H.H. Dalai Lama: Commentary on 37 Bodhisattva Practices

A Short Commentary on Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

(rGyal-sras lag-len so-bdun-ma) 
by Togmey-zangpo (Thogs-med bzang-po) 

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama 
translated and condensed by Alexander Berzin, 1983 revised second edition, March 2006 

First edition published in 
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Four Essential Buddhist Commentaries. Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1983. 

Order directly from Paljor Publications.

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Day One


Taming the Mind

Bringing About Mental Happiness

The Four Noble Truths

The Three Supreme Gems

Buddhism Based on Reason and Practice

Reaffirming a Mahayana Motivation

The Outstanding Features of the Author of the Text

The Text

The Initial Salutation

The Promise to Compose

Day Two

Taking Advantage of Being in a Holy Place

Practical Advice to the Visitors from Tibet

Setting the Motivation

The Precious Human Life

The Circumstances Most Conducive for Taking Advantage of a Precious Human Life


The Importance of Having Proper Friends

Safe Direction (Refuge)

Day Three

Reaffirming Our Motivation and Review

Refraining from Destructive Behavior

Working for Liberation

Developing a Bodhichitta Aim

Exchanging Self with Others

Bodhisattva Behavior: Dealing with Harms

Two Critical Situations Requiring Dharma Practice

Overcoming Hostility and Attachment

Developing Deepest Bodhichitta, the Realization of Voidness

The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes

A Bodhisattva’s Daily Practice


Day One


Many people are here today from various different places, even Tibet, and you have all come for the Dharma purpose of listening to teachings. Therefore, concerning the development of a bodhichitta resolve and so forth, I shall teach here in Bodh Gaya Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices by Togmey-zangpo and The Three Principle Paths by Jey Tsongkhapa. As we are in a very holy place, the positive force or merit built up here is much more powerful than elsewhere. But for this positive force to be most effective, we need to have a very widespread and extensive motivation and attitude. This is necessary not only for the listeners to the teachings, but for the lama or guru as well.

The fully enlightened Buddha, the Compassionate One, has a body with thirty-two major and eighty minor features and a faculty of speech with sixty enlightening characteristics. Furthermore, his mind is free from all disturbing emotions and attitudes and from all obscurations, such that he always has nonconceptual straightforward cognition of voidness and, simultaneously, of all phenomena exactly as they are. Such a compassionate, fully enlightened Buddha demonstrated his enlightenment here in Bodh Gaya 2,500 years ago and we are all in this very place now.

The times at present are very difficult with many wars, famines, disasters and so on. Nevertheless, due to our previously built-up positive force, we have been born at such a time and place and, even under such trying conditions, have had precious opportunities to encounter the teachings and gurus. Therefore, as much as we can, we need to try to practice what we hear.

We cannot consider as Dharma simply praying to receive something, however. The Dharma, rather, is something we ourselves need personally to put into action. It is not just taking safe direction (refuge) by our mouths reciting some words, but rather implementing what we say into our daily behavior. Thus, we need to take keen interest in the teachings and involve ourselves with their combined study and practice. But first it is necessary to know how to do this.

Dharma is something that the more we engage in, the happier we become. This occurs as a result of our network of positive force (collection of merit) from the various constructive actions we perform. This is the reason why we need to be followers of the Buddha not just by our mouths, but rather by our practice. It will create more happiness. Thus, while here in Bodh Gaya where we have the opportunity of meeting with the Dharma, and especially with the Mahayana Dharma, it is important to try to build up as much positive force as possible. Most critical for this is to set a proper motivation. If we have an extensive and very positive one, there is great benefit to be gained. But if we practice without such a motivation, it will not be as effective and that will never do.

For the lama, also, it needs to be the same. The lama must not teach out of pride or in order to gain fame and respect, nor out of envy, or a wish to compete with others. Rather, his sole motivation needs to be to benefit others as much as he can, respecting everyone here, all beings, without condescendingly looking down upon any. The audience also must not be arrogant, but needs to listen attentively and respectfully to receive the precious teachings of the Buddha. If both the lama and the disciples behave properly and carefully in this way, it is extremely beneficial and we can all build up much positive force.

No matter what disturbing emotions and attitudes we have, it is necessary to apply remedies to them and not be discouraged. In so doing, then very slowly we will be able to resolve our problems and, eventually, be rid of them forever. We will find that gradually we improve each year. Since the mind, by nature, is not stained by these disturbing emotions and attitudes, we can succeed if we set our minds to cleansing themselves. As the suffering we experience is due to our minds not being disciplined or tamed, this is what we need to remedy. But it will not come about all at once.

For example, if we are trying to make a very wild and unruly person more peaceful and cultivated, we can only succeed slowly and gradually over many, many years. The same is true with our minds. Although we have faults, we can slowly improve. We can see a similar phenomenon with children. At first, they do not know anything; they are completely uneducated. But they go through the various classes at school, the first grade, second and so on, and eventually through this gradual process they learn and become educated. The same is true when we build a house, we do it story by story, floor by floor. We do it gradually without worrying about how long it will take, and just progress straightforwardly through the various stages involved until we complete the task. We need to apply this same attitude when dealing with our minds.

As for setting our motivation, we need to try to do this as best as we can, at our own levels, and slowly we will be able to improve it through stages as described in the lam-rim or “Graded Path.” Most of you know about this, but for the new people here I shall explain a little about some of its main points.

Taming the Mind

To practice Dharma is not a process of simply changing clothes, status or the amount of wealth we have. Rather it means to change our attitudes and tame our own minds. No matter who we might be – even myself, the Dalai Lama – I cannot be considered a Dharma person unless my mind is tamed. And we can never say someone has such a mind simply because of the name he has or the clothes he wears; but only because of his or her actual mental and emotional condition. Therefore, the most important and crucial point is to tame our minds.

All of you here need to examine yourselves. All of us want happiness and nobody wishes to suffer. There is not one of us who, if we have a headache, does not wish to be rid of it. Isn’t that so? This is true of both physical and mental pain. But many stages are involved in eliminating unwanted suffering and obtaining desired happiness. It is not something that happens all at once. Even in trying to help or tame an animal and bring it some happiness, we have to do it in stages suited to that particular beast. For instance, first we try to feed it, we refrain from frightening it, mistreating it and so forth. Likewise the same applies to us, we have to help ourselves by stages.

First, we try to think in terms of benefiting ourselves for this coming year, or for the next year. Then eventually we increase our scope to think in terms of twenty years ahead and then maybe to try to gain a human rebirth for our next lifetime, hoping to gain happiness and not to have suffering on a more long-term basis. We progress through such stages. Therefore, now that we are human beings, it is very important to think ahead and not to do so just on a temporary, superficial level, but to try to attain ultimate happiness.

In our more usual pursuit of happiness, we seek food, clothing, shelter and so forth for our bodies. But the reason for being a human is not just that. Even if we are rich, we find that wealthy people can still have a great deal of mental suffering. We can see this very clearly in the West. There are many people who have much money and physical comfort, however they also have numerous mental problems such as depression, unclear minds and various miserable states. In fact, we find a lot of people there taking drugs and medicine to try to improve this state. This demonstrates that although they have material comfort and wealth, they want mental happiness above all and in addition to their physical pleasures, and that wealth alone does not bring both. Even if we are very healthy and strong, if our minds are unhappy this will not be enough. Therefore, we need both physical and mental happiness. Of these, the mind is more important, since it rules us. Therefore, the emphasis needs to be on bringing about happiness of the mind.

Bringing About Mental Happiness

But what brings about this happiness of mind? It comes through the channel of our thoughts. If we do not use our minds and think, we will be unable to bring ourselves happiness. It works both ways. For instance, no matter what disturbing emotions are our strongest, whether it be anger, desire, pride, jealousy or whatever, the more we think about them, the more we act on them, and the more suffering we have. If anger, for instance, is our strongest disturbing emotion, then the angrier we become, the more unhappy we are.

If we are bitter and angry about Tibet, for instance, are we happy or unhappy? We are unhappy, it is very clear. Therefore, as an opponent, if we need to think about love and compassion. This counters our anger and brings about peace of mind. Thus, a good heart and kind thoughts bring us happiness. As all of us want this happiness and wish to eliminate our sufferings, we need to try to see that the root of this is the mind.

In short, the stronger our attachment and aversion are, the stronger our suffering will be. The weaker these are, the happier we will be. Thus, we need to think about what we need to eliminate, what we need to rid our minds of. If we are envious or jealous, for instance, what happens? All of us must die in the end, so we will never be able to retain the aims of our envy. As we will never be able to satisfy completely our jealous desires, we will never be happy so long as we are jealous or envious. The same is true with pride. No one can stay in the same condition forever: we cannot always remain young and youthful. Whatever we are proud of, we will eventually lose. Thus, pride as well is a very unhappy state of mind. If we are in a restaurant, for instance, and are envious of the good meal that someone else is eating, what does this bring us? It brings us only unhappiness; it certainly does not fill our stomachs!

