by Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo
A Translation from Tibetan
In his profound and beautiful guidebook, named ‘Gyalse Laglen’ (Thirty Seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva), Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme Zangpo, a Buddhist master from Tibet, summarises the entire practices of a Bodhisattva in 37 stanzas. Taking inspiration from the Bodhisattva Ideal, we can transform life into a blissful journey to enlightenment- living life as a play of contentment, relaxation and meaningful effort, tasting the nectar of inner ease, patience, compassion and spaciousness.
Each of these stanzas is either a contemplation to prepare us to face the world better, or an instruction for meditation. On the outset, these stanzas may sound like a guidebook for a solitary yogi. In reality, these are also golden words to follow and meditate upon by those engaged in worldly life, as a way to transform worldly engagements into a blissful journey to perfection. It is a fine play of inner solitude and compassionate engagement in the world. By meditating upon these verses, we can learn the art of not losing cool under any situations that life presents to us, and then turning them into another step in a fascinating journey.
1. Opening Verses
Though you see all phenomena as neither coming nor going,
You strive only for the sake of beings;
The supreme Guru, Natha Avalokiteśvara,
To you, I pay homage forever with respectful body, speech and mind!
1.2. The Intention for composing this text
The source of all benefit and happiness, the perfect Buddhas,
Come into being by actualizing the sacred Dharma. Further,
Since that depends on knowing how to practice,
I shall explain the practice of bodhisattvas.
2.1. The Preciousness of human life
Having obtained this great ship with leisure and endowments, so hard to find,
It is time to deliver myself and others across the ocean of samsara.
To that end, day and night, without distraction,
To listen, contemplate and meditate is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||1||
2.2. Abandoning the land of poisons
Attachment to friends and family tosses me around in its currents,
Hatred to enemies burns me like fire,
Delusion, forgetting what to adopt or avoid, shrouds me in darkness.
To abandon homeland, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||2||
Having abandoned unwholesome places, disturbing emotions fade gradually.
Having no distractions, virtuous actions increase naturally.
As awareness is refined, certainty in Dharma is born.
To rely on solitude is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||3||
2.4. Contemplation on impermanence
Long-term friends and relatives will part their ways.
Wealth and possessions zealously gathered will be left behind.
The guesthouse of this body will be deserted by the guest of consciousness.
To give up obsession with this life, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||4||
2.5. Giving up unfavorable friendships
In whose company, the three poisons keep growing,
Listening, contemplation and meditation weaken,
And loving-kindness and compassion vanish.
To give up such bad friendship, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||5||
2.6. Favorable spiritual friendship
The one, in reliance upon whom my faults are exhausted,
And my qualities develop like a waxing moon,
Such sacred spiritual friendship, even more than one’s own body,
To cherish it, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||6||
2.7. Taking refuge
Themselves still bound in the prison of samsara,
Worldly gods, whom can they protect?
Therefore, whom to take refuge upon? To go for
Refuge in the unfailing Triple-jewels is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||7||
3. The Actual Practice
3.1. Lower scope: Thinking Beyond this Life
The utterly unbearable sufferings of the lower realms
Is the result of evil deeds, thus taught the Muni (Buddha).
Therefore, even at the cost of one’s own life,
Never to commit evil deeds, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||8||
3.2. Medium scope: Turning away from Samsara
The pleasures of the three realms are like dew drops on tips of grass.
They are subject to perishing in an instant.
The immutable supreme state of liberation,
To strive for that, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||9||
3.3. Superior scope: Bodhicitta
3.3.1. Developing Bodhicitta
18.104.22.168. Bodhicitta in intention
Those who showered kindness upon me from beginningless time,
When those mothers are suffering, what can I do with my own happiness?
Therefore, for the sake of liberating limitless sentient beings,
To give rise to bodhicitta is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||10||
22.214.171.124. Bodhicitta in application
126.96.36.199.1 Relative Bodhicitta
188.8.131.52.1.1 The meditation on tong-len (giving and taking)
Suffering, without an exception, arises from desiring happiness for oneself,
The fully enlightened Buddhas come to being from the wish to benefit others.
Therefore, one’s own happiness and other’s sufferings,
To perfectly exchange is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||11||
184.108.40.206.1.2 The post-meditation practice
220.127.116.11.1.2.1. When faced with the four things that we fear – loss, pain, defamation, blame
Even if someone, driven by intense desire, robs
All my wealth, or inspires others to do so,
In response, one’s own body, possessions and all virtues of the three times,
To dedicate to him is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||12||
Even without the slightest fault of mine,
If someone were to chop off my head,
Through the power of compassion, all his demerits (pāpa)
To take upon oneself, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||13||
Even if someone shouts all sorts of derogatory things about me
Such that it spreads across a billion worlds,
In return, with a mind of loving-kindness,
To praise his qualities, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||14||
Even if someone, in the midst of a crowd of many,
Exposes my hidden flaws and utters abusive words,
Regarding him as a virtuous friend,
To bow to him respectfully is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||15||
18.104.22.168.1.2.2. When faced with difficult relationship situations
Even if the one whom I cared for like my own child
View me like an enemy,
In return, like a mother towards her ailing child,
To be surpassingly kind is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||16||
Even if a person, equal or inferior,
Treats me insultingly out of his pride,
Respectfully regarding him as Guru
To take it upon one’s crown, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||17||
22.214.171.124.1.2.3. Dealing with ups and downs
Even if deprived of livelihood and always maligned by others,
And, afflicted by severe illness and evil spirits,
Again, to take upon oneself the suffering and demerits of all beings
And not to be depressed, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||18||
Even if I am well-renowned and many bow their heads to me,
And even if I attained riches similar to Vaiśravaṇa himself,
Seeing that the worldly prosperity is without essence,
To be without arrogance, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||19||
126.96.36.199.1.2.4. Dealing with hatred and desire
If I do not subdue the enemy, my own hatred,
The more I conquer the outer enemies, the more they proliferate.
