The mind training text, 37 Bodhisattva Practices, was written in Tibet in the fourteenth century by the Sakya master Togme Zangpo. Togme Zangpo was well known as being an actual bodhisattva, and his text is studied by all of the various Tibetan traditions. He was the teacher of Rendawa, who was one of Tsongkhapa's main teachers.
Togme Zangpo wrote several other texts, the most famous of which is his commentary to Shantideva’s Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior. He also composed the earliest commentary to Geshe Chaykawa’s Seven Point Mind Training. These earlier Mahayana teachings are the source for the types of practices that he outlines. From these commentaries as well as from his 37 Bodhisattva Practices itself, we can see that he was certainly quite a specialist in the bodhisattva path.
The number 37 is significant; we see it appearing over and again in Buddhist material. For instance, there is a set of 37 practices or factors that lead to a purified state. These include the four close placements of mindfulness, the eightfold path, and so on. These are well-known practices that everyone follows as they progress toward either liberation, following a Hinayana path, or enlightenment, following a Mahayana path. This explains why the number 37 is chosen here for these bodhisattva practices.
Following the Indian custom, the text begins with paying homage:
Obeisance to Lokeshvara.
Lokeshvara is another name for the Buddha-figure Avalokiteshvara. Buddha-figures are representations of various qualities of a Buddha; in this case, compassion. Nearly all texts begin with the author paying homage to the Buddhas or a Buddha-figure. In a sense, the opening homage indicates the source of inspiration for the teachings contained in it. So for a text on bodhisattva practice, it is quite appropriate that obeisance is paid to compassion. The homage, or obeisance, is continued with prostration.
I prostrate always respectfully, through my three gateways, to the supreme gurus and the Guardian Avalokiteshvara who, seeing that all phenomena have no coming or going, make efforts singly for the benefit of wandering beings.
When we make prostrations, we always do so through our three gateways. These are the gateways, or doors, through which we act, speak, and think, and they correspond with our body, speech, and mind.
Who do we make prostrations to? First and foremost, it’s to the supreme gurus, the spiritual teachers. Secondly, it’s to our Guardian Avalokiteshvara, with the word “guardian” indicating that, in a sense, he inspires us, and that inspiration protects or guards us from acting selfishly without compassion. It’s significant that the gurus are mentioned before Avalokiteshvara. In fact, in most texts the order in which the words are presented is specifically chosen for a reason. One has to be quite careful in translating that the correct order is followed. The spiritual teachers are the sources of all the Buddha-figures, and in this case, Avalokiteshvara.
We have the account of the Indian master Naropa and his student Marpa, the great Tibetan translator. One day, Naropa manifested the entire mandala of the Buddha-figure Hevajra, somewhat like a grand hologram of Hevajra’s palace and all the figures in it. He then asked Marpa, “To whom are you going to make prostrations first: me or Hevajra?” Marpa replied, “Well, I see you every day, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen Hevajra! I should make prostrations first to Hevajra.” Naropa then snapped his fingers and the mandala completely disappeared. He corrected Marpa, saying, “You just made a big mistake, which will certainly have negative consequences for you. You must always remember that without the gurus, there is no way of ever actualizing these Buddha-figures. The gurus are primary.”
This account clearly indicates that we don’t just worship the various Buddha-figures as if they were saints, and similarly, nor do we worship the gurus as if they were saints. The gurus, from their side, aren’t going to save us. Rather, by following their instructions, and through their inspiration, we can gain liberation and enlightenment for ourselves.
The text then describes a characteristic of the supreme gurus and Avalokiteshvara, which is that they see that all phenomena have no coming or going. This refers to the teachings on voidness (emptiness), which they perfectly understand. They see clearly that nothing has any sort of impossible existence, including impossible ways of coming and going, a point also made by the great Indian master, Nagarjuna in the homage verse to his Root Verses on the Middle Way:
I prostrate to the fully enlightened Buddha, the best of all teachers, who has taught dependent arising, stilled of mental fabrication and (thus) pacified, which has no ceasing, no arising, no annihilation, no permanence, no coming, no going, (and so) not different things and not one thing.
We can understand this in terms of our own disturbing emotions, and the suffering and problems they cause. When we examine these various problems that we all have, it’s not as if they exist as self-established concrete entities. They don’t come and go like ping pong balls that shoot into our minds, causing us trouble. Rather, all of our disturbing emotions and problems arise and continue dependently on causes and conditions, and thus if we remove these causes and conditions, we get rid of the disturbing emotions. If these disturbing states of mind just existed solidly and independently all by themselves, there wouldn’t be anything we could do about them. Whatever we might do to try and get rid of them would have no effect because they arose and continued on their own. In order to help others, it’s necessary to see that not only disturbing emotions, but all phenomena have no truly existent, self-established coming and going.
