we should visualize actually making such offerings.

May I become an island for those seeking an island,A light for those wanting light,Bedding for those desiring bedding,May I become a servant for all beings who want a servant.

Here, the word used for light is “butter lamp” because that was used in the old days but it can be any kind of light. The idea is to become a light for anybody who needs one. “Bedding” includes a bed, blankets, pillows, everything. In the West there are big beds that you can roll around in and sleep anywhere. There is no mention of being a toilet. Of course there would be many thousands of pages if Shantideva mentioned everything. That’s why he had to abbreviate. But if you want, you can pray to be a bathroom for those who need one—especially in Tibet, where most of the time there is no toilet and you have to go outside. Anyway, here we are training our minds in the bodhisattva attitude so, whether it is mentioned here or not, you can pray to become anything that sentient beings need.

Also pray to become a servant for those who need one. That is another total and complete change of attitude. Usually the ego wants other sentient beings to be its servant. You can use others who are numberless, but others can’t use you, who is just one. That is the dictatorship of the self-cherishing mind; it has no meaning and makes no sense. With the bodhisattva’s attitude you are always happy to serve others, you feel fortunate to be used by them.

Happy to be used by others, Light of the Path 2014.

“We are training our minds in the bodhisattva attitude so, whether it is mentioned here or not, you can pray to become anything that sentient beings need.”

When you can think this way your life becomes incredibly joyful. There is never any depression or unhappiness. I have already explained how sentient beings are most precious, most kind, most dear and most wish-fulfilling. The more you realize this kindness and the more you see how precious sentient beings are, the more and more happy you will be to serve them—even if it’s just a small service to one insect or human being.

Take the bodhisattva as an example. For a bodhisattva, the thought of seeking happiness for oneself, such as achieving nirvana—the blissful state of liberation free from samsara—is something totally disgusting like used toilet paper or poison to be thrown far away. On the other hand, for a bodhisattva, to be born in the hell realms and suffer to protect even one sentient being is something unbelievably joyful and blissful, like a swan happily descending into a pond. The bodhisattva’s attitude is totally different from the arhat. Can you imagine what it is like when your attitude has become like this?

“For a bodhisattva, the thought of seeking happiness for oneself is totally disgusting like used toilet paper.”

The bodhisattva’s attitude is totally different, Light of the Path 2014.

THE HAPPINESS OF NUMBERLESS BEINGS

When there is not enough time to recite all the verses you can just recite the last few that cover everything. Use them as a motivation in the morning and remember them as you go through the day. This would also be something good to chant.

May I become a wish-granting jewel and a wish-fulfilling vase,Actualized knowledge mantras,A great medicine, a wish-granting tree,And a wish-granting cow for those beings.

Here you are praying to be a cause of happiness for sentient beings. How? Various examples are given starting with the wish-granting jewel. As I already explained, a wish-granting jewel is considered to be the most valuable of material possessions because it can provide whatever luxuries and resources are required for this life—diamonds, a house, a car, a swimming pool, etc. However, these are only temporary material things. Therefore, when you are praying to be like a wish-granting jewel for sentient beings, you should also pray to fulfill their spiritual needs—to help them purify their negative karma and achieve higher rebirths, liberation from samsara and enlightenment.

Of course, to be able to fulfill others’ wishes also depends on them having good karma. It cannot happen without merit. It is the same for ourselves. You must know that if you sincerely think of others happiness and help them to fulfill their wishes, as a result of that good karma all your own wishes for happiness will succeed. This happens naturally, due to karma, even if you are not expecting it. Therefore, if you are smart and want your own wishes to succeed, first help others—dedicate your life to serving them, day and night, like the bodhisattvas, and due to that karma all your own wishes will effortlessly come true.

Next, pray to become like a wish-fulfilling vase for other sentient beings. We have the system of making wealth vases to bring wealth and success. The wish-fulfilling vase is similar. If you posses such a vase it helps all your wishes to be immediately fulfilled.

