What Is Unsurpassable Bodhicitta? 何为无上菩提心? 

【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 dedication? That Bodhisattvas’ skilful dedication, [as] said, [is with] prostrating [and] others’ five kinds [of] cultivated practices, all those collected meritorious virtues’ good roots, not [for] seeking one’s own abiding of bliss. Desiring [to] pull out all sentient beings’ suffering thus, making [the] 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 dedication’s accomplishment.

[Note 1: The five kinds of cultivated practices are the Prostration Door (礼拜门), Praise Door (赞叹门), Vow-Making Door (作愿门), Observation Door (观察门) and Dedication Door (回向门). Details are in the first Related Article below.]


[Rebirth Treatise’s Commentary]: According to Rājagṛha City’s that spoken Immeasurable Life Sūtra’s Three Grades’ Births within, although [with] practices having [the] better [and] worse, none [are] not all [with] giving rise [to the] mind of unsurpassable Bodhi. This [i] unsurpassable Bodhi Mind, is the same as [ii] [the] mind [with the] vow [to] become [a] Buddha. [The] mind [with the] vow [to] become [a] Buddha, is the same as [iii] [the] mind [to] deliver sentient beings. [The] mind [to] deliver sentient beings, is the same as [iv] [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 2-4: 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 Pure Land, which already is unsurpassable Bodhicitta at work.

Note 2: To summarise, to reach Pure Land, there must be the Bodhi Mind (i.e. Bodhicitta), which is the aspiration to become a Buddha, for guiding beings to Pure Land, to also become Buddhas. Even if this aspiration 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 3: To simplify understanding of the commentary’s teaching,

[i] the unsurpassable Bodhi Mind (无上菩提心) =
[ii] the mind with the vow to become a Buddha (愿作佛心) =
[iii] the mind to deliver sentient beings (度众生心) =
[iv] 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 [i] = [ii] = [iii] = [iv],
therefore [i] = [iv] directly too.

Thus, [iv] to guide beings (who include oneself) to Pure Land is already expressing of [i] 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 [ii] to seek the Buddha path above (上求佛道) and [iii] 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 [iv], which already is fulfilling of [i] 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 that less in effect can be said to be not unsurpassable.) It is as if ‘short-circuiting’ the process to bridge the gap, from [i] reaching [iv] directly, while still fulfilling the essence of [ii] and [iii], still 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 Path (易行道), yet difficult to have Faith 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 4: 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, ‘[With] profound Faith giving rise [to the] Aspiration [to be born in Pure Land, this] then [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 [of those in] that land receiving bliss uninterrupted, for bliss thus aspiring [to be] born, [one] likewise will not attain rebirth. Therefore saying not [for] seeking one’s own upholding of bliss, [but] desiring [to] pull out all sentient beings’ suffering thus.

[Note 5: 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 upholding bliss, [are] said [to be in] that Pure Land [Of] Peace [And] Bliss, by Amitā[bha] Thus Come [One’s] fundamental vows’ power, of that upheld, [then] receiving bliss uninterrupted.  

[Note 6: 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.]  


All explanations [of] dedication’s meaning, say that with all that personally collected meritorious virtues, giving [them to] all sentient beings, [to] together [go] towards [the] Buddha’s path. That ‘skilful means’, says Bodhisattvas’ vows, with their wisdom’s fire, burns 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 7: 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.]


And sentient beings, [if] yet [to] completely accomplish Buddhahood, [while] Bodhisattvas already themselves accomplish Buddhahood, for example, [are] like [wooden] fire tongs, desiring [to] pick all grass [and] wood, [to have their] burning enabled [to be] used [up] completely, [but with the] grass [and] wood yet [to be burnt] completely, [the] fire tongs [are] already [burnt] completely.

[Note 8: It is actually inevitable that since one has to advance towards Buddhahood to truly guide others towards Buddhahood well, one might attain Buddhahood before all others do. If one does not advance towards Buddhahood, one would to that extent be less capable of guiding others towards Buddhahood. However, upon attaining Buddhahood, Buddhas can easily manifest as Bodhisattvas to continue guiding others towards Buddhahood, without retrogressing from Buddhahood attained. This is exemplified by many ancient Buddhas’ continual skilful manifestations.]    


With later [regarding] themselves, yet [are with them]selves [regarded] first, thus named ‘skilful means’.

[Note 9: The first half of the sentence is a line from Lǎozi’s (老子) Dàodéjīng’s《道德经》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 be long lived. Therefore, noble persons later regard themselves, yet are with themselves regarded 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 benefiting others, the more one attains, which makes one more capable of benefiting one and all.]


This within, [of] that spoken ‘skilful means’, says [to] make [the] 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 ultimately, [as] accomplishing [the] Buddha’s path’s unsurpassable skilful means.

[Note 10: Just as we benefit most greatly from being gathered by the Buddha to be born in Pure Land, which expedites our progress towards Buddhahood, we too will 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.]        

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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