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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 3: Lojong (Mind Training) Material > Explanation of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices > Session One: Precious Human Life and Death and Impermanence

Explanation of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

Alexander Berzin
Xalapa, Mexico, May 2006

Session One: Precious Human Life and Death and Impermanence

Unedited Transcript
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Introduction

This evening we’re going to begin our discussion of a great text by a Tibetan master called Togmey-zangpo. This is the text known as Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices, and it’s a major text that’s studied by all the various Tibetan traditions.

[See: Text of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices.]

Togmey-zangpo himself came from the Sakya tradition, and lived in the thirteenth century, and was well known for being actually a bodhisattva himself. He wrote various texts, various commentaries, the most famous of which are the commentary to Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, and he also wrote the earliest commentary that we have to Geshe Chaykawa’s Seven-Point Mind-Training, or Attitude-Training as I like to call it, Lojong in Tibetan. I think that we can see by the kind of commentaries that he wrote and by this text itself, that he was certainly quite a specialist in the bodhisattva path. These earlier Mahayana teachings are the source for the type of practices that he outlines here.

The number thirty-seven here is fairly significant. We find it appearing over and again in Buddhist material. There is a set of thirty-seven practices, or thirty-seven factors, which lead to either liberation or enlightenment. These include the four placements of close mindfulness, the eightfold noble path, these sorts of things, very, very well known items. These are practices that everybody follows as they progress toward either liberation, as following a Hinayana path, or enlightenment, following a Mahayana path – so that number thirty-seven is chosen here for these bodhisattva practices.

The text begins:

Obeisance to Lokeshvara.

Lokeshvara is another name for Avalokiteshvara. Avalokiteshvara is the embodiment of the compassion of all of the Buddhas, and so it’s quite appropriate that the obeisance or homage is paid to him, basically then to compassion. All texts usually begin with a homage to either the Buddhas, or some figure, or whatever, so here we have it to Lokeshvara. In a sense it’s indicating the source of inspiration for the teachings, so all Indian texts begin this way. Then this homage, or obeisance, is continued with prostration.

The verse reads:

I prostrate always respectfully, through my three gateways,
To the supreme gurus and the Guardian Avalokiteshvara who,
Seeing that all phenomena have no coming or going,
Make efforts singly for the benefit of wandering beings.

When we make prostration, we always do that with “the three gateways.” These are the gateways through which we act, so that’s the body, the speech, and the mind in terms of our thoughts. “Gateway” indicates that – sometimes it’s just translated as “door,” but it’s the gateway through which we’re able to communicate, act, help others and so on.

Who do we make prostration to? First and foremost it’s “the supreme gurus,” the spiritual teachers; then, secondly to our “Guardian Avalokiteshvara.” “Guardian” here indicates that, in a sense, he inspires us, so that protects us, or guards us from acting selfishly without compassion. It’s significant that the gurus are mentioned first and then Avalokiteshvara. In fact in most of our texts the order in which the words are presented are specifically chosen, for a reason; so one has to be quite careful in translating that one follows the correct order. The spiritual teachers are the sources of all the Buddha-figures, like Avalokiteshvara.

There’s the story of Naropa and his student Marpa, the great Tibetan translator. One day Naropa manifested the mandala and Buddha-figure Hevajra. Marpa came in and Naropa asked, “Who do you make prostration to, me, or Hevajra?” and Marpa said, “Well, I see you every day, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen Hevajra, and so I make prostration first to Hevajra.” And Naropa snapped his fingers and the Hevajra and his mandala disappeared. And he said to Marpa, “You just made a big mistake and this will have negative consequences for you, but you need to always remember that without the gurus there is no way of ever actualizing these Buddha-figures. The gurus are primary.”

That indicates clearly that we don’t just worship the various Buddha-figures as if they were saints. Similarly, we don’t worship the gurus either as if they were saints. That also is a bit inappropriate, because the gurus from their side aren’t going to save us. But rather it’s by following their instructions, and through their inspiration that we can gain liberation and enlightenment.

