This text “the 37 practices of a Bodhisattva” is a concise text written by a Tibetan teacher in the 14th century named Togme Zangpo who was a member of the Sakya lineage. It’s a summary of how we should behave as we are on the path to awakening. It’s a Tibetan Mahayana teaching.
Even if someone humiliates you and denounces you
In front of a crowd of people,
Think of this person as your teacher
And humbly honor him — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
The people that are hard to handle are the ones that we learn the most from. It’s from jerks that we learn patience. So, we can think of the people that try to humiliate us as our teachers.
I want to tell you the story of Atisha and his rude assistant.
In the 11th century, Tibetan Buddhism was beginning to renew itself, after a period of decline. Many Indian masters were invited to Tibet to give teachings. One of them was Atisha. He was a well known scholar and an expert on training the mind. He committed to staying in Tibet and teaching for a few years, but he ended up staying the rest of his life.
Among those that traveled to Tibet with Atisha was an assistant who cooked meals. The assistant was known as a very difficult person. The Tibetans that met him found him rude and unfriendly. And the Tibetans were surprised to see that the assistant was rude to Atisha too. Just a very unfriendly person. They wondered why Atisha would keep such a difficult person in his company.
But Atisha never showed anger or intolerance toward the assistant. The Tibetans knew that taking a long journey like the one Atisha and his assistant had taken from India could bring out the worst in people sometimes and they were impressed that Atisha was able to maintain a positive attitude toward his assistant. But eventually someone asked why he would have such an awful person with him.
And Atisha replied, “He’s not just my cook. He’s teaching me patience.”
With that one statement Atisha is telling us how we can transform ourselves through training our minds. How we can respond to others, even those who are causing us harm.
Even if a person you have cared for as your own child
Treats you as his or her worst enemy,
Lavish him or her with loving attention
Like a mother caring for her ill child — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
Even if your peers or subordinates,
Put you down to make themselves look better,
Treat them respectfully as you would your teacher:
Put them above you — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
When others put us down, it’s important to not respond in kind. Again, we should treat them as though they’re teaching us patience. Whether or not our peers and subordinates insult us, it’s still important to have an attitude of respect toward them. We’re all in this together and they are not separate from us, even if they don’t realize that.
He said: “When the attainment of Enlightement is equally due to the ignorant and the enlightened, what kind of order is it that the respect shown to the ignorant isn’t the same as the respect shown to the Enlightened?”