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Jinamitra, Welwyn, UK
Eric, FBA Team
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Mary, FBA Team
Padmavajri, East Sussex
Ratnachuda, South London, UK
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Sangharakshita, Birmingham, UK
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... translate it (I translated it like this in my recent 'Three Jewels') as the 'Will to Enlightenment'. And in the title of tonight's talk we speak of it as the 'Bodhi Heart'. And all these alternative translations - 'Enlightened attitude', 'will to Enlightenment', 'Bodhi Heart' - these are all considerably better than the 'thought of Enlightenment', but none of these renditions is really satisfactory. (This isn't altogether the fault of the English language. We may say it's the fault of language itself. We might even go so far as to say that 'Bodhicitta' is a very unsatisfactory term for the Bodhicitta.) The Bodhicitta is, in fact, not a mental state or activity, or function at all. It is certainly not a 'thought'. It's certainly not a thought which you or I can entertain.
If we think of Enlightenment, that is not the Bodhicitta. It has nothing to do with thought. It is not even an 'act of will' I mean my personal will. It is not even 'being conscious', if by that I mean my being conscious or your being conscious of Enlightenment, or the fact that there is such a thing as 'Enlightenment'. The Bodhicitta is none of these things.
We may say that the Bodhicitta represents basically the manifestation, even the irruption, within us, of something transcendental. Something transcendental. In traditional terms - and I am thinking now of Nagarjuna's exposition of the Bodhicitta in a little work which he wrote on that subject - a very short but very profound work - in traditional terms the Bodhicitta is said to be not included in the 'Five Skandhas'. This is a very significant statement indeed, which gives us a tremendous clue to the nature of the Bodhicitta. Its not being included in the Five Skandhas. And this statement of Nagarjuna, representing the best Mahayana tradition, requires a great deal of pondering.
Some of you might not have encountered these 'Five Skandhas' before. Skandha is another of those untranslatable terms. It usually is translated as 'aggregate', or 'confection', or something equally unsatisfactory. It is really untranslatable. It literally means 'the trunk of a tree', but that doesn't get us very far, does it! But the 'Five Skandhas' are one of the basic, Buddhist doctrinal categories. Whether it's Pali literature, Sanskrit literature, Tibetan, Chinese, over and over again you get references to the 'Five Skandhas', the 'Five Aggregates', or, as Dr.
Conze delights to translate the term, the 'Five Heaps', which doesn't help us very much either! So what are these Five Skandhas. Let's refer back to them a little, so that we are quite sure where we are, and what we are dealing with and what we are trying to ponder on.
The Five Skandhas are first of all rupa. Rupa means 'bodily form'. In modern Hindi it means beauty, but that is also neither here nor there, simply bodily form. Anything perceived through the senses.
Secondly vedana. Vedana means 'feeling', it means 'emotion' - positive, negative, pleasant, painful, and so on.
Thirdly there is samjna, which is, very roughly, very roughly indeed, 'perception'. Sometimes it is translated 'sensation', but it seems that sensation' is a more suitable translation for vedana. So samjna is perception, the recognition of something as that particular thing. When you say, "that's a cloth", that is samjna; you've recognized it as this particular thing, you've identified it, pointed it out, labelled it, and so on.
Fourthly, the samskaras. More and more untranslatable. Usually translated by some German scholars, 'steering forces'. But we may say, very roughly indeed, 'volitional activities', acts of will, and so on.
And, fifthly, vijnana, or 'consciousness': consciousness through the five physical senses, through the mind at various levels and so on.
