Raising Bodhichitta: 7 Point Training


Giving rise to Bodhicitta

After giving rise to the four boundless qualities, we should start learning Bodhicitta. All the lineages in Tibetan Buddhism have their own specific methods of practising Bodhicitta. Here we will introduce the most commonly used practices:  the seven-point training in cause and effect and the Dharma of equanimity in exchanging our own happiness for the suffering of others. We can normally combine these two practices.

1. The seven-point training in cause and effect

In the Dharma of the seven branches of cause and effect there are six causes and one outcome (Bodhicitta): 

1.  regarding all beings as our past mothers

2.  remembering the kindness of others

3.  expressing a sense of gratitude for their kindness

4.  developing love and wishing beings to have happiness

5.  cultivating compassion

6.  developing responsibility 

These are the six causes that lead to the arising of Bodhicitta.

The first cause is regarding all beings as our past mothers.

Sakyamuni Buddha tells us that there is no beginning to samsara, therefore we have already experienced countless previous lives. For every one of those lives we had a body, so we must have had parents. You could say that there is no place in this world that we have not been born in and, similarly, there is not one living being that has not once before been our mother or father. In reality, as we have had an incalculable number of lives in samsara, it is also likely that all living beings have been our mothers and fathers for countless times.

The second is remembering the kindness of others, which is gratitude to all sentient beings for all the good deeds they have performed for us throughout all our lives.

In order to inspire our gratitude, we should recall the time of our life when we felt the most cared for and when everything was the most pleasant. Unselfishly remember the warmth of this care. Remember those, who due to their love for us, gave up so much for us. Consider those who encountered so many hardships and put in so much effort for us, just like our mother, our father, or our grandparents.

Reflect on our mother in this life. In great detail, think about all the different hardships and efforts our mother made in order to help, love, and protect us. In the process of raising us, perhaps our mother could not give us all we needed but still she cared for us with her heart and soul.

Before we were born, our body was formed from the flesh and blood of our mother. When we were in her womb, we were nourished by virtue of our mother’s nutrition. Our birth caused our mother to bear all sorts of suffering and embarrassment. We arrived in this world empty-handed. For us, she gave up her happiness in current and future lives, and she undertook great efforts to raise us into adulthood. Our mother always gave us the best food, even though we were sometimes reluctant to eat it. She was frugal with herself and would buy nice things for us, so that we could be happy. When we were sick our mother would be very anxious and could not bear to see us suffer. We did not understand anything and we were unable to start anything. Our mother taught us many things, from knowing nothing about this world to becoming a good person. In order that our life could be better, our mother did her best to plan and arrange things for us. Whenever our mother thought there would be some form of advantage or benefit for us, she would find a way to do it for us. As long as we were happy our mother was happy, if we were unhappy our mother was unhappy. Due to all the efforts of our mother, we may have many favourable memories. Today, when we think about these memories, we will likely be moved and we will not forget them for the rest of our lives. When our mother started raising us she was young and beautiful. Through all her hardships and efforts she slowly became weak and sick, but she never paid attention to this.

Whenever we arrive at a new place and we see different people, we cannot help but  think that, although I do not remember now, these people before me have truly been my parents for many lives. They raised, cared for, and loved me just like my mother in this life. For my benefit, they experienced many hardships and many painful moments. They loved me just as they are now selflessly providing for their children in this life, without regrets.

The third cause is a sense of gratitude for the kindness of others and the wish that we can repay every sentient being for their great kindness.

Gratitude is a wonderful potential quality of both humans and animals. Even a child with the most abominable tendencies, or even the most savage animal, will demonstrate moments or thoughts of gratitude towards their parent. A person who is grateful and truthful will easily get the love and trust of people. If someone is filled with enmity and worldly concerns, other people may find them ungrateful and morally corrupt, and will quietly distance themselves from that person. We can consciously inspire and develop this potential quality. We should often remind ourselves that we should have profound gratitude to all our mothers and wish that one day we may repay their great kindness. Through continuously inspiring ourselves, this quality will continuously expand and grow.

