2 – The Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Bodhgaya 1974.
So the Dharma is not, as some people argue, of no use for those who live in a backward and isolated region. Some people, who believe they are broadminded and highly intellectual and cultured, think that the Dharma is irrelevant. But what do we mean by “Dharma?” Obviously it does not mean wearing a special costume, building monasteries, making many prostrations. This may go with the Dharma but it is in no sense the actual practice of the Dharma. The practice of the Dharma is an inner affair, it means having a peaceful, noble, broad and generous mind – a mind that has been tamed, brought completely under control. Even if one can recite the whole Tripitaka by heart, if one is selfish and hurts others, this is not practicing Dharma.
The practice of Dharma is that which enables us to be true, faithful, honest and humble, to help and respect others, to forget oneself for others. This is Dharma. To try to accumulate possessions or to obtain a better social level will bring neither trust nor peace. Often the people who bow down to the powerful of this world, flattering them to the skies, will, behind their backs criticize and despise them, and seek to harm them. So the powerful will not have peace of mind, but will be anxious and tormented at the idea of losing what they have gained, often at the price of very great difficulties.
So the Dharma will certainly not help us to increase our material possessions—great wealth can only be obtained through deception and corruption. And when we come to die we shall have to leave everything behind us, even the most gilt-edged investment, which gave us so much worry. We shall also have to leave our family, our friends, and if our life has not been honest, there will remain great repentance, but not the fruit of our dishonesty. My body, too, that of Tenzin Gyatso, I shall have to leave, and my monk’s robe I have never been without for a single night. Therefore we shall have to leave everything, and anxiety and sadness will trouble our last moments if our only possessions have been selfish and material ones.
To tame one’s mind, to renounce the superfluous, to live in harmony with others and oneself will bring happiness, even though our daily life is mediocre, and even though we become poor, for if we have been kind and compassionate, others will help us. For we must not forget that even in the most perverted and cruel being, while he remains a human being, there exists the small seed of love and compassion, the seed which will one day make of him a buddha. He who helps will be helped.
We should therefore live on this noble path, help others, spread kindness and peace. And now we must also think of our next life. The laws of karma and reincarnation are difficult to understand. But if we analyze very deeply the facts of existence, with an honest mind free of preconceptions, we shall understand them. And we shall refer also to the teachings of the Buddha, who affirmed reincarnation.
Everything which happens to us, individually or collectively, happens to us by the law of karma. This being so, the good path we follow will bear fruit for the next life. The effort we have made will enable us to obtain a noble and pure mind. Your coming here proves this, since you have come here to obtain a teaching concerning the Dharma, which proves that for you the Dharma has a meaning. Dharma is equivalent to nobility. And this is why someone who rejects the Dharma does not understand what it is. The Dharma is the only way to obtain happiness.
Among the Dharmas, the Buddhadharma was taught by Gautama Buddha. One thousand buddhas are to appear in this kalpa (eon). Gautama was the fourth to live in this country where we are and he found enlightenment at this place. Afterwards, he turned the wheel of the law at Sarnath for the first time and then many times until the paranirvana. He taught for everyone, both ordinary people and more advanced disciples, openly and in secret, to other worlds and to devas. The level of his teachings varied greatly, some accessible to all, others very profound and difficult to understand, these teachings comprised both Hinayana and Mahayana. The Mahayana teaching is superior in its motivation, practices, and aim. The motivation is to work for the good of all living beings instead of one’s own good. The practice of the six or ten perfections accompanies it and the goal is not only to achieve liberation from samsara, but also to obtain the three kayas – nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya and dharmakaya. Mahayana Dharma develops the different practices of the Paramitayana and the Vajrayana. The latter is superior to the practice of the paramitas for various qualities but the union of the two is very important. We are very favored because Buddhism coming to Tibet from India means that we have a very complete Dharma. According to the Buddha’s prophesy the Dharma spreads from the south to the north – Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan. This journey seems to have been completed, though I don’t know whether there will be an additional north! Throughout its history the Buddhadharma has had its flourishing times and others when it almost disappeared.
