Bodhisattva Vows - continued

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Bodhisattva Vows - continued Return to first page: Bodhisattva vows


12. Deliberately accepting things which are acquired by wrong livelihood. If, with selfish motivation you deliberately acquire wealth, reputation and so on by any of the five wrong livelihoods you incur this downfall.

The five wrong livelihoods are:

  • a) Hypocrisy: for example acting as though you are a great and holy lama full of love, compassion and limitless insight in order to win the devotion offerings of others.
  • b) Flattery is praising others with the negative motivation of gaining something from them
  • c) Hinting is gaining something by asking for it indirectly. An example would be saying to your benefactor, 'Last year you gave me a thousand dollars which was a wonderful help in supporting my retreat to benefit all living beings. This year I am going to do a special retreat again...??' Or, 'You are so incredibly successful and wealthy and have always been so kind and generous to me.'
  • d) Artful acquisition is gaining things by sneaky methods or pressuring others. For example, by insulting them about their miserliness and lack of caring for the desperate plight of such deserving individuals as your good self.
  • e) Seeking reward for favour is giving a small gift in the expectation that you will get something much greater in return

13. Indulging in frivolity with agitation, delusion and lack of mindfulness you make fun of others, laugh loudly, make loud noises and so on, you incur this downfall.

Being agitated in this way is an obstacle to concentration and the practice of Dharma because your attachment will be increased. If you are constantly joking, singing, dancing, drinking and carrying on, you will be unable to concentrate and will also distract other people, It is acceptable to sing, listen to music, laugh, joke and so on if you have a good purpose for doing so. If, with compassion and love, you want to relax or cause others to be relaxed and happy, then singing, joking and the like can be useful. The branch vow refers to doing these things through agitation and delusion.

14. Claiming Bodhisattvas should remain in cyclic existence.

Holding the view that Bodhisattvas should not be attracted to liberation, not be afraid of delusion and not to become separate from delusion, but rather that a Bodhisattva's job is to roam in cyclic existence for three countless aeons while cultivating enlightenment, incurs this downfall. Such an attitude shows that you do not understand the nature of cyclic existence, delusion and the Bodhisattva path. Instead, a Bodhisattva is to achieve liberation and full enlightenment in order to be of greatest benefit to others.

15. Not avoiding a bad reputation.

A bodhisattva can often help others better when having a good reputation. Even joking too much can be tricky when people misunderstand one's real intentions. Also, when others criticise you and damage your reputation. you should endeavour to clear your name.

16. Not employing the methods to overcome others' negativities.

If it is possible to overcome others' negativities of body and speech through forceful methods, but you elect to use flattery and help them save face instead, you incur this downfall. You should make an effort and use all your skill and suitable methods to help those who create negative actions, break their vows, harm others and so on. Where possible, teach them ways to purify negative karma, such as the 4 opponent powers, and practise such methods yourself as an example.

Vow 17- 20 are related to the perfection of patience

17. Not practising the four noble disciplines.

The four dharmas are to practice patience and

  • 1. not responding to anger with anger
  • 2. not responding to physical harm with physical harm
  • 3. not responding to criticism with criticism
  • 4. not responding to verbal argumenting with verbal argumenting

These four noble disciplines are said to distinguish a real practitioner, as they refer to the causes of anger and lack of patience. If you retaliate in any of the four circumstances you break this branch vow.

18. Not caring about those who are angry.

Do not add fuel to the anger of others by neglecting or ignoring those who are angry with you. Instead of closing yourself off, try to communicate and dissipate their anger. If you cause a problem for others or you have suspicious projections that they are harming you, and then through pride, laziness, malice or other delusions you do not clear the air by apologising when you have the opportunity you incur this downfall.

19. Not accepting others' apologies.

If others harm you and then apologise according to the Dharma, but through malice or resentment you do not accept their apology you will incur this downfall. This vow is the same as the third root vow except that the four conditions are not required here to break it.

20. Not checking the angry mind or acting out thoughts of anger.

When you become angry with someone and make no effort to try to control anger but let it continue unchecked instead, you incur this downfall. .

Vow 21- 23 are related to the perfection of joyous effort (diligence).

21 Gathering a circle of followers because of desiring wealth and fame.

If you gather a circle of followers and other people for the selfish purpose of gaining respect. fame, profit, praise or security, you will incur this downfall.

22. Not eliminating the three types of laziness.

The three types are: sloth, attraction to negative actions and self-pity or discouragement.

