The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva
Venerable Khenpo Karma Namgyal
"The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva,"
composed by Ngüchu Thogme
Instructions presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg, December 2008
Thank you for coming here and taking your time for my talk. I hope it will not be boring for you. Before beginning, let us recite "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" together.
In Tibetan Buddhism, "The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva" is a very popular text when it comes to gaining understanding and practicing. Some of you might know it better than me and some of you are new. It won't be possible to go through the entire text during this short seminar, so I will talk about a few important points.
"The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva" was composed by Thogme, which is his traditional short name. His full name is Ngüchu Thogme, Ngüchu being the name of the village he came from. Sometimes he is called GyÃ¤lsrÃ¤ Thogme, rGyÃ¤l-srÃ¤ meaning "Bodhisattva." If he came from Germany and wrote a text like this these days maybe he would be called "German Thogme" - like that. I think he had another name, but Thogme was his nickname. It means "no obstacles." He was called like that because he was very well-known throughout Tibet for his ability to answer difficult questions, so we could translate his name as meaning "no problem." He was not only very intelligent and a great scholar, but he was a real Bodhisattva practitioner. He summarized the main points of a Bodhisattva's practice in this short and very comprehensible text. When I read it, I recognize the main points of the Buddhist teachings on the activities of a Bodhisattva as taught in the "Bodhicharyavatara," which was composed by the Indian Master Shantideva. I don't think one can practice all points in one's life, but it will be very beneficial to practice the one or the other point that one thinks is good and easy.
There is a story about how Ngüchu Thogme practiced that I really like. Actually, there were many masters in Tibet and I cannot tell all their stories. In February 2007 His Holiness Gyalwa Karmapa visited Drubten Pemo Jalpay Gatsal, the newly constructed Tilokpur Nuns' Monastery near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. During his visit, His Holiness taught "The37 Practices of a Bodhisattva." I was there and could listen to him for three or four days. I cannot repeat everything he said, but I really like the story that I heard from him and want to share with you.
Ngüchu Thogme was a monk and of course stayed in a monastery. Already a great master who had many good students, while outside the monastery one day he ran into a beggar, who was wearing the traditional Tibetan warm cloak made of sheep fur, but it was filled with lice. I don't know whether Westerners have experience with lice or not.
Translator: "You get them at school."
Khenpo: I was rich with lice when I was a child in the monastery - I had many. The beggar that Thogme met had an uncountable number of lice in his clothes and got sick because he was undernourished. Thogme had great compassion for the beggar, gave him his cloak, and took his clothes. He couldn't throw the lice-ridden clothes away, because he knew that the lice would die of hunger. He wore the clothes so that they could feed on him and he got seriously ill. When I get a little sick, my first thought is to go to the doctor. But Thogme didn't want any medicine. His students asked him to throw the clothes away. He told them, "We are making wishing prayers to take on all suffering of sentient beings and to give them all our happiness. Why should I take medicine when I actually have the chance to practice?" Slowly the lice disappeared and he recovered. So we see that he was an author who didn't just study and imitate others, but he practiced and meant what he wrote, that it will really help us to practice.
I can say that this is the most popular text in Tibet. There are the traditions of Kagyü, Sakya, Nyingma, and Gelug, and not every lineage studies what another lineage teaches is good. But disciples of every lineage study and practice "The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva." I heard that anybody who wants to become a student of Khenpo Tsultrim Gyatso Rinpoche must recite it 1000 times.
Translator: "Yes, they must recite it a lot."
"The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva"
by Ngüchu Thogme
To the One who sees that all phenomena neither come nor go
And who seeks only to benefit all beings,
To the supreme Lama and Protector Chenrezig
Continually I pay homage in respect with body, speech, and mind. (a)
The perfect Buddhas, who are the source of benefit and bliss,
Arise from having fully accomplished the genuine Dharma.
Since this depends upon knowing the practices,
I will explain the practices of Bodhisattvas." (b)
The first verse is the homage and the second describes the purpose of writing this text. It is the tradition in Buddhism to offer a prayer to one's teacher before beginning to compose a text. The prayer Thogme wrote is to the Bodhisattva of Love and Compassion, who is Chenrezig. The second verse explains the purpose for writing the text. It's impossible to attain Buddhahood without taking the Bodhisattva vows and without engaging in the practices of a Bodhisattva, so Thogme stated that he wrote the text so that disciples know what to practice.
"Now having the great vessel of leisure and resources, difficult to find,
To free yourself and others from the ocean of samsara,
Day and night without break
To listen, reflect, and meditate is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (1)
The first practice, described in the first verse, is to receive the teachings, to contemplate, and to meditate them. At school one is taught to study and reflect what one has learned, but I don't think that the practices of a Bodhisattva are taught at school. I think that if one wants to practice, one needs to know how to meditate and that study and meditation need to be practiced together. I think it's important to receive instructions from a qualified teacher who can really explain what to meditate before one begins. I don't think one can follow a master in the same way that Jetsün Milarepa followed Lotsawa Marpa. I also don't think that it's good to learn to meditate in reliance on books that one found in a bookshop or library, although it's better than nothing. If one really wants to attain fruition, one needs to be introduced to meditation by someone who practiced quite well. I remember an incident Mingyur Rinpoche told that happened here two years ago. He said he went to a park and saw a man flapping his arms like an eagle. He approached the man and asked him, "Excuse me. What are you doing?" The man answered, "I'm meditating." Mingyur Rinpoche asked him, "What kind of meditation are you doing?" The man replied, "Shamata." He was a bit surprised and asked the man, "What kind of Shamata are you doing?" The man told him that he was practicing one of the sevenfold postures he had read about in a book, that the arms should be like the wings of an eagle about to soar into the sky, so he was doing that. There can be many misunderstandings from reading. Let me tell an example that is like a joke. It's about how to eat food that is in the monk's bowl.
It is taught that monks should not handle the food they take out of the monk's bowl as though they were fashioning a Stupa with their hands. A monk read about this in a book. He probably isn't a good teacher. Even if he is a good teacher, he misunderstood what he read because every time he ate, he fashioned the food like a Stupa before putting it in his mouth. He was asked why he did that and answered that he had read about it in books. I remember another story. There are many small monks in my monastery. One little monk gets a headache quite often and learned about pain pills. One day he found an old lady's medicine that he took when he had a headache. He fell asleep and hardly woke up again.
One needs a good teacher who one learns from by listening to him. One must check the teachings for oneself by contemplating them. I don't think listening and contemplating alone will be very helpful, though. If one meditates what one has learned, then one achieves a result. If one practices all three aspects together - listening, reflecting, and meditating -, then one will feel better, one will have more trust, be more interested in the practice, and one will have less doubts about what one is doing. I don't think that one will gain any results from only studying the teachings. Sometimes I feel that one knows a lot by studying but doesn't have experiences because one doesn't practice. One can only have good feelings if one practices. One will be more interested and do more and more if one has a good feeling and then one's practice will develop nicely. Therefore, listening, reflecting, and meditating the teachings is the first practice of a Bodhisattva. If one practices the three steps for one's own benefit, then it won't be the practice of a Bodhisattva. Therefore, before one begins, one should think that one will practice so that all living beings become free of suffering.
