10/20/2013 07:38 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2013

Developing Bodhicitta

In my last blog, "Wanting To Develop Bodhicitta," I explained that because it is not an easy task to develop the universal love and compassion of Bodhicitta, you have to understand how incredibly valuable it is to have these feelings and Bodhicitta motivation. Perhaps you have meditated about the great value of developing Bodhicitta in the interim, and now you are very much interested in trying to develop them.

Verses nine through 14 of my book, Ocean of Compassion, briefly state the two traditional methods that are taught for developing these emotions. These methods are called "the seven-fold cause and effect method" and "the method of exchanging self with others." I explained the seven-fold cause and effect method in a series of episodes of my radio program, that were archived on May 4, 7, 11, 14 and 18 of 2012. I explained the method of exchanging self with others on the episodes archived on May 21 and 25 of 2012, and I archived a guided meditation for exchanging self with others on July 20 2012. In this blog, I will summarize briefly some of the main points of these methods. Each of these methods has particular attainments that are steps on the path to developing Bodhicitta. As with every attainment on the path, these are developed using lojong meditation methods.

Verses 10 and 11 of Ocean of Compassion mention the seven-fold cause and effect method. They go like this:

Recall that a child naturally acts to
Help a mother in distress.
Consider everyone as former mothers.
Assist all; give nothing less.

Develop love universal;
Ponder the kindness of all.
Without the help received from others,
We would have nothing at all.

These two verses explicitly state two of the steps of the seven-fold method and implicitly refer to the remaining five steps of the method. They explicitly state the attainments of recognizing all living beings as having been a mother to us and remembering the kindness of our mother beings. These are steps one and two of the method. Step three is developing the wish to repay the kindness of all of our mother beings. Step four is developing affectionate love for all, step five is developing compassion for all, step six is developing the wish to help others become happy and free of all suffering and step seven is developing the intention to become a Buddha on the basis of believing that Buddhas have the maximum possible capacity to help all others. This method partly builds on our self-love by relying upon the natural desire to repay a kindness we have received.

The method of exchanging self with others is stated in verses 12, 13 and 14:

We are bothered by and want to end
The pain of those we adore.
The kinship we feel gives us a motive;
Their sufferings we abhor.

We feel akin to those viewed as like us;
Reflect on the likeness we bear
To each other as fellows who suffer.
A connection with all, we share.

So put yourself in the place of all others;
Their feelings of woe you will know.
Your new self will want to bar all suffering.
To the end of the path you'll go.

The first verse reminds us that we have a natural disposition to react sympathetically to the suffering of someone we love. We are both pained by their suffering and desire to relieve their suffering. The second reminds us that when someone is viewed as like us in a way that seems important to us, we feel a kinship bond, and we naturally wish them well. This kinship feeling is a step on the path to exchanging self with others, because the sympathy and friendship associated with a kinship relationship helps us to see things from our kin's point of view. The last verse explicitly states that we should exchange ourselves with all others by adopting their points of view as if they were our own. When we put ourselves into the places of others, we have the same concern for them as we have for ourselves, because when we are truly looking at things from their points of view, their views become our own. This method of exchanging self with others is most effective when we employ our understanding of emptiness, to help us replace our normal basis of self-designation with the body and mind of another. The aspect of emptiness that is most important to employ is the fact that it is on the basis of mental designation that we create every object of our experience. Mental designation is the process of marking off one thing from another so as to view a phenomenal experience as being some particular thing. Our understanding of emptiness helps us to realize that the object we experience do not have independent, self-existence and are really mentally created. This is what Shakyamuni Buddha was telling us when he said that we should understand that the objects of our experiences should be thought of as dreams. Buddha taught that on the basis of our phenomenal experiences of what we learn to call our bodies, our speech and our minds we mentally designate a self that we call "me." Since our selves are ultimately mere mental designations and have no independent, self-existence, we can choose to designate our self on the basis of the body, speech and mind of someone else rather than what we have been calling "me." Basically, what we do is observe the body, speech and mental experiences of what has been appearing to us as others and think "me." We work on extending this ability to think "me" with the aim of being able to designate "me" on the basis of every sentient being. When we are successful, just as we wish for our ordinary self to be happy and free of suffering, we now wish for all of our new selves to be happy and free of suffering. If we also believe Buddhas have the maximum possible ability to help others become happy and free from suffering, we will now have Bodhicitta motivation.

In order to practice either method for developing Bodhicitta, we must study them until we understand them clearly. Excellent explanations of these practices are found in The Great Treatise of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (ISBN 10-1559391685) and Joyful Path of Good Fortune (ISBN 10-0948006463)

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.