Garchen Rinpoche – Bodhichitta Teachings, 4/13/14 – Alexandria, Va.

Today, we will receive the bodhisattva vow. This adds to the refuge vow you received before. Having cultivated refuge, we engage in bodhisattva vow commitment, the two-fold aspiration bodhichita and activity bodhichita.

Especially in the Drikung Kagyu lineage, this prayer is at the very beginning. In this prayer of mind cultivation, the entire bodhisattva vow is contained.

May they experience happiness, be separated from suffering,

And swiftly I will establish them in the state of unsurpassed, perfect and precious Buddhahood.

We think, “What can I do to liberate sentient beings?” All the Buddhas of the three times have only the thought of this, to liberate sentient beings form suffering, so to have the is ongoing mind state to wish to liberate sentient beings in the aspiration bodhichita, then the bodhisattva prayer is the engaged through the 6 paramitas and so on. So we take on the commitment for all beings, the prayers you recite later are very clear. You can really get the whole meaning from prayers. In Buddhism in general, there are often many questions about the recitations, especially when we first take refuge and cultivate bodhichita. All sadhanas begin with refuge and bodhichita. We talked about refuge before, haven taken refuge; we want to become free from suffering. Only Buddha figured out how to get free from suffering, take refuge in Buddha what will protect us? Dharma – the path. Sangha are the companions.

When we take bodhisattva vow, we are taking commitment to engage in the real practice of the path of bodhisattvas. Then, having cultivated bodhichita, we engage in actual graduated path practice. Even thought there are different paths in different lineages, I always tell students that they have different names, but the same nature.

In Sakya, it is called “path and fruition.”

Gelukpa, the “great graduated path.”

Kagyus (in general) call it the “Jewel Ornament of Liberation.”

In the Drikung Kagyu (in particular), it is called the “5-fold path of mahamudra.”

There are different names, but the meaning behind is exactly the same. What is the single meaning we should take? What we always recite, and should always remember, is the precious bodhichita, the only cause of temporary and permanent happiness.

The only cause of happiness is precious, the jewel of samsara and nirvana, and the jewel of the Buddhas. For example, see how a mother loves her child. She sees her child, and has happiness. The nature of compassion is happiness, not only for Buddhas, but also for samsaric beings. Even a small little animal feels some love, tenderness that gives feeling of happiness. If you wish to be happy, need to cultivate love, which is Buddha’s happiness. The different levels of dharma are to cultivate bodhichitta.

As it says in the famous prayer from Shantideva:

Bodhichitta, the excellent mind.

Where it has not arisen, may it arise.

Where it has, may it not decline,

But ever increase higher and higher.

  • “Where it has not arisen “– pratimoksha
  • “Where it has, to not decline“– bodhisattva
  • To “increase higher and higher” – secret mantra

All levels are to cultivate bodhichita. I personally don’t have good qualities, but have the 37 Bodhisattva practices. All the words of the Buddhas are in that.


What does pratimoska generally teach? First, are the four thoughts that turn the mind. First, remember the precious human life, how difficult it is to find. Also, remember that it is impermanent and we will die. When we die, might go to the 3 lower realms because the mind is afflicted with poisons. The 3 poisons are the cause of the lower realms.

As it says in the 37 Bodhisattva practices:  All suffering without exception comes from wishing for ones own happiness. The perfect Buddhas arise from the altruistic mind. Therefore, completely exchanging one’s own happiness for the sufferings of others is the Bodhisattva’s practice.” (11th Bodhisattva practice)

Because of our fear of rebirth in the lower realms, we try to avoid their causes.

What is the cause of the suffering? Self-grasping. We enter the Bodhisattva path to cultivate bodhichita, and then naturally progress on to Vajrayana. By cultivating bodhichita, self-grasping will diminish like ice melting.

For example, for someone who works for a country (like a king of president), they know what it needs, because their mind becomes vast. That vast mind pervades continuously, and they accomplish the wish of themselves and others. Then, others whose minds are very narrow can’t provide for their own living because they lack wisdom. Their mind becomes like ice; it solidifies with self-grasping, the root cause of suffering. When this ice block of self-cherishing melts, we naturally understand the indivisible nature of samsara and nirvana. When we enter the Vajrayana, all that exists is naturally pure by nature. This is what Buddha said in all beings is the Buddha-nature. When the stains are removed, all beings are the Buddha.

