Bodhichitta Is Absolutely Precious

dalai lama re avalokiteshvara meditation

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama in the visualised form described in the “Sadhana of the Inseparability of the Spiritual Master and Avalokiteshva Source of All Powerful Attainmenents.” Four-armed Avalokiteshvara is seated upon  moon disc at his heart. In Avalokiteshvara’s heart is the concentration being, the  seed syllable HRIH, surrounded by the  syllables of the Om Mani Peme Hung mantra  from which radiate brilliantly coloured rays of light in all ten directions rescuing all beings and pleasing all the Buddhas.


As I am currently doing a short simple retreat, I thought to share several meditations that I have long held as very special. They are found in a most precious book Āryaśūra’s Aspiration and a Meditation on Compassion[1] which includes Āryaśūra’s remarkable aspirational prayer in seventy stanzas, together with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s self-authored Sadhana on the Inseparability of the Spiritual Master and Avalokiteshvara (written at the age of nineteen and which includes that treasure: His Holiness’s name mantra) as well as brief but pungent experiential commentaries (also by His Holiness) instructing how to activate the awakening mind (bodhichitta) according to the two lineages: The Seven Instructions of Causes and Their Effect and Exchanging One’s Self with Others.

Aryasuras Aspiration cover


The first meditation is given under the heading “The equality of others.”[2] Note how His Holiness engages logic to coax our minds away from our usual valorization of the self and corresponding under-estimation or awareness of the situation/plight of others:

“Oneself and all other beings are completely equal in wishing for happiness and for freedom from misery. But we all constantly hold onto the concept of “I”, “I”, “I” as though it were something to be treasured. Nevertheless, we do have every right to properly accumulate happiness and to abandon suffering. Just as we have these rights and wishes so too do all other sentient beings. Thus the Dharmic practice of exchanging self with others or, in other words, putting oneself in the position of others and treating them as one would oneself, is a practice that takes into consideration the welfare of the majority. It is, therefore, a truly egalitarian and democratic principle. Automatically we maintain within ourselves a concept of an “I”, an ego which we hold onto very preciously. For its benefit and for its safety we work. Naturally and spontaneously we wish that this “I” is always happy and never miserable. On this basis we work to gain happiness and to avoid suffering. With this as our aim or motivation, we endeavor to practice a right method for the accomplishment of that goal. We are fully justified in following such a method, and have every right to practise Dharma in order to attain a higher status of rebirth or the definite goodness of Nirvāṇa, the state beyond sorrow.

With exactly the same reason and justification, every single other sentient being in the world from the highest heads of stage to the lowliest beggar on the streets of Bangladesh, who, if he does not die in the next moment will surely die within the next hour, are all completely the same in their desire for happiness which, even though they desire, they lack. Although externally all these beings appear to be different–some living in luxury while others are without anything–they are basically the same in their wish to be free from suffering and their desire to be happy. They are also the same in that they all lack a satisfactory form of happiness. So, when we hold, strong preferences between the lowly and the high, because their situation is fundamental the same from the point of view of them all lacking happiness, we do so without any sensible reason, Therefore, since both rich and poor, powerful and weak strive for happiness and try to avoid misery even though they are totally imbued with it we must have an equal desire to help them without any distinctions or preferences.”[3]


His Holiness now presents an example or illustration that supplements the meditation.

“There is an example given in the teachings of my tutor, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, that when there are ten beggars who are equally poor, equally lacking in food and equally seeking it, to create a distinction between one and an other is quite wrong. They are all in the same situation, all equally seeking help and all equally wishing to be rid of their misery. Likewise, from kings to beggars, no matter what the difference in appearance may be, they are exactly the same in that they all wish not to have any pain and suffering. Yet even though they do not like to suffer, they are actually completely oppressed under its weight. Since this is the same situation for all, to create a difference because of preferences–feeling closer to some and yet distant from others–has no reason or justification at all. Thus, with our ability, with all our might, we must try to help these beings in an equal way, in an identical manner.”[4]


H.H. Yongzin Trijang Dorje Chang, the Junior tutor  to H.H. the 14th (1901-1981)

An amusing yet thought-provoking aside: once, when I was leading this meditation using His Holiness’s words and as part of An Introduction to Buddhist Meditation, two young women stood, or rather, jumped up afterwards, visibly upset.

