Thirty Seven Actions of a Bodhisattva

The suffering of the lower realms, so difficult to bear,
Is the fruit of wrong deeds, so the Buddha taught.
Therefore, even at the cost of your life,
Never to commit negative actions
Is the conduct of a Bodhisattva.

This saying is for persons of lesser potential. Attachment is the cause for rebirth as a hungry ghost. Aversion is the cause for rebirth in hell. Ignorance is the cause for rebirth as an animal. As long as you are angry, you will never be happy. If you are attached, you suffer from want, as you will not spend what you have. And when you suffer from ignorance, you suffer like you were an animal. Many sufferings come from misunderstanding.

Like dew on the tip of a blade of grass
Happiness in the three worlds evaporates in a single instant.
To strive for the supreme state of liberation that never changes
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

This saying is for beings of middling capacity. The pleasure of samsara is the suffering of change. It is not permanent, and when we lose it, we will suffer. Nobody suffered because of a slow Internet connection fifty years ago. The triple world is explained two ways: the first way is the lower realms, human, and god realm. The second is the desire realm, form realm, and formless realms.

From beginningless time your mothers have cherished you.
If they now suffer, what good is your own happiness?
Therefore, in order to liberate limitless sentient beings,
Giving rise to bodhichitta is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

This saying is for beings of highest capacity. When our dear ones are suffering, we cannot enjoy anything. So we desire to liberate them. But to liberate others, we must first liberate ourselves.

All suffering comes from yearning for your own happiness.
The perfect Buddhas are born from the intention to benefit others.
Therefore, to truly exchange your own happiness for the suffering of others
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

When we think of our own benefit, it is easy for afflictive emotions to arise. But when we think of others benefit, afflictive emotions will not arise and we will give rise to positive states instead, eventually leading to buddhahood.

If someone cuts off your head
Even when you have not done the slightest thing wrong,
Through the power of compassion
To take his misdeeds upon yourself
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Even if someone driven by desire steals all your wealth
Or incites someone else to steal it,
To dedicate to this person your body, possessions,
and all your virtue of the three times
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

When someone steals from you, think that person is helping you practice generosity. If you get angry with that person you are losing your bodhisattva vow.

Should someone slander you
Throughout a billion worlds,
With a heart full of love, to proclaim his good qualities in return
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

No matter how much you get angry it will not repair the damage others do to you. So you should feel compassion for them instead. Why feel compassion? Because that person is overcome by afflictive emotions.

If in the middle of a crowd of people
Someone reveals your hidden faults and abuses you for them,
To see him as a spiritual friend and to bow with respect
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Atisha said the best spiritual teacher is the one who shows your faults. The best oral teaching is the one who strikes to your vital point. Think that anyone who criticizes you is your teacher.

If someone whom you dearly cherish like your own child
Takes you for an enemy,
Then, like a mother whose child is sick,
To love that person even more
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

A bodhisattva has to deal with many beings. Some will do crazy things. After your practice is stable, it will be easy to deal with them. Before then, one should keep to solitude. You should care for a person who acts this way as if they were your child.

Even when someone who is your equal or inferior
Driven by spite seeks to defame you,
To place him on the crown of your head
With the same respect you would accord your guru
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Normally we respond to the negative actions of others in kind. A bodhisattva does not do this.

Though gripped by poverty and always scorned,
Though stricken by disease and tormented by evil spirits,
To take upon yourself the negativity and suffering of every being
And never to get discouraged
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

This verse describes the practice of lojong, bringing your suffering onto the path. This practice is helpful when you get sick. Any virtuous deed can help in difficult situations.

Though famous and prominent, someone to whom others bow,
Though you amass the riches of the god of wealth,
To see that worldly splendor has no essence
And thus to be without arrogance
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

No matter how rich or powerful you are, your gains have no essence. The enjoyment from the realization of suchness is not like that. Chetsang Rinpoche's father was friends with a rich man in India. But when he visited him, he only heard of his problems. The wealth of this life is like borrowing someone else's jewellery.

If you have not tamed the enemy of your own anger,
Combating outer opponents will only make them multiply.
Therefore, with an army of loving kindness and compassion,
To tame your own mind is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

It is impossible to get rid of enemies by defeating them, you will only increase them. The only way to get rid of them is by doing good things for them. Shantideva's metaphor says wearing shoes is equivalent to covering the earth with leather.

Sense pleasures are like salt water.
The more you partake of them,
The more your craving will increase.
Therefore, when something arouses attachment,
To abandon it immediately is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Samsaric pleasure only increases desire. The only real pleasure is the realization of suchness.

All appearances are your own mind, and
Mind itself primordially transcends all mental fabrications.
Knowing this is the precise nature of reality,
To remain free from dualistic conceptions
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

All appearance is the play of mind. If objects could exist by themselves, then everyone would see them the same way. Through long habit, we see our perceptions as real and solid. In reality phenomena are free of the eight extremes. Phenomena are like the reflection in a mirror.

