37 practices: which verse(s) to memorize?

As you may know, I’m a great fan of memorization as a way to deeply study and internalize the dharma. In fact, it is one of the traditional 10 Dharma Activities.

It’s also why I’m making a new translation of the 37 practices for this class, even though there are lots of good ones already available. Verse is just naturally easier to memorize, and that’s one reason so much of the dharma is in verse. (Not to mention Homer, Virgil, Chaucer, and Dante.) I find that it also resonates in the mind and heart in a way that prose rarely does.

Which brings me to the suggestion I have, after working with verses 1-15 during our holiday hiatus from class.

While 37 practices may be more than many of us feel we can hold in our memory, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t memorize any. There are several distinct sections just in the first half of the text: preliminaries (verses 1-7, reminders of the frontiers we need to work at constantly in order to travel the dharma path), the three levels of motivation or practice (verses 8-10, excellent reminders of the overall scope of our practice), and now the specific situations of bodhisattva boot camp (verses 11-15 so far, with a few more to come).

For anyone who just wants a few verses to carry around in daily life, my own experience suggests that the boot camp verses are especially useful. These kinds of situations come up, on a large or small scale, almost daily, and I’m finding that I can often identify which verse applies, if not immediately in the heat of reaction, at least before it’s gone too far. It is so helpful to be able to access Togme Zangpo’s advice any time, any place!

If memorizing a set of verses still seems too daunting, perhaps just one or two would suffice. In that case, I would pick verse 1: to study, contemplate and meditate, which defines the overall mission and method of the bodhisattva path, or verse 11: to exchange my happiness for others’ suffering, which is the main practice that underlies all the specific boot camp practices. Or you can pick whichever verse resonates the most with you.

Happy holidays to all. Class resumes Thursday, January 11.

Orientation to the study guide: About the 37 practices study guide

Related links:

The 10 Dharma Activities

A note on memorization