At this time of having obtained the rare great ship of freedoms and riches,

To listen, reflect, and meditate, without any distraction day and night,

In order to liberate oneself and others from the ocean of samsara

Is the practice of bodhisattvas.*

This is the first on the list of “The Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva” which was written by Gyalse Togme in the 1300s. This text is part of the mind training tradition of Buddhism, which is a tradition I like very much. I think I’m going to go through the 37 practices one by one. A bodhisattva is one who strives to cultivate compassion and wisdom for the benefit of others. This is what I aspire to be.

There’s some stuff to unpack here.

The rare great ship of freedoms and riches is our human life. The word ship is a metaphor because, like riding in a ship, we are in this body for a while and it takes us places, but then we’re not in it anymore. Now, plenty of us probably think some version of “My human life is not filled with freedoms and riches” because we’ve all had struggles and we’ve all been kicked in the heart at times. This was a struggle for me when I learned about it. To me it helps to think of it in this way. You were born as a human being in this time and place. You could have been born as a rat or bug or fish. But you weren’t. You were born as a human. Just by nature of that you have opportunities that many many other beings do not have. Additionally you were born in the modern world. You could have been born hundreds or even thousands of years ago and faced many more hardships than people in the world today must face. Not only that but also, as a result of being born in the modern world, you have access to information that people even a few decades ago couldn’t have fathomed.

In the context we’re talking about here we can think about the availability of teachings. If you’re Buddhist you have access to more teachings translated into your language than ancient people would have thought possible. And the possibility of communication with teachers from all over the world too. This applies to other religions just as much, I’m sure. Just a few centuries ago people were practicing Christianity without having the ability to read the Bible for themselves. And also the standards of health and cleanliness. We are so lucky to live in this time and place where we are aware of the germ theory of disease and where we have access to flushable toilets and running water. We don’t appreciate these things as much as we could.

So, so what? Why are we talking about this?

Because we have a rare and great opportunity and we shouldn’t waste it.

The text “Letter to a Friend” by Nagarjuna says:

Since it is extremely difficult to obtain a human birth,

By practicing the holy Dharma make it meaningful!

And “Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva says:

Based on the ship, the human body,

One becomes liberated from the great river of suffering.

We have this opportunity. We can squander it chasing after sense pleasures that never bring happiness and obsessing about the trivial things that come about as a result of our confusion. Or we can try to rise above, to lessen the suffering of ourselves and others by pursuing wisdom and compassion. We can live in a better way and reach our potential.

How?

To listen, reflect, and meditate, without any distraction day and night,

In order to liberate oneself and others from the ocean of samsara

This passage is really letting us know how important this journey can be for us. We can change our lives and the lives of people around us for the better by engaging the Bodhisattva path. By listening, reflecting, and meditating.

The ocean of samsara is the ordinary world of suffering and death that we find ourselves in. We are suffering because we find ourselves stuck in greed, hatred, and delusion. But this path does offer us a way to overcome these struggles. We can learn how to be more aware and awake. We can learn how to be more at peace with the world around us and to stop making enemies out of everything all the time.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — –

*all quotations are from “Illuminating the Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva by Chokyi Dragpa

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