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Home > Fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism > Level 3: Lojong (Mind Training) Material > Explanation of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices > Session Five: Six Far-reaching Attitudes and Daily Practice

Explanation of Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

Alexander Berzin
Xalapa, Mexico, May 2006

Session Five: Six Far-reaching Attitudes and Daily Practice

Unedited Transcript
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Additional Point about Mental Labeling

There was one additional point that I wanted to make in terms of the practice of equalizing and exchanging self with others, in terms of extending the scope of the basis for the conventional “me.” This is in terms of how we identify ourselves. For example, we can label the conventional “me” on ourselves as an individual, for instance, in the case of Patricio here, we can say and it’s true, “I am Patricio, therefore I would work to overcome the sufferings of Patricio.” But also it is equally correct for him to say, “I am an inhabitant of Xalapa,” and even further, “I’m an inhabitant of Mexico,” and that’s correct as a basis for labeling “me.” And it would be appropriate to work for eliminating the sufferings of people in this city, or people in this country. We can extend that even further, “I am a human being,” or, “I am a sentient being,” a limited being, and that also is a correct basis for labeling the conventional “me,” isn’t it? On that basis, then it’s totally appropriate to work for eliminating the type of problems that everybody has.

If we can do this – when we work, for instance, for improving the environment and eliminating pollution, which is not just my own individual problem, but it’s the problem of everybody on this planet, including the animals – then, similarly, we can work on exchanging self for others in terms of who we identify and whom we work for to eliminate suffering and problems, and to bring happiness. This is certainly the way that His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains it as the validity for expanding our concern to everybody, not just myself. “I’m a limited being trapped in samsara,” – that’s correct, isn’t it? – “therefore the appropriate scope of my aim is to help all limited beings get out of samsara, because I’m one of them.” This is, I think, a helpful way of approaching this issue of tonglen, taking on the sufferings of others and giving them our happiness.

The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes

Next Togmey-zangpo discusses the six far-reaching attitudes, the so-called perfections. This is a very, very important basis for our bodhisattva behavior. When we take the bodhisattva vows, particularly the secondary vows are ways to help us to practice these six.

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

What need to mention external possessions?

The first of the far-reaching attitudes is generosity. I call them “far-reaching attitudes,” that’s quite a literal translation of the term, in the sense that when we develop these states of mind, they are far-reaching in the sense that they bring us very, very far – all the way to enlightenment.

To be more precise, they can bring us either to liberation, or both liberation and enlightenment, because after all, in Hinayana we also have these far-reaching attitudes and their practice. But there the aim of practicing them is to reach liberation, and of course helping others along the way. What makes it distinctly Mahayana far-reaching attitudes is when our motivation for them is bodhichitta. Therefore, if we’re going to practice these far-reaching attitudes, it’s very important that they be based on and with this main primary aim in our life, which is bodhichitta, to reach enlightenment – and help others along the way, of course, but – to be able to help others as fully as is possible when we reach enlightenment.

Shantideva makes a very big point that when we speak about these six far-reaching attitudes, that they’re attitudes, they’re states of mind. It’s not the actual action. As he says, if the perfection of far-reaching generosity were achieved only if all the poverty of the world were eliminated, then not even the Buddha has perfected this. So the far-reaching generosity, or the perfection of generosity, is to develop the state of mind that’s willing to give everything to everybody.

Since it’s this attitude of wishing and being willing to give everybody everything, then even if we have nothing, we can develop this far-reaching attitude, as we could imagine, “May everybody be able to enjoy a beautiful sunset,” or whatever. And we can also imagine giving them whatever they need. But if we do have actual things that we can give to others to help them, then it’s not sufficient just to visualize and imagine giving things to others. We need to actually give.

