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A Bodhisattva is one who, motivated by great compassion, has a spontaneous wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, and who becomes dedicated to their ultimate welfare. This compassionate intention is called bodhicitta.
Taking the Bodhisattva vow
A Bodhisattva vow is found at the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra by Samantabhadra. In Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, Shantideva explains that the Bodhisattva vow is taken with the following famous two verses from Sutra:
The promise to keep bodhisattva vows applies not only to this life, but to each subsequent lifetime until enlightenment. Thus these vows continue on our mind-stream into future lives.
This can be done by venerating all Buddhas and by cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the "six perfections" of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhicitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings.
|Chinese (hanzi)||Chinese (pinyin)||Sino-Japanese||Hangul||Korean||English|
|四弘誓願||Sì hóng shì yuàn||Shi gu sei gan||사홍서원||sa hong seo won||The Four Encompassing Vows|
|眾生無邊誓願度||Zhòng shēng wúbiān shì yuàn dù||Shu jo mu hen sei gan do||중생무변서원도||Jung saeng mu byeon seo won do||Masses [of] creatures, without-bounds,|
[I/we] vow to save [them all].
|煩惱無盡誓願斷||Fánnǎo wújìn shì yuàn duàn||Bon no mu jin sei gan dan||번뇌무진서원단||Beon noe mu jin seo won dan||Anxiety [and] hate, [delusive-desires] inexhaustible,|
[I/we] vow to break [them all].
|法門無量誓願學||Fǎ mén wúliàng shì yuàn xué||Ho mon mu ryo sei gan gaku||법문무량서원학||Beob mun mu jin seo won hag||Dharma gates beyond-measure|
[I/we] vow to learn [them all].
|佛道無上誓願成||Fó dào wúshàng shì yuàn chéng||Butsu do mu jo sei gan jo||불도무상서원성||Bul do mu sang seo won seong||Buddha Way, nothing-higher,|
[I/we] vow to accomplish [it]
- A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantation or deviant mantras. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionally kill any living creature. (24) As a Buddha's disciple, he ought to nurture a mind of compassion and filial piety, always devising expedient means to rescue and protect all beings. If instead, he fails to restrain himself and kills sentient beings without mercy, he commits a Parajika (major) offense. (25)
- A disciple of the Buddha must not himself steal or encourage others to steal, steal by expedient means, steal by means of incantation or deviant mantras. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stealing. No valuables or possessions, even those belonging to ghosts and spirits or thieves and robbers, be they as small as a needle or blade of grass, may be stolen. As a Buddha's disciple, he ought to have a mind of mercy, compassion, and filial piety -- always helping people earn merits and achieve happiness. If instead, he steals the possessions of others, he commits a Parajika offense. (26)
- A disciple of the Buddha must not engage in licentious acts or encourage others to do so. (As a monk) he should not have sexual relations with any female -- be she a human, animal, deity or spirit -- nor create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of such misconduct. Indeed, he must not engage in improper sexual conduct with anyone. (27) A Buddha's disciple ought to have a mind of filial piety -- rescuing all sentient beings and instructing them in the Dharma of purity and chastity. If instead, he lacks compassion and encourages others to engage in sexual relations promiscuously, including with animals and even their mothers, daughters, sisters, or other close relatives, he commits a Parajika offense. (28)
- A disciple of the Buddha must not himself use false words and speech, or encourage others to lie or lie by expedient means. He should not involve himself in the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of lying, saying that he has seen what he has not seen or vice-versa, or lying implicitly through physical or mental means. (29) As a Buddha's disciple, he ought to maintain Right Speech and Right Views always, and lead all others to maintain them as well. If instead, he causes wrong speech, wrong views or evil karma in others, he commits a Parajika offense.
