Bodhicitta - the Enlightenment Thought
The first two preliminary practices, refuge and prostrations are to lay the foundations for the common and broad scale of vows and precepts; therefore without refuge you can't receive any of the precepts. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem and doing prostrations shows respect and cultivates humility without which you don't qualify to seek refuge. To seek refuge you have to respect the object to which you are seeking refuge from. Refuge and prostrations are the practices that you do with any of the other four preliminary practices; you can do refuge and bodhicitta by itself as a practice, however you can't do the other practices without refuge and bodhicitta.
Even if you were to engage in many months or years in the accumulation of merit by doing lots of very dedicated devotional practices such as refuge and prostrations and remaining in seclusion, if you were to do these practices for your own benefit it, it defeats the purpose. It may not defeat the selfish purpose but it does defeat the purpose of the ultimate aim which is enlightenment, this is why you have to generate bodhicitta.
The generation of bodhicitta is very simple in terms of the practice itself but it is very good to understand the depth and breadth of the teachings of bodhicitta. It says that the direct cause of the attainment of Buddhahood is bodhicitta. Sometimes we call it the enlightenment thought because enlightenment is a thought and that thought is altruism. It is your concentration that empowers you to stay altruistic. The highest of all concentrations is having an altruistic motivation, but the motivation is not only your intent but it also continues to remain as a content of your actions that follow the intent.
The design of the meditation itself is for a purpose. It says in the commentary, "Even if you have amazing concentration to shoot a target without missing and even if you do all sorts of things with great concentration, so what if it has a lowly purpose." The highest concentration is the concentration that brings the realisation of enlightenment. The cause of enlightenment is not just concentration; it is concentration on the right object. The right object is the benefit of all sentient beings and that's why the direct cause of the attainment of Buddhahood is bodhicitta.
BODHi is enlightenment and CITTA is the thought. At first it is difficult to generate the thought but when you do generate the thought then you try to keep that thought. The definition of bodhicitta is very much the intent with which you try to deliver both temporal and ultimate happiness for the sake of all sentient beings. In addition, for your own ultimate happiness and temporal day to day existence you need an altruistic motivation that is for the sake of all sentient beings and that's why it is important to cultivate the enlightenment thought.
The generation of the enlightenment thought is for the benefit of those who haven't previously heard of the enlightenment thought as it can give them joy and inspiration. For those who then embrace bodhicitta, as a base metal they can transform themselves into gold by alchemy. Likewise, with bodhicitta, the rather ordinary sentient being can turn into an Enlightened One. Every sentient being has a thought and if they focus their thoughts on the benefit of all sentient beings then they too can gain enlightenment.
Bodhicitta is the direct cause of enlightenment. It is not like the plantain tree, it is a wishfulfilling tree that not only looks healthy on the outside but is also healthy on the inside. The most effective way to purify negative karma and to repay the kindness of other sentient beings is through the generation of bodhicitta. To honor the Buddhas they say that it is more beneficial to generate bodhicitta than filling the whole of the universe with the seven kinds of precious jewels. Furthermore, even if you could find the seven precious jewels and fill the universe it still wouldn't match the merit of generating bodhicitta. There are many benefits, too many to even imagine by the ordinary mind.
Thinking of someone else's wellbeing instead of your own makes you selfless and it is only through the selfless act of working for the sake of others that you become selfless. When you act selflessly you benefit not only those for whose sake you are working but also for yourself, therefore the most productive and profitable way of working for yourself and others is the generation of bodhicitta. If wishing for your own happiness was more profitable than generating bodhicitta we should have reached that highest result by now. Therefore, from now onwards when you embrace bodhicitta you will receive many inestimable benefits.
The following practices of loving kindness and compassion, permit you to practice the generation of bodhicitta. You often find that when you are practicing engaging bodhicitta you are often practicing loving kindness to all sentient beings, but even within all sentient beings you will classify them into three kinds. It says here, "First practice loving kindness with easy sentient beings towards whom your loving kindness comes naturally such as your mother and yourself included. Second is to practice loving kindness with difficult creatures such as your opponent or your arch rival whoever it is and then thirdly towards all neutral sentient beings whoever they are."
When we see the suffering of sentient beings it motivates us to practice. We do that practice lovingly for our own wellbeing as well as for others and we wish for the eradication all suffering and that the happiness of all sentient beings could be realised. In order to eradicate the suffering totally you have to rid yourself of not only your gross suffering but also to clinging to the self. If selfishness persists no matter how many qualities you have acquired or how many obstacles you have eradicated, it will prevent you from reaching Samyaksambuddha, perfect enlightenment.
Firstly we have to know what the cause of suffering is; and the causes of suffering in the common Buddhist vehicle are the defilements of greed, hatred and ignorance. When you look in more detail at ignorance it is talking about grasping to the self, which is the root cause of ignorance. The self believes that there really is something called self that is worthy of grasping to and all of our suffering stems from there.
Even if you practiced morality, refuge and all of the rest of it, if you do it for your own purpose it very much prevents the yielding of the result and for that reason you have to practice selflessness. The three practices of loving kindness, compassion and bodhicitta are very important. For instance it is said, that knowing that all sentient beings have been kind and that in this life numerous sentient beings such as your mother have contributed to your wellbeing, how can you think of achieving enlightenment for your own self and then leave your mother behind. The example is that if you see samsara as a burning pit of fire and you wish to escape it, then it is rather shameful to forget the kind mother sentient beings by leaving them behind. Shantideva goes on to say in The Collection of Compendium of Knowledges, "While leaving behind ones kind loved ones in the ocean of samsara who have no rescuer other than oneself, how could one possibly dare to even take one step towards safety while leaving everybody else behind?
Likewise, Jetsun Rinpoche Drakpa Gyaltsen says, "There is no benefit in attaining liberation for ones own sake, for all sentient beings in the three realms of existence are suffering just as we ourselves are. Particularly, as they are our past lives kind parents, so how could one possibly leave them in the thicket of suffering and seeking oneself to run away it is indeed pitiful. Since one has already acknowledged how precious this life is, one has to use this precious life for purposes that are worthy of admiring and aspiring to and that is to liberate other sentient beings such as ones own mother."
If you are practicing the dharma for the purpose of your own liberation then that is not the Mahayana Path. Within the Buddhist teachings there are categories of practitioners, such as those that are seeking personal happiness in this life and those who are afraid to be born into a lower rebirth. Others might practice to be reborn as a human in their next life which is really not that enticing. as the world is so full of suffering. These reasons are for mundane worldly dharmas and they are for those of lesser intelligence.
With renunciation you may observe your precepts very carefully and practice for many years in seclusion, however if this is only for your own liberation from samsara then that is only of middling intelligence. That middling intelligence does not permit the need of other sentient beings. It is only the one who has the greater picture, seeing the scope of suffering of all living beings, seeing them as ones own kind past lives mothers and not seeking ones own liberation from samsara ahead of everyone else, they would then be regarded as one with a higher intelligence. It is not so much the actual quality of the practice it is your very motivation, it will give you an extraordinary power of objective with which you persevere in your practice.
In real life when engaging in bodhicitta you basically have to practice random bodhicitta, as random objects are probably easier. We are not used to being randomly kind, so our kindness lasts only for a very short time and in particular at certain times, occasions, purposes and with certain people. Consequently, you may at first try to practice lovingkindness on new moons with difficult people and on full moons with easy people and things like that. This is what a bodhisattva trains his mind in, the conduct of intent, devotion and loving kindness and particularly if you practice with your mother.