The Brightly Shining Sun
Collections & Cycles › Thirteen Great Texts › Bodhicaryāvatāra | Literary Genres › Stages of Meditation | Tibetan Masters › Patrul Rinpoche | Indian Masters › Śāntideva
From the murals of Shechen Monastery. Used with permission of Rabjam Rinpoche.
The Brightly Shining Sun
A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditating on the Bodhicaryāvatāra
by Patrul Rinpoche
With devotion I pay homage to the buddhas gone to bliss,
To their Dharma body, noble heirs and all worthy of respect.
In accordance with the scriptures, I shall now in brief describe
How to adopt proper conduct, the way of buddhas’ heirs.
In this, there are four sections:
- the practitioner, the person who is the support;
- the attitude with which one practises;
- the practices themselves; and
- the result of practising in that way.
1. THE PRACTITIONER
Firstly, the person who is the support for the practice is someone endowed with all the freedoms and advantages, and who has faith and compassion.
2. THE ATTITUDE WITH WHICH ONE PRACTICES
Secondly, the intention of bodhicitta has two aspects: aspiration and action.
Regarding the first of these, it is said:
Arousing bodhicitta is: for the sake of others
Longing to attain complete enlightenment.
In other words, it is the intention of wishing to attain complete enlightenment for the sake of others.
The second aspect of action is the commitment to train in the practices of the bodhisattvas.
Taking the Bodhisattva Vow
In order to adopt this kind of bodhicitta within our own mind streams we can receive the vows from a teacher, in which case we should follow the procedure of the specific ritual, whether of the Mind Only or the Middle Way. But here it will be shown how we can practise this by ourselves.
There are three stages to this: (a) preparation, (b) main part and (c) conclusion.
This has three parts: (i) generating enthusiasm, (ii) the seven branch practice, and (iii) mind training.
i. Generating Enthusiasm
Generate a sense of enthusiasm for the benefits of bodhicitta, as explained in the first chapter of the Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva.
 This free and well-favoured human form is difficult to obtain.
Now that we have the chance to realise the full human potential,
If we don’t make good use of this opportunity,
How could we possibly expect to have such a chance again?
 Like a flash of lightning on a dark and cloudy night,
Which, for just a single instant, sheds its brilliant light,
Rarely, through the buddhas’ power,
A mind of virtue arises, briefly, to people of the world.
 All ordinary virtues therefore are forever feeble,
Whilst negativity is strong and difficult to bear—
But for the mind intent on perfect buddhahood,
What other virtue could ever overcome it?
 Contemplating wisely throughout the ages,
The mighty buddhas have seen its great benefit:
That it helps the boundless multitude of beings
Easily to gain the highest states of bliss.
 Those who long to triumph over life’s distress,
And who wish to put an end to others’ sorrows,
Those who seek to experience abundant joys—
Let them never turn their backs on bodhicitta.
 For the very instant that bodhicitta is born
In the weary captives enslaved within saṃsāra,
They are called heirs of the bliss gone buddhas,
Honourable to gods, humans, and the world.
 Like the alchemists’ supreme elixir,
It takes this ordinary, impure human form,
And makes of it a buddha’s priceless body—
Such is bodhicitta: let us grasp it firmly!
 With their boundless wisdom, beings’ only guides,
Have investigated thoroughly and seen its value.
Thus whoever longs for freedom from conditioned states
Should grasp this precious bodhicitta and guard it well.
 All other virtues are like the plantain tree:
They bear their fruit, and then they are no more.
Yet constantly the marvellous tree of bodhicitta
Yields fruit and, undiminished, grows forevermore.
 Even those who’ve committed intolerable misdeeds,
Through having bodhicitta instantly are freed,
Just like a brave companion banishing all one’s fears—
Why then would the prudent fail to put their trust in it?
 Just like a great inferno at the ends of time,
It annihilates terrible misdeeds in but an instant.
Thus its benefits are vast beyond all measuring,
As the wise Lord Maitreya explained to Sudhana.
 Understand that, briefly stated,
bodhicitta has two aspects:
The mind aspiring to awaken,
And bodhicitta that’s enacted.
 Just as one understands the difference
Between wishing to go and setting out upon a journey,
The wise should understand these two,
Recognizing their difference and their order.
 bodhicitta in aspiration brings about great results,
Even as we continue to circle within saṃsāra;
Yet it does not bring about a ceaseless stream of merit,
For that will come solely from active bodhicitta.
 From the moment we genuinely take up
This irreversible attitude—
The mind that aspires to liberate entirely
The infinite realms of beings,
 From then on, even while asleep,
Or during moments of inattention,
A plentiful, unceasing force of merit
Will arise, equal to the vastness of the sky.
 This was explained by the Buddha,
Together with supporting reasons,
In a teaching given at Subāhu’s request,
For the sake of those inclined to lesser paths.
 If boundless merit comes to anyone who,
With the intention to be of benefit,
Has the thought simply to relieve the pain
Of those afflicted merely with a headache,
[22.]What need is there to speak of the wish
To dispel all beings’ boundless sufferings,
Or the longing that they all might gain
Enlightened qualities infinite in number.
 Do even our fathers or our mothers
Have such beneficence as this?
Do the gods or the great sages?
Does even mighty Brahma?
 If these beings have never before
Held this aspiration for their own sake—
Not even in their dreams—how could
They have made this wish for others?
 A thought such as this—wanting for others
What they do not wish for even for themselves—
Is an extraordinary and precious state of mind,
And its occurrence a marvel unlike any other!
 This source of joy for all who wander in existence,
This elixir that heals the sufferings of all beings,
This priceless jewel within the mind—
How could such merit ever be evaluated?
 For if the simple wish to benefit others
Surpasses offerings made before the buddhas,
What need is there to mention striving
For the welfare of all without exception?
 Although seeking to avoid pain,
They run headlong into suffering.
They long for happiness, but foolishly
Destroy it, as if it were their enemy.
 To satisfy with every kind of joy,
And to cut through all the sufferings
Of those who lack any real happiness,
And are oppressed by sorrow’s burden,
 To bring an end as well to their delusion—
What other virtue is comparable to this?