If due to laziness, you sleep excessively during the day or late in the morning but you do not make an effort to eliminate laziness you break this branch vow. Note that laziness is not just being non-active, one can very well be hyper-active in useless or negative activities and because of that be spiritually lazy.

23. Engaging in senseless talk through attachment.

If you waste your time gossiping with attachment about royal families, politics, wars, relationships, divorce, crimes and so on, you incur this downfall.

Vow 24- 26 are related to the perfection of concentration.

24. Not seeking the meaning of concentration.

Although you need to develop concentration, if through malice or laziness you refuse to seek out instruction and advice on the means for its development, or refuse to practice after having received the instructions, you will incur this downfall. You should make an effort to listen, study and meditate on the development of concentration

25. Not removing obstacles to concentration. There are five obstacles to concentration:

  • (1) agitation and regret
  • (2) malicious thoughts,
  • (3) sleep and sloth,
  • (4) longing desire, and
  • (5) doubt.

Not making an effort to overcome these obstacles when they arise causes you to break this branch vow.

26. Viewing the taste of concentration as being its main quality.

The 'taste of concentration' refers to the bliss and pliancy that arise from this practice. The main quality, or real purpose, of concentration is to prepare the mind to be able to engage the very subtle object that is the true nature of phenomena, its emptiness of inherent existence and the development of compassion. If you become attached to the taste of bliss and pliancy while viewing it as being the main quality, or real purpose, of concentration, you will incur this downfall. Although it may be acceptable for Hearers and Solitary Realisers to enjoy the complete relaxation, peace and bliss of concentration for long periods; because the Bodhisattva is bound to help other living beings, he should not waste time like this, but move on to realising emptiness and developing compassion.

Vow 27- 34 are related to the perfection of wisdom.

27. Abandoning the Hinayana.

To assert that listening to the Hinayana, memorising its texts and engaging in its practices, though necessary for the Hinayana, is not required by Bodhisattvas, or to proclaim this to others, will incur this downfall, A Bodhisattva must tread the small and medium scope paths in common with the Hinayana Hearers and Solitary Realisers to gain the proper foundation for the explicitly Mahayana practices of the great scope. A Bodhisattva must also be able to communicate the Dharma to all living beings, many of whom will have the Hinayana potential, so it is important to know the Hinayana path. This vow looks similar to the root vow 13, but that vow refers mostly to vows of individual liberation, and this secondary vow one relates mainly to the Hinayana explanation of selflessness.

28. Applying great effort to the Hinayana while currently engaged in the Mahayana.

When you have become fully involved in the Bodhisattva practices and you set them aside and engage in the Hinayana practices instead, you will incur this downfall. To be able to benefit all living beings requires that you make use of the precious opportunity to practise the Mahayana. The keyword here is balance; study the Hinayana, but do not forget to put effort on the Mahayana practices.

29. Applying effort to non-Buddhist teachings while currently engaged in the Buddhadharma.

When involved in the Buddha Dharma, if you set this practice aside in preference for the study of non-Buddhist systems, you will incur this downfall. Generally, studying these systems will strengthen the wrong view holding an inherently existent self. If however you have a good reason, such as wishing to be able to communicate with people from other religious backgrounds, then it is acceptable to study their systems.

30. Excessive involvement in non-Buddhist subjects.

With a specific purpose in mind, you will sometimes have to study non-Buddhist texts but if you allow yourself to become attached to them, completely involved and take great pleasure in them you will break this branch vow.

31. Abandoning the Mahayana.

Denigrating any Mahayana teaching or teacher, and suggesting that they are of no benefit and will not help others, will incur this downfall. Although is looks similar to the root vow 4, this vow specifically relates to the teachings and practice of wisdom of emptiness.

32. Praising yourself and denigrating others.

When, motivated by pride or anger, you praise yourself and denigrate others you incur this downfall, this is the same as the first root vow except that the four conditions are not required to break it.

33. Making no effort to study Dharma.

If through pride or laziness you do not go to teachings, Dharma discussions and so on you will break this branch vow. It relates mainly to the realisation of wisdom, for which one needs to study.

34. Deriding guru and word rather than relying on the meaning.

If instead of viewing your guru as a Buddha and making offerings, you knowingly deride him or make fun of him. And, if instead of relying on the meaning of the teachings, you rely on the words instead of their meaning or you chase after pleasant sounding words instead of the teachings, you will incur this downfall.

