The Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva
His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave this teaching at Bodhgaya in January 1974. Translator unknown.
I want to give a few explanations concerning Dharma, and more particularly, Mahayana Dharma, and the necessary preparations for the initiation. I shall be brief, but I hope to give you a fruitful teaching that you will like. You are not tired, and neither am I. So we are all of us in excellent condition for hearing about the Dharma.
There are many rules in the vinaya (rules for monastics) concerning the physical manner in which the Dharma should be listened to; one should be seated in the right posture, be bareheaded before the guru, the monks should have their right shoulder bare, and so on. But all these rules are waived when people are ill. We are not ill, but this very hot sun may bother you and make you fall ill. So for the time being let us abolish all those rules, and let those with umbrellas open them, the monks cover their heads with a fold of their robe, or a white handkerchief – something white is excellent protection against the hot sun. There are great gurus who have the power to change the elements, but I don’t have this power, so I would ask you to take care of yourselves.
We shall start by reciting the Heart Sutra of the Prajnaparamita, followed by a short prayer to Manjushri, the great mandala for our request for teaching. Then we shall take short refuges at the end of which we shall change one sentence: instead of saying “may we, by the practice of the paramitas, etc, reach buddhahood as rapidly as possible for the good of all sentient beings” you would say “may we by listening to this teaching,” while I shall say “may I by giving this teaching.” After that you will say the opening phrases of the bodhicitta prayer. Our motivation, which I will talk to you about in detail later, must be strong at this time, it will therefore be, it is, to reach buddhahood for the good of all beings and to give all our merit for that. At the end you will clap your hands three times—this is a reminder to purify our minds and to get rid of interferences. Do not clap more than three times, it is not like the end of an entertainment or as though you were applauding a famous speaker!
You have come a long way to be here, from various countries, and often with much difficulty and trouble. There are the strikes, and there are many of you, and it is not easy to get here. And you have not come here with the intention of going to a festival, for entertainment, or to do a good business deal, or for any personal glory. You have come here to hear the Dharma, more precisely Mahayana Dharma, to receive a tantric initiation, more particularly that of anuttarayoga, and among these Kalachakra. To some completely samsaric people, this may seem strange and even comical. Never mind… Even if we have not come with a perfect motivation, this is already something very great, the goal is an excellent one.
Whoever we are, of a white, yellow or dark race, whatever our social position, and also all the animals, down to the smallest insect, we all have the feeling that we are a "me". Even if we don’t understand the nature of the “me,” we all know what this me wants: to avoid suffering and obtain happiness. There are extremely varied degrees of suffering, ranging from the smallest worry to certain intolerable and lasting kinds of pain. There are countless kinds, but whatever they are, we try to protect ourselves from them. Animals do the same, in this way they are exactly like us. Only they have no method for doing this. They don’t make plans in advance or look ahead. They try their best to avoid the suffering of the moment and to take the pleasure of the moment. They don’t go beyond this. Therefore, though the basis of our motivation, to avoid suffering and obtain happiness, is exactly the same, our means of avoiding or obtaining it are, in our human case, multiple. Degrees of suffering are infinite, from a mere headache to torture, to mention only physical pain, while the happiness we wish to obtain have just as many appearances. But their basis is the same: happiness, suffering, only the means vary. Then we aggrandize what we call “me.” We want happiness for “my” family, “my” friends, “my” country.
What we call happiness and suffering take on deeper, wider meanings. After simple satisfaction of the most immediate necessities, the notion of “happiness” grows complex, the means of obtaining it multiply and also the levels at which we situate happiness rise. The creation of language, writing, the various educational and social systems, trade skills, factories, medical progress, the creation of schools, hospitals, all derive from this simple and single basis: obtaining happiness, avoiding suffering. The whole life of the world is completely engaged in this single quest. Philosophies try to resolve the issues raised by this quest, why our nature is what it is, what the structure of the world is, etc. They seek the real cause for this happiness and suffering, and seek an explanation and solution of principle. They do this by the most varied of paths, and proceed whether their reasoning is right or wrong. It is also in response to this search that certain philosophies have been made systematic at the social and political level.
Communism, for example, holds that achieving happiness and eliminating suffering will come from an egalitarian system, where the “preponderance of one social class,” a majority exploiting the minority, will cease to exist. Religions, too, want to solve this eternal problem, using various approaches, and by explaining its causes. One can divide into “doctrinal” those who seek an answer in general and causal principles, and “nondoctrinal” those who seek a practical solution on the material level. In this sense the teaching of the Buddha is doctrinal.
We find that the suffering of the body often comes from the mind, or that where physical pain is equal, a calm and happy mind will suffer much less than an agitated and unquiet one. We also find that many people who have great wealth, an abundance of everything material wellbeing can bring, are depressed, anxious and unhappy, while others whose practical life is full of difficulties have a happy mind, feel at peace within themselves and give the impression of great serenity. Someone whose mind is balanced, open, lucid, who foresees the attitude he will have in case of difficulties, will remain at peace, even if he has very serious troubles and will know how to face them and overcome them. Whereas an agitated and unquiet mind, limited and unreflective, will be completely at a loss when faced with the slightest unforeseen incident. All this shows that the mind is much more important than the body. Therefore if the state of our mind enables us to bear and even to feel either much more or much less our physical suffering, we should attach great importance to our way of thinking. The “preparation” of our mind is therefore extremely important, and to practice the Buddha’s teaching, the Dharma, is our excellent preparation.
Take our example, that of the Tibetan people. I notice, and many people have told me too, that in spite of the troubles and difficulties of their situation, Tibetans on the whole—of course there are exceptions—remain smiling, even-tempered and good-humored, and pleasant towards each other. Their behavior is usually very correct. In the past few days I’ve had many audiences with Tibetans from many places, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim. They have confirmed this impression. It is quite certain that this attitude is a “fruit” of the Dharma. Not all of them understand the Dharma properly, some practice it only a little or not correctly. But it has for so long impregnated our country, governed our way of life and thinking that, despite their little knowledge, people have experienced its influence, and a good number have practiced, and practiced it fully.
But if this happy attitude of the Tibetans which helps them to bear the losses they have suffered—family, wealth, country—is a consequence of the merits accumulated through the practice of Dharma, one can also consider that our present difficulties derive too from a lack of merit. This situation of Tibet is not hopeless. I am profoundly convinced that, everything in samsara is subject to swings of the pendulum, ups and downs. Now we are at the lowest point of the curve, I am convinced it will turn up again. Let us help it to do so by practicing the Dharma, by accumulating a considerable amount of merit.
Let us practice the Dharma. Let us forget for the time being karma and the next life, let us consider the fruits of existence in this life only. The fruits it yields will be harvested by our mind and above all by others. By means of a noble, pure and generous mind we will spread joy around us, we shall feel a great peace and communicate it to others.
Look around us at this world we call “civilized” with its 2,000 years of civilization. This world has tried to achieve happiness and prevent suffering, but it has tried to do so by false means. By deception, corruption, hatred, by exploiting others, by abusing power over others. It has sought only individual and material happiness. By setting individuals against each other, it has brought a time of fear, hatred, suffering, murder, and famine. If in India, Africa and other countries, poverty and famine can hold sway, it is not because natural resources are lacking, and it is not because the “means” to bring about lasting wellbeing are lacking. Never has medical science been so advanced, never have there been so many comforts and amenities, never have communications been so easy. But everyone has looked for his own profit, without fear of oppressing others for this selfish aim, and this sad and pitiful world of war, fear and corruption is the result. The situation of Tibet is also related to this state of the world. The root of this civilization is rotten, and the world is suffering, and if it continues in the same way it will suffer more and more.
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 of shunyata, 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 Thirty-seven 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.
Therefore having this precious human birth and the time and chance with a body in perfect condition, it is not enough to stop unskillful deeds but to try our best to achieve buddhahood for oneself and others.
Now we have all the favorable opportunities – so now is the time to take them. So we must make the effort to perform this task for others and ourselves. The method is learning, contemplating and meditating on Dharma, especially Mahayana Dharma, there is nothing more we can do to further ourselves. We should make an effort to be like the flow of a river. First, acquire knowledge, ponder until we get certainty, address our mind one-pointedly to it. To concentrate and contemplate, combining the two harmoniously is a practice of bodhisattva.
Through this combination we arrive at intuitive experiencing—intellectual learning alone is not enough, contemplation and concentration are needed—then we achieve a result. Practicing Dharma is not like learning history. The purpose of learning Dharma is its practice, the practice of a bodhisattva.
The second practice of the bodhisattva:
Towards friends attachment flows like water, towards enemies the fire of hatred burns. When there is a darkness of ignorance we cannot lose attachment and practice renunciation. To abandon home and country – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
To perfect the previous practice and perform the higher ones it helps to give up one’s country or home and abandon such involvements. This is because our country and home mean relations and friends but also enemies and bad neighbors. There are many objects in our home or country to give rise to delusions on our part. When we live at home or in our country, there are frequent possibilities of attachment or aversion, all kinds of involvements with our relatives. For tulkus this can mean disciples of the previous life or previous relatives.
Although one may desire solitude, there may be a great deal of socializing. Other involvements arise with people we do not like. Praise and criticism by others, all these involvement’s arise because of being in these social circumstances. Even if somebody does not have that many friends, just a small home, there is still the darkness of ignorance about what to abandon and what to accept. Even a simple monk with no friends has a “mouse hole” to be busy in, to be house-proud of. One can see him taking an old box to it, an empty tin, a piece of rag for cleaning. It’s true, isn’t it? This is, of course, not very harmful, but it is a little harmful. Together with his little altar, he has scriptures he dusts and tidies up every day, but does not read! And of course he keeps polishing his altar bowls! If within yourself you are practicing deeply, this is all right. But if not, you are trifling time away. Small objects of attachment distract from practice.
Therefore, to abandon one’s country and home is the practice of a bodhisattva. A home is a place where there is a river of attachment flowing to one’s friends or family. This kind of attachment—delusion—is very powerful. Ignorance is at its deepest here, with its two attendants, desire and hatred. Ignorance is a king, with the worrier hatred and the collector desire. When we meet someone we don’t like, hatred comes forth, looking like an armed volunteer to defend you, to protect you, guard you, but in fact what he does is lead you to real defeat. Attachment to home and family seems loving, helping oneself very much, implying much kindness in a very sweet and peaceful way. In fact we are deceiving ourselves. Desire, hatred, ignorance remain the three most powerful poisons and delusions, and one way of countering these is to abandon home and country, that is why this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The third practice of the bodhisattva:
By abandoning adverse surroundings delusions will gradually perish, and because there are no distractions, a virtuous practice will naturally develop, and by having a very clear mind our certainty in Dharma will grow. Thus dwell in solitude – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Just giving up your country is not enough. We Tibetans gave up our country unwillingly. We are exiles now, but if we had made our home in a busy city, this would not have been good. Our whole aim should be to reduce attachments and delusions. In the “busy” life more and more attachments will arise again. So we must search for solitude, endowed with the many qualities mentioned in the Bodhicaryavatara.
So if we live in solitude, no business-type involvements, no petty concerns, can arise. There is no one to waste time with in idle talk, our only friends are animals—not perhaps, in India, though there are beautiful birds here—with no other objects for attachments or hatred, nobody else to distract us, and with luck there will be pure clean good air and pure water.
With no distractions or involvements, inner thinking and contemplation arise spontaneously. From morning to evening we should just meditate and practice. Such solitude is very necessary, all the great gurus have trodden this path and lived in such surroundings in order to practice Dharma. Within this short life we must keep in mind that one day we will go into solitude and practice Dharma, “raising the victorious banner of meditation.”
As the mind grows clearer, our surer realization of Dharma will grow. Simply “digesting” the offerings of lay people, just eating and doing nothing to purify ourselves, is very dangerous. But when we live in solitude, there are no such offerings, no problem of “digestion”. This helps our mind to become clearer. To busy oneself with offerings and various requests can be bad. If our minds are undefiled this will be better for Dharma. When a solitary meditator returns to company for a few days, he points out the great difference of atmosphere. In solitude there are no obstacles, our thoughts are not muddied by the multitude. Therefore to retire in solitude with such qualities is a practice of bodhisattva.
In monastery life the proper spiritual response to offerings is very important. If somebody makes a big offering and we show him more respect than to our guru, this is wrong. Those in big monasteries must be very careful in these matters. When ordained, a monk’s duty is to look up to all the past buddhas and great gurus. Then, one must forego worldly gains and achievements, fighting with delusion. It is then that one becomes a real monk. Otherwise the outward change, such as a new name, makes little difference. Great care must be taken over worldly objects, the messengers of Mara.
A monk should fly off like a crow, leaving nothing—not like some monks who need three porters when they move! So a monk should remain simple and possess few objects. Tibetans in general are in special circumstances and need to have enough. But a monk should have a minimum. For a community to have resources is all right, they are needed to support all. When a community wishes to collect money it should be prudent about its fund raising activities. People will object, see no end to the process and give with the wrong motivation. People should not be pressed, and only willing gifts should be accepted. Temples, stupas and monasteries should not benefit from reluctant contributions.
A great guru wanted to go from Tibet to India. His friend said, “There is no need to go to India. Everything is within you.” We must take the middle path. When Tibetans were in Assam, we were nearly in a negative extreme, now when facilities elsewhere are better; the desire to build grows. Drepung Monastery, for example, was started for study, not just to collect offerings. Its complement of 7,700 monks was intended to enable more people to study Dharma, not just to provide catering facilities or occupy many lavatories! This was the initial intention; we must remain faithful to it.
Once a monastery is built, it should be used properly, to bring buddhahood about for other sentient beings. When all the monasteries in Bhutan, Sikkim and Lhadakh were built, people always had a high opinion of monasteries, and sometimes they were right and sometimes wrong. Now views have changed. Before, if sand and gold were mixed, people were tolerant. Times are different now, so monks must be careful, otherwise Dharma can be harmed. I am not interfering with other peoples’ affairs, but being a religious person, I give you this advice: When we teach others, we must live up to our principles. So if one is attached to worldly objects more than to spiritual ones, while teaching others to be the contrary, whose ear will this go into?