What friend is there who does as much?
What else is there which is as meritorious?
 If even those who do good deeds as repayment
For past favours are worthy of some praise,
What need is there to mention the bodhisattvas,
Whose perfect actions are carried out unbidden?
 There are those who offer meals occasionally, and to just a few;
Their gifts, which are no more than food, are made in just a moment,
And with disrespect, to bring nourishment for merely half a day—
And yet such people are honoured by the world as virtuous.
 Yet how does this compare to those who give
Over many ages and to the whole infinity of beings,
Constantly offering them the fulfilment of their every wish:
The unsurpassable happiness born of blissful buddhahood?
 And those who develop feelings of hostility,
Towards these benefactors, the buddhas’ heirs,
Will languish in the hells, the mighty Sage has said,
For aeons equal to the moments of their malice.
 By contrast, to look upon them well,
Will yield benefits in still greater measure.
For even in adversity, the buddhas’ heirs
Bring no harm, only virtue that naturally increases.
 I bow down before all those in whom
This most precious, sacred mind is born!
I take refuge in those great sources of joy
Who bring bliss even to those who harm them.
ii. Seven Branch Practice
Before practising the seven branches for gathering the accumulations, consider that you and all other sentient beings are gathered together in the actual presence of the field of merit, which includes the victorious buddhas and their bodhisattva heirs, and bring to mind all their wonderful qualities.
The Branch of Offering
Arrange offerings of flowers, scented incense, lamps, pure water and food and drink, as plentiful as you can afford. Then bring to mind jewel-filled mountains, attractive woodlands, and all the uninhabited places of great natural beauty throughout the world. These are known as “offerings you do not own”. Offer both types of gift—those that you possess and those that you do not—with the following verses:
 In order that I might adopt this precious jewel of mind,
I now make the most excellent of offerings to the buddhas,
To the sacred Dharma—that most rare and flawless jewel—
And to the buddhas’ heirs, whose qualities are limitless.
 I offer every variety of fruit and flower,
And every kind of healing medicine,
Each and every jewel this world affords,
And all its pure and freshest waters,
 Every mountain filled with precious gems,
And forest groves, isolated and inspiring,
Trees of paradise garlanded with blossom,
And trees whose branches are laden with fine fruit,
 Perfumed fragrances from the gods and other realms,
Incense, trees that grant wishes and produce magic gems,
Spontaneous harvests grown without the tiller’s care,
And every thing of beauty worthy to be offered,
 Lakes and ponds adorned with lotus flowers,
Where the pleasant calls of geese are heard,
Every thing and place of beauty unclaimed by any owner,
Extending to the boundless limits of space itself.
 I picture them all in my mind, and to the supreme buddhas
And their bodhisattva heirs, I make a perfect gift of them.
Think of me with love, O sublime and compassionate lords,
And accept all these offerings which I now present.
 Lacking stores of merit, I am destitute
And have nothing more to offer.
O protectors, who consider only others’ benefit,
In your great power, accept this for my sake.
With the following verses offer your own body, speech and mind in servitude:
 To the buddhas and their bodhisattva heirs,
I offer my body now and in all my lives to come.
Supreme courageous ones, accept me totally,
For with devotion I will be your servant.
 If you accept me and take me fully in your care,
I will not fear saṃsāra as I offer other beings help.
The harmful acts I did before are entirely in the past,
And from now on, I vow to do no further deeds of harm.
With the next verses offer gifts created in your imagination:
 To a bath house filled with soothing scents,
With brightly sparkling floors of crystal,
And fine pillars all shimmering with gems,
Where hang gleaming canopies of pearls,
 I invite the buddhas and their bodhisattva heirs.
I request you: Come to bathe yourselves in scented water,
Poured from overflowing jugs made of exquisite jewels,
All the while accompanied by melody and song.
 Then let me dry you in cloths beyond compare,
Immaculate and anointed well with perfumed scent,
And dress you finely in the most excellent of garments,
Lightly scented and dyed in vivid colours.
 I offer clothing made of the finest gentle fabrics,
And hundreds of the most beautiful adornments,
To grace the bodies of noble Samantabhadra,
Mañjughoṣa, Lokeśvara and the rest.
 With the most sublime of fragrant perfumes,
That gently permeates throughout a billion worlds,
I will anoint the bodies of all the buddhas,
Gleaming brightly, like pure and burnished gold.
 To the mighty sages, perfect recipients of my offering,
I will present red lotus and heavenly mandārava,
Blue utpala flower and other scented blossoms,
Beautifully arranged in brightly coloured garlands.
 I also offer billowing clouds of incense,
Whose sweet aroma captivates the mind,
And a rich feast of plentiful food and drink,
Fit to grace the tables of the gods.
 I offer row upon row of precious lamps,
All perfectly contrived as golden lotuses,
And I scatter the petals of attractive flowers
Upon level, incense-sprinkled ground.
 I offer divine palaces resonant with songs of praise,
Gleaming with precious pearls and pendant gems,
The most beautiful of structures in the whole of space—
All this I offer to those whose nature is compassion.
 Jewel-encrusted parasols with handles made of gold,
Whose fringes are all embellished in ornate designs,
Turned upright, well proportioned and pleasing to the eye.
Now and forever, I offer this to all the buddhas.
Then make offerings through the power of aspiration with the following verses:
 May a multitude of other offerings,
Accompanied by music sweet to hear,
Be made in great successive clouds,
To soothe the pains of living beings.
 May rains of precious gems and flowers
Shower down in never-ending streams,
Upon all the jewels of noble Dharma,
And sacred monuments and images.
 Just as Mañjughoṣa and the rest
Made offerings to all the buddhas,
Likewise I too will offer to those thus gone
And all their bodhisattva heirs.
 With vast oceans of melodious praise,
I honour these oceans of good qualities.
May clouds of sweet and gentle praise
Ascend unceasingly before them.
And with these verses offer your respect and homage:
 Multiplying my body as many times as there are atoms
In the universe, I prostrate and bow before
The buddhas of the past, present and future,
The Dharma and the supreme assembly.