When we actually give things to others generously, it’s important to do it “without” any, as Togmey-zangpo says, “hope for anything in return.” It’s not a business transaction; we’re not trading something, for giving something to receive something back. This is not referring to only wanting to have something material back, but also wanting the other person to like us, to love us, or to even thank us. There should be no hope or expectation for that at all. It’s not why we’re giving to somebody. When our hand gives food to our mouth, does the hand expect a thank-you, or something in return, congratulations? We give simply because somebody needs something. And if we have that ability to give that to them – and it’s not going to harm them, or anything like that – then we give. It’s like we see the dirty dishes in the sink and it doesn’t matter whether it’s our dish or somebody else’s dish, the dishes need to be washed and so we do it.

Similarly, when we give, we don’t expect “something karmic to ripen.” The result of generosity is, in the future – future lives particularly – to be wealthy. And so, if we approach being generous – giving donations to Dharma centers and so on and things like that – as a good investment, because in the future we’re going to get a very good return for our investment, that we’ll be wealthy in our future lives, that also is inappropriate. Also it’s important not to be attached to the objects that we give, in other words insisting that the other person use it in the way that we want them to use it. If we give a present to somebody else, then once we’ve given it, to whom does that present belong – to the other person, or to us?

Therefore, as Togmey-zangpo says, “If those who would wish enlightenment must give away even their bodies,” like the example of the very advanced stage bodhisattva that Buddha Shakyamuni was in some previous lifetime that gave away even a piece of his body to feed the hungry tigress, then “what need to mention,” as Togmey-zangpo says, “external possessions?” Not only do we need to have no attachment to our external possessions, but not even to our body, in terms of giving it for the service of others.

If we’re not on the stage of an advanced bodhisattva, as it says in the teachings, “A fox doesn’t jump where a lion jumps.” When we’re not ready to be able to give away our body to others, or our lives to others, then we don’t do that. Because if we were to do it when we’re not ready, we would undoubtedly develop a very negative state of mind in doing it. That wouldn’t be helpful at all. Actually it’s very interesting as a test to see how advanced we actually are in terms of generosity – how willing are we to feed the mosquito with letting it bite us when a mosquito lands on our arm? Most people are not willing to let the mosquito take – as His Holiness says, “They only take a little drop of blood; it’s not a lot.”

If we’re willing to give away something that we don’t need, or that we don’t particularly like, or is left over, “I’m tired of these clothes and so I’ll give these old clothes to some poor person,” that’s no great achievement. The point is to be willing to give away things that we really like, as in the example of the blood in our body. So, in review:

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

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

Ethical self-discipline is the next far-reaching attitude. It’s a state of mind that restrains from acting destructively and the strength of mind to engage in something constructive and to help others. When we think of this self-discipline, we need to think in a broad sense, just as when we think of generosity we need to think very broadly, not just giving material things, but also giving help, giving our time, and giving our attention, these type of things, giving love – the wish for others to be happy – giving teachings.

Togmey-zangpo points out that this “safeguarding ethical self-discipline,” in other words guarding to make sure that we act in an appropriate way and not an inappropriate way, we need to do this “without worldly intents.” Worldly intent – why are we developing discipline? An athlete develops discipline, a musician develops discipline, there are many, many different types of discipline that we can develop. But what is our intention, what is our aim in developing this discipline? Is it just for some worldly purpose, to be a good athlete and win some medal, or to be a virtuoso musician? What we need to do here is to develop the ethical self-discipline to be able to reach liberation and enlightenment, and to help others along the way, and even more once we’ve achieved enlightenment.

There are many ways in which we can develop this ethical self-discipline that are very worldly, for instance building up our body, a muscle builder. So we train all the time just to look very strong. Or we restrain from eating fattening food, or food that we like, because we want to be on a diet and attract a partner – so great vanity. These are not the type of self-discipline that we’re speaking about here. This is why I add here, in the translation of the term, “ethical” self-discipline – but even ethical self-discipline can be done with worldly intents. We want to be a good practitioner, “I don’t want to be a bad Buddhist, because I want my teacher to like me.” That’s a worldly intent, isn’t it? So remember, we need to practice these far-reaching attitudes with bodhichitta, and not only conventional bodhichitta, but the deepest bodhichitta, the understanding of voidness, so not doing any of these for our own selfish aims.