If we think of ourselves, the Tibetans, if we feel angry and envious of the Chinese, are we happy like that? Is that a happy state of mind? It definitely is not. Think of somebody whose main activity of life is to act out his attachments and aversions. Such a person may become very powerful, very famous; he can even go down in history. But what has such a person attained? He has merely attained his name’s going down in history. He has not become happy; he is dead. So if we spend our entire lives acting out our disturbing emotions, no matter how wealthy and powerful we become, this will not bring us happiness.

If we think about our situation these days in Bodh Gaya, for instance, we can understand this even more clearly. Even with the, the Dalai Lama here, if you are in such a holy place and become angry with a beggar or angry at the difficult physical conditions, are you happy at that moment? On the other hand, when your disturbing emotions are weaker and you are doing something constructive here, are you happy then? Think about it.

Your state of mind even affects your neighbors, friends, and children. Consider a family situation, for instance. If you are very angry and become cross with your children; you hit them, they cry – it makes everybody unhappy, doesn’t it? But if you are not angry, if you are very relaxed, then you let the children play and everybody is very happy and peaceful. In a country, as well, we find that if detachment and tolerance are widely practiced, then everyone shares in the happiness of that place. This holds true for individual people, families and for countries. The more disturbing emotions there are, the more unhappiness there is; whereas, the less the disturbing emotions, the more the happiness.

As for myself, I think quite a bit about the drawbacks of the disturbing emotions and attitudes, all the bad things that they bring me, and also the advantages of not having any. This helps me very much in putting the emphasis in my own life on having less disturbing emotions. Then, as a bonus, we find that we are able to enjoy life more; our food tastes better and everything goes very nicely. But if our minds are filled with disturbing emotions, then, even if we are doing meditations, recitations or whatever, we will not derive any happiness from them at all. Therefore, we need always to try to think of how disadvantageous the disturbing emotions are.

In short, if our minds are tamed and we have no disturbing emotions or attitudes, then we become very happy. Therefore, the best thing that can happen as a result of taming our minds is that disturbing emotions and attitudes will not arise at all. But even if they come up, the next best thing we find is that we no longer act them out. For instance, it is best if we never become angry at all; but should our tempers flare up, we find that if we have tamed our minds, we will not act it out. We will not punch someone in the face, for instance, or call him or her a bad name, or have any such crude reaction.

Thus slowly, over a gradual process, we find that the opponents become stronger and stronger, our minds become more and more tamed and in this way we become happier. As beginners, therefore, we need to try never to have our disturbing emotions of anger, attachment and so forth arise. But even if they do, we need to try to not act them out. Do you understand? If we tame our minds, this is a Dharma practice, but if we do not, then it is not Dharma. If we eliminate the disturbing emotions altogether, if we attain a state of true stopping (cessation) or peace, this is in fact the actual Dharma.

The Four Noble Truths

There are Four Noble Truths: true sufferings, their true causes, true stoppings and true pathway minds. For true sufferings, we can think of the various types of unhappiness: of death, sickness, old age and so forth. The Buddha said it is very important to be aware of suffering. What is the root of this suffering? The root is an untamed mind, and more specifically, it is the disturbing emotions and attitudes. Therefore, the disturbing emotions and attitudes are said to be true causes or true origins of suffering, as are the karmic impulses that arise under the power of these disturbing emotions. Thus, it is disturbing emotions and karma that are true causes of suffering. Therefore, as all of us do not wish for any suffering and want only to eliminate it, we need to see that the cause of this suffering is our having untamed minds.

Since we want to bring about a true stopping of that suffering such that it never arises again, what we need to do is to cause our disturbing emotions and attitudes to cease into the dharmadhatu or sphere of voidness. This is known as the nirvana of a true stopping.

As there are many stages in the process of ridding ourselves of disturbing emotions and attitudes, or causing them to stop forever, this process entails what is known as the true pathway minds of the Aryas or Noble Ones. More precisely, since during the process of eliminating the various disturbing emotions and attitudes, we also work to attain more and more qualities, the minds that eliminate disturbing emotions and faults on the one side and attain good qualities on the other are known as true pathway minds.

In short, there is true suffering; it has a true cause; we wish for their true stopping; and to enact this, we need to actualize true pathway minds. The result of this is then the attainment of a definite stopping, peace, or a state of nirvana, “the state beyond sorrow,” and this brings us lasting happiness. This is what the Buddha demonstrated here in Bodh Gaya by his example, and afterwards he taught the Four Noble Truths. The first two then, true sufferings and their true causes, are on the deluded or impure side, and the second two, true stoppings and true pathway minds, are on the liberating or pure side.

We can see then that the motivation for Dharma practice is not like, for instance, when a child listens to a parent and does what he is told simply because the parent has told him to do that. Engaging in Dharma needs to be not just obeying our parents’ words like an obedient child. Rather, we engage in Dharma practice because we wish to eliminate our own suffering and for that reason we follow the instructions of what a teacher tells us to do in order to tame our own minds. Do you understand?

The Three Supreme Gems

Many factors are involved in eliminating suffering. For instance, there are the sufferings of hunger, cold and so forth and, for eliminating each of these, we would rely on different types of methods or work. Thus, through the work of farmers, merchants and so forth, we can eliminate our hunger and cold. For the suffering of sickness, we would rely on doctors and medicine. But these are only temporary aids, not ultimate cures. If we are sick, we can take medicine to make us strong, but these will not eliminate our old age and death. In short, we cannot obtain the ultimate elimination of the sufferings of birth, sickness, old age and death, by ordinary means, even if some methods can bring us temporary relief.

Many religions, such as some of the Hindu sects, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and so forth, accept a God who is the creator of happiness and suffering. If we pray to this God, he will grant us happiness. But this is not how Buddha explained. Buddha said that our suffering and happiness are not in God’s hands, but solely in our own.

Unlike the religions that accept only one Jewel of Refuge, namely God, we accept Three Supreme Gems. Buddha is the one who shows the path of what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected. Therefore, Buddha is like a teacher and not a creator God. Our karma or behavior is what creates our happiness and suffering. Happiness comes from positive or constructive actions. Therefore, we need to try to act in this way as much as we can. On the other hand, since unhappiness comes from negative destructive actions, we need to try to eliminate them as much as possible.

What Buddha taught then was the path of cause and effect. Our fate lies in our own hands, not in God’s, nor, for that matter, in Buddha’s. Thus, the actual refuge or safe direction is in the Dharma, which is something we need to develop on our own mental continuums. In other words, by eliminating the disturbing emotions and so forth from our own minds, we will eliminate our suffering and attain happiness.

In addition, in order to develop this Dharma Gem on our own mental continuums, we need helpers to provide examples and assist in this process. Such people are known as the Sangha Gem.

In short, then, the Buddha shows the safe direction to put in our lives; the Dharma is the actual safe direction; and the Sangha community helps set the example. There is no one single God or Jewel of Refuge that is going to give us happiness and eliminate our suffering.

Buddhism Based on Reason and Practice

In English, “religion” is often used as a word for translating the Tibetan term for Dharma. This word religion has the connotation of a system in which a Creator God is accepted. Therefore, it is commonly said that Buddhism is atheistic, and not really a religion. The Chinese, however, say that they are atheists, the Buddhists are religious, and Buddhism is a religion. But actually, by the above definition, we are atheists too.

Furthermore, we accept the words of the Buddha not on blind faith, but only after we have examined them carefully. If they are reasonable, we accept them, and if not, then we don’t. For instance, we have many logical proofs for phenomena such as rebirth and only after we have examined the issue can we accept them. If something can be established by logic, then it is acceptable. But if it is only based on blind faith; that will never do. Therefore, do not just say “ I believe.” The main point is to analyze by logic and reason. If something is not in accord with reason and reality, do not accept it. We must always base our beliefs on reasoning.

When Buddha spoke in the past, he gave the complete teachings. There is no need to revise what he said, add to it or improve it. It is just a matter of us practicing what Buddha preached. It is not very complicated. We can understand this from the example of medicine. Doctors examine individual patients and then prescribe the medicine suited to each. If the treatment does not work, only a fool would say that the fault lies with the science of medicine. A smart person will realize that the reason the medicine did not work for him is because of the medical practitioner, and not because of the science of medicine itself. Likewise, the same is true with Buddhism There are no faults in the Tripitaka or Three Baskets, the texts of Buddha’s direct teachings. If we examine, we will see that the confusion does not lie in the sources themselves. Therefore, what we need to do is to practice properly as is stated in these various sources. Do you understand?

Reaffirming a Mahayana Motivation

The main practice, then, is taming the mind. For this, we need to listen to teachings and, to do this properly, we need a correct motivation. Buddha gave both Hinayana and Mahayana teachings. The main point in mind in Mahayana is helping others. In Hinayana, the emphasis is that even if we cannot help others, we need at least not to harm them. Thus, the emphasis in both is on how to help and be of benefit to others. We need to learn from this. If we can help others, we need to do so, and if we cannot, then certainly we need never to harm them. It never says anywhere that we need to become angry with anyone, does it?

In the Mahayana teachings, it also says we need to try to ignore our own selfish purposes and work for the sake of the masses of others. This is the Buddhist message, isn’t it? Thus, we need to have a pure, warm and kind heart. We need to try then to set a bodhichitta resolve as our motivation. Our bodhichitta resolve is to work to attain enlightenment in order to be able to benefit all beings. With such a motivation, now listen to The Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices as written here by the bodhisattva Togmey-zangpo.

