'Bodhi' is Sanskrit for Enlightenment and 'Citta' means Mind. It refers to the wish to attain enlightenment (become a Buddha) for the benefit of all sentient beings. A 'Bodhisattva' is a being (sattva) with the bodhicitta motivation.
Even if I am genuinely concerned about the welfare of others, when I am hopelessly lost in my own problems, trying to deal with the world, how can I help others? I would be like jumping into a river where someone is drowning, when I cannot swim myself...
Therefore, I should first learn to swim myself, learn to deal with my problems, learn how to become liberated from my problems, or at best, become all-knowing or enlightened. The realisation comes: "change the world, start with myself".
This idea is called Bodhicitta: the wish to become an omniscient Buddha so I can be of perfect help for others.
But in order to collect enough positive momentum (Karma) to become a Buddha, I also need to help others as much as possible on my path. But I should realize that at this moment my help is limited, simply because I don't know all the results of my actions. Also while helping others, we should not forget the goal of becoming a Buddha to of much more help; therefore ideally, one should be mindful of dedicating any positive energy to this goal.
Some reflections by the Indian saint Shantideva:
"Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy,
And whatever suffering there is in this world,
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.
But what need is there to say much more?
The childish work for their own benefit,
The Buddhas work for the benefit of others.
Just look at the difference between them!"
Or, as Shantideva reflected the far-reaching thought of Bodhicitta:
"May I become food and drink in the aeons of famine for those poverty-stricken suffers.
May I be a doctor, medicine and nurse for all sick beings in the world until everyone is cured.
May I become never-ending wish-fulfilling treasures materialising in front of each of them as all the enjoyments they need.
May I be a guide for those who do not have a guide, a leader for those who journey, a boat for those who want to cross over, and all sorts of ships, bridges, beautiful parks for those who desire them, and light for those who need light.
And may I become beds for those who need a rest, and a servant to all who need servants.
May I also become the basic conditions for all sentient beings, such as earth or even the sky, which is indestructible.
May I always be the living conditions for all sentient beings until all sentient beings are enlightened."
The realisation of Bodhicitta is quite profound, as it is obviously not easy to (automatically) put the welfare of others above one's own welfare. Someone who lives with this realisation is called a Bodhisattva: in all respects a genuine saint.METHODS TO GENERATE BODHICITTA
The 4-Point Mind Training is based on cultivating four realisations:
1. Equanimity: One can cultivate the realisation that all sentient beings are equal in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering. Beings cannot really be divided into friends, enemies or strangers because friends may turn into enemies, enemies may become friends, and strangers may become friends or enemies.
2. Faults of self-cherishing: a consequence of karma is that self-cherishing is the only cause of my problems.
3. Good qualities of cherishing others: a consequence of karma is that cherishing others is the cause of all happiness.
4. Exchanging self & others: being intelligently selfish, by continually trying to put oneself in the place of others, and then acting.
The 7-Point Mind Training is based on cultivation realisations in 7 steps:
2. Recognizing that all sentient beings have been (or at least could have been) my mother as I have lived innumerable lives.
3. Remember the kindness of your mother in this life, all she did for you, the problems she went through to take care of you.
4. Wishing to repay the kindness of her and all previous mothers.
5. Generate great love: may all mother sentient beings have happiness and the causes for happiness.
6. Generate great compassion: may all mother sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering
7. Generate bodhichitta: should give up all self-cherishing and egoism, and work to bring them happiness and release them from their suffering: therefore, may I become an omniscient Buddha, as he is the perfect doctor to cure the suffering of all mother sentient beings.
From: All You Ever Wanted to Know from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Happiness, Life, Living, and Much More:
The Seven-Point Cause-and-Effect Method (for the development of an altruistic mind):
(1) The first of the seven points is the cultivation of equanimity - that is, a state of mind that tries to equalize the strong attachment to friends, the strong hatred for enemies, and for an indifferent attitude toward neutral people.
(2) The second stage is remembering our own beginningless rebirths so that we can recognize that all sentient beings have been our mothers, friends, and relatives at one time or another.
(3) Third, having recognized them as such, we recollect and reflect on the kindnesses they extended to us. This attitude - the special recollection of kindnesses - does not discriminate between friends and enemies; even enemies are regarded as kind.
(4) The next step is to repay their kindnesses by reflecting how our mother of this lifetime extends her kindness to us and how parents extend their kindness to their children.
(5) Next comes the stage of loving-kindness. This is a state of mind that cherishes all sentient beings. Having developed this loving-kindness for all sentient beings, we wish that all sentient beings be free from suffering. That is compassion.
(6) This is followed by an unusual attitude in which we take upon ourselves the responsibility to free all sentient beings from suffering.
(7) And the final stage is actual Bodhicitta, the altruistic attitude to achieve enlightenment. This is experienced partly by the force of our strong compassion for the suffering of all sentient beings, the feeling of being able to see their suffering, and partly by the understanding that it is possible for the mind of a sentient being to be freed from its delusions. All sentient beings have the potential to achieve the omniscient state. Understanding this, combined with a strong force of compassion, brings about the experience of Bodhicitta.
In the Tibetan tradition, following verses are often recited to direct the mind towards generating Bodhicitta:
With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
To the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
Until I reach full enlightenment.
Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
today in the Buddhas' presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
For the benefit of all sentient beings.
As long as space remains,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
And dispel the miseries of the world.http://www.viewonbuddhism.org/compassion.html