In "The Aspiration Prayer of Mahamudra," the Third Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, also tells us: "Listening to scriptures and reasonings frees us from the obscurations of ignorance. Reflecting on the key instructions vanquishes the darkness of doubt. Meditation's light illuminates the true nature just as it is. May the brilliance of the three wisdoms spread." I think it's very important to take this verse to heart. Lhaje Gampopa also taught that one needs to practice listening, contemplating, and meditating together. Sometimes students leave big gaps between them. I can talk from my own experiences: During my monastic education I always thought, "Now it's time to study." Practitioners in a three-year retreat think studying is inferior to meditating, which is a mistake. After having completed my studies, I didn't have time to do the three-year retreat because I worked at the school in the monastery. Knowing that it is possible to engage in the three aspects of practice together anywhere, I followed Gampopa's advice. Some people go into a three-year retreat or think they are meditating without having studied, but they don't know what kind of meditation they did. If they study what they did in retreat afterwards, it is not good. I think they meditated too early, so there are people who meditate too early and there are people who meditate too late. If one knows from the beginning that the three aspects need to be practiced together, then everything will be fine.
His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa is really taking the three aspects of practice seriously. Many elderly, uneducated people attended a speech that he presented in Bodhgaya in either 2001 or 2002 and he told them, "You must study a little bit." If one hasn't studied the teachings, one cannot feel the experiences one has when one meditates. In the West, I am always saying that one doesn't have to become a Buddhist academic and one doesn't need to follow strict rules and regulations, rather one needs to learn, ask questions, practice, and check if the results accord with the teachings - if not, one waits and does it another time.
At this point I would like to add a fourth point to the teachings that are an impetus to practice correctly. One imagines being a patient suffering from an illness or disease and thinks that the Lama is the doctor and the Dharma is the medicine one needs to take in order to get well. But medicine doesn't always taste good because it is often bitter, and one's doctor's advice isn't always pleasant to hear because he might tell one not to eat one's favourite food and not to drink the beverage one likes the most. I don't think one can recover from a sickness if one doesn't listen to the doctor and doesn't take the medicine he prescribes, whereas one can feel better by listening to the doctor and taking the medicine. When one has recovered and sees the doctor again, one feels happy and says to him, "Thank you very much" - this is the fourth point. I think everyone has experienced situations like this. I experience it every morning when I wake up and have to remember to practice the Dharma. Like that, there is advice in every teaching, just like the advice a mama and papa give their child when it does nonsense. When one reads a lot, one often gets müde, "tired," and wishes the author would have come to the end sooner. If one wants to recover from an illness, one should listen to one's doctor and take the medicine. When one feels better and better, it won't be necessary to follow one's doctor's advice. If one doesn't feel better, maybe one received wrong instructions, i.e., medicine, and therefore something is wrong. If one received correct instructions or read the right books, one will feel less disappointed.
The second practice is:
"Towards friends, attachment churns like water.
Towards enemies, hatred burns like fire.
Dark with ignorance that forgets what to adopt and reject,
To give up this homeland is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (2)
What is "homeland" in German?
Translator: "Heimat. Vaterland is not so good."
Khenpo: Fatherland. If you read the above verse you might think that giving up your fatherland and going somewhere else is the practice of a Bodhisattva. There is no instruction in this short line, so it can be misunderstood quite easily. If one only reads it, one might think that giving up one's fatherland is the practice of a Bodhisattva, which would be very easy. In that case, I would be engaging in the practice because I have been away from my fatherland for more than 20 years now and could boast, "Just look at me! I'm a Bodhisattva practitioner!" The fourth line in the second instruction does not speak about that kind of fatherland, pha-yü, "homeland." Pha-yü refers to the place where one lived for a long time. I lived in my homeland for a long time, so I know many things about it. But homeland in this context means one's nyön-mong, one's "negative, disturbing emotions." The negative mental and emotional defilements are our homeland - we have been staying there for many, many years. Everyone needs to see for themselves. As long as one is still living in the homeland of one's disturbing emotions, it's very hard to accept that one is ignorant and to understand what is described in the first two lines of the above verse, which state: "Towards friends, attachment churns like water. Towards enemies, hatred burns like fire." I don't think one can get out of one's homeland all at once. It's necessary to look at oneself and see in which disturbing emotion one has been staying the longest. If one realizes that one has spent many hours living in anger, then one needs to try to get out of that emotion a little bit. I don't think one can get out all at once.
The main point of Buddhist practice is trying to get out of negative emotions. Buddhism teaches that all suffering and pain come from negative emotions, so Buddhist practice is always aimed at directly or indirectly dispelling one's disturbing emotions. When one reduces one's negative emotions, inner peace automatically arises - this is the nature. It's not due to Buddhism or because of someone's declaration that the nature of fire is heat and that snow is cold. One of my habits is watching wrestling matches on T.V. They are broadcast for 2 hours twice a week. I know it's just entertainment and I enjoy watching all the acting going on, but I noticed that I was spending too much time watching. I decided to get rid of my T.V. and do something else instead. If I go somewhere else and have the chance to watch wrestling matches on T.V., then I do, but I don't watch in my room anymore. It's okay to have a special interest that has nothing to do with nonsense.
People need to work in order to survive. They have no money, no life, no Dharma if they don't work. Nagarjuna explained in one text that one will not be healthy if one doesn't get enough sleep and doesn't nourish oneself correctly. I notice that if I have no Mittagessen, "lunch," then I start shaking and my Dharma practice is gone because I only think about food. If one knows that one needs to get enough sleep and must eat properly so that one can practice the Dharma, then sleeping and eating are also Dharma practices. I think in the West you have to think that if you have no work, then you have no money; if you have no money, then you have no livelihood; if you have no livelihood, then it's difficult to practice the Dharma. Daily obligations become Dharma practices if you think like that.
I think it's very important to look inwards. If one finds one's homeland, it's very important to try to get out. I don't think I can finish the entire text this weekend, but if you read the text and ask questions, then I can answer. If you don't ask questions, then I can't answer.
The third verse instructs us to rely on solitude. It is :
"Abandoning negative places, kleshas gradually decrease.
With no distractions, virtuous activity naturally grows.
Through a clear mind, certainty in the Dharma rises.
To rely on solitude is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (3)
The Tibetan term translated as "solitude" is dben-pa and means "to retreat," but it doesn't mean leaving house and home and living in utter solitude. As it is, one's body and mind are overly active. One is busy all day satisfying one's physical needs and running after rather useless ideas that one has. Of course, everyone has obligations and responsibilities that they need to live up to, but it would be good to spend a little time each day refraining from useless activities and engaging in virtuous activities that benefit oneself and everyone else. Living one's life that way is what to rely on solitude means.
It's very hard for a beginner to deal with negative emotions; it' all the more difficult to dispel them completely. Seeing that one cannot remove one's kleshas (the Sanskrit term for "negative emotions") that easily, especially not all at once, it's advisable to stay away from the objects that give rise to one's mind poisons, i.e., to rely on solitude by staying away from useless things and not wasting one's time with them.
Looking at one's mind is the best way of going into solitude. If one investigates well, one will discover that one's mind determines everything one does with one's body and speech, therefore it would be good to be mindful and aware of any useless thought the moment it arises. If one notices one's thoughts, refrains from following after useless ones, and gives rise to benevolent thoughts instead, one's negative thoughts will automatically be cleansed. It would be useless living in the forest or in a cave on a mountain and looking at towns or cities in the distance, wondering what people are doing, how they are driving their cars, etc., as long as one doesn't take care of one' mind. There's no difference between staying in the city and living in a cave as long as one's mind moves around - one's body would only be staying in a different place, while one's mind would be the same. I don't think a beginner can always check his mind, but I think it would be the best solitude to make a schedule and to do Shamata meditation or a Sadhana practice for a while every day and during that time not to run after thoughts that one has. Finding solitude through any other means is very difficult - we will never find it. One needs to find solitude in one's own mind and not outside oneself.