On the basis of understanding this, the supreme gurus and Avalokiteshvara make efforts singly for the benefit of wandering beings. It’s only with this understanding of voidness – actual reality – that one can really make effective efforts for benefiting others. If we have an unrealistic understanding of how people and their problems exist, then how could we really help them? In the end, we’ll tend to just cause them more problems and misunderstanding.
When they make efforts singly, it means that helping others is their sole aim. They’re not aiming for their own selfish purposes, but have the intention to work only for others. That’s why we refer to the supreme gurus, not just any guru, because there can be many spiritual teachers around who, although they might be helping others, are actually aiming for their own selfish purposes as well.
In the phrase for the benefit of wandering beings, “wandering beings” refer to all of us, who are sometimes referred to as “sentient beings.” We wander helplessly from one rebirth to another filled with various types of suffering and problems. To work for the benefit means to help them to achieve the appropriate spiritual goal that they’re aiming for, whether it’s liberation or enlightenment.
The second introductory verse reads:
Fully enlightened Buddhas, the sources of benefit and happiness, have come about from (their) having actualized the hallowed Dharma. Moreover, since that depended on (their) having known what its practices are, I shall explain a bodhisattva’s practice.
This is the promise to compose, where the author states what he’s going to explain, something standard in any Indian or Tibetan text. This begins with fully enlightened Buddhas, the sources of benefit and happiness. In other words, through their teachings we gain the benefit of either reaching liberation from all suffering, or enlightenment and the happiness that comes with that, and with this enlightenment we’re able to benefit everybody.
How did the Buddhas become these sources of benefit and happiness? It came about from their having actualized the hallowed Dharma. When we speak about the hallowed Dharma, we need to understand it in terms of the Dharma Jewel, which refers to the third and fourth noble truths. The third noble truth, in the context of this verse, refers to the true stoppings of all problems and their causes on the mental continuum of a Buddha, while the fourth noble truth presents the true path, or the true pathway of mind. It’s the understanding of reality that acts as a path to bring about that true stopping, and which is also the resultant state of that stopping. Here, we’re describing a state in which all the suffering, problems, disturbing emotions, and all these limitations are removed. In addition, all the possible realizations are attained. A fully enlightened Buddha has actualized that, meaning that he or she has actually made all of this actually happen on his or her mental continuum.
Buddhas were not always enlightened from the beginning, but were just like us. They worked very hard to be able to remove all of the confusion, disturbing emotions, suffering and so on that clouded their minds. It’s crucial that we know that these “fleeting stains” are simply like clouds that cover our mind. In no way are they in the nature of our mind, for they can be completely removed.
Of course, to understand all of that and actually become convinced of it requires a great deal of study and reflection. But we do need to try to become convinced that it actually is possible to get rid of all the confusion through correct understanding, and gain liberation and enlightenment. We must come to understand that it’s not only other people who can do it, but we ourselves are capable of developing this correct understanding, and to have it all the time. Each of us can get rid of all of this confusion in our minds and, like a Buddha, achieve a true stopping of all of them through actualizing the fourth noble truth – the true pathway of mind.
How was Buddha able to achieve this? Firstly, Buddha discovered, heard about, and listened to the actual practices that will bring this about. Buddha then contemplated, pondered, and analyzed until he understood correctly and completely, and finally meditated on it in order to actually integrate and actualize it. It’s very important to know, as Togme Zangpo says here, that this depended on their having known what its practices are. In other words, we need to learn what the bodhisattva practices are: what we have to put into practice in order to become Buddhas ourselves. Since becoming a Buddha depends on this, Togme Zangpo says that he will explain them so we’re able to learn them. On that basis, we can think about them, try to understand them, and then meditate upon them so that we can ultimately put them into practice.
A Precious Human Life
Just as in the lam-rim or graded stages of the path teachings, in this text Togme Zangpo starts with making full use of the precious human life, which is the basis with which we can actually attain liberation or full enlightenment.
Thus, Togme Zangpo begins the first verse of the 37:
(1) A bodhisattva’s practice is, at this time when we have obtained the great ship (of a human rebirth) with respites and enrichments, difficult to find, to listen, think, and meditate unwaveringly, day and night, in order to free ourselves and others from the ocean of uncontrollably recurring samsara.