 To all supports of bodhicitta
And all stupas, I bow down,
And to preceptors and teachers,
And those who practise discipline.
For all these eight types of offering, bring to mind the meaning of the words and offer them sincerely from the very depths of your heart.
All these offerings are made in the presence of the Three Jewels, who are the pure field. The substances themselves are pure, since they are not polluted by unwholesome actions or stinginess. And the motivation is also pure, because there is no expectation of gaining something in return or some karmic reward.
Consider that you take refuge in those exceptional objects—the three rare and supreme jewels of the uncommon greater vehicle—and you do so with an exceptional motivation— for the benefit of all sentient beings—until you attain complete enlightenment; and recite verse 26 three times:
 Until I realize the essence of enlightenment,
I take refuge in the buddhas.
And likewise in the Dharma,
And the assembly of bodhisattvas.
Confession of Negative Actions
 Before the perfect buddhas and bodhisattvas,
Who reside in every direction, in all of space,
And who embody great compassion,
I press my palms together and pray:
With this verse, we pray to those who will receive our confession and we request their understanding. Consider that:
- our past misdeeds are like poison within our body;
- the Three Jewels, who are our support, are like physicians who can heal the sickness brought on by the poison;
- the antidote, which is the sacred Dharma, is like medicine;
- and the firm resolve not to repeat such actions in the future is like ambrosia that restores the body to full strength.
Having generated these four ideas, with verses 28 to 46, cultivate the power of regret:
 In this and all my other countless lifetimes
Spent wandering in beginningless saṃsāra,
In my ignorance I have committed wrongs
And encouraged others to do the same.
 Overwhelmed by ignorant delusion,
I celebrated the harm that was done.
But now I see it all was done in error,
And before the buddhas, sincerely I confess.
 Whatever I have done against the Three Jewels,
My parents, my teachers or anyone else,
Through the force of my afflictions,
With my body, speech or mind,
 All the misdeeds that I, the wicked one, have done,
Faults that cling to me from my many mistakes,
And all the unbearable crimes I have committed,
I openly declare to you, the guides of all the world.
 Before my negativity has been purified,
My life may well come to an end,
So I pray now: grant me your protection,
Swiftly, to ensure that I am freed!
 The Lord of Death is fickle, unworthy of our trust,
Whether life’s tasks are done or not, he will not wait.
For the sick and for the healthy alike,
This fleeting life is not something on which we can rely.
 When we go, we must leave everything behind,
But I have failed to understand this, and so
For the sake of friends and enemies alike,
I engaged in all manner of harmful deeds.
 My enemies will become no more,
And my friends will cease to be,
I myself will pass from this existence,
And everything in turn will disappear.
 Like experiences in a dream,
Everything I make use of and enjoy,
Will later turn to faded memory,
And having passed will not be seen again.
 In this lifetime, which lasts but for a while,
Some friends and enemies are now gone.
But not the harmful acts I did for them—
Those unbearable effects are still to come.
 Never thinking that I too
Might quickly pass away,
In my delusion, lust and hatred,
I have done so much harm.
 Never halting, day or night,
My life is always slipping by.
Having gone, life cannot be extended,
So how could the likes of me not die?
 While I lie there in my final bed,
Friends and family may be by my side,
But I alone will be the one
To feel the severing of all ties to life.
 When I am seized by the emissaries of Death,
What help will be my family or my friends?
At that time it is merit alone that can protect me,
But upon that, alas, I have failed to depend.
 O protectors! I was heedless,
Unaware of horrors such as this,
And all for this transient existence,
Amassed so many harmful deeds.
 When led towards the place of torture,
Where his body will soon be ripped apart,
A man is transfigured by his terror;
His mouth turns dry, his pained eyes dart.
 If that is so, then how desperate will I be,
When stricken down and gravely ill with fear,
I am seized by the messengers of Death,
And their gruesome, terrifying forms appear?
 Is there anyone who can really save me
From the horrors of this appalling fate?
Staring in terror with my eyes opened wide,
I’ll search all around me for a refuge place.
 When nowhere do I see such a place of safety,
My heart will sink; depressed, I’ll give up hope.
For if there is no haven to which I might retreat,
What options am I left with? What is there to do?
And with verses 47 to 53 bring to mind the power of support:
 Thus, from this day onwards I take refuge
In the buddhas, the guardians of the world,
Who labour to protect and benefit us all,
And whose great strength can banish every fear.
 Likewise, I genuinely take refuge
In the Dharma they have realized,
Which eliminates saṃsāra’s terror,
And also in the hosts of bodhisattvas.
 Utterly terrified and gripped with fear,
I give myself to Samantabhadra;
And to Mañjughoṣa too,
I offer this body in service.
 To the protector Avalokiteśvara,
Whose compassion is in all his actions,
I cry out in the depths of desperation,
“Grant me your protection, evil as I am!”
 To the noble bodhisattvas
Ākāśagarbha and Kṣitigarbha,
And all the lords of great compassion,
From my heart, I call for your protection.
 And I take refuge in Vajrapāṇi,
Before whom Death’s messengers
And all who threaten us will flee
In terror, dispersed in all directions.
 In the past I ignored your words,
But now I have seen this horror,
And so I take you as my refuge:
Swiftly banish all my fears, I pray!
With verses 54 to 65 enact the power of action as an antidote:
 For if, alarmed by common ailments,
I must follow the doctor’s sage advice,
How much more so when perpetually
Afflicted by desire and other faults.
 If one of these alone brings ruin
To all who dwell within the world,
And no other cure to heal them
Is found anywhere at all,
 Then the intention not to follow
The advice of the omniscient physician,
Whose words banish ills of every kind,
Is utter madness, worthy of contempt.
 If I need to take special care when poised
Above a common drop of some small height,
Then how much more so to avoid the one
Of deep duration that falls a thousand miles?
 It makes no sense to relax and think:
“Today, at least, I shall not die,”
For it is certain that a time will come
When my life will cease to be.
 Who can offer me reassurance?
How can I be sure I need not fear?