Then what are the characteristics of the supreme gurus and Avalokiteshvara? It’s that they see that “all phenomena have no coming and going.” That’s the first point. This is, of course, referring to teachings on voidness, and that they’re able to understand and see clearly that nothing has impossible existence, including coming and going. This is a point which is made also by Nagarjuna, a great Indian master, and here we can understand this in terms of the disturbing emotions, and the suffering and problems that they give rise to. When we look at the various sufferings and problems that everybody has, and we have as well, it’s not that they exist as truly established things, like ping-pong balls that come from offstage into our mind, and then cause us trouble, and if we were to get rid of them, they would then go out of our mind and stand over there in another room.

Rather, our disturbing emotions and problems arise dependently on causes and conditions. Similarly, we can get rid of them dependent on causes and conditions. If these problems and disturbing emotions just existed by themselves, there’s nothing much that we could do about it, because if they existed like a ping-pong ball, even if we got rid of them, they could bounce back. So, in order to help others, it’s necessary to see that all phenomena, and here specifically disturbing emotions, problems, and so on, have no truly existent, truly established coming and going.

It’s on the basis of seeing that, or understanding that, that the supreme gurus and Avalokiteshvara, as it says in the text, “make efforts singly for the benefit of wandering beings.” It’s only with this understanding of voidness, this understanding of reality, that one can really make effective efforts for benefiting others. If we have an unrealistic understanding of people’s problems, and how they exist, and how we exist as the grand savior, then it’s not going to work. We’re not going to really be able to help anybody. We just tend to cause more problems and misunderstanding.

They “make these efforts singly,” that means that this is their sole aim. They’re not aiming for their own selfish purposes, but their aim and intention is to work only for others. That’s why we refer to the “supreme” gurus, not just any guru, because obviously there can be various spiritual teachers around who also, although they might be helping others, are aiming for their own selfish purposes as well.

Working “for the benefit of wandering beings,” “wandering beings” is referring to all of us limited beings, sometimes called “sentient beings,” that wander helplessly from one rebirth to another filled with various types of suffering and problems. To work “for their benefit” means to help them to achieve the appropriate spiritual goal that they’re aiming for, whether that be liberation or enlightenment.

That’s the first introductory verse:

I prostrate always respectfully, through my three gateways,
To the supreme gurus and the Guardian Avalokiteshvara who,
Seeing that all phenomena have no coming or going,
Make efforts singly for the benefit of wandering beings.

The second introductory verse reads:

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

This is the promise to compose – that’s a standard thing that we find in any Indian or Tibetan text – in which the author states what he’s going to explain. The Buddhas, the “fully enlightened Buddhas are the sources of benefit and happiness,” in other words, through their teachings we gain the benefit of either reaching liberation or enlightenment, and the happiness that comes with that, being liberated from all suffering, and with enlightenment being able to benefit everybody.

How did the Buddhas become these sources of benefit and happiness? That “came about from their having actualized the hallowed Dharma.” When we speak here about the “hallowed Dharma,” we need to understand that in terms of the Dharma Jewel. The Dharma Jewel is referring to the third and fourth noble truths, the true stoppings of all problems and their causes on the mental continuum of a Buddha; and the true path is the true pathway of mind, in other words the true understanding that brings about that true stopping and which is the result of it. It’s the understanding that acts as a path to bring about that true stopping and also which is the resultant state of that stopping. So we’re talking about the state in which all the suffering, all the problems, all the disturbing emotions, all these limitations are removed, and that all the realizations are attained, and the fully enlightened Buddha has actualized that; “actualized” means “made it actually so” in his mental continuum.

