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Thirty-seven Bodhisattva Practices

(2006 Literal Translation)

(rGyal-sras lag-len so-bdun-ma)
by Togmey-zangpo (Thogs-med bzang-po)

translated by Alexander Berzin, March 2006

Original version published in
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Four Essential Buddhist Commentaries
Dharamsala, India: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1983.

Homage 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 a bodhisattva’s practice.

Precious Human Life

(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

(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 become 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 concern
   being totally 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.

The Importance of Having Proper Friends

(5) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rid ourselves of bad friends
With whom, when we associate,
   our three poisonous emotions come to increase;
Our actions of listening, thinking, and meditating come to decrease;
And our love and compassion turn to nil. 

(6) A bodhisattva’s practice is to cherish more than our bodies
Our hallowed spiritual mentors, to whom,
By entrusting ourselves, our faults come to deplete
And our good qualities come to expand like the waxing moon.

Safe Direction (Refuge)

(7) A bodhisattva’s practice is to take safe direction
   from the Supreme Gems,
By seeking protection from whom we are never deceived –
Since whom can worldly gods protect
When they themselves are still bound in the prison of samsara?

Refraining from Destructive Behavior

(8) A bodhisattva’s practice is never to commit any negative actions,
Even at the cost of our lives, because the Able Sage has declared
That the extremely difficult to endure sufferings
   of the worse states of rebirth
Are the results of negative actions.

Working for Liberation

(9) A bodhisattva’s practice is to take keen interest
In the supreme never-changing state of liberation,
As the pleasures of the three planes of compulsive existence
Are phenomena that perish in a mere instant,
   like dew on the tips of grass.

Developing a Bodhichitta Aim

(10) A bodhisattva’s practice is to develop a bodhichitta aim
   to liberate limitless beings,
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?

Exchanging Self with Others

(11) A bodhisattva’s practice is to purely exchange
   our personal happiness for the suffering of others,
Because (all) our sufferings, without an exception,
Come from desiring our personal happiness,
While a fully enlightened Buddha is born from the attitude
   of wishing others well.

Bodhisattva Behavior: Dealing with Harms

(12) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone under the power of great desire
Steals or causes others to steal all our wealth,
To dedicate to him our bodies, resources,
   and constructive actions of the three times.

(13) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if while we haven’t the slightest fault ourselves,
Someone were to chop off our heads,
To accept on ourselves his negative consequences,
   through the power of compassion.

(14) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone were to publicize throughout the thousand,
   million, billion worlds
All kinds of unpleasant things about us,
To speak in return about his good qualities, with an attitude of love.

(15) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if someone exposes our faults or says foul words (about us)
In the midst of a gathering of many wandering beings,
To bow to him respectfully,
   distinguishing that (he’s our) spiritual teacher

(16) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if a person
Whom we’ve taken care of, cherishing him like our own child,
Were to regard us as his enemy, to have special affection for him,
Like a mother toward her child stricken with an illness.

(17) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if an individual, our equal or inferior,
Were to treat (us) insultingly out of the power of his arrogance,
To receive him on the crown of our heads respectfully, like a guru.

Two Critical Situations Requiring Dharma Practice

(18) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
Even if we are destitute in livelihood and always insulted by people,
Or sick with terrible diseases, or afflicted by ghosts,
To accept on ourselves, in return, the negative forces and sufferings
   of all wandering beings and not be discouraged. 

(19) A bodhisattva’s practice is, even if we are sweetly praised,
Bowed to with their heads by many wandering beings,
Or have obtained (riches) comparable to the fortune
   of Vaishravana (the Guardian of Wealth),
Never to be conceited, by seeing that worldly prosperity has no essence.

Overcoming Hostility and Attachment

(20) A bodhisattva’s practice is to tame our mental continuums
With the armed forces of love and compassion,
Because, if we haven’t subdued the enemy which is our own hostility,
Then even if we have subdued an external enemy, more will come.

(21) A bodhisattva’s practice is immediately to abandon
Any objects that cause our clinging and attachment to increase,
For objects of desire are like salt water:
The more we have indulged (in them,
   our) thirst (for them) increases (in turn).

Developing Deepest Bodhichitta, the Realization of Voidness

(22) A bodhisattva’s practice is not to take to mind
Inherent features of objects taken and minds that take them,
    by realizing just how things are.
No matter how things appear, they are from our own minds;
And mind-itself is, from the beginning,
    parted from the extremes of mental fabrication.

(23) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
When meeting with pleasing objects,
    not to regard them as truly existent,
Even though they appear beautifully, like a summer’s rainbow,
And (thus) to rid ourselves of clinging and attachment.

(24) A bodhisattva’s practice is,
At the time when meeting with adverse conditions,
    to see them as deceptive,
For various sufferings are like the death of our child in a dream
And to take (such) deceptive appearances to be true is a tiresome waste.

The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes

(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 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.

(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.

(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 circles,
Because without discriminating awareness,
   the five far-reaching attitudes
Cannot bring about the attainment of complete enlightenment.

A 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 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.

(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.

(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.

(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 circles,
To dedicate for enlightenment the constructive forces
   realized by efforts like these,
In order to eliminate the sufferings of limitless wandering beings.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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