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THE 37 PRACTICES OF A BODHISATTVA



THE 37 PRACTICES OF A BODHISATTVA

By Ngulchu Thogme

 

Commentary by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche www.ktgrinpoche.org ISBN 09710523-0-1

Copyright, Marpa Foundation 2001 Ashland, OR 97520

 

Commentary based on an oral translation by Suzanne Schefczky, Taiwan 1993. Special thanks to Ari Goldfield for his careful review of the root texts, and to Pema Clark and Yeshe Parke for proofreading the Commentary with care and devotion.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PLEASE NOTE: THIS TEXT IS A DHARMA TEACHING, AS WITH ALL DHARMA TEXTS, IT SHOULD NOT BE PLACED ON A FLOOR OR OTHER DIRTY PLACES. ONE SHOULD NOT LICK THEIR FINGERS TO TURN THE PAGES NOR PLACE MUNDANE MATERIALS NOR OBJECTS ON TOP OF THIS DOCUMENT. AND IT SHOULD BE PLACED ON THE TOP SHELF OF A BOOKCASE OR OTHER CLEAN PLACE FOR DHARMA MATERIALS. IF YOU NO LONGER WISH TO KEEP IN WRITTEN FORM, PLEASE RETURN TO A BUDDHIST CENTER OR DESTROY BY FIRE WHERE APPROPRIATE.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The basic structure of the text illustrates the complete path of the Bodhisattva in 43 verses, which include a verse for each of the 37 Practices with an additional 2 verses in the beginning and 4 at the end. The first 2 verses are the traditional ones which express homage to a deity, the embodiement of enlightened qualites and then state the purpose for writing the text and the author’s commitment to do so.

 

The main body of the text is divided into 3 parts, the first which deals with the causes that give rise to bodhichitta (the mind of awakening). The mind training of a superior individual is discussed in the second part of the text, where the central topic is how to engender supreme Bodhichitta. In this section there are 5 main divisions that give advice on how to develop Bodhichitta and how to keep it from degenerating. First one should realize the equality of self and other and learn how to exchange one’s own happiness for another’s suffering. Secondly the text shows how to bring all situations of worldy life, including obscuring emotions and mistaken views onto the path, or how to integrate them into one’s practice. The third is how to practice the six perfections. The fourth describes how to work with one’s negatice side and failures, and finally, there is a summary and dedication. The third main section is the conclusion, which contains a recapitulation of the purpose of the text, the reasons that establish its integrty in relation to the tradition of the teachings, an aplogy for any errors that might be found and a dedication. In summary, Ngulchu Thogme has given is the entire structure of a Bodhisattva’s path: from first engenerding bodhichitta in one’s mindstream, to maintaining, and then further developing this bodhichitta up to the level of enlightenment.

 

(When reciting the 37 Practices, as a Dharma practice it is recommended to read the Prostration (before Practice #1) and all Epilogues A-E also (after Practice #37). The commentaries for each stanza should be read enough to familiarize understand each Practice).

 

Aspiration of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

May the virtue that arises from working with this text
Contribute to the liberation and happiness of all beings.


Let us begin by developing the enlightened attitude- that we want to attain the perfect state of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, in number as vast as the sky. To accomplish this state, we must diligently engage in listening, reflecting, and meditating upon the genuine teachings. In general, the tradition of the Mahayana contains two types of practices: one purifies obscurations of the mind; the other develops a sound motivation, a good attitude. The former practice, in which we purify our mind of mental obscurations and stains, is the “progressive stages of meditation on emptiness,” about which I wrote a book of that name. These progressive stages progressively lead the meditator from the relative to the ultimate. This text fits into the latter category. Its title in Tibetan is The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva: a Summary of the Heart Essence of a Bodhisattva's Conduct. This full title indicates two points: first that the text condenses all the Mahayana sutras, which teach the conduct of a Bodhisattva; and second, that it summarizes the heart essence of a Bodhisattva's conduct, of which there are thirty-seven main practices. In Tibetan, the word for "practice" literally translates as "to bring into experience." So, 37 practices can actually be brought into experience.

