37 practices: verse 26

26. To guard ethical conduct

If, through a lack of ethical conduct, / I can’t accomplish my own benefit,

Then any aspiration to achieve / the benefit of others is a joke.

To keep and guard my ethical conduct / completely free from worldly in-flu-ence:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 26 audio above.

The paramita or transcending action of ethical conduct is variously referred to as discipline, morality, or ethics, or any combination of these terms. The widely respected translator Lotsawa Tony Duff, in his fabulous online Tibetan-English dictionary The Illuminator, provides a very helpful explanation of what the Tibetan word tsul.trim really means and why “unfortunately, there is no single word that captures this particular flavor in English.” He feels “discipline” is the most accurate option, though still imperfect. I first used “moral discipline” because that’s what Ken Holmes calls it in his translation of Ornament of Precious Liberation, and because it was easy to fit into the verse meter. I later updated it to “ethical conduct” because it’s the term used in Mingyur Rinpoche’s online course on the six paramitas, and I felt it was a bit clearer in meaning. It fits the explanation of this paramita well, and it still fits the meter, though the stresses are a tad less perfect.

So … now that we’ve decided what to call it, at least in this class, what exactly do we mean by ethical conduct, moral discipline, or just discipline?

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37 practices: verse 25

25. To practice generosity

If, wishing to attain awakening, / I need to give even my body up,

Then doesn’t it go also without saying / that this applies to mere external stuff?

Without hope for reward or benefit / to generously give away a gift:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 25 audio above

Note: The whole translation to date (verses 1-26) is now posted as a pdf file under “The 37 practices translation” at the top of this page.

Entering the home stretch: With verse 25, Tokme Zangpo introduces the six paramitas, the heart of action bodhicitta. These are the transcending actions we engage in that propel our boat, the precious human existence, to the shore of full awakening. The first five of these actions–generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyful effort, and meditation — are also ordinary virtues through which we benefit ourselves and others.

When we apply the sixth transcending action, the wisdom that realizes emptiness, to the first five paramitas, that is what makes these virtues transcending actions that also directly help us awaken. This wisdom is the same as ultimate bodhicitta, the nature of mind, which we have already studied in 23-24.

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37 practices: verses 23 and 24

23. To give up attachment to positive experiences

When I encounter something that’s delightful / such as a rainbow on a summer day,

To give up all attachment to its beauty / and never cling to it as truly real:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 23 audio above (note change from “in the summertime” to “on a summer day”)

24. To regard adverse circumstances as delusion

All forms of suf-fer-ing are just like dreaming / that my belov-ed child has passed away.

Appearances like these are just delusions; / to take them as true drains my energy.

When I encounter adverse circumstances, / to see them as delusions of my mind:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 24 audio above (note change from “real” to “true”)

Audio for verses 23 and 24 will be updated to reflect the edits. Meanwhile, thanks for your patience.

Commentary for verses 23 and 24 will be up soon, following our next class on March 15. The class will be on hiatus Thursdays March 22 and 29 as I will be at KTC for Lama Norlha Rinpoche’s memorial service. We’ll resume April 5.

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37 practices: ultimate bodhicitta overview 22-24

22. To remain free from subject-object fixation

All appearances are my own mind; / mind’s nature from the start is concept-free.

To know my own mind’s nature and refrain / from grasping onto subject-object signs:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

23. To give up attachment to positive experiences

When I encounter something that’s delightful / such as a rainbow on a summer day,

To give up all attachment to its beauty / and never cling to it as truly real:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

24. To regard adverse circumstances as delusion

All forms of suf-fer-ing are just like dreaming / that my belov-ed child has passed away.

Appearances like these are just delusions; / to take them as real drains my energy.

When I encounter adverse circumstances, / to see them as delusions of my mind:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Audio of verses 22-24 together, above: note changes in verse 22 line 3 and in verse 23 line 1. Audio will be updated soon.

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37 practices: verse 22

22. To remain free from subject-object fixation

All appearances are my own mind; / mind’s nature from the start is concept free.

To know my own mind’s nature and refrain / from grasping onto subject-object signs:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 22 audio above (Note change in line 2 translation. Audio will be updated soon.)

With verse 22, we begin the practices of cultivating ultimate bodhicitta, the nature of mind, verses 22-24. We couldn’t find ourselves in a better place during the first 49 days of our root lama’s parinirvana.

