The Bodhisattva Vows

When I first was introduced to Zen Meditation at the San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) in Green Gulch Farm in Sausalito, I learned the four Bodhisattva vows.

One day last week, I woke up thinking about these vows and what they meant to me and then the following came in an email:


Ordinary beings—even those who are kind and compassionate—are primarily motivated by self-interest and work mainly for their own benefit. All of their activities and thoughts are tinged by self-serving motivations and attitudes. Even when they perform acts of kindness, they generally do so expecting praise or personal satisfaction and not because of pure altruism.

Bodhisattvas, however, are motivated by universal compassion, and they seek the ultimate goal of buddhahood in order to be of service to others. They embark on this path with the generation of the mind of awakening. Unlike ordinary beings, who think of their own advantage, bodhisattvas consider how best to benefit others.

– John Powers from A Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism

The bodhisattva vows as I learned them originally go like this:

Beings are numberless. I vow to save 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.

I remember the lovely sound of the chanting of these vows in the dharma hall and how they touched me in places that were very vulnerable at the time.

As 2016 being today, I am beginning to penetrate into the depth of these teachings by recognizing the people around me who are true bodhisattvas – like Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Who do you know to be a true bodhisattva?

Happy New Year!

Books by John Powers

A Concise Introduction To Tibetan Buddhism

John Powers

Lucid and economical, this introductory text delivers a brisk, fast-moving survey of Tibetan Buddhism. For many years Powers’s nearly 600-page Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism has served as the field’s most authoritative and comprehensive overview of Tibet’s distinctive Buddhist tradition.

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