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Motivation is one of the possible translations of the Tibetan term kun long (Tib. ཀུན་སློང་, Wyl. kun slong).

Meaning of the Term Kun Long

His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes:

Translated literally, the participle kun means ”thoroughly” or ”from the depths” and long(wa) denotes the act of causing something to stand up, to arise, or to awaken. [...] It is difficult to translate kun long succinctly. Generally, it is rendered simply as ”motivation”, but this clearly does not capture the full range of its meaning. The word ”disposition”, although it comes quite close, lacks the active sense of the Tibetan. On the other hand, to use the phrase ”overall state of heart and mind” seems unnecessarily long. Arguably, it could be abbreviated to ”mind-state”, but this would ignore the wider meaning of mind as it is used in Tibetan.[1]

In the English edition of the Zindri, kun long has been translated as "attitude" and we can find the following explanation:

The Tibetan word for "attitude"—literally, "causing to arise from all"—can be explained as follows. "All" (kun) is a word denoting multiplicity, so "attitude" means that of the many thoughts that one has, one may give rise to a particular thought. There are three types of attitudes: negative, neutral, and positive.[2]

The General Motivation of the Different Yanas

Vehicle of the Gods and Humans

The worldly vehicle, or vehicle of gods and humans, takes one from existence in the three lower realms―the hell realms, the hungry ghost realm, and the animal realm—to the level of gods and humans in the higher realms. The motivation is that of striving to attain higher rebirth.[3]

Basic Vehicle―Shravaka Yana & Pratyekabuddha Yana

Both shravakas and pratyekabuddhas are motivated by a feeling of renunciation, the wish to escape from all the realms of samsara by themselves alone. With this motivation, they take up any one of the seven sets of pratimoksha vows and then keep them unimpaired.

Bodhisattva yana

The bodhisattvas practise on the basis of their wish to benefit others. They are motivated by bodhichitta, which has as its focus all sentient beings and is characterized by the wish to establish them all at the level of perfect buddhahood, free from the causes and effects of suffering and endowed with all the causes and effects of happiness. With this motivation, they take the bodhisattva vows of aspiration and application in the proper way, through the ritual of either the tradition of Profound View or Vast Conduct. They then observe the points of discipline concerning what should be adopted and abandoned, and heal and purify any impairments.[4]


Vajrayana is also based on the motivation of bodhichitta—the wish to attain, for the sake of others, the state of complete enlightenment—and is a path centred on cultivating pure perception.


In terms of Dzogchen the motivation is also that of bodhichitta: “What is arousing bodhichitta according to the uncommon approach of Dzogchen? This is something that is not even mentioned in the other vehicles. It is "summoning forth or evoking mind as wisdom." There is a difference between "generating bodhichitta using the mind" and "summoning forth or evoking mind as wisdom." What is the uniqueness of generating the heart of the enlightened mind "as wisdom"? It begins from the same premise as the motivation of the sutra vehicle, from the realization that "all sentient beings who do not realize shunyata and who are deluded wander endlessly in the ocean of samsara." But the key point here is that all these sentient beings are recognized as having within themselves inherent wisdom, self-abiding dharmakaya―the self-knowing rigpa, the unity of space and wisdom, that is the actual lama who is the all-pervasive sovereign, the glorious primordial buddha Samantabhadra. That actually resides within us all, and so we wish: "May I be able to bring all sentient beings to the level where they realize this."[5]


  1. Ethics for a New Millenium, Chapter 2.
  2. Zindri, page 18.
  3. Khenpo Ngawang Palzang, A Guide to the Words of My Perfect Teacher, Translated by Padmakara Translation Group, published by Shambhala Publications ISBN 1-59030-073-4
  4. LotsawaHouse-tag.png A Brief Presentation of the Nine Yanas by Alak Zenkar Rinpoche
  5. Nyoshul Khenpo. Translated by Richard Barron. A Marvellous Garland of Rare Gems, Introduction by Sogyal Rinpoche. Padma Publishing 2005. ISBN 1-881847-41-1