The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva: One.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 17, 2011
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Recently, I had a difficult time with a dear friend. As a parting sort of benevolent gift she gave me some homework. My kind of homework: the profound, holy Dharma (Dharma is what Buddhists call Buddhism).

Herein follows my simple contemplations of the 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva.

The text, a small golden paper pamphlet, begins with a simple aspiration via great teacher Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche:

May this be of great benefit to all sentient beings.

And that just happens to be the vow of she or he who would walk the Bodhisattva path: to be of benefit to others. All others, not just those we like or agree with. All others, not just humans. All others, not just the cute animals—blades of grass, cockroaches, that lady who bugs you…your mom and dad and sister and brother and ex-boyfriend—all are included.

Then, there are two verses that set the stage for the 37 verses to follow. The first says that while the nature of existence is neither permanent nor non-existent, the bodhisattva works for the benefit of all. We bow in respect with everything that we have—body, speech and mind—to one who is so dedicated.

Next, there’s a verse about how those who are true bodhisattvas become so by studying and practicing Dharma—which means, simply, truth. And now the text will go into those practices.


Now that you have attained a human body endowed with freedoms and resources, a great ship so difficult to find

In order to free yourself and others from samsara‘s ocean,

Day and night, to listen, reflect, and meditate without distraction

Is the practice of a bodhisattva

In Buddhism we call it precious human birth—this state of being is short and fragile and incredibly lucky, like winning a cosmic lottery.

Now that we’re here, the meaning of this life is to free ourselves and others from confusion, neurosis, selfishness, anger, attachment, ignorance.

This purpose is our only purpose—we don’t do it just when we meditate or study, it should be the point of everything we do—eating, pooping, working, traveling, shopping, hiking…it’s all so that we may be of service. Any activity that does not help us to serve in this way is distraction.

This is our practice, our joy, our path—to stop obsessing about ourselves and work tirelessly to be of benefit.

I’ll contemplate #2 next.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


10 Responses to “The 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva: One.”

  1. Please send all 37. I spent the day drivng from Minneapolis from Michigan, listening to lectures on Buddhism…and the vow of the Boddhisatva…which I have not taken yet…although have taken refuge. So…knowing that we ARE here as each other…and that there is no separation…between your friend, and ANY of us…send number 2. Ok.

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  3. diana says:

    ooh, ooh! Looking forward to all of these juicy practices…Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Trungpa Love says:

    In order to free yourself and others from samsara‘s ocean,
    Day and night, to listen, reflect, and meditate without distraction

    To me, one thing that is missing from your commentary is that this first verse is really establishing hinayana as ground. While freeing ourselves and others *should* "be the point of everything we do," as you said, what this verse is explicitly saying is that the way we must do this is by meditating "without distraction." There's something very renunciatory and hinayana about the phrase "without distraction," and the main point I want to make is that we must study dharma ("listen") and practice meditation in order to free ourselves and others. And I don't think it's coincidence that "ourselves" comes first in the verse–like the analogy of the oxygen mask on an airplane: put your own mask on before assisting others.

    To summarize my interpretation of this verse: you must help yourself before you help others–you help yourself by practicing meditation.

    Thanks so much for writing about these wonderful practices. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

  5. SriDTMc says:

    or, for the sake of redundant analogies, "there is little use in sending one who cannot swim to save a drowning man"

    i think of this principle often, whenever i hear myself talk too much.
    for to float is effortless, but an essentially silent practice; while idle jibber-jabber is akin to limbs desperately flailing before exhaustion sinks in.

    i too look forward to this series continuing.

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Thanks so much for this. I'm depending on comments like this to make this an intelligent contemplation and conversation…the above is just what comes to my mind from my limited study and experience.

  7. Trungpa Love says:

    Looking forward to next installment. When's it coming?

  8. […] pair: living in caves; entering the Mandala of mystic union; singing songs; talking to dakinis and Bodhisattvas. They were unconventional and pushed the boundaries of their predominantly Bon society and were […]