A Bodhisattva’s Daily Practice

Verses 32 through 37

Not Speaking of the Faults of Others

We’ve been going through Gyalse Togme Zangpo’s 37 Bodhisattva Practices, and we got up to verse 31. Now, we’ll go through the rest of the text.

(32) A bodhisattva’s practice is not to speak about the faults of a person who has entered Mahayana, because, if under the power of disturbing emotions and attitudes, we talk about the faults of others who are bodhisattvas, we ourselves will degenerate.

Normally, we feel that it’s quite OK to gossip. When someone brings us some strange or exciting news, we don’t only listen but we’re desperate to know more and more about it. The simple fact is that when we allow this kind of garbage into our brain, it automatically makes us judge or hate others. Before we’ve even met someone, we have all that information and content in our brain, painting a very negative image of them. If we gossip, there should be awareness of what we are doing. 

There is a saying about Las Vegas, because people go there for fun and to do naughty things. So, they come back and say, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” The same thing here. If we gossip, then gossip. But – and this is a big but – don’t leave all of the gossip trash in your brain. This is difficult for us to do. 

For certain, bodhisattvas don’t gossip. If they were to speak ill of others, automatically the positive karmic connections they’ve made with sentient beings would be lost. That’s why bodhisattvas try to see not only the good qualities of their gurus, but of all sentient beings. They ignore the negative things in sentient beings. In order to build good connections with sentient beings, we need to see their kindness, how they are kind toward us. If we look down on others, it only affects us negatively. 

Giving Up Wishing for Fame and Respect

(33) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rid ourselves of attachment to homes of relatives and friends and homes of patrons, because, under the power of (wanting) gain and respect, we will quarrel with each other and our activities of listening, thinking, and meditating will decline.

This is especially dangerous for lamas and geshes, and for people who are famous. My Italian friend, a monk, requested these teachings, and you’ve all come here as well. If my motivation was not good, and if less and less people attended, maybe I would feel worried. I would give the teachings, but deep down I’d have the expectation of becoming popular and maybe getting more donations, hoping for a large audience and more likes on Facebook. This is this generation’s worry! I have seen research that shows this generation’s biggest worry is a lack of Wi-Fi. And one’s cellphone battery dying is the second biggest worry. It’s quite interesting how these things change over time.

So, motivation is very important. If my motivation is not right, then it would be quite bad. That is why we try to do the prayers at the beginning, to motivate ourselves, to make us remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. Then, if the audience numbers go down, I don’t mind because my motivation is just to do my best for the people that do come. I’m not saying I am the best or most skillful, but I want to deliver the messages my masters have passed on to me. I try to be their messenger. 

If I have a longtime sponsor, and then another rinpoche becomes very famous and my sponsor suddenly starts donating less to me and gives the other rinpoche lots of money, automatically jealousy and hatred and anger arise toward the rinpoche and sponsor. This happens automatically. This is for sure. So, this is dangerous for us lamas and rinpoches, if our minds are not stable. It doesn’t only harm physical and mental health, but it also brings down our practice in many ways.

Abandoning the Use of Harsh Speech

(34) A bodhisattva’s practice is to rid ourselves of harsh language displeasing to the minds of others, because harsh words disturb others’ minds and cause our bodhisattva ways of behavior to decline.

One student I know always says that he would be less upset if his teacher beat him, rather than use harsh words. Harsh words stay with us for a very long time. Every time I think about my own teacher, I can remember their harsh words toward me, and it still hurts inside. When the harsh words are said, the bad feeling will last maybe a week or two, but we will still remember them even many years later. That is why this student says he would prefer to be beaten! 

As we learn about the ten destructive actions, we’ll see that there are three related to the body, three related to the mind, and four related to speech. Harsh words are one of these four. Harsh words are like the smoke that comes from a fire that is anger. We should be very careful. This is what Gyalse Togme Zangpo is trying to tell us. 

Always Staying Mindful and Alert

(35) A bodhisattva’s practice is to have the servicemen of mindfulness and alertness hold the opponent weapons and forcefully to destroy disturbing emotions and attitudes, like attachment and so forth, as soon as they first arise, because, when we are habituated to disturbing emotions and attitudes, it is difficult for opponents to make them retreat.

This practice is very important. I just want to remind you of verse 31.

(31) A bodhisattva’s practice is continually to examine our self-deception and then rid ourselves of it, because, if we do not examine our self-deception ourselves, it’s possible that with a Dharmic (external) form we can commit something non-Dharmic.

Verse 31 depends totally on verse 35. It’s hard to recognize our negative emotions. Once we’ve recognized them, it is really hard to get rid of them. Sometimes, we even feel like we need them. Many of the destructive emotions seem to be there to protect us, so we make many excuses. We say, “If he hadn’t said that, then I wouldn’t have done this.” Lots of excuses. If we feel we have destructive emotions that we really don’t want in our lives, we should try our best to stay away from them. Actually, if it really is a negative emotion, we should wish to completely get rid of it. 

