Five-Fold Bodhicitta

Buddhist jewels

“Begin with bodhichitta, do the main practice without concepts,
Conclude by dedicating the merit. These, together and complete,
Are the three vital supports for progressing on the path to liberation.”
-attributed to Longchenpa


Most of us are familiar with the three noble principles that transform ordinary meditation into the cause of awakening. These three supreme methods produce a practice session that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end. In this traditional triad of application, we begin by arousing bodhichitta, “the wish to gain sublime enlightenment for countless beings’ sake.” We enter into the main meditation session free of conceptual constructs. Finally, we complete our session by sealing it with dedication, securing the positive momentum. These long-venerated strategies were presented to me when Khachab Rinpoche taught a Shedra course on Jigme Lingpa’s “Treasury Of Precious Qualities.”


This teaching provided a simple and direct format that allowed me to practice anywhere and anytime. The growth in my practice and overall sense of what the Dharma practice meant was utterly profound for me at the time. This depth has never dissipated and has merged with my further learning, contemplation, and meditation to inform my practice in fortunate and compelling ways.


Meditate upon the twofold bodhichitta, root of all the Dharma.
-Finding Rest In The Nature Of Mind, Longchenpa


As I continued to practice, I began to comprehend Bodhichitta as “the root” of all Dharma. I recognized that developing Bodhichitta is our one and only practice; it is the finest way to accumulate merit and the singular cause of Buddhahood. Longchenpa, in his “Chöying Dzö,” demonstrates the nature of mind, baseless intrinsic awareness, and all it’s display, as Bodhichitta. This understanding, connected with the functional format of the three noble principles, opened a holistic understanding of practice that I call “Five Fold Bodhichitta.”



  1. Refuge as a function of Bodhichitta.
  2. Engendering Intentional Bodhichitta – the Four Imeasurables.
  3. The main session: Resting in ultimate Bodhichitta.
  4. Dedication as a complete Bodhichitta practice.
  5. Aspiration as Conduct, Engaging Active Bodhichitta – the Paramitas.


Refuge as a Function of Bodhichitta

Some individuals see the suffering of other sentient beings in limitless samsara and wish to liberate them from samsara.


Those who seek refuge in the Three Precious Jewels with this in mind are said to be individuals having the highest motivation because they are seeking enlightenment in order to benefit all sentient beings.


Think, “I will turn away from the lesser and middling motivations, and instead will train in following the example of those individuals having the highest motivation in order to benefit all sentient beings.”

-The Excellent Path To Enlightenment, Longchenpa


As Longchenpa states in the passage above, the most evolved level of taking refuge results from engendering Bodhichitta. This motivation to engage in practice for the benefit of all sentient beings is the fundamental catalytic ingredient that makes any method we use a cause for the unsurpassed complete enlightenment of the Mahayana.


I first encountered this concept in a sadhana of Guru Yoga from the Vima Nyingthik. In this text, Bodhichitta came surprisingly before the refuge formula. Initially, I thought this was an error when assembling the text. Still, as I thought about it, I recognized the value of coming to the empathetic conclusion that an individual must embark on the path prepared with Bodhichitta. This idea revolutionized my understanding of taking refuge and even what it meant to be a Buddhist. This revelation took what I understood as an individual path of coping with my negativity and matured it into a universal commitment. I began to glimpse, in the tiniest way, the profundity of those first steps as Siddartha left his father’s palace.


Engendering Intentional Bodhichitta

Bodhichitta is the wish to gain
Sublime enlightenment for countless beings’ sake.
It is of two kinds: intentional and active…
…Bodhichitta in intention has, so it is said,
The nature of the four unbounded attitudes.
-Finding Rest In The Nature Of Mind, Longchenpa


The four qualities of boundless love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and impartiality are generated and constitute intentional Bodhichitta.


It is of note that Patrul urges us to begin with impartiality when the usual order of meditation begins with love.


…But when we practise the four one after the other as a training for the mind (lojong), we should start by developing impartiality.
– Words Of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche.


