Bodhicitta or 'Jang-Chub-kyi Sem' in Tibetan, 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.
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.”
The 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 limitlees 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.
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.
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.
Exerpt of a Teaching given by His Eminence Tai Situpa