The Buddha has told us that if we teach we must practice the meaning. So all religious people must be very careful. If one can live there properly, the monastery is precious, a field of merit, and will help the whole Dharma; the monkhood is needed for this. So lay people and monks must help and relate to each other, laymen helping monks, the monks teaching Dharma, providing education and whatever else they can give. Not just for future life but with everything possible in this life. Then there will be a good relationship. So if we can, we should live in solitude, if not, in a monastery, living in a right manner, one which oneself and others can rejoice in, that is very good.
The fourth practice of the bodhisattva:
We will take leave of our closest friends who have long kept us company, the possessions and wealth obtained by much effort must be left behind, the guesthouse of our body left by our consciousness. Therefore mentally renounce attachment to this life – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Home and country left behind, solitude now found, we now need to renounce attachment to this life. We must therefore see that life lacks substance, see this by its impermanence. Because sooner or later this life will end and we shall have to take our leave of it. If at that time we have some practice of Dharma because of the seeds of a noble mind, this can help. Besides this, there is nothing else that can. Our friends, supporters, kith and kin, cannot help, however numerous, however wealthy, it will be worthless. Even our most precious and close body which has been our constant companion must also be left. Sooner or later this situation will definitely arise, and quite unpredictably. There is no certainty in human life, we cannot have confidence in it. It is the tenth day of the Tibetan month, perhaps someone will die this evening, we cannot be sure that we will be here tomorrow. I may say, “Oh, I am young and healthy, so I shall live,” but this is not at all a good reason. We think this, but cannot be certain. There is not even 100 percent certainty that I will not die this evening. In short, all of us will die, and we do not know when. Since, at that time, only the practice of Dharma will help, if we are attached to the happiness of this life, whether for a day or a year, this is a waste of time. What we must do is prepare ourselves, whether we die soon or late, so that there will be no repentance, no regret, if life should end this evening. If we live beyond this evening there is more time to prepare for death.
This life is unimportant. We can always find a living by looking around us. When we escaped from Tibet and got to the Indian border we wondered how we were going to live, yet we can always find a livelihood in the human world. What matters is the time when we part from this world and go into an unknown, new world, about that one must be very careful. As in the Seventh Dalai Lama’s prayer, “The life beyond which is remote from all we are accustomed to, from everything experienced. In this life there is always someone to help us and show us. When we leave we must be absolutely self-supporting, to make the journey alone.” Or as the Buddha said, “I show the way of liberation, but this liberation depends on you.”
Many people come to see me and some ask me to pray to save them from the lower realms or to pray for the dead. Of course I do this, I accept this responsibility, as I am supposed to follow the bodhisattva path, I will pray from the depth of my heart, though I cannot visualize everyone. I do try to pray for the welfare of all beings and my prayer may help a little but it is difficult to say it helps deeply. But the main thing is one’s own effort, making one’s own way. One cannot rely on others to save oneself, to take one to nirvana. Everything is in one’s own hands; to reach nirvana, buddhahood, the choice is ours. Therefore it is difficult to obtain full satisfaction by praying to gurus, bodhisattvas, the Buddha. The important effort is, without wasting time on this life’s entanglements, to prepare for a long future, so that when death comes there is nothing to worry about. For this preparation Dharma practice is very important. Seeing the impermanence of worldly things will help us to renounce only worldly involvements. Then the mental energy devoted to worldly life will diminish until we renounce it by seeing its essencelessness.
The fifth practice of the bodhisattva:
If we have a companion who increases the three poisons of hatred, desire and ignorance, and diminishes our threefold practice of learning, morality and meditation, and also makes us lose our love and compassion, we should abandon such a bad friend – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
This shows the need for proper guidance, for a guru whom we can look up to. With the right guru and friends, we will progress smoothly on the path. Without a guru, or with the wrong kind of friends, our good qualities will perish. Especially for the bodhisattvayana, a friend who makes us lose love and compassion we must abandon like contagious disease, as an object of attachment, this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The sixth practice of the bodhisattva:
By following one who will eliminate our faults and increase our qualities like a waxing moon, to hold such supreme guidance even more precious than one’s own life – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The necessity of following a guru and right guidance is pointed out by guru Potowa: “To attain buddhahood there is nothing more important than following a guru. Even though we can learn in this life simply by looking at others, we still need a teacher. To escape from the lower realms onto the path, it is essential to have a guru.” Therefore to improve this deluded mind, we have to find a way to know how to do this, and so we need a qualified guru with experience, someone with the full experience of that which he shows us. So just as a patient must follow a doctor’s treatment to be freed from his illness, to be freed from the illness of the three poisons we must follow our guru, this is the bodhisattva path.
Therefore the guru is someone the disciple can completely trust and rely on. He must accordingly have certain qualities. As Sakya Pandita says, “Even for a minor business deal in jewels or horses we would ask advice from many people. So in preparing ourselves forever, just to take the Dharma indiscriminately is not right.” It is the guru’s task to tell us what to accept and what to abandon, therefore it is very important to judge the qualities of the guru, to judge his quality beforehand. So we must know all his qualities beforehand in vinaya, sutras and sastras, and tantra.
Then we must follow a person endowed with most of these qualities that a guru should have. So we must search out the right kind of guru, and then found, follow him correctly. We must follow him with a pure view of him, seeing his qualities as the same as the Buddha’s, his kindness as even greater than the Buddha’s. With this view in mind we must develop a firm devotion from the depth of our heart, by seeing his qualities and kindness, and their union, and then venerate him, especially through practice. We must please him in this way. There are in fact three ways of pleasing a guru: by material offerings, service and practice. So we must venerate the guru, especially through practice. A truly qualified guru will be delighted by veneration through practice.
Remember how Marpa made Milarepa work hard, and then initiated him? Well, Marpa said: “My disciple Milarepa who has nothing to offer, and my other disciple, who has offered everything including a goat with a broken leg, between the two I have made no difference in my teaching.” Oh yes, there is a guru with the right qualities. Otherwise a guru concerned with material offerings thinks something like, “Practice is up to you, I have what I need, so I don’t care”. Sherawa says: “On his side the disciple should offer much, but the guru should never be attached to the offering. If he was, he could not be called a true guru!” Thus to follow a guru properly is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Has everyone understood well? Now let us pray to Padmasambhava for the peace and happiness of sentient beings, and the flourishing of Dharma especially in Tibet, and to the Buddha as an emanation of the perfect cause, the collection and accumulation of merits, whose mind perceives all values, relative and absolute, by remembering the Buddha’s qualities of speech, body and mind, who has instructed us with such teachings as bodhicitta, who 2,500 years ago has shown the deeds of attaining enlightenment and blessed this area. Also with this prayer develop your devotion, remembering his greatness and compassion. Our protectors of the Dharma in Tibet are in decline but signs of their power are increasing. Therefore let us pray and invoke Padmasambhava, he is their Lord and very necessary at this time.
As said in the sutra, the three worlds are as impermanent as an autumn cloud. The birth and death of beings are like a play. Our life is like lightning in the sky, like a waterfall over a cliff. All compounded phenomena, including beings and places, all are impermanent, changing every moment, in flux, never permanent or eternal. Especially the life of a person in this age is changing particularly swiftly. Since taking birth it is definite that we will die. When it comes it will be a complete surprise, like lightning when we least expect it, taking us to another world. Such a situation will surely arise but we never know when, such a state of impermanence are we in. Since the beginning of the world, before written history, with all the years that have passed, no one has escaped death. The wise, the powerful, the clever, once born, their lives end in death. In brief, each and every one of us will degenerate in the same way, with failing eyesight, hearing and so on. The body we were proud of when young will become a burden, become fatiguing to all. When we had all the perfections, people respected us, said perhaps we had the word of the Buddha, but later these too will look down upon us and turn away.
All abilities and qualities degenerate, what was an object of attachment becomes and object of aversion. We shall be full of regret that our plans have been left unfulfilled, disturbed that we have no abilities left. We shall reach a stage when no plans can be made, when there are no worldly involvements left. Early in our lives, we are young vigorous, bright, competitive, capable of “catching birds flying in the sky.” Then later we grow older, get married, have children and so on, having the responsibilities that go with this, no longer being free to do as we like, but acting according to the interests and wishes of one’s wife, children, in-laws. We must then keep up a certain status, worldly values, compete with others, feel superior to others. At first we search for just any job, then we look for one with a better salary, promotion. Then if our job is good, we start looking for better social standing. In this process with its involvements, days, months and years are spent.
Even formerly in Tibet it was like this. A monk or student went from childhood to the student stage, and of course there are many that study with the right motivation, to obtain buddhahood, but there are also many who study the scriptures with the aim of becoming a very wise man, with the motivation, “I will become a distinguished person,” or “I will get a ‘first’ as a Geshe.” They are attached to the empty title, and looking for the position of abbot of a great monastery, or even just the abbot of a small monastery!
So this is what is meant by well-being in this life. “Involvements in this life are like waves succeeding each other. One goes, another comes after it. So the more we accomplish in worldly ways, the more will accumulate. Isn’t it better to bring this to a sharp halt?” Therefore if we can suddenly stop these involvements, with the mind relying on Dharma practice, this is very beneficial. Otherwise though one’s body is wrapped in robes, with the title of abbot, one is lost in worldly principles. First there are only the disciples of one’s teaching, then many offerings come, someone has to administer these, so one’s “personal staff” begins to grow and so on. Unless our mind is internally controlled this outward show can be very dangerous. One is deluded into thinking one is practicing Dharma. Without self-awareness one may think, “I am a very good practitioner of Dharma.” But deep thought would show us we are subject to the eight worldly principles, and it is doubtful that our Dharma practice is real. Even someone who is supposed to practice Dharma and knows Dharma well does this, which shows how difficult it is for others without the same opportunities. So life can be wasted in this way. And we reach a point of wishing to practice but have no ability.
As Ku Tung says, “Twenty years are spent without a thought for Dharma and twenty are spent saying, ‘I will practice,’ and ten more are spent saying, ‘I’m not able to practice Dharma.’ and that is the story of an empty life.” In my own case, up to the age of twenty there was in me a will to learn and practice Dharma very well and there was also a little will to realize úunyata and bodhicitta. Yet these twenty years were spent without much substance, they just passed by. Then the Chinese came. I spent nine years with them. I wished to continue the study of Dharma, but a stream of troubles, and disappointments distracted me from this. So another nine years go by. Yet at nineteen I had been ordained, had taken bodhisattva vows, tantric vows. But to say that the mind’s integration of the Dharma is complete, this is difficult to say. I have lived up to the age of twenty-five with the title only of “The Victorious One,” the “Omniscient One.” So then I was twenty-five. We have lost our country. I still tried to continue studying and practicing Dharma in India, but many involvements arose again. Five or six years passed. My level of thinking has become a bit more advanced. I have come to realize that without the integration of the Dharma within the mind, just reading and reciting mantras has little substance and is self-deceiving. “If the Dharma does not become integrated with the mind, mantra recitation is a waste of our fingernails.” So with that realization I try my best, but I still find myself saying, “For twenty years I could not practice Dharma.” So whatever our outward form, or the impressions of others, the crux of the matter lies within us. One has to be “the main witness of oneself.” In order that we will not need to have regrets or repentance, we should perform a good internal “check-up,” from this we will not have to repent, to murmur regrets to ourselves.
If one day goes, it’s a pity. If a month or a year is wasted, it’s much worse. Therefore checking up on oneself is important. If life would wait for us there would be no problem, but in fact it always races, and never lets us finish. If we make a good use of life, this is a great thing, otherwise it is wasted and runs away from us. “The three worlds are impermanent like an autumn cloud.” This being so, I do not need to repeat how beneficial and necessary Dharma practice is. Since we see it is worthwhile and necessary, if we spend time saying, “I will, I must practice Dharma”, and never put this into effect, then as Guru Rinpoche says, “Before the tomorrow of Dharma practice, the today of death may occur. Without deceiving yourself, therefore, to practice Dharma, start now.” Let us take my own case. If I say I have many things to do, so I’ll get around to it when I reach fifty, this is cheating myself.
So I must try, myself, not to postpone matters even for a second. If I do so it is my own fault, my weakness and my inability. Of course I cannot put 84,000 teachings into practice at once. Even someone like Nagarjuna did not practice the whole Dharma in one day. He started like ourselves, generated a will to practice and then advanced further, increasing his power and ability so that he became a great teacher. Without this effort the accomplishments of the great teachers would not have arisen spontaneously. We must give ourselves encouragement. As the Bodhicaryavatara says, “Even flies and worms have within themselves the possibility of attaining buddhahood and one day will do so. So if I make an effort I will definitely attain buddhahood much faster.” If we think this way, it will act as a powerful encouragement. We always have the base for buddhahood, the only thing necessary is to make use of it.
So effort is needed, without the self-deception of postponement. Whenever we have the chance, we must make use of it immediately, and bring about a change in our mind, which will change our actions of body and speech. And then even a trivial deed of body or speech can become a powerful mental force. Everything depends greatly on the power of mind. Some deeds of body and speech which, for ordinary people, would be wrong can be transformed into virtue by someone with great power of mind. Therefore mental development is very necessary, and makes a great difference in our actions. So we must make the effort to start practicing now. We should not say, “I must do great things,” but rather start with the smallest and easiest, according to our ability. For example, everyone would like to eat very tasty food, but we just have to eat what is available, and it is stupid to starve if we cannot get the best food there is. We must start with the lesser and go on to the greater. Drop by drop an ocean is filled.
Therefore without postponing anything we should start practicing now. Which for us means Mahayana, Sutrayana, Paramitayana, and Tantrayana, the right combination. In order to practice we must first, hear, learn and know Dharma. This is why we are now learning this teaching on the Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattva. So you should all listen with the motive of attaining buddhahood for all mother sentient beings, in the same way that Gautama Buddha spoke of his enlightenment 2,500 years ago. By following the bodhisattva practices, first attaining the gem of bodhicitta, then attaining an accumulation of merit, and finally attaining full buddhahood. We must go through this process, so that with that motivation, with close attention, please listen to this teaching.
