Every morning after situating the dogs, feeding and letting them out into the yard, I grab my coffee and head upstairs to the bathroom. Laying all the items out neatly on the counter and turning on the flat iron, I meet my own gaze in the mirror.
In my head, I echo words that have become familiar. I’ve repeated the words so many times that they’ve become more than words. The vow has become a challenge, a motivation, and a guiding light.
Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.
There are many variations on these Bodhisattva vows, but regardless of the words, the meaning is essentially universal. When you take these vows you are promising to undertake an endless and impossible task. It is a promise to act in a way that is helpful and beneficial to all beings. You promise to live your life for the greater good, in attempts to leave the world better than you found it.
The Bodhisattva is an enlightened being who, deferring his/her own full Buddhahood, dedicates his/herself to helping others attain Liberation. – Sarasota Zen Center
The first line talks about all of the living creatures in the world. There are far too many for anyone to save. Despite the unfortunate fact that you will not possible be able to save everyone, you make a promise to help whoever you can.
Next, we talk about desires and sometimes the other poisons of the mind (delusion and aversion.) These things hinder us on our journey to achieve perfect knowledge. They will come up over and over again in life, endlessly. We vow to learn to recognize delusions every single time they arise and overcome them.
Dharma gates, opportunities for growth and learning. Each and every situation in life is an opportunity to for growth and knowledge. When we vow to enter or master every Dharma gate we are promising to tackle every learning opportunity head on. We will not sit passively and wait for the life’s truths to come to us. This vow is a promise to actively seek out and pursue the truth or Dharma.
The last vow asks you to do the impossible – be a Buddha. It is a phrase I repeat to myself over and over again in my head whenever I have to face something difficult “Be a Buddha, be a Buddha, be a Buddha.” Sometimes I ask myself “What would Buddha do?” This is the vow I call on this vow more often than the others, taking the Buddha with me in my day to day activities, doing my best to mindfully live carrying out the right actions.
People sometimes question taking a vow to undertake an impossible task. Someone once made a comment that I was “setting myself up for failure” by holding an impossible goal. This statement misses the point completely.
When we take these vows it is an affirmation, we put our intentions forward into the world creating the seeds for action. As long as we follow these vows, genuinely putting forward our best efforts, we continue to learn and grow while doing good in the world. We practice Buddhism in this way each day growing and learning more (key word practice).
Be a candle to those who are in the dark. Let your light glow bright and share it with the world. Remember that one candle can light many flames.