It would be good to get away from mundane concerns and daily distractions by seeking the peace of solitude for a short while regularly. The aim of practice is to overcome one's mind poisons, which isn't possible right away, but weakening them by abiding in peace as often as possible is a means to pacify one's aversion, greed, etc. Negative thoughts arise in conjunction with objects that one perceived, i.e., one apprehended an object before one became angry or greedy, etc. In the absence of an object that causes one to become angry, anger will not arise and one will feel peace. Yet, it's very hard finding a place where one's negative emotions aren't present. I don't think that there is a place where one's mind poisons aren't present too. But one might feel good if one gets there, so the best thing to do is to learn to control one's mind.
Let me repeat that one's mind is pivotal. If one doesn't train and control one's mind and lets it run rampant, then any practice one does will be extremely difficult, for example, one could think of other things and let one's mind roam around while reciting the Sadhana of Noble Chenrezig. It's indispensable to hold one's mind in one-pointed concentration while engaging in any practice, instead of remaining trapped in constant, uncontrolled thoughts and ideas. Of course, the environment is important. It can be very helpful to visit a Dharma Center regularly in order to get away from the stress that everyday life brings on and in order to abstain from negative physical activities. One experiences peace when one refrains from giving in to distractions. The main point is that everyone needs to control their own mind themselves and to practice that. Trying to hold one's mind on whatever one is doing, without giving in to distractions, is a very important and good practice.
The next practice of a Bodhisattva is explained in the fourth verse, which is:
"Close friends and relatives separate;
Wealth gained with effort is lost;
The guest, consciousness, leaves its lodging, the body, behind;
To let go of this life is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (4)
I think one can manage the other practices a little bit, i.e., one can stay away from objects that cause one to give rise to the mind poisons and, instead, be quiet by doing Shamata meditation. But giving up thinking about this life is difficult. It isn't even nice hearing about it, because everybody wants to enjoy life. For example, somebody who really likes eating meat won't like hearing a doctor say that it's necessary to give it up, and it won't be easy. If one thinks about it carefully, though, one will know that it's important to become a good practitioner. Somebody who lets go of this life will be a really good practitioner and will not be in need of advice, because they will automatically do what is right. I think this practice is difficult, because usually one's mind is busy doing things for this life and wishing for more and more things. If one contemplates the first three lines of the fourth verse well, then it will be easier to not only think about this life.
The fourth verse speaks about impermanence. It will be easier giving up one's attachment to this life if one tries to really understand that everything is impermanent and that nothing lasts.
Question: "I've been living in a very isolated place in Greece for a long time and therefore experience the noise and calamity in Germany as excruciating, especially during the Christmas season. How can I deal with this? I also try to keep away from my family, my children and grandchildren too, but one is always condemned in the West if one does, so it's not easy. Maybe it's easier to let go in the East. Do you have any suggestions?"
Khenpo: There is a story. Should I tell it?
Khenpo: In ancient times there was a kingdom with one king - of course, one king. His astrologer told him that it would rain heavily in a week's time and anybody who drank the rainwater would go mad. He told the king, "Take care." The king took lots of care that the rain would not fall into his well. He could take care but others couldn't, so they drank the rainwater and everybody except the king went mad. Whoever saw him said that the king was mad, because everybody else was the same. Since the king was not the same as everybody else, he really got into trouble. People pointed at him and said, "The king is mad." So, he drank the water. I'm not suggesting that you drink that water, but it would be important not to act in a manner that causes others to think one is mad. I think that nothing can upset one if one is careful. I also think that this story is very helpful.
We are human beings and we all have negative emotions, so our activities are similar. If we see somebody who got out of the place of the mind poisons by having overcome them and who only has positive emotions, we would think that this person is mad. If we do our best and even if we cannot help others, the persons in our environment will imitate us inasmuch as they think about it.
It's hard for me to answer your question concerning your family, because I'm far away from family life, but I've seen many people use their life to become rich and stay healthy for the sake of their relatives, without being concerned about themselves. Some people do dangerous work or commit crimes so that their family prospers. I think it's okay to stay in touch with one's family and to help them in a good way, but I don't think it's good to help them go in a wrong way. Buddhist teachings again and again remind us of karma, so if one does something bad for the sake of one's relatives, one creates bad karma for oneself. In "A Letter to a Friend," Nagarjuna wrote: "Don't engage in bad karma, even for the sake of your family. Try to survive by doing good." I can't decide whether it's good or bad for you to have stronger contact with your relatives, but I think that it's always good to stay in touch with people in a good way.
It's very important to reflect the deep meaning of the first three lines of the fourth verse, which will help one to give up one's strong involvement with this life only and to become more interested in practicing for the benefit of lasting peace. I think it's very important to learn to live alone. I needn't discuss death, seeing everyone knows that one day they will go alone - I don't think that anybody will go along when one goes. If one thinks about it, one will look for a friend when one is alone.
There are many practices taught in Buddhism that state it is necessary to be alone. The instructions above belong to Sutrayana and are an introduction, whereas Vajrayana teaches methods that one practices during life in order to know what to do when one dies. Death is only a concept about the end of the inhalation and exhalation of one's body, but one's mind continues. The question is, what happens to the mind after one's body dies? I'm just talking about it a little bit, so you can find out for yourself.
The first line of the fourth verse concerns letting go of one's friends and relatives, the second line one's possessions, and the third line one's body. One is most strongly concerned about one's body. Some people work a whole life long to become rich, but they must drop everything when their life ends. Yet, the strongest impulse one has is to care for one's body. One identifies with the five skandhas, which are the five aspects that comprise the physical and mental constituents of a sentient being: physical form, sensations, conceptions, formations, and consciousnesses. One identifies with and is extremely attached to the first skandha, one's physical form, thinking and saying, "That's me!" As a result, one has wants and needs and can become obsessed by thoughts such as, "I must take care of my body. I need this and I need everything I can get my hands on for my body." It's more than difficult, if not impossible, to mature spiritually as long as one is obsessed by such thoughts. It would be very helpful to reflect that the body one points to and identifies as, "That's me! That's most important! That's the most valuable thing!" in truth is a collection of atoms, molecules, etc. One should ask oneself, Is it worth spending so much time and effort on such an aggregation of particles? Contemplating in this way is a method to weaken one's attachment to one's physical form.
If one realizes that there's more to life than one's body, one will be more interested in making preparations for one's future life. Of course, it's important to appreciate one's body and one should take care of it because it is a means to acquire provisions for one's future. This topic is dealt with in greater detail later on in the text, but at this stage one is instructed to see one's body as a guesthouse for one's mind. One has moved into the guesthouse, one's body, has been residing in it as a guest for a while and feels comfortable, but one will leave it behind on the day that one continues one's journey. One cannot stay - everyone has to go. Contemplating in this way inspires one to make best use of the time one spends in the guesthouse and to meet preparations to attain a precious human body in one's next life so that one can practice the Dharma. It would be very helpful to become accustomed to living one's life as a guest, which is possible if one has a profound understanding of impermanence. All three factors described in the fourth verse - one's friends and relatives, one's possessions and wealth, and one's body - are impermanent and only last for a short while. Everyone sees this in their own life, because everyone looks different today than they did when they were young.
Student: "We ourselves are examples of impermanence."
A method to give up one's attachment to one's body is to realize that this is not the only life that one has, rather that this life is connected to one's past and future lives and that one's actions in this life determine one's future life. If one is aware of the law of cause and effect, one won't invest one's entire energy in satisfying one's present life that is transitory, but one will do anything beneficial with one's future life in mind. One can see this for oneself. Maybe you have met or heard about Tulkus, "reincarnate saints and sages," who show us the consequences of having led a meaningful past life. They inspire us to let go of only being concerned about this life.
