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Bodhichitta (Skt. bodhicitta; Tib. བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་, chang chub kyi sem, Wyl. byang chub kyi sems) is the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.


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Buddhist scholars have debated whether bodhichitta is to be categorized as the 'main mind' (tso sem) or a 'mental state' (sem jung). Asanga and Vasubandhu were among those claiming it is a mental state, while Arya Vimuktasena and Haribhadra believe that it is the main mind. In his Light on the 25,000 Verses (Tib. ཉི་ཁྲིད་སྣང་བ་, nyi khrid snang ba), Arya Vimuktasena specifies that it is the mental consciousness (Tib. ཡིད་ཀྱི་རྣམ་ཤེས་, yid kyi rnam shes).


Arya Vimuktisena

Literal Meaning/Etymology

Bodhi means our ‘enlightened essence’ and chitta (Skt. citta) means ‘heart’ or 'mind', hence the translation ‘the heart of enlightened mind’.

Scholarly Definitions

The most famous definition of bodhichitta appears in Maitreya's Abhisamayalankara:

Arousing bodhichitta is: for the sake of others,
Longing to attain complete enlightenment.[1]

This has twin aspects or purposes: 1) focusing on sentient beings with compassion, and 2) focusing on complete enlightenment with wisdom.

Khenpo Pema Vajra defines bodhichitta as "the wish to attain enlightenment in order to free all other sentient beings from the sufferings of existence and lead them to the unsurpassable bliss of omniscience."[2]

Khenpo Tsöndrü defines the generation of bodhichitta as "a special type of mental consciousness endowed with two aspects, inspired by the cause, longing to bring about the welfare of others, and accompanied by the support, longing to attain complete and perfect awakening."[3]


Shantideva, author of the Bodhicharyavatara

Absolute & Relative

Bodhichitta is categorized into ‘relative’ or ‘conventional bodhichitta’, and ‘absolute bodhichitta’.

  • Relative bodhichitta entails the compassionate wish to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings and to train in the methods to achieve that aim.
  • Absolute bodhichitta is the direct insight into the absolute nature of things.

Aspiration & Action

Within relative bodhichitta there is also the distinction between ‘bodhichitta in aspiration’ and ‘bodhichitta in action’, which is portrayed by Shantideva as the difference between deciding to go somewhere and actually making the journey:

Understand that, briefly stated,
Bodhicitta has two aspects:
The mind aspiring to awaken,
And actual application.
Just as one understands the difference
Between wishing to go and going on a journey,
The wise should understand these two,
Recognizing their difference and their order.[4]
༈ བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་དེ་མདོར་བསྡུས་ན། །
རྣམ་པ་གཉིས་སུ་ཤེས་བྱ་སྟེ། །
བྱང་ཆུབ་སྨོན་པའི་སེམས་དང་ནི། །
བྱང་ཆུབ་འཇུག་པ་ཉིད་ཡིན་ནོ། །

འགྲོ་བར་འདོད་དང་འགྲོ་བ་ཡི། །
བྱེ་བྲག་ཇི་ལྟར་ཤེས་པ་ལྟར། །
དེ་བཞིན་མཁས་པས་འདི་གཉིས་ཀྱི། །
བྱེ་བྲག་རིམ་བཞིན་ཤེས་པར་བྱ། །

The Three Types of Commitment

(In The Words of My Perfect Teacher this is called Classification based on the three degrees of courage) (Three degrees of courage - Tib. བློ་སྟོབས་ཀྱི་ཁྱད་པར་གྱིས་དབྱེ་ན་གསུམ་ཡོད་དེ། Wyl. blo stobs kyi khyad par gyis dbye na gsum yod de)

