This then is how, historically, the ancient scriptures of Buddhism describe the first moments of ultimate love—love for all living creatures, which in Buddhism is called bodhichitta. There is a crucial time in the life of a being who is striving for enlightenment: they are faced with decisive moment of personal torment, and they make a decision to take it on gladly, with a prayer that it may substitute for the pain of every other living being.
Within the great philosophical schools that grew up in ancient India in the centuries following the Buddha’s passing from this world, this first moment of ultimate love was incorporated into the five stages or paths in the spiritual evolution of any one of us.
We can go through these five stages on three different levels, depending upon our motivation; basically, depending on whether we are trying to stop only our own suffering, or the suffering of all other beings as well. The highest of these levels is the track of a bodhisattva; when we go through the five paths at this level, then in the end it brings us to complete enlightenment.
Here is a quick description of these five stages. We reach the first most often when we undergo a personal tragedy—such as the death of our mother—which forces us to admit inside that we face inevitable pain and death in this life. It is said that a person who is on the bodhisattva track, the third level, is able at the same time to recognize that everyone else around them faces the same problem.
And so they undertake their spiritual journey down the five paths with the added intention of helping everyone else around them. This intention is what we call bodhichitta.
The person then moves on to the second stage or path, at which they begin to have intellectual insights into where this pain, and all the rest of the world, is actually coming from. That is, they begin to figure out that their world, and all the people in it, are actually coming from karmic seeds within their own mind. And these seeds have been planted by deeds of either kindness or malice towards others.
This second stage culminates in a moment of understanding where the spiritual seeker first perceives how an actual object in their life—something like a pot on the stove—is actually flowing from seeds in their own mind.
At the third stage, a person who has reached this understanding goes further, and in a state of deep meditation sees directly that there is nothing in the world which is not coming from seeds within their mind. This deep meditational union with ultimate reality, the culmination of billions of lifetimes of effort, is so powerful that the practitioner will, within a brief period of time afterwards, be transformed into an enlightened being.
At the fourth stage, these insights enable the practitioner to overcome, permanently, all of their negative emotions, including the tendency to misunderstand their world. The fifth stage is perfect enlightenment, where mind and body transform into that of a being of light who is capable of attending personally to countless billions of people in countless worlds, guiding them to their own enlightenment.