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.
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.