Vows and Commitments

The Root Of All Attainments

Vows and Commitments

The root of all attainments is to keep your vows and commitments intact. If you break your vows, you don’t get attainments or siddhis. With this in mind, Lord Buddha laid down a set of vows and rules to protect the practitioners’ mind from negative thoughts and actions.

Taking vows is like setting on a journey to a particular destination with a good road map to guide us. When we uphold our vows and commitments, our merits are constantly being generated and increasing even if our practice is interrupted by sleep or other distractions.

The lay vows are the most basic vows that one can take. Requiring no formal ceremony, the lay vows provide guidelines for the most fundamental good human behaviour.

The Eight Precepts are vows that can be taken as a merit-making activity for auspicious occasions such as Wesak Day and Tsongkhapa Day, or even on our birthdays!

The refuge vows are basic vows taken to change our habituations from negative to positive actions.

The Bodhisattva vows encompass Wishing Bodhicitta and Engaging Bodhicitta. Wishing Bodhicitta is simply the prayer-form while Engaging Bodhicitta is the action-form of turning our daily activities into actions to benefit others with awareness. The Bodhisattva vows include both the root and auxiliary vows.

Taking vows is important to enhance and maintain our practice in future lives. If you break any of the eighteen root Bodhisattva vows, you must purify by invoking the four opponent powers and retake them in front of a Buddha image at an appropriate ceremony.


The Lay Vows

To refrain from:

1. Killing

2. Taking what has not been given

3. Sexual misconduct

4. Telling lies

5. Drinking alcohol that clouds the mind


The Eight Precepts

To refrain from:

1. Killing

2. Stealing

3. Lying

4. Taking intoxicants,

5. Sexual misconduct

6. Taking meals at inappropriate times (One meal a day before noon)

7. Sitting on high and luxurious chairs

8. Wearing jewellery, cosmetics or perfume, enjoying music or TV


The Refuge Vows

To refrain from the Ten Non-Virtuous Actions:

3 of the Body – Killing, Stealing, Sexual Misconduct

4 of the Speech – Divisive Speech, Harsh Words, Idle Chatter, Lying

3 of the Mind – Envy, Hatred and Malice, Wrong Views


The Bodhisattva Vows

The Eighteen Root Vows

You must abandon:

1. Praising yourself and belittling others

2. Not sharing with others one’s wealth and the Dharma

3. Not forgiving even when others apologise

4. Doubting and denying the doctrine of the Great Vehicle

5., Taking offerings intended for the Three Jewels

6. Abandoning the doctrine (through sectarianism etc.)

7. Causing an ordained person to disrobe

8. Committing one of the five crimes of immediate retribution

9. Holding perverted views

10. Destroying places such as towns

11. Teaching emptiness to those untrained

12. Discouraging others from seeking full Enlightenment

13. Causing others to break the vow of individual liberation

14. Belittling those who follow the path of individual liberation

15. Proclaiming false realisations (of Emptiness etc)

16. Accepting gifts of articles that have been misappropriated from the belongings of the Three Jewels

17. Laying down harmful regulations and passing false judgement

18. Giving up the pledge of altruistic aspiration (Bodhicitta)

Except in the cases of giving up the pledge of altruistic aspiration and holding perverted views, a complete infraction of any of the root vows requires association with what are the called the ‘four factors of thorough entanglement’:


The Four Conditions That Constitute A Vow Transgression

  1. Not being mindful of the disadvantages
  2. Not reversing the desire to indulge in the infraction
  3. Indulging in the act with great pleasure and delight
  4. Lack of any shame and conscience


The Forty Six Auxiliary Vows Of A Bodhisattva

You are to abandon the following actions:

Seven Downfalls Related To Generosity

1. Not making offerings every day to the Three Jewels

2. Acting out thoughts of desire because of discontent

3. Not paying respect to those senior to one in ordination and in taking Bodhisattva vows

4. Not answering questions out of negligence though one is able to do so

5. Selfishly not accepting invitations due to pride, the wish to hurt others’ feelings, or anger and laziness

6. Not accepting others’ gifts out of jealousy, anger etc. or simply to hurt the other

7. Not giving the Dharma to those who wish to learn


Nine Downfalls Related To The Practice Of Morality

8. Ignoring and insulting someone who has committed any of the five heinous crimes or defiled his or her vows of individual liberation, or treating him or her with contempt

9. Not observing the precepts of moral conduct because one wishes to ingratiate oneself with others

10. Complying with the minor precepts when the situation demands one’s disregard of them for the greater benefit of others

11. Not committing one of the seven negative actions of the body and speech when universal love and compassion deem it necessary in a particular instance

12. Accepting things which are acquired through one of the five wrong livelihoods

13. Wasting time on frivolous actions (such as carelessness, lack of purely morality, dancing, playing music just for fun, gossiping) and also distracting others in meditation

14. Misconceiving that Bodhisattvas do not attempt to attain liberation and failing to view delusions as things to be eliminated

15. Not living up to one’s percepts, thinking that doing so might decrease one’s popularity, or not correcting the undisciplined behaviour of body and speech which result in a bad reputation that limits one’s ability to carry out the tasks of a Bodhisttva

16. Not correcting others whom, motivated by delusions, commit negative actions. Doing so helps them to disclose and purify their actions, whereas concealing them generates suspicions of being disliked by others


Four Downfalls Related To Patience

17. Parting from the four noble disciplines; not retaliating when scolded by others, humiliated by others, hit by others or even killed by others

18. Neglecting those who are angry with you

19. Refusing to accept the apologies of others

20. Acting out thoughts of anger, not opposing the arousal of anger within one’s mind by reflecting upon its harmful consequences etc


Three Downfalls Related To Joyous Effort

21. Gathering circle of disciples out of desire for respect and material gain

22. Wasting time and energy on trivial matters, not countering laziness, addiction to excessive sleep, and procrastination

23. Being addicted to frivolous talk


Three Downfalls Related To Concentration

24. Not seeking the appropriate conditions for attaining single pointed concentration, and meditating upon it without proper guidance

25. Not eliminating the obstacles to one’s concentration

26. Regarding the blissful experience derived from concentration as the main purpose of single pointed meditation


Eight Downfalls Related To The Perfection Of Wisdom

27. Abandoning the doctrines of the Lesser Vehicle with the thought that the practitioners of the Greater Vehicle need not study or practise them

28. Unnecessarily expanding one’s energy in the other directions despite having one’s own Greater Vehicle methods

29. Pursuing non-Dharma studies to the neglect of the Dharma ones

30. Studying non-Dharma subjects with great thoroughness, out of attachments to these views, and favouring them

31. Abandoning the doctrines of the Great Vehicle, claiming that they are ineffective and rejecting the texts on ground of their litery style

32. Praising oneself and belittling others out of arrogance and hatred

33. Not attending Dharma ceremonies, discourses etc out of laziness or pride

34. Despising one’s Guru and not relying on his words


Twelve Downfalls Related To Ethics And Helping Others

35. Not helping those who need assistance

36. Avoiding the task of caring for sick people

37. Not working to alleviate other’s suffering, such as the seven types of frustrations: being blind, deaf, lame, exhausted from fatigue, depressed, abused and rebuked by others, and suffering from hindrances to a calm and single pointed mind

38. Not showing the Dharma way to those recklessly caught up in the affairs of this life alone

39. Not repaying the kindness of others

40. Not consoling those who have mental grief, such as that caused by separation from loved ones

41. Not giving material aid to those who are in need of it

42. Not taking care of one’s circles of disciples, relatives and friends by giving them teaching and material aid

43. Not acting in accordance to others’ wishes

44. Not praising those who deserve praise and their good qualities

45. Not preventing harmful acts to the extent permitted by circumstances

46. Not employing physical prowess of supernatural powers, if one possesses them, at the time needed