If you’re reading this, then you have obtained a precious human rebirth, something that Togme Zangpo refers to as a great ship; this is an image that we also find in Shantideva’s text, Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior.
(VII.14) Seated in a boat (now) of a human rebirth, cross over the mighty river of suffering! With this boat being so hard to catch again, idiot, it’s not time for going to sleep!
Just as we can use a ship to cross huge oceans, our human rebirth is a ship that can take us across the ocean of samsara to the other side: liberation. “Samsara” refers to our uncontrollably recurring rebirth, filled with problems and confusion. What characterizes this great ship of the precious human rebirth? It is the set of eight respites and ten enrichments.
This word “respite” is similar to a time out. As one of my teachers, Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey, used to explain, it’s very helpful to regard ourselves as tourists from the worst states of rebirth, just on a short holiday in the human realm. We have a short time out, but then we’re undoubtedly going back to these worse states. There’s no need to go through the full list of eight respites and ten enrichments. Briefly, the enrichments are qualities or aspects that enrich and give us tremendous opportunities with spiritual practice. But if we were reborn in one of the worse rebirth states, or as a human in a place where the Dharma was not available, or all types of spiritual practices were persecuted and so on, we certainly would have no leisure to be able to follow a spiritual path. If we were born as a cockroach, what could we actually accomplish when anybody who sees us just wants to step on us?
Our lives are very rich with opportunities. We have the teachings available, there are spiritual teachers, books, people who support Dharma centers, and so many things that make it possible for us to follow the spiritual path. This kind of situation is very, very difficult to find, as Togme Zangpo says in the text. Thinking just of the number of insects and animals in the world, not even including beings from the other realms that we can’t see, then clearly in comparison the number of human beings is very small. Even among these humans, how many really have access to the Dharma? Maybe this number is growing with the Internet, but still, among those having access, how many are sincerely interested? How many people look at a Dharma website and instantly bounce out? Even among those who have interest in the Dharma, and have access to it, how many find it actually important enough so that they make it central in their lives? How many put a great deal of their effort into learning about it, and thinking about it, and meditating? In truth, there are very few. Most people, even if they’re interested, just don’t have the time, and don’t give it the priority that it requires.
The best way to take advantage of this precious human rebirth that is so difficult to find is to use it to listen, think and meditate unwaveringly, day and night. That means that we need to actually learn the Dharma; we need to listen to it and then study it. Originally, all of the teachings were passed on orally, with nothing written down, and so we still use this term “listen to the Dharma” in the texts. However, in our modern times this can also mean to simply read and study the Dharma. This is the start: we have to learn it, because, as Togme Zangpo said earlier in the text, actualizing the Dharma depends on knowing what the practices are.
Not only do we need to learn the Dharma, we also need to make sure that it’s from an authentic, reliable source. So that we don’t become confused or get misled, we need to be discriminating in terms of whom we listen to and what we study. It’s difficult, because there are so many books and teachers out there that really aren’t reliable. His Holiness the Dalai Lama always explains that even though we can’t see what’s really going on in any teacher’s mind, we can at least look on the conventional, worldly level of how they act, how they relate to their students, and generally how they live their lives. One of the bodhisattva vows it to not do anything that would cause others to lose faith in the Dharma, and so if a teacher were to act in a disgraceful manner, they’re not keeping the bodhisattva vows.
We also need to discriminate with books and websites, because not all of them are authentic or contain good translations. We should try to compare what we read with other texts, to see if it all makes sense, and we can also ask people that we respect for their opinion on this or that book. Once we’ve determined the authenticity of our sources and teachers, we need to spend some time actually thinking about what we’ve learned, so that we can understand it. This isn’t quick – it requires a great deal of time. If we try to meditate on something without understanding what we’re doing, or when we’re still filled with doubts, it will only produce more confusion.
This is why debating is a strong tool for learning in the Buddhist tradition; it is intended to prepare us for meditation, by clearing away any and all doubts about any particular topic. We are never going to challenge our own understanding very strongly ourselves, whereas other people will challenge it without relent, and that’s why debate with others is very important. All students have to debate, and no one can just sit in a class and fall asleep. The Tibetan format for debate is that everybody debates at the same time, very loudly, right next to each other. This is really excellent, because it forces a person to concentrate. Without good concentration, a person couldn’t possibly debate in the Tibetan style. These concentration skills are something that one can then apply in meditation.
