Bodhicitta: Transformtions in Body and Transformations in Society by Vladimir Korobov

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1. My presentation is an attempt to interpret the concept of bodhicitta in Mahayana Buddhism in terms of specific arrangement (taxis) of the elements of being (dharma) or as an organizing taxonomic category which in equal measure is possible to apply to the life of individual and to the social life.

2. 0. First of all let me introduce you to the diversity of the meaning of the term bodhicitta.

The term bodhicitta is not easily understood or translated; explicit interpretations when offered inevitably reflect both the variety of source materials and the diversity of methodological approaches employed. The difficulty in finding a suitable translation or presenting a unified interpretation arises from the undeniable fact that the term bodhicitta is indeed used by the Indian and Tibetan Buddhist sources themselves with different connotations. Like all religious concepts, bodhicitta is an historical construct, whose sense and function have been continuously refashioned and adjusted to fit changing needs.

2.1. Diversity of the meaning (Wangchuk)  :

a) resolve (citta) to attain the highest state of awakening (bodhi);
b) ÷ūnyatā and tathāgatagarbha are referred to as bodhicitta;
c) gnosis or insight of budda or bodhisattva is also referred as bodhicitta;
d) in tantric systems that contain sexual-yogic practice the seminal fluids of “virility” and “fertility” are designated as bodhicitta;
e) tantric deities such us Kālacakra and Hevajra are called bodhicitta.

2.2. Translations:

a) mind that seeks and reflects enlightened insight;
b) awakening mind; bodhichitta, mind of enlightenment, will to enlightenment, thought of enlightenment, bodhimind, awakened heart, mind of enlightenment, enlightened mind, attitude, mind, thought of enlightenment, enlightening spirit, sexual energies in a tantric context, altruistic aspiration to enlightenment. Bodhichitta, enlightened mind, the Thought of Enlightenment, [bodhichitta], enlightening attitude/ bodhichitta, mind of enlightenment;
c) consummate perspicacity (H. Guenther);
d) a mind directed towards pure and total presence, a mind set on enlightenment, awakened heart, enlightened mind, attitude, the [primordial] state of pure and total presence; enlightened mind. {byang} meaning - pure of obscurations and chub meaning perfect in enlightened attributes. (Nitartha on-line);
e) Usually used in the meaning of relative bodhichitta: A mind or heart focused first on the benefit of all limited beings and then on one's own individual not-yet-happening enlightenment, validly imputable on the basis of the Buddha-nature factors of one's mental continuum, with the intention to attain that enlightenment and to benefit others by means of that attainment. (Berzin).

2.3. According to Wangcuk bodhicitta may be understood from different corners:

a) ethico-spiritual;
b) gnoseological;
c) ontological;
d) psycho-physiological;
e) semeiological.

2.4. Division of bodhicitta:

The very process of development of bodhicitta contents altruistic inclination [intention] (ā÷aya, bsam pa), and actual undertaking (prayoga, sbyor ba), including spiritual practice of six paramitas – these are for both kinds of bodhicitta. Then classifying into double sets (pairs):

a) aspiration (praõidhicitta, smon pa’i sems) – the act of setting out (prasthānacitta, ‘jug pa’i sems);
b) generation of indicatory resolve (sāüketikacittotpāda, brdar btags pa’i sems bskyed) – actual or ultimate resolve (pāramārthikacittotpāda, don dam pa’i sems bskyed);
c) conventional bodhicitta ( saüvçtibodhicitta, kun rdzob kyi byang chub kyi sems) -- absolute bodhicitta (pāramārthikabodhicitta, don dam pa’i byang chub kyi sems).

3.0. The importance of the arrangement (taxis) of elements concerning bodhicitta is presented in the 2 chapter of Guhyasamāja root tantra ( gSang-'dus rtsa-rgyud):

“So far as dharmas are self-identityless and isomorphous,

individual consciousness – free from all objective [content],

and not related to skandhas, dhātu and āyatana,

[as well as not related to] apprehended object and apprehending subject –

is primordially not arising; the emptiness is its intrinsic nature.”

Here a have translated term mnyam nyid - samata (state of absolute identity or absolute equality) in terms of relationship – isomorphism to introduce the idea of the topological conjugacy of the elements in the stream. I have translated the term bdag med – anatman (selflessness) as self-identityless to present the idea of the lack of recognition (also the lack of self-recognition). As far as in the 2 chapter of Guhyasamāja root tantra is presented so called ‘absolute bodhicitta’ (pāramārthikabodhicitta, don dam pa’i byang chub kyi sems) it is possible to assume that the elements connected by means of conventional bodhicitta ( saüvçtibodhicitta, kun rdzob kyi byang chub kyi sems) are self-identical and at least homomorphous.

3.1. As Dorji Wangchug writes:

“Conventional bodhicitta is cultivated by means such as ritual rather than meditation, and is attributed to a bodhisattva who is still a pçthagjana. Absolute bodhicitta, on the other hand, is born of meditation and is attributed to a bodhisattva who has attained the first stage (bhūmi) or beyond”. (Wangchug, p. 256). The theory of elements of being (dharmas) in Buddhism make it possible for us to understand the society as a continuum of structures inside (or mapping) our own stream of elements. Society is presented in Buddhism like some structures inside individual stream of elements, therefore Buddhism concentrates not on the society, but on the individual, thus divorcing religion from the interests of the ruling stratum. On the other hand, cultivating of bodhicitta according to the rules of six paramitas also transforms society, because on this level there is no difference between individual and society. As Geoffrey Samuel states: “It is suggested that transformation in ‘consciousness’ and transformations in ‘society’ such as those connected with the Tantras should be see as aspects of a single process, neither reducible to the other.” (Samuel, p. 197)

4.0. And so in this case bodhicitta as a generative model for the structure of society may induce the appearance of two social structures:

4.1. Hierarchic society where all the individuals are conventionally equal (Buddhism utterly rejects any system of caste. Buddhism actually reached high levels of support during the rule of Ashoka, who adopted the Buddhist concept of ahimsa, or non violence, and its tendency toward greater equality), where paramitas’ maxims act the part of state legislation.

4.2. Ideal society (community) of equal selfless persons with no any rules or state legislation at all. This kind of society (community) has to be considered only as a goal or never reachable transcendental ideal.


  • Wangchug, Dorji. The Resolve to Become a Buddha. A study of the Bodhicitta Concept in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Tokyo: The International Institute for Buddhism Studies, 2007.
  • Samuel, Geoffrey. “The body in Buddhist and Hindu Tantra: Some notes”, Religion Volume 19, Issue 3 (1989): 197-210.
  • 'phags mchog klu sgrub zhabs kyis mdzad pa'i byang chub sems 'grel dang/ slob dpon kamalashilas mdzad pa'i byang chub kyi sems bsgom pa bcas bzhugs so/: Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, 1991.