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.

In the first stage of waking up (verse 8), expressed by the Buddha as the four noble truths, we recognize 1) that all our experience is some form of suffering, 2) that this suffering is not random but the result of a cause, 3) that the cause can be reversed, leading to the cessation of suffering, and 4) that there is a specific path of practice to bring this about.

In this stage of practice, we simply train to avoid actions that cause harm to others. Without this foundation, we won’t develop bodhicitta or wake up from our confusion. But once we have established this foundation, bodhicitta and full awakening follow naturally. (For a more detailed explanation of this process, read Ornament of Precious Liberation, chapter 1, “Buddha Nature,” which describes the five families or potentials for awakening (pages 16-21) — which can also be seen as stages.)

In the second stage of practice (verse 9), we understand that simply to free ourselves from suffering isn’t enough. We are still imprisoned, like the worldly gods of verse 7, albeit more comfortably. So at this stage, we begin to seek full liberation — not only from suffering but from samsara itself.

In the third stage (verse 10), we realize that even if we could liberate ourselves completely, it still wouldn’t be enough — because we are deeply connected with all other beings, and they would still be in prison. This is what is sometimes referred to as “one-sided nirvana,” and is the third of the four obstacles to awakening cited by Gampopa (pages 47-47). The antidote, according to Gampopa, is to focus on love and compassion; and that is also the instruction in verse 10: to cultivate the mind of full awakening, which, as we know, must include both wisdom (realizing emptiness for our own liberation) and compassion (wishing to do the same for all beings).

So we are engaged in the path of awakening beginning with verse 8, having prepared ourselves in verses 6 and 7 by finding a teacher and taking refuge in the Three Jewels.  But it isn’t the full path — The Great Path of Awakening — until we reach the stage of verse 10. The textual outline in The Heart of Compassion (page 39)  indicates that the rest of the path follows from this resolution to include all beings in our aspirations.

Slightly alternative compartmentalization: In the introduction to Reflections on Silver River, Ken McLeod explains verses 1-9 as the preliminary practices, and verse 10 as the beginning of the actual path. That interpretation also works.

The index of the study guide and recordings of the classes are here.

Next practice: Verse 8, to strive for unchanging freedom

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