01 Oct 2014

Since in October 1950 Tibet was invaded by Chinese troops and has been oppressed ever since, today is a good day to practice Bodhicitta. Alan tells the story of a Geshe Rabten he interviewed several times to be able to write down his life story. This Geshe explained to him that all of Dharma appears to him as either 1) being preparation for bodhicitta, 2) being bodhicitta, or 3) flowing out of bodhicitta. This underlines the importance of cultivating bodhicitta and not striving for the achievement of nirvana and then leaving everybody behind - which Alan sees as the only situation in which the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ is actually true. However, this would be to realize only half of your buddha nature. Alan then starts with pieces of his own biography and how he was unsatisfied in his twenties with western, secular education as it was too fragmented and not infused with meaning. It seemed to have no center. What Alan later encountered and what the Dalai Lama often emphasizes as another way of educating people is that the core of all of education should be the science of the mind - that is, understanding the whole universe of experience from the inside-out. In a traditional Nalanda approach, there are four doors that lead to this center: 1) Healing: Whether you are a doctor, therapist, physiotherapist, etc. your aspiration is to heal. But you do not stop with healing the body - you see the interconnectedness of body and mind and therefore strive to heal all afflictions. 2) Reasoning: This concerns people with sharp minds such as philosophers, mathematicians, (quantum) physicists, etc. Their aspiration is to penetrate deep enough by way of logic so they will find nirvana. This is what is meant by the perfection of wisdom. 3) Creating: Technology, all of the arts, architecture, engineering and the like are in this category. Here the goal is to create in order to be of service to other sentient beings. However, here again one should acknowledge that one is also one’s own creator by being able to shape one’s mind. 4) Sound: This category relates to music, the voice and truth-speaking. All four lead to the center - science of the mind - which marks the fifth category: the inner approach, which goes directly to the center. Alan finishes his talk by citing Shantideva. The quote shows how one should not just aspire for bodhicitta but really engage in bodhicitta up to the point at which a continues flow of merit marks one’s actions, even if one is distracted or asleep. Thus, in such a state no matter what you do, your motivation to do it is always bodhicitta.

Meditation starts at 46:59

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O Laso. So, happy bodhicitta day! October 1st. For me, it’s a very memorable date of the year. October 1st, sixty-five years ago, the Communists took over China, and swiftly commenced to destroying dharma all over Tibet. Destroyed almost all the six thousand monasteries. And then when the Cultural Revolution really kicked in, then they just destroyed all of their own religion, too: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism. So, big disturbance; much suffering.

But of course, one of the side effects of that is that Tibetan Buddhism became global; so I was one of the first recipients of that, so in a way – in a very specific way – I feel grateful for Mao Tse-Tung liberating His Holiness from Tibet so I could meet him.

It was also – what is it? – forty-three years ago October 1st, that I began receiving my training in Dharamsala; the Tibetan, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives opened, and so then I really started receiving formal training. And then it was October 1st, 1976 – thirty-eight years ago – that, with the direct admonition of Geshe Rabten, I began teaching dharma. Little group of Swiss hippies up in the Swiss Alps. So it’s kind of a memorable day for me! It’s a good day to teach bodhicitta.

I remember when – so vividly I remember! – during 1972, mostly 1972 I guess, with His Holiness’s encouragement and Geshe Rabten’s permission, that I would hike up to his cabin whenever he had some free time, and I received his life story. I would pose questions to him, from his childhood on, all through his training. And my primary interest, because I asked for this, was – this is a long time ago! This was ’72 or so. There was this word, “Geshe,” “Geshe.” And none of us really knew what it meant! You know, back then. And so I was very curious; I knew it was a title, like Ph.D, that you would get after quite a significant amount of training. But none of us knew what that training was, and here was this Geshe Rabten who was both a consummate scholar, first-rate Geshe, but was also the yogi up on top of the hill. Or up on the hillside. I said, well that’s – I’d really like to know his story!