 

While The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva contains a few stanzas on the progressive stages of meditation on emptiness, the text deals primarily with meditation on the relative.

 

Its purpose is to help us with our motivation!

Beginning of Text

(The Practices themselves are in bold italics, the commentary is in normal font following each stanza).


Prostration

Namo Lokeshvaraya.
You see that all phenomena neither come nor go.
Still you strive solely for the benefit of beings.
Supreme Guru and Protector Chenrezig,
to you I continually bow with body, speech, and mind.


Namo Lokeshvaraya is a Sanskrit phrase that we use in prostrating to the Tibetan deity, Chenrezig, the Lord of the World. Chenrezig ("you") is the Noble One who dwells on the bhumis. Chenrezig has seen that on an absolute level no phenomena of samsara and nirvana exist in their own essence. Therefore, he realizes that phenomena neither arise nor cease, neither come nor go. Though realizing that phenomena have no self- nature, Chenrezig still works diligently on behalf of others. He has abandoned self-interest and strives only to benefit beings.

Ngulchu Thogme, the author of this text, addresses his own lama as "Supreme Guru,” whom he knows to be inseparable from the Protector Chenrezig. He acknowledges their union in one breath by prostrating continuously to his Supreme Guru and Protector Chenrezig. By "continuously," Ngulchu Thogme indicates that from now until he has reached enlightenment, with the three doors of his body, speech, and mind he will always respectfully bow down.

The Bodhisattva Ngulchu Thogme, who composed this text, was an amazing being. His life contains wonderful stories of great loving kindness and compassion. I cannot recount all the marvelous episodes here, but will choose a particularly significant one.

When just a small boy in Tibet, on an especially frigid day Thogme's parents dressed him warmly and sent him out to play. Not long after, they saw their son outside completely naked. When questioned, Thogme explained that he had come upon a hill of freezing ants; wanting to keep them warm, he had sheltered them with his own clothes. Clearly, even as a child Thogme's loving kindness and compassion were extensive, signaling that in a previous life he had meditated on bodhichitta. Similarly, if we meditate strongly on loving kindness and compassion in this life, in a future life we, too, may display Thogme's remarkable qualities in our early youth.

Author's intention


The perfect Buddhas, sources of benefit and happiness,
Arise from accomplishing the genuine Dharma.
Since that in turn depends on knowing how to practice,
The practices of a Bodhisattva shall be explained.


The Buddhas are the source of benefit and happiness. Benefit refers to a temporary state within samsara. Practicing the genuine Dharma benefits us temporarily by preventing us from being reborn in the lower realms- in the hell realms, the animal realm, and so on. By practicing the Dharma, we can gain a precious human rebirth in which we again practice the Dharma.

 

While benefit is a temporary condition within samsara, happiness refers to the ultimate state of liberation and omniscience. The Buddhas are the origin of both, namely temporary benefit and ultimate happiness.

How did the Perfect Buddhas, the source of all happiness and benefit, themselves arise? From having practiced the genuine Dharma. To help us accomplish this aim, Thogme intends to describe the practices of male and female Bodhisattvas.

Practice 1
Commitment


Now that you have obtained a precious human body,

the great boat so difficult to find,
In order to free yourself and others from the ocean of samsara,
To listen, reflect, and meditate with diligence day and night
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.


This precious human body with its eight freedoms and ten endowments is rare and difficult to obtain. Not all human bodies are precious because not all people study the Dharma. A precious human body indicates an individual with great faith in the Dharma, the wisdom with which to analyze and comprehend its teachings, and the diligence and joyful effort with which to practice it. The body is compared to a great boat able to carry us across the ocean of samsara, across the suffering of this existence. With this body, we can attain peace for ourselves and, more important, for others. Our motivation is to carry all sentient beings across the ocean of the three realms of existence.