Also, during a debate, it is inevitable that someone is going to say something stupid and everybody is going to laugh. This is very good for overcoming a big ego, which is also a very important aspect to bring into our meditation. If we meditate with a big ego, thinking, “I’m such a great meditator,” or, “Look how I’m repeating a hundred thousand of this or that,” often that just feeds the ego, rather than eradicate it. Even if we don’t have the opportunity to debate, we really need to think about the Dharma and always question it. It is important to always question! What I’ve found is that translating, writing up teachings, transcribing and so on, are all excellent ways to force us to think about the teachings. One has to understand it in order to be able to explain it, or in order to be able to translate it.
So, we need to meditate. To meditate actually means to build up a beneficial habit of a new understanding, or a new attitude of mind, by repeating it over and over again. A simple example is that to learn to play the piano, we have to practice. When we practice enough, then it comes naturally to us. We can play without having to consciously think where is this or that note on the keyboard. Similarly, when we meditate over and over on love, compassion, a correct understanding of voidness, and so on, these qualities will just come naturally to us.
We need to do this, as Togme Zangpo emphasizes, unwaveringly, day and night. That means being consistent. Also we can understand the word “unwaveringly” to mean without mental wandering. We need to do this “day and night” and that means whenever an opportunity arises to listen to the Dharma, we make the time to take advantage of it. We need to give that the highest priority. We don’t have to sit formally in a special setting to think about the Dharma, we can do it anytime or in any place. If we’re taking a shower, if we’re eating, no matter what we’re doing, we can always use that time to think about this or that point in the Dharma. Obviously, we can’t do that every single second of our lives; that would be very unnatural. But the point is that we don’t have to make a special session, with a special room, with all the decorations and paraphernalia that go with what many people think a meditation room is all about. We don’t need that at all. Milarepa certainly didn’t have that, and neither do we.
We should never limit our meditation to something done solely on a meditation cushion. When we are queuing at the checkout, for example, or caught in traffic, that’s a wonderful opportunity to meditate on and practice patience. Many people do Buddhist meditation involving love and compassion, practicing only with visualized beings, yet they’re not capable of doing it with real people. That is a great fault. We need to try to apply all of the good habits that we’re trying to build up through meditation to real-life situations with real-life people. Therefore, we do that day and night, as Togme Zangpo advises.
What is the reason or aim that we have here for doing this? Togme Zangpo says that we do it in order to free ourselves and others from the ocean of uncontrollably recurring samsara. To free ourselves from samsara means that we’re aiming for liberation and enlightenment, where we gain the ability to free others from this same ocean. Ocean, of course, connects back to the image that he used in the beginning of the verse, of the great ship of the precious human life.
Taking Advantage of a Precious Human Life
Next, Togme Zangpo goes on to explain the circumstances that are most conducive for taking advantage of this precious human life that we have:
(2) A bodhisattva’s practice is to leave our homelands, where attachment to the side of friends tosses us like water; anger toward the side of enemies burns us like fire; and naivety, so that we forget what’s to be adopted and abandoned, cloaks us in darkness.
When we stay in our homelands, whether we’re talking about our village, our city, our country or whatever place we’ve grown up in, usually our negative habits and disturbing emotions dominate the types of experiences and relationships that we’ve had. If it’s possible, then we’re advised to leave our homelands, at least for some short period of time, so that we get a little bit removed from these negative habits and gain perspective on our lives. This could be going to a retreat center, joining some intensive Dharma study program, traveling to India or Nepal and so on. There are so many different possibilities.
When we stay in our homelands, as Togme Zangpo points out, attachment to the side of friends tosses us like water. Think of an image of a leaf that has fallen to the ground where water could toss it and carry it anywhere. Similarly, when we’re attached to friends who might say, “Let’s go out to the bar and have a drink,” we just follow, like a leaf being tossed or driven by water. When our friends offer us a cigarette or an alcoholic drink, because of attachment we take it. We don’t want to disappoint them; we want friends to like us, and not to think we’re strange. We want to fit in and not lose our friends. These sorts of things come up and prevent us from really “holding our ground,” as they say in Tibetan, in terms of our Dharma practice.
Anger toward the side of enemies burns us like fire. The people whom we know the best tend to annoy us the most, don’t they? This happens when they don’t do what we want them to do, or they do things in a different way than we do. “My friend didn’t call me,” or “My car didn’t work,” these sorts of things. We get very angry with that, because we have these expectations that these familiar people and familiar objects are always going to be available for us and do what we want.
