37 practices: overview of bodhisattva boot camp (12-19)

In the bodhisattva boot camp verses, Togme Zangpo places us directly in dire situations designed to elicit our deepest habitual reactivity. Fortunately, he also provides the key in each situation to liberate ourselves from the corresponding habitual pattern and from the confusion and suffering of the karma that results from reinforcing it. According to Dilgo Khyentse, this set of verses is divided into several specific subsets.

Four things you do not want to happen (verses 12-15):

I had noticed that both Dilgo Khyentse and Geshe Jampa Tekchok identify verse 12, to repay theft with generosity, as “how to use loss on the path.” But it wasn’t until I read Dilgo Khyentse’s introduction to this section that I realized its first four practices correspond directly to the four negative components of the eight worldly concerns, and describe how to train in cultivating equanimity toward them.

The eight worldly concerns, aka the eight worldly dharmas or the eight worldly preoccupations, represent the most basic hopes and fears that keep us spinning in the cycle of samsara. They are: gain versus loss, pleasure versus pain, praise versus blame or criticism, and the final set, which is sometimes interpreted as fame versus insignificance and sometimes as a good reputation versus disgrace (Togme Zangpo uses the latter interpretation in verse 14).

Caught up in the confused perspective of samsaric existence, we tend to be very invested in our hopes for gain, pleasure, praise and fame, versus our fears of loss, pain, criticism, and disgrace (or invisibility). It is when we cease to care about these distinctions that we arrive at true realization of the dharma. In fact, this is one definition of the level of realization known as equal taste, as Lama Norlha Rinpoche explained to us in my three-year retreat.

And here is a handy mnemonic device for remembering the eight worldly concerns.

Two things that are difficult to bear (verses 16 and 17):

These are being wronged in return for kindness (verse 16), and being treated with disrespect or undercut by peers or subordinates (17), either of which can send us into a tailspin of anger, depression, or self-doubt.

Deprivation and prosperity (verses 18 and 19):

Verse 18 throws at us some of the worst situations we can imagine, all at once: poverty, haters, severe physical and mental illness, even demons. It’s easy to see how we could fall prey to negative emotions when faced with such misfortunes, and, as always, Togme Zangpo has advice to help us navigate these shoals with our precious human existence boat (verse 1) and our bodhisattva steering wheel (taking and sending, verse 11).

On the other hand, it may be surprising to find verse 19 amongst the obstacle courses in bodhisattva boot camp: how to conduct ourselves when the obstacles are fame, fortune, honor, and all the other good things life can offer. If we remember the mortal pitfall of the gods’ realm, we’ll understand how treacherous good fortune can be. Per Ken McLeod, adversity forces you to wake up. “Good fortune, however, can put you to sleep.”

Hatred and desire (verses 20 and 21):

These two verses are not about specific situations but instead go straight to the heart of what keeps us in samsara and makes us emotionally reactive in the situations in verses 12-17. Here Togme Zangpo outfits us with the arms we need, as bodhisattva warriors, to conquer our own anger and hatred (verse 20) along with the other side of the samsaric coin, attachment to sense pleasures and desires (verse 21). These two emotional extremes are tangible emanations of “Team I,” ego-clinging, the most basic impulse that feeds the disturbing emotions and leads to negative actions, long-lasting karmic imprints, and the full catastrophe of samsaric entrapment.

The eight worldly dharmas: “Row Your Boat, Clementine

A glimpse of 3-year retreat, a quote from Anne, and a short teaching from Lama Norlha Rinpoche: “Equal Taste

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

Next practice: Verse 12: to repay theft with generosity, how to take loss on the path

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