What Is Unsurpassable Bodhicitta? 何为无上菩提心?The Easiest Way To Give Rise To And Fulfil The Unsurpassable Bodhi Mind 最易发与实践无上菩提心之法 Putting All Before One With The Unsurpassable Skilful Means Leads Fastest To Buddhahood 以后其身为最速成佛之无上方便 

[What Is Unsurpassable Bodhicitta?]

【往生论】何者菩萨巧方便回向?菩萨巧方便回向者,谓说礼拜等五种修行,所集一切功德善根,不求自身住持之乐。欲拔一切众生苦故,作愿摄取一 切众生,共同生彼安乐佛国。是名菩萨巧方便回向成就。

[Rebirth Treatise]: What [is] that [named] Bodhisattvas’ skilful Dedicating? That Bodhisattvas’ skilful dedicating, means [that] spoken reverently prostrating [and] others’ five kinds [of] cultivated practices, all those collected meritorious virtues [and] good roots, [are] not [for] seeking one’s own abiding [and] upholding of bliss. Desiring [to] pull out all sentient beings’ suffering thus, making vow [to] gather [and] receive all sentient beings, [to] together [be] born [in] that Buddha Land [Of] Peace [And] Bliss. [This] is named [as] Bodhisattvas’ skilful dedicating’s accomplishment.

[Note 1: The five kinds of cultivated practices are the Reverent Prostrating’s Door (礼拜门), Highly Praising’s Door (赞叹门), Making Vow’s Door (作愿门), Contemplating Clearly’s Door (观察门) and Dedicating’s Door (回向门).]


[Rebirth Treatise’s Commentary]: According to Rājagṛha City’s that spoken Immeasurable Life Sūtra, within [the] Three Grades’ Births, although [with] practices having [those] superior [and] inferior, none [are] not all [with] giving rise [to the] mind of unsurpassable Bodhi.

[Note 2: Just before the teaching on the Three Grades’ Births in the sūtra, the Buddha taught the following:

「诸有众生,(iii) 闻其名号,(i) 信心欢喜,(ii) 乃至一念 (iv) 至心回向,(v) 愿生彼国,即得往生,住不退转。唯除五逆,诽谤正法。」

‘All sentient beings, [who] (iii) hear his name (i.e. Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛), (i) [with the] faithful mind joyful, (ii) and even [with] one thought, (iv) [with the] sincere mind dedicate, (v) aspire [to be] born [in] that land, [will] immediately attain rebirth [there, and] abide in non-retrogression. Only excluded [are those with the] Five Heinous [Transgressions, who] slandered [the] right Dharma.’

Note that the Bodhi Mind (菩提心) is not mentioned. Since the above was taught before the Three Grades’ Births, this means that the above is a universal teaching applicable to all Three Grades’ Births too.

Note 3: In the second section of the Low Grade’s (下辈) Birth in the sūtra, the Buddha taught the following:

「若闻深法,(1) 欢喜信乐,不生疑惑,(2) 乃至一念,(3) 念于彼佛,(4) 以至诚心,(5) 愿生其国。」

’If hearing [the] profound Dharma, (1) [with] joyful faith, not giving rise [to] doubts [and] confusions, (2) and even [with] one thought, (3) mindful of that Buddha, (4) with [the] utmost sincere mind, (5) aspire [to be] born [in] his land.’

Note that the Bodhi Mind is not mentioned here too. Since the above as taught is at the end of the Three Grades’ Births, this means that the above is a universal teaching applicable to all Three Grades’ Births too, as the minimum criteria for reaching the Pure Land. The criteria is essentially similar to that in Note 2 too, perhaps reiterated for emphasis:

(1) 欢喜信乐,不生疑惑 = (i) 信心欢喜
(1) with joyful faith, not giving rise to doubts and confusions = (i) with the faithful mind joyful

(2) 乃至一念 = (ii) 乃至一念
(2) and even with one thought = (ii) and even with one thought

(3) 念于彼佛 = (iii) 闻其名号
(3) mindful of that Buddha = (iii) hear his name

(4) 以至诚心 = (iv) 至心回向
(4) with the utmost sincere mind = (iv) with the sincere mind dedicate

(5) 愿生其国 = (v) 愿生彼国
(5) aspire to be born in his land = (v) aspire to be born in that land]

[The Easiest Way To Give Rise To And Fulfil The Unsurpassable Bodhi Mind]

此无上菩提心,即是 (a) 愿作佛心;愿作佛心,即是 (b) 度众生心;度众生心,即 (c) 摄取众生生净佛国土心。是故愿生彼安乐净土者,要发无上菩提心也。

This unsurpassable Bodhi Mind, is the same as (a) [the] mind [with the] vow [to] become [a] Buddha. [This] mind [with the] vow [to] become [a] Buddha, is the same as (b) [the] mind [to] deliver sentient beings. [This] mind [to] deliver sentient beings, is the same as (c) [the] mind [to] gather [and] receive sentient beings [to be] born [in the] Pure Buddha Land. Therefore, those [who] vow [for] birth [in] that Pure Land [Of] Peace [And] Bliss, must give rise [to the] unsurpassable Bodhi Mind.