If there is no doubt that I will die,
Then how can I remain at ease?
 Of my experiences from the past,
What’s left for me? What now remains?
Yet by clinging to them obsessively,
I have disobeyed my teacher’s words.
 Just as I must eventually forsake this life,
So too must I take leave of relatives and friends.
When I must go alone on death’s uncertain journey,
What concern to me are all these enemies and allies?
 How can I free myself from non-virtue,
The source from which sufferings arise?
At all times of the day and night,
This should be my one concern.
 Whatever wrongs I have committed,
In my ignorance and blindness—
Whether actions plainly negative
Or deeds proscribed by vows,
 Before the buddhas, I join my palms together,
And, terrified by the awful sufferings to come,
Prostrate myself upon the ground over and again,
Confessing all my harmful deeds, each and every one.
 I call upon you, the guides of all the world,
To accept me, and the harms that I have done.
And with the final two lines of verse 65 commit yourself to the power of resolve from the depth of your heart:
And these actions, since they are unwholesome,
I promise, from now on, I shall never do again.
Cultivate a genuine sense of joy and celebrate all the mundane and supermundane sources of virtue and their fruits, while reciting these verses:
 Joyfully I celebrate all the acts of virtue
That ease the pains of the lower realms,
And rejoice as well when those who suffer
Find themselves in states of happiness.
 I rejoice in the gathering of virtue
That is the cause of awakening,
And celebrate the definite liberation
Of beings from saṃsāra’s pain.
 I rejoice in the awakening of the buddhas,
And the bhumis gained by bodhisattvas.
 Gladly I rejoice in the infinite sea of virtue,
Which is the noble intention of bodhicitta,
Wishing to secure the happiness of beings,
And acting in ways that bring benefit to all.
For the fifth branch of requesting the turning of the Dharma-wheel, the sixth branch of requesting not to pass into nirvāṇa and the seventh of dedication, bring to mind the meaning of the following words:
 Now I join my hands and pray
To you, the buddhas of all quarters:
Shine the lamp of Dharma upon us,
As we suffer in confusion’s darkness!
 With my palms clasped at my heart,
I urge all buddhas longing for nirvāṇa:
Do not leave us blind and all alone,
But remain with us for countless ages!
 Through whatever virtue I have gained
By all these actions now performed,
May the pain of every living being
Be cleared away entirely, never to return.
 For all the beings ailing in the world,
Until their sickness has been healed,
May I become the doctor and the cure,
And may I nurse them back to health.
 Bringing down a shower of food and drink,
May I dispel the pains of thirst and hunger,
And in those times of scarcity and famine,
May I myself appear as food and drink.
 For all beings who are destitute and poor,
May I be a treasure, unending in supply,
A source of all that they might call for,
Accessible always and close by.
iii. Mind Training
Then with the verses of mind training, beginning with verse 11, train your mind by dedicating—without any hesitation—your own body, possessions and all your past, present and future virtues towards the benefit of sentient beings. Develop the heartfelt aspiration that this may become a cause for the unsurpassable wellbeing of beings everywhere, on both a temporary and ultimate level.
 My own body and all that I possess,
My past, present and future virtues—
I dedicate them all, withholding nothing,
To bring about the benefit of beings.
 By letting go of all I shall attain nirvāṇa,
The transcendence of misery I seek,
Since everything must therefore be abandoned,
It would be best if I gave it all away.
 This body of mine I have now given up,
Entirely for the pleasure of all who live.
Let them kill it, beat it and abuse it,
Forever doing with it as they please.
 And if they treat it like a toy,
Or an object of ridicule and jest,
When I have given it away,
Why should I then become upset?
 Let them do to me as they please,
Whatever does not harm them;
And when anyone should see me,
May that only serve them well.
 If the sight of me inspires in others
Thoughts of anger or devotion,
May such states of mind be causes
For eternally fulfilling their desires.
 May those who insult me to my face,
Or who cause me harm in any other way,
Even those who disparage me in secret,
Have the good fortune to awaken.
 May I be a guard for those without one,
A guide for all who journey on the road,
May I become a boat, a raft or bridge,
For all who wish to cross the water.
 May I be an isle for those desiring landfall,
And a lamp for those who wish for light,
May I be a bed for those who need to rest,
And a servant for all who live in need.
 May I become a wishing jewel, a magic vase,
A powerful mantra and a medicine of wonder.
May I be a tree of miracles granting every wish,
And a cow of plenty sustaining all the world.
 Like the earth and other great elements,
And like space itself, may I remain forever,
To support the lives of boundless beings,
By providing all that they might need.
 Just so, in all the realms of beings,
As far as space itself pervades,
May I be a source of all that life requires,
Until beings pass beyond saṃsāra’s pain.
B. Main Part
Secondly, for the main part, begin by requesting the buddhas and bodhisattvas to grant their attention:
All you buddhas who dwell in the ten directions
All you great bodhisattvas on the ten levels,
All you great teachers, the vajra-holders,
Turn your mind towards me, I pray!
And then take the vows of aspiration and action simultaneously, by reciting the following verses three times:
 Just as the sugatas of former times
Aroused the bodhicitta
And established themselves by stages
In the training of a bodhisattva,
 Just so, for the benefit of beings
I will arouse bodhicitta
And likewise I will train
Progressively in those disciplines.
Cultivate joy for oneself with the verses from 26 to 33 and joy for others with verse 34.
 Today, my birth has been fruitful
I have well obtained a human existence.
Today I am born into the family of the buddhas:
I have become a son or daughter of the buddhas.
 From now on, at all costs, I will perform
The actions befitting to my family.
I will not be a stain
On this faultless noble family.
 Just like a blind person
Happening upon a priceless jewel in a heap of rubbish,
So, through some fortunate coincidence,
The bodhicitta has been born in me.
 This is the perfect nectar of immortality,
Through which the Lord of Death is overcome.
It is an inexhaustible treasury of wealth,
To dispel the poverty of all who live.
 It is the very best of medicines
That heals the sickness of the world,
And the tree that shelters all who wander
Wearily along the pathways of existence.
