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All Mahayana Buddhists begin a practice by engendering Bodhicitta, a term that means enlightened, or awakened mind; that is, the Enlightening Attitude.  This means that they call to mind the circumstances of all beings without exception.  This is not necessarily the same as feeling loving-kindness or compassion for everyone. "Love" (Pali: metta) means to wish others to be happy; "Compassion" means wishing others not to suffer.

Bokar Rinpoche, in Chenrezig: Lord of Love used an interesting metaphor: 

"Bodhicitta is the electricity of spiritual practice. If it is cut, nothing works anymore. On the other hand, with bodhicitta, the phases of creation and completion of deities become a true path to awakening; meditation on emptiness becomes a path to awakening; and concentrating on the subtle winds and channels becomes a path to awakening.  Animated [by] bodhicitta, all ordinary activity, all works in the world become a path to awakening."

Karma Khenchen Rinpoche on the Spirit of Enlightenment:

"Bodhicitta is the ground for the cultivation of good karma, the fertilizer by which the Dharma is nourished, and the seed which will ultimately lead to
enlightenment ... ." 

"The Bodhicitta aspiration that is shepherd-like . . .  and indeed admirable and 
romantic. But let us not forget the other two types: that which is oarsman-like (bringing everyone along to arrive at Enlightenment simultaneously) and that which is king-like (leading).  It is not necessary for everyone to be a shepherd -- we do what is practical and suitable for one's propensity and circumstances.

A contributor to the Kagyu email list, BB, wrote:

"According to many teachers, one of the pre-requisites for practicing Vajrayana  -- the so-called swift path -- is to want to attain Enlightenment quickly and badly enough so that one can then help others.  [An overly generous approach such as] "Me last" can become a problem if one does not get far advanced enough with siddhis, wisdom, or other skillful means, to be able to benefit others.  We need always to remember that one of the Six Paramitas (Perfections or Virtues) is Exertion /Diligence.

Some might point to Bodhisattvas such as Arya Avalokitesvara as examples of "always be the last in line."  That might not be all that appropriate, however: Avalokitesvara made His way quickly -- He was Enlightened aeons ago -- to Buddhahood and then willingly fell back to the Tenth Bhumi so that He could stay around as long as necessary to bring all others to Buddhahood. He is at a stage when He has all the power to help others and, if He wanted, He could get into Buddhahood with the snap of fingers. That is hardly the same as those of us who are not even on the Bhumis, with no siddhi [special ability] or realization and lifetimes away from Enlightenment, saying, "I want to stay behind."

Dedicating our merits to all sentient beings is, by the way, not exactly an act of trying to be benefited last. The dedication is soundly based on Emptiness (no self who has gained the merits, nor merits to be gained, nor others to receive the dedication) and it is in and of itself a way to gain infinitely more merits. It is important to be clear on both the Emptiness and Merit / Compassion aspects of the act for it to be more than a mere lip-service or another opportunity for the ego to work out (i.e., "Wow, I am good and heroic. Look -- I place others before myself!").

In Chasing Buddha, Ven. Robina Courtin was shown in one scene marching down the street at a quick pace, with her voice-over saying something like, "When we talk about patience (another one of the Six Paramitas), we really are talking about long-term patience and perseverance. But right here and now, we must get things done!"  It's a rather wonderful movie.

See, the road to Enlightenment is about the "Middle Way" and being flexible. Sometimes you want to be, and even have to be, first; other times, you want to let others be first. By removing the biases of one's ego, and appreciating properly the emptiness of others, then one can make decisions such as "to be first or to be last" perfectly - - THAT's Buddhahood."

~ BB Kagyu Mailing List


HH the Dalai Lama, Imagine All the People:

"Altruism has two aspects. Loving others does not mean that we should forget ourselves. When I say we should be compassionate, this does not mean helping others at the expense of ourselves. Not at all.  Sometimes I say the buddhas and bodhisattvas are the most selfish of all. Why?

Because by cultivating altruism they they achieve ultimate happiness. We, in our selfishness, are very foolish and narrow minded. All we do is create more suffering for ourselves. The selfishness of the buddhas and bodhisattvas is functional and efficient. It allows them to achieve not only awakening, but also the capacity to help others. That is really worthwhile. For me, this proves that to create maximum happiness for oneself, one needs to develop compassion. This is Buddhist logic. If compassion induced misery, then it would be questionable. Why practice something that brings us more trouble? Just imagine if we all lived with no compassion, thinking only of ourselves. We would suffer greatly. The more you think of others, the happier you are. Altruism is intelligent selfishness."

When we realize that our own happiness is tied in with the happiness of all beings, then we have taken the step from the Hinayana -- the narrow or personal view -- to the Mahayana or larger view.  At that stage in development, Buddhists take the Bodhisattva Vow -- to put off individual nirvana until all beings can share in it.  That vow is considered to have 46 corollaries. 


engenderingTo engender means not only to give rise to, but also to make productive.

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