As Togmey-zangpo says, “if we can’t fulfill our own purposes without ethical self-discipline,” and this is referring here to spiritual aims, the initial and intermediate scope. For our own purposes we want to have a better rebirth, a precious human life, we want to gain liberation. If we can’t achieve those without ethical self-discipline, how can we “fulfill the purposes of others,” in terms of reaching enlightenment, without this ethical self-discipline? Therefore, the verse in review:

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

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

Patience is the state of mind with which we do not get angry at those who do harm, and we don’t get upset with all the difficulties that we’re going to have to endure for reaching enlightenment, and we don’t get upset at all the difficulties that are involved in helping others – it’s not so easy to help others. We need to build up patience as a habit, that’s the word “meditate,” but we need to understand “meditate” in its actual meaning, the definition, which is to build up a beneficial habit. So by practicing over and over again we have to make patience a habit. As we build up patience as a habit, the way we do this is not to have hostility or repulsion toward anyone. No matter how difficult they may be to help, no matter how destructive they may be, we refrain from getting angry. We develop patience.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains, patience and tolerance isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. And to have patience doesn’t mean that we let others act very destructively and we don’t do anything. What it means is that we don’t get angry. As Shantideva says, if it’s a difficult situation in which we can do something to change it, then why get angry? Just change it; just do it. And if it’s a situation in which there’s nothing we can do, why get angry, because it’s not going to help. If you can do something about it, do it.

Having patience is, as Togmey-zangpo says, a great cause for building up a tremendous amount of positive force. He says, “For a bodhisattva wishing for a wealth of positive force,” that’s usually translated as “merit,” “all who cause harm are equal to treasures of gems,” because how can we develop patience if there aren’t others who are annoying and difficult. We find a similar thought in other attitude-training, or lojong texts. Those with whom we can practice patience are great treasures, because through that we can build up “a wealth of positive force,” and through that we can reach enlightenment.

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

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

This is the fourth far-reaching attitude, joyful perseverance, with which we endure and go on and on with our spiritual work, regardless of how difficult it is, without ever getting discouraged and without being lazy, and without feelings of inadequacy, “I can’t do it,” and without putting things off until tomorrow, and taking joy in what we’re doing, specifically persevering in constructive activity. This is the “source of good qualities,” in other words reaching enlightenment for the purpose of benefiting everyone.

If Hinayana practitioners, the “shravakas and pratyekabuddhas,” who are working only for their own sakes, in other words to gain liberation, if they have fantastic perseverance, then we, who are working as bodhisattvas for the benefits of others, need even more. The example that’s given here, which comes from earlier texts as well, of demonstrating the type of perseverance that these shravakas and pratyekabuddhas have, it is the perseverance to continue with their meditation, to continue with whatever spiritual practices they’re doing, even if “a fire has broken out on their heads.” Even if their head is on fire, they would ignore that, not just freak out and have to put it out, but they would “turn away from that,” ignore it, and continue with their meditation practice. So if they have such perseverance that they won’t be distracted by their own individual worldly needs, then we would need even more as a bodhisattva.

To “turn away from a fire that has broken out on their heads” is basically referring to renunciation, they renounce this worldly concern about the fire on their head. The term literally means “to turn away from it,” and, of course, some people would interpret this as “turn away the fire,” “put out the fire,” but that’s not the meaning. The meaning here is renunciation.

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

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

This verse is filled with a lot of jargon, a lot of technical terms. What it’s referring to is the far-reaching attitude of mental stability, sometimes that’s referred to as “concentration,” but it doesn’t mean just simply concentration. It’s a stable state of mind that is not moved or swayed either by flightiness of mind, mental wandering, distraction or dullness, but also which is not swayed, or moved by disturbing emotions, so it’s stable. That’s the actual connotation of this term.

