One Goal, Many Methods  

After we have explored the countless expressions of the different spiritual traditions and their meditative methods, even within the Hinayana, Mahayana, and Vajrayana systems of the Buddha Dharma, we find their essence is the same. If we were to synthesize all these traditions and their practices into one essential practice or philosophy, this would be Bodhicitta (the awakened heart-mind of wisdom and compassion).

Bodhicitta is the core essence of the teachings we are receiving, of all the teachings we have ever received. This is a very important point to recognize. The great Kadampa masters, like Atisha, have already essentialized these practices for us, so we do not have to invent something new.

The proven path to success already exists. It is right here for us, in this moment. However, it is important to know how to essentialize the teachings, to look to their meaning, or Dharma can be very confusing, like when we come to a fork in the road when driving a car and we do not know which way to go. We have to recognize that the essence of all the teachings is Bodhicitta, the awakened state of mind, which is compassion itself.

When Atisha came to Tibet, he met a famous teacher named Rinchen Zangpo, who invited Atisha to his monastery. There they had a wonderful Dharma discussion. Rinchen Zangpo was able to answer any question Atisha had. Atisha said to his attendants, “Why do I have to be in Tibet when they have Rinchen Zangpo?” Finally, Atisha asked, “How do you practice all these sutras and tantras together?” Rinchen Zangpo said, “When you practice sutra, you practice sutra, and when you practice tantra, you practice tantra.”

Then he took Atisha to his temple and there were many images of deities, each with its own cushion. “Now I know why I have come,” Atisha said. Atisha saw that Rinchen Zangpo was relying on the superficial level of the Dharma, he was relying on the external form and not connecting with the essence, Bodhicitta.

Because Atisha saw how this approach to Dharma was corrupting the teachings, he unified them in order to reveal their essence and to prevent people from practicing improperly. For example, in Vajrayana Buddhism there are an incredible amount of teachings—ngondro, tsa lung, trekchod, mahayoga, atiyoga. But is there a separate purpose for all these teachings? No! There is a single goal and a single practice, although there are many methods.

Bodhicitta, which is ultimate love, is the highest realization one can gain through all these methods. Bodhicitta is not merely mundane love, it is the union of love and compassion, which is the actualization of wisdom. We can only understand the nature of reality through love, not through our small ideas, or concepts, or language, or even knowledge. We can only understand the highest reality through understanding and realizing ultimate love, which is Bodhicitta mind. Bodhicitta mind is love, which is wisdom itself.

The Goal is the Practice Itself 

We begin Dharma practice by developing love and compassion. There is no end to Dharma practice, but if there were, it would end with love and compassion. This is the core essence of Dharma practice. Developing love and compassion is the essence of any Dharma practice we can do. All teachings have the same message, that of generating love and compassion. So it is crucial that we know how to essentialize all of the Dharma teachings, not thinking that all these Dharma teachings have separate goals.

When we practice Bodhicitta, loving-kindness, the goal is already here, right here in each of us, in this moment. It does not exist in the future when we are better practitioners. The goal IS what we are doing right now. Practicing love and kindness is the goal of the practice. When we practice love and compassion for other beings, for ourselves, we are truly enlightened in that moment. There is no other definition of enlightenment apart from having love and compassion. The goal is already actualized in this moment. The goal is the practice itself.  

This is a very Mahayana idea, because normally we think a goal is something we obtain in the future, as the result of the practice of meditation or yoga. But in this way our Dharma practice is based on expectations and selfish motivations and lacks the authentic heart-connection needed to free ourselves of delusion.

Ironically, the goal is not in the future. The ever-present goal is already here. The path itself is the goal. This paradox characterizes the teachings. In many ways the teachings are paradoxical because we approach everything from a material point of view. We approach the teachings with a mentality of lack, which means we think the teachings are going to give us something. We think we are going to get something special from listening to teachings and practicing Dharma. But Dharma practice does not turn us into somebody special.

Dharma practice only reveals what has always been present within each of us, but has been obscured by the pettiness of our desire, ambition, and greed. This is why it is so important for us to always check our motivation. When we check our motivation, we can see what is false and discard it through simply seeing. The seeing itself is the energy of Bodhicitta mind, of love and compassion. Seeing does not come from our intellect. Awareness is unconfined, universal love, whereas the intellect, the ego, is limited to selfishness and does not have the capacity to see itself. Ignorance, not recognizing who we are, this is the characteristic of our delusion. 

Source: Used with permission from