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A Bodhicitta Practice

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Pema Chödrön offers a method for generating love and compassion for all human beings.


The best way to begin this practice is by thinking of a person whose suffering you feel strongly and whose happiness is very important to you. This could be someone you know or have known, or someone you've seen on the street or read about in the newspaper. The thought of certain people naturally and easily awakens bodhicitta in us: we care about them and we don't want them to suffer. Think of such a person and, whether you feel love, gratitude or compassion for them, say, "May they be free of suffering and the root of suffering; may they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness."

There are two aspects of working with bodhicitta, both of equal importance: one is connecting with the flow of bodhicitta we already feel, and the other is being awake to where that flow is blocked. So you can do this practice not only thinking of people you care about, but also visualizing people you don't like. It's important to have an unbiased, compassionate attitude toward whatever is arising.

Think, now, of an area of the world that's in great turmoil—an area where you know people and animals are suffering a lot. When you've chosen the place, think of the men there, and say, "May all the men in that place be free of suffering and the root of suffering; may they enjoy happiness and the root of happiness." Give yourself time. Take a few minutes.

Then think of all the women in that place, and wish that they too could be free of suffering and the root of suffering, and that they could enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Then think of all of the children in that place and wish that they be free of suffering and the root of suffering, and that they might enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Finally, think of all the animals in that place—the mammals, the birds, the fish, the insects and all the other animals—and wish that they be free of suffering and the root of suffering; that they might enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Imagine, then, all the men in the world who are starving to death right now, and wish that they could be free of suffering and the root of suffering; that they could enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Then imagine all the women in the world who are starving, and wish that every one of them—starving all over the world at this very moment—could be free of suffering and the root of suffering, and that they could enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Imagine all the children who are starving at this very moment all over the earth, and wish that they, too, could be free of suffering and the root of suffering; that they could enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Then imagine all the animals in the world who are starving to death right now, and wish that every one of them, all over the planet, could be free of suffering and the root of suffering; that they could enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.

Then bring to mind all the men on this planet—whether you respect them, feel neutral toward them or consider them bad people—and wish that they could be free of suffering and the root of suffering. Wish that they could enjoy happiness and the root of happiness. Because if all of the men on this planet could be free of the root of suffering and could enjoy the root of happiness—if they could be free of all the self-absorption that causes so much pain—we would be at peace.

Do the same with all the women on the earth—whether you like them or dislike them or feel neutral about them—and wish that they too could all be free of suffering. If all the women on the earth could be free of the root of suffering and enjoy the root of happiness, the world would be at peace.

Now do the same with all the children on the earth—whether you like them, dislike them or feel neutral about them. Wish that they could all be free of suffering. Because if all the children on the earth could be free of the root of suffering and could enjoy the root of happiness, the world would be at peace.

Finally, do the same with all the animals on the earth—whether you like them, don’t like them or feel neutral about them—and wish that they too could all be free of suffering. If all the animals on the earth could be free of the root of suffering and enjoy the root of happiness, the world would be at peace.

Sometimes when we do this kind of bodhicitta practice, we touch on people who immediately awaken warm feelings in us. Other times, though, we just feel numb. And then there are the times when we contact the hardness of our heart. Noticing this is very good, because it shows us when we’re open and when we’re closed. We should notice all of these things with compassion and lovingkindness towards ourselves, because the more we're able to feel tenderness towards ourselves, the more easily it flows to others. 


Pema Chödrön is a fully ordained Buddhist nun and the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She is the author of several books, including The Wisdom of No Escape, When Things Fall Apart and Comfortable With Uncertainty.

A Bodhicitta Practice, Pema Chödrön, Shambhala Sun, May 2004.

Click here for more articles by Pema Chödrön


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