[3:01] And so he agreed to tell me his story. And so that took place over a matter of months. I would hike up the hill, sit with him, and he told me his story. And when we came towards the end of the story, of his life story thus far, then he said, “Well, looking back on a life” - an adult life from the age of 19, so that was very encouraging for me: his formal studies began when he was 19. Mine began when I was 20, so I felt ok, not too late! Not too late for me! But now he’s a consummate scholar, first-rate Geshe, a doctrinal advisor for His Holiness Dalai Lama, a yogi living up in a hut, so one could say the perfect life. And so after telling me his whole life story, and the years – 24 years! – of just awe-inspiring dedication to study and practice, study and practice, at one of the great monastic universities in Tibet, in Sera, then looking back, he said that,

Alright, here’s what I’ve concluded based upon these years and years of study and practice, and that is, it appears to me that all of dharma consists of one of three things: all of dharma is either a preparation for bodhicitta, it is bodhicitta, or it flows out of bodhicitta. And there’s nothing in dharma outside of that.

And then he added, with a chuckle – because he was a great debater, he was really an outstanding debater – he said,

If any of you would like to disagree, [because he knew I’d be writing this up, he said,] if anybody would like to disagree, I’m happy to debate with you!

[claps hands] Said with a chuckle! I know he would win the debate!

So from the Mahayana perspective, this is evidently true. Even if one is following what is sometimes called a “lower vehicle,” or the Sravakayana - which is not pejorative! Simply the vehicle, the spiritual vehicle for your own liberation; there’s nothing pejorative about that! But even if one is following that, and you come to the culmination of that path, become a sravaka arhat, and the continuum of your five skandas is terminated and you slip into this immutable bliss of nirvana, beyond time and beyond space and beyond samsara, from the Mahayana perspective you’re still not finished. Right?

And it occurred to me this morning, a little bit humorously, that it’s the only case that I know of that one can say ignorance is bliss! Because you’re, while you’re gaining, you have gained, you’re immersed non-dually, non-conceptually in this unmediated realization of ultimate reality, of nirvana – that’s certainly knowledge! You know reality as it is. That other aspect of Buddha-nature, and that is the primordial consciousness of the full range of phenomena: you don’t have it! And actually you have none of it. You’re not even aware of a fly-speck, or an atom, or a flea. Nothing! You’re completely oblivious of all of samsara, all of the phenomenal world. No contact. You are ignoring, deliberately by your agenda following that path, ignoring the whole phenomenal world, all of space and time and all sentient beings within it. And you are experiencing immutable bliss, and you are knowing one aspect of reality, but you’re ignoring another. Now how can that be complete? How can that be a final destination? And from the Mahayana perspective, it’s not. And that means sooner or later, the Buddha-mind has to catalyze you, trigger you, and get going again! Finish the unfinished work; follow that bodhisattva path so that you fully realize your Buddha-nature! You’ve realized half, so to speak, but not that aspect, not the bodhicitta, not realizing conventional reality, relative truth. Not realizing, manifesting this primordial consciousness that knows the full range of [7:15] phenomena; not manifesting the extraordinary range of creative power, ability, creativity of Buddha-mind. You do not realize that either, because you’re in this timeless, inactive mode beyond space and time. So even that would be preparation.

Now one of the things that, the major reason I left western civilization when I was twenty – and then twenty-one, then I really left! – was just the sense of the total, profoundly unsatisfying fragmentary nature of the education that I received, all the way through college. It was just like I was a wall, and people were throwing mud at the wall: here’s some German literature, here’s some chemistry, here’s some math; how about some art, you want some history, you want some music; how about some religion, and how about some biology and chemistry and physics; and how about some mathematics? And it was kind of like just getting splattered with information, and no coherence. Nothing fit together; nothing was coherent; nothing had any overall meaning or orientation. It was just like information glut. And I just – it wasn’t integrated. Meaning and truth were not integrated. Lots of meaning from the Christian side, but I couldn’t see the truth of some of their assertions. And then lots of truth in science, and I couldn’t find any meaning anywhere; it was just lots of data. So it was really with dismay, with profound disillusionment with all of the education I had received up to the age of twenty, that I just said, “Enough. Enough.”

