The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas
Last night the full moon of May lit up the evening sky throughout the world. In some societies such as Nepal, Malaysia, Bhutan and Thailand, this is a national holiday celebrating the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Gautama Buddha. It celebrates the possibility and potential of all humans to awaken to who we really are, beyond all our busy inner mind traffic and the challenges of the external world. As I shared in a celebration of this day with friends, we recited a teaching that I felt offers another possibility for creating a society based on compassion for all beings. This teaching is known as the Thirty-seven practices of bodhisattvas. Simply put, a bodhisattva is someone who chooses to be here on earth to be of benefit to all beings. This teaching essentially is the basis for all spiritual traditions and inclusive with all and transcends all. Personally, I feel if we can create a society with these tenets, the world as we know could turn around and we could have a healthier and happier society and a healthier environment for all our kindred spirits. One purpose of the kindred spirits project is to unite animal lovers, through our heart connections, to create a more compassionate, respectful society for all beings. I thought that you might enjoy reading and reflecting on these thirty seven practices and see how you might wish to incorporate some of them into the lives you share with your animal companions. I would love to hear from you on how you have creatively integrated any of these into your life with animals. Here are the Thirty Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas as translated for Garchen Rinpoche, a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher. Though some of the language may be a bit foreign to some readers, listen beyond the words to the essence of the practices and interpret them as you feel appropriate for your personal beliefs and traditions. Let go of anything that does not feel appropriate for you. I am simply sharing these in the wishes that they may be of some benefit to you, your animal companions and all beings.
Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattva’s
By Ngülchu Thogme Zangpo
1) At this time when the difficult-to-gain ship of leisure and fortune has been
obtained, ceaselessly hearing, pondering and meditating day and night in order
to liberate others and oneself from the ocean of cyclic existence is the
2) [The mind of] attachment to loved ones wavers like water. [The mind of]
hatred of enemies burns like fire. [The mind of] ignorance that forgets what to
adopt and what to discard is greatly obscured. Abandoning one’s fatherland is
the bodhisattvas’ practice.
3) When harmful places are abandoned, disturbing emotions gradually
diminish. Being without distraction, virtuous endeavors naturally increase.
Being clear-minded, certainty in the Dharma arises. Resorting to secluded places
is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
4) Long-associated companions will part from each other. Wealth and
possessions obtained with effort will be left behind. Consciousness, the guest,
will cast aside the guesthouse of the body. Letting go of this life is the
5) When [evil companions] are associated with, the three poisons increase, the
activities of listening, pondering and meditation decline, and love and
compassion are extinguished. Abandoning evil companions is the bodhisattvas’
6) When [sublime spiritual friends] are relied upon, one’s faults are exhausted
and one’s qualities increase like the waxing moon. Cherishing sublime spiritual
friends even more than one’s own body is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
7) What worldly god, himself also bound in the prison of cyclic existence, is able
to protect others? Therefore, when refuge is sought, taking refuge in the
undeceiving Triple Gem is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
8) The Subduer said that all the unbearable suffering of the three lower realms is
the fruition of wrongdoing. Therefore, never committing negative deeds, even at
peril to one’s life, is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
9) The pleasure of the triple world, like a dewdrop on the tip of a blade of grass,
is imperiled in a single moment. Striving for the supreme state of never-
changing liberation is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
10) When mothers who have been kind to one since beginningless time are
suffering, what is the use of one’s own happiness? Therefore, generating the
mind of enlightenment in order to liberate limitless sentient beings is the
11) All suffering without exception comes from wishing for one’s own happiness.