 It is the universal bridge to freedom,
Leading us all from the lower realms,
And it is a rising moon within the mind,
To cool the passions of all living beings.
 It is the mighty sun whose light dispels
The darkness of ignorance in our minds.
And it is the very purest form of butter
Churned from the milk of sacred Dharma.
 For beings travelling life’s pathways,
And seeking to taste its greatest joys,
This will satisfy their eternal wanderings,
By granting them the highest form of bliss.
 Today, in the presence of all the protectors,
I invite all beings to the state of sugata,
And, meanwhile, to happiness and bliss:
Gods, asuras and others—rejoice!
After this, the following aspiration prayer in a single verse can also be recited:
O sublime and precious bodhicitta,
May it arise in those in whom it has not arisen;
May it never decline where it has arisen,
But go on increasing, further and further!
That concludes the section on adopting the bodhicitta attitude in one’s mindstream.
3. THE PRACTICES: HOW TO FOLLOW THE TRAINING OF A BODHISATTVA
The practices of the bodhisattva are all included within the six pāramitās, and in essence they are defined as follows:
- An attitude of giving that is endowed with four special features.
- An attitude of restraint that is endowed with four special features.
- An attitude of imperturbability that is endowed with four special features.
- An enthusiastic attitude that is endowed with four special features.
- An undistracted state of attention that is endowed with four special features.
- A precise discernment of things and events that is endowed with four special features.
What are these four special features? As it is said:
Generosity in which adverse factors have disappeared,
Endowed with wisdom that is non-conceptual,
Completely fulfills all wishes,
And brings all beings to maturity at the three levels.
The adverse factors for the pāramitās are stinginess, wayward discipline, anger, laziness, distraction and misguided intelligence respectively.
The various ways in which they fulfil the wishes of beings are as follows:
- generosity leads to the giving away of possessions and so on;
- discipline is an inspiration to others;
- patience allows us to face harmful situations;
- diligence helps us to do what is necessary;
- concentration produces miraculous abilities and supernatural perceptions which inspire others;
- and wisdom allows us to point out what must be adopted and abandoned.
These [pāramitās] bring all that could be wished for, and bring beings to maturity, directly or indirectly, by leading them to enlightenment, as a śrāvaka, pratyekabuddha or fully enlightened buddha.
How These Pāramitās are Brought into the Practice of Training the Mind
1. The Pāramitā of Generosity
Firstly, there is the training in generosity according to which we reflect on the faults of not giving away our own body, possessions and virtues from the past, present and future, and then on the benefits of actually giving them away, and also on the reasons why they must be given away, and so on.
2. The Pāramitā of Discipline
Secondly, in terms of discipline, there is an explanation of (1) the means of keeping discipline and then (2) how to keep discipline through these means.
1. The Means of Keeping Discipline
The means of keeping discipline are:
- Conscientiousness (Tib. bag yod), which is a meticulous concern for what is to be adopted and what is to be avoided;
- Mindfulness (Tib. dran pa) , which means not forgetting what should be adopted and abandoned;
- And vigilance (Tib. shes bzhin), which involves continually checking the status of our body, speech and mind.
2. How to Keep Discipline Through These Means
Firstly, through mindfulness, we do not lose sight of what should be adopted or abandoned. Then secondly, because we are checking the status of our body, speech and mind with vigilance, we recognize any occasions when we are tempted to avoid something virtuous or to do something negative. At that time, because of our conscientiousness, we recall the benefits of virtuous actions and undertake them, or remember the faults of negative conduct and unwholesome actions and avoid them.
Since the underlying cause for all of this is a confident trust in the effects of karma, we should follow the authoritative statements of the victorious buddhas and develop trust. We must generate a heartfelt conviction about the sufferings of saṃsāra by considering that if we act negatively this will certainly lead us to states of misery, and once we are reborn in these unfortunate states we will face such suffering that not only will we fail to accomplish the benefit of others, we will not even secure our own wellbeing!
There are many categories of discipline to be maintained, but the three principle things to avoid, which run contrary to bodhicitta in aspiration, are:
- mentally forsaking sentient beings;
- developing the attitude of a śrāvaka or pratyekabuddha;
- and the four impure practices.
The four impure practices are mentioned in the following verse:
Deceiving those who merit veneration, regret that is misplaced,
Criticizing great beings and cheating ordinary folk—
Renounce these four impure practices and adopt their opposites,
Which are the four pure dharmas.
The favourable factors (for bodhicitta in aspiration) are:
- heartfelt aspiration towards the result of perfect awakening and its cause which is enlightened conduct;
- sympathetic joy and heartfelt appreciation for all the good done by others;
- dedication of all these fundamental virtues towards complete enlightenment for others’ benefit.
We must take these three mahāyāna meditations to heart.
Of the factors that are incompatible with bodhicitta in action, it is generally said that one must give up all harm to others, together with its basis. In particular, the greatest faults of all, such as stealing the property of the Three Jewels, slandering a bodhisattva, or abandoning the Dharma must be guarded against with the utmost care, just as we would take every possible measure to secure our own lives.
As for the supportive factors, we must not neglect even the slightest of positive deeds, and we must be sure to practise with the three noble principles.
3. The Pāramitā of Patience
There are various situations that require our patience, beginning with the following four:
When someone treats us with contempt,
Addresses us with harsh words,
Slanders us behind our back,
Or causes us pain.
And similarly, when these four are done to our teachers, or our friends and relatives.
When our enemies and those who oppose us find pleasure and wellbeing,
When they receive honours and rewards,
When they are offered praise,
Or when people speak well of them.
In addition, there are also those situations in which their opposites, the twelve desirable circumstances, are prevented from occurring, making a total of twenty-four opportunities for us to practise patience.
When any of these occur, we must avoid becoming disheartened by the events themselves or the suffering they bring, and instead accept the suffering. We must not become angry with those involved, but disregard the harm they do to us, and settle the mind in meditation upon the reality of profound emptiness.
In this way, by multiplying each instance a further three times, we arrive at seventy-two types of patience in which to train.
