It is important to realize that enlightenment is totally dependent upon your own effort. It is not something that a teacher can give you or that you can find outside yourself. Your mind has an enlightened nature which can only manifest by your own effort and actions. You have the natural capacity to be enlightened, and it is in your hands whether or not you actualize this opportunity.
The best way to actualize enlightenment is to develop bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word; bodhi means “enlightenment” and chitta means “mind” or “thought.” When you develop the thought of enlightenment, you are training your mind so that you will be able to truly benefit other beings.
Bodhisattva Motivation: Opening Your Heart to Others
The thought of enlightenment is the intention to benefit all sentient beings, without any concern for your own welfare. When you practice according to the bodhisattva’s motivation, you dedicate all your practice and activities for others; you focus on opening your heart to them without any attachment to yourself. If you think, “I want to practice to get rid of my emotional problems and be happy,” that attitude is not bodhichitta. If you work for yourself alone, thinking, “I want to attain liberation,” that is a very small liberation.
If you work for the benefit of others, since your motivation and actions are much more vast, you reach “the great liberation,” or mahaparinirvana in Sanskrit. Of course, you also become liberated, but you are working primarily for all sentient beings.
Compassion: Wishing That Others Be Free of Pain
The root of bodhichitta is compassion. Compassion is feeling, deep in your heart, the suffering of others and wishing for them to be free from all pain. The root of compassion is loving-kindness, which is the feeling of wanting to replace suffering with happiness and peace. Having true love and compassion for everyone is the most precious practice of the dharma. Without this, your practice will remain superficial.
The feelings of love should be extended to every sentient being, without partiality. Compassion should be directed toward all beings in all directions, not just to human beings or to certain beings in certain places. All beings existing in space, all those who are searching for happiness and joy, should be put under the umbrella of our compassion.
At the present time our love and compassion are very limited. Our bodhichitta is so tiny that it looks like a small dot; it does not expand in all directions. However, bodhichitta can be developed; it is not outside the realm of our potential. Once it has been developed, this small dot can expand to fill the entire universe.
Achieving Results by Practicing Diligently
Whenever we begin to learn something new it is difficult because we are not used to it, but if we train diligently then it becomes easy. Shantideva, the great meditation master and scholar, said that there is nothing that remains difficult once it becomes familiar. You can see this from your own experience. When you were a baby, so small that your mother could carry you in one hand, you did not even know how to eat or use the toilet. But now you are far beyond that and what you have learned has become easy.
Similarly, we can learn to develop bodhichitta. There are many examples of people, like the great masters of India and Tibet, who became familiar with the thought of enlightenment and accomplished it. For example, before Buddha Shakyamuni was enlightened he was just an ordinary person. In the Jataka Tales there are many stories about the ways he practiced bodhichitta before he became enlightened.
Over the course of many lifetimes he dedicated his wealth and property, and even his life, for all beings. By working diligently to understand the true nature of the mind and by dedicating all his activities to others, he became enlightened. If we work at it, we can achieve the same result.
All Beings Are Equal: All Want Happiness & To Be Free of Pain
All sentient beings are equal in that all of us want happiness. To see this clearly, the Buddha said that you should use yourself as an example. Just as you do not want to be harmed, in the same way no one else wants to be harmed. If someone is hurting you, then you cannot be happy, and it is exactly the same with others.
When you are suffering you want to remove whatever is bothering you; you do not want to keep the cause of your suffering for even one minute. Similarly, other sentient beings want to be free of problems and pain. When you practice bodhichitta you realize that all beings are equal in this way.
Relative bodhichitta can be divided into two types: these are called wishing bodhichitta and actualizing bodhichitta. The first is the intention to benefit others. As you begin to realize how much other beings suffer, you develop the wish to remove their misery and establish them in happiness. In the second stage, actualizing bodhichitta, you actually work to help others. After developing the intention, you must do whatever you can to help, in accordance with your capabilities. It is not easy to remove the suffering of all beings, but you can begin with those near you, and as you develop your abilities you can help more beings until eventually you are helping everyone.
Practicing True Love & Compassion Without Expectations
To practice bodhichitta, you need to dedicate your efforts freely and openly without expecting anything in return. The more you meditate and practice bodhichitta, the more you feel that others are as dear as yourself, and eventually their welfare becomes even more important than your own.
In his teachings, Buddha Shakyamuni praised the qualities of love and compassion not just once or twice, but again and again. He said if you practice true love and compassion for even one moment, it will bring enormous benefit, and if compassionate behavior becomes your way of life, it will lead directly to enlightenment.
©2010 by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche
and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Snow Lion Publications. http://www.snowlionpub.com
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
The Buddhist Path: A Practical Guide from the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism
by Khenchen Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche.
More than an introductory teaching, The Buddhist Path offers a rounded approach that includes guidance on how to cultivate intellect and heart so that our true nature can easily manifest, along with clear explanations and methods that reveal how the mind functions and what its essence, our primordial nature, is. The reader is also given invaluable meditation instructions that are relevant for practitioners of all levels.
About the Authors
Venerable Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche is a renowned scholar and meditation master of Nyingma, the Ancient School of Tibetan Buddhism. He started his education at the age of four at Gochen Monastery. At the age of twelve he entered Riwoche Monastery and completed his studies just before the Chinese invasion of Tibet reached that area. In 1960, Rinpoche and his family were forced into exile, escaping to India. Rinpoche moved to the United States in 1984 and in 1985, he and his brother Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche founded the Dharma Samudra Publishing Company. In 1988, they founded the Padmasambhava Buddhist Center, which has centers throughout the United States, as well as in Puerto Rico, Russia, and India. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche passed into parinirvana peacefully on June 19, 2010.
Venerable Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche was born in the Dhoshul region of Kham in eastern Tibet. Rinpoche's first dharma teacher was his father, Lama Chimed Namgyal Rinpoche. Beginning his schooling at the age of five, he entered Gochen Monastery. His studies were interrupted by the Chinese invasion and his family's escape to India.