Religion Wiki
Part of a series on the
Mahāyāna Buddhism

India • China • Japan
Korea • Vietnam
Taiwan • Mongolia
Tibet • Bhutan • Nepal


Bodhisattva • Upāya
Samādhi • Prajñā
Śunyatā • Trikāya

Mahāyāna Sūtras

Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras
Lotus Sūtra
Nirvāṇa Sūtra
Saṃdhinirmocana Sūtra
Avataṃsaka Sūtra
{{IAST|Śūraṅgama Sūtra

Mahāyāna Schools

Esoteric Buddhism
Pure Land • Zen
Tiantai • Nichiren


Silk Road • Nāgārjuna
Asaṅga • Vasubandhu

Part of a series on


Dharma Wheel
Portal of Buddhism
Outline of Buddhism

History of Buddhism

Timeline - Buddhist councils

Major figures

Gautama Buddha
Disciples · Later Buddhists

Dharma or concepts

Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
Three marks of existence
Dependent origination
Saṃsāra · Nirvāṇa
Skandha · Cosmology
Karma · Rebirth

Practices and attainment

Buddhahood · Bodhisattva
4 stages of enlightenment
Wisdom · Meditation
Smarana · Precepts · Pāramitās
Three Jewels · Monastics

Countries and regions


Theravāda · Mahāyāna


Chinese canon · Pali canon
Tibetan canon

Related topics

Comparative studies
Cultural elements

In Buddhism, bodhicitta[1] (Ch. 菩提心, pudixin, Jp. bodaishin, Tibetan jang chub sem, Mongolian бодь сэтгэл) is the wish to attain complete enlightenment (that is, Buddhahood) in order to be of benefit to all sentient beings trapped in cyclic existence (samsāra) who have not yet reached Buddhahood. One who has bodhicitta as the primary motivation for all of his or her activities is called a bodhisattva.

Etymologically, the word is a combination of the Sanskrit words bodhi and citta. Bodhi means "awakening" or "enlightenment". Citta is derived from the Sanskrit root cit, and denotes "that which is conscious" – mind or consciousness. Bodhicitta may be translated as "awakening mind" or "mind of enlightenment".

Bodhicitta may also be defined as the union of compassion and wisdom. This is a development of the concept of luminous mind in the Pali Canon.[2] While the compassion and wisdom aspects of bodhicitta are actually highly dependent on each other, in the Mahāyanā tradition (the school of Buddhism within which the terminology relating to bodhicitta is most fully developed) they are often referred to as:

  • Relative bodhicitta, which refers to a state of mind in which the practitioner works for the good of all beings as if it were his own.
  • Absolute, or ultimate, bodhicitta, which refers to the wisdom of shunyata (śunyatā, a Sanskrit term often translated as "emptiness", though the alternatives "openness" or "spaciousness" probably convey the idea better to Westerners) [3]. The concept of śunyatā in Buddhist thought does not refer to nothingness, but to freedom from attachments (particularly attachment to the idea of a static or essential self) and from fixed ideas about the world and how it should be. The classic text on śunyatā is the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya Sūtra, a discourse of the Buddha commonly referred to as the "Heart Sūtra."

So, the term bodhicitta in its most complete sense would combine both:

  • the arising of spontaneous and limitless compassion for all sentient beings, and
  • the falling away of the attachment to the illusion of an inherently existent self.

Some bodhicitta practices emphasize the absolute (e.g. vipaśyanā); others emphasize the relative (e.g. metta), but both aspects are seen in all Mahāyāna practice as essential to enlightenment, especially in the Tibetan practices of tonglen and lojong. Without the absolute, the relative can degenerate into pity and sentimentality, whereas the absolute without the relative can lead to nihilism and lack of desire to engage other sentient beings for their benefit.

Bodhicitta may be viewed as having different levels: one useful classification is that given by Patrul Rinpoche in his Words of My Perfect Teacher. He states that the lowest level is the way of the King, who primarily seeks his own benefit but who recognizes that his benefit depends crucially on that of his kingdom and his subjects. The middle level is the path of the boatman, who ferries his passengers across the river and simultaneously, of course, ferries himself as well. The highest level is that of the shepherd, who makes sure that all his sheep arrive safely ahead of him and places their welfare above his own.

Although classification systems do vary (some schools even denying any conceptualizing of the path to Buddhahood) e.g. yellow hats argue that with bodhicitta one enters the path of accumulation

Source Texts

Among the most important source texts on bodhichitta, within the Mahāyāna tradition in which the teaching arose, are Śāntideva's A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way Of Life (c. 700 CE), Thogme Zangpo's Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva[4] (12th century CE), Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind[5] (c. 1100 CE), and the lojong (mind training) proverbs authored by Geshe Chekhawa[6] in the 12th century CE.

Luminous mind in the Nikayas

Luminous mind (also, "brightly shining mind," "brightly shining citta") is a term used by the Buddha in the Pali Canon. It is described as the most fundamental aspect of the mind, and is said to be "brightly shining" whether or not this is realized. It is given no direct doctrinal interpretation in the Pali discourses; one way the Mahāyanā interprets it is as bodhicitta.[7] The Astasahasrika Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra describes bodhicitta thus: "That citta is no citta since it is by nature brightly shining." This is in accord with Anguttara Nikaya I,10 which goes from a reference to brightly shining citta to saying that even the slightest development of loving-kindness is of great benefit. This implies that loving-kindness - and the related state of compassion - is inherent within the luminous mind as a basis for its further development.[8] The observation that the ground state of consciousness is of the nature of loving-kindness implies that empathy is innate to consciousness and exists prior to the emergence of all active mental processes.[9]


That bodhicitta is the primary positive factor to be cultivated is particularly emphasized by the Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna (or tantric) schools of Buddhism. In Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna Buddhism, the goal of Buddhist practice is primarily for an individual to escape from samsāra with the aspiration to be reborn infinite numbers of times to liberate all those other beings still trapped in samsāra.