There are three reasons for accepting suffering:
- Suffering can exhaust our negative actions, so we should accept it with the understanding that it is like a broom for sweeping away our misdeeds.
- Through suffering we develop renunciation for saṃsāra, compassion for other sentient beings, and a wish to adopt wholesome actions and avoid unwholesome ones. So we should accept it in the knowledge that it spurs us on to virtue.
- Suffering subdues our pride, takes away the sting of envy, overcomes the strength of desire and attachment, and leads us on towards accomplishment. So we should accept it with the view that it is an embellishment of the mind.
The patience of disregarding the harm done to us by others can be cultivated for the following three reasons:
- By seeing those who harm us as objects for compassion: If we think how deluded sentient beings will inflict harm even on themselves through the influence of their disturbing emotions, is it any wonder that they do so to others?
- By putting all the blame on ourselves: Consider how all the harm that is done to us now must come from our own past karma and how we are conducting ourselves in the immediate situation.
- By thinking that it is only with the help of our enemies that we can gain the merit of practising patience, which in turn becomes a support for bodhisattva activity. In this way, we can consider enemies as friends who actually bring us benefit.
Patience can be cultivated by contemplating with certainty the profound teachings in the following three ways:
- Considering the ultimate truth of emptiness, beyond any conceptual elaboration, we can cultivate patience by reflecting on how the harm that is done to us and the one who is doing the harm are both lacking in any true reality.
- Considering the relative truth of magical dependent origination, we can cultivate patience by realizing how neither the harm-doer nor the suffering itself is independent.
- Considering the inseparable unity of the nature of mind, we can cultivate patience by recognizing our anger to be pure and lacking any basis or origin.
4. The Pāramitā of Diligence
In this there are two sections: (i) overcoming factors incompatible with diligence, namely the three kinds of laziness, and (ii) cultivating conducive factors, i.e., the six forces.
i. Overcoming Incompatible Factors
- Spurred on by the hook of impermanence, we can overcome the laziness of inactivity.
- The laziness of attachment to negative behaviour can be overcome by thinking about the joys of the sacred Dharma.
- The laziness of self-discouragement can be overcome by encouraging ourselves and bolstering our self-confidence.
ii. Cultivating Conducive Factors
 The preparation, which is the force of aspiration, is an aspiration to practise the Dharma that comes from reflecting on the benefits of virtue and the faults of harmful actions.
 The main part, which is the force of self-confidence, is the stable commitment, born of strength of heart, ensuring that once a virtuous act is begun, it will reach completion. This has three aspects:
(a) The first is the self-confidence of action. Take the example of the sun rising over the earth: this indicates how we should avoid falling prey to obstacles or being affected by circumstances. Take the example of the sun moving alone: this indicates how we should defeat the forces of Mara by ourselves, without relying on others, and in so doing, accomplish perfect enlightenment. Finally, as in the example of the sun shining its light on the whole world, having been blessed by the wisdom, compassion and aspirations of the bodhisattvas, we ourselves can sustain the lives of beings. In other words, we earnestly strive to bring about the welfare of living beings everywhere, throughout the whole infinity of space.
(b) The self-confidence of capacity means considering ourselves to be of superior capacity, and vowing not to be stained by any downfall, great or small.
(c) Self-confidence in the face of negative emotions means regarding negative emotions as insignificant and disregarding adversity.
 The force of special joy means practising virtue with joyful enthusiasm, but without any expectation of a positive result, celebrating all the good things that we do.
 The force of moderation means to clear away hindrances by resting for a while whenever we are physically tired or disheartened, in order to continue with renewed vigour shortly thereafter.
 The force of sincere application means to overcome what is to be abandoned, devoting ourselves to the vanquishing of the disturbing emotions by employing mindfulness and vigilance.
 The force of mastery means to train ourselves in all disciplines, remembering the advice about conscientiousness, and maintaining control over our own body, speech and mind.
5. The Pāramitā of Meditative Concentration
This has two parts: (i) abandoning factors that are not conducive to concentration and (ii) working with the objects of śamatha meditation.
i. Abandoning Adverse Factors
In the first part, giving up adverse factors, there are two subsections: (a) giving up mundane concerns, and (b) letting go of discursive thought.
(a) Giving up Mundane Concerns
As regards renouncing mundane concerns, our mind will never settle into a state of one-pointed absorption as long as it is under the sway of attachment to parents, relatives and friends or attendants. So we must give up all our habitual preoccupations and busyness, and remain alone in an isolated place suitable for meditation.
Being attached to rewards and honours, praise or good reputation, or trifling necessities and then pursuing them will only obstruct the authentic path, so we must cut through any expectations and anxieties about such things, and train in being content with whatever comes our way.
(b) Letting Go of Discursive Thought
Even though we may be in an isolated place, not seeking possessions and such like to any great extent, if our mind falls under the power of desire, a genuine state of meditative concentration will not arise in our being, and our mind will be unable to rest in a state of absorption. Therefore thoughts of desire must be given up. To turn our thoughts away from attachment to desirable things is particularly important for gaining the special higher levels of concentration, so we should certainly turn the mind away from craving after members of the opposite sex by reflecting on the cause, the fact that they are not easy to obtain; their nature, which is impure; and the result, which involves a lot of harm, and so on.
Moreover, we must understand that the eight worldly concerns and all thoughts of the present life are our real enemies. We must reflect, therefore, at some length on the problems caused by negative thoughts of desire, and, generating a sense of inner dignity, make heartfelt efforts to abandon them, no matter how many may arise.
ii. Focusing on the Objects of Practice
As regards the main practice of meditative concentration, there are many methods for meditation, but here the practice is to cultivate bodhicitta. This has two aspects: (a) the meditation on equalizing oneself and others, and (b) the meditation on exchanging oneself for others.
(a) Equalizing Oneself and Others
We must recognize how unreasonable it is that we care only for ourselves and not for others, since we are the same as others in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Meditate therefore on the equality of oneself and others.
As it is said:
The thought of the equality of oneself and others
Is to be cultivated in the beginning with exertion.
Since we are all equal in terms of happiness and suffering,
We should care for everyone as we do ourselves.