With that mental stability, stable mind, then of course we can do almost anything, can’t we? The type of mental stability that we want to achieve is one “that purely surpasses the four formless absorptions.” The four formless absorptions are very deep meditative trances that, if we become attached to them, we are reborn in the four different realms of the plane of formless beings, the formless realm, and we want to “surpass” that – this does surpass it – “purely” in the sense that these four formless absorptions are impure, they’re tainted with unawareness, with ignorance. We want to get a type of mental stability that is pure, that goes beyond that, that’s not mixed with unawareness or confusion.

What do we want to be able to focus that mental stability on, or what is the state of mind that we want to achieve that will have this mental stability? It is one that is a combination, or joined state of vipashyana and shamatha, to use the Sanskrit terms. “Stilled and settled state” is shamatha and “an exceptionally perceptive state of mind” is vipashyana. What does that mean, stilled and settled state? It is stilled of all mental wandering, flightiness of mind and dullness, and it is settled single-pointedly on a constructive object, and it has a sense of fitness, a physical and mental state of fitness – it’s very exhilarating – which is that fitness that the mind can focus on anything and stay there.

As Serkong Rinpoche, my teacher used to say, it’s like having a huge jumbo jet. If you put it on the ground, it stays there; if it’s flying in the air, it just goes. So the sense of fitness that the mind can concentrate and do anything that we want it to do, and stay in that state in a stable manner – a sense of fitness like a well-trained athlete: their body is so fit that it’s a super feeling, that they can do anything, they can run forever.

On that basis one can go further and join it with vipashyana, an exceptionally perceptive state of mind. This is a state of mind, which has already shamatha. It’s already stilled and settled and has in addition to this sense of fitness, of being able to focus on anything, a second sense of fitness, that it’s able to perceive, or understand anything, not just voidness, anything, that it’s totally fit, that it can understand and perceive in any detail, in all profundity – anything. If we realize that only if we have this exceptionally perceptive state of mind – the state of vipashyana, which is of course fully endowed with shamatha, stilled and settled state of mind – it’s only with that, that we’ll be able to “totally vanquish,” as Togmey-zangpo says, “the disturbing emotions and attitudes.” When we realize that, then we will develop mental stability with that joined state of vipashyana and shamatha. This will, of course, “surpass the four formless absorptions,” which will only keep us in samsara. Therefore the verse reads:

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

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

“Discriminating awareness,” that’s usually translated as “wisdom,” but wisdom is much too imprecise and vague a word. Here we’re talking about being able to discriminate between how things exist and how they don’t exist, what’s the impossible way of existing and how do they actually exist?

We need this “discriminating awareness that’s together with methods.” When we talk of methods here, we’re referring to bodhichitta, and bodhichitta, of course, is based on and with love and compassion. So that discriminating awareness of voidness can bring us liberation; it can get rid of the emotional obscurations that prevent liberation. But it’s only when it’s together with bodhichitta that it has enough force to be able to cut through the second set of obscurations, the cognitive obscurations that prevent omniscience and enlightenment. So bodhichitta with love and compassion are the methods mentioned here.

This type of discriminating awareness needs to be without “conceptions about the three spheres.” This is referring to the conception that the three spheres – the person who is meditating, what one is meditating on, and the meditation itself – have true existence. We want to get rid of that conception of true existence of the three spheres, and moreover, we want to have this whole understanding be nonconceptual. If we have a conceptual cognition of anything – a conceptual cognition makes an appearance of true existence and believes in it, has grasping for true existence – and so from many points of view we have to gain a nonconceptual cognition of voidness.

Why do we need to develop this far-reaching discriminating awareness? Togmey-zangpo says, “Because without discriminating awareness the five far-reaching attitudes cannot bring about the attainment of complete enlightenment.” Even if we have conventional bodhichitta, “I want to reach enlightenment to benefit everybody,” just practicing the first five far-reaching attitudes is not enough. They all need to be accompanied by far-reaching discriminating awareness of voidness.