[Introduction To Note 4-6: These notes should assure that all who wish to give rise to Common Bodhicitta (通途菩提心), yet are unsure of doing so via committing to the Bodhisattva Precepts (菩萨戒), practices and vows (行愿), can still do so, just by encouraging themselves and others to reach the Pure Land, which already is unsurpassable Bodhicitta (i.e. Bodhi Mind: 菩提心) at work.

Note 4: To summarise, to reach Pure Land, there must be the Bodhi Mind, which is the aspiration to become a Buddha, for guiding beings to Pure Land, to also become Buddhas. Even if the aspiration to become a Buddha and to guide others is not yet strong, it will be fully strengthened when Pure Land is reached. As long as one is agreeable with going to Pure Land for this purpose, one can be said to have this aspiration already. Even if not directly agreeable, one should at least be receptive (i.e. not rejective) towards nurturing this aspiration.

Note 5: To simplify understanding of the commentary’s teaching,

(a) the unsurpassable Bodhi Mind (无上菩提心) =
(b) the mind with the vow to become a Buddha (愿作佛心) =
(c) the mind to deliver sentient beings (度众生心) =
(d) the mind to gather and receive sentient beings to be born in the Pure Buddha Land (摄取众生生净佛国土心).

As (a) = (b) = (c) = (d), therefore (a) = (d) directly too. Thus, (d) to guide beings (who include oneself) to Pure Land is already expressing of (a) unsurpassable Bodhicitta. This is so even if still in this world as an ordinary being now, yet to be in Pure Land, yet to have ‘graduated’ from Pure Land as a realised Bodhisattva, and yet to be a Buddha. (Of course, being enlightened will make guiding much more efficient due to increased skilfulness.)

While (b) to seek the Buddha path above (上求佛道) and (c) to transform sentient beings below (下化众生) are classic twin definitions of Common Bodhicitta, with the fulfilling of them seemingly like a tall order, those who have already nurtured the Three Provisions (三资粮) of Faith, Aspiration and Practice (信愿行), and are able to explain them, can encourage others to nurture these Three Provisions too. Doing so is to fulfil (d), which already is fulfilling of Bodhicitta. Even if not personally teaching, but guiding others to be taught by teachers, this has equivalent effects.

Even without any Bodhisattva vows formally committed to in a ceremony to express Bodhicitta conventionally, since successful guiding of others to reach Pure Land guarantees their Buddhahood most swiftly, this is definitely unsurpassable Bodhicitta at work. (Anything less in effect cannot be said to be unsurpassable.) This is as if ‘short-circuiting’ the process to bridge the gap backwards, from (d) reaching (a) directly, while still fulfilling the essence of (b) and (c), covering the ‘distance’ required.

While this might seem like an easy way to still express Bodhicitta, without doing other ‘more’ elaborate deeds, it is paradoxically also not so easy in the first place, to have personally nurtured enough of the Three Provisions (over the course of many past lives, and finally in this present life), to be able to inspire others to nurture them too. Even if there is ease of doing so now, this ease that came with forgotten difficulties did not come easily.

This is also the paradox of Pure Land Practice being the Easy Practice Path (易行道), yet difficult to have Faith (and Aspiration) in in the first place, if lacking sincere learning and Practice. (This makes the easiest path the most ‘difficult’ to embrace.) Thus, we should not take the precious Pure Land teachings and our understanding of them for granted. Just as we should be enthusiastic to keep learning and practising them, we should be eager to keep sharing them too, to urge others to keep doing the same.

Note 6: To personally seek Pure Land birth is to have unsurpassable Bodhicitta, as it is to faithfully aspire to reach Pure Land with Practice, through which one will definitely become a Buddha most swiftly, who will deliver beings to Pure Land, to also become Buddhas most swiftly.

As the Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì (净土宗九祖蕅益大师) taught more succinctly in his Essential Explanation Of The Sūtra In Which The Buddha Speaks On Amitā(bha Buddha)《佛说阿弥陀经要解》 , ‘[With] profound Faith giving rise [to the] Aspiration [to be born in Āmítuófó’s Pure Land, this] is unsurpassable Bodhi[citta].’ (深信发愿,即无上菩提。)

To urge others to seek Pure Land births is also to have unsurpassable Bodhicitta, as it is to deliver beings to Pure Land, for the same goals above.]


If [a] person [does] not give rise [to the] unsurpassable Bodhi Mind, only hearing [that those in] that land receive bliss without interruption, for [this] bliss thus aspiring [to be] born, [one] also will not attain rebirth. Therefore saying not [for] seeking one’s own abiding [in and] upholding of bliss, [but] desiring [to] pull out all sentient beings’ suffering thus.

[Note 7: Aspiring to reach Pure Land should not be mistaken as to merely reach an ‘eternally’ heavenly realm for sensual indulgence, which does not exist due to worldly impermanence. It is for liberation from rebirth, to end one’s own suffering, with which one can help others do the same too. It is through this that there is truly lasting bliss.]