The third poisonous attitude that is a disadvantage of staying in our homeland with familiar people is naivety, where we forget what’s to be adopted and abandoned, and which cloaks us in darkness. The phrase “what’s to be adopted and abandoned” refers to the constructive actions that are to be adopted and the negative ones that are to be abandoned. When we’re with our friends, or people we don’t like that annoy us, we tend to forget all about what is it that we’re trying to adopt or cultivate. What are we trying to get rid of in our minds? It’s anger, attachment, and so on. When we are naive, we no longer really know what is beneficial and what is harmful to ourselves and others. This naivety cloaks us in darkness, as if we had a paper bag over our heads.
(3) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rely on seclusion where, by having rid ourselves of detrimental objects, our disturbing emotions and attitudes gradually becoming stymied; by lacking distractions, our constructive practices naturally increase; and by clearing our awareness, our certainty grows in the Dharma.
This would be the circumstance most conducive to taking advantage of this precious human life. Once we’ve left our homelands, we should try to live in a secluded, quiet place. If we just swap our homeland for a big, busy, noisy city, then that might not be terribly conducive for Dharma practice as beginners. It’s only when we’re very well-trained and advanced as bodhisattvas that we can come back and live in very busy, noisy places. Actually, that was one of the trainings in traditional India after one had achieved a certain level of stability in one’s practice. At that point, these great yogis would go and, as they say, “live at the crossroads,” literally at a busy crossroad. That was really challenging, and helped them to see if their practice and attainments were stable. Still, that only comes much later on. In the beginning, it’s important to live in seclusion.
These two verses are very reminiscent of what Shantideva wrote in Engaging in Bodhisattva Behavior:
(VIII.37) So, let me live in solitude in lovely, delightful forests, with little trouble, happiness and well-being, quieting all distractions.
(VIII.38) Having cast off all other intentions, and with my intent single-pointed, I shall strive there for settling my mind in absorbed concentration and making it tamed.
When we live in seclusion, what type of things can we hope for? Well, by having rid ourselves of detrimental objects, our disturbing emotions and attitudes gradually become stymied. The term “detrimental objects” would be things that we’re very attached to, or things that annoy us greatly. It can also refer an overabundance of food, or the availability of alcohol and drugs that just make us very dopey or dull. When we rid ourselves of the objects that cause these disturbing emotions to arise, then even if it’s not an ultimate solution for getting rid of them, it still helps. Then, gradually these disturbing emotions and attitudes become stymied, which means they get blocked. In this way, they gradually diminish.
I think we know this from our own experience. If we had a bad marriage and get divorced, then if we were to see our former partner every day, it would be very difficult. The anger and the disturbing emotions would arise again and again. However, if we didn’t see them for a long time, then gradually the force of our anger and bad feelings diminishes, doesn’t it? It’s the same thing if we have attachment to someone who leaves us. If we were to see them all the time, that attachment and hurt would go on and on. With distance, gradually these disturbing emotions subside.
What are other advantages of seclusion? Togme Zangpo says that by lacking distractions, our constructive practices naturally increase. If we could get away completely from e-mail, cell phones, movies, entertainment, clubs, parties, television, and all of that, then there would be no distractions. Naturally we would use our time more constructively, if that’s our aim for being in seclusion. It’s the same thing with music. There are a lot of people totally addicted to music, who walk around attached to their iPods, and find it hard to be without music even for a few moments. This basically prevents them from thinking single-pointedly about anything. Without these distractions, we have the opportunity to actually face our minds and try to understand what’s going on.
It’s also funny to look at this unbelievable phenomenon of non-stop cell phone use. Whenever I watch other people sitting on the bus or train, it’s clear that the vast majority can’t just sit there; everybody is playing with their cell phone or some electronic gadget. It’s very weird. If we get rid of these distractions, our constructive practices naturally increase because we have more time.
The last sentence is: By clearing our awareness, our certainty grows in the Dharma. When we’re in seclusion, then our awareness, understanding and so on, become clearer because we’re away from these detrimental objects and distractions. With more time and less distractions, we’ve been able to examine our doubts and so on, and really focus on the Dharma. Then our certainty and confidence in the Dharma grows. This is something really worthwhile.
However, we have to know that just going into seclusion and leaving our homelands is no guarantee that our disturbing emotions and distractions will decrease. We can become very attached even to something small like our meditation cushion, or very annoyed with mosquitoes, or if we’re doing a group retreat, with other people who cough or fidget around. We can’t just rely solely on going into seclusion, although the chance of these disturbing emotions decreasing is greater when the familiar objects that stimulate them are no longer there. To help guarantee that we won’t give in to these disturbing emotions and so on, we think of death and impermanence.