Buddhas weren’t always like that, they weren’t Buddhas from the beginning. Buddhas started out like us and they worked very hard to be able to remove these confusion and disturbing emotions and suffering and so on that had clouded the mind. It’s important to understand that these, what are known as “fleeting stains,” like clouds that cover our mind, are not in the nature of the mind, and they can be removed. Now, of course, to understand that and become convinced of that requires a great deal of study and reflection. We don’t really have the time to go into that now, but that’s a very important point, to try to become convinced that it actually is possible to gain liberation and enlightenment. And we need to become convinced that it is possible to get rid of this confusion through correct understanding, and that it’s possible to gain that correct understanding, and to gain it all the time, so that this confusion never comes back. And it’s also extremely important to understand, to become convinced, that it’s not just that other people can do this, but I myself can get rid of all this confusion in my mind and, like a Buddha, achieve a true stopping of them through actualizing a true pathway of mind.

How was a Buddha able to achieve this? It was because the Buddha found out, and heard, and listened to what the actual practices are that will bring this about, and contemplated it so that he understood it, and then meditated on it in order to actually integrate it and actualize it. So it’s very important to know, as Togmey-zangpo says here, “that depended on their having known what its practices are,” so it’s very important to learn what the bodhisattva practices are, what actually do we need to put into practice in order to become Buddhas ourselves? Therefore since becoming a Buddha, actualizing the hallowed Dharma, depends on knowing what its practices are, Togmey-zangpo says he will explain them, so that we can hear about them, learn them, and on that basis think about them, try to understand them, and then meditate, in other words integrate them, put them into practice.

Precious Human Life

As we have in the lam-rim teachings, the graded stages of mind, the pathway minds, the minds that lead to liberation and enlightenment, as we have there, Togmey-zangpo as well starts here with the precious human life, since that is the working basis upon which, or with which we can obtain enlightenment – actually attain either liberation, or enlightenment, or both. So Togmey-zangpo begins the first verse of the thirty-seven:

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

Now we have obtained a precious human rebirth. Togmey-zangpo refers to it here as a great ship – this is an image that we find also in Shantideva’s text, Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior – it is a ship that can take us across the ocean of samsara to the other side, namely to liberation. What characterizes this great ship of the precious human rebirth? It is the set of eight respites and ten enrichments.

This word “respite” is like a time out. As one of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, used to explain, it’s very helpful to regard ourselves as tourists from the worst states of rebirth, who are just on a short holiday in the human realm. So we have a time-out, a short time-out, but then we’re undoubtedly going back to these worse states. There’s no need to go through the list of eight here, or the ten enrichments, which are qualities that enrich, or aspects that enrich, that give us tremendous opportunities to make spiritual practice. But if we were reborn in one of the worse rebirth states, or in a place – even as a human – where the Dharma is not available, and any type of spiritual practice would be persecuted and so on, we certainly would have no leisure to be able to follow the spiritual path. If we were born as a cockroach, what could we actually do when anybody who sees us just wants to step on us?

And our lives are very rich with opportunities, because we have the teachings available, there are spiritual teachers, there are books, there are so many things that make it possible to follow the spiritual path – people who support Dharma centers like this one and so on. This is very “difficult to find,” Togmey-zangpo says. If we think of the number of insects in the world and the number of animals and so on – even if we don’t think in terms of the other realms that we can’t see – even in comparison to that, the number of humans is very small. Even among humans, how many really have access to the Dharma, and of those that have access, how many are really sincerely interested in it? Even among those who have interest in the Dharma, and have access to it, how many make it actually important enough, so that they really make it central in their lives, and put a great deal of their effort into learning about it, and thinking about it, and meditating? Very few. Most people, even if they’re interested just don’t have the time, and don’t give it the priority that it requires.

The way to take advantage of this precious human rebirth, Togmey-zangpo says, which is difficult to find, is to use it “to listen, think and meditate unwaveringly, day and night.” That means that we need to actually learn the Dharma, we need to study it, listen to it. Originally everything was oral, it wasn’t written down, so we always use this term here in the text “to listen to the Dharma,” but in our modern times that can also mean “to read,” “to study” the Dharma, you have to learn it, because, as Togmey-zangpo said earlier in the text, actualizing the Dharma depends on knowing what the practices are.

