23 It Is Never Too Soon To Cultivate Bodhicitta

11 Apr 2016

This afternoon we come to the culmination of the series of discursive meditations which started with the four vision quest and the four immeasurables - bodhicitta. The definition of bodhicitta may seem religious, esoteric, abstract. Therefore, in today’s teaching Alan intends to bring it down to its roots. He begins by describing the state we often find ourselves in: we are suffering and we want it to go away. When the suffering eventually passes, there is breath of relief, but soon after a nagging thought arises: “maybe it will come back”. And so there is dissatisfaction, one is ill at ease, one knows one’s own vulnerability. Then there is pleasure - physical or mental. But again there is dissatisfaction, another nagging thought: “I’ll lose it. How can I keep it?” We cannot really be happy and at ease until we know that happiness will last. But then we want to be happier… This is primal. Because we care. His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls caring one of the primal forces. It is the definition of “sentient” as in sentient being. Humanity’s many achievements - in arts, engineering, science etc. - can be traced back to this drive. Alan then turns to the topic of science. He mentions Francis Bacon who envisioned that the natural sciences would one day alleviate suffering by understanding nature. But he of course meant hedonic happiness. For the eudaemonia, in Bacon’s times, there was religion. Nowadays, science is still considered an important tool to secure wellbeing. But when we go back to our basic wish to be free from suffering and to achieve happiness - science cannot explain it. Alan raises a number of important questions: Why do we have this aspiration? Why this lust for life? Why the will to survive? Why the drive to procreate? Why do we wish to perpetuate? Where did the desire to be happy come from? What do we need feelings for? Why do we have to be conscious? In Alan’s view science, and evolution and biology in particular, do not give adequate answers to any of these questions. They provide no satisfying explanation for human intelligence, creativity or virtue. Alan repeats the fundamental question: Why do we care? And he formulates a hypothesis, gives an answer: it is our buddha nature, the primordial consciousness. It is the only source of caring that makes sense. Of course, all sentient beings have it, but we, humans, are in a particular position having been endowed with this precious human life in which we can realise our potential and grow - from generation to generation and from lifetime to lifetime. But we are not alone - continues Alan. It is normal for human beings to care for others. Parents naturally care for their children. People care for their families, loved ones. There is a sense of kinship, a sense of identifying with a village, a religion etc. According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama there is a biological imperative to care about our close ones and our possessions. But there is a point where biology stops. There is the other side - the other people - who may pose a threat. The Dharma comes in precisely when we take this natural flow of caring and break down all the barriers until everything and everybody is on our side. This is when immeasurable loving kindness comes in. And we ought to realise that if we truly want to satisfy our desire to end suffering and achieve true happiness - the barriers must come down. Coming back to bodhicitta, Alan points out that this is what Tsongkhapa had in mind when speaking of eternal longing. To fulfil the eternal longing. This is bodhi - awakening. Since there is no duality, if I want to be free there is no sense to pursue it for myself alone. Everyone, literally everyone has to be included. To achieve freedom from suffering and true happiness for our own sake we need to realise dharmakaya. But knowing that the boundaries must be destroyed, that this caring has no limit, it extends everywhere and includes everyone - this comes at the realisation of sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya. This way, before tonight’s meditation, Alan laid out the notion of a universal, truly cosmic bodhicitta. To conclude, he recalled the advice of his teacher Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey that it is never too soon to cultivate bodhicitta. It is the only way out of samsara - adds Alan.

The meditation is on bodhicitta.

After the meditation Alan continues the oral transmission of the First Panchen Lama’s commentary “Lamp So Bright” to his root text on Mahamudra. Today we finish reading the part dedicated to the tantra (Vajrayana) practice of Mahamudra. Alan makes corrections to the translation and explains a few passages in more detail. In particular he comments that there is some difference of opinion as to whether ordinary sentient beings experience the clear light of death (this is the view stated in Panchen Lama’s text) or not. Alan resolves the issue by saying that in any case some degree of realisation is needed to recognise it, so even if all beings experience the clear light of death they may not be aware of it. Alan also explains the notion of “simultaneist” or “simultaneous individual”, giving the example of Bahya who after receiving the Buddha’s teachings simultaneously achieved arhatship. There have been many individuals in history who upon hearing the teachings or due to some other catalyst achieved nirvana, became vidyadharas etc. Last but not least: even though the chapter on tantra is very difficult, among the passages read today there have been some quite amusing bits, so do not miss Alan’s commentary on them!

The meditation starts at 35:40

Please contribute to make these, and future podcasts freely available.

Download (MP3 / 52 MB)


This lecture does not have a text transcript. Please contact us if you’d like to volunteer to assist our transcription team.


Ask questions about this lecture on the Buddhism Stack Exchange or the Students of Alan Wallace Facebook Group. Please include this lecture’s URL when you post.