Thus, we promise that day and night, without laziness or distraction, we will listen, reflect, and meditate on the genuine Dharma. First, we listen. Then we use our intelligence to analyze what we have heard-we reflect. Finally, we meditate upon what we have heard and analyzed. This is how a Bodhisattva practices.

The Tibetan phrase for precious human body actually says "the freedoms and the endowments," a reference to the eight freedoms and the ten endowments that compose it. This is not the time or place to explain these factors, but Jamgon Kongtru Lodro Thaye's The Torch of Certainty summarizes them; and Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation presents an extensive explanation.


Practice 2
Detaching from passion, aggression, and hatred


Passion towards friends churns like water.
Hatred towards enemies burns like fire.
Through dark ignorance, one forgets what to adopt and what to reject.
To abandon one's homeland is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Like one wave of water following hard upon the other, the more one is drawn towards friends, the more one's passions increase. The basis for this attachment is taking friends to be truly existent. When fire burns, it consumes all the fuel that feeds it. In the same way, hatred towards enemies is like a fire that consumes one's mind. In the grasp of attachment and aversion, passion and hatred, one forgets what to adopt and what to reject. This forgetfulness is described as the darkness of ignorance.There are two ways to give up one's homeland. One is by directly abandoning it, just packing up and departing. The other is to relinquish one's attachment to home by not taking it to be truly existent. The latter is the more important. The homeland in some places is called the fatherland, in others the motherland. It is the land of our birth or any country to which we are attached. We are bound not by the country itself, but by taking it as real. Therefore, it is very important to know that the fatherland, motherland, or homeland does not truly exist.

 

Gampopa was born in a place called Dhagpo, where the circumstances for practice were so favorable that he stayed there, obtained high realization, and even came to be called Dhagpo Rinpoche, so closely associated was he with that place. Though Gampopa remained where he was born because it benefited his Dharma practice, he stayed without attachment. But if one's homeland does not provide suitable conditions for practicing Dharma, if it is a place of disputes and fights, then it is advisable to physically leave it.

Practice 3
Relying on solitude

 

Though they seem beautiful,

THE 37 PRACTICES OF A BODHISATTVA

By Ngulchu Thogme

 

Commentary by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche www.ktgrinpoche.org ISBN 09710523-0-1

Copyright, Marpa Foundation 2001 Ashland, OR 97520

 

Commentary based on an oral translation by Suzanne Schefczky, Taiwan 1993. Special thanks to Ari Goldfield for his careful review of the root texts, and to Pema Clark and Yeshe Parke for proofreading the Commentary with care and devotion.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

PLEASE NOTE: THIS TEXT IS A DHARMA TEACHING, AS WITH ALL DHARMA TEXTS, IT SHOULD NOT BE PLACED ON A FLOOR OR OTHER DIRTY PLACES. ONE SHOULD NOT LICK THEIR FINGERS TO TURN THE PAGES NOR PLACE MUNDANE MATERIALS NOR OBJECTS ON TOP OF THIS DOCUMENT. AND IT SHOULD BE PLACED ON THE TOP SHELF OF A BOOKCASE OR OTHER CLEAN PLACE FOR DHARMA MATERIALS. IF YOU NO LONGER WISH TO KEEP IN WRITTEN FORM, PLEASE RETURN TO A BUDDHIST CENTER OR DESTROY BY FIRE WHERE APPROPRIATE.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The basic structure of the text illustrates the complete path of the Bodhisattva in 43 verses, which include a verse for each of the 37 Practices with an additional 2 verses in the beginning and 4 at the end. The first 2 verses are the traditional ones which express homage to a deity, the embodiement of enlightened qualites and then state the purpose for writing the text and the author’s commitment to do so.