While he is not explicit in his reasoning, I believe it is because starting in this way provokes empathy. Empathy is key, in my opinion, to opening the door to these boundless qualities. Once we see ourselves in others and others in ourselves, we are free to engage in these practices without doubt. We are equating, authentically, the suffering of others with our own suffering.


As we train in impartiality, it is engaging to remember that there are two ways established by reasoning that all beings are equal and thus should to be considered impartially. The first is that conventionally, all beings want happiness and want to evade suffering. Two, all beings are empty of inherent existence and can play different roles in our lives based on causes and conditions, i.e., friends can become enemies, enemies can become friends, or family – not to mention their role in our past and future lives. We should recognize that impartiality is the genuine and reasonable way to relate to all beings, while partiality and grasping go against the very nature of experience.


All beings, ourselves included, are in exactly the same predicament of wanting to be happy and not wanting to suffer. For this reason we must vigorously train in ways to develop the intention to protect others as much as ourselves, creating happiness and dispelling suffering.
-The Nectar of Mañjushrī’s Speech, Kunzang Pelden.



In former lives, those whom we now consider our enemies have surely been close to us, ever lovingly at our side, looking after us with goodwill and giving us unimaginable help and support. Conversely, many of those whom we now call friends have certainly been against us and done us harm.
– Words Of My Perfect Teacher, Patrul Rinpoche.


I urge you to study the instructions in “Words of My Perfect Teacher” to comprehend the practice of the four boundless attitudes fully.


The Main Session: Resting in Ultimate Bodhichitta

Relative and ultimate, These the two truths are declared to be. The ultimate is not within the reach of intellect, For intellect is said to be the relative.
-The Way of the Bodhisattva, Śāntideva


and recall,


“Begin with bodhichitta, do the main practice without concepts…
-attributed to Longchenpa


I provide this section and these scriptural citations to support my view of this five-fold bodhichitta. A qualified guru can provide the actual instructions for this section.


…From spiritual masters also come the three enlightenments Accomplished in the three times
By the buddhas and their bodhisattva heirs
And by the śrāvakas and the pratyekabuddhas. Moreover, the achievement of saṃsāra’s upper realms And every happiness indeed derives
From following a sublime master.
-Finding Rest In The Nature Of Mind, Longchenpa


If you have already received the instructions, please apply them as often and as faithfully as possible. As it is said, practice is the ultimate offering to the guru.


Within the single expanse, supremely spacious by nature, awakened mind (Bodhichitta), equal to space, is pivotal.
Focus on this key point and distill it to its vital essence;
it is the greatest of the great-wholly positive and spacious enlightened mind…
-Precious Treasury of Basic Space, Longchenpa




The suffering of beings is bodhichitta,
yet fully awakened, it is song and dance;
unstirring, immovable,
like infinite space, it is sameness.
-The Eternal Victory Banner: The Vast Space of Vajrasattva


Dedication as a Complete Bodhichitta Practice

Dedication consists in pledging one’s positive actions to perfect enlightenment for the sake of beings.
-“The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech”, Pelden, Kunzang




Starting with the example of the virtues produced by our current practices of performing prostrations and so forth,
contemplate all the virtues accumulated by yourself and others throughout the three times.
Dedicate all of these virtues to benefit all sentient beings until attaining enlightenment.
Recite dedication verses in accord with the great sutras, tantras and shastras from the noble ones.
For a short while, rest within the nature that is free from inherent existence.
-“The Excellent Path To Enlightenment”, Longchenpa




There are three kinds of suffering. The dedication of our virtue in order to free beings from the suffering of suffering [suffering in the ordinary sense of the word] consists in the wish that, by the virtue or merit of our practice of the Bodhisattva way—namely, through study, reflection, and meditation on it—all beings, to the farthest reaches of the ten directions, who are tormented by the consequences of their evil actions, whether physically through the diseases of wind, bile, and phlegm, or mentally, through depression, insanity, and so on, be freed instantly, here and now. It is thus that we should meditate on compassion, wishing that beings be free from sorrow and its causes. As for meditation on loving-kindness (the wish that beings have joy and the causes of joy), this is the desire that all should gain an ocean-like abundance of physical and mental well-being, and happiness in all its perfection.