The fourth cause is love and the wish for beings to have happiness, whereby we give rise to love and peace to all our mothers of all our lives.

Showing loving-kindness towards sentient beings is a way for us to display gratitude towards them and to repay them. In Buddhism it is said that loving-kindness is a great unconditional, vast state of mind and not the attachment that we have towards our loved ones. Our ordinary attachment to our loved ones brings about a strong sense of self-cherishing. It is based on a strong attachment to the self and then extends to the attached love of people with whom we associate. We often think, “He or she is my loved one; I should naturally help him or her, and take good care of him or her.” This is selfish love and our mind is not broad enough.

The fifth cause is vast compassion. Through our own pain and suffering, the feeling of helplessness, and the desire to be liberated from the suffering of samsara, we can imagine that all sentient beings, just like ourselves, wish to be free from all suffering. All of them are helpless and they all wish to be liberated from suffering. However, since sentient beings do not understand their choices in the functioning of cause and effect, they do not know the methods for liberation. Since nobody guides them, without any choice, they float along in samsara according to their karma. This is truly a great pity!

Every person has a kind element to them no matter how evil their qualities. When we see our loved ones suffering, loving-kindness and compassion will arise in us. Even the most savage animal will demonstrate tender loving care to its offspring. If we can continuously aspire to these positive qualities, we can gradually make our narrow minds more positive and remove our indifference, our hatred, our jealousy, and all our negative emotions. Then our loving-kindness will continuously grow but we must practise it often. Thereafter, no matter what sentient being you encounter, sincere loving-kindness and compassion will arise.

The sixth cause is increasing responsibility, which is the strong feeling of duty to rescue all sentient beings.

Although every sentient being wishes to be free from suffering and to have happiness, nobody guides them in the methods to attain these goals. They seek to achieve that which goes against their best interests. Every single sentient being has been immeasurably kind to us, just like our mother in this life. In the case of children, if we do not go and help them, then who will?

Sentient beings are just like our mothers.  As their children, it is our duty to help them attain happiness and all the causes of happiness, and be free from suffering and all the causes of suffering. The greater our awareness of the unbearable suffering of sentient beings, the more profound will be our gratitude and loving-kindness towards them. In addition, our feeling of responsibility to rescue them will increase. With this strong sense of responsibility, the heartfelt wish to devote our best efforts to help and to benefit sentient beings will naturally arise.

When the above six causes have come to fruition they will generate Bodhicitta.

When we have given rise to the sense of responsibility to rescue all sentient beings, we will find ways to attain this purpose. There are only two methods to help free sentient beings from suffering in this life and the next. The first is to assist sentient beings in understanding the principle of cause and effect. We should encourage them to stop negative thoughts and actions, and to think and act positively. In this way the merit of attaining a human or godly realm will continuously increase and in the next life we will not fall into the lower realms. The second is for sentient beings to realise the wisdom of emptiness and completely reject the concept of self and the belief in the existence of independent phenomena.  We need to purify all our habitual tendencies and afflictive emotions. In this way we will permanently be free from the suffering of samsara. This is the ultimate method. In order to rescue sentient beings, so that they may be permanently free from suffering and attain happiness, we ourselves must attain the perfect wisdom of emptiness and the omniscience of Buddha. This means attaining Buddhahood in order to benefit sentient beings. Obtaining the omniscience of Buddha is to attain the same state as Buddha. This way is called aspiring to Bodhicitta.

In the beginning, it is very difficult to give rise to loving-kindness towards all sentient beings. So first begin by visualising individuals and then expand your visualisation to include every single sentient being. This is very important or the visualisation of all related sentient beings will become blurred, and our loving-kindness will not become strong and stable. Then, when we meet other people, we will start to doubt whether we truly wish for them to have happiness. Our visualisation will gradually improve, step by step, starting with the easiest object to visualise and gradually expanding it to include our most difficult object of visualisation. In this way, our loving-kindness towards others will become very, very easy. Eventually, no matter where we are, in whatever situation, our loving-kindness will naturally arise.

This chapter is part of: Introduction Course - Part 2: Bodhichitta