Also what is significant here is that we need to have that discriminating awareness “about the three spheres,” not just about the person, “me.” According to Hinayana, we just need to understand that a person, “me,” doesn’t exist in an impossible way with an impossible “soul.” Discriminating awareness of the voidness of “me” is not sufficient for gaining enlightenment. We need to gain the discriminating awareness of the voidness of all phenomena, as signified here by not only “me,” the one who is meditating, but also what we’re meditating on, and the action of meditation itself. Therefore the verse reads:

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

A Bodhisattva’s Daily Practice

Then the next verses deal with the bodhisattva’s daily practice.

(31) A bodhisattva’s practice is continually
to examine our self-deception and then rid ourselves of it,
Because, if we do not examine our self-deception ourselves,
It’s possible that without a Dharmic (external) form
We can commit something non-Dharmic.

As is said in the Seven-Point Attitude-Training, we need to have the mirror of the Dharma face inwards toward us, not outwards. We examine, are we actually practicing the Dharma properly – not just have it facing outwards and examining are you practicing it properly?

Also as it says in that same text, the Seven-Point Attitude-Training, we need to take ourselves “as the main witness,” to witness whether or not we’re practicing purely. Only we are the best judges of what really is our motivation, what really is going on in our minds. It’s very easy to have “self-deception.” We deceive ourselves into thinking that “I really am following the Buddhist path,” “I really have overcome selfishness,” all these different types of self-deception. But we need to “examine” that very carefully, as Togmey-zangpo says, and “get rid of it” within us.

Because if we don’t examine it ourselves, then its quite possible that just externally we’re following the Dharma,” like, for instance, doing lots of prostrations – so it’s just “an external form,” but actually, internally it’s not Dharma at all. We might as well be doing a hundred thousand push-ups. Often we meditate, we do various Dharmic practices, not because our hearts are in it, but because we would feel guilty if we didn’t do it. This I think is a good example of having a “Dharmic external form,” but actually doing “something non-Dharmic.” Therefore the verse says:

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

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

Someone “who has entered Mahayana,” that’s somebody who actually really is practicing the bodhisattva path. And if we are finding fault with somebody who actually is a bodhisattva, then that actually is a state of mind in which we’re putting down, we’re finding fault with bodhichitta and bodhisattva behavior. That makes our own bodhisattva behavior “degenerate,” because we have a negative attitude toward bodhisattva behavior.

What’s very noteworthy here is, Togmey-zangpo says, “If under the power of disturbing emotions and attitudes we talk about the faults of others who are bodhisattvas.” This is noteworthy, that Togmey-zangpo says this quite specifically. There may be bodhisattvas who are not terribly skillful in their methods and so that, in a sense, is a fault and we can, of course, give constructive criticism, suggestions on how to be more skillful. But here we’re talking about finding fault because of our disturbing emotions and attitudes.

It can be because we’re jealous of what they’re doing, we’re thinking just in terms of me, and so, “I disapprove of what they’re doing, because I would do it differently.” It could be arrogance, “I could do a better job than this person is doing.” It could be naivety, we just don’t understand the method and the far-reaching intention of the bodhisattva, we’re thinking in a very limited way. It could be attachment and anger, “I wanted to do that, now this person did it, this bodhisattva did it,” and now we’re angry with them. It is in this context, as Togmey-zangpo says, “If under the power of disturbing emotions and attitudes we talk about the faults of others who are bodhisattvas, we ourselves will degenerate.”

That doesn’t mean that we don’t make constructive suggestions to somebody who is trying as a bodhisattva to help everybody, if we think that maybe there’s something further that they can do. Now, of course, in general it’s not helpful at all to have destructive criticism of anybody and speak only about their faults, but that can be misunderstood as meaning that we never try to correct somebody or help somebody if they’re making a mistake. In other words, if we are going to make critical suggestions, it needs to be done with great respect, that we want to help the other person to help others even more – with humility, not arrogance. The verse is:

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

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

We may notice that this is now the third verse, in which Togmey-zangpo is speaking about a similar theme, that it’s very difficult when we stay in the “homes of relatives and friends, or patrons” – those who support us financially and so on – if we have a lot of disturbing emotions. Here, specifically the disturbing emotion that he’s referring to is “wanting,” having great desire for, “gain,” getting a lot of money from the patron, “or respect.”

