11 H.H. Dalai Lama ‘08: Teachings on Lamrim Chenmo

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Then Tsongkhapa explains what exactly is bodhicitta.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Then Tsongkhapa explains what exactly is bodhicitta.

11 His Holiness the Dalai Lama: Teachings on Lam-rim Chen-mo

Day Four, July 13, 2008 at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, USA. Part one. Altruism and Interdependence. Compassion and bodhicitta, the Awakening Mind. Two Methods for Generating Bodhicitta. Seven Point Cause-and-Effect Method. Equalizing and Exchanging of Self and Others.

His Holiness: A short prayer. Short…short prayer in Pali.

Reverend Bodhi: This is the Metta Sutta. A short prayer. [Chanting in Pali]

His Holiness: Thank you. [leads chanting in Tibetan]

Altruism and Interdependence

His Holiness: Now today, about the bodhicitta, altruism. Basically all religious traditions carry the importance of altruism. Then the, I think, unique thing about Buddhism is the concept of interdependency. Or pratityasamutpada. I think that’s very, very unique about Buddhism.

So in our daily life, even for a non-believer, I think altruism certainly is the very basis of our well-being—including physical well-being. Because showing more concern to others (the way the attitude works) is something, I think, that includes self-confidence. People who are showing concern about others, they’re (himself or herself) self-confident. Out of fear, showing concern to others is difficult. (Literal transcript: “So in our daily life, even non-believer, I think altruism certainly the very basis of our well-being, including physical well-being. Because more showing concern to others, that, I think, very… the way of the attitude is something, I think, the self-confidence. People who showing concern toward other, they’re, himself or herself, self-confidence. Out of fear, showing concern to other is difficult.”)

So more self-confidence brings less fear, more inner strength. As a result, on the physical level also more …all the physical elements then function more normally. Under fear, constant anger, constant hate, the physical elements then much disturbed.

So even for the physical well-being, I think altruistic mind is something very, very helpful. And particularly when you are passing through a difficult period, the altruistic attitude, altruism, really acts… how do you say, sustains peace of mind, calm mind. So that’s one thing.

Then pratitiyasamutpada, or the concept of interdependency, that also is very, very helpful in our daily life, because the reality—everything interdependent. In the economic field, or the ecology field or health field, health, I think everything, even politics, international relations, the reality—heavily interdependent. So that’s the reality.

But often what appears to us, whether interesting or dangerous, appears to be something independent, something isolated. So our method—by according with appearances—then our method becomes unrealistic. So with fuller knowledge about the interdependence— and that the thing (either positive or negative) in reality depends on many factors— knowing that, then dealing with that thing becomes more realistic. (Literal transcript: “But often appears us those interesting or something dangerous, appears something independent, something isolated. So our method, according appearances—then our method becomes unrealistic. So with fuller knowledge about the interdependency, and the thing, which positive or negative, in reality depend on many factor, so knowing that, then dealing that become more realistic.”)

It seems, you see, many unwanted sorts of things happen because of an unrealistic approach. So on that level, I think the Buddhist concept of interdependency—that brings the idea of holistic. That brings a more realistic attitude, so it is useful.

Compassion and bodhicitta, the Awakening Mind

His Holiness: Now altruism…[continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now we’ll be dealing with the topic of generating the awakening mind, or bodhicitta. And, as explained before, here we’re not talking about a state of mind that’s simply based upon a kind of a yearning for happiness and yearning to overcome suffering. But rather the awakening mind of bodhicitta must be cultivated on the basis of a conviction that recognizes the possibility of achievement of happiness and possibility of the achievement of the cessation of suffering. And motivated by that understanding, you then develop the aspiration to bring about others’ welfare in the most effective manner.

