Integrating Bodhicitta with Skilful Means

Shangpa Rinpoche


‚Integrating Bodhicitta with Skilful Means’ is a commonly used phrase in Tibetan Buddhism. ‚Bodhicitta’ is the path that leads us towards Enlightenment; and ‚Skilful Means’ are the methods that will make the path towards Enlightenment faster and more effective.

The Motivation for Practice

Why do we want to practise the Buddha’s teachings? We do so because we know that in this world, there are many sufferings and miseries. For this reason, we want to seek salvation or liberation from these sufferings. We take refuge in the Triple Gems, that is, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha because we know that the Buddha and His teachings are beyond sufferings.

After taking refuge in the Triple Gem, a person enters the path towards Enlightenment. Those who are on this path can be classified into the following three groups depending on their motivation for practising:

– the person of lesser mentality;
– the person of medium mentality; and
– the person of greater mentality.

Person of Lesser Mentality

The person of lesser mentality takes refuge in the Triple Gem because he is not happy in his life. He wants to be in a happier and more conducive situation, which means that he wants to be born as a god, or in a wealthier family etc. In short, he is seeking a better life. In order to attain these goals, he takes refuge in the Triple Gem.

Person of Medium Mentality

The second category is the person who knows that this universe is full of sufferings. No matter how happy we are, we are still subject to sufferings. Broadly, there are three different types of the sufferings; namely the suffering of change, the suffering of pain, and the pervasive suffering.

1- Suffering of Changes

The nature of what we always regarded as pleasure and enjoyment itself is suffering. This is because they do not last and they are subject to change, and therefore end up causing misery. Once there was a king who gave punishment to someone. The punishment seemed easy as the King allowed the person to decide on the type of punishment he would receive. However, there was a condition that whatever he had chosen to do, he had to do it continuously. He was not allowed to stop. This meant that if he wanted to eat, he had to eat continuously. If he wanted to sleep, he had to sleep continuously. The victim thought that the punishment was very simple. He preferred to eat and the King let him eat. But when he could not eat anymore, it became a torture. He appealed to the King many times to change his punishment. At last, the King relented and allowed him to change to a different type of punishment. The King allowed him to sleep but did not allow him to get up. He also became very miserable. This shows that what we consider as happiness is often not real happiness. It is suffering, but we do not experience its real nature in a short moment.

2 – Suffering of Pain

This is very obvious, such as falling sick or the experiencing of misfortunes. In such situations, we feel desperate and we suffer.

3 – Pervasive Suffering

As long as we have the physical body, we are bound to suffer. This is because the physical body is the condition for the sufferings. Such as when there is birth, there must be the death. This condition is inevitable.

By knowing all these sufferings, one does not want to be in Samsara, which is the cycle of birth and death. Instead, one wants to break through this cycle of existence and be liberated. For that reason, the person who takes refuge with the wish to liberate oneself from the Samsaric sufferings is of the medium mentality. He is considered to be wiser than the first category.

Person of Greater Mentality

The third category is the person of greater mentality. He wants to include the liberation of others as his own responsibility and has the courage to do this task. By knowing his own suffering and seeing the suffering of others as even more intense than his own suffering, he cannot bear to see others suffer. With this understanding, he feels that it is not right for him to liberate only himself. He decides that it is his duty to liberate all of them. This practice is commonly known as the ‚Mahayana’. ‚Maha’ means ‚great’; while ‚yana’ means ‚vehicle’.

The Three Principal Factors

One who wants to follow the path must understand and practise the three following important factors:
– Renunciation;
– Bodhicitta; that is developing the enlightened attitude; and
– Right view.


One has to understand that Samsara is imperfect and full of sufferings. In order to renounce, we can reflect on the unfavourable worldly things that are happening around us all the time. The following are the four things that we can contemplate:

1 – Death and Impermanence

To develop renunciation, we can contemplate impermanence. Nothing in the universe will stay on forever. The universe and all the beings within it are impermanent in nature. Everyone has to die and when we die, we might not know where we are going to be reborn. This keeps on going in an endless cycle.

2 – Karmic Law of Cause and Effect

The law of cause and effect is known as ‚Karma’. Every Buddhist believes in karma. If we die, we do not just disappear into space or emptiness. If it works that way, then it would be all right. But it does not. Once we die, karma takes effect. Every good and bad thought, every good and bad action that we have committed leaves its imprints in our mind. Accordingly, when the conditions for the result to take effect arises, the result will be experienced. So if we create negative karma, we have to experience the effect of this negative karma, which is the experience of suffering.

3 – Defects of Samsara

To know the shortcomings of Samsara means knowing that in this universe from the highest to the lowest realms, there is no true happiness at all. It is like stepping on the tip of a needle. There is no comfort but only pain. If we contemplate these factors carefully, it will minimise our attachment towards Samsara and renunciation will develop.

4 – Precious Human Existence

Now we have to understand our potential. This potential is due to the birth of our precious human body, which is very rare and very fortunate. And to be able to understand and realise the importance of the Dharma is even more rare. But all these happen due to our accumulation of merits in the past. This puts us in a favourable position to practise the Dharma. However, this opportunity will not remain forever, it is just for a short time.

Shantideva gave an example:

„In a totally dark place, there appears a flash of lightning. At that moment, you can see clearly all the things in the surroundings, but this does not last. It will go off immediately. The flash of the lightning is very brief. Similarly, in our lifetime, we are usually tied up with all kinds of worldly commitments. However, sometimes good thoughts may arise and sometimes compassion may develop. All these will lead us to the Dharma. So when this kind of rare opportunity arises, it is just like the flash of lightning in the dark place. We have to grasp it and make full use of this rare opportunity to practise the Dharma. Then, the path to Enlightenment will begin from that moment onwards.”

If we contemplate the above four factors, we will understand the sufferings of Samsara. In this way, renunciation will arise and this will set us on the path towards Enlightenment.


Buddha Shakyamuni has given 84,000 different types of teachings. The essence of all these teachings is the practice of Bodhicitta, that is the application towards the path of enlightenment and to liberate all sentient beings leading them towards this path. There is no one single method that can liberate everyone because different persons have different frames of mind or mentality. Therefore by using his skilful means, Buddha came down to the human level and he gave the teachings according to each individual’s need. That is why Buddha had to give so many teachings.

Bodhicitta can be developed in two stages, ‚aspiration’ and then „application”. ‚Aspiration Bodhicitta’ always comes first, followed ‚Application Bodhicitta’. This is similar to a person who wants to go to a particular destination; he has to take some kind of transport to reach that place. The wish to go to the destination is the ‚aspiration’and the action of taking the transport is the ‚application’.

a – Aspiration Bodhicitta

Aspiration Bodhicitta arises when we truly understand the teachings of the Buddha. We know that in Samsara, all beings are suffering. The cycle of Samsaric existence never ends. And in order to break through this cycle, the only way is the application of the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, Aspiration Bodhicitta arises when one has great aspiration or motivation to break through this cycle and attain enlightenment not only for oneself , but also for all sentient beings.

According to the Indian master, Atisha :
„Once the aspiration Bodhicitta arises, one accumulates countless merits. However, this will not be a constant accumulation of merits. But once you engage in the Application Bodhicitta, your accumulation of merit will constantly increase whether you are sleeping or awake. „

b – Application Bodhicitta

Application Bodhicitta is the practice itself. There are many methods of practising Application Bodhicitta but the Tibetan version of Mahayana emphasizes the practice of the Six Perfections or Paramitas.

1 – The Practice of Mindfulness and Awareness

Once we practise the development of the Bodhicitta, whatever we do, we must have mindfulness and awareness at all times. This is because if we are not mindful, we will make a lot of mistakes without realising them. The present state of our mind is not well tamed. An untamed mind is very destructive just like an untamed wild elephant. If the untamed elephant is to come to our place, everything will be messed up, and many people around will be injured. Therefore, we need awareness and mindfulness to tame our wild mind. However, when we say that an untamed mind is destructive, it does not mean that we act crazy like banging here and there. It means that the mind creates all sort of emotions which we then physically follow without knowing the consequences. This will result in the accumulation of all sort of negative habitual tendencies. It will degrade us to the lower realms or even Hell. So mindfulness and awareness are just like the ropes that tie the wild elephant. Once it is tied up, the elephant cannot move and run wild. In the same way, we have to use our mindfulness and awareness to control our wild mind so that it will be more controllable. This is just like an injured person going to a crowded place. He has to be very careful with his movements, otherwise people may accidentally touch his injuries and cause him pain. Similarly, when we are surrounded by all kinds of people, we have to be very careful so that our mind will not be affected or influenced by other people’s wrong acts. One should be just like the lotus flower, which is born in the mud and yet not contaminated by it.

Shantideva gave an example:
„If you want to protect your feet when you are walking, you do not have to cover the whole ground with leather. You just need to wear a good pair of shoes to protect your legs from injuries. Likewise, you just need to carefully observe and be aware of your mind, then you will not do any wrong things. You will be safe in your application and practice of the Dharma.”

2 – The Practice of the Application Bodhicitta – The Six Perfections

The first Perfection is the ‚Perfection of Generosity’. This means ‚Giving’. There are three types of giving:
– Giving of spiritual guidance like Dharma;
– Giving of protection; and
– Giving of material things.

As long as we do not have attachment for the substances that we give,and have great compassion and pure thought for the recipient, then whatever we give will be considered as the development of Generosity.

The second perfection is the ‚Perfection of Morality’, that is ‚Conduct’. We need to follow certain standards of moral conduct. This is to prevent us from performing negative acts and thoughts. For this purpose, Buddha introduced the Precepts. For the lay people, they can observe the five precepts or the eight precepts; whereas the novices have thirty six precepts; and the Bhikkhus have two hundred and fifty three precepts. In the Mahayana, the most important precept is to benefit all sentient beings. This is fundamentally important. As long as you are able to benefit each and every being who is in need, you are applying the morality of the Mahayana.

The third perfection is the ‚Perfection of Patience’. Patience is important not only in our practice of the Dharma, but also in our daily life. With patience you can please many people and fulfil many things that you want to do. There are many people who make wrong decisions out of anger or pride, thus leading to their downfall. This is due to their lack of patience. A person who is overcome by anger or hatred is not in control of himself. He is being controlled by his own emotions. Thus, if we do not have tolerance or patience, it will destroy us eventually. The Buddha himself has also said that hatred is the greatest sin and patience is the greatest virtue. Hatred can destroy all our accumulated merits. It can also lead us to hell. The only antidote to hatred is the practise of patience or tolerance. One should always know that hatred or anger is our main enemy because it leads us to suffering. Whenever hatred arises, we should recognise it. We should know that this hatred is very destructive. Immediately we should apply the antidote of patience and develop loving kindness and compassion for the object of our hatred.

The fourth perfection is the ‚Perfection of Diligence’. Diligence can be explained in many ways. In our normal life, diligence means „being hardworking”. It is uncertain whether this diligence is positive or negative. But whatever it is, we need to have diligence to succeed. Here what we are going to say is on the positive side of diligence. This positive diligence means that one appreciates wholesome acts such as caring for the well-being of others. One tries to apply the teachings of the Buddha. For this purpose, one is able to sacrifice all leisure time to fulfil this objective. This is called positive diligence. Diligence is important in our work just like when there is no wind, there is no movement of the leaves and flowers on the tree etc. Once there is wind, movement will begin. Likewise, if we begin to apply diligence to our work, there will be progress. Otherwise, it will be stagnant at whatever stage it is.

The ‚Six Perfections’ or ‚Paramitas’ are inter-related. To succeed in the practice of the next perfection, it depends on how well you have accomplished the earlier perfections. Therefore, if one manages to practise the first four perfections well, it creates favourable conditions for the practice of the last two perfections which are the ‚Perfection of Meditation’and the ‚Perfection of Wisdom’. It is these last two perfections that will lead us towards the realisation of the ultimate truth.

of these two Bodhicittas. Firstly, one has to seek a master who has the lineage, and who is also currently practising it so that there is a continuation of the lineage; in addition you can also receive the blessings from the lineage masters as well as from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Once you have taken up this practice, it is the greatest task that you are undertaking in this lifetime.

3 – Samatha and Vipassana Meditation

Now, we shall talk a bit on the subject of meditation. Meditation means establishing a peaceful, stable and calm mind. With that calm mind, one sees the clarity of the mind. There are two stages in meditation, ‚Samatha’and ‚Vispassana’. In Sanskrit, Samatha is called ‚Samadhi’. In Tibetan, it is called ‚Shinay’which means ‚remain in peace’. This is the practice or method to let our mind remain calm and peaceful. If our mind is not calm, we cannot see the nature of our mind, just like a lamp being placed in a windy place will not be able to brighten up the whole place, and the flame will also be blown off. In order to brighten up the place and for the lamp to illuminate itself, we need to put it in a place where there is not so much wind. Similarly, we meditate to rest our mind, to free it from emotion. With that we will be able to see the true nature of phenomena, as well as our own mind. If we do not meditate, then we will be subject to attack by our defilements at anytime. It is just like lying in between the jaws of a fierce animal. We are at the mercy of the ‚animal’ (which is our defilements). Once it closes its mouth, we will be destroyed. That is the kind of danger that we are in at the present stage.

With a good base of Samatha meditation, if one does Vipassana meditation, one will be able to purify all the defilements that one has accumulated. Ultimately, one will be able to see the clarity of the mind.

The Mahamudra master from India, Saraha in one of his poems, mentioned that :
„The mind is the seed of everything in the Universe. It can create Samsara and it can also create Nirvana. The mind is like the Wish- fulfilling gem, and I pay homage to the mind.”

That means to attain Enlightenment we do not have to look elsewhere, we just need to unfabricate the fabricated mind. The ultimate nature of Buddha is the unfabricated mind.

There are seven obstacles for ‚Shinay’ or ‚Samatha’ meditation. The first two are agitation and regret. These two obstruct the mind from remaining calm and still. The next three are dullness, very dull and sleepiness. These three obstruct the clarity of our mind. Next is attachment, which can give rise to emotions. Once you feel emotional, your mind is not in the right state for meditation. And the last one is doubtful. As long as you have doubt, your mind cannot be one-pointed. Whenever any of these obstacles arise, we must recognise it first and apply the antidote accordingly.

Generally, to succeed in our meditation, we have to have favourable conditions. We detach ourselves from anything that can give rise to attachment and distraction. These include pleasures, worldly comforts etc. We have to avoid them and let the mind be contented with minimum requirements.

Our Kagyu masters always said,
„When you meditate, you do not think of the past because the past is not within you and therefore it is not part of you. You should also not think of the future as future has yet to come. It is also not part of you. You should remain as what you are now, in the present state of mind, without fabrication, just as it is.”

Right View

When a person develops right view, he realises that the self and phenomena do not exist in themselves. They exist interdependently. For example, the sound of the flute does not just come from the bamboo or the structure of the flute itself, nor does it comes from the person who is blowing or his fingers or his lips. Sound will only come when all the favourable conditions exist together. The existence of each condition is also dependent on many other conditions. Therefore, in the highest sense, this shows that all things and phenomena are dependent on each other and hence lack inherent existence. Without investigation, all things and phenomena that happen around us appear to be real and firm. However, if we were to investigate, we will realise that there is no inherent existence. They do not truly exist at all. They appear just as an illusion created by a magician. So long as we are in the relative level, we have to experience the cause and its effect. With the development of right view, we will know that there is nothing to crave or fear, since ultimately all things do not exist and cannot be found. In order to develop right view, one should practice the advance meditation of Mahamudra. It is important that one should always keep in mind that the realisation of the Mahamudra is very much dependent on one’s basic preliminary practice.

Mahamudra Meditation

Actually, there are many different methods of meditation. The following explanation is related to the Mahamudra way of meditation. In the practice of the Mahamudra meditation, we should not put effort to develop the meditation because when we put an effort to do something, expectation and apprehension will tend to develop. This will cause agitation and emotions in our mind. We should let the realisation arise effortlessly. By meditating on the natural state of the mind, we will gradually find that the gross and subtle thoughts come and dissolve into the mind itself, just like the waves in the ocean. If we go to the beach and observe, we will see that are many big and small waves that arise from the ocean; they too subside into the ocean itself.

Gradually, when we develop our mind, the emotions become lesser and lesser. The mind becomes calm and ultimately one can see the mind that is stainless and uncontaminated. The ocean is an example that can illustrate our state of mind.

The second stage of meditation according to the Mahamudra way is through seeing one’s own nature of the mind. When we look for the mind, we cannot find it, as the mind does not exist as we think it does. Even the Buddha himself has not seen our mind. Our mind is also not non-existent because it is the basis of Samsara and Nirvana. So the mind is free from existence and non-existence. Thus when we observe and check whether the mind really exists, we will find that the mind does not „really” exist. Then, if we check whether the mind is really non-existent, we will also find that it is not non-existent. This means that the mind is beyond existence and non-existence. The existence and non-existence of the mind do not contradict each other. The two extremes, eternalism and nihilism are just conceptualised by our mind. One day when we break through the grasping towards duality, we will realise the true nature of our mind.

Once realisation takes place, one will go beyond the state of confusion because one has seen the ultimate state of the mind. One will not have any doubt and there will be no need for clarifications.

By seeing the ultimate state of the mind, one can also use similar methods to see the ultimate state of phenomena. Because the appearance of phenomena is also a projection of the mind, it is inter-related. That is the moment you get to know who you really are.

However, what you have realised, others may not have realised yet. You will have a strong urge for all sentient beings to realise this Truth and be freed from confusion. This is the unconditional loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings. The unity of compassion and ultimate realization of the nature of our mind, produces the two types of enlightened bodies, which are ‚Dharmakaya’and ‚Rupakaya’.

‚Dharmakaya’ is the ultimate state of the Buddha, that is the transformation of our mind to the Enlightened state. ‚Rupakaya’ is the wisdom state of the Buddha, that is the transformation of our thoughts to the functions of benefiting others. From this Rupakaya, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are constantly being manifested to liberate sentient beings unconditionally.

This teaching was originally printed in a small booklet. That booklet is now out of print and unavailable in that format.

Origin of this text

This text belongs to the view of Kagyupa School of Tibetan Buddhism

Biography of the author:

Shangpa Rinpoche was born on 12th September 1960 at the border between Tibet and Nepal. At the age of two, he was recognised as an incarnation of the Great Yogi Shangpa Rinpoche, who was a disciple of His Holiness, the 15th Gyalwa Karmapa. After going through many hardships, he and his mother finally arrived in Pokhara, Nepal. His Holiness, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, ordained him when he was 9 years old.

From this tender age, he studied all the ritual arts and memorised scriptures under the guidance of the late Dupsing Rinpoche and other learned teachers. When he was 16 years old, he joined the Tibetan Higher Institute of Buddhist Studies in Varanasi and mastered Buddhist philosophy, literature, poetry, the history of Buddhism and Sanskrit, etc. He also received many teachings and empowerments from many great teachers, particularly His Holiness, the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche, Urgyen Tulku Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, Khunu Rinpoche and Khenpo Rinchen.

He has both conducted and participated in many retreats at his monastery and other places. While Shangpa Rinpoche was studying in his fourth year, Dupsing Rinpoche passed away and His Holiness, the 16th Karmapa instructed him to assume the responsibility as the abbot of the Jangchub Choeling Monastery in Pokhara, Nepal.

In his continuous efforts to benefit sentient beings, Rinpoche has undertaken several works within Pokhara and beyond in other parts of Nepal and the South East Asian region. Some of these works bear indications of the continuation of the works of his previous incarnation. He also travelled frequently and extensively, particularly throughout South East and East Asia to propagate Buddhism.

In 1982, Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche asked Rinpoche to take on the responsibilities as spiritual leader of Karma Kagyud followers in Singapore. He accepted and since then he has been the religious advisor of the Singapore Karma Kagyud Buddhist Centre; teaching and advising its members and devotees.

In 1991, Rinpoche initiated the search for and purchase of the current premises of the Centre. In 1997, he was appointed Abbot of the Centre by its members. Since then he has worked ceaselessly.