“We are sociology students” one declared. “We object to the way in which you are referring to beggars. They are not pitiful or hopeless as you describe. This puts them down. You cant lump the destitute together like that. It reinforces stereotypes and is offensive”! With that they marched, or rather, sailed out quite magnificently on the crest of their indignation leaving, in their wake, a room of perplexed meditators and one somewhat stunned meditation leader!

I have thought over this incident many times and yes, they do have a point. Of sorts. But if we are not to be allowed to refer to some as beggars (due to homelessness and hunger, etc.) and others as non-beggars because, by contrast, they appear well-fed and clothed, how are we to even begin to approach the manner in which not just the individual self (the self-obsessed and partisan “I”) but society strategically invests in social inequity and thus erodes very real and important affective and, sadly, all-too effective distinctions in terms of status, access to services, housing, medicines, access to health care, employment, grades of respect and concern etc. not to mention its prioritization of needs and the uneven valorization of people–as people.


Homeless outside Flinders Street Station,  Melbourne, 2017. This camp was recently forcibly disbanded and the possessions “cleaned-up.” Part of the public debate concerned whether or not the “homeless” were genuinely homeless.  Also many expressed  consternation as to the possible impact such “sights” would have on international visitors to major Melbourne sports events such as the Australian Open. The grand Victoria edifice of Flinders Street Station is is a major picturesque backdrop  for selfies for families back home. A similar battle is being waged with the tent city in Martin Place, Sydney CBD as we speak. It is located opposite the Reserve Bank of Australia, a joke not to be lost in the midst of police action to disperse the camp. 

If we pursue the topic further, of course the richest person (in monetary terms) may be the poorest emotionally–perhaps bereft of companionship, obsessively haunted by hunger for more and more money, better and better sea-side real-estate with more and more guest bedrooms, forever suspicious that others are hunting their fortunes and will suck-up to get it, etc. For such reasons the illustration given by The Junior Tutor is an invitation to deeply analyze and creatively explore in meditation by substituting and working with our own illustrations or examples. The purpose is to dismantle and dislodge our labels so that we can begin to see the people residing behind the gunk of our hallucinatory projections (based as they are on ignorance). How is genuine heart-felt and profoundly observant compassionate empathy otherwise possible?

In the end, our conclusion must be, as His Holiness describes: “with all our might, we must try to help these beings in an equal way, in an identical manner.” Our meditation will expose the multiple ways in which we manage to avoid doing that. Our capacity for such avoidance, in turn, will be discovered: we haven’t fully comprehended the need. Why? Because our habitual  focus is not all beings. Just some. We have failed to see that all are exactly alike in seeking happiness and freedom from suffering


Patrul Rinpoche's birthplace copy

Patrul Rinpoche’s birthplace marked by a white stone. He was born in a nomad tent in Karchung, Khormo Olu  Kham. Source: Enlightened Vagabond, p.xxxv1

There is a wonderful tale concerning the great wandering yogi ascetic Patrul Rinpoche (1808-1887)  that illustrates these points in vividly unforgettable ways. And yes, it involves our so-ready perception of who is and who isn’t a shabby beggar (an issue it approaches from several directions–as though in a hall of mirrors–to spectacular effect) together  with the perils attached to clinging to ready-made presumptions:

“While Patrul was traveling on foot across the vast plateaus of Golok, north of Dzaachuk, he encountered a woman, mother of three, whose husband had just been killed by a changthang dremong, the huge bear of the Tibetan steppes, a beast much more dangerous than the dremong of the forests. Patrul asked the woman where she was going, and she told him she was headed to Dzachukha with her three children to beg for food, as the loss of her husband had left her destitute.

            Then she began weeping.

     “Ka-ho! Don’t worry!” said Patrul. “I’ll help you. I’m going to Dzachukha, too.
Let’s travel together.”