During the life of Gautama Buddha the Hinayana was more widespread because it could be taught to a large number of people and was easy to understand. Mahayana was less popular because it called for better prepared minds and was taught to more advanced disciples, this was why it was criticized and its existence in the beginnings of Buddhism are still contested by some. However, it has existed since the teachings of Gautama Buddha. After the Paranirvana, it seems almost to have disappeared for several centuries. It was through Nagarjuna that it began to spread. Nagarjuna was the restorer and propagator of Mahayana. Buddha moreover prophesied the coming of Nagarjuna in a number of scriptures including the Manjushri Mulatantra. Nagarjuna lived about 400 years after the Buddha and subsequently the Mahayana spread and flourished and then, after a number of centuries, degenerated. After a time, Buddhism disappeared from India almost completely.
Since its arrival in Tibet the Dharma there has never completely disappeared. It was eclipsed for about eighty years under the King Lang-dar-ma, but even then Buddhism existed in the east and west of the country. There were certainly passing weaknesses, but the pure tradition, of the Dharma as a total union of Tantrayana and Paramitayana, has continued for a thousand years. We have various sects, named at the time they were formed, such as Nyingma-pa, or after the place, such as Sakya-pa or Gelug-pa, but both the gurus and the sects teach the same tradition, that of Tantrayana and Paramitayana combined. There are a few differences in interpretation or certain practices but the essence has remained completely the same. For the small countries around Tibet—Bhutan, Sikkim, Ladakh—the Dharma was transmitted complete. They were, for a long time, satellites of Tibet, in the sense of students around the teacher. But now the situation has changed. The teachers are refugees, poor and badly off. The students are well off and comfortable.
We are, in any case, very fortunate to have this complete Dharma, this double Dharma in a united form. Thus Tibetan Mahayana is the combined form of the sutras, the paramitas with the tantras, the Vajrayana The practice and method of this union is bodhicitta, which is the essence and basis of Paramitayana and which reaches its ultimate point in the realization of shunyata (emptiness of inherent, intrinsic nature). To practice Tantrayana it is absolutely necessary to have this basis. Bodhicitta is the root and gives the necessary impetus for all practice. The path is therefore renunciation of samsara, then relative bodhicitta, namely love and compassion, which will give life and savor to tantric practice, and then the realization ofshunyata, at least intellectually. Only after that can we practice the two paths of generation (practice) and fulfillment, which will procure the real fruit. The fruit can only ripen by this process. Without the three bases, renunciation, bodhicitta, shunyata, even if one knows how to practice meditation on the divinities (entities of the path) or do the exercises concerning the nadis, etc., this will be to no purpose, and will be harmful. It would be like someone with a very delicate constitution taking a medicine prescribed for someone with a very strong constitution. Preparation for any tantric practice is therefore very important, we must know absolutely, very exactly, what renunciation, bodhicitta and shunyata mean, and not only contemplate and meditate on those three states, but have them impregnated and integrated within our mind. Only after that can the tantras be practiced with fruit.
Of all these realizations and practices, the most essential of all is bodhicitta, so therefore I shall give you today the teaching of the guru Ngul Cha Gyaltsen Thongme Sangpo. I don’t remember exactly everything this great guru did in his life, but he lived at the same time as another of the greatest masters of Tibet. There is a story about the relationship between them. Buton Tham Cha Pa suffered from bone trouble and said to Ngul Chu Gyaltsen Thongme Sangpo, “You have bodhicitta so well it would suffice for you to bless me and I would be cured.” Which he did, and in fact cured his friend. In any event Ngul Chu Gyaltsen Thongme Sangpo was a very great guru who practiced bodhicitta intensively. He was a particularly humble and patient person. He had a wolf that went with him everywhere and whose nature he had completely transformed, by infusing into him a little of his great compassion. In fact, the wolf had become a vegetarian! He was therefore generous and good and, seeing always the suffering of others, bearing it always in mind, tears often came to his eyes when he gave teachings on bodhicitta. He studied at Sakya and later withdrew from the world completely to meditate and develop still further his bodhicitta.
