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Friday, January 30, 2004

Bodhicitta: The Awakened Mind

In my last note, I discussed the ideas of purpose, intention, aspiration and motivation. There is a lot of talk in the Yoga communtiy of the importance of intention, but today I would like to look at the deeper understanding of aligning our intention with our motivation. We may have plenty of wonderful intentions, but it is motivation, as the word itself points to, that literally "moves us." Also, as folk wisdom points out, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." We can have the best intention to help someone, for instance, but if we do not first take the time to look deeply into the actual situation, our actions may lead to further suffering. We need first of all a deep understanding before we can fulfill our intention, and this understanding has to do with the motivation we have behind the intention.

In the teachings of the Mahayana, the ultimate motivation is called bodhicitta. The sanskrit literally means, "the awakened mind" or "the mind of enlightenment." The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion describes it from the Tibetan tradition as having two aspects, relative and absolute. The relative "mind of enlightenment" itself has two phases (1) the intention and wish, nurtured by limitless compassion, to attain liberation (nirvana) for the sake of the welfare of all beings and (2) actual entry into meditation, the purpose of which is the acquistion fo the appropriate means to actualize this wish." The absolute bodhicitta is viewed as "the vision of the true nature (shunyata or emptiness) of phenomena."

A perhaps simpler and clearer description comes from, not surprisingly, Thich Nhat Hanh who writes, "Our 'mind of love' is the deep wish to cultivate understanding in ourselves in order to bring happiness to many beings. It is the motivating force for the practice of mindful living. With bodhicitta at the foundation of our thinking, everything we do or say will help others be liberated."

Bodhicitta is the deep wish and motivation to be awake ourselves so that we can act from the clear understanding of reality as it is. Without bodhicitta, our intention to help someone may actually cause more suffering as we are likely to act from our own notions and ideas about what is best for that person. Our ideology and perception of what the other needs comes between us and an intimate understanding, and so our actions are unskilful and often unhelpful or inappropriate. But if our underlying motivation is to be awake and to stay awake, then we remain open to reality as it is, and our actions will, as Thay says, "help others be liberated."

The good news is that we can actually cultivate this motivation to stay awake for the sake of all beings throughout the day with simple and direct practices. We can print in our own hand the following verse or gatha and place it beside our bed so that it is the first thought we consciously cultivate:

Waking up this morning, I smile
A new day is before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment,
and to look at all beings with eyes
of compassion.

Then before our practice of meditation and/or asana, we can silently recite to ourselves the following aspiration: "May I develop a clear and sincere heart for the sake of the world."

And at the conclusion of our formal practice, we can take a moment to share the fruits of our practice: "Whatever merit I may have accumulated through my practice I dedicate and offer all of it to the spiritual welfare of all sentient beings throughout the world. May my life be of benefit to all beings."

As bodhicitta grows, we develop the greater resources to face and move through resistance. With the motivation to simply stay awake, our practice is not to reject or suppress whatever arises, but to stay awake to it and inquire into its true nature.

May all beings be free. May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful.

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 2:28 PM

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