‘The 37 Bodhisattva Practices’, by Gyelsay Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo

The Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices

by Gyalsey Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo

Namo Lokeshvaraye!


To you who see that all phenomena neither come nor go, yet

Strive solely for the sake of wanderers:

To the supreme Guru and the protector Avalokiteshvara:

I constantly prostrate with devotion of body, speech, and mind.

The source of benefit and happiness is the perfect buddhas,

And furthermore, it is through accomplishing the sacred Dharma that buddhas come to be;

And since this accomplishment depends on knowing the Dharma practices,

I will explain the bodhisattvas’ practices.


At this time, when this difficult-to-find, awesome ship of freedoms and advantages has been obtained,

In order to liberate oneself and others from the ocean of samsara,

Without distraction, day and night —

To listen, contemplate, and meditate is the bodhisattva’s practice.


The attachment towards friends wavers like water,

The hatred of enemies burns like fire,

The ignorance which forgets what to adopt and what to discard is a thick darkness —

To abandon one’s homeland is the bodhisattva’s practice.


When negative places are abandoned, disturbing emotions gradually diminish,

Without distraction, virtuous actions naturally flourish;

Through clear awareness, definite insight into the Dharma arises —

To rely on solitude is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Long-associated friends and relatives will be separated from each other,

Wealth and possessions attained through exertion will be left behind;

Consciousness, the guest, must cast aside the guest-house of the body —

To give up the mundane concerns of this life is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If you associate with them, the three poisons of greed, anger, and delusion will increase,

The activities of listening, contemplation, and meditation will decline,

And love and compassion will be obliterated —

To abandon negative friends is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If you rely on them, faults will be exhausted, and

Virtuous qualities will increase like the waxing moon;

Cherishing them even more than one’s own body —

To hold spiritual friends dear is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Themselves also bound in the prison of samsara,

How could someone like a worldy god of conditioned existence dare to act like a refuge?

Therefore, when seeking an undeceiving refuge —

To go for refuge in the Three Jewels is the bodhisattva’s practice.


The sufferings of the lower realms, so incredibly difficult to bear,

Are the result of destructive actions, thus the Able Sage has taught;

Therefore, even at the cost of one’s life —

To never commit destructive actions is the bodhisattva’s practice.


The pleasures of the triple world are like dew-drops on a blade of grass:

Their nature is to evaporate in the mere flash of an instant;

But the supreme state of liberation is never-changing —

To pursue the ultimate purpose of liberation is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Since beginningless time, they’ve shown you their love, so

If one’s own mothers are suffering, what’s the use of one’s own happiness?

Therefore, in order to liberate limitless sentient beings —

To generate bodhichitta is the bodhisattva’s practice.


All suffering, without exception, come from desiring for one’s own happiness.

The perfect buddhas manifest from the mind which seeks to benefit others.

Therefore, giving one’s own happiness, and taking others’ suffering —

To genuinely exchange self and other is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if someone, out of great desire,

Steals all of one’s wealth or has it stolen,

One dedicates to them one’s body, enjoyments, and virtue accumulated throughout the three times —

To give away everything is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if one is not the slightest bit at fault

And somebody chops off one’s head,

Through the power of compassion, one takes on their evil deeds —

To take the negativity of others upon oneself is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if someone lets loose a wide variety of unpleasant things about oneself,

And makes a public broadcast about them which pervades the three-thousand-fold world-systems;

One addresses that person with a loving mind, again and again —

To speak about the good qualities of others is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if, in the midst of a great gathering of many people,

Someone digs into one’s faults and says lots of mean things,

One perceives that person as a spiritual friend —

To respectfully bow down to others is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if someone whom one has cherished like one’s own child

Views one as being just like an enemy,

One responds like a mother caring for her sickness-struck child —

To show ever-more love is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if an equal or inferior person,

Under the power of egocentric pride, treats one with contempt,

Like a guru, one places that person on the crown of one’s head —

To show genuine respect is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if one is deprived of nourishment and constantly insulted by people,

Afflicted by intensely severe illness and demonic energy,

One still takes upon oneself the negativity and suffering of all beings —

To be without discouragement is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Even if one is praised and renowned by many people, universally bowed down to,

And has attained wealth like that of Vaishravana, the god of wealth, nevertheless:

One sees that all the glory and riches of conditioned existence are without essence —

To be without pride is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If one does not subdue the enemy of one’s own anger,

Outer enemies will just proliferate more and more,

Therefore, deploying the army of love and compassion —

To subdue one’s mindstream is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Desirable objects are very similar to salt water:

However much they’re enjoyed, craving just increases and increases;

So whenever obsessive craving arises for anything at all —

To immediately abandon whatever gives rise to desire and attachment is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Appearances are one’s own mind.