But then, to my great delight, I found that there was another way of education, another approach to education that His Holiness Dalai Lama really, enormously emphasizes, praises, reveres, promotes. It’s called the Nalanda tradition, the Nalanda tradition. Tracing back to the great monastic university of Nalanda, and other comparable universities like Vikramasila, and others, but primarily Nalanda and Vikramasila. And so long ago – I can’t even remember who first taught me, maybe Geshe Rabten, I can’t remember it was so long ago – but learning about the mandala of knowledge in this educational tradition, I was really quite enamored. And it struck me of something – and I’m rambling a little bit – but it struck me of one book that I really found inspiring when I was reading in Germany, because I was reading voraciously, studying Tibetan, dropped all my classes and just read a lot. But one book that really inspired me was a book by Herman Hesse called Das Glasperlenspiel, The Magister Ludi, or The Glass Bead Game. And fiction of course – and I loved Herman Hesse! I read pretty much all of his works. But this is – I think he actually got a big prize, Pulitzer Prize or something like that for this one book – it was quite noted at the time. It was a long time ago. But it was visionary, and it was kind of a vision of knowledge, all interweaving, that every part - like a holographic image – that every part would connect with every other part, and the glass bead game would be playing with this whole interrelated field of knowledge.

So but that was just the opposite of the whole education I’d received. And so when I learned about the Nalanda tradition, and the matrix of knowledge that was presented there, it was profoundly inspiring; it reminded me of Das Glasperlenspiel. And the center - there actually was a center to the education. There is no center. If you go to a Christian college, you may very well find it, maybe a real core Christian [11:02] doctrine. I admire that. Or if you go to a Jewish college, a Jewish university or, you know, school, you may very well find something really in the core. I think that’s wonderful. But the secular education I received, there was no core, any more than like Los Angeles: there’s no core, it’s just spread out all over the place.

And so, but there’s a core in the Nalanda tradition, and the core identifies itself as such because it’s called “the inner science.” The inner science. And that’s the science of the mind. It’s the science of knowing the reality of suffering and the causes of suffering, the possibility of liberation, and the path to liberation. It’s knowing how the mind operates. It’s knowing the multiple dimensions of the mind: the coarse mind, subtle mind, very subtle mind. It’s understanding the role of mind in nature. It’s seeking to understand the whole of the universe from the inside out, and that universe is the universe of experience, and not some universe existing independently of experience. So I thought, “Well, you got that one right! That’s an orientation I can relate to, and that’s where I want to go. I want to go right to the center; that’s all I care about, I just want to go right to the center.” That was my predilection. That’s one of five.

But what I found just so rich about this model that I’m unpacking right now is, there’s the center – and of course, it’s dharma! It’s dharma: it’s all about eudaemonic well-being, sublime happiness that we encountered earlier in the Great Mudita (empathetic joy). Sublime well-being, sublime happiness, freedom and awakening. That’s the center; that’s what it’s all about.

But now, not everybody is ready to gravitate there today. So there are then multiple doors; multiple doors. And there are four doors leading to the center.

And one of these, in Tibetan, is called sowa-rigpa. And sowa-rigpa is the science of healing. The science of healing. So physiotherapy; being a doctor; being a nurse; being an acupuncturist; being an herbalist; being a nutritionist; being a massage therapist, and so forth. Being a psychologist; a psychiatrist, and so forth. So there’s a whole range of professions. In traditional India, traditional Tibet, this would’ve been primarily Indian ayurvedic medicine, or eventually traditional Tibetan medicine. But it’s really all about healing: healing human beings; healing animals; healing sentient beings. But it’s healing! Right? Chiropractic, all of that. Healing.

So, for some people, when they hear about the very array of occupations, vocations that they might devote themselves to – and they may hear about art and music and science and literature and dharma and so forth – and then they hear about healing, and their ears tingle: “Oh, you just rang my note! You just rang my bell. That’s the one that stirs my heart. That’s the one! That’s the one.” So that’s good, because if there were no healers in the world, there’d be one heck of a lot of sick yogis. And sick everybody else. So it’s really good that there’s a door like that.

But now it’s not, in this Nalanda tradition, it doesn’t just stop there. Ok, now you’re a wonderful chiropractor, herbal healer, or medical doctor or what have you. But then [14:10] you say, “My aspiration was to heal.” And that’s fine. So somebody comes to you with, let’s say, a broken leg. I would go to a modern, western-trained doctor for that one. But let’s imagine you heal the broken leg: you set it exactly right, you put it in the cast, do everything right, and then after some time, the person says, “Well, my leg is completely cured, the bone’s fused, it’s as good as ever!” But then the doctor might ask, “But that was just the leg; I’d really like to heal you.” And so how can we improve your physical health, but then more deeply – because after all, don’t we all care more about our mental well-being than our physical well-being? We’ve been through that one before, right? And so, “I’d really like to heal you; is there any unrest, any sense of ill-at-ease, any anxiety, depression, sadness, afflictions, disruptions of the mind that you’re still suffering from?” And then thinking, “That’s real healing.” The outer’s very important: break a leg, you’ll want to heal it, fix it. But if you’re going to be healing, let’s get real here. People care more about their inner well-being than they do their outer. Even athletes! They don’t want to be healthy and miserable at the same time; they’d rather be, you know, happy, and not win the race. Even athletes, right?

