Bodhisattva vows

From Rangjung Yeshe Wiki - Dharma Dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This excerpt copied here with the kind permission of Rudy, the creator of the site:


18 Root Vows
46 Branch Vows
Restoring the Vows


As far as I am aware, there are two different traditions in the Bodhisattva vows: the Chinese and the Tibetan. In the chinese tradition, the vows for lay followers and monks and nuns are different. The Chinese version for ordained people has ten root vows and forty-eight secondary vows. Although the listing of the vows is not the same, they are very similar to the Tibetan tradition. Below explanation follows the Tibetan tradition.

The bodhisattva or bodhicitta vows comprise eighteen root and forty-six secondary vows. These vows have been compiled in the Tibetan tradition from various authoritative texts. Breaking a root vow completely breaks your bodhichitta ordination, whereas breaking a secondary or branch vow does not completely break your ordination, but damages it. Even if you have not taken the vows, they are useful as guidelines in how to properly engage in the Bodhisattva practices. This will also help strengthen aspiring bodhicitta. One should take the time to become familiar with the vows before taking them. That way you can avoid the discovery later on that you are unable to keep them. These vows are quite a commitment, as they are not just taken for this life, but all future lives as well!

The following description of the bodhichitta vows is given according to the 'Compendium of Trainings by Shantideva the Luminous Jewel Garland of Instructions on the Three Vows' by Gelong Tsewang Samdrub, and teachings by Geshe Tashi in London (February and March 2001) which were based on Lama Tsong Khapa's commentary.

THE 18 ROOT VOWS The eighteen root vows require that you abandon below actions of body speech and mind:

1. Praising yourself and denigrating others. You must avoid praising yourself and, with delusion, criticising and denigrating others through wanting to gain offerings, respect or some sort of profit. Praising yourself and criticising, denigrating or complaining about others creates heavy negative karma as well as breaking this root bodhicitta vow.

2. Not giving wealth and Dharma. If you refuse to help others with financial assistance or Dharma teachings when you are able to do so in response to their requests, you will break this root vow. You must practise generosity of material things and generosity of Dharma to those who are suffering, confused and dissatisfied. You should teach those who want teachings and show them how to meditate and remove their suffering. This root vow is part of the perfection of generosity

3. Not forgiving though someone apologises. Refusing to accept the apology of someone who wrongs you and then apologises, breaks this root vow. Also, if someone breaks vows or precepts and confesses that negative action to you, you must be prepared to accept their confession.

4. Abandoning the Mahayana. If you reject the Mahayana, or any part of it, saying that it is not the teaching of the Buddha, you will break this root vow. To some, the Mahayana seems complicated and overly mystical. The teachings assert the existence of countless manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Some people are unable to come to grips with this vast scope and such things as the sophisticated tantric methods contained in the Mahayana. They may come to think, or even say to others, 'The Mahayana is mixed with non-Buddhist practices. It is not a pure teaching of the Buddha as is the Hinayana.' By thinking in this way you abandon the Mahayana and break this vow

5. Stealing offerings to the Three Jewels. ("Kings vow") You break this root vow if you steal anything that was offered, or intended to be offered, to the Three Jewels. Even stealing from others or taking things intended for others will break this vow.

6. Abandoning the Dharma. ("Kings vow") Criticising or claiming that any part of the Hinayana, Mahayana or Vajrayana is not part of the Buddha's teachings will incur this root downfall. You should not criticise or denigrate a teaching from the Vinaya, sutra or Abhidharma baskets of the Dharma.

7. Disrobing monks or nuns. ("Kings vow") If you force monks or nuns to give up their ordination by disrobing, or force them to do actions which break their ordination, you break this root vow. Harming the Sangha must be avoided as they are essential to the continuation of Buddhist teachings.

8. Committing the five heinous crimes. ("Kings vow") The five heinous karmas are killing one's father, killing one's mother, killing a Foe Destroyer (Arhat), wounding a Buddha and creating a schism in the Sangha. Doing any of these very heavy negative actions will break this root vow.

9. Holding wrong views. Wrong views are such as denying the existence of the Three Jewels, the law of cause and effect, the conventional and ultimate truths, the Four noble truths, the 12 links of dependent origination and so on. Holding such wrong views will break this root vow because you will be unable even to benefit yourself, let alone others. For example, by denying karma you will not be concerned about the consequences of your actions and, with such carelessness, will continue to create negative karma and hurt others.

10. Destroying towns and so on. ("Kings vow") If you completely destroy any place inhabited by living beings, you will break this root vow. Destroying a city or country habitat, whether by means of fire, bombs, black magic or any other means, will kill many living beings.

11. Teaching emptiness to the untrained. ("Minister vow") If you teach the profound subject of emptiness to those who are not able to interpret it properly, or perhaps do not wish to practise it anyway, you will break this root vow. The danger is that some may misinterpret emptiness to mean nothingness, or non-existence, and fall to the nihilist extreme denying the relationship of cause and effect. The true meaning of the emptiness of inherent existence of self and phenomena is very profound and difficult to understand. Many believe that the great Acharya Nagarjuna, who strongly propagated this system, was a nihilist, but this was because they missed the brilliant subtlety of his thought. You should therefore only teach the final view of the nature of phenomenon to those who are ripe to understand it.