I received this teaching from Tenzin Gyaltsen who received it himself from the abbot of Dzogchen Monastery.
The introduction to the 37 Practices of the Bodhisattva is a homage addressed to Avalokiteshvara, here called Lokeshvara. He is the object of this homage because the verses explaining the practices of the bodhisattvas are based on the great compassion of which Avalokiteshvara is the source.
Let us remember that the three gates of the Buddha are Manjushri , who embodies wisdom, Vajrapani, who embodies power, and Avalokiteshvara who embodies the compassion of all the Buddhas, which is why this homage is addressed principally to him. It is also addressed to the guru, because, as Atisha has said, all qualities, great and small, are due to gurus. All qualities in general, and Mahayana qualities in particular, come solely from the guru, it is only from him that one can find the right method for one’s development and this is why we take refuge in him.
The guru and Avalokiteshvara are not ordinary beings. They form an object, which contains all the qualities of the realizations, and the abandonment, not only of the passions and illusions, but also of even the slightest imprints left by the illusions. Even the great arhats cannot see at the same time the two truths, the relative and the absolute. Either they are in shunyata and cannot see phenomena, or they see phenomena but do not see shunyata, even if they have realized it. Only a being that has attained buddhahood can see both at the same time. For this he has had to obtain the supreme abandonment, that of all imprints. There is no going and no coming, absolute shunyata is immobile. From this meditation, which unites shunyata and the seeing of all sentient beings, Avalokiteshvara has the qualities enabling him to help all sentient beings according to their specific abilities and their stage of enlightenment, and this is why I take refuge, not only today but for ever, totally, by the three gates of body, speech and mind in Avalokiteshvara and why I render him homage.
All happiness, all benefit, comes only from a virtuous karma. It is the accumulation of these “seeds” of virtuous acts which bears fruit in happiness and wellbeing. And the way to eliminate errors and obtain happiness is to practice bodhicitta. Now we too must practice in order to achieve buddhahood, we must learn to practice. We must be able to know what to abandon and what to accept, and for that we must have a precious human body.
Around us at this moment there are many animals. Theoretically they should be able to hear this teaching, but their animal state prevents them totally, they understand nothing. We have the chance of having obtained this indispensable base, which is a human life. We have obtained it in a country where the Dharma flourishes, we have the necessary ability to read, listen, think a little, even discriminate, all the facilities are therefore in our hands for practicing Dharma. Even if among you there is some elderly person who can neither read nor write, he can all the same listen and understand a few sentences concerning the Dharma. Even an old and very worn out body is still a precious human body, more precious than the finest body of a young and healthy animal.
Human life is therefore very precious, and though there are millions on this earth, the possibilities of obtaining a human body endowed with the necessary faculties for practicing Dharma are very rare. We Tibetans, and those in contact with us, can obtain the complete Dharma, the tantric Mahayana. Let us not miss this opportunity, it would be as absurd as a starving person with money coming back empty handed from a well-stocked market. Whether we are young, very young, or old, very old, each of us should make the necessary effort not to waste this precious human life.
Many of you do not know how to read or write and come from frontier areas far away from towns where education can be obtained. Make an effort. Children should be educated and instructed. For everything one may plan for in human life, even in samsaric terms, education is a necessary basis. So don’t waste a minute, make good use of this life that you don’t know when you will find again.
“At this time when I have obtained this precious vessel of a human life…”
Human life is in fact difficult to find and easy to lose. It is exacting and calls not for “small” good actions but great ones. It is now, not tomorrow, not never, that we must have an accumulation of merits in our hands. These accumulations of merit are rare, and are rapidly destroyed by the slightest little faults of pride, selfishness or hatred that we all have and which invade us so promptly at the least occasion. It is therefore very doubtful that our past merits, those that have secured us this life, have remained intact. Let us renew them and increase them without thinking of the capital we think that we have acquired.