And so the healer, then, just following the arrow of the heart says, “Yes, I want to heal the outer layers, but let’s keep on healing. Let’s not stop.” And you see then, if you’re really seeing with clear vision, the underlying causes – actually even of physical, but certainly more explicitly the mental – are the afflictions of the mind. So in traditional Tibetan medicine, the body gets into a state of imbalance because – imbalance and disease – because of imbalances of wind, bile, and phlegm. Well those are related to imbalances of craving, hostility, and delusion! Traces back to the mind. So if you want to really get to the source of even physical problems, let alone mental, then you have to go and heal people of their mental afflictions and obscurations.

But in order to do that, of course, it would be a really good idea to do it yourself first. In which case, in order to be a really good healer, better become a Buddha first! And then you’ll be the great healer, the supreme healer, the great physician. So there’s one avenue. In through the door of healing.

There’s another one, penzig-rigpa, and this is the science of reasoning, of logic. So, epistemology, logic, the whole art of debate, and more broadly speaking, this would definitely include mathematics – it’s a type of reasoning, a type of quantitative reasoning. This will take you right into philosophy, right into epistemology, Dharmakirti, Dignaga, right into Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Santideva, Tsongkhapa, Lama Mipham Rinpoche, and so on. The sheer power of reasoning, the intelligence, and using that full-throttle. From my experience, I don’t know anybody who does that with such depth and clarity as His Holiness. I don’t know anybody, I think, that I know that trusts intelligence that much, to follow it all the way through to its end. I mean, boy, when he talks logic, when he talks Madhyamaka, you see, this man really believes in intelligence; he really believes in reason. I think a lot of modern people don’t, frankly. They don’t really believe it: “it’s just words, it’s just logic, it’s just philosophy!” Boy, when he does philosophy, like it’s a matter of life and death. This [17:49] is philosophy, this is philosophia, this is the love of wisdom. Many of my teachers have this, but boy, he shines, His Holiness. When he teaches Madhyamaka? I heard him teach all four schools in one current: you had to have a seat belt! I mean, you think I’m a fire hydrant! Listen to him when he’s on. Oh!

So, follow your logic, follow your math, follow your reasoning. Penetrate, investigate. Phenomenological analysis, philosophical analysis, ontological analysis. Probe right through, and you’re going to come to nirvana if you’re smart enough, if you penetrate deeply enough. Whether it’s by way of quantum cosmology or quantum physics, or Hilary Putnam, or William James, or Nagarjuna, or Sankara for that matter, if you keep on penetrating all the way through, your intelligence is going to lead you to nirvana. And that’s the full use of your intelligence. It’s called the perfection of wisdom, because the word for “intelligence” and “wisdom” is the same: prajña. So that’s the door for those who love to use their minds, and will do so fearlessly with an open mind, and sheer tenacity to never be satisfied for anything less than the culmination of the inquiry.

Then there’s soa-rigpa. Soa-rigpa is the science of creation, creating things. It includes technology, all of technology implicitly. All of technology: laser technology, cell phones, rockets, everything. Making stuff. But of course, in the same bundle, the same door, is arts: statues, thangkas, sand mandalas, making tormas, and so forth. Making bridges: one of the greatest lamas in Tibet was a big bridge builder! Chaksampa. Built iron bridges all over Tibet. He was great lama, but that was his great contribution, because, you know, better have a bridge than have to travel ten miles up and ten miles down, you know? Saves people some time. So that too. That’s a door. Some people are – engineering, technology, civil engineering, all kinds of engineering. That’s all soa-rigpa. Arts; all of the arts; all of the arts, it’s there.