Similarly, dedication with a view to liberating beings from the suffering of change consists in the wish that, by the power of our virtue, all the world’s inhabitants who have, for the time being, great prosperity, strength of body, and happiness of mind, should never lose their good fortune for as long as they remain in samsara. This is how to meditate on loving-kindness and compassion.


As for all-pervading suffering in the making, this will be with us for as long as our physical and mental aggregates are defiled. Dedication with a view to freeing beings from this kind of suffering consists in the wish that the unbounded multitude of beings existing in every dimension of space, be free from all-pervading suffering in the making and attain the vast, unceasing bliss of the immaculate nonabiding nirvana of the Bodhisattvas. This again is how to meditate on loving-kindness and compassion.
-“The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech”, Pelden, Kunzang


Thus, how to dedicate is explained, and its practice as a meditation on bodhichitta is revealed.


Aspiration as Conduct, Engaging Active Bodhichitta – the Paramitas

Aspiration, so the Sage asserted, Is the root of every kind of virtue. Aspiration’s root in turn Is constant meditation on the fruits of action.
-The Way of the Bodhisattva, Śāntideva




… aspiration is the wish, “May all beings adopt the conduct of the Bodhisattvas, virtuous in the beginning, middle, and end. May they be happy! Let there be no fighting or quarreling among them.” Heartfelt longing makes us cry, “How wonderful if beings were happy!” The commitment is the resolution, “I myself will bring them happiness”…
-“The Nectar of Manjushri’s Speech”, Pelden, Kunzang


Aspiration prayers are simply a statement of intention to continue with the practices you have just completed (as part of the complete practice described in the opening quote attributed to Lonchenpa). They vary significantly in content, structure, and focus, but all intend to inspire the practitioner as she leaves her seat of formal practice. Strengthened by aspiration, she strides into the world of sentient beings and interdependence, where she earnestly practices the six paramitas.


Active bodhichitta is the six transcendent virtues.
-Finding Rest In The Nature Of Mind, Longchenpa


Aspiration prayers also serve the purpose of a “wish path” within one’s own mind stream (an instruction given to me by Druwang Wangchuk Dorje Rinpoche.) By reciting the heritage formulas, we commune with lineage masters beyond time and space; indeed, we commune with our true nature.


Any beings who are connected to me-
whether they hate me or have faith in me, try to injure me
or praise me, follow me or not-
may I swiftly guide them all.
-A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission, Longchenpa



My intention with this short article is to inspire practitioners to embrace bodhichitta. There is no better way to accumulate merit or benefit sentient beings. By wholeheartedly embracing the intention to awaken for the benefit of all beings, we take the focus off of our own mundane experiences and begin to shatter the eons of self-grasping and egocentric conditioning in a very practical way. Bodhichitta is not some far-flung ideal of universal love. It is a functional method that reorients our way of seeing the world. Bodhichitta is the highest view.


By including the third topic of the non-conceptual main practice, I emphasize that relative and ultimate are a singular experience. Longchenpa covers this extensively in this Choying Dzod, which I will not attempt to summarize here. I understand realization as an abiding in our nature, bursting with qualities, not a void of empty furlough. Kindness, compassion, love, and gentleness are signs of our successful practice.


Bodhichitta may seem like a far-off practice as we begin, but like all dharma practices, we reap the four-fold benefit when we engage with confidence driven by faith. We benefit ourselves and others, both conventionally and ultimately.


If you want to help yourself, produce excellent bodhicitta.
If you want to help others, produce excellent bodhicitta.
If you want to serve the doctrine, produce boclhicitta.
If you want the path to bliss, produce bodhicitta.
-The Jewel Lamp: A Praise of Bodhichitta, Khunu Rinpoche Tenzin Gyaltsen