So these are the 'Five Skandhas': rupa (material form), vedana (feeling, emotion), samjna (perception), samskaras (volitional activities), vijnana (consciousness). And I must warn you that if you want to make anything of Buddhist thought at all, especially on its more technical side (its philosophy, its metaphysics), you must know these five off like that - rupa, vedana and so on. You must be able to reel them off, and know what you are talking about, otherwise you don't get very far with Buddhist philosophy. Now we are not dealing now so much with Buddhist philosophy. This is just by the way, but we may say that in Buddhist thought, generally speaking, these five, these 'Five Skandhas' are regarded as exhausting our entire psychophysical existence. In the entire range of our psychophysical existence, on all levels, there's nothing - no thought, no feeling, no aspect of our physical existence which does not fall under, which is not included in one or another of these 'Five Skandhas', these Five Aggregates, these Five Heaps. And this is why, at the very beginning of the Heart Sutra, what does it say, what does the text say? - that the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, coursing in the profound Perfection of Wisdom, looked down, looked down on the world (looked down on conditioned existence), and saw Five Heaps (Five Skandhas). That is just what he saw. No more than that. He saw that the whole of conditioned existence, psychophysical conditioned existence, consists of just these five things; that nothing occurs, nothing takes place, nothing exists, on the conditioned level of existence (the samskrta level) which is not includable under one or another of these 'Five Skandhas'. But the Bodhicitta is not included in the 'Five Skandhas', The Five Aggregates, the Five Heaps. So what does this mean? The 'Five Skandhas' comprise all that is phenomenal, all that is conditioned, all that is of this world. So when we say that the Bodhicitta is not included in the 'Five Skandhas', it means that it is something altogether out of this world, something transcendental. Certainly not a thought, certainly not a volition, but something out of this world, something, as I've said, transcendental. Not a thought, not an idea, not a concept, but - if we must use words at all - a profound, spiritual (read 'transcendental') experience: an experience which orients, which re- orients our whole existence, our entire being, our total nature.
Perhaps I can make this rather obscure matter clearer with the help of a comparison - and it is only a comparison - from the Christian tradition. You can imagine someone in a Christian context talking about 'thinking of God'.
When you talk about 'thinking of God', even if you are a pious churchgoing person, it doesn't mean very much, does it?. You just think about God. You wouldn't describe that as a spiritual experience or anything like that. You might think of God as a beautiful old gentleman seated in the clouds, or you might think of God as Pure Being, Knowledge, Wisdom and so on. But 'thinking about God' would just be thinking about God. So not a very profound sort of experience. But suppose then you think in terms of, or you speak of 'the descent of the Holy Ghost' or 'the descent of the Holy Spirit', this would be a very different thing indeed. Thinking about God is one thing, but having the Holy Spirit descend upon you, and into you, so that you are filled by the Holy Spirit, this is a quite different sort of thing.
So it is just the same in the case of 'thinking about Enlightenment' (or the 'thought of Enlightenment') on the one hand - just something mental, intellectual - and the actual arising of the Bodhicitta on the other. If the thought of Enlightenment is analogous to thinking about God, the arising, the awakening, of the Bodhicitta, the Bodhi Heart, is analogous to the descent upon you - in full force, as it were - of the Holy Spirit. Now this comparison is just for the purpose of illustration - if possible, illumination. There's no question of equating these two different sets of doctrinal and spiritual concepts. I am concerned only to try to make clear the nature of the difference between these two things. That the Bodhicitta is not just a thought, not just an idea, about Enlightenment, but a profound spiritual experience, even a profound spiritual, transcendental 'entity', if you like.
Now not only is the Bodhicitta transcendental, but the Bodhicitta is not individual. This is another point that Nagarjuna makes, it's not individual. We speak of the Bodhicitta as arising in this person or that person, and one might then therefore think that there were in existence a number of Bodhicittas - there's your Bodhicitta and your Bodhicitta and my Bodhicitta - apparently a glorious plurality of Bodhicittas arising in different people, making them all Bodhisattvas. But in fact, it isn't so at all. Just as the Bodhicitta is not a thought of Enlightenment, in the same way, it's not an individual thing - it is not anybody's individually - so there is no plurality of Bodhicittas arising in different people just like ideas or thoughts, different ideas, different thoughts might arise in different people, even if they were thoughts of the same thing. Your thought of Enlightenment is your thought of Enlightenment, my thought of Enlightenment is my thought of Enlightenment; there are many thoughts. But your Bodhicitta is my Bodhicitta, and my Bodhicitta is your Bodhicitta; there is only one Bodhicitta.
The Bodhicitta is only one, and individuals in whom the Bodhicitta is said to have arisen participate in that one Bodhicitta, or manifest that one Bodhicitta, in varying degrees. And of course the Mahayana writers bring in that very well-worn, but still very beautiful, illustration of the moon, the full moon. (I don't know whether it is full moon day tonight. I think perhaps it's tomorrow. But we have outside, as you probably noticed as you came along, a very, very beautiful, ...