 

The main body of the text is divided into 3 parts, the first which deals with the causes that give rise to bodhichitta (the mind of awakening). The mind training of a superior individual is discussed in the second part of the text, where the central topic is how to engender supreme Bodhichitta. In this section there are 5 main divisions that give advice on how to develop Bodhichitta and how to keep it from degenerating. First one should realize the equality of self and other and learn how to exchange one’s own happiness for another’s suffering. Secondly the text shows how to bring all situations of worldy life, including obscuring emotions and mistaken views onto the path, or how to integrate them into one’s practice. The third is how to practice the six perfections. The fourth describes how to work with one’s negatice side and failures, and finally, there is a summary and dedication. The third main section is the conclusion, which contains a recapitulation of the purpose of the text, the reasons that establish its integrty in relation to the tradition of the teachings, an aplogy for any errors that might be found and a dedication. In summary, Ngulchu Thogme has given is the entire structure of a Bodhisattva’s path: from first engenerding bodhichitta in one’s mindstream, to maintaining, and then further developing this bodhichitta up to the level of enlightenment.

 

(When reciting the 37 Practices, as a Dharma practice it is recommended to read the Prostration (before Practice #1) and all Epilogues A-E also (after Practice #37). The commentaries for each stanza should be read enough to familiarize understand each Practice).

 

Aspiration of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

May the virtue that arises from working with this text
Contribute to the liberation and happiness of all beings.


Let us begin by developing the enlightened attitude- that we want to attain the perfect state of Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, in number as vast as the sky. To accomplish this state, we must diligently engage in listening, reflecting, and meditating upon the genuine teachings. In general, the tradition of the Mahayana contains two types of practices: one purifies obscurations of the mind; the other develops a sound motivation, a good attitude. The former practice, in which we purify our mind of mental obscurations and stains, is the “progressive stages of meditation on emptiness,” about which I wrote a book of that name. These progressive stages progressively lead the meditator from the relative to the ultimate. This text fits into the latter category. Its title in Tibetan is The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva: a Summary of the Heart Essence of a Bodhisattva's Conduct. This full title indicates two points: first that the text condenses all the Mahayana sutras, which teach the conduct of a Bodhisattva; and second, that it summarizes the heart essence of a Bodhisattva's conduct, of which there are thirty-seven main practices. In Tibetan, the word for "practice" literally translates as "to bring into experience." So, 37 practices can actually be brought into experience.

 

While The Thirty-seven Practices of a Bodhisattva contains a few stanzas on the progressive stages of meditation on emptiness, the text deals primarily with meditation on the relative.

 

Its purpose is to help us with our motivation!

Beginning of Text

(The Practices themselves are in bold italics, the commentary is in normal font following each stanza).


Prostration

Namo Lokeshvaraya.
You see that all phenomena neither come nor go.
Still you strive solely for the benefit of beings.
Supreme Guru and Protector Chenrezig,
to you I continually bow with body, speech, and mind.


Namo Lokeshvaraya is a Sanskrit phrase that we use in prostrating to the Tibetan deity, Chenrezig, the Lord of the World. Chenrezig ("you") is the Noble One who dwells on the bhumis. Chenrezig has seen that on an absolute level no phenomena of samsara and nirvana exist in their own essence. Therefore, he realizes that phenomena neither arise nor cease, neither come nor go. Though realizing that phenomena have no self- nature, Chenrezig still works diligently on behalf of others. He has abandoned self-interest and strives only to benefit beings.

Ngulchu Thogme, the author of this text, addresses his own lama as "Supreme Guru,” whom he knows to be inseparable from the Protector Chenrezig. He acknowledges their union in one breath by prostrating continuously to his Supreme Guru and Protector Chenrezig. By "continuously," Ngulchu Thogme indicates that from now until he has reached enlightenment, with the three doors of his body, speech, and mind he will always respectfully bow down.

The Bodhisattva Ngulchu Thogme, who composed this text, was an amazing being. His life contains wonderful stories of great loving kindness and compassion. I cannot recount all the marvelous episodes here, but will choose a particularly significant one.

When just a small boy in Tibet, on an especially frigid day Thogme's parents dressed him warmly and sent him out to play. Not long after, they saw their son outside completely naked. When questioned, Thogme explained that he had come upon a hill of freezing ants; wanting to keep them warm, he had sheltered them with his own clothes. Clearly, even as a child Thogme's loving kindness and compassion were extensive, signaling that in a previous life he had meditated on bodhichitta. Similarly, if we meditate strongly on loving kindness and compassion in this life, in a future life we, too, may display Thogme's remarkable qualities in our early youth.

