Four Vows

Here are two of many translations of the Four Vows:

Creations are numberless; I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless; I vow to perceive it.
–Zen Peacemaker

The awakened way is unsurpassable; I vow to embody it.
However innumerable beings are, I vow to meet them with kindness and interest.
However inexhaustible the states of suffering are, I vow to touch them with patience and love.
However immeasurable the Dharmas are, I vow to explore them deeply.
However incomparable the mystery of interbeing, I vow to surrender to it freely.
–Thich Nhat Hanh

The Four Great Bodhisattva Vows are recited daily in Buddhist Temples and monasteries at the close of the service (Sanzenkai). We recite the Four Great Bodhisattva Vows to encourage us in our study and pursuit of the Enlightement of the Buddha.

These great vows express the infinite Compassion of the Buddhas, and, in chanting them we express our desire to become as the Great Bodhisattvas and Buddhas.
Our tradition emphasizes that each person who practices Buddhism should see his or herself as holding a candle in one’s hand. This candle will help one to light (see) the way, and others will benefit from the light. For this reason, Mahayana Buddhists do not wait until perfect enlightenment before one acts, we begin to act when we begin our practice.

“The vows of the four great Bodhisattvas” Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on January 15, 1998 in Plum Village, France.

The key point is for us to be in touch with these four Bodhisattvas within ourselves by using the energy of mindfulness. By reflecting on the qualities of these four Bodhisattvas we will see that mindfulness has four aspects.

The first aspect is compassion and loving-kindness. In order to be a Buddha, a person must have a lot of love. S/he can love the lovable but also the unlovable.

The second aspect of mindfulness is great understanding. Without great understanding Buddha is no longer our Teacher. A Buddha must have great understanding and wisdom.

The third and fourth aspects are action and vows. When you are able to see clearly, you can only love. You cannot abandon the person that you love. They may be horrible, difficult people but you cannot abandon them because they are in hell and they need us.
When you love, you have to act. If you say that you have a lot of love but you don’t do anything then that is not love that is merely lip service..

To vow to go to the darkest places to help beings is perhaps the greatest of vows because sometimes these places are horrible. You will not abandon those who suffer.

We have a habit energy to be a judge. Sometimes a judge for ourselves, sometimes a judge for others. When we hear something, we immediately form s judgement as to whether this is bad or good. Don’t be a judge. Don’t be a wall. You have to be space. Space can absorb everything, but if you are a judge you will have a wall and whatever people say will rebound back to them and they won’t feel relieved at all but rather suffocated.

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Chant of Karmic Purification or Repentance

All my ancient, twisted karma,
from beginningless greed, hate, and delusion,
born through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully atone.

The practice of Buddhist repentance is very unique because we are not asking for divine forgiveness. It is the clear recognition of our own unskillful actions done intentionally or unmindfully through our body, speech and mind. These are the result of our lack of compassion and wisdom, originating from our attachments, aversions and delusions. We should never forget that we are the masters of our own destiny and responsible of all our actions, big and small.

After recognizing our misgivings, we make the resolution to be as mindful as we can, so as to never repeat them under any circumstances. In this sense, repentance is about forgiving oneself through expressing regret, and to start fresh, absolving oneself of unhealthy guilt while renewing determination to further avoid evil, do good and purify the mind with greater diligence. Living with a heart full of guilt and regret, which are negative emotions will never let you see things with wisdom and equanimity.

Excerpt from “The purpose of repentance” by Dennis Estrada

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There are infinite chants dedicating merit, some brief and some long. This is from the Theravada Forest Monk tradition:

May all beings always live happily,
free from animosity.
May all share in the blessings
springing from the good I have done.

“Brief Notes on Dedication of Merits” according to Vajrayana Mani Mantra Teachings as told by the Venerable Yangthang Rinpoche Penor Rinpoche

 The dedication of merit as it is taught in the Buddhadharma is one of the most vital and profound part of spiritual practice and a unique aspect of the Buddha’s teachings not found in other forms of spirituality. The reason why we are still suffering in samsara is that we have not gathered the accumulations of merit and wisdom. Although we have performed numerous positive deeds over many lifetimes – we have never dedicated this merit to the achievement of full enlightenment for all sentient beings. Thus when the positive karma ripens, it simply leads to some temporary positive states or happiness which will be used up in time and therefore when our merit finishes, we will lose that happiness and simply fall back into suffering.