The Outstanding Features of the Author of the Text

Togmey-zangpo lived at the time of Buton Rinpoche, which was two generations before Tsongkhapa. He was a lama mostly trained in the Sakya tradition and, from an early age, was famous for being primarily interested in helping others. As a child, for instance, he would even become cross at people if they did not help others. Eventually, he became a monk and studied with and relied on various lamas, mostly two specific teachers. He practiced both sutra and tantra and became a very learned, realized practitioner.

He was most famous for his development of bodhichitta and this he did mostly through the teachings on equalizing and exchanging self with others. In fact, if we try to think of a bodhisattva, Togmey-zangpo is one who comes to mind immediately as an example, doesn’t he? He was such type of great person, truly a special being. Whenever anyone came to listen to his teachings, for instance, they would become very subdued, quiet, and calm.

As he wrote about these thirty-seven practices in order to help us all, we need to try to examine these teachings over and again. We say we are Mahayana practitioners, but if we do not always examine the actual Mahayana practices, this would never do. Therefore, we need to try to examine ourselves in terms of these thirty-seven practices and see if, in fact, we do accord our actions with them. Among them, we find teachings for individuals of the three different scopes of motivation, as explained in the lam-rim graded path.

The Text

I shall now give just a short commentary on this text. I have received its lineage from Kunu Lama Rinpoche, Tenzin-gyeltsen, and he received this from the prior Dzogchen Rinpoche in the province of Kham. This is just a little background history and this copy, in fact, I brought with me from Lhasa.

The sources for these teachings are Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior (sPyod-‘jug, Skt. Bodhisattvacharya-avatara), Maitreya’s Filigree for the Mahayana Sutras (mDo-sde rgyan, Skt. Mahayanasutra-alamkara), and Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland (Rin-chen ‘ phreng-ba, Skt. Ratnamala).

The text is divided into three sections:

at the beginning, building up positive force,

the actual teachings,

the conclusion.

At the beginning, building up positive force is divided into two sections:

the initial salutation,

the promise to compose.

The Initial Salutation

This first verse presents the first to these two sections, the initial salutation.

Obeisance to Lokeshvara. 
I prostrate always respectfully, through my three gateways, 
To the supreme gurus 
   and the Guardian Avalokiteshvara who, 
Seeing that all phenomena have no coming or going, 
Make efforts singly for the benefit of wandering beings. Obeisance is to Avalokiteshvara, referred to here as Lokeshvara. As the root of enlightenment is compassion, and since Avalokiteshvara is its embodiment, the prostration is to him. Also, to set the seeds and instincts for us to be able to meet with and study Sanskrit in the future, the author gives his name Lokeshvara in Sanskrit. The prostration is to Avalokiteshvara as inseparable from the gurus and is made with the three gateways of body, speech and mind. The reason for making such prostration is the good qualities of such an object of reverence.

What are these good qualities? The root of Mahayana is the bodhichitta aim. This is a mind aimed at enlightenment with the intention to attain it and to do so in order to be able to benefit all limited beings. To accomplish these aims, we need to practice the six far-reaching attitudes, the six perfections. As a result, we are able to attain an enlightenment that has both a physical and a mental aspect, namely Form Bodies and a Dharmakaya or Deep Awareness Body Encompassing Everything, the omniscient mind of a Buddha. To attain these two, we need to have built up the causes that are in similar categories to the results. Thus, we need a network of positive force to achieve the Form Bodies of a Buddha and a network of deep awareness (collection of wisdom) to attain a Buddha’s mind. The basis for these is the two truths.

Lokeshvara is someone who sees that all phenomena have no coming or going. When we examine the conventional truth of things, things do in fact come and go. However, if we examine the deepest truth about them, their coming and going are not established as truly and inherently existent comings and goings. For example, there is such a thing as cause and effect. Since causes have no inherent existence – they are devoid of inherent existence – their effects must likewise be devoid of such an impossible way of existing. Neither causes nor effects have inherent existence; they are established as depending on each other. In other words, the dependently arising nature of all phenomena is established as being noninherently existent.

As Nagarjuna has said, things have no true coming, going, abiding and so forth. Thus, the phrase ” Seeing that all phenomena have no coming or going” refers to voidness and the fact that the object of prostration here is someone who understands or sees voidness with straightforward nonconceptual cognition. Because everything dependently arises, everything is devoid of inherent existence. And because everything is devoid of inherent existence, everything dependently arises by a process of cause and effect.

From disturbing emotions and attitudes as a cause, suffering arises as a result, and from constructive actions as a cause, happiness arises as a result. Since the coming of suffering dependently arises from disturbing emotions and destructive actions, and the object of prostration here sees that this is the case with all living beings, his compassion is therefore aimed at them solely for the purpose of helping to show them the way to eliminate their suffering, to make it go away. Thus, both the wisdom and method sides are indicated here since we need both together, without either being missing.

From the salutary verse, then, we can see these two sides. Lokeshvara sees that everything is devoid of inherent existence and, because everything is devoid, he sees that all phenomena arise from cause and effect. Specifically, he sees that the suffering of all beings arises or comes from their disturbing emotions and attitudes, and therefore he is compassionately aimed at eliminating that suffering or making it go. Thus, the two sides of wisdom and method are praised here in regard to Lokeshvara. Because he sees everything as void, he sees everything as cause and effect. Thus, he has compassion for everyone to take them out of their suffering. Do you understand?

The Promise to Compose

The next verse is the promise to compose.

Fully enlightened Buddhas, 
   the sources of benefit and happiness, 
Have come about from (their) 
   having actualized the hallowed Dharma. 
Moreover, since that depended on (their) 
   having known what its practices are, 
I shall explain a bodhisattva’s practice.

Buddha first developed a bodhichitta aim to reach enlightenment in order to benefit everyone. Then, once he attained enlightenment, his single aim has been to benefit all. He tamed his own mind, having realized that he needed to eliminate all his own disturbing emotions and attitudes to do so and that this is what everyone needs to do to be able to attain true happiness. Thus, Buddha taught the various methods to do this and we ourselves need to practice in the same way as he did. If we practice as he taught, we too shall be able to obtain happiness. Therefore, the verse refers to the Buddhas as the sources of benefit and happiness.

The Buddha himself was not enlightened from the beginning. He relied on his own gurus, practiced their teachings, and tamed his mind. By the process of eliminating all his disturbing emotions and attitudes, he became enlightened. Therefore, he reached his attainment by practicing and having actualized the hallowed Dharma.

We need to try to understand how we have both bodies and minds. When our eye consciousness sees something, for instance, we do not say that our eye consciousness sees it, but that I myself do. If our bodies become sick, we say that I am sick. The implication of these expressions is either that I am a mind consciousness or that I am a body. But, our bodies are first formed in our mothers’ wombs and they end when they decompose with our deaths. So “I” cannot be just a body.

Maybe, then, it is the case that I am a mind that is dependent on a body. The “I,” however, is not a form, a shape, nor a color. Yet when we see a body in the distance, based on that we say, “Oh, I see my friend” and we become very happy. But that person, if we examine closely, is not just his body. When we go to see a doctor, for instance, the doctor says, “Is your body well?” but obviously we are not just our bodies. In America, in some famous hospitals, we see doctors even prescribing meditation in order to improve people’s health. Thus, obviously there needs to be some relationship between the body and mind for them to give that type of non-physical prescription.

But what about this “I” just being the mind? Let us look at the nature of the mind. When we know something, or are clear about or aware of something, we say, “I know that thing.” But it is very difficult to identify precisely what the mind is. Its definition is just a mere clarity and awareness. It is not something physical that has any color or shape. If we think about it, it is something like a clear space, a very empty space in which all appearances have ceased and in which the awareness of anything can arise or dawn as a mere clarity and awareness within that clear space.

The mind, then, which arises simultaneously with the winds, drops and so on of the subtle body at the first moment of conception, is something that has this nature of mere clarity and awareness. For such a phenomenon to arise, it needs, as its immediate cause, something that exists in the same nature or in the same category as it itself does. Therefore, it is necessary for there to be a prior moment of mere clarity and awareness to act as a cause for the first moment of clarity and awareness at the instant of conception. It is by such lines of reasoning that we establish or prove the existence of past lifetimes. And if past lives exist, it follows that future ones do also.

As this mere clarity and awareness that we have is something having continuity and which will go on in future lives, it is very important to eliminate the obscurations or veils that are over it causing us our various disturbing emotions and suffering. In removing them, we become able to reach the natural basis of consciousness, which is just mere clarity and awareness unobscured. This is what can become the omniscient mind of a Buddha, a Fully Enlightened Being. Therefore, as the basis in our own minds and in that of an Enlightened Being, or in an omniscient mind, is the same, the latter type of mind is something we can definitely attain ourselves. A Buddha is not someone who is enlightened from the beginning; he became enlightened by relying on various causes. He rid himself (abandoned) what is necessary to get rid of and attained what is necessary to attain. Therefore, if we do the same, we can attain the same.

