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Relative Bodhicitta

Bodhicitta is a Sanskrit term. In Tibetan it is Jang-Chub-kyi Sem. 'Jang' can be explained as purification, clarification or the total result of practice i.e. that we get used to it. There is no boundary. There is no obstacle. 'Chub' means inclusiveness. Nothing is left out. It is under, it is total, everything is included in it. kyi is a particle of grammar coordinating 'Jang-Chub' and 'Sem'. 'Sem' means mind. Here it also indirectly represents thought, attitude and motivation—everything that is involved with mind.

Jang-Chub-kyi Sem can be looked at in several ways, all of which arrive at the same conclusion. One way of understanding it is total, pure dedication towards full realization and full liberation. The principle thought and motivation of a person who has Bodhicitta is, “I wish to be liberated from the ignorance and defilements of samsara for the benefit of all sentient beings.” Approaching Bodhicitta from a more academic or philosophical perspective, it is a particular attitude that will benefit our development. It is a way of thinking, a principle that imbues all of our efforts with meaning. With Bodhicitta as our aim and principle, our efforts become continuously more and more meaningful, until we ultimately obtain enlightenment, liberation. This is the inner development that results from the practice of the Bodhicitta principle. A bodhisattva is a person who practices that principle of bodhicitta.

In sutra, Lord Buddha said many times, “The validity and the benefit of any expression, activity, outward appearance or practice is totally dependent upon the purpose, philosophy and motivation behind it.” Lord Buddha taught about generosity, morality, diligence and all the other positive qualities, but he always emphasized the motivation behind these so-called good and positive actions. That principle, that motivation, is bodhicitta.

Lord Buddha describes the value of Bodhicitta in a very direct and strong manner. “Moments before you develop Bodhicitta you can be the most evil being in the whole universe, but the moment after you develop bodhicitta, you instantly become the most noble, kind and precious being in the whole universe.”

Then he said, “Developing Bodhicitta is taking birth in the family of enlightenment.” You will find a similar statement in every sutra. Without Bodhicitta we can never attain enlightenment, because Bodhicitta is the beginning of enlightenment. To succeed on the path of liberation, one has to reach the realization of the bodhisattva by developing bodhicitta - by recognizing it, by practicing it, by putting it into action. That is the first important step.

Four Limitless Thoughts

To understand Bodhicitta totally, we must look deeply into each aspect of it. We can get a solid understanding of Bodhicitta quite simply from the four-sentence prayer called “Four Limitless Thoughts” that every Buddhist is supposed to recite everyday. Translating these is always a challenge for me. For now I’ll use the most common words in use by translators nowadays and I’ll try to explain them.

In Tibetan, the first limitless thought is jampa, the second limitless thought is nying-je, the third limitless thought is Gawa, and the fourth limitless thought is tang-jung. We add kyi-nyid at the end of each of them - jampa kyi-nyid, nying-je kyi-nyid, etc. kyi-nyid means no boundary, no limitation. Jampa is translated as loving-kindness. Nying-je is translated as compassion. Gawa is like joy. Tang-jung is translated as equanimity...

The gawa is the joy that is naturally there when we have jampa and nying-je, loving-kindness and compassion. Then, anybody’s happiness makes us happy, and the fact that we are able to have this loving-kindness and compassion makes us happy. We have a saying that might sound a little ridiculous if not understood precisely, but it is worth exploring. “Even if we have to suffer, suffer happily.” The reverse would be, “Don’t enjoy sadly.” There is something in it, and I leave it for you to ponder what it means.

The fourth aspect of Bodhicitta is impartiality in the sense of equanimity. Our loving-kindness, our compassion and our joy shouldn’t be limited to our friends or relatives. It should be impartial to every sentient being. In Buddhism, when we say “every sentient being,” it is a vast subject. Lord Buddha’s teachings allude to “all the sentient beings in the entire existence.” He described the existence of sentient beings, along with where they exist. He said, “Sentient beings exist in space.” And he said, “Space is endless.” That is quite understandable - I don’t think we can knock at the wall of space. There is no end to space. Then he said, “This endless space is filled with numberless universes of all levels.” Then he said, “Those numberless universes are filled with countless sentient beings.”

Lord Buddha classified those countless sentient beings into six realms. These six realms reflect not only physical differences but also levels of external and internal mental condition. He said, “The highest realm is the devas and the lowest realm is hell. Human beings are somewhere in the middle.” He said, “Being human is very fortunate because humans can taste both suffering and happiness.” And he said, “If you take advantage of your human life, you can learn a lot. You can make a tremendous leap in your progress.” Finally he said, “The human realm is better than any other realm for the development of wisdom and enlightenment.” So, impartiality is for all sentient beings of all six realms, for all the sentient beings in the entire universe.

These four limitless thoughts that describe Bodhicitta prove that we’re extremely ambitious, because we pray that every sentient being will be free from suffering. I think that is quite ambitious. And we wish all sentient beings to be happy. There are practical reasons for this. It’s not just a dream. It is practical because every sentient being has the potential to be free from suffering and to be happy. More than that, every sentient being has the potential for enlightenment. There is no one whose ultimate potential is negative. Lord Buddha says, “When it comes to the ultimate potential and essence of everyone, there is no evil in existence.” Of course, relatively speaking, there is evil. Buddha, himself, had a brother who caused him lots of trouble. But it is the potential of every sentient being to attain enlightenment that makes this prayer practical. We’re praying that every sentient will recognize what they are and who they are. May every one of us realize that our potential is good, not bad, our potential is healthy, not unhealthy, our potential is perfect, not imperfect. Nothing is missing. So may everyone recognize that.

If everyone recognizes this and decides to do something about it, a big part of our job is done. That is the biggest step. Once that step is taken, we should feel a sense of promise or a guarantee that there will be momentum that will move everything forward. But until we recognize this, even if we try to be good, it is a challenge. Because if we don’t know that our ultimate potential is good, we assume that we’re bad by nature, and therefore we have to become good. We try to be good, but we think that goodness isn’t in us, that it’s out there. We feel we’re trying to become something we’re not. But when we know this potential is there, we realize we’re not trying to develop something that isn’t there. Instead, we’re trying to liberate whatever is inside of us, our potential, our real self. This makes a big difference.

When we look at Bodhicitta through these four limitless thoughts, we see it is the source of all goodness. I’ll give you an example that you can easily apply. When we don’t have bodhicitta, others’ happiness causes us suffering. It sounds unspeakable, but that is what happens without bodhicitta. It even gives me a funny feeling to say it. When we develop bodhicitta, another person’s happiness becomes the source of our own happiness. We have been praying every day for the happiness of others, so when we see somebody happy, it’s got to make us happy. There is a big difference in the attitude. And there is a big difference in the impact of the reality of life on our well-being. So, Bodhicitta is very precious. Just by clearly understanding the preciousness of those four limitless thoughts, with no strings attached, we recognize what we are, what we can be and how to realize our potential.

Teaching by His Eminence Khenting Tai Situpa


All Religious activities held at "TNG Centre®" are operated under a French Cultual Association 1905. All other non-religious activities such as hosting cultural events and seminars, are operated by Association 1901 DRA TAGPA RITRU®, legally registered and audited since February 2000.


TNG-Centre® is located in the South of France, near FOURTOU, a village of the "Haute Vallée des Corbières" in the French department of Aude.

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Concept : Philippe DANAUX aka Lama SANGYAY TENDZIN - BRUSSELS - B

Graphic design : Davide OPPIZZI - Dcube Agency® - Geneva - CH

Last Edit : February 2017 Laughing