Death and Impermanence
(4) A bodhisattva’s practice is to give up being concerned totally with this lifetime, in which friends and relations a long time together must part their own ways; wealth and possessions gathered with effort must be left behind; and our consciousness, the guest, must depart from our bodies, its guest house.
We have this precious human rebirth and we should be trying to take full advantage of it. How can we do this? We need to think beyond this lifetime, as a start. Even if we go into seclusion, we might still think or worry about our friends and possessions and all these sorts of things. Togme Zangpo says that we need to give up being concerned totally with this lifetime. What that means is that we have to give up our concern being totally and only directed toward this present lifetime. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains, it’s unrealistic and perhaps impossible to say that we are 100% not concerned at all about this lifetime. After all, we have to make a living, support ourselves, and if we have a family we need to support them as well. What would be best, as His Holiness says, is 50/50 with 50% concern directed toward the mundane things of this lifetime, and 50% concerned with spiritual goals beyond this lifetime.
The way that we give up being totally concerned with this lifetime is by thinking about how friends and relations a long time together must part their own ways, as Togme Zangpo says. When we think in terms of impermanence, this is so true! In Trainings, in Verse, of How to Meditate on Impermanence, the great Tibetan master Gungtang Rinpoche illustrated this beautifully:
(11) Friends, relatives, attendants and followers are like leaves bunched together by a strong wind. After a moment, they’ll scatter all over the mountain and valley. Never coming together again is the end of all gatherings.
We and our loved ones are like leaves falling from a tree that are blown by the wind. For a short time, we travel in the winds of karma together, but eventually the winds cause the leaves to part and go in different directions.
Wealth and possessions gathered with effort must be left behind. When we die, we can’t take anything with us. For those of you who might have had relatives, perhaps parents who have passed away, you notice that after someone dies, even their most precious possessions often become garbage. Nobody wants to keep them and they’re all thrown away. If we had wealth, what can often happen is that our relatives become enemies and fight with each other over who gets the money. Clearly, there is little point in putting all of our effort into obtaining wealth and possessions that are just going to be thrown in the garbage and cause arguments with others. Shantideva said very nicely:
(III.11cd) As giving away all comes together (with death), it’s best to give (now) to limited beings.
So, while we still have the time, before we die, we need to give away our possessions and things to others who will actually need them.
I noticed that with my own teacher, Serkong Rinpoche. He seemed to be quite well aware of when he would die, and before dying, gave away a tremendous amount of his possessions. He gave a lot of his books, for instance the collected works of Tsongkhapa, to a monastery, and all of his most precious types of ritual implements to others. He clearly followed this advice that wealth and possessions gathered with effort must be left behind.
Then we have the last line, which says that our consciousness the guest, must depart from our bodies, its guesthouse. Shantideva used the same image:
(VIII.33) Just as the way in which travelers on a road take up a place to lodge, similar is the way in which travelers on the road of compulsive existence take up a rebirth as a place to lodge.
Both verse must be understood properly. We are not speaking about a solid “me” that is sitting inside our body, like an entity inhabiting it, using it, enjoying things through it, and then when it’s finished, this solid entity is going to fly out. Rather what it’s saying is that the karmic impulses on our mental continuum will cause it to take as its physical basis different types of bodies in different lifetimes, and this particular body in this lifetime is just temporary.
Shantideva speaks a great deal about this in terms of overcoming attachment to our bodies.
After we die, for instance, if our body were kept for several days or longer, then nobody would want to keep it around, because it would start to rot and stink. Everybody would want to get rid of it, so what’s really so wonderful about this body? Not only do our possessions become garbage, but our own body, that we usually hold so dear, becomes garbage as well. People just want to bury it or burn it as soon as possible, like garbage. This is reality. It’s not very glamorous or romantic, but that’s the way it is, folks! As Shantideva wrote:
(VIII.29) When, having gone to a charnel ground, shall I come to compare, with the piles of others’ bones, my body, having the nature to rot.
(VIII.30) This very body of mine will also become (putrid) like that, and because of its stench, not even the jackals will slink near.
When we’re really aware that this precious human life we have, and our body, possessions, family and friends are all temporary and will pass, then we will not be totally preoccupied with it all. Because of this, we’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by our precious human life and use whatever might facilitate our Dharma practice and study.