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Bodhichitta in Aspiration and Action

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With a mind supported by the four boundless qualities, we wish all sentient beings to attain complete enlightenment, to be happy and free of suffering. This altruistic wish is called bodhichitta in aspiration. We can aspire to attain enlightenment ourselves first before helping others achieve the same; or to be liberated from cyclic existence together with all sentient beings; or to be like the great bodhisattvas Samantabhadra and Kshitigarbha, who vow not to attain complete enlightenment until all sentient beings have become buddhas. The scope of our aspirations can be either big or small, depending on our individual conditions and capacities, but they are of no difference in terms of quality. Any honest aspiration driven by the genuine desire for the liberation of all sentient beings deserves our admiration. It is not necessary for us to pursue the ultimate vast attitude only for the sake of being a qualified Mahayana bodhisattva.

After we have generated bodhichitta in aspiration, it is conceivable that we may still be selfish and unwise, and our journey remains long before we reach enlightenment. Our actions and speech must therefore rely on the powerful means of the six transcendent perfec-tions to make our aspirations come true. The practice of the six transcendent perfections is called bodhichitta in action, which comprises generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom.

Together, bodhichitta in aspiration and bodhichitta in action are termed relative bodhichitta. Through long-term training in relative bodhichitta to accumulate merit and wisdom, we eventually arrive at direct insight into the uncontrived nature of all phenomena that is called absolute bodhichitta. Absolute bodhichitta can only be realized through spiritual practice, whereas relative bodhichitta are generated through rituals by which we take the bodhisattva vow and are strengthened through various acts of the six transcendent perfections. While beginners’ relative bodhichitta is undoubtedly contrived, persistent mind training will eventually make uncontrived bodhichitta manifest naturally.

In Sanskrit, the six transcendent perfections are called paramitas meaning “to the other shore.” Crossing over to the other shore is a metaphor for transcending the narrow view of dualism to reach enlightenment through the practice of six transcendent perfec-tions. The scope of the six transcendent perfections is extensive, as expounded by Shantideva in his Way of the Bodhisattva and by the seventh-century Indian scholar Chandrakirti in his Entering the Middle Way. What I am going to explain only concerns their basic meanings. The six transcendent perfections are not the code of conduct for a good Buddhist, nor are they mandatory rules imposed on practitioners. For Mahayana practitioners, every act motivated by bodhichitta is viewed as an effective means for fulfilling the bodhisattva aspiration.

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