“When it comes to caring for yourself, be simple. When it comes to caring for others, do everything.” -Tibetan saying


7. Bodhichitta is the wish to gain

Sublime enlightenment for countless beings’ sake.

It is of two kinds: intentional and active.

Intention is the wish and action the pursuit

Of this attainment.

It is like the wish to go and actually setting out.

8. Bodhichitta in intention has, so it is said,

The nature of the four unbounded attitudes.

Active bodhicitta is the six transcendent virtues. 

- “Finding Rest in the Nature of the Mind,” by Longchenpa

I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a family interested in social justice. My parents’ care and concern for others shaped my worldview, and I always had a sense that life was about lifting others up and creating equitable, just communities that support everyone. People find their relationship to intention and actions differently, but for me, spiritual practice is fueled by caring for others. In others words, I remember to do my practice because I need grounding after long hours in the prison or working with other advocates. 

These verses by Longchenpa show us how to come to an integrated spiritual path. We have our “practice” time - meditation, mantra, study, making art, and so on - and then we have the rest of our lives. Within the rest of our lives, we have just as much opportunity to embody the values that we practice during practice. We are integrating intention and action, integrating spiritual practice in every part of our waking lives. 

It is the wish to go and actually setting out. 

Intention is our wish, or motivation, that has a field of mental interest in whatever we’re doing. When we embody bodhichitta, Longchenpa says our intention has the nature of the four unbound attitudes. In our last issue of Dharma Friends, Doug Holmes wrote about those four unbound attitudes, or four immeasurables. To review, they include goodwill, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. In this translation of Longchenpa’s work, the translators call these same qualities love, compassion, joy and impartiality. 

These attitudes work together to flavor all of our wishes with a heartfelt desire to benefit all living beings. This wish is so potent, that on it’s own it will bring about changes in our mind and in our lives...but we also have the ability to move beyond wishing. 

The other piece to bodhichitta is the setting out piece - the action, which we’re told encompasses the six transcendent virtues. The six virtues are generosity, discipline or ethics, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom.

Intention and action work together. Changing action begins with changing the mind. Our motivation in any given moment is the primary determinant of whether our actions are virtuous or non virtuous, and we’re more likely to engage in compassionate action if we’re holding space for love, compassion, joy and impartiality. 

When it comes to actions, we do not want to do anything that will result in harm. If we work towards holding a steady wish to be englitened for the benefit of all beings, and if our actions support this wish, then the practice will bear fruit. 

The practice of engaged Buddhism isn’t really different from the rest of Buddhism, it just emphasizes the importance of intention and action as the path. It reminds us that in addition to meditation, study, contemplation, listening to teachings on the ipod, reading Dharma Friends, and so on, we can also reach out to the young person who came to prison for the first time and provide a care package. Or maybe it looks like advocating for better working conditions for the correctional officers, or for people who work outside in the fields. Maybe it means listening to the guy who no one else will listen to, or protecting the insect that found its way into the barracks. 

What makes these practices so rich is that there are different methods to develop the heart of bodhichitta (the wish to be enlightened for the benefit of all). There are also simple tests to measure your progress along the way. Rev. angel Kyodo williams writes, “If the fruit of practice is not a desire to respond to the world, if it just remains in response to your own needs, “me” is all you are seeing: “I want to feel better. I want to feel like a spiritual person. I want to be seen as right. But I don’t want to actually be responsible for the world that I’m in.” Then you haven’t yet woken up.” I would remind you that if you’re starting point, like mine, is to be responsible for the world, then your test is whether your spiritual practice is holding up those actions. Check out for yourself what drives you in your practice, and then challenge yourself to make space for the other.