Buddha taught 3 methods to cultivate, which are the (last) three lines of prayer. With this, receive bodhisattva vow, consider it precious, more precious than your own life. You (currently) use your life for the most part for your own purpose. When it is over, the compound body has no real essence: it will perish. When it is over, that will go on. So, appreciate bodhichita, see how precious it is. Begin to cultivate aspiration bodhichita, begin to have faith in bodhichita.

Bodhichitta, the precious mind,

Where it is not born, may it arise.

Where it is born, may in not decline,

But ever increase, higher and higher. 

Gampopa also taught in the Jewel Ornament of Liberation about the 4 factors for bodhichitta.

  1. First is the primary cause, Buddha-nature, that is the mind. The mind in the 6 realms, all have that seed.
  2. Second is the working basis, the support, the precious human body. Only the precious human body with the 6 elements can one get Enlightenment in one lifetime.
  3. Third is the condition, the spiritual master. So, even though we have found a precious human body as working basis, also need condition of spiritual master, who grants bodhisattva vow and so on. In 37 Bodhisattva practices, it says, “you should cherish your master more than your own body.” If you think about it, which will you choose? Your body will be left behind anyways. Sometimes, people have difficulty even showing respect to gurus. Not just spiritual masters, even worldly teachers, and see how precious and kind they are. For example, all the things we have learned in this world, we learned from those teachers. There are people who died hundreds of years ago, and still people talk about them, and those teachers impart knowledge, which will stay with us. The body will leave, but the qualities from our teacher will stay. The Sakyas say, “the learning in this life will be your wealth in a future lifetime. It is investing in a future lifetime now. In your next lifetime, you can draw on your investment.” For example, one can see as a sign of reincarnation that there can be two children by the same parents, but they are very different. One may be a good learner, likes to learn, but the other doesn’t. People are so different. The things we bring with us from past lifetimes, and especially the qualities of Dharma and bodhichitta will stay with us for all future lifetimes until we attain Enlightenment. So, it is important to regard all teachers, spiritual or mundane, as precious. Something we learns from teachers we can bring with us, some condition is the teacher.
  4. Fourth is the method, the spiritual master’s instructions, the teachings from that teacher. It is important to look at the instructions. It is also important not to look at faults of teacher. If we look for faults, we become critical, so what is important is to pay attention to words of Dharma, and not the master himself. If we look for faults, will only find faults. So, is better to not look at faults. We are not in the position of judging spiritual master as the master doesn’t mater, the words are the words of the Buddha. So, we should never look at faults. This is how I feel when I encounter any teacher. Even if they are an ordinary being, I see good qualities and they impart knowledge. It is a way to cultivate pure perception. It is Important to pay attention to what they say, keep that in mind, these words. The Words of Buddha will stay in mind, and the qualities of Buddha will arise in your mind. But of you look for faults, you will find them. If you look for faults in Buddha will find them. What you are seeing are your own afflictions. The Sakya said many times, “ if you have many faults, you can only see faults, if you have a lot of qualities, will see only qualities. “ So, is important to train in seeing the qualities in others, and see the teachers are the embodiment of 3 jewels.

So in this way, gradually enter path. You have taken refuge, and now will take the Bodhisattva Vow. There are a few supplications to keep, and Rinpoche will give commentary on them.

Bodhisattva Vow

So, in the space before you is the refuge tree field of accumulation. In the center, Buddha is surrounded by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and in their presence repeat:

I take refuge in all the Buddhas.

I take refuge in the Dharma and likewise,

In the assembly of the Bodhisattvas.

Just as the previous Buddhas embraced the enlightened mind

And progressively trained as Bodhisattvas,

I, too, shall generate the enlightened mind and

Progressively train in the Bodhisattva’s path.

Of what we just repeated, the essence of “I welcome all sentient beings” is most important. Normally, we love our family, friends so on, but are limited to them, and we don’t love everyone else. But (we are saying here) when you see a little life-force, a little animal, we will feel love for them. From a conventional perspective, since beginingless time in samsara, have taken birth in countless bodies. Truly, every body has been our parents, since beginingless time. From the ultimate perspective, we can cultivate love for them because actually, self and other don’t exist. There is no duality. So, understand bodhichitta in easy terms. The love that welcomes all sentient beings. When we increase this in secret mantra, we must have this aspiration to cultivate love for all sentient beings. This feeling must arise.

