An Ancient Take On What It Means To Be “Woke”: 12 Practices Of A Modern Bodhisattva

Gyalsé Tokmé Zangpo lived nearly 800 years ago, yet his 37 Practices Of A Bodhisattva remains, in many circles, a highly regarded list of ‘attributes of the awakening’ — signs that a person who’s on their way to enlightenment begin exhibiting.

But the term ‘enlightenment’ has always been relative, both historically and contemporaneously, and matters little. In modern terms it could mean someone who’s ‘really getting it together’, ‘knows what they’re doing’ or, as we’ve been hearing more and more lately, is simply ‘woke’.

The following 12 practices (which I’ve put into simpler terms to make them easier to understand) are what I consider the most practical and helpful out of the entire 37. By applying them to our daily lives we can make a lasting, positive change in ourselves, and by learning to recognize them in others, we can begin gravitating to our ‘crew’, which is always the beginning of great things.

However! Some of these are far from easy. Some of them are confusing. And some you may strongly disagree with. 

But that’s all good. Who ever said getting ‘seriously woke’ was simple?

1) Day and night, be fully alert and present. Listen, reflect, and meditate daily.

2) Attraction to those close to you catches you in its currents. Aversion to those you dislike, or those who dislike you, burns inside. Indifference that ignores what should be done is a black hole. Take a step outside your comfort zone.

3) Certain so-called ‘friends’ can take you further and further away from the path to awakened consciousness. These kinds of friends are often cynical, ridiculing and discourage (either in subtle or overt ways) learning, reflection, and meditation.

Though often more insidious than malevolent, these sorts of associates hold the power to slowly drain you of your kindness, compassion and zest for life. Give them up.

4) All suffering comes from wanting to please our own selves. Awakening arises when our thoughts and actions result in benefit to others.

So, in exchange for our selfish desires and neglect of our suffering humanity, replace thoughts of selfishness with those of self-centerdness. Learn how to see deeply, and realize that what you do to/for yourself, you ultimately do to others, and what you do to/for others, you ultimately do to yourself. 

5) If someone spreads ugly rumors about us with cruel words, and even if those words spread to others and gain wide acceptance as the truth, do not allow strong emotion to influence your reaction.

Take the time instead to contemplate, and search for the source of such behavior. You will know you have found it when you find yourself wishing for that person to overcome their troubles and gain peace of mind, even going so far as to applaud their positive traits and treat them with kindness.

This is because you see clearly now, and know that rumors cannot touch you. You know that you know the truth about yourself, and what other people think and say of you matters very little.

6) If, in a crowd full of people, someone exposes our faults before others and points out the flaws we have, do not get angry or become defensive; just listen in silence and reflect on their words. Treat this person as a teacher.

Practice this enough, and you may come to understand that embarrassment is a false emotion.

7) Even when you are famous, praised, and rich, don’t be arrogant. Know that the magnificence of existence, as awesome as it is, ultimately has no substance. Cast out what pride you might have as a result of fame.

8) If we are not able to take control of the anger inside of us, although we may overpower and conquer others outside, the anger will continue to come. Turn inwards and tame the wild flow of your mind-stream.

9) Whatever appears to be truly real is simply what a mind in delusion creates. This mind of ours is also from the beginning devoid of an essence inherently real.

Realize that Ultimate Truth is unknowable. It is beyond conceptions, beyond the known, and beyond the knower themselves. Dispel the belief in inherent existence.

10) Abusive words and language that we say in anger cause others a lot of pain by disturbing their minds, as well as ours, causing our practice to decline.

Seeing the faults that arise from harsh language, work to recognize and shed all forms of abusive and hurtful language, however subtle they may be. This may or may not include curse words and other ‘taboo’ turns of phrase. Think on it.

11) Even if we look and appear the part on the outside, without making efforts to clearly analyze delusions we have and mistakes we’ve made, it may leave us barren as spiritual materialists.

For this reason, work to examine what YOU (not any external source, or points of view you may have integrated unknowingly from external sources, including your parents) feel are mistakes, delusions, and faults you possess.

Do this not with shame, but through the cultivated lens of compassionate non-attachment instead. As you recognize these traits, watch for the arising of their beginnings in daily consciousness and simply allow them to pass without engaging them. This will result in their eventual disappearance.

12) Following on the last point, in everything you do, be mindful. Watch your thoughts and emotions as they play out in the present moment. By remaining vigilantly aware like this, all that you are feeling, thinking, and acting will eventually turn towards betterment of both yourselves and others.

For further reading, the full text can be found here for free, and a thorough, contemporary translation and treatment is available here.