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In Buddhism, bodhicitta[a] (Sanskrit: बोधिचित्त; Chinese: 菩提心, putixin; Japanese: bodaishin; Standard Tibetan: བྱང་ཆུབ་ཀྱི་སེམས་, Wylie transliteration: byang chub kyi sems; Mongolian: бодь сэтгэл; Vietnamese: Bồ-đề tâm), "enlightenment-mind", is the mind that strives toward awakening and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings.


Etymologically, the word is a combination of the Sanskrit words bodhi and citta. Bodhi means "awakening" or "enlightenment". Citta derives from the Sanskrit root cit, and means "that which is conscious" (i.e., mind or consciousness). Bodhicitta may be translated as "awakening mind" or "mind of enlightenment".


Bodhicitta is a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings, accompanied by a falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existing self.

The mind of great compassion and bodhicitta motivates one to attain enlightenment Buddhahood, as quickly as possible and benefit infinite sentient beings through their emanations and other skillful means. Bodhicitta is a felt need to replace others' suffering with bliss. Since the ultimate end of suffering is moksha, bodhicitta necessarily involves a motivation to help others to awaken (to find bodhi).

A person who has a spontaneous realization or motivation of bodhicitta is called a bodhisattva.


Different schools may demonstrate alternative understandings of bodhicitta.

One tradition distinguishes between relative and absolute (or ultimate) bodhicitta. Relative bodhicitta is a state of mind in which the practitioner works for the good of all beings as if it were his own. Absolute bodhicitta is the wisdom of shunyata (śunyatā, a Sanskrit term often translated as "emptiness", though the alternatives "openness" or "spaciousness" probably convey the idea better to Westerners).[1] The concept of śunyatā in Buddhist thought does not refer to nothingness, but to freedom from attachments[b] and from fixed ideas about the world and how it should be.[c]

Some bodhicitta practices emphasize the absolute (e.g. vipaśyanā), while others emphasize the relative (e.g. metta), but both aspects are seen in all Mahāyāna practice as essential to enlightenment, especially in the Tibetan practices of tonglen and lojong. Without the absolute, the relative can degenerate into pity and sentimentality, whereas the absolute without the relative can lead to nihilism and lack of desire to engage other sentient beings for their benefit.

In his book Words of My Perfect Teacher, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Patrul Rinpoche describes three degrees of bodhicitta:[2]

The first
The way of the King, who primarily seeks his own benefit but who recognizes that his benefit depends crucially on that of his kingdom and his subjects.
The second

The path of the boatman, who ferries his passengers across the river and simultaneously, of course, ferries himself as well.

The third

That of the shepherd, who makes sure that all his sheep arrive safely ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.

Origins and development[edit]

Use in early Mahāyāna[edit]

Describing use of the term bodhicitta in Tibetan Buddhism, Paul Williams writes that the term is used differently in early Mahāyāna works, referring to a state of mind in which a bodhisattva carries out actions:[3]

We are describing here the late systematized Indo-Tibetan Mahāyāna. It seems that in the relatively early Ugraparipṛcchā Sūtra, for example, the bodhicitta is a much vaguer concept, more "a certain state of mind" in which a Bodhisattva acts (Nattier 2003a: 148). [...] Pagel points out that many Mahāyāna sūtras, including the Bodhisattvapiṭaka, hold that the arising of bodhicitta (bodhicittotpāda) is not simply a static thing that occurs just at the beginning of the Bodhisattva path. Rather it is continuously retaken and evolves through practice.

Late Mahāyāna texts[edit]

Among the most important later source texts on bodhicitta, used by traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, are:


Mahayana Buddhism propagates the Bodhisattva-ideal, in which the Six perfections are being practiced. Arousing bodhicitta is part of this Bodhisattva-ideal.


In Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism, the goal of Buddhist practice is primarily to be reborn infinite numbers of times to liberate all those other beings still trapped in samsāra.


Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that the broader motivation of achieving one's own enlightenment "in order to help all sentient beings" is the best possible motivation one can have for any action, whether it be working in one's vocation, teaching others, or even making an incense offering. The Six Perfections (Pāramitās) of Buddhism only become true "perfections" when they are done with the motivation of bodhicitta. Thus, the action of giving (Skt. dāna) can be done in a mundane sense, or it can be a Pāramitā if it is conjoined with bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is the primary positive factor to be cultivated.


