The Sanskrit term bodhicitta (mind of awakening) refers to the state of mind of a bodhisattva, who pursues buddhahood in order to benefit others.

There are two primary aspects:

  • A conventional aspect of a bodhisattva who aspires to buddhahood; and
  • An ultimate aspect, which is actualized when the nature of mind of a bodhisattva awakens.

The conventional aspect also has two levels:

(1) aspirational (praṇidhāna) bodhicitta, in which the bodhisattva takes a vow to attain buddhahood for the benefit of others; and (2) practical bodhicitta, which refers to actual practice on the path.

Bodhicitta is the key concept that separates the two main traditions of Indian Buddhism, Mahayana (“Greater Vehicle”) and Hinayana (“Lesser Vehicle”). The latter is a polemical term (rejected by those to whom it is applied) coined by their Mahayana rivals. Mahayanists characterize the Hinayana pursuit of personal liberation as selfish and valorize the universal compassion of bodhisattvas, who are portrayed as mighty heroes who pursue the supreme religious goal because of their universal compassion. Note that, in Tibetan, the term bodhicitta is byang chub kyi sems. In East Asia, the term is written as 菩提心 and pronounced in Mandarin as pútí xīn; in Japanese as bodaishin; in Korean as pori sim; and in Vietnamese as bồ đề tâm.

In Tibetan Byang indicates purification; we can understand that through purification of all mental obscurations it’s possible for the mind to directly know all phenomena. Chub indicates enhancing our good qualities so we can attain that state. In this way byang chub connotes that the awakening that comes about by completing the purification process is omniscience—buddhahood with the four buddha bodies.

Similarly, Tibetan translators rendered the word “buddha” as sangs rgyas (pronounced sang gyey). Sangs means to eliminate, and refers to the eradicating of all faults and obscurations, and rgyas means to expand, in the sense of knowing all phenomena and actualizing all excellent qualities. Someone who has done this is sangs rgyas, or buddha. Bodhicitta is a primary mental consciousness. As such, it is accompanied by (is concomitant with) various mental factors, a principal one being the aspiration to attain full awakening. How does this aspiration arise? Contemplation of the kindness of sentient beings and their duḥkha in saṃsāra causes great compassion, which is a mental factor wishing sentient beings to be free from suffering. 

Bodhicitta is to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self.The mind of great compassion and bodhicitta motivates one to attain enlightenment Buddhahood, as quickly as possible and benefit infinite sentient beings through their emanations and other skillful means. Bodhicitta is a felt need to replace others’ suffering with bliss. Since the ultimate end of suffering is nirvana, bodhicitta necessarily involves a motivation to help others to awaken (to find bodhi). A person who has a spontaneous realization or motivation of bodhicitta is called a bodhisattva.

Peace and Love, Jim

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