Wish-granting vase from a thangka at Amitabha Buddhist Center, Singapore. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)
Wish-granting vase from a thangka at Amitabha Buddhist Center, Singapore. (Photo Ven Sarah Thresher)

“Actualized knowledge mantras” refers to a mantra that has been “actualized” by being chanted many hundred thousands and millions of mantras. Once somebody has “actualized” the mantra by reciting such a large number for a long time then just by chanting it, they can easily pacify disease, obstacles, negative karma and spirit harm, increase the lifespan, fortune, wisdom and wealth, and control sentient beings, material conditions and the weather, etc. Whatever activity they need to do to benefit others, pacifying, increasing, controlling and wrathful is immediately successful. So pray to become like this for sentient beings.

“Pray to become healing for sentient beings like a great medicine.”

A “great medicine” is arura. There is ordinary arura, which is one of the three fundamental medicines and is used by the Tibetan Medical Centre to make medicine. Then there is the real arura, which is extremely rare and said to cure all sicknesses. The Medicine Buddha is holding this real arura. Some medicines used to contain real arura and some statues and stupas contain arura as a relic inside. You don’t even need to eat this real arura to be healed, just to wear it or even stand nearby. There is said to be real arura in the heart of the Maitreya Buddha statue at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Tibet. The statue is about four stories high and I heard that if you stand on the second story at a level with the heart for some time all your sicknesses are cured. I also heard that in Ladakh there is an arura tree surrounded by walls to protect it. My root guru, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, had a medicine from Tibet containing real arura that had incredible healing powers when worn. You are praying to become healing for sentient beings like this great medicine.

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Then pray to become like the wish-granting trees in the pure lands and like a wish-granting cow. At the end of the Chöd practice composed by the great lama Kachen Yeshe Gyaltsen, the last line is “may I become wish-fulfilling for sentient beings,” but in Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life the prayer is to become “like a wish-granting cow.” There is a description of the wish-granting cow in the long mandala offering and all the different parts of its body are made of jewels. It is not just that the cow unceasingly gives milk, it is wish-fulfilling.

“Pray for your life to be used by and to benefit sentient beings in any way that brings them happiness just like the great elements.”

Next you pray to become “the means of living in many ways” for sentient beings like the four great elements of earth, water, fire and wind and like the sky.

Like the (four) great elements, The earth and so on, and like the sky, May I always be the means of living in many waysFor the innumerable sentient beings.

The earth is used in so many different ways by sentient beings for their happiness. They use the earth for fields to cultivate crops for their survival, for gardens, to make roads, build factories, monasteries and houses to live in and in so many different ways for their happiness. Pray to be used exactly like that for the happiness of sentient beings. This is an incredible prayer. Water is also used in so many different ways by sentient beings for their happiness. They use water for drinking, washing, sailing, pleasure and in many other different ways. Pray for your life to be beneficial and used exactly like that by others. Fire is used in so many different ways by sentient beings for their happiness. It is used for cooking, keeping warm, heating and so on. Pray for your life also to be used for sentient beings’ happiness. The wind is used in so many different ways for sentient beings’ happiness. It is used for breathing, air conditioning and so on. Pray for your own life to be used for sentient beings’ happiness. Then the sky is used in so many different ways by sentient beings for their happiness. It is used for traveling, movement and so on. Pray for your own life to be used by and to benefit sentient beings in any way that brings them happiness just like these great elements.

Like the great elements, Light of the Path 2014.

It says here, “May I always be the means of living” for others. That means not only when your mind is OK and you are in a good mood, but all the time, even when you are in a bad mood or depressed. Here you are praying to be used like this always and forever.

Likewise, in every realm of sentient beingEqualing the limitless sky,May I always be the cause of their means of living in every way,Until they all attain the sorrowless state.

This bodhisattva attitude makes your life beneficial and meaningful for sentient beings. You pray to be used by others for their happiness and feel grateful when they find some way of using you, rather than complaining.

“You are so fortunate if even one sentient being finds you useful.”