The fifth verse of "The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva" instructs one to stay away from bad friends and is:
"Associate with bad friends and the three poisons grow;
Listening, reflecting, and meditating degenerate;
Loving kindness and compassion are destroyed.
To cast off such friends is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (5)
The term "Buddhist" was translated into Tibetan as nang-pa, which means "inwards." It's very important to know this so that one remembers to turn one's attention inside and not outside oneself. If one can manage one's inner life, then experiences related to outer appearances will be all right.
Usually one is very involved with what takes place outside oneself, e.g., one complains about people who may be speaking badly about one. Even being concerned about someone who speaks kindly about one is looking outside oneself. One needs to look inwards and recognize whether someone isn't a good friend. It's not necessary to tell that person, "You are a bad friend. From now on we are not friends anymore." One needs to look inwards, discover if someone is a bad friend, and deal with the situation from that angle. That is the only way to give up bad friends.
I don't think an advanced practitioner needs to worry about having good or bad friends, but beginners and intermediate students need to stay away from people who have a negative influence on them. For instance, if one partner in a relationship makes prostrations wholeheartedly, his or her friend or spouse will eventually want to make prostrations too. For example, I cook for myself because I need spicy food, so my friends and colleagues have become used to it. They didn't eat what I served them at first, but now they do. There are two Khenpos who are my friends. They were like Westerners and couldn't eat chilli. We stayed together many years. One friend is unbelievable - in the meantime he takes the chilli directly from his plate and eats it before he starts with the meal. I am most powerful among my friends when it comes to chilli. Had they been more powerful, maybe they would have influenced me to give it up. Like this, one's habits depend upon the people one associates with. I think many of you have experienced that your teenage children are very difficult to control if they are around friends who like to drink and go to the disco. I have seen them stop listening to their parents, who only kept on shouting. So, everything depends upon one's friends. The fifth verse does not mention alcohol and things like that, but says that bad friends are those persons who cause one's negative emotions to increase. Practice means trying to weaken and control one's negative emotions, and one must do this oneself. That's the best way to give up bad friends. If one succeeds, then those persons who cause problems will follow one's example, but it depends upon who is more powerful. I think that if one can train one's mind, it will be easy to influence others.
I have a friend in India I have known for many years. He is a little bit lazy. He went to another monastery where the monks study a lot. We asked him, "Why did you change to a monastery where you have to get up so early in the morning?" He replied, "I feel ashamed sleeping longer when everybody else gets up so early to study."
The fifth verse instructs that it's necessary to give up bad friends and it might sound like it isn't really important. But it's really meaningful if one thinks about it. So many people are wasting their lives by being around bad friends. It's often too late when they realize that they have gone the wrong way. I think it will be very helpful to take the fifth verse to heart. Of course it will help - it's the practice of a Bodhisattva.
"Rely on your spiritual friend and defects disappear;
Qualities increase like the waxing moon.
To care for this friend
More than your own body is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (6)
The sixth practice is relying on one's spiritual teacher or friend and doing what he says. As mentioned, the teacher is like a doctor. If the medicine he prescribes can cure diseases, then one should follow his advice and take it when one is sick. In the same way, if one feels that day-by-day one's faults decrease and one's qualities increase because one is close to one's spiritual friend and does what he says, then one should not lose touch but continue relying on him. Suffering arises due to wrongdoings, but one cannot recognize them because one always thinks, "What I'm doing is right!" A good spiritual teacher will tell his disciples, "No, you are doing wrong." He will instruct one, "This is right and that is wrong." It will show in time that he is right. Is the translation "spiritual friend" okay?
Khenpo: In Tibetan we say "Lama."
A practitioner can go the right way and not the wrong way if he follows the advice of his spiritual friend. For Westerners, going through the empty point is very difficult. It was very difficult for me to even cross the street when I first came to Europe from Asia. It was very confusing for me to know when I could cross and when it was forbidden. In Asia, we don't care about red lights but stay out of the way when a car comes. Here there are rules and regulations, but sometimes I forget. Last year I saw the red light but wanted to cross the street anyway. Someone grabbed and stopped me, because it was very dangerous. I don't know if my health insurance will work if I do nonsense and am hit by a speeding car. Like that, assuming that one is going the right way, Dharma gets hold of one when one goes the wrong way. I think one is always in ignorance as long as one has not reached Buddhahood and doesn't know the nature of samsara. Now I see that what I believed in when I was 19 or 20 years old was not true. So I think it's very important to listen to one's spiritual teacher and to do what he says.
Finding a good spiritual teacher isn't easy. Before one becomes committed, it's very important to check whether someone is an authentic teacher or not. It's dangerous thinking someone who is not good is a spiritual friend and to follow him - one would land where he is if one followed him. Buddhism again and again teaches that one must follow a spiritual teacher in order to practice correctly. I think everyone needs to check for themselves, though, because I can't say who is a good spiritual teacher or that I am a good spiritual teacher. I think everyone has to check whether attending a specific spiritual teacher diminishes their mind poisons and increases their good qualities or not. If one notices that it is the case, then that is a spiritual teacher or a Dharma friend. If one notices that it is not the case, one needs to search for another teacher or make wishing prayers. Concluding "The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" is the wishing prayer one recites, which is in all lifetimes never to be separated from one's perfect Lama and the glorious Dharma and to become like one's Lama.
At fruition, one's isn't different than one's spiritual Dharma friend - presently one is. For example, now I can go to the city of Hamburg by myself and without a map. When I first came here, I didn't even try going alone. I just went with friends who know the city and looked at the map. Now it's no problem - I don't get lost in the jungle anymore, so don't worry about me. I'll make it back to the Dharma Center. Like that, until one can see the true nature oneself, one needs to rely on a Dharma teacher who is a friend and on the Dharma books that are like a map. As long as one can't go by oneself, one needs friends.
"Bound themselves in the prison of samsara,
Who could worldly gods protect?
Therefore, to go for refuge to the Three Jewels
Who will not deceive you is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (7)
The seventh verse deals with Zuflucht, "refuge." I'm sure you know about Zuflucht and the Three Jewels, so I needn't explain them in detail here. In this verse, Ngüchu Thogme explained why one takes refuge in the Three Jewels in a very short way.
Many rich people, especially in the West, don't feel that they need to take refuge because they have everything to enjoy their life. But taking refuge is seeking help to get out of samsara. I'm not speaking for everyone, because I was born into a Buddhist family. My father was a Buddhist. I don't remember if my mother was, because she passed away when I was very young. As a child, they told me to do prostrations. I didn't know why I was taking refuge then but just followed the advice that I received. I can say, though, that in the West all of you are taking refuge in the Three Jewels because you have realized that there is a reason, so I really appreciate you for this.
If one wants to get out of samsara that is marked by much suffering, then there is no other refuge than the Three Jewels - it's the only way. I'm not saying this because I'm a Buddhist. The Buddha's teachings seemed like a law or dogma to me when I was 19 and 20, and I thought that if one follows them, then the result will be like that, and if one doesn't follow them, then the result will not be like that. So, I believed what I was taught and just went on. After having studied more, I was able to compare philosophies and saw that the Buddha's teachings only arose from the way things are, e.g., that all one's actions have a result and that every result accords with its cause, i.e., positive actions lead to wellbeing and happiness and negative actions lead to suffering, which isn't a matter of faith but accords with how things arise and appear. In that way, the Buddha didn't make demands, saying, "You must follow me!" Rather, the Buddha showed how things are and how they appear and, having demonstrated the path, everyone is free to find out for themselves if his words are true or not. Therefore, by studying his exemplary life and the lives of his disciples, who attained the result and were thus able to die consciously, one will gain certainty and have deep devotion for the truth of the words that Lord Buddha spoke. If one studies the life stories of the saints and sages, one will notice that their lives affect one.
