His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave this teaching in Los Angeles, USA, in June, 2000, as part of a commentary on Atisha’s Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (the first-ever lam-rim text) combined with Lama Tsongkhapa’s Lines of Experience, a shorter lam-rim teaching.
The highest perfection of altruism is bodhicitta complemented by wisdom. Bodhicitta – the aspiration to bring about the welfare of all sentient beings and to attain buddhahood for their sake – is really the distilled essence, the squeezed juice, of all the Buddha’s teachings, because it is bodhihitta that determines whether or not our practice becomes the path to enlightenment.
Thus, all 84,000 discourses of the Buddha can be seen as either preliminary to the practice of bodhicitta, the actual practice of bodhicitta, or precepts and activities in which we must engage as a result of taking the bodhicitta pledge – the Bodhisattva Vow.
The altruistic intention is important not only at the beginning of the path but also while we are on it and even after we have attained full enlightenment. As Shantideva pointed out, even before we have entered the path and do not have a genuine realization of bodhicitta but only an intellectual understanding of it and admiration for what it represents, this alone will bring us immediate benefit. Regardless of how much we are under the control of the afflictions, we receive this benefit the moment we are able to appreciate its value. However, the joy and serenity we experience comes mixed with a sense of sadness for the fate of other sentient beings.
On the path, the practice of bodhicitta helps expedite our accumulation of merit, and serves as the basis for the successful development of all subsequent practices. It is like an all-in-one method, enabling us to purify quickly all our accumulated negative karmic imprints. Finally, when we become buddha, it is bodhicitta that sustains the never-ending continuity of our enlightened activity dedicated to the welfare of all sentient beings. …