Thich Minh Thien's Column
CULTIVATING OUR BODHICITTA
Bodhicitta is a mind (including thought, action feeling and speech) totally dedicated to others and to achieving full enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings as fully as possible. In sanskrit, Bodhi means "enlightenment" or "awake" and citta means "mind". Bodhicitta is often called the "Wish Fulfilling Jewel" because like a magic jewel, it brings true happiness. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters as well as other religious philosophies often refer to prayer in which a supplicant seeks from an outside source or deity, some request or some relief from life's current circumstances. Understanding and cultivating one's own Bodhicitta or "enlightened mind" takes the external concept of asking an outside force for something and moves it to the internal work of awakening oneself for the betterment of all and reducing suffering.
There are two levels of bodhicitta; namely Aspirational and Engaged. Aspirational bodhicitta is the complete wish to overcome our emotional afflictions and delusions to realize our full potential to bring all fellow beings to an enlightened state, free from suffering. Aspirational Bodhicitta has two stages: One is called "Heartfelt Wishing" - to become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings. The second stage is referred to as "Pledging" - to never abandon the aim until it is achieved. Engaged bodhicitta means engaging in the practices and behaviors that bring about the full aspirational bodhicitta and most times is associated with the taking of the Bodhisattva vows.
All sentient beings have the potential to achieve the omniscient state. Understanding this, combined with a strong force of compassion, brings about the experience of Bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest of people have this soft spot. It is also frequently equated with compassion in our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without consciously realizing it, we may try and shield ourselves from pain and suffering. We put up protective walls made up of our opinions, prejudices and strategies and this barrier is built on our deep fear of being hurt. We then further fortify this barrier by all kinds of emotions. Fortunately, our Bodhicitta, our innate ability to love and to care about things, acts like a crack in these barriers we erect. The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment, even at times we feel most stuck. The openness and warmth of bodhicitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Through the practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity we can uncover and cultivate this soft spot of Bodhicitta. With these practices we will find tenderness in sorrow and gratitude. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. It is available in loneliness as well as in kindness. All beings have the capacity to feel tenderness; to experience heartbreak, pain and uncertainty. The enlightened heart of bodhicitta is available to us in all of these times and in every other moment. Bodhicitta has this kind of power to inspire and support us in good times and bad. It is like discovering a wisdom and a courage that we did not even know we had.
Making a daily practice of this awakening in our own hearts and minds with kindness towards others is what ironically brings about our own happiness and ultimately an enlightened mind. It is in the contemplation of others that arouses Bodhicitta. Holding others in our hearts, in that soft spot, pushes ourselves off that place our human ego often assumes; that "Me First" position where we can easily go if we are not cultivating our Bodhicitta. Awakening our hearts and minds to kindness toward others is what ironically brings about our own happiness and ultimately that enlightened mind of Bodhicitta. Holding others in that "soft spot" of our hearts in all ways and in all things cultivates our Bodhicitta.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa