The Vow

We’ve reviewed the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, two core principles of Buddhism. From these two ideas there’s a whole universe of interpretations, additions, and expansions. Every time Buddhism is introduced to a new culture, it tends to adapt towards the specific pressures that exist at that time. Tibetan Buddhism is different from the Zen Buddhism of Japan, the Pure Land Buddhism that comes out of Thailand, or the distinctly secular vibe of American Buddhism. Still, all use the Truths and the Path as the kernel for their teachings — and most forms of Mahayana Buddhism formalize the desire to bring enlightenment to all beings as well.

The Bodhisattva Vow is one way to cement one’s intention to practice loving-kindness as a way of life, a commitment to the peace and enlightenment of others — even if that requires sacrificing our own. It means doing whatever brings harmony to our world without the demand that others do the same; after all, we can’t control the actions of the people around us. We can control how we respond to it, and choose how we intend to impact our environment. 

The version of the Bodhisattva Vow I keep in my Bullet Journal is a bit different from the most commonly seen one, but I like it just the same:

However innumerable beings there are,
I vow to meet them with a loving heart and curious spirit.
However inexhaustible the states of suffering are,
I vow to touch them with patience and love.
However immeasurable the Dharmas are, 
I vow to embrace them deeply.
However incomparable the mystery of being, 
I vow to surrender to it fully.

The Bodhisattva Vow

The reason I like this version of the vow is that it focuses on my intention, my actions, my acceptance and surrender. More commonly, the Vow seeks to liberate all beings, extinguish all suffering, learn the Dharma completely, and achieve the Buddha Way. I’ve never been comfortable vowing to “liberate” all beings — it’s too evangelical for my tastes, and sets our intention to change/control that which cannot be changed or controlled. This version still nods to the inherent impossibility of completing this mission, but it shifts the action towards the personal. We change the world by changing ourselves; hopefully, this allows us to impact our environment in smaller, but more lasting ways. 

The Metta Sutta is more of a Theravada text, but it has become quite popular in Mahayana practice. Theravada Buddhists are kind of the “orthodox” tribe, steeped in millennia of tradition and beliefs about how this whole wheel of karma thing works. Mahayana Buddhists tend to see Buddhism as a living thing, and enlightenment as a process that can and does happen in stages. Beliefs frequently cross-pollinate — for example, the Rinzai school of Zen also favors the idea of “sudden” enlightenment — but Theravadans tend to stick to only the teachings from the Pali Canon.

The Metta Sutta is one of these teachings. It’s the Buddha’s words on loving-kindness, which, to me, is the Right Intention that leads to compassion, or Right Action. Loving-kindness is the desire to see all beings as happy and content as possible; compassion is the desire to act so that suffering is eased. 

This version of the Metta Sutta serves me as a mantra for how to move through the world, and has helped me so much with working in fields where you deal with people who tend to treat you unkindly. It’s a reminder to keep focused on the core aim of my existence; to make others happy, to ease suffering, to create a better world any way I can.

This is what should be done by the one who is wise,
Who seeks the good and has obtained peace.
May I be strenuous, upright, and sincere,
Without pride, easily contented, and joyous.
May I not be submerged by the things of this world.
May I not take upon myself the burden of riches.
May my senses be controlled.
May I be wise but not puffed up,
And may I not desire great possessions, even for my family.
May I do nothing mean or that the wise would later reprove.
May all beings be at ease.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
In middle, high, or low realms of existence,
Small or great, visible or invisible, near or far,
Born or to be born; may all beings be at ease.
May I not deceive another, nor despise any being in any state; 
May I not by anger or hatred wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her own life
Watches over and protects her only child,
So with a boundless mind may I cherish all living beings,
Suffusing love over the entire world — 
Above, below, and all around, without limit;
So may I cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.
Standing or walking, sitting or lying down,
During all my waking hours,
May I practice the way with gratitude.
Not holding to fixed views,
Endowed with insight,
Freed from sense appetites,
One who achieves the way will be free
From the duality of birth and death. 

The Metta Sutta

Like the Bodhisattva Vow, this is a tall order — almost impossible. But I’d much rather put my faith in this impossibility, of being able to love everyone and treat people in ways that express that love, than…you know, eternal damnation for loving the wrong people. (That was not very metta towards Christians, sorry not sorry.)

Beyond the Truths and the Path, the Vow is a reminder that Buddhism isn’t just meditation or enjoying solution-less riddles about the illusion of the self. It’s a way of thinking, self-reflection, and action that suffuses everything in life. It’s a core component of the person I’d like to become.

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