Yesterday we were concerned with the opening homage. There are three parts, the beginning, main part, and ending. In the main part the first practice says we must have learning, contemplation, and meditation. The second one says that for doing this we must be in the right environment, and abandon the wrong kind, with its wrong involvements. One must, therefore, abandon one’s country. As a guru has said, “Abandoning one’s home and country, without involving oneself in bewildering busy distractions.” The idea is to free oneself from involvements, and therefore the third practice is to live in solitude.
Being in solitude, if our body, speech, and mind are still governed by worldly principles, then this is the worst state of all. It is better to live and lead a happy worldly life in the busy world. In solitude we must be able to break attachment to all happiness and wellbeing in this life. Therefore the best practice is to give up attachment to this life. Even in solitude, it is necessary that a companion or friend should be inspiring rather than a wrong one who distracts us. Therefore the fifth practice is to abandon wrong friends.
After the experience of solitude it is no longer enough to have no distractions, we must do something to eradicate illusions forever—just being peaceful is not enough. At this stage it is essential to realize shunyata and wisdom (Skt: prajna). This can be achieved only by the combination of concentration and higher insight. Mantras and prayers are not enough. It is beneficial to live virtuously without this realization, but only temporarily. For permanent serenity the uprooting of delusion by shunyata is necessary.
Therefore morality (Skt: sila), concentration (Skt: samadhi) and wisdom are required. Sila is to protect oneself, like armor in a war. The real weapon is prajna, but we must also have strength, samadhi. We must fight the enemy and destroy him, and we need to achieve this forever. Sila is like a fence to shield us, then we must develop the power of prajna and samadhi, and attack the enemy. Therefore, to nurture and develop all our virtues and qualities we must make a great effort ourselves, but also have a good instructor. We must search out good guidance, a spiritual friend or guru and then practice the proper way of following him. So the sixth practice is to hold one’s spiritual friend dearer than one’s own life.
Remember that even an ordinary teacher must be qualified, and must have a good character in order to set an example to his students. What he teaches is for this life only but he needs to be kind and wise. Someone who is a spiritual teacher must of course be far more qualified, since he is not concerned simply with this life. Therefore the guru should have the ten qualities. He should have a serene and controlled mind, a mind rich in quality, effort, and teaching. He should have clarity, thusness, compassionately wise speech, and he should have abandoned all discouragement. So we should follow a guru with such qualities, and be oneself a good disciple, have the right states of mind, the attitude of an intelligent, unselfish son, following the guru’s instructions, acting according to his wishes, being close to him in mind. If we have this reliant kind of mind, and he is truly qualified, he will seek the most helpful things for his disciple, and show the way. He will never do this in an adverse manner. And the closer we are to him the better. We must have the “pure view,” look at his qualities and kindness, and thus serve and respect him.
It is for the guru to judge the disciple, and for the disciple to judge the guru. For example, readiness for tantra must be carefully judged. So it is important that there should be a two-way process of judging. Regardless of his title, we should judge a person and then follow him properly. There is no obligation to regard the guru—or the Dalai Lama—with blind faith, you must take the time to judge the guru as appropriate, or you must abandon him. This can take a long time, even up to twelve years. So we must have complete freedom in this way, and in order to obtain the supreme freedom, we must have regular freedom first, otherwise there is a contradiction here. We have the same freedom to follow what tradition we choose, even whether we practice Dharma or not, and which dharma we practice. We must always have a broad mind, and then, sometimes, the mind will spontaneously be well controlled. It is in the nature of our mind that if we force it too much, it will react against this, but if we give it freedom, it will again come under control. We should remember that if we are to do something, we should do it exactly and properly. We should not be alarmed at the slightest doubt, nor rush off like a rabbit from a falling tree. When we fail in our practice of Dharma, we may look for an excuse by criticizing Dharma. Well, it is better not to practice than to criticize from the outside.
So having chosen a guru in complete freedom, once chosen, we should have the right attitude as a disciple. As Tsongkhapa says, “Give up self-centeredness, leave choice to the guru, let him decide, like an intelligent son’s attitude towards his father, provided he is qualified. We can’t give our nose ring to just anybody.” Of course we do not practice Dharma solely on trust, like shooting arrows at night, that kind of Dharma is not possible in this age. But Buddhadharma is not like this; everything has a base and its reasons, not just commandments and blind faith. Even in this degenerate age the radiance of the Buddha’s glory has not dimmed. Therefore the Buddhadharma is based on the right reasons. For example, we who call ourselves practitioners of the Dharma have shortcomings in our practice, but the Dharma itself is always immaculate. And it can give us the utmost benefit, show us the best and most virtuous way to live, the best kind of human being to be.
We should therefore search very carefully, judge carefully and once we have found him, we should have unswerving devotion to the guru and follow him completely. This is a brief explanation of guru devotion. Today’s teaching is about refuge.
The seventh practice of the bodhisattva:
Those gods who are themselves bound in the prison of samsara, how can such worldly gods have the ability to protect or liberate us? Therefore to take refuge in those who may always be relied upon, to take refuge in the Triple Gem – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Those who are completely fettered by karma and delusion in samsara, for example, worldly gods or spirits, asuras, and who are reputed to have the ability to harm people and to provide a few rather slight and temporary benefits, these kinds of gods, especially in the border areas, are very popular. For example, there are village and mountain deities which have even been the object of human and animal sacrifice. Such deities are absolutely wrong, particularly those which demand the sacrifice of animals in the hope of rain and good crops. Spirits who demand this kind of evil offering are bad themselves. This is true of some oracles too. Their situation is the same as ours, they too are subject to suffering, even though they do not have a body like us and may exist in the formless realm. But like us they are subject to karma and delusions.Since they are in the same situation as ourselves there is no reason to take refuge in them. So which worldly gods can save us? As the power and ability to save are lacking in them how can they help us? For “refuge” implies hope, and they will always disappoint our hopes. Knowing that they are impotent, and still taking refuge in them, is a proof of stupidity. Before placing hopes, we should first ask whether the being concerned has the power or ability, and decide on taking refuge accordingly. So it is not worth taking refuge in impotent and worldly gods. So where is the right object of refuge, which never lets us down? This is the Triple Gem, which is the perfect refuge. To realize this is a practice of the bodhisattva.
Refuge is an important dividing line, it is this which makes a person a Buddhist or not. He who accepts the Triple Gem as the ultimate refuge from the depth of his heart and who follows it in practice, he is a true Buddhist. Someone who does not have this profound reliance, even if he has a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, and outwardly his practice seems sound, is not a real follower of the Dharma nor a Buddhist. This issue makes the distinction between the Buddhist and the non-Buddhist. There are many levels of refuge, but one who from the depth of his heart accepts the Triple Gem as the ultimate object of refuge has achieved a sufficient solution. The dividing line between followers and non-followers of the Dharma consists in this very important point. .
Now to explain the significance of the Triple Gem. The Tibetan for “buddha” means fully awakened, clear of or awakened from faults, purified from defilements or with all defilements eliminated. This refers both to defilements that are external and those due to the wrong qualities of the external world. As I explained yesterday, all defilements, of the internal and external world, are due to karma, and this in turn derives from the untamed mind produced by delusions. What is a delusion? It is a quality of mind which, when it arises in oneself, immediately agitates the mind, destroying its peace and happiness. The Tibetan word nyonmong for klesha, or defilement, means something which upsets or agitates the mind. It is a concept, a way of thinking which, when it arises within us is, because of its activity, immediately agitating. This thing which makes the mind untamed and uncontrolled is delusion, which causes karma. So the production of karma depends on whether the mind is controlled or tamed and this in turn depends on delusion. And all the various kinds of delusion we have stem from one root delusion, ignorance. So all external and internal shortcomings and defilements are produced by this process – the untamed mind resulting from delusion, in turn derived from self-grasping ignorance.
The fruit of collective karma is something rather different. But when an individual tames his mind fully the fruit of external and inner defilements is eliminated. When we refer to a buddha, that means that all his inner defilements, such as desire and hatred, have been extinguished. But it is not enough for a buddha to eliminate delusion, he must also rid himself of jneyavaranạ, the impediment to knowledge about the whole of existence. Otherwise, even great bodhisattvas have problems due to the obscuration of full knowledge.
When full knowledge, too, is obtained, his mind gains, develops, expands; his mind is fully expanded. Awakening, then, covers this whole process. So a person who has attained this ultimate goal of no defilements, with all his potentialities of knowledge fully realized, is a buddha. But such buddhahood does not come about spontaneously, it has to be developed. It is not without cause, and it is not like permanent, independent self-existence. For the Dharma teaches us that sentient beings do not remain in a static state. So all buddhas, such as Sakyamuni, who became enlightened here, were once just as we are, but gradually, by making progress on the path and getting rid of all defilements, and by developing all virtuous qualities, and by discarding defilements one by one, gaining virtues one by one, became a buddha. This abandonment of defilements and gaining of virtuous qualities is mainly achieved by the mind, which has a tremendous range of possibilities and many facets. For example, you are at present looking at and listening to me, and are cognizing something. There are different objects of cognition—color, sound, and so on. One cognition perceives all forms, another tastes all tastes, another responds to smells, another to touch, these are the five sensory cognitions.
Above them all is a cognition which people nowadays describe in various ways, such as the brain, or the sensory consciousness which sends messages to the brain. This mental cognition is the most important and is like a “king cognition,” while the senses are like ministers. Each has its own responsibility, one to see, one to hear, and so on. The conclusion of these processes takes place in the mind, and it is then that the idea comes, “I have seen,” “I have smelt,” and so on. The concept of “I” has its basis in this way. For providing the basis of this “self,” the “I,” the most important factor is thus mental cognition, the consciousness that draws conclusions.
Mental consciousness also exists at many levels: one is working now, another arises during the dream state. Growing more and more subtle, another consciousness arises with fainting. There are many levels here, the highest level being at death—we arrive at another state of consciousness then. The ultimate stage of fainting is death, when the finest and most subtle stage of mental consciousness arises. In the process of dying the coarse consciousness disappears, and outwardly death occurs with the end of breathing, but in fact life goes on and the state of the most subtle mental consciousness continues until actual death.
This state of the most subtle mental consciousness is the real nature of the mind, a nature that is completely free from all delusions, because delusions only arise and operate with the coarse level of consciousness, which has come to a stop. All conceptual cognition has already dissolved. There are thus many levels of mind, with the finest as I have explained. So the finest level of the mind is purged of defilements, which shows that these defilements are temporary. The ultimate nature of mind is unsullied by illusions—nobody is permanently angry. If hatred were a lasting thing, the mind of an angry person would be angry all the time. Though a person gets into a rage there is a time when he calms down, so hatred comes and goes, it is transient, which shows that the nonvirtuous qualities of mind are not undetachable from mind. Desire, attachment, jealousy are a completely different family. Therefore such delusions, however powerful they seem, can be gotten rid of and avoided.
To take hatred as an example: When the kind of delusion that arises towards a disagreeable object causes a desire to harm or be rid of it, this is a very crude mental state indeed. On the other hand there is loving kindness, and that, again, is a state of mind that arises towards an agreeable object, creating a feeling of closeness and goodness. So these two states of mind, these two attitudes are completely opposed to each other, and they cannot exist simultaneously. So there are many different qualities of mind, different in nature, and diametrically opposed, and they can never be simultaneous. There are different sides to the mind. The defilements, or wrong states of mind, are all backed and supported by ignorance. And because this is so, because they are supported by self-grasping ignorance, they do not have the support of valid cognition, because the grasping of self-existence is due to ignorance about the true nature of reality. It is a completely mistaken cognition, because it regards everything as existing with an independent self, whereas in reality nothing exists in this way. If we therefore judge and analyze on this basis, the more deeply we investigate concepts, the more they gradually dissolve. Generally speaking, the closer we investigate an object, the clearer it becomes. But when the object does not exist, what we had thought existed fades away. For example, if we inquire into what is said by a merely glib or “smooth” talker, we find no substance. It is the same with the ignorance which holds that everything possesses real existence. If we investigate deeply and ultimately we eventually conclude that the contrary is true, and, when we discover that, ignorance and grasping lose their power and cannot survive.
Because of illusion, mental defilements seem superficially very strong, but because they depend on a false, foolish basis, they are transitory. On the other hand, none of the virtuous mental qualities rest on such false basis. And so we have two completely different kinds of mental qualities, which can never exist simultaneously, and one of which has firm foundations and the other not. Because of this, if we try to develop qualities on the firm foundation, their opposites, lacking this foundation, must slowly fade away until completely extinguished. The more warmth and light increase, the less cold and darkness remain. The more the virtuous qualities grow, the more the defilements disappear. In the beginning both sides of qualities may receive support. For example, if nondevotion is strong, devotion grows less. The negative force can conquer in the early stage. For example, the attitude of cherishing other sentient beings may start and last for a month. This develops the attitude quite well, but if one stops, it may degenerate, because we have not built the foundation and support, which is the realization of the nonexistence of the self. Otherwise a seesawing development can happen. This is why we must practice and acquaint ourselves with a path using both method and wisdom. Then the virtuous force will not degenerate. By becoming habitual, a virtuous quality of mind will develop infinitely. So virtuous qualities develop infinitely and destroy the strength of nonvirtuous qualities. By going through such a process and attaining fully accomplished qualities and full freedom from defilements one reaches the state of buddhahood.
Such a Buddha, according to the Theravadins, is a Buddha Sakyamuni, who in the early part of his life was a bodhisattva, then attaining the stage of full enlightenment here under the bodhi tree, and becoming a buddha until his paranirvana. After paranirvana, he attained, according to the Theravadins, dharmadhatu; his stream of consciousness came to a complete end.
