37 practices: verse 11, part 3 of 3

In our third and final class on verse 11, we began with Ken McLeod’s commentary in Reflections on Silver River and discussed a contemplation he suggests: “Suppose you were told that, no matter what you did, you would never be happy. Never. What would you do with your life?” (More on this in verse 11, part 2. Translation and audio for verse 11, exchanging my happiness for others’ suffering, are here.)

Ken suggests we might pay more attention to others, and accept them as they are rather than trying to change them to suit our preferences. We might also relate to life directly and engage with it as it is, rather than continually try to manipulate our circumstances. Answer from a class member: we could relax!

The question arose: if we don’t pursue our own happiness, how can we give it away to others in taking and sending?

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37 practices: verse 12

12. To repay theft with generosity 

If someone driven by intense desire / Steals all my wealth or instigates the theft,

To dedicate to them from all three times / My wealth, good deeds, and merit, everything:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

audio of verse 12

Bodhisattva Boot Camp begins!

Contemplation for verse 12: Can you recall an instance where someone stole something from you, large or small, material or metaphorical, and what your reaction may have been — or even still feels like in retrospect? Let’s begin to apply taking and sending to this type of loss — past, present and future: taking on all the suffering and negative karma of the thief, and sending them all our happiness, wealth, and merit.

This is why we need a lot of practice on the cushion with verse 11: exchanging our own happiness for others’ suffering, taking and sending.

In fact, here is how His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes the bodhisattva path of waking up: “The practice of Dharma is a constant battle within, replacing previous negative conditioning or habituation with new positive conditioning.” — from his book The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. And Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often translated bodhisattva (Sanskrit) or jang chub sempa (Tibetan) as “warrior.”

Let’s contemplate that! And as we ride into battle with our own habitual patterns (our homeland) each new day, here’s some encouragement in a post from my three-year retreat: “You Can Do It!”

To be continued after the October 26 class.

2017 class audio: October 26 

Next practice: Verse 13: to repay harm with compassion

The complete study guide: click here (see “about the 37 practices study guide” at top of page for orientation if needed)

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37 practices: verse 11, part 2 of 3

We’ve had a couple of weeks off while Chodron was traveling. Tomorrow, October 19, we’ll reconvene (live from Texas!) to complete our study of practice 11: to exchange our own happiness for others’ suffering. This is the crux of bodhisattva practice, and learning how to do this is the reason we are studying the 37 practices. All the rest of the practices follow from this. For the translation and audio of verse 11, click here.

In our first week on verse 11 (audio September 21), we reviewed Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary. Please read it at least two or three times before we move on to bodhisattva boot camp next week, and take it to heart, as it holds many keys to understanding and traveling the path of bodhisattva practice and complete awakening.

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37 practices: overview of action bodhicitta, verses 11-30

According to Dilgo Khyentse (pages 98 and 106), in practice 10 we cultivate aspiration bodhicitta, the wish for all beings to be happy and to be liberated from the confusion of samsara, which marks the beginning of the Mahayana path to full awakening (rather than the foundational but partial awakening for ourselves alone of verses 8 and 9). In practice 11 we set out on the path of action bodhicitta (aka application bodhicitta, aka engaged bodhicitta) by training in how to begin to bring this aspiration to realization through the practice of tong len, taking and sending meditation. Yes, meditation falls under the heading of action bodhicitta!

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37 practices: verse 11, part 1 of 3

11. To exchange my happiness for others’ suffering 

The source of every single suf-fer-ing / Is wishing for my happiness alone,

While focusing on others’ benefit / Gives rise to buddhahood, awakening.

Because of this to genuinely trade / My happiness for others’ suf-fer-ing:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 11 audio above.

For an overview of action bodhicitta, verses 11-30, visit here.

Meanwhile, you are here: Now that we have generated aspiration bodhicitta (verse 10), the wish to bring all beings to happiness and liberation, Togme Zangpo directs us to the specific practices of the Mahayana path, beginning in verse 11 with training in the basic underlying transaction that informs all the activities of body, speech, and mind of a bodhisattva: exchanging our happiness for others’ suffering through the practice of tong len, taking and sending. This will be the main tool in our bodhisattva toolbox, applicable to everything that arises in our experience from now on, and we need to hone it daily on the cushion (or chair) so it will be handy and sharp when we need it. (More on that in verses 12-19.)

We will spend two weeks on this verse.

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37 Practices: Verse 10

10. To liberate all beings

My mothers, each and every sentient being, / Since time without beginning cared for me.

How can I be happy while they’re suf-fering? / I must get to work and set them free.

To cultivate the mind of full awake-ning: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 10 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10 is here.

With verse 10, we expand our two basic motivations for dharma practice — to gain freedom from suffering by refraining from harm to others, and to attain complete liberation because even the apparent happiness and pleasures of samsara don’t last and are suffering in disguise — to include all beings. This is the final and highest level of motivation for practice, the Mahayana or universal motivation, and the one from which the rest of the path unfolds.