  1. the king's way of arousing bodhichitta, with the great wish, is the least courageous of the three. (Tib. དང་པོ་རྒྱལ་པོ་ལྟ་བུ་ནི་འདོད་ཆེན་པོའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་ཅེས་བྱ་སྟེ་བློ་སྟོབས་ཐ་མ་ཡིན། Wyl. dang po rgyal pol ta bu ni ‘dod chen po’i sems bskyed ces bya ste blo stobs tha ma yin)
  2. the boatman's way of arousing bodhichitta, with sacred wisdom, is more courageous. (Tib. གཉིས་པ་མཉན་པ་ལྟ་བུ་ནི། ཡེ་ཤེས་དམ་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་ཅེས་བྱ་སྟེ། བློ་སྟོབས་འབྲིང་པོ་ཡིན་ཞིང་། Wyl. gnyis pa mnyan pa lta bu ni| ye shes dam pa’i sems bskyed ces bya ste| blo stobs ‘bring po yin zhing|)
  3. the shepherd's way of arousing bodhichitta, beyond compare, is the most courageous of all ( Tib. རྫི་བོ་ལྟ་བུ་ནི་དཔེ་མེད་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་ཅེས་བྱ་སྟེ། ཤིན་ཏུ་བློ་སྟོབས་ཆེན་པོ་དང་ལྡན་པ། Wyl. rdzi bo lta bu’i dpe med pa’i sems bskyed ces bya ste| shin tub lo stobs chen po dang ldan pa)

Four Types of Bodhichitta According to the Paths and Levels

Bodhichitta can also be divided according to the five paths and ten bhumis:

  1. bodhichitta of aspiring conduct (Tib. མོས་པས་སྤྱོད་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་, Wyl. mos pas spyod pa'i sems bskyed ) (path of accumulation onwards)
  2. bodhichitta of pure noble intention (Tib. ལྷག་བསམ་རྣམ་དག་གི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་, Wyl. lhag bsam rnam dag gi sems bskyed) (first bhumi onwards)
  3. bodhichitta of full maturation (Tib. རྣམ་པར་སྨིན་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་, Wyl. rnam par smin pa'i sems bskyed ) (eighth bhumi onwards)
  4. bodhichitta free from all obscurations (Tib. སྒྲིབ་པ་སྤངས་པའི་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་, Wyl. sgrib pa spangs pa'i sems bskyed ) (at the level of buddhahood)

There is also a division into twenty-two similes of bodhichitta, and the Sagaramatiparipriccha Sutra (Tib. བློ་གྲོས་རྒྱ་མཚོས་ཞུས་པའི་མདོ་, Wyl. blo gros rgya mtshos zhus pa'i mdo) mentions a classification according to eighty inexhaustibles which are discussed in Mipham Rinpoche's Khenjuk.

The Actual Training in Bodhichitta

Patrul Rinpoche courtesy of Shechen Monastery

Patrul Rinpoche says[5] that the training in bodhichitta has three elements:

  1. training in the cause by meditating on the four immeasurables,
  2. the actual training, which is to practise taking the vow of bodhichitta three times during the day and three times at night,
  3. and the training in the precepts, the meditations on equalizing and exchanging yourself and others, and consider others as more important than yourself.

The actual training in bodhichitta is to take the vow of bodhichitta by means of any formal practice—whether elaborate, medium or short—at the six times of the day and night, i.e., at dawn, mid-morning, midday, afternoon, dusk and midnight.

  • 'Equalizing self and others’ means recognizing the equality of yourself and others in wishing to find happiness and wishing to avoid suffering.
  • ‘Exchanging self and others’ means giving your own happiness to other sentient beings, and taking their suffering upon yourself.
  • ‘Considering others as more important than yourself’ means setting aside your own benefit and accomplishing the benefit of others.

If you apply yourself to these practices, Patrul Rinpoche says, then you will never forget the mind of bodhichitta in all your future lives, and all the qualities of the bhumis and paths will develop and increase like the waxing moon.