So this is what is meant by bodhicitta, the awakening mind, sem gyey, or generating the awakening mind. Mind-generation. And so in some texts it is stated that with compassion one focuses on the sentient beings, and with wisdom one focuses on the attainment of enlightenment. So it shows the role of altruism and wisdom in the context of the path.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then having reflected upon the benefits of generating awakening mind, bodhicitta, then Tsongkhapa goes on to explain the actual process, procedure, by which this mind is generated. And here, the principal element really is the cultivation of compassion. For example, in Maitreya’s Ornament of Mahayana Sutras, he explains that the root of bodhicitta, the awakening mind, is compassion.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So if you look at the understanding of what is meant by compassion, we will see two principal aspects to this mind. One is a sense of affection that holds other sentient beings as dear; and the other element, the sentient beings whose suffering you are concerned about. So the one element is to cultivate a sense of affection for the sentient beings whose suffering you are concerned about and holding them to be dear; and the second element is a wish to help these sentient beings bring about a relief of their suffering. So these are the two elements that are part of the compassion.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So these two being the key elements that constitute the mental state that we call compassion, it becomes crucial to have a deeper understanding of what we mean by suffering from which we wish all sentient beings to be free. And as for the development of the understanding of the nature of suffering, this has already been covered in the presentation of the practices relevant to the path of the initial capacity and middle, intermediate, capacity.

In the initial capacity, the focus was more on understanding the nature of suffering at the level of evident, everyday suffering in the form of a physical sensation. And in the context of explanation of the path of the practices of intermediate capacity, the main focus was on understanding the nature of suffering at the second and the third level, which is the suffering of change and, more importantly, the suffering of pervasive conditioning.

And so, having contemplated on the nature of suffering in these profound terms, then one develops a genuine aspiration to seek liberation from suffering. And at that point one would have attained what is called true renunciation or ngen jung. And so, once you have attained that, then on the basis of relating one’s own personal experience of having developed this genuine aspiration to attain freedom from suffering, when you extend that to other sentient beings, suffering sentient beings, then compassion arises.

So here for example, in Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realization (Abhisamayalankara) when he defines bodhicitta, he says that the mind generation, the generated awakening mind, is for the sake of other sentient beings, for the welfare of other sentient beings. And when Tsongkhapa explains that passage, he says that the welfare of other beings here refers to the attainment of liberation of other sentient beings. So in other words, compassion is a state of mind where you aspire for other sentient beings to attain liberation from samsara, from suffering.

And here, the more your understanding of the nature of suffering is, the more effective that aspiration will be. And also, particularly if your understanding of the suffering of pervasive conditioning is profound, then there will be a stronger recognition of the destructive nature of the afflictions which are the root of this suffering of conditioning.

The more you are able to recognize the destructive nature of the afflictions, then the aspiration will also arise to not only be free from the afflictions but also the propensities created by these afflictions, and these are the propensities which come in the way of gaining a full, omniscient mind. And so these are subtle obscurations to total knowledge, full knowledge. And therefore the aspiration to attain buddhahood that is characterized by overcoming of even the subtle obscurations to knowledge—so that aspiration arises as well.

Two Methods for Generating Bodhicitta

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now the first element of compassion (which was to have this sense of affection for other sentient beings) in order to cultivate that ability to hold other sentient beings to be dear, you need to cultivate a sense of connection and affection for other beings.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, as for the method for cultivating this sense of affection that holds other sentient beings to be dear, there evolved historically two main approaches. One is the seven point cause-and-effect approach or method. The other one is the method of exchanging and equalizing self and others.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So, in general…

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So in general, these two methods or approaches are traced to two different lineages. The seven point cause-and-effect method stemming from the lineage of Maitreya and so on, and the equalizing and exchanging of self and others stemming from Nagarjuna. For example in Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland and also particularly in his Commentary on the Awakening Mind (Bodhicittavivarana), the approach of the equalizing and exchange of self and others is very explicitly presented.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So given that the second approach stems from Nagarjuna and emphasizes the equalizing and exchanging of self and others, this particular lineage is referred to as ‘the lineage of practices resembling great waves.’ And the point here is that this is an approach that is more suited to practitioners of high caliber, advanced practitioners.