Then next, when you cultivate love, who benefits? Actually, it is to our own greatest benefit. For example, if someone suffers, you give them a gift. Normally, we think “I have been kind to that person, I love them, so I gave them gift.” But actually, no matter how much you have given, if you have actually cultivated love, you can’t see it. But when you cultivate love, your self-grasping is diminished. That person who suffers, you were kind to them. But they were kinder to you, because of them, you could destroy self-grasping, because of sentient beings the Buddhas could attain Enlightenment. The sentient beings are kind to Buddhas, but all the objects I feel compassion for, they are actually kind to me. This is how you think when you cultivate bodhichitta. When you hear it, you will be inspired to cultivate bodhichitta.

        All sentient beings,

Especially those enemies who hate me

Obstructers who harm me,

And those who create obstacles on my path to liberation,

May they experience happiness, be separated from suffering,

And swiftly I will establish them in the state of unsurpassed,

perfect and precious Buddhahood.

[Note: this is the First altruistic motivation prayer from Drikung Kagyu prayer book. As is alluded to shortly, while every lineage stresses this kind mind training in Bodhichitta, only the Drikungpas put this explicitly in writing at the very beginning of every practice or teaching session before any other aspirations, lineage supplications, and so forth. ]

So, we have just said “Especially those enemies who hate me” and all mother sentient beings. Normally, we say mother sentient beings, because when we think of our mothers, we can cultivate love. But normally, when we meet someone who tries to harm us, we get angry with them. We can’t cultivate love. This is a special feature of the Drikungpas, from Lord Jigten Sumgön, to stress from the beginning of practice that we must especially cultivate to enemies who hate me.

Why? Why are they enemies? In a previous life, they were very kind to us. Parents, loving friends, they have been just like that. But we have ill-treated them, beat them, killed them. That is the greatest danger. The stronger the love was, it can become that powerful anger. They come back as karmic creditors in this life. They abuse us, beat us, and steal our wealth and so on.

For example, there are Karmic creditors of wealth; for example, people who took millions of dollars. Normally, we think, “They took from me.” But from a karma (point of view), “if I didn’t have something happen in the last life, couldn’t have this occur in this life. Someone bad to you in this life was someone who was extremely kind to you in a previous life, and now has great anger for you. YOU are at fault from not knowing the qualities of bodhichitta, and not being able to be patient with them.   If you always bring this to mind, when you think of enemies, you will feel regret, feel sorry you have hurt them in past. In this way, there is really no one you cannot feel compassion for. Also, knowing karma, there will be no suffering you wont be able to take. “It is just my own karma ripening. But by experiencing it, my karma is ripening.” Thinking in this way, you will let go of resentment. 

What is Bodhichitta? What is Love?

So, sometimes people wonder what ‘bodhichitta’ really is. To understand that, need to identify that feeling of ‘love’, that quality of love. That is what we need to recognize today. It is that feeling that love. How can we recognize that? Think of someone you love from the depth of your heart. How do you feel with them next to you? How do you feel with them far away? Some cry because they are happy, which is a quality of kindness/ compassion. There is no closeness and distance in the bond of that love. Even if that loved one has died, we still have that bond of love. That is why we cultivate love. The Buddhas have said it is happiness and cause of happiness.   Even if we think of the word “love,” we have a special feeling. How would it feel if it was greater? One identifies it, needs to stabilize it, and then increase it further.

We increase it from practice of the six paramitas. As we just recited in the pleasing Bodhisattva Conduct,” they will be perceived as pleasant by others.”

Even animals can feel this. If you have love in heart, your dog or cat will come close to you. Then, we need to increase “if I don’t cultivate, I will go to lower realms.” How do we increase? Practice mindfulness, sustain compassion with mindfulness. What do we really sustain? Think of the kindness we have gotten from others: parents, friends, teachers, country, and so on. In this way, increase your love by thinking of the kindness of others over and over.

If we think of the kindness others, and then have the wish to repay the kindness, in that way, we will develop the sincere mind of bodhichitta.

If we don’t practice in this way, we may think bodhichitta is good, and we may recite prayers, but have no feeling of it. If it is not felt, bodhichitta won’t arise. So first, it is important to recognize it. Then realize in this bond of love, there is no closeness and distance that can disrupt it.

Activity bodhichitta

For that purpose, I will apply body, speech and mind to virtuous action until Enlightenment is attained.

I will apply body, speech and mind to virtuous action until death.

I will apply body, speech and mind to virtuous action until this time tomorrow.

So, we just repeated the first prayer. The first line:

From now until attaining Enlightenment, I will apply body, speech and mind to virtuous actions.