Whether you are taking care of a family, looking after an old man or your parents, working in an old folks home or with your own or other people’s children, you are so fortunate if there is even one sentient being who finds you useful. You should rejoice and feel great happiness all day long to be able to use your body, speech and mind, your limbs, hands, legs and so on to take care of and offer service to others. Think, “I am so fortunate to be able to serve even one sentient being!” Instead of thinking, “me, me, me. My happiness. My happiness…” and following the chronic disease of the self-cherishing thought, you should rejoice and feel great happiness from morning to night to take care of your family or every time you go to work. It is something to enjoy.

Practicing bodhicitta like this is the best psychology, the best meditation, the best purification, the best way to collect merit and the best method to quickly achieve enlightenment. There is nothing better to do than serve and cherish others. Offer whatever service you can. Kyabje Serkong Rinpoche used to say to do even small things like helping an insect that has fallen into the water, giving up your seat to people standing in the bus, helping others who are carrying heavy luggage, and so on. Practice by doing even small things so that later you can do big things, take the loss on yourself and offer the victory to others.

So fortunate to be able to serve even one sentient being, Light of the Path 2014.

The practice of bodhicitta is totally against the ego. It is totally opposite to the self-cherishing thought. It diminishes the self-cherishing thought and the selfish mind that hinder your achievement of enlightenment, liberation from samsara, the happiness of future lives and even the happiness of this life. The selfish mind harms you and harms all sentient beings from life to life, and this bodhisattva attitude totally eliminates that.

“Practicing bodhicitta is the best psychology, the best meditation, the best purification, the best way to collect merit and the best method to quickly achieve enlightenment.”

At the end, it is very good to recite the prayer that His Holiness the Dalai Lama always recites when giving the bodhisattva wishing vows. It is not in the same chapter but it is also from A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (10:55).

As long as space remains,As long as transmigratory beings remain,Until then may I too remain,To dispel the suffering of transmigratory beings.

Rinpoche with course participant, Light of the Path 2014.
Rinpoche with course participant, Light of the Path 2014.

“With the bodhisattva attitude you become wish-fulfilling for others.”

THE BODHISATTVA ATTITUDE

It would be wonderful if, after generating a bodhicitta motivation each morning, you could then dedicate your life to others with this bodhisattva’s attitude. This is the way to enjoy every day of your life. Dedicating yourself to others brings a deep happiness into your heart, instead of jealousy and suffering. When you follow the ego, self-cherishing and negative emotional thoughts like jealousy, attachment, anger and so on, they constantly torture you, even though nobody else is torturing you. You create many problems and a lot of negative karma and then suffer. You harm others and harm yourself and consequently experience more and more problems as a result. The whole life passes like this until one day death comes and that’s it—your life finishes in suffering.

In the West, millions of people suffer from depression, but if you can dedicate your life in the morning to numberless sentient beings, you will have unbelievable joy and happiness the whole day. Cherishing the I opens the door to all suffering, while cherishing others opens the door to all happiness. Living your life every day for others closes the door to depression, relationship problems and so on.

“Cherishing the I opens the door to all suffering, while cherishing others opens the door to all happiness.”

Cultivating the bodhisattva’s attitude means letting go of the delusions, ego and especially the self-cherishing thought. Instead you live with the inner peace, happiness, deep joy and satisfaction that come from practicing Dharma. Your heart is open all the time day and night and you can help other sentient beings and yourself. With the bodhisattva attitude you become wish-fulfilling for others, just as all sentient beings have been wish-fulfilling and kind to you since beginning less rebirths. As a result, all your own aims are accomplished and you achieve enlightenment, ceasing all gross and subtle delusions and completing all the qualities of realization. Then you can liberate others from suffering and delusion and bring them to enlightenment.

Now you can see how by living your life with this total change of mind to the bodhisattva’s attitude, you can experience a deep sense of happiness all the time. There will be no regrets now or in the future, just greater and greater happiness up to enlightenment.