Gyalse Togme Zangpo says that whenever we feel destructive emotions arising inside us, we have to cut them immediately. Otherwise, we become more and more familiar with the destructive emotion and it will become part of us. We will feel as if we need the anger to protect ourselves. We don’t need anger to protect ourselves, what we need is patience and love. In Tibetan, we say that if there is a fire, don’t add fire on top, put water on it and it will go down. 

Continually Working to Benefit Others

(36) In short, a bodhisattva’s practice is (to work) to fulfill the purposes of others by continually possessing mindfulness and alertness to know, no matter where or what course of behavior we’re following, how is the condition of our mind.

Verse 35 is related to verse 36. How do we know that a negative emotion is arising? We need mindfulness and alertness, where we watch our mind. The Buddha’s main teaching for us ordinary people is that if we are not able to help others, at least we should try not to harm them. This is the fundamental basis of Buddhism. And even this is really hard. 

We don’t necessarily harm others on purpose, but somehow harming them comes automatically. Therefore, we should place awareness on checking whether destructive emotions are arising or not. How does this work? Well, when talking with others, we might stop and think that if we say something in particular, the other person will be unhappy. And so, we don’t say it. It is awareness of our own and others’ actions. That’s why bodhisattvas are always ready to help others. That’s because they have such good awareness. We too need strong awareness. 


At the end of the text, Gyalse Togme Zangpo finishes up with a dedication. Let’s try to follow him and dedicate whatever knowledge we have received from him. Then, his dedication and ours join together nicely.

(37) A bodhisattva’s practice is, with the discriminating awareness of the complete purity of the three circles, to dedicate for enlightenment the constructive forces realized by efforts like these, in order to eliminate the sufferings of limitless wandering beings.

Over the past few days, we have been talking about the practices of the bodhisattvas, and how we might include them in our own practice. I tried to express the qualities and benefits of practicing voidness and bodhichitta. All of us here following this precious text have accumulated a huge amount of positive potential. In the sutras, the Buddha himself says that just listening or reading texts on voidness brings immense benefit. This is the only way to get enlightenment. Just having a small doubt about the solidity of existence cracks the foundations of samsara. We have done a great job together. 

Please dedicate whatever positive force you have built up so that it is not only for yourself or just for this life, but with the strong aspiration that we can come back in future lives and study this beautiful text until we become the same as Gyalse Togme Zangpo. We can aspire to be able to benefit all sentient beings by knowing voidness non-conceptually.

We should also dedicate our positive potential to the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We should know that the person who dedicates and the positive force dedicated are both like all illusions. The object we dedicate the positive potential to is also like an illusion. His Holiness is like an illusion, your constructive deeds are like an illusion and you yourself are like an illusion. So, why dedicate to His Holiness? So that he lives a long, healthy life and can continue to teach us. All other teachers too. There are so many humble monks too. And many great teachers with no titles. We only look for big titles, but we have to be careful to find hidden treasures. It could be a simple layperson, a nun, anyone. They don’t need to be Buddhists. They could be Muslims or Christians or Hindus. 

A bodhisattva’s prayer is not to be reborn as a human being with a perfect physical form and perfect mental form. No. They pray to be reborn whenever and wherever they will be of most benefit. Even if this means being reborn among tiny insects. 

On the Discovery Channel we can see so many beautiful things that shouldn’t happen, biologically speaking. Scientists say it is not possible, but sometimes we see things beyond the ordinary, extraordinary. Lions kill calves for food, but I have seen lions adopting calves. Cranes eat fish normally, but I have seen cranes feeding fish, which is incredible. Like these examples, bodhisattvas pray strongly to be reborn where they can benefit others most. Who knows, maybe some of these animals are manifestation of bodhisattvas. 

Finally, we don’t know when we will die. I have seen those younger than me dying. Age is not a concern. We don’t know. I have seen great masters passing, great rinpoches dying of cancer and other illnesses. I remember His Holiness the Dalai Lama sharing a story of the First Dalai Lama. He was a student of Lama Tsongkhapa, and a great practitioner. At one point, he felt ready to leave the world, and so his students were very worried and sad. One said, “You are a great practitioner, you don’t need to worry, you will go to a Pure Land.” With a serious look, the First Dalai Lama said, “I have never prayed in my life to be reborn in a Pure Land. I have only prayed to be reborn where I can be of benefit for any sentient beings, even if I have to suffer a lot.” This is what we should do. If there are next lives, we don’t have to worry because we’ll be able to continue learning until liberation.

Read and listen to the original text “37 Bodhisattva Practices” by Togme Zangpo.