Path of Transformation

Seven Steps of Cause and Effect Meditation to Generate Bodhicitta


Khenpo Gyaltsen begins by asking us to first give rise to the vast motivation of bodhicitta, wishing to bring all sentient beings to the level of complete buddhahood.

In the previous teaching, Khenpo gave the definition and the benefits of bodhicitta. In this teaching, he explains how one gives rise to bodhicitta for the first time by means of the seven-part cause-and-effect meditation to generate bodhicitta that has not yet arisen. The lineage of these teachings comes from Maitreya to Asanga to Serlingpa, to Jowo Atisha of generating bodhicitta through the seven-part cause and effect.

The seven parts are:

  1. Recognize all sentient beings as one’s mother
  2. Recollect their kindness
  3. Wish to repay the kindness
  4. Generation of sincere love and kindness
  5. Generation of great compassion
  6. Exceptional resolve
  7. Bodhicitta itself

The first six of these are the cause of number seven, bodhicitta. This seventh stage, the mind of awakening, or bodhicitta, is the result. Remember that the mind of bodhicitta has two intentions. The first intention is to free all sentient beings from all suffering. The second intention is to attain awakening ourselves so that we can bring about this first intention. These two intentions are generated through the first six causes.

The first five of the parts or causes listed above give rise to the first intention of wishing to free all sentient beings from suffering. The sixth, the exceptional resolve then brings the second intention of aspiring to attain awakening for the benefit of those beings. And then the final result is the generation of bodhicitta itself.

The two intentions give rise to two benefits—the benefit for self and the benefit for others. They are also the cause that gives rise to the two results of the dharmakaya and the rupakaya or form body. The wish to free sentient beings from suffering, the mind that benefits others brings the result of the rupakaya. The intention to attain awakening oneself is the cause of the dharmakaya and the benefit for self.

We can also understand the steps in order so that each step from one to seven is the cause for the next step. To give rise to unfabricated, genuine bodhicitta we have to have the sense that “I must” attain enlightenment. Before that happens, we need to have the courage to give rise to such a mind. This is step six, the exceptional resolve. This is having the confidence that “I can do that”. The cause for that is step five, great compassion. And before we have compassion, we need to have love and kindness or step four. The best example of that kindness is a mother. We want to repay that kindness. But first, we need to recognize that kindness; we must first remember the kindness of our mother. And at the very beginning, we need to see all sentient beings have been our mothers.

This is the first step because we are cultivating the mind of love and compassion. In the beginning, this is contrived and fabricated. Based on that conceptual, fabricated love, we will eventually develop the unfabricated. Our parents are very close to us. It is easiest for us to extend love to those who are close, so if we can have confidence that all sentient beings are equal in having been our parents, then it is natural for us to give rise to love. This meditation allows us to develop equanimity as we see that all sentient beings are close relatives.

For this meditation to be effective, Khenpo stresses that we need to have confidence in the notion of beginningless time and past and future lives. Without a strong belief in that, we will find it difficult to truly believe that all sentient beings have been our kind parents. Khenpo notes that these days scientists are beginning to study the notion of past and future lives. In the Buddhist tradition, Dharmakirti explains in his treatise the Pramāṇavārttika through logic that the cause of the mind is the previous moment of mind. This applies to the mind within the mother’s womb.The Buddhist tradition does not believe that mind can be created by matter. Thus the inference is that there is a mind from a prior life that leads to the mind of the present life. If we gain confidence in this explanation, it is much easier for us to move through the seven steps of cause and effect. The great master Nagarjuna has said that our past lives are countless and every single being has been our mother during one of those lives.

Recollecting the kindness of our kind mother is a simple reflection. We think back on the great kindness of our current mother and then we extrapolate based on this life. In every one of our lives, we have experienced love and kindness. Khenpo asks us to close our eyes and reflect on this for a short period. It is ideal if we could reflect on this first thing in the morning. Khenpo explains how we can use specific examples from daily life such as people dying in hospitals, or those who have been killed in a car crash. He also gives the example of animals who are facing the butcher’s knife. Imagining these situations can help us to experience a genuine sense of love and compassion. Yes, in the beginning we are fabricating these situations. But, we will begin to feel a strong emotional response.

The third step is to wish to reciprocate. We want to repay the kindness we have experienced. Nagarjuna summarized this by saying that those who repay kindness are considered good people even in a worldly perspective. And those who don’t are considered to be bad people. Nagarjuna says that all the gods and invisible beings will naturally wish to help people who repay kindness. As we meditate on kindness, we have an overwhelming intention to repay their love.

Based on this desire to reciprocate, we naturally give rise to love and then compassion. These two mind states will arise as we take time to contemplate. Once we have given rise to love and compassion, we will have the strength of purpose or exceptional resolve. We will realize that only by attaining awakening ourselves can we truly free all beings from suffering and bring them to ultimate happiness. With this resolve, we can generate the mind of awakening.

Within these seven steps, Khenpo emphasizes that we must have confidence in the first step. We must sincerely trust the point that all beings have been our mothers. It is important to think carefully to be sure that we have certainty. If we don’t take this seriously, then we will continue to be afflicted and think of others as enemies or strangers.

Khenpo Gyaltsen then answers a few student questions. First, he defines the meaning of the enlightenment according to the Mahayana tradition. Secondly, he discusses the situation of stopping life support for someone who is suffering in a coma. Here, he mentions the need to understand intention. Any killing is in contradiction to the bodhisattva vow unless one operates from genuine bodhicitta. If one has a virtuous mind and motivation, the act will be virtuous. Finally, he addresses the question of how to consider the illusory or dreamlike nature of appearances while still respecting the working of karma. Khenpo refers to the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra’s explanation. Santideva explained that the negative karma of killing a dreamlike sentient being is not truly established. Yet, one would still accumulate dream-like karma that produces dream-like suffering. And one would remain in dream-like samsara. Yes. all phenomena, including virtue and non-virtue, are not truly established. We are meant to accumulate dream-like virtue and abandon dream-like non-virtue.

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