Because if you compare the two, in the first approach (seven point cause-and-effect method) the key element there is to cultivate the perception of other sentient beings as being related to you, either as your mother or somehow related to you, and on that basis then the remaining kinds of practices are built on.

Whereas if you look at the exchanging and equalizing of self and others, this does not require considering others as somehow related to you, but rather it takes the practice at the level where you recognize the fundamental equality of yourself and others in terms of aspiration for happiness. And therefore in Shantideva’s text Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, he says that one should exchange self with others and thereby put into practice this instruction—which is secret—suggesting the need for greater intelligence. So in the second approach, kind of the main approach is really by way of reasoning, to try to establish that fundamental equality.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So earlier I forgot one point that His Holiness made. So in the approach of exchanging and equalizing of self and others, not only is it not contingent upon cultivating the recognition of other sentient beings as somehow related to you in familial terms, such as mother, but even it is possible to recognize the kindness of other sentient beings, say for example even in the case of one’s enemy, who provides you an opportunity to further your spiritual growth, and so on.

So if you compare these two approaches, for example in the case of the seven point cause-and-effect method which proceeds with the cultivation of recognition of all sentient beings as having been one’s mother and reflecting upon their kindness and so on, one could say that there, it still depends upon… still relates to other sentient beings on the basis of how they appear to you, and their actions.

Whereas in the approach of exchanging and equalizing oneself and others, how the other person appears to you and what their motivations are and what their actions are vis-a-vis you becomes a different question. What is happening is that you are connecting with the other person at the fundamental level where you recognize the equality—that just as I wish to be happy, achieve happiness and overcome suffering, this person too wishes to achieve happiness and overcome suffering. And at that level your relation, your perspective upon…your perception of the other person does not depend upon… it’s not influenced by or it’s not dependent upon how that other person behaves toward you or how that other person relates to you.

So therefore, generally, in my general talks, I often say that if we compare ordinary compassion with more cultivated compassion, there is a difference. Ordinary compassion seems to depend upon our perception of how other persons behave towards us, how they feel towards us. Therefore we are able to extend our ordinary compassion only to our friends and family whom we consider to be, you know…who we think care about us.

Whereas when you cultivate genuine compassion, then you are relating to that person at this fundamental, human level. So the compassion is not contingent upon that person’s behavior but rather you are relating to this person at the level of a person, and how he behaves towards you, what he thinks of you, is a secondary issue.

But so far as your own compassion is concerned, you are relating to that person at this level where you recognize the humanity of that person and relate to that person—just as I wish to be happy, he or she too wishes to be happy. So there seems to be the difference here, where in one approach, there is a dependence upon the other person’s attitude and behavior. In the latter there is no dependence upon the other person’s attitude or behavior towards you.

Seven Point Cause-and-Effect Method

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now we will go through the first method, which is the seven point cause-and-effect method, and here, among these seven points, compassion is the principal, and all the other elements are either conditions leading up to compassion or the fruition, or the result, of compassion.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So here, the actual practice begins with meditation on equanimity, cultivation of equanimity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the meaning of equanimity in this context is to really bring about a certain equanimity in your own attitude and feelings towards all others, so that there is no discrimination of feeling of distance or nearness.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: And then the next stage is to then cultivate a recognition of all other sentient beings as someone dear to you. And here, taking an example of a person who was most dear to you in this life, maybe it is your mother or someone else, and then cultivating that understanding and sentiment, and then trying to view all other sentient beings in that same light. And then on that basis we then proceed towards cultivation of the recognition of their kindness; and then the thought to repay their kindness; and then cultivating this affection that holds other beings to be dear; which then leads to compassion; and then compassion then culminates in lhag sam, which is this altruistic resolve.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the key defining factor of lhag sam, this altruistic resolve, is a sense of responsibility for bringing about others’ welfare.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then the question arises, “How do I go about bringing about others’ welfare? How can I make this real?” Then one needs to check about one’s own current capacity.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then recognize the limitations of your current state, because if you cannot take care of yourself, being able to take care of someone else is a difficult task.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: There’s a Tibetan expression that someone who has already fallen down is not going to be able to help someone else get up.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So although for the practitioner the ultimate aim is to bring about others’ welfare, but as a means towards that, one needs to cultivate the aspiration to seek enlightenment.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So then therefore it becomes very important to cultivate the genuine aspiration to seek enlightenment. Now in order to do that, it’s not adequate simply to, you know, proceed by kind of a naïve assumption that enlightenment can be achieved. One needs to have a genuine conviction in the possibility of attainment of that enlightenment. So this would require the understanding that in fact this enlightenment can be realized within one’s own mental continuum. So this would require quite a lot of thinking.