- A disciple of the Buddha must not trade in alcoholic beverages or encourage others to do so. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of selling any intoxicant whatsoever, for intoxicants are the causes and conditions of all kinds of offenses. As a Buddha's disciple, he ought to help all sentient beings achieve clear wisdom. If instead, he causes them to have upside-down, topsy-turvy thinking, he commits a Parajika offense. (30)
- A disciple of the Buddha must not himself broadcast the misdeeds or infractions of Bodhisattva-clerics or Bodhisattva-laypersons, or of [ordinary] monks and nuns -- nor encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of discussing the offenses of the assembly. As a Buddha's disciple, whenever he hears evil persons, externalists or followers of the Two Vehicles speak of practices contrary to the Dharma or contrary to the precepts within the Buddhist community, he should instruct them with a compassionate mind and lead them to develop wholesome faith in the Mahayana. If instead, he discusses the faults and misdeeds that occur within the assembly, he commits a Parajika offense. (31)
- A disciple of the Buddha shall not praise himself and speak ill of others, or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of praising himself and disparaging others. As a disciple of the Buddha, he should be willing to stand in for all sentient beings and endure humiliation and slander -- accepting blame and letting sentient beings have all the glory. If instead, he displays his own virtues and conceals the good points of others, thus causing them to suffer slander, he commits a Parajika offense. (32)
- A disciple of the Buddha must not be stingy or encourage others to be stingy. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of stinginess. As a Bodhisattva, whenever a destitute person comes for help, he should give that person what he needs. If instead, out of anger and resentment, (33) he denies all assistance -- refusing to help with even a penny, a needle, a blade of grass, even a single sentence or verse or a phrase of Dharma, but instead scolds and abuses that person -- he commits a Parajika offense.
- A disciple of the Buddha shall not harbor anger or encourage others to be angry. He should not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of anger. As a disciple of the Buddha, he ought to be compassionate and filial, helping all sentient beings develop the good roots of non-contention. If instead, he insults and abuses sentient beings, or even transformation beings [such as deities and spirits), with harsh words, hitting them with his fists or feet, or attacking them with a knife or club -- or harbors grudges even when the victim confesses his mistakes and humbly seeks forgiveness in a soft, conciliatory voice -- the disciple commits a Parajika offense. (34)
- A Buddha's disciple shall not himself speak ill of the Triple Jewel or encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods or karma of slander. If a disciple hears but a single word of slander against the Buddha from externalists or evil beings, he experiences a pain similar to that of three hundred spears piercing his heart. How then could he possibly slander the Triple Jewel himself? Hence, if a disciple lacks faith and filial piety towards the Triple Jewel, and even assists evil persons or those of aberrant views to slander the Triple Jewel, he commits a Parajika offense. (35)
Asanga (circa 300 AD) delineated 18 major vows and forty-six minor vows. These Bodhisattva vows are still used in all four major traditions of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. The eighteen major vows (as actions to be abandoned) are as follows:
- Praising oneself or belittling others due to attachment to receiving material offerings, praise and respect.
- Not giving material aid or (due to miserliness) not teaching the Dharma to those who are suffering and without a protector.
- Not listening to others' apologies or striking others
- Abandoning the Mahayana by saying that Mahayana texts are not the words of Buddha or teaching what appears to be the Dharma but is not.
- Taking things belonging to Buddha, Dharma or Sangha.
- Abandoning the holy Dharma by saying that texts which teach the three vehicles are not the Buddha's word.
- With anger depriving ordained ones of their robes, beating and imprisoning them or causing them to lose their ordination even if they have impure morality, for example, by saying that being ordained is useless.
- Committing any of the five extremely negative actions: (1) killing one's mother, (2) killing one's father, (3) killing an arhat, (4) intentionally drawing blood from a Buddha or (5) causing schism in the Sangha community by supporting and spreading sectarian views.
- Holding distorted views (which are contrary to the teaching of Buddha, such as denying the existence of the Three Jewels or the law of cause and effect etc.)
- Destroying towns, villages, cities or large areas by means such as fire, bombs, pollution or black magic.
- Teaching emptiness to those whose minds are unprepared.
- Causing those who have entered the Mahayana to turn away from working for the full enlightenment of Buddhahood and encouraging them to work merely for their own liberation from suffering.
- Causing others to abandon their Pratimoksha vows.
- Belittling the Śrāvaka or Pratyekabuddha vehicle (by holding and causing others to hold the view that these vehicles do not abandon attachment and other delusions).
- Falsely stating that oneself has realised profound emptiness and that if others meditate as one has, they will realize emptiness and become as great and as highly realized as oneself.
- Taking gifts from others who were encouraged to give you things originally intended as offerings to the Three Jewels. Not giving things to the Three Jewels that others have given you to give to them, or accepting property stolen from the Three Jewels.
- Causing those engaged in calm-abiding meditation to give it up by giving their belongings to those who are merely reciting texts or making bad disciplinary rules which cause a spiritual community not to be harmonious.
- Abandoning either of the two types of Bodhicitta (aspiring and engaging).
According to Atisha the Pratimoksha vows are the basis for the Bodhisattva vows. Without keeping one of the different sets of Pratimoksha vows (in one of existing Vinaya schools), there is no Bodhisattva vow.