By dedicating our merits to supreme awakening for all beings, we will experience positive results and well-being from that merit, plus it will not be used up until the ultimate aim of your dedication, which is supreme enlightenment for all beings, is achieved. Thus, dedicating our merit is like adding a drop of water to an ocean, just as the ocean never dries up, that drop of water is never exhausted. The ocean is likened to the vastness of the purpose to which our merit (a drop of water) is directed to.

Another reason why we dedicate our merits is because in the teachings it is said that ‘a hundred eons of generosity and moral discipline can be destroyed in one moment of anger’.

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Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness

colorful silhouette of human crossing hands over art expressing loving-kindness
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness
translated from the Pali by
The Amaravati Sangha
© 2004

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Watching Thoughts with Care

The thought manifests as the word;
the word manifests as the deed;
the deed develops into habit;
and habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings

– Gautama

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Trainings in Diversity

The Seven Trainings in Diversity

1. Aware of the suffering caused by imposing one’s own opinions or cultural beliefs upon another human being, I undertake the training to refrain from forcing others, in any way – through authority, threat, financial incentive, or indoctrination – to adopt my own belief system. I commit to respecting every human being’s right to be different, while working towards the elimination of sufferings of all beings.

2. Aware of the suffering caused by invalidating or denying another person’s experience, I undertake the trainings to refrain from making assumptions or judging harshly any beliefs and attitudes that are different or not understandable from my own. I commit to being open minded and accepting of other points of view, and I commit to meeting each perceived difference in another person with kindness, respect, and a willingness to learn more about their worldview.

3. Aware of the suffering caused by the violence of treating someone as inferior or superior to one’s own self, I undertake the training to refrain from diminishing or idealizing the work, integrity, and happiness of any human being. Recognizing that my true nature is not separate from others, I commit to teaching each person that comes into my consciousness with the same loving kindness, care, and equanimity that I would bestow upon a beloved benefactor or dear friend.

4. Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

5. Aware of the suffering caused by the often unseen nature of privilege, and the ability of privilege to benefit a select population over others, I undertake the training to refrain from exploiting any person or group, in any way including economically, sexually, intellectually, or culturally. I commit to examine with wisdom and clear comprehension the ways that I have privilege in order to determine skillful ways of using privilege for the benefit of all beings, and I commit to the practice of generosity in all aspects of my life and towards all human beings, regardless of cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual age, physical, or economic differences.

6. Aware of the suffering caused to myself and others by fear and anger during conflict or disagreement, I undertake the training to refrain from reacting defensively, using harmful speech because I feel injured, or using language or cognitive argument to justify my sense of rightness. I commit to communicate and express myself mindfully, speaking truthfully from my heart with patience and compassion. I commit to practice genuine and deep listening to all sides of a dispute, and to remain in contact with my highest intentions of recognizing the Buddha nature within all beings.

7. Aware of the suffering caused by the ignorance of misinformation and the lack of information that aggravate fixed views, stereotypes, the stigmatizing of a human being as ‘other’, and the marginalization of cultural groups, I undertake the training to educate myself about other cultural attitudes, worldviews, ethnic traditions, and life experiences outside of my own. I commit to be curious with humility and openness, to recognize with compassion the experience of suffering in all beings, and to practice sympathetic joy when encountering the many different cultural expressions of happiness and celebration around the world.

–Written by Larry Yang and included in a chapter in “Friends on the Path”, by TNH, compiled by Jack Lawlor, published in 2002

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The sun has entered me.
The sun has entered me together with the cloud and the river.
I myself have entered the river,
and I have entered the sun
with the cloud and the river.
There has not been a moment
when we do not interpenetrate.

But before the sun entered me,
the sun was in me —
also the cloud and the river.
Before I entered the river,
I was already in it.
There has not been a moment
when we have not inter-been.

Therefore you know
that as long as you continue to breathe,
I continue to be in you.

Poem from “Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh”

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