Thus, the text says, ” Fully enlightened Buddhas, the sources of benefit and happiness, have come about from their having actualized the hallowed Dharma“. How can we ourselves do this? It says, ” That depended on their having known what its practices are“. Thus, it is not sufficient merely to know about the Dharma. It is necessary to put it into practice and actualize it once we know what the Dharma practices are.

I shall leave the text here for today. Have you understood everything? We need to practice as much as we can. What we need to practice is renunciation, bodhichitta, and voidness. We need to examine ourselves very carefully and honestly, see what our dispositions are, what our own tendencies and inclinations are, and then train ourselves in a path that suits us.

Day Two

Taking Advantage of Being in a Holy Place

As I explained yesterday, we are at a special place here where the Buddha manifested his enlightenment and where many enlightened beings have been. Nagarjuna and his two spiritual sons, for instance, and many Tibetans as well, have lived here in Bodh Gaya. For example, Sanggyay-yeshey came here long ago from Kham and became the abbot of its monastery. Many others arrived also from all different lands and, due to the inspiration of this place, received many insights. This is a special characteristic of this holy spot. So if we, being here too, have a strong, proper motivation, and if we pray hard, then with much joyful perseverance and proper practice, we can build up much positive force also.

Especially for those of you who have come here from Tibet, although the conditions there are so difficult, you need to take full advantage of being in such a holy place now to gain much positive strength. All of us here are very fortunate. At such a time, with such rampant delusions in the world and so much desire and hatred, it is extremely precious to have the opportunity to follow the Buddha’s teachings of compassion, love and so on. Although there is so much wealth in the world, there is no way that money can buy freedom from death, old age, and other basic problems. Since sufferings come from the side of the mind, then external circumstances, such as wealth, cannot eliminate that mental suffering. Thus, it is very important to follow spiritual methods, and of all the various traditions, it is very wonderful that you have this interest in Buddhism.

Look at the many Westerners who are here among us. They have come because of their sincere interest in Buddhism. They meditate, recite prayers, do practice, and know quite a lot. Their interest in Buddhism is due to their having thought about it with logic and reasoning. In order to accept the Buddhist teachings, they analyzed them first. Seeing their examples, we can see that this is a very precious and important opportunity to be in such a holy place as this, Bodh Gaya. Here we become mindful of all the great acts, deeds and qualities of the Enlightened Beings. As being in such a place so conducive for constructive behavior and thought is really quite rare, we need to try to build up as much positive force here as possible. The more constructive things we do here, the greater the positive force we build up, even more than elsewhere, simply because of our being in this special place. Do you understand?

Practical Advice to the Visitors from Tibet

While you are here, although selling goods is not forbidden, you need to be honest. Although it is all right to receive some profit from your sales, do not be greedy or dishonest. Also, when you circumambulate, do not gossip or daydream, but be attentive and respectful. And don’t throw paper all around on the ground and go to the toilet everywhere. I realize that if you wait in line just to use the toilet, you may have to wait for hours, so you have to go elsewhere; but be as clean as possible. Tibet is a cold country, whereas here in India, at a low elevation, the conditions are different. So don’t just dirty the place everywhere. Be careful and be responsible.

Also, it is very good to make prostrations, either bent or outstretched, but do so correctly. Keep your hands flat on the ground and have your palms facing downward. Offer candles, do things like this. This is very good; it is excellent. Say prayers, meditate and even if it is not with single-minded concentration, it sets very good instincts. The most important thing is to have a pure motivation. Therefore, we need to examine our minds and motivation for everything we do. This is very important. We need to try to diminish the power of our disturbing emotions and attitudes as much as possible.

The best thing to do is to develop an attitude of considering others more important and ourselves as unimportant. This is the essence of Mahayana. Have a kind and warm heart. Being constructive in our actions and being kind, warm and loving at heart are the real points. If we engage in external Dharma actions out of pride, competition, or envy, it only leads to negative karmic force. Therefore, what we do and why we do it is important and crucial. We need always to examine and correct our motivation.

Setting the Motivation

Being here in such a holy and special place, we need to try to have as enlightening a motive as possible. Remaining ever mindful of Buddha’s examples of developing a bodhichitta resolve, we need to try as much as we can to emulate them. If we develop a kind heart and great motivation in such a place as this, it is very beneficial. Do you understand?

As it says in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, try never to become angry. As is explained there, nothing destroys positive force like anger. So, try never to lose your tempers or become angry with anyone. Try to tame and discipline your minds not to be crude or rough. Instead of being envious of others’ actions and achievements, rejoice in the positive force of everyone here. Recite the Seven-limb Prayer and think well of all its points. Try to build up as much positive force as you can. Understand? And if we can build up together a little bit here, it will make our lives much better, won’t it?

So, now set a bodhichitta motivation to listen to these teachings. It is The Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices by Togmey-zangpo and is divided into three parts: the beginning, the actual discussion, and the end. The actual discussion is divided into the three levels of motivation, as explained in Lam-rim, the “Graded Path.” First comes the initial scope motivation.

The Precious Human Life

(1) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
   at this time when we have obtained
The great ship (of a human rebirth)
   with respites and enrichments, difficult to find,
To listen, think, and meditate unwaveringly, day and night,
In order to free ourselves and others from the ocean
   of uncontrollably recurring samsara.

Dharma is a system of methods to make an unpeaceful mind peaceful and an untamed one tamed. All of us are equal in wanting happiness and not any suffering, and Dharma is what brings this about. But people do not know how to practice it. If we look at our human bodies, although we might think of them merely in terms of their being in the category or lineage of our parents, if we look more profoundly, we see that they are in the category of having respites and enrichments. Respites means liberties or freedom to practice Dharma, and look at us here. We do have the freedom to come here and to practice Dharma, don’t we? We are not deaf: we are not missing various faculties that would prevent us from hearing the teachings and so on. We have all the conditions conducive for practice, and whatever is nonconducive is not here. We have, in fact, eight respites and ten enriching factors.

Many people in the world have a human birth, but few have the independence and freedom to practice the Dharma. We are very fortunate, therefore, to have such a rare opportunity. Also, there are spiritual teachers available and present in the world, following the example of the Buddha and carrying on his deeds. These beneficial effects we are experiencing now have resulted from causes similar to them in the past. In other words, our good fortune now must be from constructive causes we have previously enacted. Therefore, to obtain such opportunities and such a working basis again in the future, we need to build up the constructive causes for this now.

If we act without attachment, aversion, or naivety, it will not be difficult to build up constructive causes for a precious human rebirth in the future. But, in fact, as we rarely act in this way, we need to take as much advantage of the present opportunity as we can. Never be discouraged or feel inadequate. Try to act as constructively as possible.

A constructive or tamed mind is not something that we can buy in a store, plant in a field or obtain from a bank. It comes from the actual practice of taming our minds. We need to practice in order to gain meditation experiences and stable realizations. Thus, we need to follow the examples of the great teachers of the past.

In Tibet, first there were the great Nyingma lamas; then afterward there were Atisha and the Kadam lineage, the Sakya lamas, and Marpa, Milarepa and Gampopa of the Kagyu lineage, and so on. All of them underwent great difficulties and, by exerting tremendous efforts, they became enlightened. It is just up to us to follow their examples. We need to examine ourselves and ask, “What progress have I made in the last five years, the last ten, the last fifteen years in taming my mind?” If we can see that we have indeed made a little improvement, then this can encourage us. Don’t be proud, or anything like that, but if we realize that over five or ten years we can progress a little, then we will not be discouraged over short periods of time.

The actual practice is to listen, think, and meditate on the teachings. However, when we hear teachings or study them, we need always to check our attitudes about them. Whatever we hear, we need immediately to put into practice. We need to have our practice of listening, thinking, and meditating never be separate from each other or have any of them missing.

The Circumstances Most Conducive for Taking Advantage of a Precious Human Life

(2) A bodhisattva’s practice is to leave our homelands,
Where attachment to the side of friends tosses us like water;
Anger toward the side of enemies burns us like fire;
And naivety so that we forget what’s to be adopted
   and abandoned cloaks us in darkness.

Best is to leave our homelands. But even if we do not or cannot, we need to avoid attachment or aversion because of it. Do not think, “This is my country, my family,” as though there were a findable, inherently existent country for which we could have attachment or for which we could have hatred of its enemies. Attachment and aversion bring destructive behavior and create much negative force and suffering. These two troublemakers are the chief among all our disturbing emotions and attitudes, and both come from unawareness (ignorance).

Even if we leave our countries and go to another, make new friends and then develop attachments and aversions there, this will not do. This is no good. The main point is to rid ourselves of attachment and aversion, and replace them with an attitude of wishing for the benefit of others. If there are people to whom we feel attracted and for whom we have attachment, then with just a slight change in their behavior all of a sudden we hate them. But if, instead, we have an attitude of love and compassion to help these persons, then even if they behave badly, we will still wish them to be happy. Thus, we need to replace our attachment with an attitude of wishing for the benefit of others.

Most of us here have left our countries, but there is nothing wonderful or extraordinary about that if we still have attachment and aversion. We need to rid ourselves of them.

(3) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rely on seclusion where,
By having rid ourselves of detrimental objects,
   our disturbing emotions and attitudes
   gradually become stymied;
By lacking distractions, our constructive practices
   naturally increase;
And by clearing our awareness,
   our certainty grows in the Dharma.