According to the Mahayana, this is not exactly what happened, for even though he entered paranirvana, and his own physical appearance ceased, the Buddha still exists in the dharmakaya, whereby he still manifests himself in various forms in order to help constantly sentient beings, even doing so in different worlds. So he still lives on. In this way Buddha Sakyamuni is one manifestation of his dharmakaya. According to the Mahayana, although he was born as a prince, and passed through various stages, all of these were a kind of show, and in fact he was already enlightened. The mind of such a buddha is known as the jnanadharmakaya, the most subtle state of mind which has completely eliminated all defilements and which is constantly absorbed in the ultimate nature of every existence—thusness or shunyata—and perceiving every existence simultaneously with its ultimate nature, one constantly absorbed in the ultimate nature of every phenomenon, perceiving all phenomena without and with appearance, therefore with shunyata.
That is the state of buddha mind known as jnanadharmakaya. Then there is sambhoghakaya, a physical body not coarse like our own but subtle and endowed with the previous body, a subtle buddhabody which exists until the end of samsara, and from this sambhoghakaya derives nirmanakaya, which manifests itself in different worlds and beings. So when we say we take refuge in the Buddha, we take refuge in these three bodies. Are you clear about the meaning of refuge in Buddha?
Now about Dharma. The ultimate Dharma is the cessation of defilements and the path, which is within Buddha and those who are not yet buddhas but who are on the road to buddhahood, like the aryabodhisattvas. AryaSravakas and aryapratyekabuddhas, too, experience cessation of defilements, so they also are Dharma. Such arya beings also have the true path within them, which is the realization of shunyata, and the level of true cessation they have attained also represents ultimate Dharma, the quality of abandonment of defilements and the quality of realization of the path. This is the object of taking refuge in Dharma. Dharma is the true refuge which, when attained, frees us from certain defilements and suffering. The Dharma is the main refuge. The Sangha refers to those endowed with true cessation and the path, the Arya Sangha or Ultimate Sangha, those who have realized shunyata. So these three are the object of refuge of those who follow the Dharma.
So far we have been talking of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha outside us, this is the causal refuge. For example, a guilty and fearful person seeks the aid of a powerful one: “I trust you, I rely on you, so help me.” Our goal must finally be to attain these stages ourselves, because that is the object of our primary wish—to be free from suffering and to obtain happiness—and this must be done within. This is because all suffering comes from karma, delusion and ignorance, and it is by gradually bringing about the cessation of these that we will bring an end to and obtain freedom from suffering. This is how we must accomplish our aim, for the existence, externally, of the Triple Gem, will not help us completely. The benefit for us of the presence of Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha is not total. We must regard the Buddha as a doctor or teacher, and trust in him and his instructions. The Dharma is a medicine we must take and we must then practice in accordance with it. Though we cannot attain ultimate Dharma immediately, we can do so eventually by developing all qualities prior to and after entering the path. Gradually we can obtain full and unfailing Dharmahood. So we must start from the base, abandoning nonvirtuous deeds.
There are three nonvirtuous deeds of the body: killing, from a human being down to insects, even mosquitoes—when they bother us we may kill them unintentionally—right down to the egg of a louse. Then comes stealing, ranging from the most valuable to the trivial items. Killing is the worst act of all because it is the most harmful to other sentient beings, and it is the heaviest in consequences. There is no excuse for killing one’s enemy from hatred, and there should be no attachment to meat, entailing the killing of a chicken or a goat, though some qualification is needed here. If an animal has already been slaughtered for sale, if you buy a little this is not a heavy unskillful deed. There are many references in the Dharma to meat, for instance in the vinaya about meat being free from the three wrong qualities. In some sūtras it is rejected completely, but this varies with the disciples and circumstances. One should not therefore deliberately kill an animal for food or have somebody else kill one, but where the animal has already been killed, eating it is permitted. Strict vegetarianism is however best. But if we stop eating meat and become weak, then we must reflect on what matters most, and if the health of the body is more important and you can use it beneficially then meat eating is permissible. But killing animals out of desire or attachment, particularly for sacrifice is wrong and very foolish, though it is popular in the borderland areas , and there must be some present who engage in it. Well, it is much better for you to stop immediately and on returning home to tell the spirits that His Holiness has told you to stop it. Say, “We do not like to stop it but His Holiness is against this and said so at Bodhgaya.” Blame it on me, and if the god is a powerful one he can come and deal with me. I make you this pledge. So that kind of destruction of life is done out of ignorance. A bloodthirsty god may be pleased, but he is not worth pleasing, he is a weak god, he can’t kill for himself and has to have others to do it for him. If he really insists on sacrifice let him do it himself.
Stealing is another unskillful deed because it harms the possessions of others, so it also causes them suffering and should be avoided. On one of these days I heard a loudspeaker announcement that “a purse has been found.” This is a very good practice. Finding a purse on the road, being ready to give it back is a good sign. Otherwise you may find something and say “I’m not doing anything wrong, this is just what I want, this is marvelous,” but if the owner has not thrown it away, you have no excuse. Actually, there have been so many broadcast appeals, I think someone will soon lose his nose here! Then there is sexual misconduct. Generally, this means adultery, intercourse with someone else’s wife. This is very bad, most of the trouble in society comes from this. From high society in developed countries down to natives in the jungle, this discord over women is a major source of trouble. Abandon the deed and such strife will cease.
Lying refers to the very bad practice of completely deceiving others, cheating them. But if there is some special occasion when, say, life or the Dharma can be protected there is some excuse for not being fully open. Otherwise, we should always try to be truthful. Usually worldly people regard someone who tells lies as clever but this is a stupid form of cleverness. Next there is gossip, which creates trouble in society, and brings about discord between people. The utterance of one word can produce strife between two individuals or within a whole society. Such speech is therefore a very heavy unskillful deed. Gurus say that when you are in company, watch your speech; when alone, your mind. They also say that your way of uttering a single word can put you in a lower realm, so always watch your speech. Bad language, swearing at others and hurling abuse at them, is harmful to them. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama even made a practice of always calling people by their proper names rather by some impersonal form of address. Foolish speech refers to nonsense or meaningless chatter based on desire, attachment or hatred. Foul language, pornographic talk, swearing, aggressive speech can only bring about delusions in us. It is better to keep silent in such situations. In 1956 when the Chinese set up the autonomous Tibetan region, a party was held, attended by a Tibetan accountant. The group he was with was silent. Someone asked him to get a conversation going, and he said, “We all know each other very well, what is the point of talking?” I cannot understand how some people spend all their time in superficial, futile talk—that kind of person is a geshe of foolish speech. That should be abandoned. One should say what is meaningful, recite mantras, say prayers, but not waste time in idle talk. Such are the unskillful deeds of speech.
For the mind there are three unskillful deeds: greed, harmful thoughts, and wrong views. Greed is a mental attitude of always wanting things, your neighbor’s wristwatch, pen, jewels, and so on, looking out of the corner of your eye, thinking, “I’d like that!” When this happens, this furtiveness, it is a bad practice. Harmful thoughts refer to thinking of doing harm to someone else. Wrong views are a disbelief in reincarnation, karma and its fruit, or the Triple Gem. From killing to such thoughts, these are the ten non-virtuous deeds. Their abandonment is the equivalent of the ten virtuous deeds.
This is the first step into the Dharma. On this basis we develop gradually the right attitude of body, speech and mind. Adding generation of the will for bodhicitta, and other practices, will strengthen one’s development. And seeing and trying to develop awareness of the fact of impermanence, shunyata, the nature of suffering until gradually our understanding develops within us. This is why the true refuge, Dharma, can rescue us.
Dharma means to practice, attaining the goal within us. The Sangha is to provide us with an example, a pattern to follow. It is very encouraging for me that together with all the stories about the gurus of the past, one can see living beings who develop bodhicitta and shunyata, this is a great encouragement, fortifying our will. “If they can do it, why don’t I try too?” This is a great source of inspiration. Therefore the Sangha is an example to look up to, to guide us in our practice of the Dharma. Aryabodhisattvas are worthy examples, enormously beneficial and powerfully heroic in helping other sentient beings. So we should have the motivation now to follow in their footsteps and say, “I will become like them.” This should be our attitude towards the Sangha.
In brief, our attitude to the Buddha is that of the patient to the doctor, the Dharma is the medicine, and the Sangha is the nurse. The Buddha is the master guide, the Dharma is the true refuge, and the Sangha is a helpful friend. Therefore this way of refuge is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The eighth practice of the bodhisattva:
All the immensely unbearable suffering of the lower realms is taught by the Buddha to be the fruit of bad karma, so even at the risk of one’s life, never to commit an unskillful deed – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
As far as good karma is concerned, there are great actions by buddhas and bodhisattvas, so wonderful and powerful as to be beyond our comprehension. But on the negative side, there are many kinds of unendurable suffering, like those of the lower realms. All this suffering derives from the unskillful mind. There are a great variety of beings, all of them the productions of karma. For example, all the hells in the Abhidharma, whether exactly as described or not, are productions of karma. Even with visible beings, their variety, the shape and color of body, their way of living is so diverse that we can infer from this little world of human beings that anything can exists in the great variety of other worlds. The existence of all kinds of beings and sufferings elsewhere can be inferred from life in our own realm.
In the realm of spirits (Skt: pretas), the suffering experienced is mainly from hunger and thirst. Many gods who demand, say, the suffering of animals, belong to the preta realm. Such gods have a little power to benefit and to harm. The suffering of animals is obvious to us, look at a dog in Bodhgaya. The suffering of goats and sheep, which are slaughtered, is easy to see, they have no freedom to dispose of their lives. Animals do not harm us, do not owe us anything, they may just eat grass and drink water, but they are so simple, stupid, and ignorant, and actually human beings have no right to eat them. They are completely defenseless in the way their short lives are spent. The life of a pig, for example, is terrible. They suffer from human beings and other animals. Buffaloes, horses, mules and so on present a very dismal fate. For example, we have such facilities as schools and hospitals but for them there is nothing similar, even veterinary treatment is for our benefit rather than for theirs. In the case of an accident, for instance, a human being can go to a court for damages. But if an animal breaks a leg because of an accident, it may just be killed, there will be no court, no justice.
So the animal realm is bad enough, let alone the hells and pretas. We cannot be sure that we will not be reborn with a lower status. With the strong force of virtuous deeds, there is some guarantee, otherwise not. So unless there is purification and good actions to counteract bad actions and their seeds, with which there is some possibility of saving ourselves, there is, otherwise, no certainty. So we should beware of getting into one of these realms and ask ourselves whether we can bear such suffering and, if not, try to avoid it. If a method to do this exists we should practice it from now on, seizing this opportunity immediately.
Therefore we should take refuge, abandon the ten bad actions, practice good actions, and recite mantras as much as possible, do all the good that we can. Prostrations, mantras, circumambulation, every possible means should be used. So much then for karma and its fruit. As the text says, the Buddha has taught that all suffering comes from unskillful deeds, and the Buddha only teaches truth. By trusting in this and realizing it, we should, even at the cost of our lives, abandon unskillful actions. Up to this point the path for the man of smallest scope has been explained. What follows concerns the man of medium scope.
The ninth practice of the bodhisattva:
The happiness of the three worlds is like dew on the tip of a blade of grass. It tends to be destroyed in an instant, so seek the supreme stage of nirvana, which is never changing – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Samsara has many kinds of seeming perfections, but in fact they are as ephemeral as dew on a blade of grass, there at one moment, gone the next, easily perishable. What is the state of permanent, unchanging happiness? Nirvana. Not to cling or grasp at unsubstantial, temporary happiness, but to seek permanent happiness, this is a practice of the bodhisattva.
As previously explained, even if we are free from the unbearable suffering of the lower realms, we still do not have real freedom and happiness without freedom from samsara. Human life is relatively free and happy, compared with other realms, but still does not give us complete confidence. It is insecure, we do not know where we are going from here. So unless we have complete freedom from samsara, temporary freedom from the suffering of the lower realms is not completely reassuring.
Also our present situation is fraught with suffering. At first human life is completely essenceless. For the first weeks of the nine months in the womb, there is nothing unpleasant, but then suffering comes. It is discomfort which causes the embryo to move, not happiness. From the earliest time in the womb, therefore, our suffering begins. Only we are so ignorant at that time, and cannot therefore discriminate. Therefore suffering is inevitable. From emergence from the womb until the first words, our state is like a worm’s, and the suffering and discomfort are still there.
So this is how life begins. So we go on to old age and the suffering of death. Death is something no one wants, people ask for prayers for a long, trouble -free life. And in one’s own case, one takes care of oneself. One eats the right food to avoid illness, because of the fear of death. One seeks health to avoid death. But whatever temporal means we engage in, the end is always the same thing: suffering. The last day of living in this world is like an old tree falling down. Usually, however strong and supple the body has been, it falls like the trunk of a tree. Before we die, we lose all control, which causes suffering, with people fussing around us in a hospital. With surgery it is even worse, the body being taken apart. Parts of it are taken out and replaced with artificial substitutes. The replacement of limbs, even of the heart, is tried. Yet, in any case, this life ends, like the dream of a single night. Then, our companions, relatives and friends, however lovable and kind, we must leave forever, leaving our body, everything, behind.
This separation is not like having one’s family in Tibet, in such case there is still hope, but this is separation forever. We are completely helpless, and there is nothing that can be done about it at such a time. For example, there are in my case many disciples, Tibetans, who would sacrifice their lives for me. But when death comes this will make no difference, I will have to go alone. As it says in the scripture, “The king leaving his kingdom, the beggar his stick.” All that people have left to do is to make a last will and testament, but the tongue is already weak. One wishes to say something but is unable to, which causes more suffering. The people around can only offer their hands, tears in their eyes, they are helpless. If one is religious, on could give blessings, but there is no strength left to say them. In the course of our lives we may have eaten lots of different kinds of food, complained about the cooking, scolded others because it has been too hot or too cold. Usually we are very difficult in this way, but at the end of our life we cannot even receive a blessing. People may pour out water for us, people may offer prayers. Others may pry into secret places, seeking out things kept secret. Sometimes relics are put in the mouth, but in most cases in the mouth of a corpse. It’s true.