As this states, in the beginning meditate on the bodhicitta of equalizing oneself and others. This is done in the following way:
Sentient beings are as infinite as space itself, and yet there is not a single one who has not been our own father or mother or dear friend. As the master Nāgārjuna said:
If each mother in the lineage of mothers
Were considered as a ball the size of a juniper seed,
The whole earth could not contain their number.
With such quotations and through reasoning, we can determine that all sentient beings have been our close relations.
Then whenever we experience happiness, we can cultivate this thought from the depths of our heart: “May all beings find such happiness and its causes!” And likewise, whenever we experience suffering, we can cultivate the following wish from the very core of our bones: “May I and all beings be free from suffering and its causes!”
At this stage, it is possible that an obstacle might arise in our thoughts; we might develop a śrāvaka’s attitude, thinking: “I will dispel my own suffering, without expecting anything from others, but I will not work to dispel the suffering of others.” Yet as the Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva says:
Why guard against future pain,
If it does not harm me now? (VIII, 97)
As it says, why do we exert ourselves acquiring good health, food, clothing and so on for the future? We are actually ceasing every moment, and in the next moment we become an “other”. At this point, due to the habit of ignorance, we may think that the future one is also us, but that would simply be delusion. It is just as the Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva says:
“But I will be the one who suffers,”
You say, but it’s wrong to think this way.
This “I” will presently cease to be,
And later, another will be born. (VIII, 98)
For instance, foolish people think, “These are the rapids in which I lost my coat last year,” or,” This is the river I crossed yesterday,” but the water of last year that swept away the coat is “other” than the water of the present, and the water forded yesterday is also different. In exactly the same way, the mind of the past is not us and the future mind is not us either, but something different.
At this point we might think: “Well, the future mind is not the present ‘me’ but it is a continuation of my mind, so I will work for my own welfare!” In that case, we should act for the welfare of others with the idea that although other sentient beings are not us, they are our sentient beings.
If we think: “Everybody should work for his or her own welfare, just as they would shake the snow from their own heads, but it is not possible for everyone to help each other,” then consider this from the Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva:
The pain felt in the foot is not the hand’s,
So why, in fact, does one protect the other? (VIII, 99)
As it says, why does the hand remove the painful thorn from the foot? It is the same with the hand and dust that is in the eye, or parents helping their son, or the hand putting food into the mouth. It would follow that they must all be doing this for their own benefit.
In short, if there were no collaboration with everyone working for the sake of others, and instead everyone were only to operate in their own interest, then it would be extremely difficult for anything ever to be accomplished. Therefore, with this understanding, we should act for the benefit of sentient beings.
(b) Exchanging Oneself and Others
Secondly, there is the meditation on the bodhicitta of exchanging oneself and others.
The Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva says:
If I do not give away my happiness,
In exchange for others’ suffering,
Buddhahood will never be attained,
And even in saṃsāra, I’ll find no joy. (VIII, 131)
As it says, we must give away our own happiness to sentient beings and take their sufferings upon ourselves. As for the visualization, it also says:
Put yourself in the position of an inferior and so on,
Then regard your self as if it were someone other,
And, with a mind devoid of any other thought,
Cultivate feelings of envy, rivalry and pride. (VIII, 140)
The meaning of this is as follows:
In the first meditation, the ‘other’ is someone in a position lower than ourselves, for whom we are someone of higher status. From the point of view of this less privileged other, we practise feeling envious of our superior selves. When we have finished the meditation, the following feeling will arise:
“Look how even in a practice like this, if I am the superior one and others are inferior, to feel envious causes such distress! What is the point of envying others?” With this, our envy will subside.
Similarly, there is a meditation of rivalry focusing on those of equal standing to ourselves. In this, we take the position of an ‘other’ of similar status to ourselves, and from their point of view consider ourselves as an opponent. Then, as the other, we cultivate an attitude of rivalry towards ourselves from every possible angle. When we let go of this meditation, the following feeling will arise:
“If considering myself as an enemy and imagining the malicious and competitive attitude of others causes such distress, then what is the point of wishing harm upon others and feeling rivalry?” With this, our rivalry will naturally be pacified.
Again, following the same principle, there is a practice of cultivating pride, in which we are in the position of an inferior, and the other is our superior. As the superior other, we cultivate feelings of pride based on our superior family, better education and so on. When we finish the meditation, we will think, “If considering the arrogance others feel towards me creates this much distress, then how can I feel arrogance towards others?” With this, our arrogance will be naturally pacified.
We can practise these by following the detailed descriptions given in the Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva itself.
If we are unable to do these meditations, and we would like to do a brief form of the practice, we can consider this quotation from the Precious Garland:
May their misdeeds ripen on me,
And all my virtues ripen on them.
As long as any sentient being
Anywhere has not been liberated,
May I remain for the sake of that being
Even if I have attained unsurpassed enlightenment.
If the merit of saying this
Had form, it could never be contained
In worlds as vast in number
As the sand grains of the Ganges.
This was stated by the Buddha,
And it is also apparent through reasoning.
And the Introduction to the Way of the Bodhisattva says:
May the pains of living beings
All ripen wholly on myself.
And may the bodhisattva sangha
Bring about the happiness of all. (X, 56)
We can meditate on the meaning of these quotes, and even recite them aloud if we wish. This way of meditating on equalizing and exchanging oneself and others is similar to the methods found in the writings of Sakya Paṇḍita. Although it is slightly different from what we find in most commentaries, we can practise in whichever way seems best suited to our minds.
6. The Pāramitā of Wisdom
Wisdom is firstly identified and then it is applied to the topic of selflessness.
i. Identifying Wisdom
Firstly, wisdom is identified as the recognition during the formal meditation session that all phenomena are empty, and the knowledge during the post-meditation phase that all phenomena are unreal, like a magical illusion or a dream.
ii. Applying Wisdom to Selflessness
Secondly, this wisdom is applied to the topic of selflessness. In this there are two meditations: one on the selflessness of the individual, and one on the absence of ‘self’ in phenomena.