            She agreed, and so they walked together for many days, At night, they slept outside beneath the sky. Patrul would nestle one or two of the children into the folds of his sheepskin coat, and the woman would similarly hold the rest. During the day, Patrul would carry one child on his back, the woman would carry the second, and the third would walk along behind.

            When the woman begged in the villages and nomad camps they passed, Patrul would beg right alongside her, asking for tsampa, butter and cheese. Travellers they met assumed they were a family of beggars. No one–least of all the newly widowed woman–guessed the identity of her shabby companion.

            Eventually, they reached Dzachukha. That day the woman went off on her won to beg for food, and so Patrul. In the evening, when they returned, the widow noticed that Patrul had a dark look on his face.

            The woman asked, “What’s wrong? You seem annoyed.”

            Patrul brushed it off, saying, “It’s nothing. I had a task to accomplish, but the people wouldn’t let me finish it. They’re just making a big fuss about nothing.”

            Surprised, the woman asked, “What work could you have around here?”

            Patrul replied, “Never mind, let’s just go.

            They came to a monastery on the side of a hill, where Patrul stopped.

            He turned to the widow and said, “I have to go inside. You may come, too, but not right now. Come after a few days.”

            The woman said, “No, let’s not separate, let’s go in together. Until now you have been so kind to me. We could get married. it not, let me at least stay at your side. I’d benefit from your kindness.”

            “No, that won’t do,” replied Patrul, adamant. “Up till now, I’ve done my best to help you, but the people here are troublemakers. We mustn’t go in together. Come back in a few days and you’ll find me inside.”

            So Patrul went up the hill to the monastery while the widow and her children stayed at the bottom of the hill, begging for their food.

            As soon as he was inside the monastery, contrary to his usual habit of refusing offerings, Patrul ordered that any provisions offered to him should be kept and put aside for a very special guest he was expecting who would be needing provisions.

            The next day, everyone in the valley had hears the news of the great lama’s return.

            “Patrul Rinpoche has come!” people said. “He’ll be giving teachings on The Way of the Bodhisattva!”

            Men and women, young and old, monks and nuns, male and female lay practitioners, everyone went hurrying to hear the great Patrul Rinpoche. People began to gather into a huge crowd, bringing along horses and yaks that carried their tents and provisions.

            When the widow heard the news she was thrilled, thinking, “A great lama has come! This will be my chance to make offerings and request prayers on behalf of my late husband!”

            Along with everyone else, she climbed up to the monastery, bringing along her three fatherless children.

          The poor widow and her family had to sit at the far edge of the large crowd to hear Patrul’s teachings. She was so far away that she could not see his features clearly. At the end of the teachings, like everyone else, she stood on a long line, waiting to receive the great lama’s blessing.

            Eventually, she moved up in the long line till at last she came close enough to see that the great lama, Patrul Rinpoche, was none other than her shabby, kind, faithful traveling companion.

            Moved by both devotion and amazement, she approached Patrul, saying, “Forgive me for not knowing who you were! You are like the Buddha in person! Forgive me for making you carry my children! Forgive me for asking you to marry me! Forgive me for everything!”

            Patrul brushed off her apology lightly, saying, “Don’t give it a second thought!”

            Turning to the monastery attendants, he told them, “This is the very special guest I’ve been expecting! Please bring all the butter, cheese, and provisions that we have been setting aside especially for her.”[5]

Patrul Rinpoche's relics copy

Patrol Rinpoche’s relics: monastic upper shawl, prayer wheel,  kettle, bellows, and Buddha statue kept at Khormo Olu by  descendants of Patrol Rinpoche’s sister. Source> Enlightened Vagabond, p. 161.

The task then: to somehow peer through the entangled and self-obfuscating machinery of personal fascination  in order to comprehend, realistically assess, the collective and individual plights of others. See them with an open, absolutely clear, unflinching–yet profoundly gentle eye; one moistened, as is Chenrezig’s, by compassion (though in the eleven-headed form he has over a thousand of them!) And not just see them but regard them, from the bottom of our hearts, as more important than ourselves, more precious than “me” “me” “me.” Because the enormity of their suffering is endless and their numbers infinite we are invited/required to substitute all kinds of people and life situations to bring this meditation to life.