If, for example, we are trying to follow the bodhisattva path and we live with our family, and the family doesn’t respect what we’re doing, they disapprove of what we’re doing, if we are attached to getting their respect and approval, then what’s going to happen? As Togmey-zangpo says, “We’re going to quarrel with each other and our activities of listening, thinking, and meditating will decline,” because we’re going to be very upset, we’re so concerned about their approval.

Ra Lotsawa, a great Tibetan translator, said that, “The type of Dharma practice that I’m doing is something which my teacher has instructed me to do, and so even if nobody likes me for what I’m doing, I don’t care.” In other words, we’re not doing Dharma practice in order to get other people’s approval. If we know that we’re following the Buddhist path according to the instructions of our fully qualified teacher, then it doesn’t matter. We don’t need anybody else’s approval. We really need to be unattached to that.

The account is told of Geshe Ben Kungyal, who was meditating up in the mountains in a cave, and his patron sponsor was coming to visit him. And he set up his altar, and cleaned his meditation room, and cleaned himself to look very clean and everything proper, so that he would impress the patron, so that he would continue to support him. And then he realized that what he was doing was mixed with worldly concern, concern just about himself, with gaining fame and respect, and so then he took some dirt and threw it all over his offerings. And there was some other great master living far away who saw this with his extrasensory perception and said, “Geshe Ben Kungyal has just made the purest offering in all of Tibet.” This is referring to same type of point.

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

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

If we yell at others, if we call them bad names and so on, this certainly is “displeasing to others.” Nobody likes that and it certainly disturbs others’ minds. If, as a bodhisattva, we’re trying to make others happy and help them to gain peace of mind, to “disturb their minds with harsh words” is the opposite, so it makes our “bodhisattva behavior decline.”

When we talk about harsh language, this is with the intention of malice; we want to hurt somebody with these words. Sometimes we, of course, have to speak very forcefully and very loudly, let’s say if a child is about to run into the street where there’s a lot of traffic, you have to sometimes – if you can’t just grab the child – shout very loudly to stop.

Sometimes we need to speak in a strong way to others in order to benefit them. For example my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche, his name for me was always “Idiot,” “Dummy,” that was what he called me. When I went to him and he had accepted me as his personal student, what I asked him was, “Please train me, who is such a donkey, to be more skillful in helping others.” This was my request to him. When I was younger I was very arrogant, coming from Harvard University and my whole background, so Serkong Rinpoche took me very seriously and never missed an opportunity to point out when I was acting like an idiot, which was a great deal of the time. Although one could regard that language of calling me “Idiot,” “Dummy” – and especially he never refrained from doing that in a large group of people if I was translating and I made a mistake for example – although the word itself may seem harsh, he was doing this with great love and compassion to help me, and I never got angry.

This is quite a different situation, when the verse here speaks of “harsh language displeasing to the minds of others,” this is with an intention to hurt the other persons’ feelings. The verse reads:

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

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

This verse is very much in keeping with Shantideva’s teachings. Usually we think of mindfulness and alertness as mental factors that we use for developing concentration, but Shantideva explains them in terms of developing ethical self-discipline, they’re in his chapters on that topic; and again we have the imagery here of the military fighting a battle. So we are fighting the battle against the disturbing emotions and attitudes, which cause us to act destructively. Anger and attachment cause us to act in very destructive ways, so we have to use “the servicemen,” these are like soldiers, who are mindfulness and alertness.

Mindfulness is the mental glue that holds on to our discipline and doesn’t let go. That’s what mindfulness is. Alertness is the mental factor that is watching this mindfulness, to make sure that it doesn’t lose its grip or that it’s holding on too tightly. They are “holding the opponent weapons,” so in general we can think of ethical discipline as the opponent, but also the opponent would be love for anger, or thinking about the impurity of the body, if we’re attached to the body beautiful, thinking of all the substances that are inside your stomach and intestines.