If we are away from those who disturb us and we do not have a head full of busy work, then automatically we turn to constructive activities more easily. Therefore, it is most helpful to live in seclusion and quietude. But to be able to meditate in solitude, we need the full force of having heard and thought about the teachings, and this without any attachment or aversion.

Thus, we have attained a precious human rebirth and now we need to use it properly and not lose this opportunity, because it is impermanent. We need to turn away, then, from our obsessive concern with mainly this life, as it says in The Three Principal Aspects of the Paths. If we put our main emphasis on future lives, then things will go well in this life also. But if all our emphasis is on this life, it will not help our future lives at all. Therefore, we need to turn from being only involved with the affairs of this life and work to improve our future ones. To do this, we need to think about impermanence.


(4) A bodhisattva’s practice is to give up concern
   being totally with this lifetime,
In which friends and relations a long time together
   must part their own ways;
Wealth and possessions gathered with effort
   must be left behind;
And our consciousness, the guest,
   must depart from our bodies, its guest house.

If we look at world history, no one in the three realms of compulsive rebirth has lived forever. Look at the great places of the past, Nalanda, where great Atisha and others flourished. Now only its ruins are left. This helps to show us impermanence. Look at the customs and so forth of Tibet of the past. These circumstances are past; they are impermanent and have finished. A hundred years from now it is certain that none of us here will be alive. Our mental continuums of mere awareness and clarity will have gone on; the existence of past and future lifetimes is for certain. But, what we experience now will not – our wealth, our prosperity, all of these things that have come from causes in past lifetimes. No matter how close we are with others, our families and so on, we will all have to part and go our own ways. Those who have built up positive force will experience happiness; those who haven’t, will not. The continuity of the mere “I” labeled on the subtle energy and consciousness goes on for sure, thus we shall experience the fruits of the actions we commit now. Therefore, what we do now is crucial.

When we die, we all go alone. Even the Dalai Lama, when he dies, has to go alone. When Mao Zedong died, he went alone. His wife, Jiang Qing, did not accompany him, nor did his masses. All his fame while alive did not help him at all. We can see what happened afterwards. Even such a great man as Mahatma Gandhi went alone. He had to leave his staff, his sandals, his round wire glasses behind. We can see them in his memorial; he has taken nothing along. External material possessions, friends, relatives, nothing helps, not even the bodies we have received from our parents. As Gungtang Rinpoche explained, we all have to go alone.

Look at us Tibetans, look at yourselves. Even if we are in such difficult times, we are still human and when we die there is no certainty that we will be human again. If we do not make some progress now while we are human, what can we do later in another lifetime not as a human. Now, of course, we have to eat. Except for great beings who live on single-minded concentration, all of us have to eat solid meals. So, obviously, we have to plant food and do things for this lifetime. But, we need to not have this be our total obsession. We need to devote maybe 30% of our time to this lifetime and 70% to the future, or better 50\50. The main point is not to be totally involved with this life alone.

The Importance of Having Proper Friends

(5) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rid ourselves of bad friends
With whom, when we associate,
   our three poisonous emotions come to increase;
Our actions of listening, thinking,
   and meditating come to decrease;
And our love and compassion turn to nil.

We need to think then mostly of our future lives and, to do so, we need good friends. They are important because they influence us very much. Even if our own listening to the teachings and thinking about them are quite meager, the examples of good friends can influence us to do more.

It is important then to have friends of the same dispositions as we have. Why? Because as it says in the verse, bad friends or misleading ones can harm us by their company, therefore we need to dissociate ourselves from them. But, of course, this means that we need still to have love for them – the wish for them to be happy; just stay away from their negative influence.

(6) A bodhisattva’s practice is to cherish
   more than our bodies
Our hallowed spiritual mentors, to whom,
By entrusting ourselves, our faults come to deplete
And our good qualities come to expand like the waxing moon.

If we have positive-minded friends and keep the good company of gurus or spiritual mentors, they exert the best influence on us. Of course, we need a guru who suits us, but even if such a person is pleasing to our minds, he or she needs to be fully qualified. We Tibetans have tulkus or incarnate lamas with famous names, but they need to be fully qualified, otherwise it is meaningless. Therefore, we need to put aside the person’s title as a tulku and check his or her own personal qualifications. If he or she is fully qualified, only then is he or she a guru or a lama.

But, many tulkus in fact are not lamas. They have no qualifications, although they might have a very large estate and a great deal of wealth. Money, a big name and fame, however, do not make someone a lama. Therefore, we need to check their actual qualifications, their studies and so forth. Such careful scrutiny is extremely important. Buddha emphasized it, as did Tsongkhapa.

A healthy relation between disciples and their spiritual mentors is extremely crucial. If the gurus are fully qualified, we can fully entrust ourselves to them and do whatever they say, as was the case with Naropa and Tilopa. If Tilopa told him to jump, Naropa did so without hesitation. But, if our gurus are not on the level of someone like Tilopa, we must not go off and do just anything that just anyone tells us to do. We do not go out and jump off this stupa monument simply because some fool tells us to do that, do we?

The main point is for us beginners to have a firm basis or foundation in ethical self-discipline upon which we can build. The way we Tibetans practice is excellent. We have a basis of ethical discipline, on top of which we have the Mahayana practice of love and compassion. Then, at the peak, we have the practice of tantra, and this is of all four of its classes. In fact, we Tibetans are the only Buddhists who practice the entire path of the Buddha’s teachings and this on the basis of one person practicing it all.

In Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka, for instance, they have only the ethical discipline part and lack the Mahayana as well as the tantras. In Japan, Korea, and some other places where there is Mahayana, they have the tantras, but only the first three classes: kriya, charya and yoga. They have nothing of anuttarayoga tantra, the fourth class. Some places have a view of voidness, but only that of the Chittamatra system or that of the Yogachara-Svatantrika system of Madhyamaka and not the Prasangika-Madhyamaka view. Some places seem to have Mahayana with no basis of discipline and others even try to have Tantrayana with both of the other two missing. It is only among us Tibetans that we have the full, entire path and practice incorporated into one person. And this person needs to be each of us ourselves.

Safe Direction (Refuge)

(7) A bodhisattva’s practice is to take safe direction
   from the Supreme Gems,
By seeking protection from whom we are never deceived –
Since whom can worldly gods protect
When they themselves are still bound
   in the prison of samsara?

This brings us to taking safe direction or refuge, and when we do so, we need to be mindful of the good qualities of the Three Gems. The word for Buddha in Tibetan is Sanggyay (sangs-rgyas). “Sang” means to eliminate everything that is to be gotten rid of, to eliminate all faults, and “gyay” means to realize and achieve all good qualities. The Sanskrit word “Dharma” means to hold, to hold someone back from what is nonconducive. In other words, following the Dharma holds us back from suffering.

Actually, the Dharma Gem refers to the noble truths of true stoppings and true pathway minds. The true stopping of the fleeting stains from our minds, their dissolution into the pure sphere of voidness, is a true stopping. The pathway minds that have nonconceptual straightforward cognition of voidness are true pathway minds leading to liberation and enlightenment. These two are the Dharma Gem.

The Sangha Gem refers to the Aryas or Noble Ones, those who have nonconceptual straightforward cognition of voidness. Thus, these are the Three Gems of Safe Direction. Buddha is like a doctor; Dharma is like medicine, or more precisely, the path of the cure and the state of being cured are like the true pathway minds and true stoppings; and the Sangha are like nurses to help.

We all dislike suffering, from the slightest discomfort upward, and we wish liberation from it. Its state of elimination and the methods to eliminate it forever are like the Dharma Gem. We need a teacher of this process and this is the Buddha Gem, and friends to help, which is the Sangha Gem. Furthermore, we need to be confident in the ability of the objects showing us a safe direction to give us protection; plus, we need to have a dread of suffering and the desire for relief. These act as the causes for putting a safe direction of refuge in our lives.

As Buddha has taught ways to eliminate the true cause of true suffering such that its true stopping will come about, he is worthy of being an object of safe direction. We have met with the teachings of such a Buddha and thus we need to take his safe direction in life. We take safe direction in our future resultant state of our attainment of a true stopping of all our suffering and our future attainment of enlightenment. We also take causal safe direction in that which is offered now by the Three Gems that will bring us to this state. Therefore, all of you please take a safe direction in life.

Day Three

Reaffirming Our Motivation and Review

Look at all the people around you, whether they are close or distant, rich or poor, all of us are equal in wanting happiness and no suffering. The best way to accomplish this is the practice of Dharma. We have fully endowed human bodies, have met with the complete teachings of ethical discipline, Mahayana, and tantra, and have likewise met with well-qualified gurus. Therefore, we need to set a full Mahayana motivation to eliminate all our disturbing emotions and attitudes, attain all good qualities and reach enlightenment.

The basic point is to develop a warm and kind heart. This is the root of all happiness for ourselves and for others, both superficially and ultimately. It is the root of the bodhichitta resolve, which brings us enlightenment and thus the ability to bring happiness to everyone. Therefore, as much as we can, we need to develop a kind heart.