What of the wealthy mother who has just lost all her children in a tragic drowning accident? Or the beggar who wins Tattslotto only to spontaneously gift it to the destitute and homeless because he or she knows what such an act can mean for the happiness of others? Or the citizens of a war-torn nation that only figure as a news grab over dinner. The over-riding aim: to equalize ourselves and others, not merely re-sift and re-hierarchize in order to build yet another tower that will invariably topple, because not grounded in reality.[6]

Incidentally, I have not had opportunity to meet with these two courageous students again. But I am sure they went on to become fantastically good and profoundly-committed social workers. Where can our careers go without an ethical compass?




Khunnu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (c.1885-1977)

His Holiness the Dalai Lama received the second meditation as personal instruction from the Khunnu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (c.1885-1977). Presented under the heading “The Importance of Others” it also resides within the sequential structure of Exchanging Oneself and Others. In particular, it extends the topic of how we must try to help all beings “in an equal way, in an identical manner.”[7] The opening words are His Holiness’s own introduction to the Khunnu Lama’s meditation:

“In brief, if we compare ourself and others, the “others” are infinite. Because they are infinite, because they are in the majority, they are more important. This is the way we should meditate.

In conjunction with such texts as the Venturing into the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, it was explained to me by the very venerable Khunnu Lama, Tenzin Gyaltsen, that for abandoning lofty thoughts of self-importance, pride and so on we should apply the following methods of meditation. Imagine and visualise on one side of yourself, yourself in ordinary form. On the other side visualise, not all sentient beings but a group of fifteen or twenty who are weak and suffering. you should maintain yourself in the middle as an impartial witness between the two. Then project upon your visualised self all your usual selfish qualities and attributes, so that you identify him as having all the self-centred characteristics of your body, speech and mind. Then think, “For that one selfish being all these other beings are exploited. For him, all those other sentient being’s benefit and happiness is ignored. He just uses them, taking them for everything he can, just for himself,” This, you will feel, is dreadful. That selfish projection of yourself, instead of being concerned for the welfare of this group and trying to help them out of their difficulties ignores them or, worse still, tries to exploit them for his own selfish ends.

Then you should realise that both the projected negative self on one side and the miserable group on the other are exactly the same. All wish for happiness and freedom from suffering and all have an equal right to obtain it. Thus, by keeping a very honest and impartial line as a witness between these tow, we will find that the visualised projection of ourself is completely in the wrong. By being honest with ourselves, we must have sympathy for the others and realize just how evil self-centred attitudes are. We will then feel disgusted to find these qualities in ourself and this should bring about a transformation in our mind.

This kind of meditation helps nobody other than ourselves. I asked my precious teacher, the Khunnu Lama, Tenzin Gyaltsen[8], when I received the teaching on the Venturing into the Bodhisattva’s Way of life, if this practice was worthwhile and beneficial. he replied that it was very good and highly beneficial. I have found it helpful for my mind so perhaps if you practise it, it may be beneficial for you, as beneficial as say practising the Developing Stage of Highest Yoga Tantra!”[9]


Khunnu Lama wearing the simple shawl  of a wandering renunciate

This is laying down the gauntlet indeed. Personally I find the tripartite structure of the visualisation extremely powerful as it offers a way of untying the tyranny of self-observation based on immediate self-interest. By positioning ourselves in the form of an impartial yet dynamically engaged judge/independent observer in the centre we are able to examine and assess how our habitual narrow self manipulates and views others deemed exploitable merely by dint of not being us! By virtue of the same objective stance we can find ways of developing compassion not just towards others but also towards ourselves, irrespective of the vagaries of circumstances, sometimes up, sometimesdown etc. By identifying  with the impartial  observer we simultaneously short-circuit over-inflation of while also stepping aside from the so often pernicious tendency to self-deprecate, consider ourselves as this or that kind of  tragic failure. Such giddying oscillations (two sides of the same coin) are perhaps a neurotic feature of the contemporary Western imagination? In terms of the Bodhisattva’s path self-aggrandizement and self-hatred are twin indulgences, dual pomposities, equally to be avoided. Remaining under their sway obscures the real imperative: to cultivate the Bodhisattva attitude. As His Holiness inspirationally explains:

“Although this mind is something which is difficult to activate, it is absolutely necessary for us to make an effort to generate it within ourselves. At this time we are very fortunate, not just to have a human birth, but to have come in contract with the Mahāyāna Dharma–the teachings of the Great Vehicle’s path. We have the opportunity to emulate the practices of the great beings of the past. Even to hear one word of bodhicitta is most fortunate and this is absolutely true because there is no more virtuous mind than bodhicitta. There is no more powerful mind than bodhicitta. Thee is no more joyous mind than bodhicitta. For the accomplishment of one’s own ultimate purpose, the awakening mind is supreme, and to accomplish the purpose of all other beings there is nothing superior to bodhicitta. The awakening mind is the unsurpassable way to collect merit. To purify obstacles bodhicitta is supreme, For protection from imperfections bodhicitta supreme. It is the unique, all-encompassing method. Every kind of ordinary and supra-mundane power can be accomplished through bodhicitta. Thus, it is absolutely precious”.[10]




Full publication details of cited texts are found in the bibliography

[1] Āryaśūra and the Dalai Lama, Āryaśūra’s Aspiration and a Meditation on Compassion. Translated by Brian C. Beresford with L. T. Doboom Tulku, Gonsar Tulku and Sharpa Tulku. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1978, reprinted 1981. A number of years ago I devised a personal custom of using this wonderful text as the basis of practice while sitting beneath the sacred Bodhi tree at the Mahabodhi Stupa, Bodhgaya, India. I pray that I might be able to do this again in this lifetime – post stem-cell transplant.

[2] This method is formally presented under the following headings: (1) Meditating on 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. See Pabongka, Liberation, 590-602.

[3] Āryaśūra’s Aspiration, 123-4.

[4] Ibid., 124.

[5] Collected and translated from the Tibetan bv Matthieu Ricard and edited by Constance Wilkinson, Enlightened Vagabond: The Life and Teachings, of Patrul Rinpoche (Shambala: Boulder, 2017), 48-50. Another wonderful complementary tale (and another comedy of errors and identity mayhem) exemplifying how real compassion cuts through ordinary constructions:

“Once Patrul was returning home to Dzachukha so that he would circumambulate the Palge Mani Wall, When he arrived he came to a tent near the wall to ask for shelter. An old blind woman lived there, and she told Patrul he was welcome to stay. Patrul offered to serve as her servant, working for his keep. Every day he faithfully served her and made himself useful to her, making and pouring her tea, and emptying out her bedpan, doing whatever needed to be done.

Everyday the old woman recited prayers aloud, supplication the most famous lama of Dzachukkha, Patrul Rinpoche, saying, “Oh, Patrul, with your compassion, please think of me!”

Everyday, Patrul worked hard as the blind woman’s seervant; everyday, after work, he went to the Palge Mani to circumambulate and do his meditaton practice.

A month went by this way.

One day, some of Patrul’s disciples came by the mani wall, saw Patrul doing circumambulations, recognized him, and began to prostrate to him. The old woman was sitting nearby. Though she was unable to see what was happening, she was able to hear what was being said, and she heard them referring to her servant as “Patrul Rinpoche”!

Learning his true identity, she was embarrassed and of course would not allow Patrul to continue doing as he had done.

At this, Patrul scolded his students sharply, “Your thoughtless prattle has done grievous harm to this poor old blind woman! She’s lost a good servant, and all because of you” (ibid, 50-1).


Palgi Mani Wall in Mamo thang, Dzachukha province, Kham, The wall is around 1.8 km long. Each stone is engraved with mantras, sacred texts and images. Reproduction from “Enlightened Vagabond”, page 51. 