Of course we need to learn the Dharma from an authentic, reliable source. There are many books and there are many teachers who are not reliable. That’s a difficult situation. We need to be discriminating in terms of what we study and whom we listen to, so that we don’t get confused or misled. Even though we might not have the ability to really know what’s going on in any teacher’s mind, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains, we can at least look on the conventional, worldly level of how they act, and how they relate to their students, and to life, and so on. After all, one of the bodhisattva vows is not to do anything that would cause others to lose faith in the Dharma. So if a teacher acts in a disgraceful way, then they’re not keeping the bodhisattva vows.

Books as well, we need to discriminate. Not all of them are authentic; not all of them are good translations and so on. So we have to compare it with other things that we read: does it make sense? We have to ask people that we respect for their opinion of this book or that book and so on. Then we need to think about what we have learned, what we have studied, so that we actually understand it. This requires a great deal of time. To try to meditate on something without understanding what we’re doing, and when we’re still filled with doubts, is only going to produce confusion.

This is why we have in the Buddhist tradition the debating. Debating is intended to prepare us for meditation, by clearing out all doubts about any particular topic. We are not going to challenge our understanding as strongly as other people will challenge, and that’s why debate with others is very important. And in the debate, everybody has to debate. You can’t just sit in a class and listen, and fall asleep. The way that the Tibetans debate is that everybody debates at the same time, very loudly, right next to each other. This is really very excellent, because it forces you to concentrate. If you can’t concentrate, you can’t possibly debate in the Tibetan style, and that concentration skill then is something that one can apply in meditation.

Also when one debates, then inevitably one is going to say something stupid, and everybody is going to laugh at you, and this is very good for overcoming a big ego. That also is a very important aspect to bring into our meditation. If we meditate with a big ego, “Oh, I’m such a great meditator; look, here I’m repeating a hundred thousand this or that’s,” then often that just feeds the ego, rather than helping to get rid of an inflated ego. Even if we don’t have the opportunity to debate, we really, really need to think about the Dharma and always question, always question. What I found is that translating, and writing up teachings, transcribing and so on, these are also very excellent ways to force us to think about the teachings, because you have to understand it in order to be able to explain it, or in order to be able to translate it.

Then we need to meditate. “Meditate” actually means to build up a beneficial habit of a new understanding, or a new attitude of mind, by repeating it over and over and over again, like to learn to play the piano you have to practice. It’s the same word “practice” here, which means to do it over and over and over again. When we practice enough, then it just comes naturally to us, that we’re able to play the piano without having to consciously think where is this key and where is that key. Similarly, when we meditate enough, then love, compassion, a correct understanding of voidness, and so on, will just come naturally to us.

We need to do this, Togmey-zangpo says, “unwaveringly, day and night.” That means being consistent. Also we can understand “unwaveringly” to mean “without mental wandering.” We need to do this “day and night,” that means whatever opportunity we have to listen to the Dharma, we make the time to do that. We need to give that the highest priority; and thinking about the Dharma and what it means, we don’t have to sit formally to do that. You can do that all the time. If we’re taking a shower, if we’re eating, no matter what we’re doing, we can always use that time to think about this or that point in the Dharma. Obviously we can’t do that every single second of our lives. That would be very unnatural. But the point is that we don’t have to make a special session, with a special room, with all the decorations, and paraphernalia that goes with what many people think a meditation room is all about. We don’t need that at all, Milarepa certainly didn’t have that, and neither do we need to have that.

Meditation as well, is something that we don’t have to limit to our meditation seat. When we are in the store waiting on line, for example, or caught in traffic, that’s a wonderful opportunity to meditate on and practice patience, for example. Many people do Mahayana style of meditation, it’s not only Mahayana style, but any style of Buddhist meditation involving love and compassion, and do that only with visualized beings, and yet they’re not capable of doing it with real people. That is a great fault. We need to try to apply all these good habits that we’re trying to build up with meditation to real-life situations with real-life people. Therefore we do that “day and night,” as Togmey-zangpo says.

