What A Bodhisattva Does

Thirty-Seven Practice

by Ngulchu Thogme


translated from Tibetan by Constance Wilkinson and Kiki Ekselius



Namo Lokeshwaraye:


I bow down continually with body, speech, and mind

Out of respect for the supreme teacher

And Avalokiteshvara, the pretector.

Though seeing that phenomena neither come nor go,

They strive one-pointedly for the benefit of beings.


The fully-enlightened buddhas.

The source of benefit and happiness,

Have come about from having accomplished the holy dharma.

This, in turn, depends on knowing what to do,

So I shall explain what are the practice of bodhisattvas.



Once having gained the free, well-favored human birth,

So hard to come by and so powerful,

Persevering steadily, night and day, to free yourself

And others from he ocean of samsara-

To listen, reflect and meditate

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Toward friends-passion like turbulent water;

Toward enemies-hatred like raging fire;

Obscured by ignorance-forgetting what should and should not be done-

To leave behind one's homeland

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



When bad circumstances are left behind,

The obscuring emotions and beliefs gradually subsibe,

Without distractions,

Persistence toward virtue increases naturally,

As awareness clears, certainty in dharma arises-

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



At death, the visiting consciousness leaves behind the body

Like a guest leaving guest-house-

Leaving behind loved ones to whom one has long been close,

Leaving behind wealth gained through effort.

Thus, to give up this life's concerns

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



People you are with who increase the three poisons,

Who weaken the practices of listening, reflecting, meditating,

Who undermine loving-kindness and compassion-

To give up bad friends

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Those you depend on who put an end to vices,

Who make good qualities increase like the waxing moon-

Holding these spiritual friends even more dear

Than you own body-

This is the practice of abodhisattva.



Who can the gods of this world assist

When they are themselves trapped in samsara's prison?

Thus, when you seek help, taking the genuine refuge

Of the Three Jewels

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



The Buddha said, "The result of negative actions

Is the suffering of the lower realms so difficult to bear".

Therefore, not to commit evil acts

Is the practice of abodhisattva.



The happiness of the three worlds is like dew

On a blade of grass, vanishing in an instant.

Striving for the supreme stste-

Liberation which never changes-

Is the practice of bodhisattva.



What's the point of personal happiness

When every mother so affectionate in an instant.

From beginningless time

Is suffering? Thus, in order to liberate

Infinite numbers of sentient beings,

Generating bodhicitta

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Without exception,

All suffering comes of wanting happiness for yourself;

Perfect buddhas are born from wishing to benefit others.

Thus, truly exchanging your own happiness

for the suffering to others

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even if someone, from great want, steals all your wealth

Or has someone else steal it, dedicating to the thief

Your body, your enjoyments, and your merit-

Past, present, and future-

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even if someone cuts your head off

For having done nothing wrong,

To take on that person's negativities

Through the power of compassion

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even if someone slanders you, and

Broadcasts it throughout a billion universes,

To speak of that person's good qualities

With caring mind

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even if someone insults you

In the middle of a gathering,

Pointing out your hidden faults-

Bowing down respectfully, seeing that person

As a spiritual friend,

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even if someone regards you as an enemy,

Though you've cared for him as you would your own child,

Being especially affectionate toward him

As would a mother whose child is taken ill

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even if someone, your equal or less

Treats you with contempt out of arrogance,

Putting him above you respectfully,

As you would your teacher,

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Even though you may be penniless,

Continually despised by men, terribly ill,

Stuck down by harmful forces,

To take onto yourself

 All the evil acts and sufferings of beings-

Without losing heart-

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Though well-known and well-respected,

As rich as Vaishravana,

Having seen that worldly wealth and glory is essenceless,

To be free of arrogance

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



When the inner enemy, one's own anger, remains uncontrolled.

Seeking to subdue outer enemies only makes more of them.

Therefore, to tame your own mindstream with the forces

Of loving kindness compassion

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Desire is like drinking salt water-

The more you indulge, the more craving increases,

Letting go immediately

Whatever makes attachment arise

Is the practice of a bodhisattva



apparent phenomena, all of them,

Are fabrications of mind;

The innate nature of mind

Is separate from mind's fabrications.

Having seen this,

To be uninvolved with dualistic perception

Is the practice of a bodhisattva



When you happen on beautiful objects,

The practice of a bodhisattva

Is to forgo attachment by viewing them

As lovely but unreal as summer rainbows.



Taking illusory appearance as real

Is exhausting, like going through

The death of one's own child

In a dream-

Our many sufferings are like that.

Thus, to regard as fantasy

The unlovely happenings of life

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Those who want enlightenment

Must give even their bodies, if needed,

Not to mention giving external things,

To give generously-

Without hope or reward

Or hope of result-

Is the practice of a bodhisattvas.



Without discipline,

You can't even achieve benefit for yourself,

So wanting to benefit others is just a joke.

Thus, to maintain a discipline

That is free of attachment to this world

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



All that is hurtful is like a jewel-treasure

To the bodhisattva who wants the pleasure of virtue.

Thus, to cultivate patience

Without anger or resentment

Toward anyone at all

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Although sravakas and pratyekabuddhas

Accomplish benefit for themselves alone,

They strive as though putting out a fire in their hair.

To make efforts from which are born

Good qualities which benefit all beings

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



The obscuring emotions and beliefs

Are completely conquered by vipassyana

Which has been integrated fully with shamatha.