However happy a life has been, in the end the breath gets shorter and shorter until it becomes gasping, growing weaker and weaker. There is a final exhalation and then life ends. Nowadays people are given oxygen, but if its one’s karmic end, nothing can be changed. Nothing can be done to help. Even though surrounded by doctors, nothing can help, only the guru and the Triple Gem. Or one’s usual deity and the power of one’s virtuous actions, only these can bring relief. It is then that we reach total helplessness, with no protection left.
This is the suffering of death which none of us want. Therefore, life begins and ends with suffering. The peak of our life is reached between the twenties and the thirties, when health and good looks are at their best, and we are active in every way. Even then there is always suffering, for the student, for example, because of his exams. Then with marriage, a couple may hope for a child and remain childless, which entails more suffering. Others may have too many children, and this also causes suffering and worries. It is the same thing with money. “How shall I get through the next year? How can I support my family?” And even when one has money, “What shall I do with is, lend it out or what? Shall I put it in the bank? But then the interest is very low!” So one tries going into business and cannot find a trustworthy person, and performs a puja in the hope of successful business. And instead of getting benefit from money one becomes its slave. Then one may want a pretty wife, with the nice kind of right character. Either one doesn’t find her, or one does and one worries about keeping her, doesn’t want to lose her. With a job, one is afraid of losing it. Without a job one suffers too. When alone, one suffers. But with company, there is suffering too. So in this short spell of life there is not much chance for happiness.
It is in trouble like this that life is spent. If you look deeply you find that this is so. Life has no substance. Human birth then has no meaning, we live like a caretaker in a house, or are a slave to possessions, in this way life is spent. If we have a big house, if we cannot live fully within it, we look like a caretaker. It is the same thing with all the luxuries—if food does not enable us to live well, it serves only to produce excrement. Yet if we commit suicide, it will just lead to another rebirth not of our choice. Therefore what we should do is to completely break this cycle of rebirth. Then all the suffering resulting from birth can be done away with.
So all the suffering in this life comes from taking birth. That birth is produced by karma, and therefore the issue is to stop the production of karma. Birth will be eliminated by the stopping of karma, and karma stopped by the ending of delusion. When these two are eliminated nirvana is attained, a permanent state of liberation. But then we should not make the mistake of assuming that nirvana is the end of our existence, as many Western books say. We continue to exist, but free from delusions and ignorance. Thus we reach true happiness, gain full independence and freedom within, all the karmic delusions gone. Therefore we should investigate and analyze in order to see that such a state is attainable, to see whether delusions can be avoided and particularly the self-grasping delusions, where the concept of the “I” starts. It is from the concept of the strong “I” that desire, hatred and attachment arise. We must therefore analyze the root. We must use the tenets of Mahdhyamaka to dispel ignorance, to see what the true nature of existence is, how it can be mistaken.
We must analyze the actual way of existing and how we understand this. We must study all those points and then acquire certainty and get the flavor of nirvana. If we attain such a stage of moksha we attain liberation. Otherwise there is the suffering of samsara. Therefore I must do my utmost to attain the bliss of nirvana. This is a practice of the bodhisattva of the medium scope.
For example, we can sacrifice our temporary happiness, the worldly happiness of this life, for the attainment and permanent happiness of nirvana. Not because worldly happiness is unpleasant, but because compared with its sacrifice for nirvana, its pleasures are trivial and unimportant. In the practice of Dharma, therefore, we sacrifice the lesser happiness for nirvana. This is reasonable enough, for the two cannot in fact be compared. In the same way, for the happiness of other sentient beings we sacrifice our own. This is well worth the effort. It is a general fact that to forego the lesser for the greater good is always right. In the same way that we forego our worldly happiness for nirvana we forego our own happiness for that of others.
The tenth practice of the bodhisattva:
From the time immemorial we have been cared for by others with motherly love. If they remain in samsaric suffering how cruel just to free ourselves! To save them and other countless beings, produce bodhicitta, the wish for buddhahood – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
If, therefore, those who have shown me love from time immemorial, if these mothers remain in suffering, what is the use of one’s own happiness? If all the sentient beings related to us since time immemorial in our samsaric existence, if all these mothers who have taken care of us with love and kindness remain in the suffering of samsara, and if we seek to liberate only ourselves, this is a very wrong and wicked attitude. If we alone attain peace and happiness, liberation, there is nothing in this to be glad about, we should even feel ashamed. For, as I have already said, all sentient beings, from the merely instinctive to the most intelligent, share the same dislike of suffering and the same search for happiness. We owe a great debt to other sentient beings for their kindness. We depend on sentient beings for our happiness in all the stages of samsara. In gathering here today, our happiness is due to the goodwill of many sentient beings. In order to come we depend on train drivers, people who give information, provide accommodation, supply electricity, even those who first made or discovered these things, and this despite the strikes and even the difficulties over petrol! So even this event depends on many helping hands. Due to the goodwill and efforts of many human beings it is possible for me not to shout and for you to hear me from a distance.
We live only by depending on a countless number of beings. The practice of Dharma is also made possible by this. The practice of bodhicitta also depends on sentient beings who are its objects. Even in this life our eating, drinking, clothing, housing, reputation, and livelihood depend on other sentient beings. Not only this life, but our past and future lives in samsara depend on them. So, directly and indirectly, sentient beings are very beneficial and helpful to us.
A doubt may however sometimes arise when it seems to us that only our relatives and friends show kindness towards us and that is only to them that we should return kindness, others not being benevolent in their attitude towards us. Yet if we see animals being killed or tortured, compassion arises in us, even though the animal was not a close friend of ours. To feel compassion for a being in a painful situation is both normal and naturally right. Therefore, just because we do not know a human being, it is wrong to feel nothing for him. Compassion is natural.
A second doubt may then arise: while understanding why we should not abandon our friends or be indifferent to persons unknown to us, why should we have the same attitude towards enemies, towards those who harm us. But in fact through their enmity our enemies show a special kind of kindness towards us, which greatly benefits us. For our practice of Dharma, and especially Mahayana practice and progress towards bodhicitta, is based essentially on love and compassion. It will be accomplished by subduing the opposite of love and compassion, namely hatred, which is the worst form of delusion towards others. Hatred is even worse than desire, which is immediately harmful to our personality. Hatred is the primary and most harmful delusion both for oneself and for others.
Hatred can be overcome by the power of its antidote, patience. Where there is great patience, hatred cannot arise, but without the power of patience we are conquered by the delusion of hatred.
We should be patient first with minor suffering and difficulties and then go on until we are patient with our worst, most harmful enemy. Therefore only our enemies and those who harm us teach us and train us in patience. Not even the teaching of the Dharma or of a guru can teach us such patience. Neither can the most loving parents, since though they may be very angry with us for a time they usually remain kind. Our enemy therefore is our only teacher in this way. He may harm us physically and mentally and according to the law we have a right to retaliate. But if we practice patience with him, such patience becomes a pure and real force in us. This is the kind of patience which will help us on the road to bodhicitta and which gives us the strong encouragement needed to accept responsibility for all sentient beings. In samsaric existence, when circumstances are unfavorable, even our sense of responsibility for our closest friends and relatives can falter and is therefore somewhat artificial. And so for someone who practices patience and wishes to develop bodhicitta qualities, a real enemy is the best master who provides us with essential training.
Therefore, as it is said in the Eight Verses on the Training of the Mind, “When someone I have benefited and placed great hope in hurts me very much, may I regard him as my supreme guru.” When we have understood this very difficult matter, that with every right to revenge, we must realize the kindness of our enemy and return kindness, then there is no problem. Then we realize there is no sentient being we can abandon. When we see this fact, we see that searching only for our own liberation is very selfish and wicked. It contradicts not only Dharma but also even from the point of view of having a good worldly character it is wrong. Whether a person believes in reincarnation or not, if in his life he sacrifices himself for other sentient beings, this is a glorious human life. Even if one does not believe in reincarnation and Dharma fruit, if life is spent in helping others, this is the special quality of a human being. When his life ends, this will help him for the future. Just to talk of karma and its fruit, of reincarnation, can be self-cherishing, will not produce a noble mind, and will not help one in the future. Practice is important, not talk. To live virtuously is essential for the religious and the nonreligious person.
The aims of a noble mind and right living are indispensable. Tibetans have the reputation of being patient and easygoing. I believe this is due to the influence of Mahayanadharma in our country. We know how to put up with our difficulties. It is a great and good thing, a sign of Mahayana Dharma, that everyone prays habitually for mother sentient beings. Even if nomad robbers do many bad deeds, they still pray for all such beings. I see in this a sign of the influence of bodhicitta and Mahayana Dharma over people’s minds. Where there is no practice of bodhicitta or even a temple, we can still hear these prayers being uttered in nomads’ homes. To have a noble mind is another sign of Mahayana. When the great guru Atisha met people, he used to ask them, “Do you have a noble mind?” And his last words were, “Have a noble mind!” Dromtönpa, his great disciple, lay dying, with his head in the lap of a grief stricken disciple, who wept. His tears fell on the face of his guru, who opened his eyes wide and said, “There is nothing to be sad about, practice bodhicitta and have a noble mind.” Many gurus say this, showing that it is of the essence of the Dharma. When Tsongkhapa passed away, he took his hat off just before he died, threw it at one of his disciples, gazed intently at him and said, “Have a noble mind.” Passing the message on, this is the essence of Dharma.
All great Mahayana gurus have had as a principal practice the development of a noble mind and have emphasized to others the need to obtain one. For example, as we are supposed to follow the bodhicitta path. I try my best to develop a noble mind. Now, men from Amdo have a reputation for being fierce and temperamental, but because I have heard the phrase so many times I think a little progress has taken place in me. In the same way, everyone must make a little progress. Even the Khampas who cry “Kihihi,” as they are about to fight will progress if they make an effort! So the flavor of Mahayana Dharma helps us to move towards bodhicitta. If full bodhicitta is developed in one it gives great peace of mind, but even a glimpse of it brings about a great change and broadens our mind. Therefore we must train our mind and attitudes so that they are beneficial to others. One essential reason for this is our relatedness to them, and the fact that they have the same right to be free from suffering and to obtain happiness as ourselves.
In the Bodhicaryavatara it says, “Since oneself and others share the same wish for happiness why do we endeavor only to obtain our own happiness?” It is the same with suffering. We want to avoid it and obtain happiness. So why then be concerned only with our personal happiness and suffering? We must try to eliminate suffering for others as well as ourselves. The same is true of achieving happiness. To quote Nagarjuna, “We exist here to be used by others. We must develop our mind in order to be a servant to others, to be used by them, like wood, water, fire.”
If we can develop in this way we are taking advantage of our existence, and making it fruitful and glorious. If we live taking responsibilities for others, this is a heroic endeavor. Taking responsibility for ourselves is essentially living like cattle. When they are hungry, they try to avoid suffering, when they are thirsty, they seek water. This is neither glorious nor a special endeavor. So we must try to develop bodhicitta, as emphasized by all the sūtras, and to take responsibilities for others. We see the need for this but ask, “How we are to take responsibility for them?” For example, although I have a strong motivation to help others, my ability may be very limited. Like an armless mother who sees her son is drowning—despite her great love she cannot do much. In the same way our motive may be strong, but our resources poor. As the prayer of the First Dalai Lama says: “May I never be concerned about my own wellbeing but about that of others, and be endowed with the right abilities, such as insight, foresight, wise speech, power, all the abilities for helping others.” If we lack these abilities our motive cannot be carried through in practice.
For example, many of you ask me for prayers and place in me trust, pure devotion, and hope. Since I am still subject to delusion and to karma, I can only say, “Please take care and practice well.” Also, what I say about method, the path, and stages, is guidance, perhaps this will help you to arrive somewhere. For myself, I have not completed the path. To be able to help other sentient beings, we must ourselves have traveled over the path we show them. Without having done this it is difficult to help in a deep way. The reason why I take myself as an example is that it is the only one I know.
Your capacities are unknown to me because I have not overcome the obstacle of ignorance concerning your knowledge and receptivity.
You may ask what is the status of my teaching in relation to all the omniscient buddhas with all the abilities. All of us here have, in many ways, a karmic link from the past, the force of merit from the past. Repeatedly we see this from the buddhas’ lives. Therefore there is a special karmic relationship in our meeting due to the effect of many past causes. Hidden in its nature there is a strong karmic relationship from many previous lives. If, in the future, therefore, I attain buddhahood, there would be a greater possibility of helping others. The longer the relationship, the greater help buddhahood would provide. We need to achieve buddhahood therefore as soon as possible to help those with whom we have special relationships and to whom we can be more useful than other buddhas. The karmic link in samsara is important, otherwise on might think, “There are so many buddhas, who can I turn to?”
It becomes clear to us that it is indispensable to take responsibilities for other sentient beings, and we must therefore reach buddhahood for their benefit and in order to acquire a full ability to help them effortlessly and spontaneously. For example, if my standard is higher than it is now I shall be able to help you much more than I do now, looking to me as you do with hope and devotion. Otherwise although you have devotion, if, from my side, the necessary qualities are lacking, I cannot respond properly to your wishes. If I attain buddhahood I can help effortlessly and spontaneously, then all the abilities are obtained and ready to operate once contact with sentient beings, which depends on them, is established. For unless we reach buddhahood, even at the tenth bodhisattva stage, there comes a limit. To help completely, buddhahood is essential. Therefore, when one wishes to attain buddhahood solely for the benefit of others, this is bodhicitta. There are therefore two intentions: 1) the wish to help other sentient beings; 2) to achieve buddhahood for this. The state of mind of bodhicitta is brought about by these two intentions.
If such a state of mind remains constantly in us, our bodhicitta powers will be developed. Passing inclinations or sentimental feelings are not serious, we must be constant. At first the right state of mind is short-lived, but through growing familiarity, it becomes the nature of mind— bodhicitta—to achieve buddhahood as quickly as possible. “Since infinite time our mothers have shown us kindness, if they remain in a state of suffering, what is the use of obtaining our happiness? Therefore for the purpose of liberating countless sentient beings, to generate bodhicitta, the enlightened mind, is the practice of the sons of the Victorious One.” To generate such a mind and, when generated to develop it, this is the essence of bodhisattva practice.