What is the reason or aim that we have here for doing this? Togmey-zangpo says, “In order to free ourselves and others from the ocean of uncontrollably recurring samsara.” That’s aiming for liberation – to free ourselves from samsara – and enlightenment, the ability to free others from that ocean, and “ocean,” of course, then connects back to the image that he used in the beginning of the verse, of “the great ship” of the precious human life. That’s the first verse concerning the precious human life. As I read it again please now apply the understanding from the explanation.

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

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

Togmey-zangpo goes on to explain the circumstances that are most conducive for taking advantage of a precious human life:

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

When we stay in “our homelands” – whether we’re talking about our village, our city, our country or whatever – being in a place where we’ve grown up, usually our negative habits and disturbing emotions dominate, the types of experiences and relationships that we’ve had. If it’s possible, then it’s always advised that we leave our homelands, at least for some short period of time, so that we get a little bit removed from these negative habits and gain a perspective on our lives. This could be going to some retreat center, some intensive Dharma study program at some Dharma center; we could be going to India or Nepal – there are many variants on this.

When we stay in our homelands then, as Togmey-zangpo points out, “attachment to the side of friends tosses us like water.” If you think of the image of a leaf that has fallen to the ground, water will toss it, carry it anywhere. Similarly, when we’re attached to friends, then the friends say, “Come on. Let’s go out and go to a bar and have a drink.” “Let’s go out and do this or that.” And we just follow, like a leaf being tossed by water, or driven by water, that’s the image here. It’s because of attachment. When our friends offer us a cigarette, or offer us an alcoholic drink, because of attachment we take it, because we don’t want to disappoint them: “My friends won’t think nicely of me.” “They’ll think I’m strange.” “I might lose my friends.” These sorts of things come up and prevent us from really “holding our ground,” as they say in Tibetan, in terms of our Dharma practice.

Anger toward the side of enemies burns us like fire.” The people whom we know the best tend to annoy us the most, don’t they? When they don’t do what we want them to do, or they do things in a different way than we do, “My friend didn’t call me,” or “My car didn’t work,” these sort of things. We get very angry with that, because we have these expectations that these familiar people and familiar objects are always going to be available for us and do what we want.

The third poisonous attitude that is a disadvantage of staying in our homeland with familiar people is “naivety so that we forget what’s to be adopted and abandoned cloaks us in darkness.” “What’s to be adopted and abandoned” is referring to the constructive actions that are to be adopted and the negative ones that are to be abandoned. When we’re with our friends, or people we don’t like that annoy us, we tend to forget all about what is it that I’m trying to adopt, to cultivate, and what is it that I’m trying to get rid of in my mind – anger, attachment, and so on – and so we become naive. We no longer really know what is beneficial and what is harmful to us and to others. And that naivety “cloaks us in darkness.” It’s like putting a paper bag over our heads, and so this verse says:

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

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

This would be the circumstances most conducive for taking advantage of the precious human life – and this is, once we’ve left our homelands, to live in seclusion, in a quiet place. If we leave our homeland and just go live in a big, busy, noisy city, then that might not be terribly conducive for us, for Dharma practice as beginners. It’s only when we’re very well trained and advanced as bodhisattvas that we can come back and live in very busy, noisy places. That was one of the trainings actually in India, after one had achieved a certain level of stability in one’s practice, then these great yogis would go, as they say, “live at the crossroads,” at a busy crossroad, because then it’s really challenging to see, is their practice stable, are their attainments stable? But that only comes later. In the beginning it’s important to live in seclusion.

Actually these two verses are very reminiscent of what Shantideva wrote in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, in terms of what we need to have to have in order to develop mental stability, or concentration.