  • Please note this response from Nawang Gehlek Rinpoche during an interview with Dave Benn (19th April 2002):

"Question: It states in Buddhist scriptures that one must never teach emptiness (Shunyata) to a person who is not ready to receive these teachings. What do you do when you wish to share such a wonderful experiential jewel?

Rimpoche: True. But it is easier to teach an educated Western person emptiness than someone for example from China or South East Asia, even to some extent Tibetans. This is particularly so if the Western happens to be a scientist, a physicist who has studied Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity'. They are half way there! It is definitely much easier to talk about emptiness to an educated Westerner than to traditionally Buddhist people."

12. Reversing others' aspiration for complete enlightenment. Inducing someone who is practising the Mahayana into the Hinayana path will break this root vow. If you were to tell someone that the six perfections are beyond his capacity and suggest that, since he will never attain enlightenment, it is better to practise the Hinayana - whereby liberation is attained quickly. You will then lead him or her from a greater goal into a lesser one and break this root vow.

13. Causing someone to abandon individual liberation. You must not cause others to abandon their individual liberation vows, whether they be the two hundred and fifty three precepts of a monk, the thirty-six precepts of a novice, the eight or five precepts of a layman, or the practice of the ten virtues. You should never suggest that these are part of the lesser vehicle and not important for the Mahayanist. Neither should you encourage someone to ignore their vow not to drink alcohol, or other vows, by implying that such vows are of a lower level than the Vajrayana vows and therefore not important. If you cause others to abandon their individual liberation vows, you will break this root vow

14. Denigrating the Hinayana. If you disparage the Hinayana with a negative mind, especially in the presence of a Hinayanist, you break this root bodhichitta vow. Some say that the Hinayana is a very low vehicle and it takes a long time to traverse that path, and therefore it is better that to practise the great Mahayana and rapid Vajrayana. This is not a suitable attitude because both the Hearer and Solitary Realiser paths lead to liberation and to the realisation of renunciation, which are fundamental to the Mahayana path.

15. Falsely claiming to have realised emptiness. Falsely claiming to have the full realisation of the emptiness of inherent existence of self and phenomena breaks this root vow. It is a specific form of lying, whereby you deceive others into believing that you have special attainments. It is not necessary to claim explicitly that you have high realisations to break this vow. Just implying that you have high realisations also incurs the downfall. An example would be to suggest to others that if they practise according to your instructions they will also gain great powers and spiritual attainments. Or to say, 'If you practise the three principal paths diligently you will gain similar experiences of bliss to my own!'

The Buddha said that even when you have attained the paths of insight or liberation you should never openly say to others, 'I have this or that realisation' or 'I have attained this or that path'. Publicly stating such things will only cause confusion and suspicion. Cynics will believe that you are lying to improve your status and reputation, and the gullible will follow you blindly rather than because of the quality of your teachings. Deceiving other people into thinking that you have realisations when you do not is particularly dangerous. Tibetans have a poor opinion of the person who boasts about his qualities and claims to have special clairvoyance or an ability to communicate with the Buddhas. On the other hand, we have the greatest respect for the truly humble practitioner who hides his attainments and leads a quiet and simple life practising the Dharma diligently.

16. Receiving the property of the Three Jewels. If you accept things that were originally offered to the Three Jewels, then stolen or misappropriated and given to you, you will break this root vow. It also refers to people such as kings or government ministers who use their position of power to unjustly acquire wealth and then pass some or all of it on to you. Accepting such gifts is a form of wrong livelihood.

17. The person practising concentration giving his belongings to others. Where a yogi, engaged in a concentration retreat, reluctantly accepts the offerings of a benefactor and then with some anger gives the offerings to others who are not seriously engaged in Dharma practice, he will incur this root downfall.

18. Giving up bodhichitta. If you give up your aspiration to attain enlightenment, or your determination to benefit all living beings, or any single living being for that matter, you will incur this downfall. Having taken a vow to benefit all living beings, to give up this purpose is to abandon them and doing so cheats all living beings. You destroy the very basis of your Mahayana practice.

If you break the vows 9. Wrong View, or 18. Giving up Bodhichitta; you break completely your bodhichitta ordination, without requiring below four conditions to be present.

However, in breaking any of the other sixteen root vows (other than #9 or #18 that is), four factors must be present for you to completely break your bodhichitta vows. The four conditions are not unique to the bodhichitta vows. No precept is totally broken, nor is any non- virtue complete unless the four factors are present. These four factors also contribute to the heaviness of a negative karma. Karma becomes increasingly heavy, as more of the factors are present, and is most heavy when all four are present.

The four factors are:

  • 1. Not thinking of the action as faulty.
  • 2. Not intending to abstain from the action in future, or retaining the continuous desire to break the precept.
  • 3. Rejoicing in the action, or enjoying having broken the vow.
  • 4. Not having any regret about the action.

Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and so on are not complete negative karmas if the four factors are not present. If you were to break any of the root vows other than the 9th and 18th and then had sincere regret, or otherwise reversed the four factors, your bodhichitta ordination would not be completely broken.

Having taken the bodhichitta vows, you should endeavour to keep them purely. If you transgress your vows then you should regret doing so and quickly practise purification. In that way your development of bodhichitta will progress constantly.

Besides the 18 root vows, there are 46 secondary vows. Together they form the method for developing bodhichitta and prevent it from degenerating. The vows are therefore the source of happiness and the way to avoid harming living beings.

THE 46 SECONDARY VOWS The forty-six branch vows require that you abandon the following actions:

Vow 1- 7 are related to the perfection of generosity.

1. Neglecting to pay homage to the Three Jewels each day. Having taken the bodhichitta vows it is necessary to accumulate merit. You should therefore take refuge in the Three Jewels, make physical offerings and prostrations, verbal praises, requests and mental homage each day.

2. Following the mind of desire. If you do not restrain yourself from acting out delusions, indulging in desire, and do not know contentment, you will constantly grasp at material comforts and the enjoyments of cyclic existence and break this branch vow.

3. Not respecting elders. Elder Bodhisattvas, that is those who have taken the bodhichitta vows before you, are objects of respect and objects of offering. Not showing them respect will break this branch vow.

4. Not replying to questions. * When someone trusts you and sincerely asks a question of you, and if you become angry or, due to laziness do not give the appropriate answer, you will break this branch vow. Any time that you avoid skilfully and appropriately answering questions on the Dharma and other matters is an infraction of this branch vow. For example, if somebody asks you to explain how to meditate on impermanence and you respond with an explanation of bodhichitta, you will have broken this vow. Even if you respond on the subject of impermanence, but in an inappropriate or unsatisfactory way, that is an infraction. This branch vow applies whether you have full ordination or lay vows, and also with respect to the practice of the ten virtues, about unconditioned phenomena, such as space or emptiness.

5. Not accepting invitations. If you decline an invitation without a proper, valid reason, that is an infraction of this vow. The vow specifically refers to refusing an invitation because of anger, jealousy, and laziness and so on. It is acceptable to decline an invitation if you have a good reason for doing so. For example, you may be sick, too busy, doing a retreat, or if accepting the invitation could cause an obstacle to your Dharma practice or cause others to be unhappy or jealous. When people invite you to their home for dinner, they are extending their friendship. A refusal will cause them to feel rejected and make them unhappy. So, in general you should try to accept invitations but, before you do, check first to ensure that you will not be led into creating negative karma or breaking a vow. For example, if you have a vow not to drink alcohol and are invited to a function where old friends may put a lot of pressure on you to drink, then it may be best to refuse such an invitation politely and gently.

6. Not accepting gold and so on. When a benefactor sincerely offers gold, silver or other precious things, to decline them through malice, anger or laziness breaks this branch vow.

7. Not giving the Dharma to those who desire it. Refusing to teach the Dharma to those who genuinely wish to learn and practise it because of delusions such as anger, jealousy or laziness is an infraction of this vow. There are valid reasons not to give teachings, such as being to busy, not familiar with the subject, believing that there is not a suitable time, or that the student lacks faith. In those cases it is acceptable not to teach, but to refuse to teach the dharma due to laziness and so on breaks this vow.

Vow 8-16 are related to the perfection of ethical self-discipline.

8. Forsaking those who have broken their moral discipline. These people will need advice and help with releiving their guilt. They should not be treated with contempt or be ignored.

9. Not observing the (Hinayana) trainings in order to generate or sustain faith in others. If, for example one breaks the monastic vows saying 'I need to help others', but with the motivation of gaining others' respect.

10. Doing little to benefit other sentient beings. Bodhisattvas need not observe the Vinaya disciplines exactly in the same manner as the Hinayana. For instance, the minor rule for an ordained person not to keep new robes for more than ten days without blessing them is not a natural negativity but a negativity decree; that is, a decree of the Buddha for the ordained. However, to place too much importance on such minor rules compared to taking opportunities to benefit other living beings will incur this downfall. You must compare which course of action will serve the greater purpose and act to provide the greatest benefit to other living beings When you are in a situation where you can help another living being, but doing so requires that you transgress one of the Vinaya rules and you pull back from helping by thinking, 'I should not break a vow', then you incur this downfall.

11. Not knowing the full purpose of compassion. If it serves a special purpose for others, it is permissible for a Bodhisattva to commit the seven non-virtues of body and speech. If you refuse to commit a such a non-virtue, when by doing so you could help numberless sentient beings, you will incur this downfall. Generally, you have to avoid all non-virtues. But when the circumstances arise in which, through compassion, you can help numberless sentient beings by engaging in one of the seven non-virtues of body and speech, then you must do so. For instance, suppose you were living in the country and a hunter came by and asked you whether you had seen any deer. If you had seen some and decided not to lie, you would keep your Vinaya precepts and retain observance of the seven virtues, but the hunter would kill the deer. In this case you should rather tell a lie than follow the normal rule. This judgement obviously requires wisdom.

Bodhisattva Vows - continued