Therefore, with the army of loving-kindness and compassion,
To tame one’s own stream of being, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||20||
Sense pleasures are like saltwater,
The more I enjoy them, the thirstier I become.
Whichever objects give arise to attachment,
To abandon them immediately is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||21||
188.8.131.52.2 Absolute Bodhicitta
184.108.40.206.2.1 The meditation on emptiness
However it appears, these are one’s own mind;
The mind itself is primordially free from the limitations of conceptual proliferation.
Knowing that as it is, on the dualistic notions of object and subject,
Not to fixate, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||22||
220.127.116.11.2.2 The post-meditation practice
18.104.22.168.2.2.1. Dealing with the objects of desire
When coming across objects that are pleasing to mind,
Just like a rainbow in the summer season,
Not taking it as real though beautiful in appearance,
And to abandon attachment, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||23||
22.214.171.124.2.2.2. Dealing with adverse conditions
Manifold sufferings are like the death of one’s child in a dream:
By holding to deceptive appearances as real, I am utterly exhausted.
Therefore, when coming across adverse conditions,
To view them as deception, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||24||
3.3.2. Training of a bodhisattva
126.96.36.199. Training on the six pāramitas
If those who wish to awaken must give away even their bodies,
What need is to talk about external objects?
Therefore, without the expectation for return favours or karmic-benefits,
To give away with generosity is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||25||
Without discipline, if one’s own purpose is beyond reach,
It would be a joke to think about being of benefit to others.
Therefore, without any worldly motives,
To guard discipline is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||26||
For a bodhisattva who wishes the abundance of virtues,
All who harm are like a treasure of gems.
Therefore, without hostility to anyone,
To cultivate patience is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||27||
Since even to accomplish merely one’s own purpose
Śrāvakas and pratyekas are seen to strive as if their hair is on fire,
As the source of all qualities for the sake of all beings,
To initiate heroic effort is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||28||
Vipashyāna fully endowed with shamata
Completely overcomes disturbing emotions (kḷeśa). Knowing this,
Perfectly beyond the four formless absorptions,
To cultivate meditative equipoise is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||29||
Through the five pāramitas without prajña
The perfect awakening is beyond reach. Therefore,
Together with skilful means and free from the three-fold conceptuality,
To cultivate prajña is the practice of a bodhisattva ||30||
188.8.131.52. Four instructions taught in the Sutra that Inspires Exalted Surpassing Intention
If I do not examine my self-deception,
In a dharma practitioner’s guise, I might act in non-dharmic ways.
Therefore, one’s self-deception, to continuously
Examine and abandon is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||31||
Under the power of disturbing emotions, if I talk about
The faults of other bodhisattvas, I myself degenerate.
Therefore, about a person who entered the Great Vehicle,
Not to express any faults, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||32||
Influenced by gain and esteem, we quarrel with each other, and
Listening, contemplation and meditation weaken. Hence,
To the households of friends and benefactors,
To give up attachment, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||33||
Harsh words agitate the minds of others, and
The bodhisattva way of conduct degenerates.
Therefore, whatever is unpleasant to others,
To give up such harsh speech, is the practice of a bodhisattva ||34||
184.108.40.206. Training to handle disturbing emotions
Once habituated with disturbing emotions, it is hard to reverse it with antidotes.
Hence, with mindfulness and vigilance seize the weapon of antidotes,
And, at the very moment disturbing emotions such as attachment and so on arise,
To dispel such perturbations, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||35||
220.127.116.11. Training to maintain altruistic intention with mindfulness and vigilance
In short, no matter where and what course of action one does,
Checking, “What is the state of my mind?”
With continuous mindfulness and vigilance,
To practice for the sake of others is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||36||
3.3.3. Dedicating the merit to perfect enlightenment
For the sake of dispelling the suffering of limitless beings,
With the prajna utterly purified of the three spheres,
To dedicate the virtues obtained through these efforts,
Towards awakening, is the practice of a bodhisattva. ||37||
4. Concluding Verses
In line with the wisdom speech of the holy ones,
The meaning of the words of the sutras, tantras and śāstras
Are arranged here as “The Thirty-seven Verses on the Practice of a Bodhisattva”
For the sake of those who wish train on the path of Bodhisattvas.
Since I am of feeble intelligence and with little education,
This is no composition to delight the scholarly.
Yet, having relied on the sutras and the speech of the holy ones,
I think, without deception, this is the practices of the bodhisattvas.
Nevertheless, the great waves of the conduct of bodhisattvas
Are hard to fathom for someone with feeble intelligence like me.
Therefore, for all my faults such as contradictions and lack of connections,
I beg the forgiveness of the holy ones.
Through the virtue arising from this, may all beings
By [giving rise to] supreme bodhicitta – both absolute and relative,
Become equal to Natha Avalokiteśvara
Who never abides in the extremes of samsara and nirvana!
Colophon: Monk Thogme, an expounder of scripture and logic, composed this text at the cave Rinchen Phug in Ngulchu, for the benefit of oneself and others.
Translated to English by Yogi Prabodha Jnana