Therefore recite this motivation in the morning and then remember it as you go through the day if somebody gets angry with you, scolds you, abuses you, says nasty words to you and so on. If you ask somebody for help and they refuse it, remember this motivation. Then, instead of generating anger, delusions and all that junk and garbage, you will have great peace and happiness. Generate this bodhicitta motivation in the morning and then remember it throughout the day, especially when there is the danger that harmful thoughts of anger, attachment and so forth could arise. By keeping your mind in this bodhisattva attitude, you will free yourself from creating negative karma. There will be great peace and happiness in your life now, and in the future there will be enlightenment for you and for all sentient beings.

View from the Blue Ridge Assembly venue for the Light of the Path retreats. (Photographer unknown)
View from the Blue Ridge Assembly venue for the Light of the Path retreats. (Photographer unknown)

“As long as space remains and as long as sentient beings remain, until then may I too remain and help dispel the misery of the world.”

Listen to His Holiness the Dalai Lama recite Shantideva’s prayer
Listen to this recitation of the Bodhisattva Attitude verses

THE BODHISATTVA ATTITUDE VERSES

Cherishing All Sentient Beings

Determined to obtain the greatest possible benefitFrom all sentient beings,Who are more precious than a wish-fulfilling jewel,I shall hold them most dear at all times.

Wish-Fulfilling for Others

May I become like a wish-granting jewelFulfilling all the wishes of transmigratory beings,And like a wish-granting treeCompletely fulfilling all their hopes.

Bodhisattva Attitude

I give up my body, enjoyments and wealth,And even all virtues of the three timesWithout any sense of loss,To accomplish the welfare of all sentient beings.

By giving away all I will pass beyond suffering,And my mind will achieve the (non-abiding) sorrowless state (of omniscience).Since everything is given up all at once (at death)It is best to (now) give it away for sentient beings.

Having given this body to all beingsTo use however they want for their happinessEven if they constantly kill me, criticize me, beat me and so on,Let them do whatever they like.

Even if others play with my body,Put me down and make fun of me,Since I have already given this body to them—Why would I resist that?

Let this body do any activityThat doesn’t harm others.When anyone encounters meMay it never be meaningless for them.

Whoever generates a thought of anger or devotionBy looking at me, May that very mindAlways become the cause to accomplish their every success.

May all those who say unpleasant things,Harm me (physically),Or likewise complain about me (behind my back),Have the fortune to achieve enlightenment.

May I become a savior for those who lack a savior,A guide for those who have entered the path,And a boat, a ferry and a bridgeFor those who wish to cross over (water).

May I become an island for those seeking an island,A light for those wanting light,Bedding for those desiring bedding,May I become a servant for all beings who want a servant.

May I become a wish-granting jewel and a wish-fulfilling vase,Actualized knowledge mantras,A great medicine, a wish-granting tree,And a wish-granting cow for those beings.

Like the (four) great elements, The earth and so on, and like the sky, May I always be the means of living in many waysFor the innumerable sentient beings.

Likewise, in every realm of sentient beingEqualing the limitless sky,May I always be the cause of their means of living in every way,Until they all attain the sorrowless state.

As long as space remains,As long as transmigratory beings remain,Until then may I too remain,To dispel the suffering of transmigratory beings.

Learn More About These Teachings

“In the West, millions of people suffer from depression, but if you dedicate your life in the morning to numberless sentient beings, you will have unbelievable joy and happiness the whole day.”

Lama Zopa Rinpoche

Why is a bodhicitta motivation so important? What is the bodhisattva’s attitude? How can we keep our minds focused on bodhicitta throughout the day? Find out more about these subjects, learn the context of these teachings and read a summary presentation of each of the Bodhisattva Attitude sections here.

Additional Resources for Study

Here are additional resources that we hope can help you deepen your study of these precious teachings…

BODHISATTVA ATTITUDE

Read the complete Bodhisattva Attitude online.

Mystic Tibet

Learn about the 2002 pilgrimage to Tibet with Lama Zopa Rinpoche here and experience what it is like to travel with a lama who embodies the bodhisattva attitude. Watch the documentary presentation of the pilgrimage called Mystic Tibet: An Outer, Inner and Secret Pilgrimage here.

A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

You can order the full text of Shantideva’s incredible text here.