While the teaching and terminology of bodhichitta is most developed in Mahāyāna Buddhism, its practice and realization are independent of sectarian considerations since they are fundamentally a part of the human experience. There are, of course, bodhisattvas recognized not only in the Theravāda school of Buddhism[10], but in all other religious traditions and among those of no formal religious tradition. The present fourteenth Dalai Lama, for instance, regarded Mother Teresa as one of the greatest modern bodhisattvas[11]. Buddhism has no monopoly either on compassion or on the realization of the fundamentally illusory nature of our view of "self" and the world. Buddhism teaches that many bodhisattvas neither teach nor announce themselves in any way at all, but live apparently ordinary lives and help other sentient beings by stealth. It is regarded as a very healthy contemplation to hold the view that all other beings may actually be hidden bodhisattvas, including those we do not like.

Followers of the Mahāyāna, in particular, believe that the attainment of Buddhahood is not only possible by all sentient beings, but inevitable. Since all beings karmically connected ("all in the same boat", as it were), either we will all attain liberation or we will all drown in the ocean of samsāra. Mahāyāna teaches that even those who have initially chosen personal liberation from samsāra will be awakened eventually by Buddhas and entreated to develop bodhicitta and become fully enlightened in order to help liberate all sentient beings.

Mahāyāna Buddhism teaches that the broader motivation of achieving one's own enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings, bodhicitta, is the best possible motivation one can have for any action, whether it be working in one's vocation, teaching others, or even making an incense offering. The Six Perfections (Pāramitās) of Buddhism only become true "perfections" when they are done with the motivation of bodhicitta. Thus, the action of giving (Skt. dāna) can be done in a mundane sense, or it can be a Pāramitā if it is conjoined with bodhicitta.


The seeds of both Absolute and Relative bodhicitta often arise spontaneously – for example, when seeing someone close to us who is suffering, or in the face of a major unexpected event that upsets our world view. Unfortunately they can also vanish again just as quickly, which is why many Buddhist traditions, and in particular the Mahāyāna, provide specific methods for the intentional cultivation of both absolute and relative bodhicitta. This cultivation is considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of the path to complete enlightenment. Any teaching or activity cannot be held to be a genuine Mahāyāna activity unless it is conjoined with at least a contrived bodhicitta. Practitioners of the Mahāyāna make it their primary goal to go beyond contrived forms of bodhicitta and to develop a genuine, uncontrived bodhicitta which remains within their mindstreams continuously without having to rely on conscious effort.

Among the many methods for developing uncontrived Bodhicitta given in Mahāyāna teachings are:

  • Contemplation of the Four Immeasurables (Brahmaviharas) - Immeasurable Loving-Kindness (Maitri), Immeasurable Compassion (Karunā), Immeasurable Joy in the Good Fortune of Others (Mudita), and Immeasurable Equanimity (Upeksa)
  • The practice of the Pāramitās (Generosity, Patience, Virtue, Effort, Meditation, and Insight).
  • The Taking and Sending (tonglen) practice, in which one takes in the pain and suffering of others on the inbreath and sends them love, joy, and healing on the outbreath.[12], and the Lojong ('Mind Training') practices of which tonglen forms a part[6].
  • Viewing all other sentient beings as having been our mothers in infinite past lives, and feeling gratitude for the many occasions on which they have taken care of us.


  1. For definitions of the components of the term see Wiktionary: bodhi and citta.
  2. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press, 1989, pages 97, 99.
  3. see e.g. Chogyam Trungpa, 'Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism', Shambhala Publications, pages 197-199
  4. The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva
  5. Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses for Training the Mind
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tonglen and Mind Training Community Site
  7. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press, 1989, pages 97, 99.
  8. Peter Harvey, Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha. In Karel Werner, ed., The Yogi and the Mystic. Curzon Press, 1989, page 97.
  9. B. Alan Wallace, "Contemplative Science." Columbia University Press, 2007, page 113.
  10. Gems of Buddhist Wisdom. Publications of the Buddhist Missionary Society. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1983, page 461-471
  11. An Open Heart: Dalai Lama, Richard Gere et al., Page 23
  12. Pema Chodron on Tonglen


  • White, Kenneth R. 2005. The Role of Bodhicitta in Buddhist Enlightenment. New York : The Edwin Mellen Press. [includes translations of the following: Bodhicitta-sastra, Benkemmitsu-nikyoron, Sammaya-kaijo]
  • Lampert, K.(2005); Traditions of Compassion: From Religious Duty to Social Activism. Palgrave-Macmillan
  • Steps on the Path to Enlightenment. Vol. 1. Geshe Lhundub Sopa w/ David Pratt. 2004
  • An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics. Peter Harvey. 2000
  • Entering the Path of Enlightenment: The Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist Poet Santideva. (Translation) Marion L. Matics. 1970
  • The World of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama. 1995
  • Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. John Powers. 1995
  • A Guide to the Buddhist Path. Sangharakshita. 1990

See also

  • Consciousness (Buddhism)

External links

cs:Bódhičitta no:Bodhicitta ru:Бодхичитта simple:Bodhicitta fi:Bodhicitta uk:Бодхічітта vi:Bồ-đề tâm zh:菩提心