The Mahāyāna-tradition provides specific methods for the intentional cultivation of both absolute and relative bodhicitta. This cultivation is considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of the path to complete awakening. Practitioners of the Mahāyāna make it their primary goal to develop a genuine, uncontrived bodhicitta which remains within their mindstreams continuously without having to rely on conscious effort.

Among the many methods for developing uncontrived Bodhicitta given in Mahāyāna teachings are:

  • Contemplation of the Four Immeasurables (Brahmaviharas):
    • Immeasurable Loving-Kindness (Maitri),
    • Immeasurable Compassion (Karunā),
    • Immeasurable Joy in the Good Fortune of Others (Mudita), and
    • Immeasurable Equanimity (Upeksa)
  • The practice of the Pāramitās (Generosity, Patience, Virtue, Effort, Meditation, and Insight).
  • The Taking and Sending (tonglen) practice, in which one takes in the pain and suffering of others on the inbreath and sends them love, joy, and healing on the outbreath,[7] and the Lojong (mind training) practices of which tonglen forms a part.[6]
  • Viewing all other sentient beings as having been our mothers in infinite past lives, and feeling gratitude for the many occasions on which they have taken care of us.

Two Practice Lineages[edit]

Tibetan Buddhists maintain that there are two main ways to cultivate Bodhichitta,the Seven Causes and Effects that originates from Maitreya and was taught by Atisha,and Exchanging Self and Others,taught by Shantideva and originally by Manjushri.

According to Tsongkapa the seven causes and effects are-

  1. Recognizing all beings as your mothers
  2. Recollecting their kindness
  3. The wish to repay their kindness
  4. Love
  5. Great compassion
  6. Wholehearted resolve
  7. Bodhichitta

According to Pabongka Rinpoche the second method consists of the following meditations[8][9]

  1. how self and others are equal
  2. contemplating the many faults resulting from self cherishing
  3. contemplating the many good qualities resulting from cherishing others
  4. the actual contemplation on the interchange of self and others
  5. with these serving as the basis,the way to meditate on giving and taking[tong len].


The practice and realization of bodhicitta are independent of sectarian considerations, since they are fundamentally a part of the human experience. Bodhisattvas are not only recognized in the Theravāda school of Buddhism,[10] but in all other religious traditions and among those of no formal religious tradition. The present fourteenth Dalai Lama, for instance, regarded Mother Teresa as one of the greatest modern bodhisattvas.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For definitions of the components of the term see Wiktionary: bodhi and citta.
  2. ^ particularly attachment to the idea of a static or essential self
  3. ^ The classic text on śunyatā is the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sūtra, a discourse of the Buddha commonly referred to as the "Heart Sūtra".


  1. ^ see e.g. Chogyam Trungpa, 'Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism', Shambhala Publications, pages 197-199
  2. ^ Patrul Rinpoche, Words of my perfect teacher.
  3. ^ Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2008. p. 355
  4. ^ The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva
  5. ^ Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind
  6. ^ a b Tonglen and Mind Training Community Site
  7. ^ Pema Chodron on Tonglen
  8. ^ Tsongkapa,The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment Volume 2,Snow Lion,2004,p28
  9. ^ Pabongka Rinpoche,Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand,Wisdom,1991,p598
  10. ^ Gems of Buddhist Wisdom. Publications of the Buddhist Missionary Society. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1983, page 461-471
  11. ^ An Open Heart: Dalai Lama, Richard Gere et al., Page 23


  • White, Kenneth R. 2005. The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment. New York : The Edwin Mellen Press. [includes translations of the following: Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, Sammaya-kaijo]
  • Lampert, K.(2005); Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan
  • Steps on the Path to Enlightenment. Vol. 1. Geshe Lhundub Sopa w/ David Pratt. 2004
  • An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Peter Harvey. 2000
  • Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Santideva. (Translation) Marion L. Matics. 1970
  • The World of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama. 1995
  • Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. John Powers. 1995
  • A Guide to the Buddhist Path. Sangharakshita. 1990

External links[edit]