Do not just say words like “May I develop a kind heart.” What we need to do is actually to train and practice the stages to attain it. We need to know the methods and then put them into practice. The full Dharma teachings are found in the hundred volumes of the Kangyur words of the Buddha and the two hundred volumes of the Tengyur commentaries by the Indian masters. The main lama who brought the full lam-rim graded stages of training the mind and cleansing our attitudes to Tibet was Atisha. His Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment (Skt. Lam-sgron, Skt. Bodhipathapradita) is the root source of this text, The Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices. As The Thirty-seven is short and easy to understand, we need to try to memorize it and then recite it often, thinking of the meaning, and put it into practice.

Now listen to the continuation of the teachings on this text. First, we need to recognize our precious human bodies and think to take advantage of them. As it is certain that we will die and lose them, we need to turn from our obsession with this life and eventually turn from our obsession with future lives as well.

To do this, we need initially to think about death and impermanence, and that when we die we can be reborn in one of the three worse rebirth states. We cannot see the trapped beings of the joyless realms (the hells) or the clutching ghosts (hungry ghosts), but we know about animals and their sufferings. We see how they are abused, beaten, exploited for their labor, used cruelly in medical experiments, sacrificed for their meat, and so forth. In Buddhism, we need to develop kindness for them. In some other religions, they feel killing animals is not much different from chopping down a tree, or picking a vegetable. But in Buddhism, it is different. We actually look at and take the sufferings of animals seriously, and consider how we could easily be reborn as one of them.

The person who teaches the path of how to avoid being reborn as an animal is the fully enlightened Buddha. He taught the path of behavioral cause and effect, of what actions are to be dropped and which are to be adopted. We need to try to learn as much as we can of the Buddha’s perfect teachings, for they are without any faults and they offer a totally safe and sound direction in life. As we were saying yesterday, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are the Three Jewels of Safe Direction. Only these three offer a never-failing safe, protected, stable direction in life. Although there is no fault in going to worldly gods for help as friends, it is improper to seek our ultimate refuge in them.

Look at the monks in the monasteries of Thailand and Burma; they are really excellent. In their temples, they have only representations of Buddha Sakyamuni and no one else. In Tibetan temples, we may have a picture of Buddha Sakyamuni, but there are also various exotic looking protectors and so forth. In Japan, there are pictures of just the main teachers and almost no representations of Sakyamuni Buddha. Of course, there is the fact of the Buddha being inseparable from the gurus and appearing in many forms, but this is something different. The point is that the main one to whom we need to turn for inspiration and enlightening influence is Buddha Sakyamuni. Often, people criticize us and say that we Tibetans forget about the Buddha and just beat drums before pictures of protectors. There is much danger in this. So, be careful. But, enough on this point.

Concerning the Sangha Gem, the practice in Thailand and Burma also is excellent. The monks are treated with great respect and are supported by the householders and given alms. This is excellent. Often, people feel that there are actually only two Jewels of Safe Direction: the Buddha and the Dharma, and that the Sangha is unnecessary. They think that we can forget about them. There is no need for everyone to be monks and nuns, but we need to check our own dispositions, and if it suits us, being a monastic is best. But, at least never criticize monks and nuns. We need to examine and criticize only ourselves. The Sangha is very important for setting examples and for symbolizing the Buddha’s teachings. We need to be very careful about our own karma and about what we say and do.

Refraining from Destructive Behavior

(8) A bodhisattva’s practice is never to commit
   any negative actions,
Even at the cost of our lives,
   because the Able Sage has declared
That the extremely difficult to endure sufferings
   of the worse states of rebirth
Are the results of negative actions.

In plain language, if we do good, good comes from it, and if we do bad, bad comes from it. It is very simple. The effect follows in the same category as the cause. It never fails and, moreover, from small causes we can experience extensive results.

In countries as well, any horrible conditions that happen come from negative forces built up from past destructive actions. In Tibet for instance, we sometimes have drought; our crops fail; sometimes there are wars, invasions, and so forth. All of these are due to our past destructive actions and our lack of positive force. If we do not have any positive force built up from our past actions, then no matter what we do, it will not bring about good conditions. Therefore, we need always to wish for others’ happiness. Like concerning the Chinese, we can only wish them well. We must not wish that bad things befall them. What they experience will be the results of their own actions.

Destructive behavior comes from our disturbing emotions and attitudes and, by acting in this way, we build up negative force, which brings us nothing but suffering. Destructive actions can be of body, speech, or mind. An example for one of the body would be, for instance, killing, which is taking the life of anything from a human down to an insect. It is very negative to kill, so we need to refrain ourselves as much as we can.

All beings have an equal right to life and cherish their lives as much as we do. If we prick our finger with a thorn, we say, “Ouch, I hurt.” Everybody feels exactly the same, all beings. It is especially terrible to sacrifice animals; they still do that in some lands. In the past, they did this in Kinnaur, Spiti, and some places in Nepal, and even in certain districts in Tibet. Superficially, the people there take refuge in me, the Dalai Lama, and then sacrifice animals. This is very bad. Saying the mantra of compassion “Om mani padme hum” and yet sacrificing, that will never, never do.

Next is stealing. This also is very negative. Inappropriate sexual behavior is to have relations with another person’s spouse, or with someone who has a relation with someone else, and not seeing anything wrong in so doing. When we look at the historical literature, most of the various discords and fights in royal families have come from sexual misconduct. It is very destructive.

Next is lying. This too is extremely negative. Of course, to lie to protect someone’s life is something else, but we need always to be honest. If we lie, it brings only unhappiness. We sit in fear that somebody is going to find us out. That always makes for a very uneasy mind, doesn’t it?

Next is divisive language, causing others to be unfriendly and apart. We hear bad things about someone and then spread it; this is very destructive. We need to try to bring other people together. When people live and work together, their harmony is based on mutual confidence and trust. When we look at the Chinese, for instance, they speak of everybody as being comrades, but this is only at the discussion table. Outside, they will not even share a bar of soap with each other. This is because they have no confidence; they do not trust one another. And this comes from causing divisiveness among others. Therefore, never use divisive language.

Next is abusive language, calling other people bad names like “beggar” and so forth. It hurts their feelings: it does not bring happiness at all. Gossip is chattering, always saying meaningless things; it is a complete waste of time.

Then there is covetous thinking. Someone else has something nice, which we would like to have, and we walk along directing all our attention at this object and wishing only to have it. If we are not careful, we will walk right into a wall!

Thinking with malice is next. This is also very negative. It just makes us unhappy. It usually does not hurt the other person; it hurts only ourselves. It is very self-destructive to hold grudges and to wish others ill. We can never solve problems by holding a grudge. Problems can only be solved through compassion, love, and patience; so never harbor ill will. Last is distorted antagonistic thinking: denying what exists or which is true, or making up something that does not exist or which is untrue.

These ten, from taking a life to distorted antagonistic thinking, are the ten destructive actions. We need to realize their disadvantages and refrain from them. The actual practice is, from seeing their drawbacks, to restrain ourselves, with conscious effort and joyful perseverance, from killing, lying and so forth. Even if we cannot refrain completely, we need to try to lessen them as much as we can. This is what follows from taking safe direction.

Now come the teachings for when we have an intermediate or middling scope of motivation.

Working for Liberation

(9) A bodhisattva’s practice is to take keen interest
In the supreme never-changing state of liberation,
As the pleasures of the three planes of compulsive existence
Are phenomena that perish in a mere instant,
   like dew on the tips of grass.

No matter where we are born in the three realms of compulsive existence, it is like merely being on different floors of a burning building. Everywhere is suffering, so we need, by all means, to attain liberation from it. Samsara, uncontrollably recurring existence, refers to the suffering aggregates, mixed with confusion, which we receive from karma and disturbing emotions and attitudes. We need to think about this. Although we have a precious human rebirth, yet if we are under the power of karma and disturbing emotions and have no independence, we can only create more suffering. Therefore, we need to try to free ourselves from these repeating syndromes. Whatever worldly pleasures we have are not ultimate. They are merely superficial and only temporary. We can fall to a worse rebirth at any time.

If our suffering comes from our very own aggregate physical and mental faculties, which are under the power of karma and disturbing emotions, then where can we run from our aggregates that are tainted with confusion? Think about that. If our own aggregates themselves are in the nature of suffering, how can we escape them?

The source of suffering is our disturbing emotions and attitudes, the main ones of which are attachment and aversion. These both come from unawareness (ignorance), the unawareness of grasping for inherent existence, but this is a distorted view. On the other hand, by cultivating the opponent for this, namely the opposite view, that inherent existence does not exist at all, and by accustoming ourselves to it, then the more familiar we are with the correct view, the less will be our unawareness.

The stains of unawareness over the mind are fleeting; they can be removed. The unawareness of grasping for inherent existence and the understanding of the lack of inherent existence are both aimed at the same object. Thus, when we have one, we cannot simultaneously have the other. It is in this way that the discriminating awareness or wisdom of voidness acts as the opponent to unawareness. With this discriminating awareness, we rid ourselves of attachment and aversion and thus gain liberation from suffering.