When you encounter objects that please your mind,
Know they are like rainbows in the summer season.
Though they seem beautiful,
To see they are not real and to give up attachment to them
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

A rainbow is beautiful, but you cannot catch it.

All suffering is like the death of your child in a dream.
To take such delusive appearances as true, how exhausting!
Therefore, whenever you encounter unpleasant circumstances,
To see them as delusions is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Many people hold onto their suffering. That suffering is caused by you. If you think that it happened in a dream, you can move on. Everything is illusory.

If those who aspire to enlightenment willingly give up their bodies,
What need is there to mention external objects?
Therefore with no hope of reward or benefit,
To give with generosity is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Your generosity should not be impure. You should not make others suffer from your generosity. Otherwise, generosity is good.

If lack of discipline prevents you from benefiting yourself,
Then your wish to benefit others is just a joke.
Therefore, to guard discipline
With no longing for worldly existence
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

If you do not keep the precepts, you will not be born in a higher realm. If you break the law and are thrown in jail, how will you support your family?

For a Bodhisattva who seeks a wealth of virtue
Every harm is like a precious treasure.
Therefore, without getting irritated by anything at all,
To cultivate patience is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

To practice patience, you need an enemy. Shantideva said the Buddha and sentient beings are equally kind to us in bringing us to enlightenment. If we lack either, you will not gain enlightenment.

If Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, who strive for their benefit alone,
Expend effort as if to extinguish a fire burning on their heads,
Then for the benefit of all beings,
To cultivate joyous effort, the wellspring of positive qualities,
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

The practice of perseverance is a feeling of joy in virtue. A bodhisattva should strive even harder than beings on the lower paths.

Vipashyana perfectly endowed with shamatha
Completely conquers all afflictions.
To cultivate meditative stability That transcends the four formless states
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

The four formless absorptions are the highest levels in samsara. So the meditation that transcends them is beyond any worldly level. This is meditation joined with emptiness and compassion. Someone who achieves infinite space has transcended the idea of inner and outer and sees both of them as space. When you transcend the idea of space entirely, and only see consciousness, this is the level of infinite consciousness. Transcending the idea of consciousness, because consciousness implies duality, one achieves the level of nothingness. Transcending even the experience of nothingness, one achieves neither perception nor non-perception.

Without superior knowledge,
It is not possible to attain perfect enlightenment through
the first five paramitas alone.
Therefore, joining it with skillful means
and not conceptualizing about the three spheres
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Liberation is not possible without wisdom. This is why prajnaparamita is called the mother of the three aryas. The six perfections need each other. Atisha said meditation without wisdom is bound. The three spheres refer to subject, object, and action.

If you have not analyzed your own confusion,
You might put on a Dharmic fa├žade
While behaving in a non-Dharmic way.
Therefore, to continuously analyze your delusion and discard it
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

We have to look at our actions and check to see if they are contrary to the dharma. We have to investigate our purpose. A Kadampa master cleaned his shrine when his sponsor was going to arrive. He looked at his motivation, and saw it was selfish, and threw dust on the shrine. Our practice should not be done from the eight worldly concerns.

If, compelled by your own afflictions,
You speak of the faults of other Bodhisattvas,
You, yourself, will degenerate.
Therefore, never to mention the faults of those
Who have entered the Mahayana path
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

You should not talk about other people's faults other than to help others. If the person is a bodhisattva, you will not meet the Mahayana for many lives.

Desire for gain and honor leads to argument,
And activities of listening, reflecting and meditating decline.
Therefore, to relinquish attachment to the households
of friends, relatives, and sponsors
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

When Milarepa became well known in a town, he would leave. This verse is intended for monks and nuns.

Harsh speech disturbs the minds of others
And compromises a Bodhisattva's right conduct.
Therefore, to give up harsh and unpleasant speech
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

No one wants to hear harsh speech. If you do so, you will lose other people's respect and you cannot help them.

Once you become accustomed to the mental afflictions,
They are hard to cure with antidotes.
Therefore, with the remedies of mindfulness and awareness
To eliminate afflictions the moment they arise
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

If is difficult to eradicate a habit once it becomes established. If you recognize a fault when it arises, you will not repeat and it will not become habitual.

In brief, wherever you are and whatever you do,
Always examine the state of your mind.
Cultivating mindfulness and awareness continuously
To benefit others is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

We always need mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness tells us what to adopt and abandon. Awareness checks to see what we are doing. Mindfulness is like a guard at the gate. Awareness is like a guard looking from the roof. Without mindfulness the four madras can attack easily.

To clear away the suffering of all infinite beings,
With superior knowledge free of concepts of the three spheres,
To dedicate to enlightenment the merit accumulated through these efforts
Is the practice of a Bodhisattva.

Whenever you do a virtuous deed dedicate the merit without attachment. Without dedication, your anger can destroy your merit. Thogmay Zangpo says he is only following the teach of the sutras and the commentaries.

Khenpo Tsultrim Tenzin
Susquehanna Yoga and Meditation Center
April 10, 2010

Previous Page