And then, all of that is for the sake of service, right? Your religious art, your technology: all of that is for the sake of service to sentient beings. And then you just think, “Alright, what’s the greatest thing I could create? What would be creation, my masterpiece? What’s the greatest thing I could possibly create in the service of humanity?” And then I remember that’s right comes to mind, the Buddha just answered the question.

As the fletcher shapes the arrow, and the potter shapes the pot, so does the wise man shape his own mind.

You are your own creation; there wasn’t anybody else who did this to you. If you don’t like your body, don’t blame anybody else. This comes from your karma, right? Each of us. Danye dagi gern, His Holiness said in that powerful dharma discourse he gave in 1979 in Switzerland, in which I was serving as an interpreter, I remember that phrase: [Tibetan] Danye dagi gern: you are your own master. One Tibetan aphorism – I’m running on again! I think we’re going to be late! [laughter] He said, one Tibetan aphorism: if you want to know your past karma, look at your body; if you want to know your future, look at your mind. Because your mind is the creator; with your mind above all. That’s where your intention lies, right? That’s where your motivation lies. That’s the root of your karma, so if you want to see what kind of form you’re going to have in the future, look at your mind; then you can be a prophet, and you can figure it out. That’s the kind of body I’m fashioning for the future.

[22:12] Well then we’re all artists, aren’t we? We’re all creators. We’re all creators: we’re creating one form after another, so what kind of form would you like to create? What kind of body, speech, and mind would you like to create? Create that of a sentient being, you’ll be one of many. Or you can create the body, speech, and mind of a Buddha, and then you actually might do some great good. So if you’re a creator, if you’re an engineer, if you’re an artist, then let your body, speech, and mind be that which you fashion, and create something beautiful. Become a Buddha.

And then there’s da-rigpa. That’s an interesting one. Shapta-vidhya: knowledge of sound. Actually very mysterious. On the surface it’s not; it’s referring to Sanskrit grammar. But Sanskrit grammar is really regarded by both Hindus and Buddhists as being an exceptional language, quite possibly a unique language: the language of the gods, the language of nature. The Hindus and the Buddhists regard Sanskrit as having a comparable role for dharma as natural scientists the world over regard mathematics. Mathematics is the language of nature. They all say that. Before, they used to say – Galileo would say – that’s the language of God. When God said, “Let there be light,” he said it with Maxwell’s equations. You know, and Maxwell’s equations eventually came out. But God speaks with the language of mathematics, in Christianity. And now, in a more secularized physics, I hear this resounding; it’s like a lion’s roar. I remember one man who accepted an invitation that I offered for him to speak at a conference I organized at the University of California Santa Barbara. He eventually, not long after, earned a Nobel Prize in physics. Named David Gross. He gave a long lecture, because I organized the whole conference on Nothing, so we had a lot of people come, because people like to know about Nothing! And so he gave a talk about the nature of the vacuum and nothing in modern physics. But I remember one thing especially: he spoke really like a prophet, and there’s no sarcasm here at all. I’m sarcastic once in a while, not now. He said, “Nature speaks in one language only, and that is the language of mathematics.”

And for the Hindus and Buddhists coming out of the Indic tradition, nature speaks in the language of Sanskrit, with the Sanskrit syllables. Out of emptiness arises the seed syllable, right? These Sanskrit syllables. And out of these appear earth, water, fire, air. The whole of reality arising out of sound, seed syllables; the deities arising out of seed syllables; mandalas out of seed syllables; mantras of seed syllables. The use of mantra, remember? Samadhi, mantra, and physical substance to actually perform siddhis, but this mantra is there. Some power in that; some power in the sound, in the vibration.

So the power of sound, the science of sound. That would include music as well. It would include voice, the power of voice. It’s said, for a person who has immersed him- or herself in truth-speaking, is extremely assiduous about not deceiving, you know maybe for many life-times, makes a big habit of truth-speaking, then you achieve kind of a siddhi. It’s called denzig: words of truth. Whatever comes out of your mouth winds up being true. Just spontaneously! You say something and it [26:09] winds up being true! I would like that: to be a non-deceiver. There’s enough deceit in the world already; no need for any additions from me.