So this is the aspiration, “today onward, in all my future lifetimes, may I never forsake the 3 jewels and bodhichitta. “ It is a vow and aspiration. We must think like Milarepa said: “The root of lower realms is hatred, therefore, practice patience even at risk of life. “ The only think to hold onto is love. The only thing to get rid of is hatred. Hatred destroys our seed of liberation. Hatred is our worst enemy. The root of virtue is our mind of love. It is said, “A moment of anger destroys merit of 1000 eons.”

Once, my root guru Jigme Dorje said,

“If you want to give Bodhisattva vow to disciples, investigate your own mind. Consider: if this disciple you have given Bodhisattva Vow to comes back with a gun and threatens to kill you, what would you do? Ordinarily, we would feel angry. If you aren’t angry, you are qualified to give Bodhisattva Vow.”

Instead, we must think, “this person is complete taken over by ignorance and anger, how sad or “this person will plunge into the lower realms out of anger, how sad. “

Lord Jigten Sumgön said we need certainty of bodhichitta, a stronghold of bodhichitta that no anger, no condition can destroy. This is very difficult to accomplish, so we gradually train.

Working with Anger

In the idea case, anger arises, and in the next moment, it is gone.

In the next best case, anger arises. In the second moment, anger also arises, but then gradually we let it go. Practice in such a way every day, and anger will slowly disappear.

It is said the Bodhisattva vow is very easily broken, but also very easily repaired, like a golden chain. For example, if you have a friend, you got angry with them, and then were able to let it go.

The anger must be completely gone to be purified. This is about mind, not verbal confession. In mind, must think, “I was wrong and feel sincere regret.” if you apologize and confess, but still don’t like that person on the inside, you aren’t purified.

Also, in Mahamudra; this marks the line between liberation and not being liberation.   For example, say you got angry with someone, and then the anger goes away when they go away. But if you get uncomfortable dealing with them the next time you see them, this is a sign of not being liberated. If you feel no negative feeling the next time you see them, that (previous) anger IS purified. Think, “that person’s nature is Buddha-nature which can’t be …. “ (After training properly, we) can easily let go of thoughts as only temporary arisings. It is important to confess negative thoughts every day.

The second line:

I will perform virtuous actions of body, speech and mind from until I die. 

Any vows you are taking: refraining from 10 nonvirtuous action, 14 root vows, monastic vows, and so on, ideally take for as long as you live. If not that, than for a year, or a month. It is important to have a vow you observe, a vow is an aspiration. For example, there are certain negative things we don’t do anyways, so we don’t have vow to not do. We don’t have a negative vow of not doing, but we don’t have positive of vow of not doing it.

For example, there is a Vinaya story. In the past, there was a butcher who was killing animals for living. He had no other way to make a living. Buddha said, “You should really stop killing, take a vow to stop killing.” The butcher said, “I would starve to death.” Buddha replied, “Do you kill at night?” The butcher responded, “No, I can’t’ see then.” Buddha said, “Then take a vow not to kill at night.” He did, and as a result, the butcher eventually got to liberation. Even if you don’t drink alcohol or smoke, taking a vow not to do a negative action is still positive.

What is most harmful of all, the thing that is best to give up, as a vow is to give up smoking and intoxicants. They are the worse. One will be reborn as animals. They are of the greatest harm, so one should take a vow to give those up.

Now we come to the next level, the actual Bodhisattva vow. Identify that feeling of love, like you recognize a person that you knew. Having recognized it, realize “this is what I need to cultivate.” This is love of all the Buddhas of the 3 times, the master has for disciples. Even though bodies are separate, we can merge minds with love. If we merge minds of bodhichitta, we can also help each other, cultivate love for each other.

(To understand the) Bodhisattva vow, imagine a mala is strung on 2 strings. The first string is like Buddha-nature, based on which, samsara and nirvana are already one, one continuum. The second is the string of bodhichitta. Self-grasping has cut through this second string of bodhichitta.

As it says in the 37 Bodhisattva practices:

All suffering without exception comes from grasping for ones own happiness. The perfect Buddhas arise from the altruistic mind. Therefore, completely exchanging one’s own happiness for the sufferings of others is the Bodhisattva’s practice.” (11th Bodhisattva practice)

Now, we restore the string of bodhichitta, and can bind the mala and approach Enlightenment. The vow of bodhichitta is the method to achieve Enlightenment.

Repeat this aspiration and take it to heart. 

“Just as those gone to bliss in former times have embraced the enlightened mind and progressed on the Bodhisattvas path, I shall generate the enlightened mind and progress on the Bodhisattva’s path.”



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