The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas

Written by the Tibetan monk and Bodhisattva Gyelsay Togmay Zangpo (1295-1369). This translation is excerpted from The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas, an oral teaching by Geshe Sonam Rinchen, translated and edited by Ruth Sonam, 1997, with permission from the publisher, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, New York.

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    1. Having gained this rare ship of freedom and fortune,
      Hear, think, and meditate unwaveringly night and day
      In order to free yourself and others
      From the ocean of cyclic existence
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    2. Attached to your loved ones you’re stirred up like water.
      Hating your enemies you burn like fire.
      In the darkness of confusion you forget what to adopt and discard.
      Give up your homeland—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    3. By avoiding bad objects, disturbing emotions gradually decrease.
      Without distraction, virtuous activities naturally increase.
      With clarity of mind, conviction in the teaching arises.
      Cultivate seclusion—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    4. Loved ones who have long kept company will part.
      Wealth created with difficulty will be left behind.
      Consciousness, the guest, will leave the guesthouse of the body.
      Let go of this life—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    5. When you keep their company your three poisons increase,
      Your activities of hearing, thinking, and meditating decline,
      And they make you lose your love and compassion.
      Give up bad friends—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    6. When you rely on them your faults come to an end
      And your good qualities grow like the waxing moon.
      Cherish spiritual teachers
      Even more than your own body—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    7. Bound himself in the jail of cyclic existence,
      What worldly god can give you protection?
      Therefore when you seek refuge, take refuge in
      The Three Jewels which will not betray you—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    8. The Subduer said all the unbearable suffering
      Of bad rebirths is the fruit of wrongdoing.
      Therefore, even at the cost of your life,
      Never do wrong—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    9. Like dew on the tip of a blade of grass, pleasures of the three worlds
      Last only a while and then vanish.
      Aspire to the never-changing
      Supreme state of liberation
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    10. When your mothers, who’ve loved you since time without beginning,
      Are suffering, what use is your own happiness?
      Therefore to free limitless living beings
      Develop the altruistic intention
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    11. All suffering comes from the wish for your own happiness.
      Perfect Buddhas are born from the thought to help others.
      Therefore exchange your own happiness
      For the suffering of others—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    12. Even if someone out of strong desire
      Steals all your wealth or has it stolen,
      Dedicate to him your body, possessions
      And your virtue, past, present and future—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    13. Even if someone tries to cut off your head
      When you haven’t done the slightest thing wrong,
      Out of compassion take all her misdeeds
      Upon yourself—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    14. Even if someone broadcasts all kinds of unpleasant remarks
      About you throughout the three thousand worlds,
      In return, with a loving mind,
      Speak of his good qualities—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    15. Though someone may deride and speak bad words
      About you in a public gathering,
      Looking on her as a spiritual teacher,
      Bow to her with respect—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    16. Even if a person for whom you’re cared
      Like your own child regards you as an enemy,
      Cherish him specially, like a mother
      Does her child who is stricken by sickness—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    17. If an equal or inferior person
      Disparages you out of pride,
      Place her, as you would your spiritual teacher,
      With respect on the crown of your head—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    18. Though you lack what you need and are constantly disparaged,
      Afflicted by dangerous sickness and spirits,
      Without discouragement take on the misdeeds
      And the pain of all living beings—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    19. Though you become famous and many bow to you,
      And you gain riches to equal Vaishravana’s,
      See that worldly fortune is without essence,
      And be unconceited—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    20. While the enemy of your own anger is unsubdued,
      Though you conquer external foes, they will only increase.
      Therefore with the militia of love and compassion
      Subdue your own mind—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    21. Sensual pleasures are like saltwater:
      The more you indulge, the more thirst increases.
      Abandon at once those things which breed
      Clinging attachment
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    22. Whatever appears is your own mind.
      Your mind from the start was free from fabricated extremes.
      Understanding this, do not take to mind
      [Inherent] signs of subject and object—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    23. When you encounter attractive objects,
      Though they seem beautiful
      Like a rainbow in summer, don’t regard them as real
      And give up attachment—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    24. All forms of suffering are like a child’s death in a dream.
      Holding illusory appearances to be true makes you weary.
      Therefore when you meet with disagreeable circumstances,
      See them as illusory—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    25. When those who want enlightenment must give even their body,
      There’s no need to mention external things.
      Therefore, without hope for return or any fruition
      Give generously—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    26. Without ethics you can’t accomplish your own well being,
      So wanting to accomplish others’ is laughable.
      Therefore, without worldly aspirations
      Safeguard your ethical discipline—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    27. To Bodhisattvas who want a wealth of virtue
      Those who harm are like a precious treasure.
      Therefore, towards all cultivate fortitude
      Without hostility—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    28. Seeing even Hearers and Solitary Realizers, who accomplish
      Only their own good, strive as if to put out a fire on their head,
      For the sake of all beings make enthusiastic effort,
      The source of all good qualities—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    29. Understanding that disturbing emotions are destroyed
      By special insight with calm abiding,
      Cultivate concentration which surpasses
      The four formless absorptions—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    30. Since the five perfections without wisdom
      Cannot bring perfect enlightenment,
      Along with skillful means cultivate the wisdom
      Which does not conceive the three spheres [as real]—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    31. If you don’t examine your own errors,
      You may look like a practitioner but not act as one.
      Therefore, always examining your own errors,
      Rid yourself of them—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    32. If through the influence of disturbing emotions
      You point out the faults of another Bodhisattva,
      You yourself are diminished, so don’t mention the faults
      Of those who have entered the Great Vehicle—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    33. Reward and respect cause us to quarrel
      And make hearing, thinking, and meditation decline.
      For this reason give up attachment to
      The households of friends, relations and benefactors—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    34. Harsh words disturb the minds of others
      And cause deterioration in a Bodhisattva’s conduct.
      Therefore give up harsh words
      Which are unpleasant to others—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    35. Habitual disturbing emotions are hard to stop through counteractions.
      Armed with antidotes, the guards of mindfulness and mental alertness
      Destroy disturbing emotions like attachment
      At once, as soon as they arise—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    36. In brief, whatever you are doing,
      Ask yourself “What’s the state of my mind?”
      With constant mindfulness and mental alertness
      Accomplish others’ good—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    37. To remove the suffering of limitless beings,
      Understanding the purity of the three spheres,
      Dedicate the virtue from making such effort
      To enlightenment—
      This is the practice of Bodhisattvas.

    The 37 Practices of Bodhisattvas chant

    • Recorded by the Sravasti Abbey Sangha in April, 2010

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