[6] Pabongka Rinpoche tells two very amusing and related stories pertinent to the instability of the categories of friend, enemy and stranger:

“Before great Tsechogling Rinpoche became tutor to one of the Dalai Lamas, there was a time when he was poor. He met an uncle of his on the road, who was going off to do some trading. Tsechogling Rinpoche said something to him, but the uncle spoke as if he did not recognize Rinpoche. After Rinpoche became the Dalai Lama’s tutor and occupied one of the highest positions of authority, the uncle went to see him and told Rinpoche that he was his uncle.”

See Pabongka, Liberation, 100.

And another:

“Once there was a man who started out poor, Not one person claimed to be his relative. Then he made a little money from trading, and many people came and claimed kinship with him, He summoned them to have lunch with him. He placed piles of money at the head of the table; then, he recited the following verse while he prostrated himself before the money: “A man who was not my uncle because my uncle. O lovely piles of money, I pay homage to you!” In other words, you cannot trust even your ordinary relatives” (ibid, 100-1).

[7] Ibid., 124 (in the 1978 edition; 127 (in the 1981 edition). This method is formally presented under the following headings: (1) Meditating on 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. See Pabongka, Liberation, 590-602.

[8] The Khunu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen (1894-1977) also known as the Negi Lama is reknown, like Patrul Rinpoche, as a great pandit and realised wandering ascetic yogi. He was born in the Kinnaur or Kunnu region of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. In terms of outward appearance he manifested as a reclusive poor sadhu. He is author of a collection of revered heart-felt lyrical verses on Bodhichitta called “The Precious Lamp, A Praise of Bodhichitta” (Byang chub sems kyi bstod pa rin chen sgron ma) which has been translated and published as Vast as the Heavens, Deep as the Sea: Verses in Praise of Bodhicitta (Wisdom Publications, 1999). This was a core text for His Holiness’s teachings in Sydney, Australia, at the Entertainment Centre in 2013. See


Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Kunnu Lama 

Lama Zopa Rinpoche refers to him as “the great bodhisattva Kunnu Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen and sought his advice. He recalls:

“Around that time 1975] I had the great good fortune to meet Kunnu Lama Rinpoche in Bouddha. Kunnu Rinpoche advised me to subdue the mind of the students [in the West] and teach them to have a good heart. He did not tell me to make them learned or strict in morality but to persuade their minds to practice bodhichitta, which is the best way to benefit others.”

See Jamyang Wangpo, The Lawudo Lama, 267.

In an interesting article, Thierry Dodin writes:

“Although it is not exactly known which teachings the Dalai Lama received from Negi Lama, the central matters obviously were the concept of Bodhicitta – a concept which plays a major role in the teachings nowadays given by the Dalai Lama – and other aspects of Buddhist philosophy, like epistemology. The Dalai Lama naturally had other highly qualified teachers and counselors for religious matters (a.o. the so-called “mtshan zabs”), but the philosophical concepts which seemed still not clear enough to him he used to discuss with Negi Lama. Those meetings with Negi Lama left a deep impression on the Dalai Lama: when he gave his Kālachakra initiation in Bodhgaya 1985, he qualified Negi Lama as the “Śāntideva of our time”, referring to the great Buddhist philosopher. Ling Rinpoche, himself one of the greatest gelugpa lamas received from Negi Lama teachings based on several Sanskrit texts which he himself handed down to his own disciples.” See “Negi Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen – a Preliminary account of the life of a modern Buddhist saint”.

[9] Āryaśūra’s Aspiration, 125-6.

[10] Āryaśūra and the Dalai Lama, Āryaśūra’s Aspiration and a Meditation on Compassion, 109.





1 Comment

I enjoyed the story about the woman whose husband was killed by the bear and the one about the blind woman. There is something very pleasing about people helping others, with no desire for recognition or reward. Just out of a desire to see a decrease in suffering for all.


Add a Response

Your name, email address, and comment are required. We will not publish your email.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

The following HTML tags can be used in the comment field: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: