Buddhism A–Z
What is Bodhichitta in Buddhism?

Bodhichitta (sometimes spelled bodhicitta) is the term used in Mahayana Buddhism for enlightened mind. It is the combination of wisdom—understanding the true nature of reality—and compassion—the commitment to save all sentient beings from suffering. Bodhichitta is sometimes called “the heart-mind of the Buddha.”

The development of the enlightened mind of bodhichitta is the basic goal of Mahayana practice. As the essence of the bodhisattva path, it also refers to the bodhisattva’s vow to attain enlightenment in order to free all sentient beings from suffering. 

Different Aspects of Bodhichitta

In Tibetan Buddhism, bodhichitta is divided into relative bodhichitta and ultimate bodhichitta, which correspond to the two aspects of compassion and wisdom.  

Relative Bodhichitta

This refers to the heartfelt aspiration to attain enlightenment for the benefit of others. It involves cultivating great compassion and desiring to save all sentient beings from suffering. Out of their great compassion, the bodhisattva may even delay or forgo their own enlightenment in order to remain in samsara to benefit suffering beings.

Ultimate Bodhichitta

This refers to the direct, experiential understanding of reality — specifically, the wisdom of realizing emptiness as the ultimate nature of all phenomena. This wisdom helps to uproot the fundamental ignorance that is the cause of all suffering.

The Cultivation of Bodhichitta

Bodhisattvas and aspiring bodhisattvas cultivate bodhicitta through the practice of the six transcendent perfections, or paramitas: generosity, ethical conduct, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. They practice these perfections as a way to realize their enlightened intention and benefit sentient beings as fully as possible. Teachings by well-known Buddhist figures such Shantideva, Atisha, and others also teach the practitioner how to cultivate bodhichitta.

As renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön writes, “Bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful minds.” Buddhism teaches that this mind of enlightenment is available to anyone. By cultivating it, we can better the lives of ourselves and others.

Related Reading

A Meditation to Develop Bodhichitta

Thubten Chodron on how to develop bodhichitta, the aspiration to attain buddhahood in order to benefit others.

A Bodhicitta Practice for Love & Compassion

Pema Chödrön offers a bodhicitta practice for generating love and compassion for all human beings.

The Compassionate Attitude of Bodhichitta

Tsoknyi Rinpoche talks about how the most important thing in spiritual practice is motivation and the wish to free all beings from suffering.

16th century sculpture of the eleven headed acalokiteshvara

Bodhichitta: The Excellence of Awakened Heart

The mind of enlightenment, bodhichitta, is always available, in pain as well as in joy. Pema Chödrön lays out how to cultivate this soft spot of bravery.

Pema Khandro Rinpoche Recites a Prayer to Awaken Bodhicitta

Pema Khandro Rinpoche offers a recitation from the Vajrayana tradition to awaken bodhicitta, or enlightened mind.

Stay with the Soft Spot of Bodhichitta

Pema Chödrön on how to awaken bodhichitta—enlightened heart and mind—the essence of all Buddhist practice.

Buddhism A–Z

Explore essential Buddhist terms, concepts, and traditions.