The nature of mind, from the beginning, is a timeless freedom from the extremes of conceptual elaboration.

Realizing this nature, beyond the characteristics of self and other —

To not engage the mind in dualistic fixation is the bodhisattva’s practice.


When one meets with pleasing sense objects,

Just like the vivid colors of a rainbow in summertime,

One views all these beautiful appearances as lacking true existence —

To abandon attachment to external objects is the bodhisattva’s practice.


The vast variety of sufferings are like the death of one’s child in a dream;

By reifying confused perceptions as being real, one becomes weary;

Therefore, at the time when chaotic conditions are there to meet you —

To view adverse circumstances as illusory is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If those aspiring towards awakening must give up even their own bodies,

What need is there to mention external objects?

Therefore, without any expectation of reciprocation or positive karmic fruition,

To give generously is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If one does not have ethical discipline, thus not accomplishing one’s own welfare,

Then wishing to accomplish the welfare of others is laughable indeed;

Therefore, devoid of aspirations for worldy existence,

To protect ethical discipline is the bodhisattva’s practice.


For bodhisattvas who long for the enrichment of virtue,

All those who make trouble are like a precious treasure;

Therefore, devoid of all hostility,

To cultivate patience is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Since even the shravakas and pratyekabuddhas, who accomplish only their own welfare,

See that they must strive as if putting out a fire on their heads,

For the sake of all beings, one practices diligence —

To apply joyful perseverance, the source of all good qualities, is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Through calm abiding perfectly imbued with special insight,

Disturbing emotions are completely subdued, and from this development of insight,

One genuinely transcends the four formless absorptions —

To cultivate meditative concentration is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Though one may practice the other five far-reaching perfections, without sublime gnosis,

Perfect and complete awakening cannot be attained;

So, through utilizing skillful means without conceptual reference to the three spheres of agent, object, and action —

To cultivate sublime gnosis is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If one does not carefully examine one’s own mistakes,

It is possible that while having the outer form of a Dharma practitioner, one can act contrary to the Dharma;

Therefore, through constantly subjecting oneself to thorough examination —

To abandons one’s mistakes is the bodhisattva’s practice.


If, under the power of disturbing emotions,

One points out another bodhisattva’s faults, then one

Has oneself committed a grave fault —

To not speak about the faults of those who have entered the Great Vehicle is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Under the influence of riches, honor, and respect

Mutual disagreement, arguing, and back-and-forth fighting occur,

And the activities of listening, contemplating, and meditating decline —

To abandon attachment to the households of friends, relations, and benefactors is the bodhisattva’s practice.


Harsh speech disturbs the minds of others

And causes the conduct of the Victorious One’s bodhisattva heirs to degenerate;

Therefore, because it is unpleasant to others —

To abandon harsh speech is the bodhisattva’s practice.


When disturbing emotions are habituated, it is difficult to counteract them with antidotes.

Through arming oneself with mindfulness and alertness as the antidotal weapon

Against desire and the other afflictions —

To decimate disturbing emotions the moment they first arise is the bodhisattva’s practice.


In brief, whatever activities one happens to be engaged in,

One should ask:

“What is the state of my mind?”–

To accomplish the welfare of others through constantly maintaining mindfulness and alertness is the bodhisattva’s practice.


In this way, through striving to accomplish virtue

In order to clear away the suffering of limitless beings,

Together with the sublime gnosis that sees the utterly innate purity of the three spheres of agent, object, and action —

To dedicate all merit and virtue towards awakening is the bodhisattva’s practice.

Following after the meaning imparted in the sutras, tantras, and commentaries,

And the noble speech of the sublime ones,

I have composed this ‘Thirty-Seven Bodhisattva Practices’

For those who wish to train on the bodhisattva’s path.

Because of my inferior intellect and lack of erudition,

This is not poetry that will delight scholars, however,

Because I have relied on the sutras and the noble speech of the Sublime Ones,

I think that this ‘Bodhisattva’s Practices’ is okay, and not too far off the mark.

However, since the great waves of bodhisattva conduct

Are difficult to fathom for someone of lesser intelligence like myself

I entreat the Sublime Ones to forbear my

detrimental mass of incoherence and contradictions.

Through the virtue arising from all of this, may all wandering beings,

Through relative and ultimate bodhichitta

Become equal to the Protector Avalokiteshvara,

Who abides not within the confines of samsaric existence or nirvanic peace.

These words were composed for the benefit of himself and others by an exponent of scripture and logic, the monk Thogmey, in a cave in Ngulchu Rinchhen.

Translated by Erick Sherab Zangpo.

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