So the power of sound, the science of sound. Among the Buddha’s body, speech, and mind, the one that delivers the good is speech. Among the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, the primary refuge is dharma conveyed by sound, conveyed by speech. Not the miracles; not the inaccessible, unimaginable mind of the Buddha; but the speech. Sound. So if you’d like to fathom the nature of sound, fathom the great drum of dharma, the lion’s roar of dharma. Fathom dharma. One who sees the dharma sees the Buddha. So know the Buddha by way of sound.

So now, what’s the last one? I always forget one of them. Healing, creation, logic, sound, and… Come on! Ah! We’ve already got it! Inner! Covered that one first. Now I’ve covered all five, right?

So these other four, they’re all leading to the center; they all take you to the center. But some people are more drawn to music, some people are more drawn to healing, some people are more drawn to the power of the mind, intelligence, and so forth. They flow into the center. But then, the center - from the center, everything flows out. So from bodhicitta, then out flows art, and out flows philosophy, and out flows mathematics, and science, and creativity, and engineering, and everything else. It is said that – I think in Santideva – there is no activity that the bodhisattva, no benevolent, meaningful activity that a bodhisattva will find, uh, that he will refuse because it’s too low. Like being a janitor, or a cook, or a groundskeeper. There’s no activity that will be beneath the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva will master all types of activity, all types of occupations, because each one – plumbing, accounting, farming, agriculture, space aeronautics, whatever – anyone can be an avenue for the bodhisattva’s blessings to flow.

And extending that out a bit further, something I really rejoiced in as I was first learning about Mahayana dharma is that it’s said that of course the bodhisattvas will not always manifest as Buddhists, let alone as Mahayana Buddhists. They may manifest as Muslims, Christians, Taoists, as agnostics. Who knows? Maybe as materialists! Scientists, mathematicians. Manifest in all different ways. They’re just coming wherever they can be of service. So any one of these great spiritual traditions may also be leading to bodhicitta, science may lead you to bodhicitta, mathematics, and so on.

And then once it’s come to bodhicitta, then everything flows out of bodhicitta, and leads you to perfect awakening.

So just a couple of verses from Santideva. Who better to cite? After the Buddha, who better than Santideva? So just a few verses from Santideva. First chapter. I memorized it a long time ago, the whole chapter, just because it was so inspiring. There’s a lot of – in Vajrayana Buddhism – if you go to some Tibetan lama, there’s empowerments and so forth and so on. Many Tibetan lamas - especially Kagyu, Nyingma, but really all Tibetan traditions – many of them will very quickly encourage you, “If you’re really serious, well go off and do the preliminary practices,” because this purifies obscurations, it accrues merit. And so they may have you, even when you hardly have any understanding, they may say, “Well, start doing the preliminaries, start doing the mandala, prostrations and so forth, do the preliminaries, then we’ll teach you the main practices, but do the preliminaries first.” That’s good if you have faith, devotion, very single-pointed attention. Marvelous! I have nothing more to say. Great!

Bodhicitta is one of the preliminary practices for Vajrayana!

And in terms of purification: for the cultivation of bodhicitta, you don’t necessarily have to recite a hundred thousand of anything. How about just cultivate bodhicitta! You know, with no external ritual or format! And so here’s what Santideva says:

And so like the conflagration at the time of the destruction of the universe, it [bodhicitta] consumes great vices in an instant.

So without elaborating much on Buddhist cosmology, but it’s – to take just a metaphor, an analogy in, let’s say, modern astronomy or astrophysics – you have a star that’s born, like our star right now, and after some time the star may go supernova, and then it just incinerates all the planets around it, right? And they’ve just all vanished, just burnt to a crisp. Not even a crisp! There’s nothing left. And so that would be a great conflagration, like a supernova that just completely envelopes, consumes everything on the earth and it’s just gone, ok? So that’s comparable to this notion in Buddhist cosmology of a great fire that simply incinerates inhabited worlds: loka. And so he’s saying here that bodhicitta, when you cultivate it, you really truly realize bodhicitta, then whatever evils, vices, negative deeds you may have performed in this or any previous lifetime, the impact of cultivating bodhicitta on purifying, burning, torching, extinguishing those negative karmic imprints is like this conflagration at the end of an eon. I mean, it just incinerates any kind of obscurations or negative imprints you have from the past. So if you’d like to purify your mind, there’s no reason to look outside of that; that will do it.

And then he elaborates just a bit – this will not take long, but we will be going on a bit longer today – he says now:

In brief, bodhicitta is known to be of two kinds: aspiring bodhicitta, and engaged bodhicitta.