Alertness is like the alarm system. It is the alarm that goes off when the hold of the mindfulness, this mental glue, there’s something wrong with it, and then actually it’s attention that comes in and reestablishes the mindfulness. Or it’s attention that reestablishes a more beneficial way of looking at someone, in other words with love rather than anger. Or it’s to pay attention in a different way to the object, in other words instead of paying attention to it with anger, paying attention to it with love.

We try to recognize when our hold on ethical discipline and positive states of mind is weak and correct it as soon as the disturbing emotions and attitudes creep into our state of mind and try to steal it, as Shantideva says, and try to do that as quickly as possible, because, as Togmey-zangpo says, “if we’re habituated to disturbing emotions and attitudes,” in other words, if we let them just go wild and take over our state of mind, and we don’t do anything about it, then we get into the habit of just thinking in these destructive ways with these disturbing emotions, and then it’s really “difficult for the opponent forces to make them retreat,” to go away. So if we can catch our minds quickly when they’re deviating from ethical discipline, then we can correct it much more easily.

It’s like when we learn a language. If in the beginning we don’t learn how to pronounce it correctly, like it often happens when people study Tibetan, then we get into the habit of pronouncing it completely incorrectly. And when that becomes a strong habit, it’s very, very difficult to correct it. But if we can correct it from the very start, when we start to mispronounce the language, then we’ll eventually be able to pronounce it correctly much more easily. The verse then is:

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

Verse thirty-six is a summary of what we need to do to follow the bodhisattva’s path. Togmey-zangpo writes:

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

This is very similar to the advice that Shantideva gives in summary. How is it that “we work to fulfill the purposes of others,” to help others? We need to constantly have mindfulness – that holds on to discipline, and love, and compassion, and bodhichitta, etc. – and alertness, to have the alarm system there, so that if we lose our hold, our grip on this ethical discipline, love and so on, that we correct it.

We need to then, in this way, check, “no matter where we are, no matter what we’re doing,” to know what’s going on in our minds. Atisha, a great master, earlier than Togmey-zangpo, the last line in his text A Bodhisattva’s Garland of Gems is, “When with others, check the condition of your speech and physical behavior. When alone, check the condition of your mind.” This is a similar idea. Therefore the verse:

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

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

This is referring to the dedication, that when we make the dedication of whatever constructive, or positive force has come from our bodhisattva behavior, we need to do this with the discriminating awareness of the voidness – here it’s referred to as “complete purity” – “of the three spheres,” in other words, the one who is building up this positive force, the object with whom it was built up, and the actual positive force itself.

Togmey-zangpo writes, “to dedicate for enlightenment,” dedicate all of this for enlightenment, “in order to eliminate the sufferings of limitless wandering beings.” The proper way to make dedication is indicated very well by Shantideva in the last chapter, the dedication chapter of Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. He never makes the dedication, “May I be able to achieve enlightenment, so that I can eliminate the sufferings of all beings,” he never makes that dedication just for himself. The emphasis there of what he doesn’t do is on me, “May I achieve enlightenment, so that I can eliminate the suffering of everybody,” that is a dedication mixed with grasping for a me, isn’t it? In this dedication chapter Shantideva is dedicating it, “May everybody achieve enlightenment.” It doesn’t say, “May I achieve enlightenment.” “May everybody achieve enlightenment,” “May everybody’s suffering be eliminated,” “May this be a cause for everybody reaching enlightenment, so that no longer anybody will experience the sufferings of the worse states of rebirth,” etc. So it has nothing to do with “me” personally, as “the great bodhisattva, and now the great Buddha, who is going to help everybody.”

This is why we have the image that is explained in many texts, that if we are going on a journey with some very wealthy people, who have brought a tremendous amount of grain to eat during this journey – we think of a caravan in Tibetan – then what we want to do is, even if we have just a little bit of grain to add to the bags of grain, we add that so that it mixes with the grain of everybody, with all the patrons’, so that, in this sense, we make a little contribution to the welfare of everybody. Similarly, we add the positive force that we’ve built up, even if it’s very small, to this great amount of positive force that all the bodhisattvas have dedicated for the enlightenment of everybody. It’s not that they have dedicated it for the enlightenment of me, they’ve dedicated it for the enlightenment of everybody. And so if we add our small amount of positive force to that great stock of positive force for the enlightenment of everybody by dedicating it in that way, then it will have a much greater effect.