Mind Training: The Great Collection

Translated by Thubten Jinpa, this extensive collection of “mind training” texts explores forty-four seminal text by great Tibetan scholars on the systematic cultivation of such altruistic thoughts and emotions as compassion, love, patience, and joyful effort. You can also find a selected presentation of eighteen texts drawn from the full collection here.  

Transforming Problems Into Happiness

In Transforming Problems into Happiness, Lama Zopa Rinpoche shows us how difficult times can still cause happiness if we practice skillful ways of interpreting reality that can allow us to live a joyful life no matter what happens.

Kadampa Teachings

In this free book from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Lama Zopa Rinpoche explains how to practice Dharma the way the famous Kadampa geshes did and bases his teachings on Lama Atisha’s wonderful text, The Bodhisattva’s Jewel Garland.

The Method to Transform a Suffering Life into Happiness (Including Enlightenment)  

This is a wonderful practice text translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and freely offered by FPMT to be recited at the beginning of each day. This practice is a powerful method for transforming the mind into Holy Dharma and especially into bodhicitta.

FPMT Living in the Path Study Modules

Living in the Path is ideal for anyone who wishes to deepen their personal practice and develop the realizations of the path to enlightenment by relying on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s heart advice and teachings. However, as the teachings often assume familiarity with the lam-rim (the stages of the path), participants are recommended to have previously received teachings in this Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Learn more about mind-training in the study module called Transforming a Suffering Life here.

iPhone Ringtones

Here are four ringtones you can download and add to your iPhone (they will also play on Android phones if converted to mp3 format) which we hope will help you remember the teachings all through your day:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama reciting the Bodhisattava Vow from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva
His Holiness the Dalai Lama giving personal commentary on and reciting the Bodhisattva Vow from Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva
Lama Zopa Rinpoche reciting the first verse from the Eight Verses of Thought Transformation
Lama Zopa Rinpoche reciting a great aspirational verse for the benefit of all sentient beings

About the Heart Advice Series

The goal of the LYWA Heart Advice Series is to preserve and make available Rinpoche’s unique style and lineage of teachings and practices. Heart Advice is a series of core teachings — the “heart advice” — taken from the experiential instructions of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. You can read more about the goals of the Heart Advice Series here.

The main resources for the Heart Advice titles are Rinpoche’s major retreats, commentaries and transmissions given since 2008, although other Archive materials supplement these. Bodhisattva Attitude: How to Dedicate Your Life to Others is the first title in this series.

The Heart Advice Series is dedicated to the long life and perfect health of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, to his continuous teaching activity and to the fulfillment of all his holy wishes.

About LYWA Multimedia

LYWA is so pleased to bring you this multimedia title based upon Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Bodhisattva Attitude and edited by Ven Sarah Thresher and Megan Evart with technical assistance by Roy Harvey. We are also very grateful to our friends at FPMT for generously sharing their Light of the Path resources. LYWA hopes that these multimedia presentations will serve to immerse you in these precious teachings and will enhance your meditation and practice. By weaving Archive resources together in this multidimensional way we intend to offer you the means to deepen your experience of the teachings – almost as if you had attended the teachings in person.

Bodhisattva Attitude adds to this series that already includes Everything Depends on Your Attitude, Cutting the Concept of Permanence, Give Up Stretching the Legs and Four Wrong Concepts.  You can also explore additional titles such as Lama Yeshe’s How to Meditate and Freedom – Courage – Realization and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s The Merely Imputed I and The Importance of Motivation. Experience the growing collection of LYWA multimedia titles here.

We welcome your questions, comments and suggestions!

Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

These multimedia titles are made possible by the kind supporters of the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive who, like you, appreciate how LYWA makes the teachings of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche freely available in myriad formats, including on the Archive website for researching, listening, reading, downloading and ordering, shared daily with our social media communities and distributed worldwide as audio books, ebooks and free books. Please join us in sharing the Dharma with everyone everywhere for the happiness and benefit of all beings. Learn how by visiting us at LamaYeshe.com. Thank you so much and please enjoy this multimedia title!

Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive

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