These two. This is very familiar to many of you, but maybe not every single person here, and it’s definitely worth a little review. So he continues:

Just as one perceives the difference between a person who yearns to travel, and a traveler – so do the learned recognize the corresponding difference between those two.

[33:18] Aspiring bodhicitta and engaged bodhicitta. So the aspiring bodhicitta, it’s pretty much self-explanatory then. It’s not just one day thinking, Oh I’d really like to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Anybody can do that! Like, that’s nice; that’s a nice thought. But it’s not an unhinged, decontextualized little aspiration: “Gosh that would be really nice; I think I would like to become a Buddha for the sake of all sentient beings!” That’s a nice thought.

But if that’s going to be bodhicitta, that’s got to have the groundswell of the Four Immeasurables behind it, this massive, fifty-foot wave. And then it’s going to have the groundswell of the Four Greats, Great Compassion, and so forth. Now you have a hundred-foot wave. And that’s going to be leading to this extraordinary resolve. And that, finally, is the answer to the question that’s implicit in the extraordinary resolve. When you arouse this pledge – “I shall liberate all sentient beings from all suffering and the causes of suffering and bring each one to perfect enlightenment” – then in the back of your mind, there’s got to be a question mark: How am I going to go about doing that? You know? That’s a very good pledge; it’s an incredible pledge, an extraordinary resolve; but what’s your strategy? What’s your game plan?

Well, there’s only one game plan: for that to be realistic, you’ve got to achieve Buddhahood yourself! And then it’s bodhicitta. Ah! Now I get it! Then in order to realize that aspiration, to fulfill that aspiration, in order to do so, then of course – as an afterthought, almost – then I have to achieve enlightenment! Because otherwise I couldn’t do that, and that’s what it’s all about! I’ve got countless sentient beings on the one hand, me on the other. And so I’m not thinking: now I want to do this and what benefit can I do for other people. I’m thinking: there’s the whole world of sentient beings, they need liberating, and therefore ah, there’s only one person I can really kind of control - in a manner of speaking – one person I can really say: Ok you do it. And that’s me! So hello you, achieve enlightenment! You’ve got a lot of work to do! And then that’s where bodhicitta comes from.

And so that aspiration, that resolve: when that comes spontaneously and effortlessly, when it becomes kind of like your natural upswelling of your prime directive, your desire of desires, your heart’s desire becomes manifest – in that moment, when this aspirational bodhicitta arises, then you’re a bodhisattva. Now you’re a bodhisattva. Now you’ve entered that small state of the Mahayana path of accumulation. It’s a resolve, but it’s kind of like you’ve turned on the engine. The engine is on! It’s running, it’s purring, but you haven’t put it into gear yet.

And that’s what the engaged bodhicitta is. Engaged bodhicitta. Where with that aspiration, you’re now actually doing something about it, whether it’s just avoiding the Ten Non-Virtues, whether it’s taking your kids to school for the sake of all sentient beings, whatever it may be, when that resolve, that motivation is actually that which is inspiring, motivating, moving you to move about the world and do things – meditate, serve sentient beings, prepare a tsok offering, or what have you – when the motivation is bodhicitta, then that is now engaged bodhicitta. And that includes taking the kids to school, going to work as an accountant, as a gardener, a [36:50] plumber, a teacher, a sales clerk. You can do all of those with bodhicitta. You can also become a monk or nun; you can also go into forty-year retreat. Bodhicitta is the one common denominator.

And so when it’s engaged, well then that’s the second type of bodhicitta, and here’s what Santideva says about the distinction between the two. He says that:

Although the result of aspiring bodhicitta is great within samsara – within this context – it is still not like the continual state of merit of engaged bodhicitta.

He’ll elaborate on that:

From the time that one adopts bodhicitta with an irreversible attitude for the sake of liberating limitless sentient beings, from that moment on, an uninterrupted stream of merit equal to the sky constantly arises, even when one is asleep or distracted.

