Comments On The Bodhisattva Vows

Shunryu_Suzuki_by_Robert_BoniYesterday, I presented the Vows of the Bodhisattvas in two versions. One of the versions was from the San Francisco Zen Center and their founder, Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. It goes like this:

Beings are numberless. I vow to awaken with them.
Delusions 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.

Then I found this dharma talk given by Suzuki Roshi on April 29, 1969, in which he made comments on the bodhisattva vows. You can actually listen to the dharma talk right here!


In the dharma talk, he spoke about the precepts as vows.

The precepts are related to the Five Mindfulness Trainings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

For example, one of the precepts is not to kill. This relates to the first mindfulness training.

Suzuki Roshi’s point of view on this teaching is that its purpose is to arise our buddha nature, our buddha mind, our “bodhichitta.”  He says,

But purpose of—if you understand the purpose of observing the precepts is—precepts is to arise buddha-mind, then when you say “I will not kill,” at that moment you have buddha-mind.  There is no need to think, “I have to keep or observe precepts or vow forever.”  Even though—actually we don’t know what we will do in next moment [laughs].  It is very difficult to know, to be sure about our future.  But even it is so right now  “I will not kill!”  That is enough to arise buddha-mind.  Even though it is not possible to save all sentient beings, but moment after moment if you say, “I must save all sentient being”—then you have buddha-mind.

So with regard to the comments on the bodhisattva vows, he states,

So “Sentient beings are numberless”:  Maybe, you know, it means that sentient beings are numberless.  I vow to save them moment after moment, continuously.  But “moment after moment, continuously” is not necessary.  “I vow to save them” is strong enough and good enough.  “I vow to save them.”  If the sentient beings are numberless, we will take this vow numberless times, that’s all [laughs].  In this way, we feel another, you know, quite—feeling of quite different quality.  We feel the eternal practice of our way, of our Buddhist way.  So that it is—”Sentient beings are numberless” means that our practice is—will continue forever.

“Desires are inexhaustible.  I vow to put an end to them.” If our—the purpose of keeping precepts is to annihilate our desires.  This vow is con- [partial word]—not possible, contradiction.  But if the purpose of vow is to arise our buddha-mind, then it makes sense.  The “inexhaustible” is some—gives us some encouragement, and we can continue our practice forever.  And we—we will have firm confidence in our practice which continue forever.  So we will be encouraged by this vow forever.

“The dharma is boundless.  I vow to master them.” Here it says also “boundless,” the boundless dharma.  I vow to master it.  So our vow will continue forever, and we—we can believe in our boundless dhamma.

“The Buddha’s way is unsurpassable.  I vow to attain it.” The same thing will be true with this vow.

Thus, even taking the bodhisattva vows has the purpose of awakening our buddha nature.

So the same thing is true with the precepts or mindfulness trainings.

By calling them “trainings,” Thich Nhat Hanh is already pointing out that our purpose in taking them is to awaken our buddha nature.

Did you take on any vows? If so, what are they? Do they help awaken bodhichitta (buddha mind)?

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