It's very important to understand that the Buddha isn't like a mighty god reigning over the universe and who frees living beings from the ocean of suffering. This isn't his responsibility and nobody can do it anyway. Lord Buddha is the teacher who shows disciples how to work at freeing themselves from samsara. If one practices introspection, investigates whether the Buddha's words are true, and realizes that his teachings are valid, one will have gained certainty and have profound devotion for the truth of the Buddha's teachings. Those are the two objects of refuge, the Buddha being the teacher and the Dharma being his teachings. The third aspect of refuge is all adepts who followed and follow the teachings of the Buddha, achieved the results, and are therefore friends one can rely on while one is on the way.
Ngüchu Thogme mentioned gods in the above verse. I think it depends on the country. In Nepal, for instance, many people make offerings to a being they believe in and call "god" and who they take refuge in. Actually, people in small Himalayan villages believe in many confusing things; in Bhutan too. I think they feel helped temporarily, but there certainly is no god who can remove one's suffering. I have never been in Tibet, but I'm sure that there are people living there who believe in mountain spirits and take refuge in them. They work very hard all year to be able to make offerings to a spirit they believe in and trust. In India, too, people believe in spirits and gods. Buddhist literature speaks of gods and teaches that they are also in samsara, in the gods' realm of conditioned existence. The teachings say that some gods live thousands and thousands of years and have the power to share their health and wealth with others, but only if they are happy. It is said that they can disturb us if they aren't happy. In any case, the long-living beings cannot show how to get out of samsara, because they are still in samsara themselves. Tibetan scriptures bring the example of swimming. Actually, I can swim in the bathtub but not in a pool, river, or lake. The example is that someone who cannot swim can't save somebody who is drowning; should someone who cannot swim jump into the river and try to save somebody who is being swept away by the current of a river, they would both drown. If I were to be drowning, I would need somebody who can really swim to take over and save me. I tried to swim in a pool in Germany and drank a lot of water. It was good in Denmark, because they put salt in the pool, so it tasted a little bit like Tibetan tea.
Human beings can live to the age of 60, 70, 80, or 90. In comparison, cats or dogs have a short life and one knows about their lives when they die. In the same way, long-living gods or spirits know a few things about us, but they really don't know how to get out of samsara. That's why Ngüchu Thogme reminded practitioners that the Three Jewels never cheat, that they are unfailing and non-deceptive. He instructed disciples that taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the right way - it is the right place to take refuge.
I already mentioned that it's important to check if the view is true or not. Belief is also good - it's better than nothing -, but it's best to check and follow. Otherwise one will have doubts, and dealing with doubts is not easy anymore. One will be fearful as long as one's doubts aren't dispelled. For example, when I walk through places that I don't know, I'm afraid as long as I'm not sure whether I will arrive where I wanted to go. If one checks and knows the way to the place one wants to go, one will have no doubts, go without fear, and get to the right place. So I think that it's very important to follow the instructions that are given in the first verse - to listen, to reflect, and to meditate.
If, after having investigated well, one has gained certainty that the Three Jewels are the true refuge and seeks refuge in them with sincere trust and devotion, then one connects with them by making prostrations and reciting "The Refuge Prayer," which is: "Until I awaken, I take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and the Supreme Assembly." One establishes a firm connection with the Three Jewels by again and again requesting their protection and help, until one has attained freedom from samsara. "Until awakening" means that one takes refuge in the Three Jewels with the innermost wish to uphold one's connection throughout all lives that one knows one will need in order to accomplish the result. The two strengths addressed in this prayer are the strength of one's trust and devotion and the strength of the objects of refuge that are reliable, stable, and constant, until one has awakened to Buddhahood.
"Suffering in the lower realms, so difficult to bear,
Results from negative actions, thus the Buddha taught.
So even at the risk of your life,
To avoid all negative actions is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (8)
The eighth practice of a Bodhisattva concerns karma, the Sanskrit term for the principle that every action has a result, translated as lÃ¤s in Tibetan. How is lÃ¤s translated into English?
Khenpo: There are many religions and therefore varying views in the world. Having unwavering trust in karma is paramount to Buddhism. Therefore, the highest view that a beginner needs to have is to understand karma correctly and to know that any suffering or happiness one experiences is due to one's own actions. There are many religions in India that teach its followers that they must turn to a god of their faith who gives them happiness or takes away their suffering and pain. Lord Buddha stated clearly that no god can wash away anybody's suffering or give anybody happiness. He taught that every individual is responsible for his or her own experiences, i.e., one's experiences solely depend upon one's actions. If one engages in virtuous activities, one will experience happiness; if one engages in non-virtuous activities, one will experience suffering and pain.
Hindus say that a god of the Indian pantheon created all living beings and the world. Adherents of other religions living in other countries, for instance Arabians, say their god is the creator. Villagers of small East Indian territories say another god is the creator. Westerners do not know about Hindu deities but say that living beings and the world were created by their god. Even though they are not associated with each other, most peoples of the world believe that a god created everything. Maybe the gods are the same, are brothers and sisters - I don't know.
It's important for a Buddhist disciple to gain certainty in the infallible law of cause and effect and to know that everyone is responsible for himself or herself. For instance, one will work hard to achieve a goal that one has in mind and one knows that one won't achieve it as long as one sits back and doesn't do anything. Understanding karma is an impetus to do one's best to establish the conditions to overcome suffering and to attain happiness.
We can see that, although they don't work hard, things always go good for some people - they have a good business, a good family, a good house, and so forth. We can also see that, although they work very, very hard, nothing goes in the right way for some people and then we think that they aren't doing the right things. Everything depends upon one's past good and bad karma. Even if one works hard but has a bad karmic background, it will work but it will be difficult to attain one's goal. That's why Buddhism teaches disciples to purify negative karma and to create positive karma.
The Buddha offered teachings about the various kinds of suffering that living beings experience in samsara. He explained that very negative karma leads to one to experience the hell realms. Does hell truly exist? Is it possible to see the hell realms? No. Our apprehensions are reflections of our own past actions. Someone who spent his entire life causing others much pain and harm will personally experience similar results that others do not perceive.
Sometimes one reads books about karma or receives teachings on it, but believing in karma isn't easy. Sometimes our ears fail us when we hear "karma, karma, karma." It's very difficult to believe, but in "The Words of My Perfect Teacher" Patrul Rinpoche wrote that on the deathbed a person who has done bad and was evil all life long is a good teacher of karma. One can hardly know what such persons go through, but I have heard that they experience a lot of fear; when they die, they see something terrifying that their relatives or the nurses don't see, point their finger into space, and say, "Somebody is coming." If hell exists, everyone would be able to see it. But only somebody who has bad karma can see and feel the suffering of hell. For example, a thief automatically has lots of fear when caught by a policeman because he knows he is at fault, whereas someone who knows they are not at fault isn't afraid of the Polizei, "the police." One automatically feels afraid when one knows one is at fault.
There will be no place of suffering if one doesn't have a bad karmic background. On the other hand, I don't think that one will experience peace on account of the environment, even if one sits on an elegant chair in a beautiful garden. When one has a headache, for example, one has it wherever one goes. Suffering is with one, even when one has a good blanket and sleeps in a nice bed. In contrast, it doesn't matter where one lies down to sleep when one is happy and at peace. That's why the Buddha saw that all suffering comes from one's own bad karmic background and taught to try not to go that way.