The eleventh practice of the bodhisattva:
All suffering comes from the desire for the happiness of oneself. Supreme buddhahood arises from a mind that benefits others. Therefore, exchange perfectly one’s own happiness for the sufferings of others – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
And as the Bodhicaryavatara says, “All the happiness of the world comes from wishing for the happiness of others,” and “There is no need to explain further. Look at the fact that a child is concerned with is own happiness and that the Buddha is concerned with the happiness of others.” So wishing for the happiness of others is the root of every virtuous quality, wishing for one’s own happiness the root of every bad quality, of all wrong views. “Holding oneself dear is the door to every downfall. Holding others dear is the ground of every quality. Therefore what we should now do is to stop cherishing ourselves, which has done us no good. And we shall abandon the attitude of ignoring others, which is simply harmful”.
As we have the precious opportunity of receiving the Buddha’s teaching, passed on to us also by such teachers as Manjushri, Nagarjuna, Shantideva, let us do our utmost to practice the attitude of holding others dear, and forsake egoism as much as possible. To give energy to this we must practice taking upon ourselves the suffering of others and giving our happiness to them. Reflect on the suffering of all sentient beings, visualize them suffering and then think of taking on their suffering while breathing in. Then think of all the happiness you have and all the accumulated merit and give it to others while breathing out. As the Guru Puja says, “Oh venerable and most compassionate guru, bestow your blessing on me so that all the unskillful deeds and sufferings of all sentient beings may culminate on myself, and by giving all my happiness and merit to others may all beings be endowed with happiness.”
Thus we should practice “taking and giving.” If we train our mind in this way and “exchange ourselves” even temporarily, this will bring us peace of mind. Otherwise cherishing oneself will not bring bodhicitta, or peace of mind, nothing but worries about oneself. If we do not exchange our happiness for the suffering of others we will not attain buddhahood and not even happiness in samsara. So we must practice.
The Last Day Of The Teaching
Our life up to this day is over. It is over whether we have lived beneficially or whether we have wasted our days. Work badly done can be redone, but not so the life of man. We have wasted time in childhood but since we have been born as human beings this could not be otherwise. But since our adult intelligence has developed it is as though time wasted has been deliberately wasted.
For those, therefore, who have wasted life or spent it in futile ways, there is only the opposing power of repentance, saying purifying mantras, making prostrations, and above all the two best methods, meditation on shunyata, and the development of bodhicitta.
We must also be able to review and enumerate our unskillful actions. In directing our attention to them we must realize in ourselves the error committed and that even though we have had every opportunity for receiving Dharma, and guidance from the Buddha and gurus, we have still acted in contradiction to them. With our eyes wide open we have walked off the edge of the cliff and deliberately produced suffering for ourselves. What is done cannot be undone, but there are still the ways taught by the Buddha for countering our mistakes. There are the four opponent powers: repentance, taking refuge in the Triple Gem—placing one’s trust in the Buddha, his teaching and the monkhood—and developing bodhicitta, increasing the power of repentance by reviewing one’s faults—classifying them by body, speech and mind, natural faults contrary to the ten virtuous actions, infringements of rules of ordination and vows, whether vinaya, bodhisattva or tantric vows.
We should keep in mind the thought that in view of our possibilities we have lived worse than most worldly beings. So it is right, as Milarepa did, to stress the importance of confession and repentance as a purifying force, enabling us to stop committing further bad actions in the future. Without repentance, a decision to be good in the future is unreliable. And to repent strongly we must realize the wrong qualities of unskillful deeds. For this we must be convinced of the law of karma and its fruits. For the future we must make a strong decision about how to live, whether it be tomorrow or the next sixty years. We must spend this life preciously, virtuously, without infringing the Dharma, the wish of the Buddha. Let us never waste our future life, and pray strongly to spend life fruitfully. The past is over and done with, what remains is to take good care in the future, to be receptive to Dharma, as we have this great advantage.
In order to practice Dharma, we must first know and understand it which means we must learn it. This is, I presume, your motive for being here. To make life fruitful we must develop bodhicitta, train our minds to see future life as more important than ourselves. Food, apparel, fame, all must be sacrificed for others. We must use body, speech, and mind for others as much as we are able. If we can develop in this way, our life can be used preciously. To be able to do so let us hear and practice this teaching of the Thirty-seven Practices of the Bodhisattva, which I shall now briefly recapitulate:
The first practice of the bodhisattva:
To listen, learn, contemplate, and meditate on Mahayana.
The second practice of the bodhisattva:
To assist this, to leave the “active” world, one’s home.
The third practice of the bodhisattva:
To seek and live in solitude, though this is wrong if we still remain attached to the world.
The fourth practice of the bodhisattva:
To develop our mind.
The fifth practice of the bodhisattva:
To abandon false friends.
The sixth practice of the bodhisattva:
To follow a guru.
The seventh practice of the bodhisattva:
To practice the Dharma and take refuge in the Triple Gem.
Taking refuge usually refers to the causal refuge, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha representing the monkhood. Taking refuge in the fruit Triple Gem is to take refuge in our strong will to achieve buddhahood, to realize the Dharma in practice. But taking refuge is not enough. We must also follow the relevant precepts. Neither is it right to take refuge now in the Buddha, now somewhere else, this is a dispersion of effort. We should also show respect for the images of the Buddha, making a business out of them may seem profitable now but it is piling up harm. It is the same with the reprinting of old scriptures. Selling at cost, or using the proceeds for reprinting is the best way. In other words we must put the Dharma into practice, there is a real reason for doing so.
One can ask for help from a spirit but should not indulge in idolatry. And the way of taking refuge in the Dharma is important, it should not involve any ill will toward others. We must also be very attentive to the scriptures, taking care of them physically. Especially monks who always have them on hand can be careless about them. Lack of respect is one of the . . . .
[Transcript missing page 68]
As has been said by Tsongkhapa, “Although we have samsaric pleasures, they are the open door to suffering until we reach nirvana. The unreliable perfection of samsara leads to suffering, because we take pleasure and are never satisfied. By seeing these errors, bless me so that a will for seeking the happiness of nirvana arises in me.” The worst suffering in samsara is never to be satisfied, however much we take from it, however many pleasures we obtain. By its nature, moreover, samsara is completely unreliable. There is no certainty about our fame, wealth, or reputation. There is no certainty even about our friends or enemies, and even our bodily existence is unreliable. If we have a companion with us throughout samsara, this offers us more hope, but there isn’t even such a companion. We have to make the journey alone, another very bad quality of samsara. There are countless bad qualities of samsara but in the lam-rim they are classified into six main groups. Once birth is taken in samsara, all these bad qualities ensue, the worst being taking rebirth again and again.
Once we have taken birth in bondage, everything else follows automatically. We all suffer the fruit of the past. The intrinsic nature and cause of samsara are impure because it is a product of karma and delusion, which it in turn produces. It is always endowed with suffering, karma and delusion—circumstances always cause delusion to arise. There are, therefore, five wrong qualities of birth: birth with suffering, birth in the wrong place, birth reproducing the same errors in the future, birth into a state of suffering and delusion, birth taken without freedom of choice.
Until we can free ourselves from this existence, this production of karma and fruit prevents any true, permanent happiness. So we must try to free ourselves from this plight by practicing the threefold training of morality, wisdom and meditation, with morality as the base. By our practice we must destroy delusion, the cause of all our trouble, by the force of antidote. So we must strive to attain nirvana.
The ninth practice of the bodhisattva:
Happiness is like dew on the tip of a blade of grass, short-lived and bound to vanish. Therefore we must seek the supreme stage of nirvana which never changes into suffering – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The tenth practice of the bodhisattva:
From time immemorial we have been cared for by others with motherly love. If they remain in samsaric suffering how cruel just to free ourselves! To save them and other countless beings, produce bodhicitta, the wish for buddhahood – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
These verses express the essence of Mahayana Dharma. In short, all the infinite sentient beings share the wish to avoid suffering and obtain happiness. To seek solely one’s own happiness therefore is reprehensible. From time immemorial we have always been concerned solely with our own happiness, yet what good has it done us since we still suffer!
As it is said in the Guru Puja, “The chronic disease of holding oneself dear is very harmful, preventing us from working, walking or eating properly; we are half a body, half a person. As long as we are self-cherishing, we are like half a human being.” Therefore we must do our best to get rid of this disease, and in the Wheel of Sharp Weapons, a mind-training text, this self-cherishing is particularly attacked, it is called an evil ghost or demon. An external worldly demon does temporary harm to us, but the inner demon harms us all the time. The truest demon is attachment to self, grasping by the self, ignorance, then the self-cherishing attitude. From this demon arises “I want this” and “I want to be happy”; ignorance and self-cherishing reinforce and support each other.
Were these the only two demons we have to cope with, it would not be too bad, but usually others like jealousy, wandering thoughts, drowsiness in meditation, and so forth, arise. So being a true practitioner of the Dharma is not easy, he is like a true soldier always fighting the enemy within—delusion. The demon of selfish grasping is the great enemy we have to fight. Sometimes this is very difficult and one may get discouraged. Naturally there are times when we have to face many problems, but we should not lose heart but struggle on until we obtain final victory. It is impossible to defeat all our worldly enemies, but this most glorious victory over the enemy within is possible. As Nagarjuna puts it, “There has never been anyone who has defeated all his worldly enemies and passed away peacefully.” Which is very true. But we can defeat the enemy within and do so once and for all. As the Bodhicaryavatara says, “All our worldly enemies can be temporarily defeated but they will regroup and attack again. But the enemy within can be defeated forever.” To fight with the true enemy, our delusions, is the responsibility of the practitioner. Ben Kungyel says, “My practice is to stand at the door of delusion with the spear of the antidote raised. If he is fierce, I am also fierce.”
The practitioner of Dharma cannot be lax in this respect. Therefore, it is not at all easy, but we should not let ourselves be discouraged. Unlike bodhicitta and shunyata, self-cherishing has no firm foundation. It is not only that the attitude of holding others dear and shunyata has a solid foundation, but all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are backing this, giving power and energy to their supporters. Though there may be maras fostering self-cherishing through ignorance, those who support us are enlightened. So on the one side there is unsteady backing and on our side indestructible support on firm foundations. As the Bodhicaryavatara says, “It is the buddhas who have thought and contemplated for kalpas on bodhicitta, which is the essential thing for all sentient beings.”
Thinking in this way, though our standard, our ability, is poor and weak, we have many reasons for confidence in our victory. Even though egoism and self-cherishing seem strong they are without foundation. One reason is that the most subtle consciousness arising in us can be transformed into a realization of shunyata—delusions cannot survive indefinitely. So we should not be discouraged but struggle against self-cherishing and eliminate completely this chronic disease. And we must develop the attitude of cherishing others by realizing the great qualities.
As it says in the Guru Puja, “Seeing that the mind which tries to lead others to happiness is the door from which enter all the infinite qualities, although these beings may rise against me as enemies, bless me to be able to hold them dear, even dearer than my life.” The mental attitude of holding others dear is the supreme medicine, the ambrosia of the inner guru and master. Realizing this fact we must generate such a mind where none exists and develop it where it does. Do this in all actions, walking, sleeping, and thinking. If we can do this we become a supreme practitioner of Dharma, drawing on the essence of life, making a supreme offering to bodhisattvas, and using the supreme method to rid ourselves of obstacles. There is nothing higher or greater than such a mind.
“If therefore from time immemorial we have been cared for with motherly love …”
The eleventh practice tells us that by seeing the wrong of self-cherishing and the virtue of cherishing others, we should exchange our happiness for their suffering.
The twelfth practice of the bodhisattva:
Whoever steals our wealth or lets others steal it, may we dedicate to him our wealth, body and merit – this is a practice of the bodhisattva.
This also involves the exchanging of self, and I will now point to some particular practice of this. For example, if somebody from intense greed robs us or encourages others to do so, he greatly harms us, at the worldly level, and may therefore become an object of hatred, and, legally, we have every right to retaliate. But for one who practices bodhicitta to react in that way is quite wrong. Instead we should dedicate to him not only our possessions but also our body and merit from past, present and future lives. A case in point is the author of these thirty-seven practices. He was in Sakya, and had just left a monastery where he had received offerings. On the road he was stopped by thieves who took everything from him and ran away. Very peacefully he called out after them, “Wait!” They stopped and he explained that he had asked them to do so because he had not had time to dedicate their spoil to them properly. He then made a very slow and complete dedication. They returned the property and, after receiving his teaching, became his disciples.
The thirteenth practice of the bodhisattva:
Although innocent of any offence, even if someone threatens to kill me, I must, by the power of compassion take upon myself all the sin of that person – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
This is another very difficult point and situation. One is completely innocent oneself and yet someone else from jealousy or some other reason wants to harm or even kill us. Yet even towards such a person we should not react with hatred but should generate strong compassion. Out of great compassion we must practice taking upon ourselves his unskillful deeds, while giving him our merit.
The fourteenth practice of the bodhisattva:
Then there is the case of someone that slanders me, spreads unpleasant stories about me throughout the length and the breadth of the world. But I, out of a loving mind, must praise his qualities in return – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
From dislike, desire to abuse us, debase us, someone spreads bad reports about us, though we are totally innocent ourselves. Of course, at a worldly level we should try to establish our innocence and thus defeat him. But from the point of view of the bodhisattva path, we must respect and praise his qualities.
The fifteenth practice of the bodhisattva:
Though someone may deride and speak bad words about you in a public gathering, looking on him as a spiritual teacher, bow to him with respect – this is the practice of bodhisattvas. 1
This clearly is a case of someone that dislikes us and wants to hurt us by showing off our faults in an unpleasant way, bringing a flush to our cheeks…
You should protect your heads from the sun. Put your robes over your heads, like “yearlong meditators.” When I was a boy I played a game with squares designed to show a child the stages of spiritual progress, and one square showed a “yearlong meditator” with his robe over his head. Now you can look like him!