The perfect buddhas arise from the altruistic mind. Therefore, completely
exchanging one’s own happiness for the suffering of others is the bodhisattvas’
12) Even if others, influenced by great desire, steal all one’s wealth or have it
stolen, dedicating to them one’s body, possessions and virtues [accumulated in]
the three times is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
13) Even if others cut off one’s head when one is utterly blameless, taking upon
oneself all their negative deeds by the power of compassion is the bodhisattvas’
14) Even if someone broadcasts throughout the billion worlds all sorts of
offensive remarks about one, speaking in turn of that person’s qualities with a
loving mind is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
15) Even if, in the midst of a public gathering, someone exposes faults and speaks
ill of one, humbly paying homage to that person, perceiving him as a spiritual
friend, is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
16) Even if someone for whom one has cared as lovingly as his own child regards
one as an enemy, to cherish that person as dearly as a mother does an ailing child
is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
17) Even if, influenced by pride, an equal or inferior person treats one with
contempt, respectfully placing him like a guru at the crown of one’s head is the
18) Though one may have an impoverished life, always be disparaged by others,
afflicted by dangerous illness and evil spirits, to be without discouragement and
to take upon oneself all the misdeeds and suffering of beings is the bodhisattvas’
19) Though one may be famous and revered by many people or gain wealth like
that of Vaishravana, having realized that worldly fortune is without essence, to
be unconceited is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
20) If outer foes are destroyed while not subduing the enemy of one’s own
hatred, enemies will only increase. Therefore, subduing one’s own mind with
the army of love and compassion is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
21) However much sense pleasures are enjoyed, as [when drinking] salt water,
craving still increases. Immediately abandoning whatever things give rise to
clinging and attachment is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
22) Appearances are one’s own mind. From the beginning, mind’s nature is free
from the extremes of elaboration. Knowing this, not to engage the mind in
subject-object duality is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
23) When encountering pleasing sense objects, though they appear beautiful like
a rainbow in summertime, not to regard them as real and to abandon clinging
attachment is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
24) Diverse sufferings are like the death of a child in a dream. By apprehending
illusory appearances as real, one becomes weary. Therefore, when encountering
disagreeable circumstances, viewing them as illusory is the bodhisattvas’
25) If it is necessary to give away even one’s body while aspiring to
enlightenment, what need is there to mention external objects? Therefore,
practicing generosity without hope of reciprocation or [positive] karmic results is
the bodhisattvas’ practice.
26) If, lacking ethical conduct, one fails to achieve one’s own purpose, the wish to
accomplish others’ purpose is laughable. Therefore, guarding ethics devoid of
aspirations for worldly existence is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
27) To bodhisattvas who desire the wealth of virtue, all those who do harm are
like a precious treasure. Therefore, cultivating patience devoid of hostility is the
28) Even hearers and solitary realizers, who accomplish only their own welfare,
strive as if putting out a fire on their heads. Seeing this, taking up diligent effort
– the source of good qualities – for the sake of all beings is the bodhisattvas’
29) Having understood that disturbing emotions are destroyed by insight
possessed with tranquil abiding, to cultivate meditative concentration that
perfectly transcends the four formless [absorptions] is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
30) If one lacks wisdom, it is impossible to attain perfect enlightenment through
the [other] five perfections. Thus, cultivating skillful means with the wisdom
that does not discriminate among the three spheres is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
31) If, having [merely] the appearance of a practitioner, one does not investigate
one’s own mistakes, it is possible to act contrary to the Dharma. Therefore,
constantly examining one’s own errors and abandoning them is the bodhisattvas’
32) If, influenced by disturbing emotions, one points out another bodhisattva’s
faults, oneself is diminished. Therefore, not speaking about the faults of those
who have entered the Great Vehicle is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
33) Because the influence of gain and respect causes quarreling and the decline of
the activities of listening, pondering and meditation, to abandon attachment to
the households of friends, relations and benefactors is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
34) Because harsh words disturb others’ minds and cause the bodhisattva’s
conduct to deteriorate, abandoning harsh speech that is unpleasant to others is
the bodhisattvas’ practice.
35) When disturbing emotions are habituated, it is difficult to overcome them
with antidotes. By arming oneself with the antidotal weapon of mindfulness, to
destroy disturbing emotions such as desire the moment they first arise is the
36) In brief, whatever conduct one engages in, one should ask, “What is the state
of my mind?” Accomplishing others’ purpose through constantly maintaining
mindfulness and awareness is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
37) In order to clear away the suffering of limitless beings, through the wisdom
[realizing] the purity of the three spheres, to dedicate the virtue attained by
making such effort for enlightenment is the bodhisattvas’ practice.
Following the speech of the Sublime Ones on the meaning of the sutras, tantras
and their commentaries, I have written The Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisattvas
for those who wish to train on the bodhisattvas’ path.
Due to my inferior intellect and poor learning, this is not poetry that will please
scholars, yet as I have relied upon the sutras and the speech of the Sublime Ones,
I think the bodhisattva practices are not mistaken.
However, because it is difficult for one of inferior intellect like myself to fathom
the depth of the great deeds of bodhisattvas, I beseech the Sublime Ones to
forbear my errors such as contradictions and incoherent reasoning.
By the virtue arising from this may all migrators become, through excellent
conventional and ultimate bodhicitta, like the Protector Chenrezig who does not
abide in the extremes of existence or peace.
This was written for the benefit of himself and others by the monk Thogme, an
exponent of scripture and reasoning, in a cave in Ngülchu Rinchen.
At the request of Garchen Triptrül Rinpoche, this translation was completed in 1999 by the disciple Ari-ma.
Additional revisions were made by her in the spring of 2002. English translation copyright Ari Kiev 2002.
This text is for free reproduction and distribution. It’s copyright is solely for the purpose of authentication.