It's not that easy winning certainty in the law of karma. If one really believes in karma fully and not just on and off, one would refrain from negative actions and engage in positive actions until they become a natural habit. For example, if I know that there is poison in this cup and that I will die if I drink it, then I don't think I will take a sip, even if someone offered me a good present. I don't think you will drink poison either, if you know. But if one doesn't know, maybe one will drink from the cup. In the same way, I don't think one will jump to do negative actions if one really knows and trusts 100% that negative karma is the source of suffering. I can say that right now we believe in karma somewhat and haven't fully given up doing bad and always only doing good. For example, Jetsün Milarepa committed many bad things when he was young - he killed 29 people. I don't think he would have a chance to practice in these times but would have to stay in jail. It was a different situation in Tibet during his times and he knew that he would suffer immensely as a result of his actions. His only thought was to remove the consequences of his actions and so he became a good practitioner. I think we will become very good practitioners if we believe in the law of karma 100% - you could become a German master.
If you have time and want to learn more about karma, you can read "The Words of My Perfect Teacher" by Patrul Rinpoche or "The Jewel Ornament of Liberation" by Lhaje Gampopa. If you want to learn more than is explained in those excellent books, then you will find a very detailed and clear account in the "Abhidharmakosha" by Vasubandu.
It's hard to believe and understand that everyone creates their own karma. It's really hard to trust and believe that one creates all appearances one apperceives. Practicing the Sadhana of Noble Chenrezig at the Dharma Center together with others is a good method to remove bad karma.
"Pleasures of the three realms are like dew on the tips of grass:
Their very nature is to evaporate instantly.
To strive for supreme liberation,
Which never changes, is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (9)
Nobody likes to suffer. Even though one has trust in the law of cause and effect and accumulates good karma, nevertheless one makes wishing prayers to be in a good place, to be healthy and wealthy, to have friends, and to have everything nice. Of course, it's better than nothing, but it's not good enough. In the ninth instruction, Ngüchu Thogme tells us not to practice in order to achieve such aims, seeing any peace and happiness that one has or wishes to attain while in samsara is impermanent - one day it will change. The only purpose of one's practice should be to learn to get out of samsara, which is marked by suffering.
It's very important to know that everything depends on one's mind. If one's mind is strong, one will do everything to achieve freedom from suffering. Just like a businessman makes wishing prayers to overcome problems and to make a good business, one makes wishing prayers to become free of suffering. Of course, the businessman's wishes are better than nothing, but everything changes - rich people become poor and forests burn down. One can clearly see how one's environment as well as how one changes, too. The ninth verse tells us that any practice one does shouldn't be carried out in order to attain transient satisfaction, rather any practice one does should be done in order to attain reliable and lasting happiness and peace. I think it's very important to keep this in mind.
"From beginningless time my mothers have cared for me;
When they suffer, what's the point of my happiness?
Therefore, to liberate endless numbers of beings,
Engendering Bodhicitta is the purpose of Bodhisattvas." (10)
When one realizes that it's necessary to do what one can to attain lasting freedom from suffering, it would be very limited and would not accord with the way of Bodhisattvas to think of oneself only. There are six main practices of Bodhisattvas, known as "the six paramitas," which are generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, meditative concentration, and wisdom-awareness. One couldn't practice the paramitas and accomplish fruition if one only has one's own wellbeing in mind. By knowing that achieving lasting happiness and peace for oneself only is not enough, one gives rise to the vast motivation and engages in the practices of Bodhisattvas with the welfare of other living beings in mind, which is having Bodhicitta. Practicing the six paramitas is a very effective and quick method to cleanse one's obscuring negative emotions and to accumulate merit and wisdom. Since one needs to have acquired skills in order to reliably help others to a larger extent, at this stage one continuously develops and increases one's wish to put one's motivation into action and then one's practice will be strong.
Practicing mind training is a very good method to put one's vast motivation into action. One imagines taking on the suffering of others and giving them any happiness and wellbeing one has accomplished. Again and again practicing what is called "exchanging self for others" enhances one's Bodhicitta. Working for oneself only renders minimal results, whereas working for others' intensifies anything one does immensely.
Buddhism always distinguishes between ordinary living beings, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. An ordinary being is said to be someone who has much self-cherishing and ego-clinging. Everyone can check for themselves where they presently are, whether they tend to be Bodhisattvas or are ordinary. One's state depends upon and is created by one's own mind. Having intense ego-clinging means that one does whatever one does for oneself, for one's family and friends, and against one's enemies. No matter if he has a title or not, whoever always thinks about himself or about those persons he thinks support his ego-clinging is an ordinary being. There are many titles in Tibet, Rinpoche, Tulku, etc., which are only names - if the mind has ego-clinging, that person is an ordinary being. Somebody who only thinks about other living beings, who is only concerned about what he can do for others - how to help them, how to make others happy, how to help them become free from the suffering house and area they live in - is a Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva doesn't wear a uniform, because it's all mind.
It does happen that one ponders what good one can do for others but thinks that one can't. It's also not easy to do something for oneself - there are so many bills to pay. One thinks it's scary to do things for others and thinks that one can't become a Bodhisattva who never hesitates to help others. Such thoughts come to one's mind again and again. I don't know what your mind is like, but I know that my mind is involved with doing things for myself, for my future life. For instance, we rush to the bathroom when we have stomach pains, or we are in a hurry to find something to drink, or we run to the cafÃ© when we are thirsty. We do so much for ourselves. That's the kind of mind we have had since beginningless time and have now - if we aren't practicing the way of a Bodhisattva.
Ngüchu Thogme instructs us to again and again give rise to the wish to help others, to practice mind training, and to exchange self for others. Of course, one begins by merely imagining that one gives everything nice that one has to others and takes upon oneself anything negative that they experience. If one practices in this way, one's mind will slowly become purified. Of course, it isn't possible to eliminate one's long-standing habit of self-cherishing on the spot, but one can gradually weaken this ingrained, bad habit. When one's self-cherishing and narrow-mindedness have been overcome, then it isn't hard to put one's motivation to help others into action. Performing wholesome activities is natural for Bodhisattvas.
One's tendencies to be greedy, to be angry, to be jealousy, miserly, and so forth do not disappear when one has a stable altruistic motivation but are strongly weakened. One will experience a great change in oneself when one realizes that a hostile world, threatening enemies, and unpleasant situations one thinks exist outside oneself are manifestations of one's own negative emotions and mind poisons. One will experience more peace and happiness inasmuch as one's mind poisons have been weakened and pacified. Others will also be happy when they are helped, and thus problems will automatically diminish. The practice of making prostrations while carrying out Ngöndro consists of taking refuge and cultivating Bodhicitta; engaging in the practice is very helpful.
"The source of all suffering is the pursuit of one's own happiness;
The source of perfect Buddhas - the intention to benefit others.
Therefore, to exchange completely your happiness
For the suffering of others is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (11)
Bodhicitta has two aspects: relative and ultimate. Engaging in the practices of the first five paramitas, which are being generous, developing patience, morality, diligence, and contemplative meditation, and learning to exchange self for others are practices of relative Bodhicitta. What is the purpose or benefit of cultivating relative Bodhicitta? They are methods to realize ultimate Bodhicitta. It isn't possible to fully eradicate one's negative emotions by engaging in the practices of relative Bodhicitta, but practicing them weakens one's tendencies to give in to and to be overwhelmed by one's mind poisons as strongly as is the case and thus to act negatively, creating causes for further suffering and pain. The benefits of cultivating relative Bodhicitta are experiencing less suffering and more peace.