“Asleep or distracted.” So that should give comfort to all of you who are still experiencing distraction while you’re meditating! [laughter] That if you’ve developed bodhicitta, and you’re meditating rather poorly, but with the motivation of bodhicitta, then even when your mind’s distracted, you’re still accumulating merit! Let alone when you’re really in deep samadhi. Now I’ve heard it said also that, you know, if you’ve put in a long day of practice – let’s say you’re back in a socially engaged way of life, maybe you have children, family, work, obligations, social engagements and so forth – and at the end of the day you’re really kind of tired, just kind of tuckered out, and you feel, “you know, I’d like a bit of refreshment, maybe there’s something on television that is meaningful, entertaining, but you know.” Just that: meaningful and entertaining. There are such things! You have to look for them, but you can find them. Then you might say, “Oh, there’s a good program, yeah I’d really like to see that; I’ve been interested in that topic.” And then you may sit and watch television and, watching television, your stream of merit just continues to flow right on, right on through the television. Because of your motivation! It’s all motivation. Now you wouldn’t be watching something that just arouses mental afflictions or it’s a complete waste of time, because that’s not going to help anybody, but there’s meaningful entertainment. Right? Just resting, going for a walk, having a friendly conversation with a friend: all of this transforms into merit. It’s just this continuous flow of merit, if your life now is fused with this engaged bodhicitta.

And if you don’t have that, you could be sitting and going into a ten-year Dzogchen retreat, resting your awareness in its own nature: whether it’s virtuous or not is an open question, whether it’s Dzogchen is highly dubitable, really dubitable. That is questionable. Let’s see, Dzogchen without bodhicitta. That’s like a car with no wheels; that’s like a flame with no heat. That’s not possible. Dzogchen is ultimate bodhicitta: you can’t have ultimate bodhicitta without relative bodhicitta.

So that’s a little introduction to bodhicitta. The beginning, the middle, and end of dharma practice. Absolutely central. And when I first heard about it, I was [40:11] intimidated. I thought, “That’s for bodhisattvas, that’s for people way beyond me. I’m just a guy from California, just a young dharma student who’s trying to get a little bit less confused. I think I have to wait on that one; that’s kind of too big for me.” And Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, he hammered me. In a very benevolent way! He said,

It’s never too soon, never too soon to develop bodhicitta. Never think that’s beyond you. Start now. If you’ve not started already, start now; it’s not above you.

And he said – I can’t quote him, but I know the meaning – that ok, you’re pretty young. Now if you devote your life to dharma, and you don’t realize bodhicitta in this lifetime, then you’ve wasted your life.

Let’s have our supplications, the four empowerments, and we’ll continue meditating.

[41:25 Chanting]

[We include here the mantra that Alan Wallace is chanting in Tibetan and the translation in English:]

The Seven Line Prayer and Mantras

HUNG In the northwest frontier of Oddiyana,

In the heart of a lotus

Sits the one renowned as Padmasambhava,

Who achieved the wondrous supreme siddhi,

And is surrounded by a host of many dakinis.

Following in your footsteps, I devote myself to practice.

Please come forth and bestow your blessings.


[46:33] If you’d like to switch postures, please do so now.

Settle your body, speech, and mind in their natural states.

[48:39] For the next several minutes, make your mind serviceable. Soothe and calm your body and mind by way of mindfulness of breathing, following the method of your choice. More and more deeply settling your respiration in its natural rhythm.

[52:59] And then with your eyes open, your gaze vacantly resting in space, withdraw your awareness from the breath, from all objects and appearances. Let your awareness rest in its own place, holding its own ground, resting in your awareness of your ordinary consciousness of the present moment. Ever so simple! And although you may very well not be realizing or identifying pristine awareness, this present, ordinary consciousness you may say is the portal to primordial consciousness. Look nowhere outside of this ordinary consciousness of the present moment. It is here that rigpa manifests; it is through this consciousness that the blessings of rigpa flow. Rest here in a state of inactivity, non-conceptuality, clear and luminous cognizance, and simply be present. This is the avenue by way of which ultimate bodhicitta manifests.

[58:59] And now out of this center, this center which is the wellspring of ultimate bodhicitta, then cultivate relative bodhicitta. Lead up to this great aspiration. Arouse it, cultivate it, and sustain it in whatever way you find most effective, so that your mind becomes bodhicitta. And we’ll continue practicing now in silence.

[71:44] O laso. So the interviews will be twenty minutes late this morning. See you a bit later. Enjoy your day!

Transcribed by James French
Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti
Final edition by Marc Schroeder


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