Selflessness of the Individual
In the first, we consider how foolish people label the one who accumulates karmic actions and experiences their results as a self, an individual, a person or a sentient being. We must ask ourselves whether such labels apply to the body, speech and mind or something different? To what is inanimate or animate? To what is permanent or impermanent? and so on.
By investigating along these lines, we will come to the conclusion that although we cling to a “self” where there is no self and an “other” where there is no other, this is due to the power of mind’s delusion, and in fact there is no such thing as a “self” or a “sentient being” that is established from the side of things themselves.
The Absence of ‘Self’ in Phenomena
Secondly, when it comes to the selflessness of phenomena, there are the four applications of mindfulness.
(i) Application of Mindfulness to the Body
All phenomena of appearance and existence—saṃsāra and nirvāṇa—are simply appearances arising in our own mind, and do not have the slightest existence apart from that which we attribute to them with our minds. This very mind also depends on the body, and so we should investigate the physical body by asking questions, such as:
- Is what we call the “body” the same as or different from the assembly of its parts?
- Where does the body originate?
- Where does it remain?
- Where does it go in the end?
Finally, we should rest evenly in meditation on the theme of the body’s unreality.
Whenever we experience physical desire or attachment, we must meditate upon the impurity and ‘illusoriness’ of our own and others’ bodies, and we will overcome attachment towards the physical body.
(ii) Application of Mindfulness to Feelings
Feelings of pleasure and pain are the basis for negative states of mind such as craving and attachment, so we must investigate whether they are the same as or different from the mind and so on. Meditate on the unreality of feelings, and consider how all other [i.e., neutral] feelings are ultimately suffering, without essence and so on.
(iii) Application of Mindfulness to the Mind
Consider the mind that is made up of the ‘six collections of consciousness’, and investigate whether this stream of consciousness, appearing in various aspects—earlier and later moments, positive and negative states and so on—is a single thing or several different things. Consider whether all these various states of mind that appear—like and dislike, faith and lack of faith, states in accord with the Dharma and not in accord with the Dharma, happiness and sadness, attachment and aversion, and so on—are the same or different. If we decide that they are one, consider what the cause could be for a single mind appearing in several modes, such as happy, sad, desirous, angry and so on. If we think that these states arise due to temporary circumstances, then consider what mind is like in its essence, when it is not even slightly affected by conditions and not in contact with any object. Is it existent? Or is it non-existent? Is it permanent? Or impermanent? Analyze the mind again and again with thoughts such as these, and arrive at the certain conviction that mind is without basis or origin.
(iv) Application of Mindfulness to Phenomena
Recognize with certainty how all phenomena other than the body, feelings and the mind—everything included within the three categories of perceptions, formations and the unconditioned— also arise through the interdependence of causes and conditions, and are therefore lacking in true reality. Know them to be simply emptiness beyond every kind of conceptual elaboration.
4. THE RESULT OF PRACTISING IN THAT WAY
By seeing the relative to be a mere display like a magical illusion or the experiences of a dream, we will train in vast enlightened activity in which the seven kinds of attachment are relinquished. And with the understanding that on the ultimate level all things and events lack even so much as an atom’s worth of true existence, we will take this practice to heart without becoming attached to anything whatsoever.
May the Dharma, suffering’s only cure,
And the source of all real happiness,
Always be valued and respected,
And remain long into the future!
This was spoken by Ragged Abu.
May all be virtuous and auspicious!
o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po. "byang chub sems dpa'i spyod pa la 'jug pa'i sgom rim rab gsal nyi ma/" in gsung 'bum/_o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po. TBRC W1PD107142. 8 vols. khreng tu'u: si khron dpe skrun tshogs pa/ si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2009, vol. 3: 174–195
Bachelor, Stephen, trans. A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1979.
Crosby, Kate and Andrew Skilton, trans. The Bodhicaryāvatāra. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Dalai Lama, H. H. A Flash of Lightning in the Dark of Night: A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, 1994.
Hopkins, Jeffrey. Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation: Nagarjuna's Precious Garland. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1998.
Shantideva. The Way of the Bodhisattva. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Revised Edition. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications, 2006.
Wallace, Vesna and Alan Wallace, trans. A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 1996.
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Bodhicaryāvatāra, I, 1. ↩
Abhisamayālaṃkāra, I, 18. ↩
Patrul Rinpoche expects his audience to be familiar with the Bodhicaryāvatāra, or to be reading it together with this text. Whenever he quotes from Śāntideva’s work he gives only the first few syllables of a verse. For this translation however we have given the verses in their entirety. ↩
The eight types of offering are real things which includes (i) one’s own possessions, (ii) things that are unowned, and (iii) and one’s own body; offerings created through one’s imagination including (iv) a ceremonial bath, and (v) pleasant substances; (vi) offerings made through the power of aspiration; (vii) unsurpassable offering; and (viii) melodious praise. ↩
Alak Zenkar Rinpoche gives the example of misusing our intelligence when we reflect on how all sentient beings have been our fathers and mothers in the past. By thinking about this in the wrong way we might decide that all beings have harmed us in the past and so they are all our enemies! That would be using our intelligence in the wrong way. ↩
These reasons are given in Bodhicaryāvatāra, VI, 21. ↩
Bodhicaryāvatāra, VIII, 90. ↩
Suhṛllekha, v 68. ↩
Alak Zenkar Rinpoche says a modern analogy for this would be clearing the snow from our own driveway, but not from anyone else’s. ↩
For an alternative translation, see Hopkins, J. Buddhist Advice for Living and Liberation, Snow Lion, p.162 ↩
According to Alak Zenkar Rinpoche, this means neutral feelings. They are still suffering in the broadest sense, because they come under the category of the all-pervasive suffering of conditioned existence. ↩
According to Ārya Asaṅga’s commentary on the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, where they are explained in connection with the pāramitā of generosity, the seven kinds of attachment are: (1) attachment to possessions, (2) postponing the practice, (3) being satisfied with just a little practice, (4) expectation of something in return, (5) karmic results, (6) adverse circumstances, and (7) distractions. ↩
Bodhicaryāvatāra, X, 57. ↩