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37 practices: verses 20 and 21

20. To conquer my own aggression / How to use objects of hatred on the path

If I don’t tame my inner enemy, / the poison of aggression, anger, hate,

Then outer enemies just multiply / no matter how, to vanquish them, I fight.

To tame my own mind with an army of / the forces of compassion, kindness, love:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 20 audio above

21. To abandon attachment right away / How to use objects of desire on the path

Sense plea-sures and de-sire are like salt wa-ter: / The more I drink them in, the more I crave.

There-fore, the mo-ment that at-tach-ment stirs / To drop it right a-way with-out a pause:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 21 audio above

Verses 20 and 21 are the final practices of bodhisattva boot camp, where we have learned how to bring specific situations that challenge our bodhicitta directly onto the path of practice. We’re going to study these two verses as a pair, because they are two sides of the same coin: how to tame our mind in the face of feeling anger and feeling desire. They are also a bridge to the next set of verses. You may recognize aggression/anger and attachment/desire as two of the three root mental poisons. The third, and most primal, poison — ignorance, aka obliviousness to our true nature — is the topic of verses 22-24, on cultivating ultimate bodhicitta.

Silent pop quiz /contemplation: What is the most basic principle of mind training, i.e., of bodhicitta, in two words? How does it apply to verses 20 and 21?

Hint: I’ve shared this principle several times as expressed by Lama Karma Samten of New Zealand, who taught mind training at KTC in 2016. The answer is here, in the first post on verse 11.

More to come, as we resume class Thursday after a break for the flu.

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37 practices: verse 19

19. To maintain focus and humility when everything goes right / how to use prosperity on the path

Though I’ve a-chieved the pin-na-cle of fame / And the whole world bows down to me in awe,

I’m rich be-yond my ver-y wild-est dreams, / What-ev-er mo-ney buys I have it all.

To see that there’s no es-sence in suc-cess / And nev-er think I’m bet-ter than the rest:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 19 audio above

“Positive obstacles: raise your hand if you’re having these.” That line elicited laughter when Pema Chodron was teaching this text at Omega Institute in 2016. She and our other teachers will have some advice for us should we ever be in this situation, but first: a word about the translation.

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37 practices: verse 18

18. To maintain resolve when everything goes wrong / How to use ruin on the path

When I’ve lost ev-ery-thing; and ev-ery-one / A-bus-es me and treats me with con-tempt,

I’m strick-en by dis-ease and ver-y sick; / On top of that, a de-mon’s in my head,

To take on all the suf-fer-ing of beings, / Com-plete-ly free of all dis-cour-age-ment:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

Verse 18 audio above

With verse 18 we move into a new phase of bodhisattva boot camp. Verses 12-17 were about specific, limited situations brought on us by other people, and we trained to respond with taking and sending toward those individuals who harm us through theft, pain, slander, humiliation, ingratitude, and disrespect.

In verse 18 everything in our life goes wrong at once, suffering upon suffering, and there’s no one to blame or forgive. It’s just adversity, pure and simple, and it’s coming at us from every direction. What do we do now?

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37 practices: verse 17

17. To repay disrespect with reverence / how to use humiliation on the path

If someone, my in-fer-i-or or peer, / Through pride dis-par-a-ges and puts me down,

To hon-or them as I would my teach-er / And place them rev-er-ent-ly on my crown:

This is the way a bodhisattva trains.

verse 17 audio

Contemplation: Think back to a time when someone built themselves up by tearing you down, in a big or trivial way. It’s happened to all of us. Ken McLeod starts his commentary on this verse by having us imagine a scenario in a work situation. “You put forward an idea that you think will work for everyone. A colleague dismisses your suggestion with a witty comment at your expense . . . . You are left looking stupid, incompetent, and out of touch.” Or maybe you hear a rumor that someone has put in a private word suggesting that you’re not as competent/kind/honest as you might appear. Maybe it’s true, or maybe it’s not true. Either way, how did it feel at the time? How, if at all, did you respond? How does it feel now?

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Weather, stoplights, and equanimity

The beloved Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh originated the idea of “mindfulness bells,” things that crop up naturally in our lives that we can set as reminders to bring ourselves back to the present moment, such as the ringing of a phone. In my three-year retreat, I wrote about a potentially deadly mindfulness bell that was hard to avoid within the retreat compound, and thus really got our attention.

Mindfulness is how we develop equanimity, but today we are going straight to equanimity itself, and how we can use specific situations that are not only inevitable but also tend to trigger emotional reactions that disturb our peace of mind. I’m sure you can identify others, but today we’ll just start with two: the weather, and stoplights.

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