Shambhala Sun | March 2013
The Supreme Thought
The intention to benefit all sentient beings is the best of all thoughts, says SAKYONG MIPHAM. Dedicating ourselves to others, we become bodhisattvas.
At the core of the Mahayana
Buddhist teachings is the crown jewel of bodhichitta, the intention to
bring all sentient beings to enlightenment. This is the supreme thought,
the highest possible concept that the mind can generate. The person who
has this intention of becoming awake in order to liberate others is a
the conclusion of many lifetimes, a being may generate the supreme
intention to benefit others. That is the first thought of a bodhisattva.
It is also the last thought—the final result of a long journey through
every conceivable thought. At that point, there are no other thoughts,
for there is no “I” in other. This supreme thought is pure: there are no
contorted logics about why it is good to think about others. It is how
the bodhisattva really feels. Finally, this thought has beauty and
balance because it naturally benefits the bodhisattva and everyone else.
difference between our everyday thoughts and the bodhisattva’s thought
is that most of us wake up with the thought of self—“What can I do to be
happy?” Like the supreme thought of benefiting others, this thought is
first, it is final, and it has its own kind of beauty, an innate
symmetry in accord with its own needs. But with this ordinary thought,
whether one engages in worldly or spiritual activities, they are all
based upon the principle of self.
as that thought arises so easily and naturally for ordinary beings, the
bodhisattva arouses a mind of bodhichitta, with “May others be happy”
as the first thought. In that moment, the concept of self is completely
The bodhisattva’s consciousness and the intention to benefit
others emerge together spontaneously.
transition between ordinary thoughts and bodhichitta happens as
thoughts of others’ benefit begin to arise naturally and spontaneously.
This is the pivotal step on the Mahayana path, for in it is the seed of
full awakenment. It is the apex of concept and the lowest point of
wisdom. It can be likened to dawn, which is both the brightest part of
the night and the dimmest part of the day. In that light, wisdom is
always there, and darkness is only a temporary state.
is known as the crown jewel of all the mind’s concepts, representing
power and authority. Random thoughts of others amid those of self-
concern are like the settings on the crown. It is called
“wish-fulfilling” because when this thought of others is the first
thought, always dawning, the natural result is the fulfillment of our
own and others’ wishes.
of the intention to achieve enlightenment in order to benefit others is
a sign of maturity. It means that after spending eons at coarse and
obscured levels of consciousness, considering only how to benefit the
self, the bodhisattva has experienced a pivotal understanding: he or she
sees that the self is a fabrication, simply a thought that has been
animated by the mind, like a cartoon. Pondering this, the bodhisattva
concludes that thinking about the self only causes further suffering. It
is the most confused, ignorant, and untrue thought possible—and the one
on which many people base their entire lives.
bodhisattva understands that by gathering the various attributes of
consciousness and body, the mind has created a bundle known as a “self.”
Rather than feel the free-flowing quality of perceptions and
experiences, the mind has consolidated them into one bale of hay—all
because it could not handle interdependence. From that moment onward, it
has based all its experiences on this identity called “me.” Similarly,
it regards others not as interdependent but as separate selves too.
forcing the disparate elements of mind and body into a single “me” is
unnatural, trying to hold the concept together always causes tension,
and the natural outcome of tension is further tension. When others
threaten this tension called “me,” the concept becomes angry. When
others cater to and flatter this con- cept, it wants to draw in the
praise, and desire is added to the mix. When others’ self-fabrications
have more finesse, this self cannot handle it, and becomes envious.
the self experiences a perpetual universe of push and pull. To continue
its storyline, it needs to fabricate a universe where it can act out
its fantasy, which results in the process of birth, aging, and death.
However, no matter what universe it fabricates, the concept of self is
always in pain.
is from this confusion and suffering that the bodhisattva awakens.
Seeing that the suffering is completely unnecessary, the bodhisattva
wishes to alleviate it. It would be another matter if there were, in
fact, a self that was causing all the suffering. However, the only
source—if it can be considered a source—is the mind’s confusion.
thought of self is considered to be intelligence that cannot see things
properly. We are in the dark, trying to feel our way. We might mistake a
blanket for a dog, or grab a chair and think it is a table. Therefore,
bodhichitta is considered to be the dawning of wisdom. When it is born,
it continues; it is not a temporary state. When the supreme mind arises,
it is joyful. Bodhisattvas’ minds are less coarse because they are more
in line with the truth. Because bodhisattvas can see what they are
doing, they enjoy their work of benefitting others. This work is
delightful not because they are trying to suppress the notion of self,
but because they are working in the open day. It is clear to them who
they are and, more accurately, who they are not. Therefore, the
bodhisattva is relieved of the thought of self and delighted by working
for the welfare of others.
Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is
the spiritual leader of Shambhala, an international network of
meditation and retreat centers. His forthcoming book is The Shambhala
Principle: Discovering Humanity’s Hidden Treasure, available in May from