[See: Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior, ch. 8.]

When we live in seclusion, what type of things will happen, hopefully? That “by having rid ourselves of detrimental objects, our disturbing emotions and attitudes gradually become stymied.” “Detrimental objects” would be things that we’re very attached to, or things that annoy us greatly. “Detrimental objects” can also be an overabundance of food. It could be alcohol and drugs that just make us very dopey or dull. If we have rid ourselves of the objects that cause these disturbing emotions to arise, then although that’s not the ultimate solution for getting rid of these disturbing emotions and attitudes; nevertheless it helps. So “gradually these disturbing emotions and attitudes become stymied.” “Stymied” means “frustrated,” and so they gradually diminish.

I think we know this from our own experience. If we have a bad marriage and we have a divorce, then if we see our former partner every day, that’s going to be very difficult, because the anger and the disturbing emotions are always going to arise again and again. But if we don’t see this person that we’ve become divorced from for a long time, then gradually the force of our anger diminishes, doesn’t it? Same thing if we have attachment to the person who leaves us, that anger, it’s the same thing, if we see them all the time that attachment and hurt continues on and on; if we have a distance, then gradually those disturbing emotions go down.

What are other advantages of seclusion? Togmey-zangpo says, “By lacking distractions, our constructive practices naturally increase.” If we could get away completely from e-mail, and the telephone, and the cellular phone, and movies, and entertainment, and clubs, and parties, and television, and all of that, then we have no distractions. Naturally we will use our time more constructively, if that’s our aim to why we’re in seclusion. Same thing with music – there are a lot of people that are totally addicted to music, and have to walk around with iPods and Walkmans and things like that, and can’t be for even a few moments without music on, which basically prevents them from thinking about anything. If we get rid of that, then we have the opportunity to actually face our minds and try to understand what’s going on.

It’s really funny, especially with these cell phones now, that’s an unbelievable phenomenon. Where I live there’s a subway system and buses and things like that, and you sit in this and you look at people, and the vast, vast majority can’t just sit there. Everybody is playing with their cell phone. It’s very weird. If we get rid of these distractions, our constructive practices naturally increase – we have more time.

The last sentence here, “By clearing our awareness, our certainty grows in the Dharma.” When we’re in seclusion, then our awareness, our understanding and so on, becomes more and more clear, because we’re away from these detrimental objects and distractions. Then our certainty grows in the Dharma, our confidence in the Dharma that this is something really worthwhile, and we’ve been able to examine our doubts and so on, and really focus on the Dharma. All of that will grow.

But just going into seclusion and leaving our homelands is no guarantee that our disturbing emotions and distractions will decrease, because we can become attached to even our meditation cushion. We can become very annoyed with mosquitoes, or if we’re doing a group retreat, with other people who cough or fidget around. So, we can’t just rely solely on going into seclusion, although the chances of these disturbing emotions decreasing is greater when the familiar objects that stimulate them are no longer there. To guarantee a little bit more that we won’t give in to these disturbing emotions and so on, we think in terms of death and impermanence. But before we get to that, let’s read once more the third verse.

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

Death and Impermanence

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

We have a precious human rebirth and, having that, we need to take full advantage of it. How do we take full advantage of it? We need to think beyond this lifetime, as a start. Even if we go into seclusion, we might still be thinking about and worrying about our friends and our possessions and all these sort of things. And so Togmey-zangpo says we need “to give up total concern with this lifetime.” What that means is that we have to give up our concern being totally only with this lifetime. So actually a clearer translation would be, “A bodhisattva’s practice is to give up our concern being totally with this lifetime,” that I think is clearer. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains, it’s impossible really, or unrealistic to say that we a hundred percent are not concerned about this lifetime. After all, we have to make a living, we have to support ourselves, we have a family, we have to support them, and so on. but what would be best is to have, His Holiness says, fifty/fifty: fifty percent concern with the mundane things of this lifetime, and fifty percent concerned with spiritual goals beyond this lifetime.