Those abiding [in and] upholding bliss, [are] called those [in the] Pure Land [Of] Peace [And] Bliss, by Amitā[bha] Thus Come [One’s] fundamental vows’ power, of those abided [in and] upheld, [to] receive bliss without interruption.  

[Note 8: The bliss experienced in Pure Land is largely due to the Buddha’s sharing of his blessings, from his own skilful dedication of meritorious virtues, as added upon one’s own lesser meritorious virtues.]

[Putting All Before One With The Unsurpassable Skilful Means Leads Fastest To Buddhahood]


All explanations [of] dedication’s name’s meaning, call [it to be] with those personally collected meritorious virtues, giving [them to] all sentient beings, [to] together [go] towards [the] Buddha path. That ‘skilful means’, [is] called [the] Bodhisattva vow, [to be] with one’s wisdom fire, burn all sentient beings’ afflictions’ grass [and] wood. ‘If [there] is one sentient being [who has] not accomplished Buddhahood, I [will] not become [a] Buddha.’

[Note 9: Our skilful dedication of meritorious virtues now, and even when in Pure Land, should be for all beings to reach Pure Land, so as to most swiftly advance towards Buddhahood. We should also use our wisdom to guide all others to rid their afflictions.]


Yet, [with] sentient beings yet [to] completely accomplish Buddhahood, Bodhisattvas already personally accomplish Buddhahood. For example, like [wooden] fire tongs, desiring [to] pick all grass [and] wood [for] burning, [for this] cause exerting completely, [with the] grass [and] wood yet [to be] completely [burnt, the] fire tongs [are] already completely [burnt].

[Note 10: The wood in the tongs represent the Bodhisattvas’ own afflictions, which naturally get burnt up (i.e. eliminated) in their attempts to pick other beings’ afflictions (i.e. wood) for burning. When some sentient beings vow to not attain Buddhahood before all other sentient beings do, this does not mean that there is deliberate restraint from becoming Buddhas. This exemplifies great selfless compassion. As they advance on the Bodhisattva path with it, they will naturally get closer and closer to Buddhahood, and do attain it.

The most skilful Bodhisattvas will become Buddhas as Buddhas are the ones with perfect compassion and wisdom. If all Bodhisattvas do restrain from becoming Buddhas, there will be no Buddhas arising, since all Buddhas were once Bodhisattvas who vowed similarly. However, even ancient Buddhas (古佛) can remanifest as Great Bodhisattvas (大菩萨) like Contemplator Of The World’s Sounds Bodhisattva (观世音菩萨) without any spiritual backsliding (退转), to continue exemplifying walking of the Bodhisattva path (菩萨道) most skilfully, thus still living up to their vows.]


With [putting] last [of] oneself, yet [with] oneself first, thus [is this] named [as a] ‘skilful means.’

[Note 11: The first half of the sentence is ‘derived’ from Lǎozi’s (老子) Classic Of The Path And Virtue《道德经》, its Chapter 7 (第七章). In it, he wrote that ‘The heavens are long, and the earth lasting. The reason why the heavens and earth are able to be long and lasting, is with them not being for themselves living, thus able to long live. Therefore, with noble persons’ putting last of themselves, yet with themselves first, placing themselves outside of their consideration, yet having themselves surviving. Is this not with themselves being without selfishness, thus able to accomplish themselves?’ (天长,地久。天地之所以能长且久者,以其不自生,故能长生。是以圣人后其身而身先,外其身而身存。非以其无私邪,故能成其私?) 

Thus, paradoxically, walking the Bodhisattva path, although seemingly for the benefit of all other beings, first and foremost benefits oneself. The more selfless one is in benefitting others, the more one attains, which makes one more capable of benefitting one and all.]


This spoken ‘skilful means’ within, [is] called making vow [to] gather [and] receive all sentient beings, [to] together [be] born [in] that Buddha Land [Of] Peace [And] Bliss. That Buddha Land is the same as [the] ultimate accomplishment [of the] Buddha path’s unsurpassable skilful means.

[Note 12: Just as we benefit most greatly from being gathered by the Buddha (Āmítuófó: 阿弥陀佛) to be born in his Pure Land, which expedites our progress towards Buddhahood, we too should use this same and greatest skilful means to guide others, to expedite their progress. This can be done now; not only after reaching Pure Land. As progress to Buddhahood is the swiftest through the Pure Land, it is the supreme skilful means, even for Great Bodhisattvas, to personally advance towards it, and to guide others to it too.]

婆薮槃头菩萨 +  昙鸾大师   

Vasubandhu Bodhisattva + Great Master Tánluán    
(Rebirth Treatise + Rebirth Treatise’s Commentary)  

Namo Amituofo : Translation and notes by Shen Shi’an

Related Articles:

Twenty-Fourth Chapter On Three Grades Of Rebirth (
Of Immeasurable Life Sūtra)

Rebirth Treatise   

Is Bodhicitta A Must For Birth In Amituofo’s Pure Land?

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