Let us practice the Dharma, this is possible for each of us. The practice of the Dharma does not mean that everyone should renounce everything and go and meditate in a cave. This is not possible for all of us. We can practice the Dharma by remaining in our daily lives, and even have certain worldly activities. We must keep a noble and generously open mind, eschew the ten basic errors, keep discipline with regard to them, and if you cannot always do so, try at least to be honest, neither greedy nor envious, be content with little, if you don’t know anything else at least say, as often as possible, OM MANI PADME HUM. And if you spend your life thus you will obtain a human life, with an open neither agitated nor combative mind, which will then allow you to advance more rapidly along the path.
Start today, do not put it off. Be careful of falsehood, people lie at the slightest pretext, and even without realizing it. These are karmic tendencies; little by little one must get rid of them and not get discouraged. Don’t say, “The Dharma is too great for me, I am a poor sinner.” We are all poor sinners, but from today we are also going to try to change just a little. I, too, am going today to look at what is false in me. Do the same; don’t let things go on as they have been with the excuse that the effort is too great.
Practicing the Dharma means gradually eliminating errors and increasing true qualities, with the goal of obtaining the supreme qualities, by which time our ability to help others will be perfect. The buddhahood we obtain will come, and can only come, from the practice of the Dharma, and only this can procure us ultimate and true happiness. This fruit of happiness comes only from practice. To know its perfect fruits we have the example of the buddhas and bodhisattvas. I also am following the same process in order to arrive at this state. Following the Dharma does not mean listening to it or having intellectual knowledge of it, for good qualities develop only through practice, and therefore the important thing is to know how to put this Dharma into practice.
By achieving perfect practice we will be able to help sentient beings according to their capacities. The perfection of all these qualities is present within Avalokiteshvara and this is why “I take refuge in Him, not only today, but forever, and not only by my mouth but by the three gates of my being. I render Him homage and prostrate myself . . .”
All happiness, all peace comes from “white” karma. It is the accumulation of good actions, which brings forth fruit. Therefore, once again, to eliminate the errors of action, speech and sentiments is the only method and the only path. The Dharma is the only root of happiness for human beings and for devas. Tsongkhapa says, “Even if my body and my life perish, and even if I were to lose them because of the practice of Dharma, may I, notwithstanding, practice the Dharma which is the only and precious source of all true happiness.” More particularly, the Mahayana Dharma gives us the right method for eliminating faults and errors.
We must try our best to spend our daily life virtuously, and when you circumambulate Bodhgaya Stupa, do not just walk around it, or pray to be wealthy, long-lived, and healthy. It is not a narrow-minded prayer like this that is needed, but a pure and real prayer. Even if you cannot practice it very deeply, bring into your motivation the development of bodhicitta.
As it says in the Bodhicaryavatara, “Like earth, water, air, fire and space, may I be constantly a living support for infinite sentient beings.” This is the kind of prayer we should make. With this kind of motivation, circumambulation and prostration are very beneficial. Or we should try to recall or visualize the Buddha’s form or teaching, his loving kindness for all and then pray to be able to follow the same path as he. This too is a very beneficial motive and prayer. Even a few minutes spent like this are spent preciously.
We should recite from memory the prayer of Arya Vajracarya or OM MANI PADME HUM. This makes circumambulation a practice of Dharma and worthwhile. Even an eighty or ninety year old with a few days to live, if he walks around slowly once, he has something he can take with him forever. If we try we can find many possibilities for practice. We can take with us 100 recitations of OM MANI PADME HUM. Someone may be in a monastery, wrapped in his robe, reciting from memory mantras and tantras, with his mind on what offering he’ll get, tea or money. Outwardly this has the appearance of Dharma but essentially it is nothing of the kind. Sometimes we may be at a puja in a temple with very devoted lay people outside, praying virtuously, while we inside are in a very poor state of mind; this can be saddening and discouraging. Dharma practice does not depend on outward appearance but on inner practice. If, from within us, it is pure and correct, even for a short period, say an hour, it is precious. Even the very old should not lose heart but try their best to practice. If we try we can make an opportunity. Young or old, our existence is a precious human birth, with every chance for practicing Dharma.
The first practice of the bodhisattva:
At this time of obtaining this rare vessel of a precious human body with its qualities for liberating oneself and others from the ocean of samsara, day and night without distraction, listening, contemplating, meditating – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.