Some people say that attachment and aversion or hostility are natural: they are parts of the nature of the mind. They say that it is almost as if a person is not alive, if he or she does not have such feelings. But, if these were parts of the nature of the mind, then just as is the case when we accept mere awareness and clarity as mind’s nature, these feelings of attachment and hostility need to be present all the time. But, we see that anger can be quelled, it does not last forever. Thus, it is a mistaken view to feel that they are natural parts of life, and that it is the nature of the mind to have attachment and aversion.

We need discriminating awareness, then, to see the two truths: from the deepest point of view, all is devoid of inherent existence, yet conventionally, dependent arising is never false. This is the training in higher discriminating awareness, and to gain it, we need the training in higher concentration as its base, in order not to have any mental wandering and so forth. For this, we need the training in higher ethical self-discipline, either as a monastic or as a householder. For instance, there are the householder vows, the five lay vows, and it is important at least to keep these. Thus, we need the practice of the three higher trainings.

Next are the teachings for when we have an advanced scope of motivation.

Developing a Bodhichitta Aim

(10) A bodhisattva’s practice is to develop a bodhichitta aim
   to liberate limitless beings,
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?

All limited beings, as widespread as space, wish for happiness and no suffering, the same as we do. They are so numerous and, if we ignore them and think only of our purposes, it is pathetic, not to mention unfair. We need to place ourselves on one side and all other beings on the other. We all wish happiness and not suffering; the only difference is that we are one and they are numberless. So who would see it as fair or reasonable to favor one person over everybody else?

Bodhisattvas work and wish only for others’ happiness. There is no need to mention that, of course, they achieve enlightenment, but besides that, while on the path they do not become unhappy. The harder they work for others and the more they ignore themselves, the happier they become, which then encourages them to work even harder. But if we work only for our own purposes and ignore others, all we obtain is unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discouragement. It is funny that it’s like that. So we need to try to lessen our selfishness and increase our concern for others as much as we can and, by so doing, we will find that, on the side, we will be a happier person.

If we are working only for the purposes of others, as is described in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, we will never be afraid where or in what conditions we might be reborn. Wherever we find ourselves, we will work there for the sake of helping others. Nagarjuna emphasized the same point in his Precious Garland. To work only for the sake of others and ignore our own purposes is the way to attain Buddhahood.

We say we are Mahayanists, but as Tsongkhapa has said, we need to have a Mahayana personality in order to be considered a Mahayanist. Therefore, we need to work for the sake of others. If we look around for ways to be helpful and if we develop a bodhichitta resolve, then automatically things will work out to benefit everyone. So as much as we can, we need to follow the Mahayana training and practice. Do you understand?

Now what is a bodhisattva? Similar to what I explained about the word Buddha, the first syllable of the Tibetan for “bodhi” is “jang” (byang) which means to eliminate faults, while the second, “chub” (chub), means to attain all good qualities. Actually there are two “bodhis” or purified states and what is referred to here is not the lesser one of the Arhats, but the higher one of a Buddha’s enlightenment. “Sattva” means one who has his or her mind aimed at this attainment of the higher purified state of bodhi, enlightenment, to benefit all.

Thus, we need two aims both together. We need to aim at limited beings in order to benefit them and to aim at enlightenment to be able to do that. That is the bodhichitta resolve and this is what we need to develop. How do we do that?

Exchanging Self with Others

(11) A bodhisattva’s practice is to purely exchange
   our personal happiness for the suffering of others,
Because (all) our sufferings, without an exception,
Come from desiring our personal happiness,
While a fully enlightened Buddha is born from the attitude
   of wishing others well.

How does all suffering come from wishing only our own happiness? Such a self-centered wish leads us to commit many destructive actions in order to accomplish our selfish aims and, consequently, we experience suffering. Buddhahood, on the other hand, comes from helping others. Therefore, we need to exchange our attitudes and, instead of wishing for our own personal happiness and ignoring others’ suffering, we need to wish only for others’ happiness and ignore ourselves.

To do this, we train in the practice known as “taking and giving” (tonglen), namely taking on others’ suffering and giving them our happiness. To help us do this, there is a very good and useful visualization. We need to visualize ourselves in our ordinary forms on the right, selfish and wishing only our own happiness. On the left, visualize infinite, numberless beings all wanting happiness. Then, we need to stand back in our minds as a witness and judge, “Who is more important, this selfish person here or all the others?” Think which side we would favor and which we would want to join – the side of the selfish person or that of all these pathetic beings, who equally deserve happiness? Such practice as this and others mentioned in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior are very beneficial.

Bodhisattva Behavior: Dealing with Harms

(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone under the power of great desire
Steals or causes others to steal all our wealth,
To dedicate to him our bodies, resources,
   and constructive actions of the three times.

Now we have developed a bodhichitta resolve. However, to attain enlightenment, we need to engage in bodhisattva behavior. If someone steals from us, there is the danger of becoming angry. But, if we are practicing to attain enlightenment and are giving away everything to others, then this so-called thief already owns our former possessions. He has taken them now because in fact they already are his. Therefore, we need to dedicate to him not only these possessions that he has taken, or which we think he has stolen from us, but even further, our bodies and constructive actions of the three times.

(13) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if while we haven’t the slightest fault ourselves,
Someone were to chop off our heads,
To accept on ourselves his negative consequences,
   through the power of compassion.

If others harm us, we need to have compassion toward them and accept on ourselves all harms from others.

(14) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone were to publicize throughout the thousand,
   million, billion worlds
All kinds of unpleasant things about us,
To speak in return about his good qualities,
   with an attitude of love.

When others abuse or say bad things about us, we need to stop saying anything bad in return. Never say nasty things back, but only speak kindly of them, as Shantideva explained in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior.

(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone exposes our faults
   or says foul words (about us)
In the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings,
To bow to him respectfully,
   distinguishing that (he’s our) spiritual teacher.

Even if others humiliate or embarrass us in front of others, we need to act as taught in the methods for cleansing our attitudes (training the mind). If others disgrace us or point out our faults, they are in fact our teachers. Thus, we need to thank them for making us aware of our shortcomings and show them great respect.

(16) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if a person
Whom we’ve taken care of, cherishing him like our own child,
Were to regard us as his enemy,
   to have special affection for him,
Like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.

If a child is naughty when he is ill, no matter how bad he is, his mother would still love him. This is the way we need to view all beings.

(17) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if an individual, our equal or inferior,
Were to treat (us) insultingly
   out of the power of his arrogance,
To receive him on the crown of our heads respectfully,
   like a guru.

The same is true when others try to compete with us. We need to develop patience. As it says in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, if we had no enemies, we could not develop patience. Thus, we need someone annoying toward whom to develop a tolerant attitude. We cannot develop patience with our minds aimed at our gurus or at a Buddha. We need an enemy at whom to aim it.

For instance, I think about myself. If someone writes in the newspaper or calls the Dalai Lama a weak refugee and so on, if I am practicing sincerely, I try to develop patience with him or her. Since we need a teacher to help train us in patience, an enemy or someone who hates us is very important as this teacher.

If we think more about it, enemies are extremely important, aren’t they? If we are practicing Mahayana, we need to cultivate patience and endure difficult situations. How can we really practice Mahayana without enemies? In short, to exchange our attitudes concerning self and others, we need many trials and tribulations, many challenging situations. Therefore, enemies or people who are very annoying and difficult are extremely important and precious.

Two Critical Situations Requiring Dharma Practice

(18) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if we are destitute in livelihood
   and always insulted by people,
Or sick with terrible diseases, or afflicted by ghosts,
To accept on ourselves, in return,
   the negative forces and sufferings
of all wandering beings and not be discouraged.

There are two very critical situations for Dharma practice. One is when, due to past causes, we are in very difficult straits, poor and so on. Then we become discouraged. The other is when we are extremely comfortable and rich. Then we become proud and arrogant.

We need to be careful in both cases. If we are very sick, for instance, then if we practice exchanging self with others and also taking and giving, we will become happy that we are sick. In fact, we will wish to take on the sickness and suffering of others.

(19) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
   even if we are sweetly praised,
Bowed to with their heads by many wandering beings,
Or have obtained (riches) comparable to the fortune
   of Vaishravana (the Guardian of Wealth),
Never to be conceited, by seeing that worldly prosperity
   has no essence.

This is the other extreme, the other potentially dangerous situation. If we are highly esteemed and everything goes well for us, we can become very proud about that, lazy and arrogant. As this blocks our practice, we need to see that such worldly good fortune has no essence at all.

Overcoming Hostility and Attachment

(20) A bodhisattva’s practice is to tame
   our mental continuums
With the armed forces of love and compassion,
Because, if we haven’t subdued the enemy
   which is our own hostility,
Then even if we have subdued an external enemy,
   more will come.

There is no enemy worse than anger. If we look at the world, like for instance the situation of World War II, we can see that it all came about because of anger and hatred. At that time, the Western nations and Russia were allies and although they won the war, that did not conquer their own hostility! As they are now still left with this poison, we find the Soviet Union pitted against the West as enemies. If war comes again in the future, it will occur once more because of anger and hatred. But, if we wish peace and happiness, this can never come about without the elimination of these negative attitudes. Peace and happiness will come only if we develop love and compassion. Therefore, we need to train in the martial arts of love and compassion to overcome hatred.