We must respect someone who does this for making us do a self-criticism, he is a very helpful person. We do not see our own faults clearly, someone who helps us to do so is like a great guru, and we should respect him as such.
As scripture does, a guru instructs us and points out our faults. The Dharma is a mirror to show us our faults and accordingly how to correct them. We discover our impurities of body, speech, and mind by looking into the mirror of Dharma. So someone who discovers our faults instructs us as well as a guru. As the gurus and Tibetans say, “Praise is good, but criticism is better,” as criticism shows up our faults, and if we suffer from it we remember Dharma. Praise may kindle pride and make us forget our faults, while criticism teaches us not to commit the same faults again. In the same way happiness is good but suffering is better, because it takes us to the Dharma. Happiness eats the fruit of our past merit.
The sixteenth practice of the bodhisattva:
Someone we have taken care of like a son, and who then treats us like an enemy, we should love particularly dearly, as a mother does a sick child – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
As in the Eight Verses on the Training of the Mind, “When a person I have benefited, and placed great hopes in, hurts me very badly, may I regard him as my supreme guru.” With so much sacrifice, love and care it is natural, and seems almost obligatory, that such a person should be kind to us, and then he does quite the opposite and treats us like an enemy. Another example would be a child afflicted with a bad spirit who attacks his mother with a knife. The mother should do everything to separate her child from that bad spirit and to show her child even more loving care. We cannot hate a child or a man with a knife, because they are driven by delusion. These are very difficult but essential practices and have to be singled out.
The seventeenth practice of the bodhisattva:
If someone equal or inferior to us in attainments insults us, we should be humble towards him and respect him as a guru – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
This is really very beneficial. I do this sometimes. If someone upsets or disappoints us, makes us feel very angry, one should sit and meditate, mentally recite the verse from the Eight Verses on Training the Mind, “Whenever I am in the company of others may I think myself the lowest of all and hold the others supreme in my heart.” One should visualize oneself bowing to the other person, respecting and praising him. If we do this it is very helpful, we are the humblest of all. Servants of all other sentient beings, we bow to them. Previously, visualization would have brought hatred, but if we respect this practice it will subdue hatred. Therefore, as the practice says, instead of visualizing an enemy whom we hit, visualize bowing respectfully to him. If you feel shy about this, do it in a corner, and then if you meet him in the street pretend that nothing is the matter. The whole purpose of this is to tame and train the mind, to bring it the peacefulness we need.
The next verse refers to two of the great obstacles of Dharma practice. The first is when everything in our life is fine, the second when we feel very despondent.
The eighteenth practice of the bodhisattva:
When we are badly off, abused by everyone, plagued with serious illness and in very low spirits, to never be downhearted but rather to take on ourselves the unskillful deeds of other sentient beings – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
This is like the situation of the Tibetans losing their country, getting criticism from Indians, getting TB and feeling very despondent. “How can I practice Dharma under these conditions? I shall give up my robe, renounce my vows, go and get a lay job.” It is very easy for this kind of thought to come, and very easy to lose the Dharma this way. Although poor, while there is someone to help us, there is still hope. But let us assume there is no help forthcoming, and we are subject to abuse. Well, if your body is in good health, things are not bad. But let us assume that we are ill. If our mind is at peace, then this can be borne too. But let us assume our mind is troubled as well. In such a situation the practice of the bodhisattva will, if we are not careful, be lost. So we should in such times take upon us all the suffering of sentient beings, wish all suffering upon ourselves, and dedicate our efforts to them – this is a practice of the bodhisattva.
Another dangerous case is when matters are faring too well for us:
The nineteenth practice of the bodhisattva:
When one has a good reputation and the respect of many, with all the wealth of the God of Riches, see that such fruit of samsara is insubstantial, and do not take pride in it – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
One may, for example, be very famous for one’s worldly knowledge, or knowledge of the Dharma, and be respected by all. One’s good qualities “hit the headlines,” and one is universally popular and respected, worshipped by everyone. One becomes so wealthy one doesn’t have to admire anyone, being one of the "top people.” This is another time when there is a real danger of ceasing to practice the bodhisattva path. We may have a very strong pride in our wealth and fame, know Dharma so well that we think, “I can outdo Nagarjuna.”
Being the object of great respect and praise, one can be misled into thoughts such as: “I could kill a man, it would not matter so much, like killing lice.” In criticizing and abusing others, all sorts of defects come, sitting there like an owl. One must be very careful of this. Tsongkhapa says, “Whenever people prepare for me a splendid seat, prepare for me a great offering, I have the presentiment that this is of the nature of suffering. I’ve had this habit for a very long time.” And he also pointed out that even great fame is not worthy of attachment. As it says in the Bodhicaryavatara, “Why is one so attached to praise? Because others criticize us. So why hate those who criticize, when others praise?”
We should not be attached to fame and praise, even a little mistake can spoil everything and we can easily become a target of criticism. The same holds true for wealth, which is one of the worst deceptions, a major source of trouble. By realizing the wrong qualities of all the various attainments of samsara, we will see their true value. As Dromtönpa said, “Though others may rate us very highly, the most expedient course is to see ourselves in the lowest rank.” I try to practice this, and do my best to put myself at the lowest level. This is in fact the most practical thing to do, otherwise considerations of hierarchy cause trouble and agitation. Whatever people say, to use my mind to practice Dharma is my own responsibility, to make it real Dharma. For even with a Dharmic outward form one can practice non-Dharma, so mindfulness is always important. And to keep the lowest station is the root of happiness.
Because of the nature of Tibetan society it is still easy to practice deep humility. In the West this is difficult because people take advantage of you. This is not the case in our society and it is therefore particularly important that those with great names, lamas or tulkus, must practice humility. To do this is to practice Mahayana Dharma. Otherwise we develop attachment to name and fame, which is a meaningless endeavor. Some people I know, who have little knowledge, act with great pretentiousness and I find this so futile that inwardly I cannot help laughing. So to be without pride is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The twentieth practice of the bodhisattva:
Unless hatred of one’s enemy is overcome, the more we defeat the outer enemies, the more such enemies will increase. So by the force of love and compassion to tame one’s mind – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
This bears out what I have already said, that until we defeat the enemy within, even though defeating outer enemies, the latter will grow. As it says in the Bodhicaryavatara, “How can we find enough leather to cover the surface of the earth? With just a little bit of leather on the sole of our shoe, we’ll cover the whole earth.”
The wicked are as widespread as space, and can fill the sky; they cannot all be defeated. But defeating a hating mind is the same as defeating our outer enemies. We cannot hope to defeat all the harmful beings in the universe. But if we defeat our inner enemy of hatred we thereby defeat all bad beings. Otherwise the outer enemies increase more and more, as the Chinese Communists have been finding out.
From the point of view of Dharma what is wrong is that the real enemy within us has not been overcome. For example, politically we see that while we can have peace for one or two generations, it does not last. Cases in point are very clear. This was very clear with the Chinese from 1959 to 1969 and now in 1974. Nearly fifteen years have passed and trouble is increasing for the Chinese. One reason is that politics are very corrupt and deeply bad, but they are also like this because the source of this badness is within the individuals, within themselves they do not wish to leave people in peace. Therefore, “We have to defeat the enemy within by the force of love and compassion.” As Tsongkhapa puts it, “Without carrying weapons like bows and without wearing armor one can defeat single-handed the million-strong hose of Mara. Who else than you can fight such a battle?”
So we must defeat our inner enemy with the weapons and armor of love and compassion. There is a parallel in our society when we also have disputes and troubles, but meet together peacefully and non-aggressively. If we try to do something while keeping this aggression and anger in our minds nothing is really settled, a peaceful mind is essential. If we appear outwardly aggressive it is because we are not peaceful inside We have made the distinction between “them” and “us,” which means there is strong attachment to one side and strong aversion towards the other. If we use this approach to try and settle something it gets worse and worse. With a peaceful mind we can discuss matters with the right motivation and find a solution. If two people have hatred in their hearts, inevitably they clash. If they overcome it they are like new people. If their inner agitation can be damped down they can bring about harmony. To tame the inner enemy, one’s own mind, is a practice of the bodhisattva.
The twenty-first practice of the bodhisattva:
The nature of desire is like salt water. The more we drink, the more our thirst will increase, so to abandon the objects towards which clinging and attachment arise – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
To enjoy objects of desire involving touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight and contact is like drinking salt water. The object of desire never gives satisfaction, the craving for more will always increase. So, all the pleasure or happiness that comes out of attachment is deeply not beneficial to us, and even harmful. For example, sexual pleasure appears immediately to us as happiness but deep down it is a cause of suffering. Like an itch on the skin, which it comforts us to scratch, but to say, “I would like to have itchy skin” is nonsense. To scratch an itch is pleasurable but to be without the itch is even better. In the same way samsaric desire is pleasure but to be without such desire is even better, as Nagarjuna says in his Precious Garment. Therefore the object of desire, however much enjoyed, never gives satisfaction, but goes on increasing desire. By seeing the falseness of desire, we must abandon its objects immediately, this is a practice of the bodhisattva.
The practices so far described relate to relative bodhicitta. Those that follow relate to absolute bodhicitta, the realizing of shunyata. The latter can be divided into two parts: space-like meditation and illusion-like meditation. This is not an absolutely clear distinction but it will serve.
The twenty-second practice of the bodhisattva:
All appearances are an illusion of our mind, which has since infinity been beyond the extremes of manifestation (existence and non-existence). By seeing this, and not conceiving subject and object as inherently existing – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The Vijnanavadins say that everything that appears and exists, all phenomena, are of the nature of mind, but Chandrakirti of the Madhyamaka says, “Everything that exists and appears does not exist by itself, but exists as seen by our relative mind.” This is relative existence, which is therefore not absolutely true. If things had an absolute way of existing in themselves, the more we searched for them, the clearer they should become. But in fact they slowly fade away until no base or starting point is found. This is not because they do not exist at all, since then we should not derive any harm or benefit from them. As we do, they exist, but their way of existing we fail to find. So it follows that they do not exist in themselves but through the subject, in the relative mind’s way of looking. Therefore, appearing to really exist, and this real existence not standing up to analysis, this proves that our way of perceiving is a delusion. As the Seventh Dalai Lama says, “The objects passing through the mind of a sleeping man are a dream, but it is only an appearance. There is no object on this base, it is only a mental image.”
If at this moment you are dreaming about being in Tibet, you know when you wake up that you were not in Tibet, that there is no Tibet on this basis. Similarly, oneself, others, samsara, nirvana, all existence, is only seen, only designated, by our act of naming and our knowledge. But its inherent existence never exists, not even as an atom.
So the phenomena seem to exist, when they appear, on that base. But in fact they do not exist at the place we point to. And yet, as regards objects of our sensory faculties, everything which appears to beings drugged with the sleep of ignorance seems to truly exist on that base. As the Seventh Dalai Lama says, “Look at our evil mind, see how it works.” Yet in fact this is the way in which phenomena exist, for beings like ourselves, deluded with the veil of ignorance, with their six faculties, whatever appears, more or less, one or many, seems to exist objectively just by our naming and knowledge of it. Everything is outside us, “Look, there it is! Over there! It is independent, standing by itself.” That is all nonexistent, yet this is how it appears. As the Seventh Dalai Lama says, “Thus ‘I,’ or anything else, this way of existing inherently, in itself, which appears to the deluded mind, is the subtle object of negation. To refute it from our mind is most precious.”
Therefore, everything that appears, pure or impure, exists relatively because of mind, in the relative vision of the mind. And even mind itself, included in all existence, we do not find it if we search for it in an absolute sense. Mind exists as a stream of moments of consciousness. Our “I consciousness” is always something there, vivid, in itself. If we divide up the stream and search, it does not exist; the whole does not exist separately from its parts. And a part cannot be a whole. The part and the whole are something different. After breaking it down, and taking away the parts, the whole cannot survive. The whole exists in the parts, yet when we search we cannot find it. We can’t say confidently “here it is.” Therefore, the mind has, since infinity, been beyond the extremes of inherent existence or total non-existence. It is just non-self-existent. And as the Seventh Dalai Lama says, “The base, samsaric and nirvanic existence, is always just a projection of our inner mind. And the mind also, if analyzed, is birthless and indestructible. The nature of the true way of existing is wonderful.” Therefore, all existence, samsara and nirvana, are of the nature of the mind and the mind itself is birthless and indestructible. And the being that owns the mind is also birthless and indestructible.
“I am a yogi of space without birth. Nothing exists, I am a great liar who sees all appearances, hears all sounds as a great illusion. The wonderfulness is the union of the appearance and the void. And I have found the certainty of undeceiving interdependence.” To this great liar of a yogi, all appearance and sound seem to exist and, at the same time, nothing exists. If everything had a real existence, there should never be a contradiction. But, for example, a tree in spring has fine foliage and blossoms, but at another time is bare and ugly. If its beauty really existed, it should always remain there, never change into ugliness. It is the same with people, who are at times beautiful, at times ugly. If their beauty really existed it should never change into ugliness. Also, our defiled mind, if it really existed, it could never be changed one day into a completely purified, omniscient buddha mind. But what is defiled can become undefiled. Ugly can become beautiful, which shows that nothing really exists. For real existence these changes are never possible. For a truly existing base the change of cause and effect can never be possible. But here is cause and effect, there is good and bad, so therefore these can only be applied to non-real existence. To real existence these qualities can never be applied. These opposites on one base provide the proof that it does not really exist.
Therefore the wonderfulness is the union of shunyata and the appearance. Things manifest themselves in various ways, but their true nature is empty of real existence and therefore they change according to circumstances. They can thus appear in various ways, which means that shunyata does not negate appearance and the latter does not negate shunyata. Because the nature of phenomena is shunyata, empty of real, permanent self-existence, they can appear in various ways, and vice versa.