35 to 45 are related to the perfection of going to the assistance of those in need, or the "11 ways of benefiting others".

35. Neglect to help whoever needs assistance.

Not providing counselling, teaching, protection, shelter, guidance and so on when you have the opportunity and capability to do so, but through anger, laziness or other delusions you decline to help, you will break this branch vow. This relates especially to situations where you promised to help.

36. Avoiding taking care of those who are sick.

When you have the opportunity to look after a sick person or animal and you do not do so due to anger, laziness or other delusions, you will incur this branch downfall

37. Not dispelling sufferings of others.

If you do not help to dispell the suffering of the blind, deaf, handicapped, those who are exhausted, afflicted by the five obstacles, under the influence of malicious thoughts and superstition, and those derided by others, you will incur this downfall

38. Not guiding the reckless.

If through anger or laziness you do not skilfully guide those who are wrongly involved in the purposes of the present and future you will incur this branch downfall. Recklessness relates to a lack of consideration for others.

39. Not returning kindness.

If through malicious thoughts or laziness, you fail to repay the kindness of others who have helped you or been generous you will break this branch vow.

40. Not relieving the grief of others.

If, due to malice or laziness, you do not dispel the grief of relatives, friends and others who are stricken with misfortune, poverty, depression and so on, you will break this branch vow.

41. Refusing charity to the needy.

If someone asks for charity and due to malice or laziness you refuse him or her, you will incur this downfall. If, however, there are good reason not to give them something, like when it would cause them harm then it is suitable not to give.

42. Not taking care of friends, disciples, servants etc.

If you do not give teachings and look after the wellfare of people who trust in you, you will incur this downfall.

43. Not being considerate of the wishes of others.

If you do not act agreeably toward others due to laziness or malice, you will break this branch vow. You should avoid arguing with, or harming friends, relatives and those with whom you associate. Rather, be considering and endeavour to respond to their needs and aspirations, as long as it does not bring harm to oneself or others.

44. Not praising others' good qualities.

If, due to malice or laziness, you do not praise the knowledge, virtuous qualities of others, you will incur this downfall. One should encourage others' good qualities and show interest in them instead.

45. Not using force when necessary.

If, due to laziness malice, you do not expel, punish or deflate the pride of those who need it, you will incur this branch down-fall. Some situations may require forceful action to stop harm.

46. Not using miracle powers, threatening activities and so on.

You should use whatever wrathful or miracle powers you may possess if doing so will benefit other living beings. If you do not use them when appropriate, you will incur this branch downfall. You should be very careful, however, not to make a display if it is not really of great benefit; bodhisattvas should not show their miraculous powers without a good reason.

The purpose of keeping these 18 root and 46 branch vows is to prevent your bodhichitta degenerating and to make it develop continuously. A person who has taken the bodhichitta vows should endeavour to keep them purely. The bodhichitta vows are the means to help other living beings, the means to avoid harming them and the way to accumulate merit. All positive thoughts and deeds are encompassed by the root and branch bodhichitta vows. You take the bodhichitta vows with the intention to attain enlightenment in order to benefit all living beings. It may take many lifetimes to attain enlightenment. So it is important to ensure not only that your bodhichitta vows do not degenerate during this life, but also that circumstances do not arise that will prevent you from maintaining the practice of the vows in future lives.

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RESTORING THE VOWS If one has lost the Bodhisattva Vows by breaking a root vow, one can restore the vow in a few different ways:

  • 1. Re-taking the vows in a traditional way from a master
  • 2. Restoring the vows in front of at least 4 people who understand and hold the vow themselves (preferrably fully ordained monks) in the following way:
  • One must generate sincere regret and the intention not to repeat the same mistake again.
  • Make 3 prostrations to them.
  • Say, 'Please listen to me, [and say your name], I have broken the vow of ....[clearly say in which vow you have broken], and recite the whole list of vows. Do this 3 times.
  • Then the people attending say, 'That is the best way', and one answers with, 'good, thank you'.
  • 3. In case one has not really fully broken a root vow, one can optionally restore the vows in front of one person who understands and holds the vows with the same ritual.
  • 4. As a last resort, if there is nobody available, one can restore the vows in front of a Buddha statue or a visualisation.

One should realise that after a sincere confession and restoring of the vows, the original negative consequences cannot be undone, but at least the negative karma stops increasing further.


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