We have to be very careful throughout our bodhisattva practice not to mix it with a self-centered preoccupation. As in this example of, “May I be able to reach enlightenment, may I be able to help everybody,” – “May my little amount of grain feed everybody.” Therefore the verse says:

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

That’s why the understanding of voidness with the dedication is so important, to avoid that extreme of dedicating with a preoccupation for a solid me.

Conclusion

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

Togmey-zangpo is saying that he didn’t make this up, he “followed the words of the great teachers and the meaning of what is found in the great texts.” We can see that a great deal of the material that comes here in the Thirty-seven Practices derives from Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior and Geshe Chaykawa’s Seven-Point Attitude-Training, or Lojong – which after all Togmey-zangpo wrote commentaries to – as well as other lojong literature. Then he continues:

Because my intelligence is feeble and my education meager,
They may not be in poetic meter that would please the erudite,
But, because I’ve relied on the sutras
and the words of the hallowed ones,

I think that (these) bodhisattva practices are not deceived.

Togmey-zangpo apologizes for his poetry – this text is written in metered verse – and he says, “It might be not the greatest, and I’m not that intelligent or skilled, but nevertheless,” “because I’ve relied on the sutras and the words of the great masters,” like Shantideva and Geshe Chaykawa, “I think that,” he says, “that these bodhisattva practices are not deceived,” in other words, “I’m not wrong about the fact that these are really what bodhisattvas practice.” Togmey-zangpo continues:

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

Again he is being very humble. He says, “How can somebody as dull-witted, as simple-minded as myself really understand the vast bodhisattva conduct that great bodhisattvas practice?” So he “requests the great beings to be patient” with him, with any mistakes that he might have made, “such as contradictions,” in other words, in writing about the bodhisattva practices, presenting things as though they appear to be contradictory, “or lack of connection,” in other words, connecting the verses with each other, so that it becomes easy to understand, “and so on.” Then the final verse:

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

Note that he doesn’t write, “May I become the equal of the Guardian Avalokiteshvara,” so this is similar to what we were discussing before, in terms of the dedication. He is saying, “May everybody become the equals of the Guardian Avalokiteshvara,” in other words, enlightened through developing the supreme two bodhichittas – the deepest and conventional bodhichittas. And that state of Avalokiteshvara is one of enlightenment, which is not abiding in the extremes of samsara or nirvana, as we’ve explained before. Then the colophon:

This has been composed in Rinchen cave in Ngulchu (this is a district in Tibet) by the disciplined monk Togmey, a teacher of scripture and logic, for the sake of his own and others’ benefit.

That completes the teaching on the Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices by the great bodhisattva Togmey-zangpo, and I want to thank everybody for this opportunity to be able to share these teachings with you.

It’s very important to try to actually put this into practice as much as possible. What is recommended as a very helpful daily practice would be to read this every day as part of our practice. If we read it every day and not just go, “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” but try to actually have the meaning in our minds, and maybe each day spend a little bit more time focusing and trying to think about one verse, and then the next day the next verse and so on, then this is a very useful method for slowly integrating this, so that we really become familiar with it, and actually become able to remember this in our daily practice when we are leading our lives, so that we put it into practice.

It’s the custom to build up the positive karmic force to be able to continue to study this in the future, that we repeat again the first few verses of the text at the end of the teaching. So for auspicious purposes, as is said in Tibetan, for having further connection with these teachings, let me read:

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

(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 it’s quite late and there really is no time for questions, so let’s just end with the dedication. We think, whatever positive force, whatever understanding has come from this, may it go deeper and deeper, and act as a cause for everyone to reach enlightenment, for the benefit of all.