My understanding of these questions is not very good, but I am trying to improve. These are very difficult issues and we have to accustom our minds to them. Sometimes we should meditate on shunyata, sometimes on appearance and do so in a balanced way, and hopefully one day shunyata and appearance will arise in our mind as supporting each other, “the wonderfulness of the union,” as the guru called it whose name I can’t remember. What I wanted to convey was that if all phenomena exist in themselves, independently, permanently, they should always exist in that way. But when we analyze matters correctly, we find things do not exist at all in that way. If this definite certainty comes to our mind, this previously vivid way of existence suddenly collapses without support, falls away. Previously seeming to have strong support, it suddenly dissolves and has none. In the depth of our mind we will be able to swear to this certainty if we keep our mind dwelling very softly on the collapse of this appearance. If our power of concentration is not good, we cannot do this for long, but even a short moment is good. In that short moment, the vivid way collapses, and just the negation of real existence is left. At that time there is no chance for any other manifestation in our mind.
“By ceasing to conceive all the manifestations of subject and object, having no other manifestation, keep in this shunyata, see, realize the nature of shunyata .” “Un-seeing is the supreme seeing.” Therefore to keep our mind in this blankness, negation and shunyata, this is called space-like meditation. Illusion-like meditation is for dealing with relative phenomena from post-meditation, after shunyata meditation.
The twenty-third practice of the bodhisattva:
When we encounter something attractive which pleases the mind, to see that it is like a rainbow in summer, and though it appears beautiful, not to regard it as anything but ephemeral, and thus to abandon clinging and attachment to it – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The purpose of realizing shunyata is to know the proper way of coping with existence. When we realize it we see the true nature of all phenomena, their actual way of existing, and then understand that our usual way of knowing them has been false and deluded. When we realize the falsity, we know how to respond accordingly. If we know how to deal with something that appears to be other than it is, then we won’t be deceived.
When we realize shunyata, this does not mean that we reject all appearances, and mentally deny them. Its purpose is to stop this exaggeration of the object by ignorance when it appears to our mind—imparting to it real existence—and thus stop strong attachment and hatred. I believe that must be its purpose, which is certainly very beneficial. In space-like meditation we meditate on shunyata, afterwards the idea is not to reject everything, but to see everything without exaggeration, to stop strong desire and attachment. When we see something attractive, but understand its true nature, this does not stop us seeing the attractiveness but stops too strong an attachment to it. Attachment is always backed by ignorance. So if we have realized the true nature of something first, it makes a big difference to our way of dealing with it.
So when we encounter an attractive object it becomes for us like a rainbow in summer, it appears beautiful. It is relatively so, but we don’t see it as real. So the clinging to something real will not arise. If we slowly lose this grasping of the object as real, attachment to it from ignorance will not arise, “Whatever the kind of desire or hatred, it is accompanied by deluded ignorance.” And from Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way, “Like the sense organs of the body, ignorance is enclosed within us, and all the delusions which exist can only be conquered by defeating ignorance.” Therefore, although an object appears beautiful, as we see that it is unreal, impermanent, and this destroys our attachment. This is a new way of abandoning attachment. Before we did so because it was impure, arousing attachment, now we do so because it is unreal. If we can practice both this has great effect.
The first way was temporary, suppressing, but not eradicating attachment. Seeing the false nature of the object of attachment, and if we can have a strong certainty about, and see clearly the true nature of the object, this will help greatly to stop attachment to it.
The twenty-fourth practice of the bodhisattva:
All sufferings are like the death of our son in a dream. To hold as real what is illusory is tiring. Therefore, when we meet an unpleasant circumstance to see it as illusory – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Hatred can arise from unpleasant circumstances or suffering. Therefore, if we see that such suffering lacks real existence, see it as though it was only illusion, this will help to stop hatred. Therefore to approach a circumstance in this way is a practice of the bodhisattva.
The twenty-fifth practice of the bodhisattva:
One who wishes to attain buddhahood has to sacrifice even his own body, which is the most precious and difficult object to sacrifice. Other external objects need also to be sacrificed. Giving (Skt: dana) is necessary, but without looking for reward or fruit, such as being born in a rich family in the future. Therefore to give charity solely for the benefit of others – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The twenty-sixth practice of the bodhisattva:
Someone who, without behaving morally, thinks he can help others is an object of fun, since without sila he cannot even bring about his own well- being. Therefore to keep moral standards without a samsaric wish or aim – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Even to achieve a better state of being in samsara depends fully on observance of sila, which is the main cause of rebirth in more fortunate realms. Without sila one cannot even for one’s own benefit attain a fortunate realm in samsara. And if we cannot even do this, it is humorous to think of helping others without moral conduct. The object of the latter is solely to benefit other sentient beings. If we do behave morally just to achieve a fortunate realm, this is practice of Dharma, but not of the bodhisattva. The precept is, “I must help sentient beings. Therefore, I must attain buddhahood to help them properly. Therefore I must pursue many practices. I must therefore attain a precious opportunity to fulfill these practices. Therefore to retain this precious human body for rebirth I practice moral conduct.” Then such conduct is pure, without a samsaric aim, in order to attain buddhahood.
Then there is patience or forbearance (ksanti):
The twenty-seventh practice of the bodhisattva:
To a Son of the Victorious One who wishes to have the wealth of merit, all harmful circumstances are the same as precious treasure; to practice patience without hatred towards anyone – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
This is an essential practice because it helps trifling. Adverse circumstances are the same in this way. If someone who is more powerful than we are imposes his will on us then our forbearance is not the real thing, but when someone who is in many ways our inferior harms us then when we practice forbearance, even if we have the power to fight back or retaliate, this is the real kind. So to practice patience in all adverse circumstances is a practice of a bodhisattva.
Energy or the right effort (vīrya):
The twenty-eight practice of the bodhisattva:
When we see how much energy is expended by Sravakas and Pratyekabuddhas working to enlighten only themselves, then how much more perseverance must be practiced by those who wish to liberate all sentient beings – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The twenty-ninth practice of the bodhisattva:
This is the union of higher insight (into the true nature of reality) and single-minded, one-pointed concentration. By knowing that it destroys delusion completely, we should practice dhyana (beyond the four samsaric dhyanas of formless realms) – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
We practice higher insight (or deep insight) in order to realize shunyata and thus cut the root of samsara. To combine it with one-pointed concentration in meditation.
Wisdom with method (prajna):
The thirtieth practice of the bodhisattva:
Without method, the other five perfections do not enable us to achieve fully accomplished buddhahood. Therefore to practice prajna with method, rejecting the pseudo-reality of the triad (the independent, permanent self-existence of the actor, the act, the acted upon) is necessary. Without prajna the practice of the other five perfections is like blindness. With prajna, like sight. Therefore it becomes a true cause of buddhahood. To attain this we must have the union of prajna and method. What is the nature of prajna? Seeing the triad – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The thirty-first practice of the bodhisattva:
Other practices are required. If we don’t have self awareness, mindfulness, we won’t evaluate our own shortcomings. If we don’t do this it is possible to do something contrary to Dharma in the guise of a Dharma practitioner. Therefore we should constantly evaluate, judge our own faults, and abandon them. We must be constantly mindful and watchful of our motives and actions. We must watch our speech and mind. When we see that something is going wrong, correct it immediately – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The thirty-second practice of the bodhisattva:
Next there is the question of finding fault with, and criticizing others. If from delusion we criticize the faults of bodhisattvas, we harm ourselves. If they have entered Mahayana, it is wrong to criticize others’ faults, we should only speak of our own – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
To speak about others’ faults is very dangerous. What we must look for are our own faults in body, speech and mind, not the flaws of others. In order to help others we can point out their faults or mistakes. But if we criticize others, publicize their faults, find fault, while concealing our own faults, this is not a practice of the bodhisattva. If we do criticize others this is generally bad, and especially wrong if the other person happens to be a bodhisattva.
As the First Dalai Lama says, “We must keep in mind the kindness of sentient beings in general, and especially train ourselves in the right view of those who practice Dharma, and defeat delusion, the enemy within.” Our duty then is to think of the kindness of others, to have a good opinion, a pure view, and give them the benefit of the doubt. This is especially true for those who criticize followers of Dharma, taking sectarian views of “them” and “us.”
All the great gurus who have founded the different traditions had good reasons, were fulfilling the prophecies of Buddha and his word, and wished for the enlightenment of all sentient beings. We should bear this in mind and not act from delusions, which means criticizing, rejecting and then becoming aggressive. If one acts like this it is a very bad and unskillful deed in relation to Dharma.
There is a very precious story about the First Dalai Lama. He was very old and one day he told his disciples that he was very disheartened. “What are you worrying about?” they said, “it is prophesied that you will be reborn in Tushita.” He looked sadder still and said, “But that’s the trouble, I want to be reborn in a worldly existence in order to go on helping others.” These are true words of a bodhisattva. These phrases have a great meaning for us, they are the essence of Mahayana Dharma. So remember the kindness of sentient beings, don’t criticize Dharma followers; train your mind to take pure views.
The thirty-third practice of the bodhisattva:
Domestic quarrels about respect or things we feel are due to us interfere with our practice of learning, contemplation, and meditation, so to abandon home and friends, the house of patrons – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Even very great gurus, because of these worldly matters, have obtained a bad reputation in this way. An example is Jamica Shepa, whose close relation with a king whose queen killed another great guru got him criticized, however, unjustly, for not intervening in time.
All such involvements in worldly matters, offerings, status, surroundings, can give rise to different kinds of trouble. And one’s practice of Dharma deteriorates in the process. Too many worldly friends, patrons, possessions can produce bad consequences. As the Bodhicaryavatara says, “Live everything at an ordinary level, without too much attachment or clinging, unduly strong ties or relationships.” Therefore to abandon attachment to worldly matters is a practice of a bodhisattva.
The thirty-fourth practice of the bodhisattva:
Harsh speech will disturb others’ minds and cause the practice of those who wish to be bodhisattvas to decline. So to abandon harsh speech, which is disagreeable to others – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
Hard words can easily arise in our life, but they are harmful to others and therefore very much not the practice of a bodhisattva. If one gets into the habit of using harsh speech it is difficult to stop, so those who have a quick temper must watch themselves. Whenever delusion arises, strike it down straight away, this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The thirty-fifth practice of the bodhisattva:
Therefore we should never get into the habit of delusion. Extinguish the smallest flames, stop the floodwaters at their source, from their very beginning. There are times when we must use awareness as a sentinel, holding the weapons of antidote against hatred, desire, and jealousy, and strike them down from the outset – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
As is said in the Eight Verses on the Training the Mind, “In all actions may I watch my mind and whenever delusion arises, by knowing it destroys me and others, may I extinguish it from the very beginning!”
The thirty-sixth practice of the bodhisattva:
In short, whatever we do, to be someone who is mindful and aware of the state of his mind, and to practice this for the welfare of others – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
So in all circumstances we must be mindful, so that nothing in us is secret, everything is known. Therefore by paying attention whenever action in speech, mind or body arises which is harmful to us and particularly to others, we must think, “I am a follower of the bodhisattva path, of Mahayana Dharma, born in the Land of Snows, where the union of paramitas and tantras has flourished. But I am also supposed to have a faith and will to follow Mahayana, and have the opportunity to be guided by many precious gurus, and the good fortune to hear their instructions. With all these opportunities, if I still have the will to act badly this is deceiving the gurus and bodhisattvas, which would be absolutely wrong and evil for myself.” We should therefore be particularly careful to safeguard ourselves against these bad actions by constant mindfulness and awareness. As Shantideva says, “I beseech you with clasped hands to be mindful in all your activities.” Therefore, with such a character we must practice for the benefit of others, dedicate all our qualities, happiness, abilities of body, speech and mind to the service of sentient beings. We should constantly be nothing more than a servant of other sentient beings, and have nothing else to do than work for their benefit.
The thirty-seventh practice of the bodhisattva:
All the merits we’ve accumulated by effort should be dedicated to eliminating the suffering of mother sentient beings by the wisdom of seeing the “purity of the triad” (that dedicator, what is dedicated, and dedicatee lack real existence) – this is the practice of the bodhisattva.
The merit we accumulate from these practices should then not be dedicated to our own well-being, freedom from samsara, existence in higher realms and so on, but solely to the attainment of buddhahood in order to relieve the suffering of others. We must also have the wisdom to see the void of the existence of the triad. This constitutes the 37th practice.
So the main part is now finished. By following the teaching of sutras, tantras and Sastras, by following the instructions of gurus, these thirty-seven practices have been written down for the benefit of those who wish to follow the path.
Because of my weak knowledge and little learning, there is no fine language here to delight the erudite. But being based on the teaching of the sutras and gurus I think they are free from flaws and therefore practices of a bodhisattva. My innate wisdom, like my learning, is also weak, so it cannot please those with great ability. But because it is based on the sutras, tantras and Sastras, and gurus’ instructions, I think these practices are true ones.
Then our author confesses:
But because the actual practices of the bodhisattvas are deep and vast, like great waves they cannot be fathomed completely by one as ignorant as I, so I must ask gurus to show forbearance for any contradictions, inconsistencies, and repetitions, and to forgive my mistakes.
Then comes his dedication:
By the merit I have obtained from this work, may all sentient beings, by the power relative and absolute bodhicitta, without remaining in the extremes of samsara and nirvana, obtain full buddhahood like Avalokiteshvara.
Thus he dedicates all the power of merit of his composition to all sentient beings so that they achieve relative composition to all sentient beings so that they achieve relative and absolute bodhicitta. By absolute bodhicitta, freed from samsara, by relative bodhicitta from nirvana, so by freedom from the two extremes may they obtain full buddhahood.
Thus it was composed by the Venerable Togme Sangpo for the benefit of himself and others in the cave of Rinchhen Pouk (Precious Cave) at Ngwiltrichou.
1 This verse was not discernable in the transcript. The translation given is from Transforming Adversity into Joy and Courage, Geshe Jampa Tegchok, 1999, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY. [Return to text]
A translation by Acaarya Nyima Tsering was published in Dharamsala by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, 1995. A copy of this publication can be obtained here.