So it becomes important to, first of all, have a genuine understanding of the possibility of attainment of liberation, moksha. And this would also involve the conviction and understanding that the afflictions can be brought to an end. So there is the possibility of a cessation of the afflictions—that afflictions can be eliminated.

Once you recognize the possibility of the elimination of the afflictions, then one will also extend that line of thinking to understand and recognize that even the propensities created by these afflictions can be removed and eliminated. So on that basis one will be able to develop a genuine recognition of the possibility of the attainment of buddhahood.

And for this, to really have a deeper understanding of the possibility of full enlightenment, my own feeling is that one needs to bring in the perspective of Highest Yoga Tantra, which provides us a way of understanding the nature of consciousness as many different levels, so that one can understand the possibility of attainment of full omniscience on the basis of the subtle-most—understanding the subtle-most level of consciousness.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So for example, when we try to understand the Mahayana presentation of the theory of the four kayas, the four embodiments of the buddhahood, if we bring in the perspective of Highest Yoga Tantra, and particularly the concept of fundamental innate mind of clear light, then on that basis, one can then envision at least the possibility of how the four kaya concept makes sense. However, if you do not bring in that perspective, then one’s understanding of the four kayas, the four embodiments of the buddhahood, becomes rather vague.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this is the reason why the statement is found that with wisdom one focuses on enlightenment.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this, in a way, we kind of already touched upon, when we discussed the understanding of Nagarjuna’s line when he says, “By means of emptiness the conceptualizations are calmed.” And the alternative reading was, “Within emptiness the false conceptualizations are dissolved and calmed.”

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So once you have a true understanding of what is enlightenment, a valid cognition of what is liberation, then on the basis of the aspiration to bring about others’ welfare, one can then develop a genuine aspiration to seek enlightenment.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Then Tsongkhapa explains what exactly is bodhicitta, the awakening mind, and he defines it as a state of mind where the aspiration to bring about others’ welfare serves as the cause, the condition; and the aspiration to attain buddhahood is a concomitant factor; and on that basis one cultivates this mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Principally the awakening mind, or bodhicitta, is of two kinds. One is the aspiring level of awakening mind, and the other one is the awakening mind in the form of engagement, actual engagement. But also from the point of view of corresponding levels of the path, there are four types of bodhicitta identified. But also there is a list of twenty-two different types of bodhicitta or awakening mind explained in the text, where different metaphors are used to define them.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So as to these two principal types of bodhicitta, the awakening mind— the aspiring or aspirational bodhicitta, and engaging bodhicitta—how the two are distinguished… there seem to be slight differences of explanation in the classical Indian texts.

However Tsongkhapa’s understanding is the following: so when the practitioner, as a result of cultivation of bodhicitta, arrives at a point where he or she gains realization of a single-pointed aspiration—a spontaneous single-pointed aspiration to attain buddhahood for the benefit of all beings, at that point the individual has attained the aspirational level of bodhicitta.