Generally speaking, one develops relative Bodhicitta by engaging in the first five paramitas mentioned above, but one's mind needs to have changed before one can. How is this done? One's mind needs to have changed from self-cherishing to cherishing others more than oneself, which is accomplished by exchanging self for others. One does this by not keeping anything nice one has accomplished for oneself but generously gives it to others in exchange for their suffering. It's impossible for us to practice giving and taking in our present state of mind, so it's a meditative practice that one imagines doing again and again. By practicing in this way and thus having pacified more and more mind poisons, one's mind becomes clearer and one attains the stage of a Bodhisattva who, instead of being overwhelmed by mind poisons, is filled with joy when he actively benefits others. The happiness one experiences when one helps others, which is the source of Buddhahood, is enough. When one helps others, one experiences happiness and peace. This is the reason Shantideva wrote in the "Bodhicharyavatara": Why strive to get the name "Buddha"? Let me give an example.
Sometimes I invite guests over for dinner. Isn't it so that one is happy when one's guests show that they enjoyed the meal one cooked for them and that they thought it was lecker, "tasty"? One wouldn't feel comfortable if they refused eating what one cooked and sat at the table with an unhappy face. In the same way, I think Bodhisattvas are really happy when they see that others benefit from their activities. By the way, the Tibetan word lÃ¤s-ka, which is pronounced just like the German word lecker, means "work." I went to a restaurant with friends when I was in Bhutan three years ago and in my dialogue made a remark about the bald head of an Indian man sitting near our table. I said, "Wow, how shiny. A fly would slide off if it landed on his head." I noticed that he unfortunately understood what I said. I was careful as of then.
Translator: "Did he laugh?"
Khenpo: No. He stayed serious.
It's very important to understand the meaning of relative and ultimate Bodhicitta well. A detailed explanation would take much time, which we don't have because this is the last teaching during this seminar.
A short explanation why it is important to know the significance of developing relative Bodhicitta: One's mind poisons will not be as dominant as they presently are and consequently, the more one practices, they will pollute one's activities less and less. Furthermore, one will accumulate merit and wisdom by engaging in the practices of relative Bodhicitta. As a result, one will experience less suffering, have more happiness, and one will achieve the stage of a Bodhisattva. A short explanation why it is important to know the significance of developing ultimate Bodhicitta: One's delusive ways of apperceiving appearances will be uprooted. In other words, one's deluded apprehensions that one creates due to erroneously believing and clinging to a truly existing self, which is the source of samsara, are fully resolved when one realizes ultimate Bodhicitta. It will be impossible to completely uproot the source of samsara, which is the illusory apprehension of appearances, as long as one hasn't realized ultimate Bodhicitta. Perfecting both relative and ultimate Bodhicitta support and enhance each other in that realizing the nature of reality enables one to practice relative Bodhicitta better. Buddhahood will have been achieved when one has perfected both aspects of Bodhicitta.
A short explanation of the three names for the three different states of the mind: Someone who is dominated by the mind poisons and who has very strong ego-clinging and self-cherishing is called "an ordinary being." Someone who is moved by the altruistic motivation to benefit others is called "a Bodhisattva." And somebody who has fully perfected the result of the path is called "a Buddha."
Next to developing and increasing relative Bodhicitta, the purpose of our practice should be to realize as best as we possibly can the equality of oneself and all living beings. Thinking one is better than others is not at all justified, so one practices exchanging self with others through giving and taking, as discussed above. Seeing that the time at our disposal is running out, let's jump to verse 20.
"If someone, in great desire, seizes all your wealth
Or makes another do so,
To dedicate body, resources, and all virtue of the three times
To this very person is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (12)
Not having the least fault,
Even though your head is severed by others,
Out of compassion
To take on their negativity is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (13)
Although someone broadcasts throughout millions of universes
A legion of libel about you,
In return, with a mind full of loving-kindness
To tell of their good qualities is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (14)
Although in front of a huge gathering
Someone speaks badly of you and exposes your hidden faults,
Seeing them as a spiritual friend,
To bow with respect is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (15)
Although another, cherished as your very child,
Sees you as an enemy,
Like a mother whose child is gravely ill,
To love them even more is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (16)
Although a person, who is your equal or less,
Through pride seeks to defame you,
With respect as for a teacher,
To place them on your crown is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (17)
Although immersed in poverty and always scorned,
Plagued by grave illness and evil spirits too,
To take on yourself the negativities and suffering of all beings
Without losing heart is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (18)
Although famous with crowds bowing down,
And affluent as a god of wealth,
Seeing the riches of samsara as insubstantial,
To have no arrogance is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (19)
Not taming the enemy of your anger,
You seek to tame external enemies, and they simply multiply.
Therefore, with the army of loving kindness and compassion,
To tame your mindstream is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (20)
I think that practicing patience is very important. While teaching here and in my monastery last year, I spoke about patience and I am now trying to practice it more. After having written about taking and sending, Ngüchu Thogme taught a lot about practicing patience in "The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva." One lives in a community, in a family, at the office, at school, in a monastery - we have to live with people wherever we are. I can say that many problems arise if one doesn't have patience. One isn't happy when one gives in to anger instead of being patient. I don't like being angry either, but it comes with me. If we try to deal with anger, problems decrease. I think it's very difficult to be in a community if one doesn't try to take care. I think we have to think about it again and again.
Shantideva presented a very good example about anger in the "Bodhicharyavatara." He wrote that all outer enemies will automatically dissolve if one tames one thing - one's anger. One cannot vanquish each enemy one has, but one can vanquish one's anger. He illustrated this by giving the example: It's impossible to protect one's feet by covering the entire stony earth with a carpet, but one can protect one's feet by wearing shoes. Like that, one will see no more enemies when one has subdued one's anger. I think all of us have experience with anger and know that a friend will see one as an enemy when he is angry, and then he looks small and a little bit black, like something is wrong with him. One will feel like that when one is angry and wherever one goes. It's a big problem if one goes ahead with one's anger when someone is disturbing, instead of being patient. I think it's very important to practice being patient. I'm trying my best, too, and can't say that I'm always patient, but I can say that the results are good if one is patient.
I will explain verses 21 - 23 together, which talk about Anhaftung, "attachment" - shen-chags in Tibetan.
"Desired objects are like salt water -
The more you enjoy them, the more craving increases.
To give up instantly all things
That give rise to attachment is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (21)
Things as they appear are your own mind;
From beginningless time, the mind itself is free of fabricated extremes.
Knowing this, not to be taken in by the features
Of subject and object is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (22)
When meditating with a pleasing object,
See it as a rainbow in summer -
A beautiful appearance, but not real.
To give up attachment is the practice of Bodhisattvas." (23)
Since one has been accustomed to being desirous and greedy for an extremely long time, they are very hard to give up. This also applies to the other mind poisons, such as jealousy, pride, etc. It's helpful to look at the objects of one's mind poisons. The objects of one's desire and greed are objects one perceives with one's sensory faculties and thinks are pleasant. One is attached to objects one considers pleasant. It's easier to diminish and overcome one's attachment by examining the nature of the objects that one craves. Ngüchu Thogme compared them with salt water and wrote in the 21st verse that just like one's thirst will never be quenched by drinking salt water, one will never get enough as long as one craves for things. One should think about the things one craves for and critically examine how fleeting they are.