Understanding this, to practice stble meditation states

Beyond the four states of mental absorption

Of the formless realm

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Since perfect enlightenment cannot be obtained

Through the five paramitas without insight,

Cultivating insight which is free of concepts, and

Endowed with threefold purity and skillful means

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



If you don't examine your own confusion,

You may become a charlatan

In the guise of a dharma practitioner.

Therefore, always looking into your own confusion

And then leaving it behind

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Due to the strength of the obscuring emotions and beliefs,

Speaking of the faults of bodhisattvas.

Defiles oneself, Thus, not to speak

Of the faults of others on the Mahayana path

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



The activities of hearing, reflecting, meditating

Become defiled by arguing over goods and services.

Giving up attachment to friends' and donors' households

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



By speaking harshly, a bodhisattva's conduct become defiled

And other sentient beings are disturbed.

Therefore, to give up harsh words

That displease the minds of others

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



Once you become used to dense states and primitive beliefs

And habituated to the obscuring emotions,

They are hard to reverse with antidotes.

Therefore, wielding the weapon of mindfulness,

To conquer these obscuring mental states (such as desire, and so on)

Immediately, as they arise,

Is the practice of a bodhisattva.



In short:

Whatever you do, wherever you are,

Look into your state of mind.

By keeping continuous mindful awareness

It is the practice of abodhisattva

To accomplish benefit for others.



 It is the practice of bodhisattvas

To dedicate the merit accomplished through their efforts

By means of completely pure insight

Free of concepts of giver, receiver, and gift

In order to clear away the suffering of sentient beings.


For the sake of those wishing to train on the bodhisattva path

I have presented these thirty-seven bodhisattva practices

Based on the meaning related in the sutras, tantras, and treatises

In accord with the words of the holy ones.


Although due to my small training and low intellect

This was not composed in a way that would please scholars

I think these bodhisattva practices are unmistaken

Since they rely on the sutras and sacred teachings.


However, Since it is hard for a person of low intellect like myself

To understand in depth the vast conduct of bodhisattva

I ask patience of the holy ones

With any errors of writing, logic, and so forth


By this merit, may all sentient beings

By means of the supreme absolute and relative bodhicetta

Become like lord Avalokitesvara

Who dwells beyond the extremes of nirvana and samsara.


This was composed in the jewel cave of Ngulchu by Tsunpa thogme,

who teaches authentic scriptures and reasonings in order to

benefit himself and sentient beings.




the three poisons-passion, aggression, ignorance

bodhicitta-the wish to attain enlightenment for all sentient beings. as well as practices done to a                     achieve this.


Vaishravana-the god of wealth


Sravakas and pratekyabuddhas- followers of the Theravada who practice in order to attain the       nirvana of an arhat, a state in which, although one has not reached complete enlightenment, one is no longer reborn in samsara.


Shamatha-includes various analytic and resting meditations done to realize the empty nature, and, ultimately, the nondual true nature of mind.


Vepassyansa-includes various analytic and resting meditations done to realize the empty nature, and, ultimately, the nondual true nature of mind.


the six paramitas-generosity, descipline, patience, diligence meditation, insight. the four states of mental absorption-meditative states which are characteristic of beings in the formless realm, whose rebirth in that realm is a result of various stable, balanced meditations. They are called: 1) space without end 2) consciousness without end 3) no perceptions 4)samsara's highest point.


threefold purity-when one has embraced practice with the sixth paramita (insight), one ceases to conceive of the three elements (actor,act, what is acted upon) as real entities.


Notes on this translation


We have done out best to render these verses in ordinary, easily-intelligible English, trying to translate accurately from meaning to meaning rather than doing a more literal, word for word version. This has been done in an attempt to bring out the poem's primary teaching function. Of course, it is a provisional translation at best, particulary bearing in mind that translation of Dharma texts from Tibetan into western languages is still in its infancy-at least by comparison to the translation of Dharma texts from Sanskrit into Tibetan, which took several hundred years. In any case, we hope it may be of some benefit.


Some clarifications follow


Verse-1- What is literally "great vessel", a standard metaphor for the precious human birth which has the power to carry one cross the ocean of samsara, is here rendered as the "free, well-favoured human birth" is" so powerful"     


Verse-3- "Nyon mongs" (Skt. Klesha) includes in its 6 root and 20 branches rather a wide variety of obscured states of mind. The 6 principal ones are: attachment; hatred; arrogance; and , variously, basic unwareness [ma rig pa] or a dense menta! state] thi mug]; doubt [the tsom], for example, doubt as the  truth of karma, cause and effect, and so on; and obscured viewpoints [Ita ba nyon mong can], for example, to regard the ephemeral skandhas as comprising a real individuals, belief in "me" and "mine", and so on.


We have rendered this t4erm variously as "the obscuring mental states", "the obscuring emotions and beliefs", and, in one case have used a long formula (see verse 35), with ma rig pa and thi mug (as well as some branch states) as "dense mental states", and the tson and Ita ba nyon mong can as "primitive beliefs about reality". We hope readers will be king enough to bear w3ith our difficulties in translating this term.


Verse-4- "At the time of death" is implied but not present in the Tibetan.


Verse-22- Here the complex term

tshan ma, a subtle dualism of labelling thoughts and subtle preconceptions has been rendered as "dualistic perception" for reasons of brevity within the rhythmic context of the line.l


The translators wish to express their thanks to Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, under whose guidance the translation was completed.


We would also like to thank gelong Konchok Tenzing and gelongma Ngawang Chodron for their kindness in reviewing the manuscript, and for their very valuable suggestions.


Translated by Constance Wilkinson and Kiki Ekselius, members of the Marpa Institute of Translation. English translation 1989 by Constance Wilkinson and Kiki Ekselius.


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