(21) A bodhisattva’s practice is immediately to abandon
Any objects that cause our clinging
   and attachment to increase,
For objects of desire are like salt water:
The more we have indulged (in them, 
   our) thirst (for them) increases (in turn).

No matter what we are attracted to, we are never satisfied with it; we never have enough. It is like drinking salt water: we are never quenched, as is described in The Precious Garland. Think of an example: for instance, like when we have a rash. If we scratch it, it feels nice. But, if we are attached to that nice feeling, then the more we scratch, it just makes it worse. It gets sore, starts to bleed, becomes infected, and is a mess. The best thing is to cure the rash from its root, so that we will have no desire to scratch at all.

Developing Deepest Bodhichitta, the Realization of Voidness

(22) A bodhisattva’s practice is not to take to mind
Inherent features of objects taken and minds that take them,
   by realizing just how things are.
No matter how things appear, they are from our own minds;
And mind-itself is, from the beginning,
   parted from the extremes of mental fabrication.

This seems to be an expression of the Svatantrika view [that inherent features exist conventionally, but do not exist at all from the viewpoint of deepest truth], but that is not necessarily so. When it says here that appearances are “from our own minds,” this means that they are the play of our minds in the sense that the karma accumulated through our minds brings about all appearances. The mind itself, from the beginning, is free of the extremes of inherent existence.

If we understand this, then we will not take to mind “this” is the consciousness that understands voidness and “that” is the object of this consciousness, namely voidness. Rather, we will simply place our minds in total absorption on the pure, nonimplicative nullification (nonaffirming negation) that is voidness – the absolute absence of all impossible ways of existing. This is the practice outlined here.

(23) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
When meeting with pleasing objects,
not to regard them as truly existent,
Even though they appear beautifully,
   like a summer’s rainbow,
And (thus) to rid ourselves of clinging and attachment.

Although things appear beautifully like a rainbow, we need to see that they are devoid of inherent existence and not be attached.

(24) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
At the time when meeting with adverse conditions,
   to see them as deceptive,
For various sufferings are like the death of our child
   in a dream
And to take (such) deceptive appearances
   to be true is a tiresome waste.

Thus, we need to see everything as deceptive appearances and not be depressed by difficult conditions. These are the teachings on developing conventional and deepest bodhichitta. Next is the practice of the six far-reaching attitudes (the six perfections).

[See: Commentary on Developing Deepest Bodhichitta in Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.]

The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes

(25) A bodhisattva’s practice is to give generously
Without hope for anything in return
   and something karmic to ripen,
Because, if those who would wish enlightenment
must give away even their bodies,
What need to mention external possessions?

This is the practice of far-reaching generosity.

(26) A bodhisattva’s practice is
To safeguard ethical self-discipline
   without worldly intents,
Because, if we can’t fulfill our own purposes
   without ethical discipline,
The wish to fulfill the purposes of others is a joke.

Most important is to have ethical self-discipline, especially the discipline of refraining from destructive actions. Without it, how can we help anyone?

(27) A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up
   as a habit patience,
Without hostility or repulsion toward anyone,
Because, for a bodhisattva wishing
   for a wealth of positive force,
All who cause harm are equal to treasures of gems.

We need much patience. For a bodhisattva wishing to build up the positive force to be able to attain enlightenment, those who do harm, our enemies, are as precious as gems. This is because with them, we can practice patience. This builds up and strengthens our network of positive force, which will bring about our attainment of enlightenment.

(28) A bodhisattva’s practice is to exert joyful perseverance,
the source of good qualities for the purposes
   of all wandering beings,
Since we can see that even shravakas and pratyekabuddhas,
Who would accomplish only their own purposes,
   have such perseverance
That they would turn from a fire
   that has broken out on their heads.

This refers to exerting joyful perseverance with zestful vigor for constructive behavior. If the Hinayana practitioners can work so hard to attain their goals for themselves, then we as Mahayanists working for the sake of all need to work even harder.

(29) A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up as a habit
A mental stability that purely surpasses
   the four formless (absorptions),
By realizing that an exceptionally perceptive state of mind,
fully endowed with a stilled and settled state,
Can totally vanquish the disturbing emotions and attitudes.

This refers to the far-reaching attitude of mental stability (concentration) in the sutra context. Thus, to realize an exceptionally perceptive state of mind of vipashyana (special insight), we need to have attained beforehand a stilled and settled state of shamatha (mental quiescence, calm abiding) to hold it. Then we will have the joined pair, inseparable shamatha and vipashyana.

(30) A bodhisattva’s practice is to build up as a habit
The discriminating awareness that’s together with methods
   and which has no conceptions about the three circles,
Because without discriminating awareness,
   the five far-reaching attitudes
Cannot bring about the attainment
   of complete enlightenment.

We cannot attain enlightenment with only the method side, namely the first five far-reaching attitudes alone. We need the wisdom side as well. Thus, we need to cultivate inseparable method and wisdom. We need the discriminating awareness to see that the three circles of any constructive action based on these far-reaching attitudes – namely, the agent, the object, and the action itself – are all devoid of inherent existence.

Next concerns a bodhisattva’s daily practice.

A Bodhisattva’s Daily Practice

(31) A bodhisattva’s practice is continually to examine
   our self-deception and then rid ourselves of it,
Because, if we do not examine our self-deception ourselves,
It’s possible that with a Dharmic (external) form
We can commit something non-Dharmic.

In other words, we need always to check our own disturbing emotions and attitudes each day, because as it says here, it is quite possible externally to appear to be proper but in fact not to be proper at all.

(32) A bodhisattva’s practice is not to speak about
the faults of a person who has entered Mahayana,
Because, if under the power of disturbing emotions
   and attitudes,
We talk about the faults of others who are bodhisattvas,
We ourselves will degenerate.

We need to stop looking at others with the idea of trying to pick or find faults in them. We never know who others might be or what their attainment is. Especially as Mahayana practitioners, we need to have thoughts only of helping and benefiting others, not of faulting them.

(33) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rid ourselves of attachment
To homes of relatives and friends and homes of patrons,
Because, under the power of (wanting) gain and respect,
We will quarrel with each other
   and our activities of listening,
thinking, and meditating will decline.

There is much danger if we always stay in the homes of patrons, relatives, and so forth. We inevitably become entangled in complicated situations of arguments, disputes, and so on. Therefore, we need to avoid attachment to such places.

(34) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rid ourselves
   of harsh language
Displeasing to the minds of others,
Because harsh words disturb others’ minds
And cause our bodhisattva ways of behavior to decline.

The root of anger is attachment to our own side. But here, the anger itself is stressed, especially when it leads to abusive language. Such harsh sounding words destroy our positive force, disturb others, and cause harm.

(35) A bodhisattva’s practice is to have the servicemen
   of mindfulness and alertness hold the opponent weapons
And forcefully to destroy disturbing emotions and attitudes,
   like attachment and so forth, as soon as they first arise,
Because, when we are habituated to disturbing emotions
   and attitudes, It is difficult for opponents
   to make them retreat.

As soon as attachment or aversion arises, we need immediately to employ mindfulness and alertness to counter them.

(36) In short, a bodhisattva’s practice is (to work)
   to fulfill the purposes of others
By continually possessing mindfulness and alertness to know,
No matter where or what course of behavior we’re following,
How is the condition of our minds.

As it says in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, we need continually to examine our minds and see their condition. Then, with mindfulness, we need immediately to apply the various opponents to any disturbing emotions and attitudes that might be present. For instance, if we were on a caravan and reached the northern plateau of Tibet , we would be very mindful and alert not to go just anywhere. We would choose the correct path very carefully; otherwise, we could easily get lost. In the same way, we need to not allow our minds to go just anywhere.

(37) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
   with the discriminating awareness
Of the complete purity of the three circles,
To dedicate for enlightenment the constructive forces
   realized by efforts like these,
In order to eliminate the sufferings of limitless wandering beings.

Thus, the last bodhisattva practice mentioned here is to dedicate to enlightenment and the benefit of others the positive force of all these actions. This completes the actual body of the text. Next, is the third part of the outline, the conclusion.


Having followed the words of the hallowed beings
And the meaning of what has been declared in the sutras,
   tantras, and treatises,
I have arranged (these) practices of bodhisattvas,
   thirty and seven, For the purposes of those
   who wish to train in the bodhisattva path.

The author has taken these teachings from various sources and condensed them into these thirty-seven practices.

Because my intelligence is feeble and my education meager,
They may not be in poetic meter
   that would please the erudite.
But, because I’ve relied on the sutras
   and the words of the hallowed ones,
I think that (these) bodhisattva practices are not deceived.

Next, the author apologizes if he has committed any faults.

Nevertheless, since it is difficult for someone
   dull-witted like myself
To fathom the depth of the great waves
   of bodhisattva behavior,
I request the hallowed ones to be patient
   with my mass of faults,
Such as contradictions, lack of connection, and the likes.

Then he ends with the final dedication.

By the constructive force coming from this,
   may all wandering beings,
Through supreme deepest and conventional bodhichittas,
Become equals to the Guardian Avalokiteshvara,
Who never abides in the extremes
   of compulsive samsaric existence or nirvanic complacency.

This concludes Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices by Togmey-zangpo.