Who are all these beings I am resolving to liberate? According to the traditional formula for arousing bodhicitta that we recite at the beginning of each teaching, they are “all sentient beings, whose numbers fill the extent of space.” How big is space? It is said to be infinite. This is a vast scope of intention!

Meditation: Let your attention come to rest, naturally or by following a few rounds of breathing, and then, as you breathe out, let your awareness relax to fill all of limitless, empty space. Rest like that for as long as you wish, and then:

Contemplation / Meditation: Imagine this vast, limitless space completely filled with sentient beings, each of whom has been like a loving mother to you in a previous lifetime. Envelop them all in your heartfelt love, wishing happiness for each and every one. Rest in that feeling of love pervading space for as long as you wish.

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37 practices: verse 9

9. To strive for unchanging freedom

Like drops of dew upon each blade of grass / The three realms’ happiness evaporates.

In contrast, the supreme and highest state / Of liberation doesn’t ever change.

To strive in all my efforts just for that: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 8 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10 is here.

So…. in verse 8 we begin to practice the dharma in order to become free from the intense, outright sufferings of the three lower realms, which result from harmful actions motivated by the corresponding poisons of anger (hell realms), desire (hungry ghost realm) and ignorance (animal realm).

The motivation of verse 8 is the essential foundation for any progress on the path, and it’s important not to gloss over it. But the point of verse 9 is that as we begin to progress along the path, we realize that freedom from outright suffering isn’t enough — the kind of happiness, pleasure, and comfort samsara has to offer even in the higher realms of humans, gods, and not-quite-gods is in fact the three types of suffering in disguise. At the very least, the highs of samsaric happiness don’t last very long (this is the all-pervasive suffering of conditioned existence, that it is deteriorating moment by moment). At worst, they turn at some point from pleasure to pain (the suffering of change — our old friend, outright suffering, e.g., Hurricane Harvey, August 2017).

With this realization comes the second, middle level of motivation: to attain freedom not only from suffering but also from the entire cycle of confusion that is samsara —the good, the bad, and the ugly. In this verse, Togme Zangpo instructs himself (and us) to direct all efforts in this life toward “the supreme and highest state of liberation.” Yep, he said all!

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37 practices: verse 8

8. To refrain from harm at all costs

The suf-fer-ings of the three lower realms, / These states of mind so difficult to bear,

According to the teachings of the Sage / Are the result of actions that do harm.

Therefore, even with my own life at stake, / From harmful actions always to refrain:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 8 audio above. Audio for verses 8-10, the three levels of practice, is here.

Now that we have, in verses 1-7, begun to disengage ourselves from samsaric habits and gathered the support we need,  we are ready to enter the actual path of awakening, which consists of three levels of motivation and practice.

The first level begins when we simply recognize how much we suffer because of our habitual emotional reactivity — the three poisons of desire, anger, and ignorance (the latter most easily understood as the solidification of our ephemeral, illusory experiences into fixed perceptions, opinions, and judgments). In the four noble truths, the Buddha taught that our experience is permeated with various types of suffering, that this suffering has a cause (the three poisons), and that by removing the cause it can be brought to an end. Once we truly understand this, we will automatically be motivated to apply the antidote.

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37 practices: taking refuge as a practice, verse 7 p.s.

In verse 7 of the 37 practices of a bodhisattva, Togme Zangpo reminds himself (and now us, since his writings have survived 7 centuries) to give up worldly refuges and look instead to refuges that are authentic and reliable and can actually protect us from the perils of samsara: the Buddha, dharma, and sangha.

This is not an instruction in the sense of an order or the threat of hell if we don’t follow it, but in the sense of lovingly pointing out to us that if we put this advice into practice rather than just think of it as a nice idea, the entire path of awakening will unfold before us. That is the promise of verse 3.

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37 practices: verses 8-10, the path begins

Click on the link for discussion and audio of the preliminary practices all together: verses 1-7.

8. To refrain from harm at all costs

The suf-fer-ings of the three lower realms, / These states of mind so difficult to bear,

According to the teachings of the Sage / Are the result of actions that do harm.

Therefore, even with my own life at stake, / From harmful actions always to refrain:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

9. To strive for unchanging freedom

Like drops of dew upon each blade of grass / The three realms’ happiness evaporates.

In contrast, the supreme and highest state / Of liberation doesn’t ever change.

To strive in all our efforts just for that: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

10. To liberate all beings

My mothers, each and every sentient being, / Since time without beginning cared for me.

How can I be happy while they’re suf-fering? / I must get to work and set them free.

To cultivate the mind of full awake-ning: / This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Audio for verses 8-10.

We have completed the preliminaries for traveling the path, verses 1-7. Well, not completed them, but we now know what they all are. As we continue to engage in these practices of disentanglement from samsaric habits and gathering of resources for the path, with verse 8 we now take the first step onto it.

Verses 8-10 are considered in Dilgo Khyentse’s commentary to be part of the main practice. But they may appear to operate as a separate unit: the three motivations or types of practitioners. This is resolved when we realize that these three motivations can also be considered cumulative stages of the path. We’ll discuss each of the verses individually in separate posts, but here we’ll look briefly at how they are connected.

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