Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

Like a Yeti Catching Marmots - Press

A Little Treasury of Tibetan Proverbs

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Like a Yeti catching marmots.
The Yeti, or Dremo in Tibetan, is a dim-witted mythical beast said to feed only on marmots. It sees a marmot, grabs the hapless creature, and then sits on it—saving the delicious morsel for later. And then the Yeti sees another marmot and leaps up to snatch it—while the first marmot makes a quick break for freedom. An image of bumbling, foolish effort—and the pitfalls of greed.

Honey is sweet to the mouth; proverb is music to the ear.

You can’t get to the meadow of happiness without climbing the cliff of hardship.
Working through the difficulties in our lives is the only path to contentment.

It is the spatula that worked hard but it is the ladle that enjoyed the porridge.
Tibetans make a delicious porridge made from barley, called thugpa. When being cooked, this porridge must be stirred continuously with a spatula. And then, when it’s finally ready, the spatula is put aside and a ladle dips in and serves us the food—and the spatula’s hard work is forgotten!

White is easily blackened; long is easily broken.
Akin to “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”

Even though the cup was broken, the pattern lingers in the mind.
This proverb points to the way people and deeds, for instance, live on through their impact on others even after passing away.

The strength of a horse is known in the marsh.
When we’re in a difficult situation, we see who our true friends are— “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

There is no way to catch a fish by hand without getting one’s feet wet.
“You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”

Locking the door from outside and leaving the thief inside.
“Leaving the fox to stand guard over the henhouse.”

Knitting with one needle, clapping with one hand.
This proverb is used akin to two different English proverbs: “Not playing with a full deck” and also “It takes two to tango.”

A blackbird shouldn’t mock another blackbird, for both have red beaks.
This proverb also evokes two English proverbs: “That’s the pot calling the kettle black” and “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

When a fool pretends to be clever, he looks all the more foolish.

Though the lion is more famous, the dog is more useful.
The Snow Lion, a celestial creature of luminous white fur and a turquoise mane, is the ubiquitous symbol of the Tibetan people. It symbolizes, among other things, fearlessness and unconditional cheerfulness; it appears on Tibet’s flag and in countless other places as well. But since it’s a mythic being, no one has ever seen one! The tiny Lhasa Apso dog on the other hand—bred for centuries to resemble a miniature Snow Lion—makes an excellent household sentry. Thus, though much less famous, the dog is more useful. It’s the common people and everyday things that make the real difference in our lives, not the celebrities.

Giving a lion’s name to a dog.
“Putting lipstick on pig”—no matter how much you dress it up, it’s still a pig; no matter what you call the dog, it’s not a lion.

A single body with a hundred manifestations, a single sun with a hundred thousand rays.
As the sun emits myriad rays to sustain innumerable lives on earth, so too does a bodhisattva—a transcendent being whose existence is dedicated to the service of others—manifest in countless forms to benefit sentient beings. An image of selfless generosity.