Ngüchu Thogme presented the really good example of a rainbow to illustrate the delusory nature of objects that one desires in the 23rd verse, which is easy to understand. There needs to be a little bit of sunshine and a little bit of rain for a rainbow to appear in the sky - it is very beautiful and consists of many colors. One can see the rainbow, but nobody can catch it. A rainbow appears in dependence upon conditions but has no substantial existence and therefore is not real. This applies to all sensory objects that one can see, taste, smell, hear, or touch with one's respective sensory faculty. All appearances are a collection of many causes and conditions and have no substantial existence that one can grasp and cling to because they are fleeting and transient. One has problems as long as one cannot deal with things as they really are. One has a huge problem if one thinks one can go into town and buy a rainbow, for instance. In the same way, craving for sensory objects that make one feel good is just as illusory and insatiable as craving to possess a rainbow. Being attached to objects that can never satisfy one's desires is a great impediment, so it would be helpful to understand this.
Perfection of ultimate Bodhicitta is realization that nothing really exists. One remains bound in problems as long as one is deluded by perceiving and apprehending non-existent appearances as truly existent and as long as one doesn't realize that one apperceives delusively. Liberation means seeing that one's delusions are delusions and realizing that no phenomenon really exists the way one believes. Having gained liberation, one will have overcome the problem that keeps one bound in samsara, which is attachment to the illusion that things truly exist. It would be very beneficial to try to perfect both aspects of Bodhicitta, which support and enhance each other.
The main problem that needs to be solved in order to transcend suffering is attachment to the belief that things truly exist. Discriminating wisdom-awareness is the means to cut through the source of samsara, which is clinging to the belief that an apprehending subject and apprehended objects really exist. The methods to develop discriminating wisdom-awareness are listening, reflecting, meditating, and relying on the oral transmission instructions of our spiritual teacher and Lama. An intellectual understanding of discriminating wisdom-awareness will not suffice to vanquish one's fundamental belief in the true existence (i.e., the inherent existence) of a subject and objects, because one's belief that appearances and experiences that one has apperceived for such a long time and continues perceiving truly exist is a deeply ingrained habit. Yet, it's very easy to give up one's attachment to a self and things - one only needs to realize that everything one apperceives is an illusory appearance.
Commencing the empowerment on pointing out the true nature of the mind in the practice text of "The Red Chenrezig Sadhana," a good example for the way one perceives delusively is given. It's a really good example: When the sun shines brightly and it's very hot, maybe 40 degrees or more, animals like deer get very thirsty. From far away, deer and other animals perceive that the heated earth sparkles and they think that it is water. They run and run to get to what they believe is water, but the mirage on the horizon will always be the same far distance away from them as it was before they started running. As long as thirsty deer do not realize that the sparkling appearance on the horizon that they are running for is an illusion, they will experience immense exhaustion and pain. When they realize that the mirage is only an illusion that has caused them to err and thus stop craving for it, their suffering ends. In the same way, when one realizes that the deceptive appearances one believes in and is attached to are illusions, one won't experience the suffering that arises from craving and chasing after things that don't really exist and that one can never catch or hold.
Dreams are also good examples for the delusory way one perceives oneself and the world. One experiences appearances that arise in one's dream just as vividly as one experiences appearances while awake. One doesn't react differently to things one perceives while dreaming and while waking, but one does realize that the images one apprehended while dreaming are illusory and don't truly exist when one wakes up.
I have noticed that one experiences many problems and much fighting in one's dreams. One needs to realize that everything one did while dreaming is useless. I think that what we are doing is not different than what we do while dreaming. What we think is very important. Even if we cannot practice in this life, giving rise to and cultivating the mind of Bodhicitta and making wishing prayers again and again are very beneficial. As taught in Buddhism, practice isn't restricted to one or two lives. So I hope that one day we will be able to go through the entire text, will engage in all thirty-seven practices of Bodhisattvas, and will attain Buddhahood.
Thank you very much for sharing your time with me and for having given me the chance to talk in broken English a little bit here. Dankeschön, "thank you."
"Diverse sufferings are like the death of a child in a dream;
To take such delusions as real, how exhausting!
So when you encounter difficult situations,
To see them as delusions is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (24)
If those aspiring to enlightenment give even their body away,
What need to mention external objects?
Without hope of return or good results,
To be generous is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (25)
If lacking discipline, you cannot even benefit yourself,
Then wishing to benefit others is absurd.
Therefore, with no desire for samsara,
To maintain discipline is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (26)
For Bodhisattvas aspiring to a wealth of virtue,
Anything that harms is a treasury of jewels.
Never getting hostile or angry,
To be patient is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (27)
If Shravakas and Pratyekabuddhas, practicing for their benefit alone,
Toil as if extinguishing a fire on their head,
Even more so, for the benefit of beings to develop diligence,
The source of all qualities, is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (28)
Knowing that special insight meditation, fully settled in calm abiding,
Vanquishes every klesha,
To stay in a meditative concentration that perfectly transcends
The four formless ones, is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (29)
Since perfect enlightenment cannot be attained
When the five perfections lack superior knowledge,
To cultivate this knowledge, endowed with skilful means
And without conception of the three aspects is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (30)
Not examining your own confusion,
You can act contrary to Dharma in a practitioner's guise.
Therefore, always observing your own confusion,
To discard it is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (31)
If Bodhisattvas, through the power of kleshas, speak of others' faults,
They themselves will be diminished.
Therefore, not to mention the faults of those
Who have entered the Mahayana path is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (32)
Through wanting gain and honor arguments arise;
Activities of listening, reflecting, and meditating decline.
Therefore, to give up attachment to the households
Of friends, relatives, and donors is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (33)
Harsh words disturb the minds of others
And mar a Bodhisattva's conduct.
Therefore, to give up harsh words
Not pleasing to others is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (34)
Once habituated to kleshas, it's difficult to counter them with remedies.
The noble being of mindfulness and alertness takes up the weapon of an antidote
And slays the kleshas of desire and all others
As soon as they arise - such is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (35)
In brief, wherever you are and whatever you do,
While staying continually mindful and
Alert to the state of your mind,
To benefit others is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (36)
So that the suffering of limitless sentient beings may be cleared away,
With a superior knowledge permeated by threefold purity,
To dedicate towards enlightenment all virtues
Gained by this effort is the practice of Bodhisattvas. (37)
Following the meaning of the Sutras, Tantras, and treatises
And the teachings of genuine masters,
I have given these thirty-seven verses of a Bodhisatttva's practice
For the benefit of those who wish to train on the Bodhisattva's path. (c)
Since my intelligence is low and I am little trained,
The art of this text will not delight the scholars.
Yet since these practices of a Bodhisattva are based on the Sutras
And teachings of genuine masters, I believe they are free of confusion. (d)
Since an inferior intellect such as mine has difficulty fathoming
The great waves of a Bodhisattva's activity,
I pray that genuine masters will be patient
With all the defects here - contradiction, incoherence, and so forth. (e)
Through the virtue arising from these verses
May all beings through supreme Bodhicitta, both relative and absolute,
Become like the protector Chenrezig,
Who remains in neither extreme of samsaric existence nor nirvanic peace. (f)
For the benefit of self and others, the monk Thogme, who teaches scripture and logic, composed these verses at the Precious Cave of Ngüchu."
Through this goodness may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then
Lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
And may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities,
May I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
The translation of the Root Text was made by Michele Martin with the generous assistance of Chryssoula Zerbini and was published by Nitartha International, N.Y., 1994. When Khenpo did not teach in English (in which case many sections of this text are slightly edited transcripts), translated from Tibetan into German by Rosemarie Fuchs and translated into English & edited by Gaby Hollmann. Gratitude to Madhavi Maren Simoneit for having made the recording available. Photo of Khenpo courtesy of Khenpo; photo of flowers offered by Lee. Copyright Khenpo Karma Namgyal, Karma Lekshey Ling in Kathmandu & Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg, 2009. Blessings of peace and ease to everyone!