Bodhichitta in Dzogchen

In a Dzogchen context, especially in the teachings of the category of mind, bodhichitta is used to refer to the awakened mind, or rigpa. In Chapter 12 of the Treasury of the Dharmadhatu[6], Longchenpa explains the literal meaning of bodhichitta in Dzogchen:

Within the broad expanse, the ground of naturally arising wisdom,
There has never been any flaw, and so, untainted by samsara, it is pure (Tib. བྱང་, chang).
Enlightened qualities are present spontaneously, and therefore, beyond cause and effect, it is consummate (Tib. ཆུབ་, chub).
In essence it is self-aware pure luminosity, and therefore it is mind (Tib. སེམས་, sem)—
Within this bodhichitta, the awakened mind, utterly pure, all is contained.
༈ རང་བྱུང་ཡེ་ཤེས་གཞི་ཀློང་ཡངས་པ་ལ། །
ཡེ་ནས་དྲི་མེད་འཁོར་བས་མ་གོས་བྱང༌། །
ཡོན་ཏན་ལྷུན་གྲུབ་རྒྱུ་འབྲས་འདས་པར་ཆུབ། །
རང་རིག་སྙིང་པོ་འོད་གསལ་དག་པས་སེམས། །
བྱང་ཆུབ་སེམས་སུ་ཀུན་འདུས་རྣམ་པར་དག །

This is his commentary[7] on the verse:

"Within the essence of rigpa, there has never been any flaw and so, since there has never been any experience of samsara, it is pure (བྱང་, chang).
Within that very essence, enlightened qualities are spontaneously present, and so it is consummate (ཆུབ་, chub) and can arise as anything at all.
It is mind (སེམས་, sem) because its compassionate responsiveness is all-pervasive and extends throughout all samsara and nirvana, and it is clear light; and because it arises as our own individual self-knowing rigpa."
༈ རིག་པའི་ངོ་བོ་ལ་དྲི་མ་ཡེ་ནས་མེད་པས་འཁོར་བ་ཡོད་མ་མྱོང་བའི་ཕྱིར་བྱང་བཞེས་བྱའོ། །
སྙིང་པོ་དེ་ཉིད་ལ་ཡོན་ཏན་ལྷུན་གྱིས་གྲུབ་པས་ཆུབ་པ་སྟེ། །གང་ཡང་འཆར་རུང་དུ་ཡོད་པའི་ཕྱིར་རོ། །
ཐུགས་རྗེ་ཀུན་ཁྱབ་ཏུ་གནས་པས་འཁོར་འདས་ཀུན་ལ་ཁྱབ་ཅིང་འོད་གསལ་བའི་ཕྱིར་དང་སོ་སོ་རང་རིག་པར་སྐྱེས་པའི་ཕྱིར་སེམས་ཞེས་བྱའོ། །


  1. སེམས་བསྐྱེད་པ་ནི་གཞན་དོན་ཕྱིར། །
    ཡང་དག་རྫོགས་པའི་བྱང་ཆུབ་འདོད། །

    Arousing bodhicitta is: For the sake of others,
    Longing to attain complete enlightenment.

    Maitreya, Ornament of Clear Realization, I, 18

  2. ༈ གཞན་སེམས་ཅན་ཐམས་ཅད་སྲིད་པའི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་ལས་བསྒྲལ་ཏེ་ཐམས་ཅད་མཁྱེན་པའི་བདེ་བ་བླ་ན་མེད་པ་ལ་འཇོག་པའི་དོན་གྱི་ཆེད་དུ་བྱང་ཆུབ་ཐོབ་པར་འདོད་པ།, gzhan sems can thams cad srid pa'i sdug bsngal las bsgral te thams cad mkhyen pa'i bde ba bla na med pa la 'jog pa'i don gyi ched du byang chub thob par 'dod pa from Notes on Bodhichitta to Illuminate the Path of the Victorious One's Heirs.
  3. The Words of Jikmé Chökyi Wangpo: A Commentary Presenting the Subject Matter of the Great Treatise, the Abhisamayalankara
  4. Bodhicharyavatara, I, 15 & 16
  5. Translation on Lotsawahouse: Patrul Rinpoche: Essential Refuge and Bodhichitta
  6. see the Seven Treasuries
  7. Longchen Rabjam: A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission (Skt. Dharmadhātu ratna koṣa nāma vṛtti; Tib. ཆོས་དབྱིངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེའི་མཛོད་ཅེས་བྱ་བའི་འགྲེལ་པ།, Wyl. chos dbyings rin po che'i mdzod ces bya ba'i 'grel pa), see the entry for Treasury of Dharmadhatu.

Canonical Litterature


Further Reading

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