Author's intention


The perfect Buddhas, sources of benefit and happiness,
Arise from accomplishing the genuine Dharma.
Since that in turn depends on knowing how to practice,
The practices of a Bodhisattva shall be explained.


The Buddhas are the source of benefit and happiness. Benefit refers to a temporary state within samsara. Practicing the genuine Dharma benefits us temporarily by preventing us from being reborn in the lower realms- in the hell realms, the animal realm, and so on. By practicing the Dharma, we can gain a precious human rebirth in which we again practice the Dharma.

 

While benefit is a temporary condition within samsara, happiness refers to the ultimate state of liberation and omniscience. The Buddhas are the origin of both, namely temporary benefit and ultimate happiness.

How did the Perfect Buddhas, the source of all happiness and benefit, themselves arise? From having practiced the genuine Dharma. To help us accomplish this aim, Thogme intends to describe the practices of male and female Bodhisattvas.

Practice 1
Commitment


Now that you have obtained a precious human body,

the great boat so difficult to find,
In order to free yourself and others from the ocean of samsara,
To listen, reflect, and meditate with diligence day and night
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.


This precious human body with its eight freedoms and ten endowments is rare and difficult to obtain. Not all human bodies are precious because not all people study the Dharma. A precious human body indicates an individual with great faith in the Dharma, the wisdom with which to analyze and comprehend its teachings, and the diligence and joyful effort with which to practice it. The body is compared to a great boat able to carry us across the ocean of samsara, across the suffering of this existence. With this body, we can attain peace for ourselves and, more important, for others. Our motivation is to carry all sentient beings across the ocean of the three realms of existence.

Thus, we promise that day and night, without laziness or distraction, we will listen, reflect, and meditate on the genuine Dharma. First, we listen. Then we use our intelligence to analyze what we have heard-we reflect. Finally, we meditate upon what we have heard and analyzed. This is how a Bodhisattva practices.

The Tibetan phrase for precious human body actually says "the freedoms and the endowments," a reference to the eight freedoms and the ten endowments that compose it. This is not the time or place to explain these factors, but Jamgon Kongtru Lodro Thaye's The Torch of Certainty summarizes them; and Gampopa's Jewel Ornament of Liberation presents an extensive explanation.


Practice 2
Detaching from passion, aggression, and hatred


Passion towards friends churns like water.
Hatred towards enemies burns like fire.
Through dark ignorance, one forgets what to adopt and what to reject.
To abandon one's homeland is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Like one wave of water following hard upon the other, the more one is drawn towards friends, the more one's passions increase. The basis for this attachment is taking friends to be truly existent. When fire burns, it consumes all the fuel that feeds it. In the same way, hatred towards enemies is like a fire that consumes one's mind. In the grasp of attachment and aversion, passion and hatred, one forgets what to adopt and what to reject. This forgetfulness is described as the darkness of ignorance.There are two ways to give up one's homeland. One is by directly abandoning it, just packing up and departing. The other is to relinquish one's attachment to home by not taking it to be truly existent. The latter is the more important. The homeland in some places is called the fatherland, in others the motherland. It is the land of our birth or any country to which we are attached. We are bound not by the country itself, but by taking it as real. Therefore, it is very important to know that the fatherland, motherland, or homeland does not truly exist.

 

Gampopa was born in a place called Dhagpo, where the circumstances for practice were so favorable that he stayed there, obtained high realization, and even came to be called Dhagpo Rinpoche, so closely associated was he with that place. Though Gampopa remained where he was born because it benefited his Dharma practice, he stayed without attachment. But if one's homeland does not provide suitable conditions for practicing Dharma, if it is a place of disputes and fights, then it is advisable to physically leave it.

Practice 3
Relying on solitude

 







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