And on that basis, when the practitioner cultivates the commitment to engage, implement, this aspiration into practice, and commits himself to engage in the bodhisattva practices, then takes the bodhisattva vows—after having received the bodhisattva vows, from that point onwards, then his or her bodhicitta has turned into an engaging awakening mind.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So Tsongkhapa bases this interpretation of the distinction between the two upon Kamalashila’s text, The Middle Stages of the Path. [discussion with His Holiness in Tibetan]

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: [begins in Tibetan] …the second volume.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Sorry, the first volume of the Stages of the PathStages of Meditation, sorry.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this text, Bhavanakrama, of Kamalashila, Stages of Meditation—it appears that he composed it in Tibet.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So his main text that was composed in India seems to be Madhyamaka Aloka, Lamp… sorry, The Light of Middle Way.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Similarly his massive commentary, which is actually in two volumes, on Shantarakshita’sTattvasamgraha, that text also seemed to be composed in India.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: Quite an impressive work actually.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So this is a text that really needs to be studied, and it will be, you know, helpful if professors here can take up the task of translating it.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So of course I read this text in the Tibetan version. Even then, you know, my head starts, you know, swirling around. So the professors, you know, when you… if you do take up this task, before you do that, you need a big rest first.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So the next section is training the mind in generating the awakening mind according to the approach of equalizing and exchanging of self and others.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: This reminds me of a story. This was once… the Kadampa master Potowa, at Reting Monastery, one day he was very busy trying to compile the catalogue of a large amount of texts which were all kind of slightly jumbled. And, you know… and this was a very difficult task, and he started getting really, really confused.

And so at that point one of his students came to see him and asked for an instruction. So this really annoyed Potowa. So he turned to the student and said, “Well what are you talking about?” and in fact chased the student out.

So similarly, when the professors are working on the translation of this very difficult text, you know, inevitably you are going to be in that state of mind, so people around you will need to be a little cautious.

Equalizing and Exchanging of Self and Others

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So now from this point onwards from the text, Tsongkhapa is explaining the method of training one’s mind in generating the awakening mind according to the approach of equalizing and exchanging of self and others.

His Holiness: [discussion in Tibetan with Thupten Jinpa and others on stage and in audience, concerningTattvasamgraha translations]

Thupten Jinpa:Tattvasamgraha is also translated, isn’t it?…

His Holiness: [discussion continues in Tibetan] Very good. [discussion continues in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So of course, the explanation on how to proceed in the training of one’s mind according to the approach of equalizing and exchanging of self and others is extensively presented in the text here in Tsongkhapa, by Tsongkhapa, and the steps are the following. One proceeds with first cultivating the equality of self and others; and then one moves on to contemplating the disadvantages of self-cherishing; and then the advantages of the thought cherishing others’ welfare; and then on that basis one actually engages in the actual training of exchanging itself. And then succeeded by meditation on tong-len, giving and taking.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So as for the text, Shantideva’s text, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (which, I was told, Shantideva can be dated to the eighth century), so this was a text composed in the eighth century. We are now in the 21st century, and to this day, as far as the cultivation of this exchanging of self and others is concerned, Shantideva’s text still remains the most excellent.

His Holiness: [in Tibetan]

Thupten Jinpa: So next is once, as a result of training your mind, you have generated some… you have had some experience within you, then at that point, in order to make that realization stable and firm, then one participates in a rite or a ceremony to really confirm or affirm this generation of awakening mind.

In July 2008, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama gave a historic six-day teaching on The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (Lam-rim Chen-mo), Tsongkhapa’s classic text on the stages of spiritual evolution. Translator for His Holiness was Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.

This event at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, marked the culmination of a 12-year effort by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center (TBLC), New Jersey, to translate the Great Treatise into English.

These transcripts were kindly provided to LYWA by the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center, which holds the copyright. The audio files are available from the Tibetan Buddhist Learning Center’s Resources and Linkspage.

The transcripts have been published in a wonderful book, From Here to Enlightenment, edited by Guy Newland and published by Shambhala Publications. We encourage you to buy the book from your local Dharma center, bookstore, or directly from Shambhala. It is available in both hardcover and as an ebook from Amazon, Apple, B&N, Google, and Kobo. http://www.lamayeshe.com/article/chapter/day-one-afternoon-session-july-10-2008