The way that we give up this type of concern, being totally with this lifetime is by thinking about how “friends and relations a long time together must part their own ways,” Togmey-zangpo says. This is very true; we think in terms of impermanence. Aryadeva, a great Indian master, used the image that we and our loved ones are like leaves falling from a tree that are blown by the wind, that for a short time we travel in the wind together – it’s the winds of karma – but eventually the winds cause the leaves to go in different directions, to “part” – very nice image.

Wealth and possessions gathered with effort must be left behind.” When we die, we can’t take anything with us. For those of you who might have had relatives, parents and so on, who have passed away, one notices that the most precious possessions of somebody when they have died becomes garbage. Nobody wants to keep it and it’s all thrown away. And if we had wealth, often what happens is that our relatives become enemies and fight with each other over who gets the money. So, to put all our effort into wealth and possessions that are just going to be thrown in the garbage and cause arguments with others – what’s the point? Shantideva said very nicely that while we still have the time, before we die, we need to give away our possessions and things to others who will actually need it.

I noticed that with my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche. Before he died – and he seemed to be quite well aware of when he would die – he gave away a tremendous amount of his possessions. A lot of his books, the collected works of Tsongkhapa, he gave to some monastery. Most of his ritual implements he gave away to others; so he followed this advice. All his most precious type of ritual implements, he gave away. “Wealth and possessions gathered with effort must be left behind.”

Then the last line, “And our consciousness the guest, must depart from our bodies, its guesthouse.” This must be understood properly. We are not speaking about a solid entity “me” that is sitting inside my body, and just inhabiting it, and using it, and enjoying things through it, and then when it’s finished it’s going to fly out. But rather what it’s saying is that our mental continuum is going to generate being attached to different types of bodies in different lifetimes, and this particular body in this lifetime is just temporary. Shantideva speaks a great deal about this in terms of overcoming attachment to our bodies. After we die, for instance, our body is sort of just kept for several days or longer, then nobody wants to keep it around. It starts to rot and stink. Everybody wants to get rid of it, so what’s so wonderful about this body? So not only do our possessions become garbage, but our body in a sense becomes garbage as well, and people just want to bury it, or burn it, like garbage. This is reality. It’s not very glamorous or romantic, but that’s the way it is, folks.

Therefore, when we’re aware that our precious human life, and this body, and the possessions that we have, and friends that we have, and so on, are temporary, that they will pass, then on the one hand we don’t have total preoccupation with them, and on the other hand we take advantage of them, and use whatever help that they can give us to practice the Dharma more. So this verse in summary is:

(4) A bodhisattva’s practice is to give up our concern
being totally with this lifetime,

or we could also translate that actually as “to give up preoccupation with this lifetime”

In which friends and relations a long time together
must part their own ways;
Wealth and possessions gathered with effort must be left behind;
And our consciousness, the guest, must depart from our bodies,
its guest house.

Let’s stop here for today, and we’ll continue tomorrow. It’s a little bit late, but if you have one or two questions, perhaps you can ask.

Question: Can these bodhisattva practices be of benefit to somebody who is dead?

Answer: We can certainly direct positive force with dedication and prayers and so on to those who are dead, and if we have a strong karmic connection with them, it can be of benefit to them, yes. But it’s important to realize that they’re no longer the same person as they were when we knew them. They’re reborn and in a different life, and it’s not our loved one now sitting inside somebody else’s body. In other words, we need to, if we’re going to say prayers and offer positive force and so on for those who have passed away, we need to do that without attachment and with an understanding of how they would exist now. But we need to avoid what is common in some Asian cultures, which is ancestor worship, putting food out and burning paper money and stuff like that for the deceased. That’s a bit of attachment.

Let’s end here with a dedication. We think whatever positive force, whatever understanding, has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper, and grow stronger and stronger, and act as a cause for reaching enlightenment for the benefit of all.