Last Saturday, on Sept. 14, 2019, we studied the eighth of The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism — Praṇidhāna (Vow / Aspiration).
After a brief intro. on the vows of Mahayana Buddhists, we listened to Rev. Domyo Burk’s talk on “Buddhist Practice as a Lifelong Path of Growth and Transformation“. In her talk, the teacher expounded on how one’s vows fuel their practice and keep them on the path. Afterward, we all shared our personal journey with the vows and how we keep a sense of “spiritual urgency” alive.
The Ten Paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism : Vow / Aspiration
RECAP: Pāramitā (Sanskrit) or Parami (Pāli): “Perfection” or “Transcendent”. In Buddhism, the Paramitas refer to the perfection or culmination of certain practices. These practices are cultivated by Bodhisattvas for crossing from sensuous life (Samsara) to Enlightenment (Nirvana).
Vow / Aspiration / Resolution: (Praṇidhāna):
Praṇidhāna in Sanskrit, Paṇidhāna in Pali. Literally, Pranidhana means “laying on, fixing, applying, access, exertion, respectful conduct, profound religious meditation, vehement desire, vow, prayer”. Another form of this Sanskrit word — Praṇidhānam, means “determination”.
In Buddhism, the term carries the following meanings: “a firm resolve, earnest wish or prayerful vow that carries with it the power to accomplish its positive purpose.”
SOURCE: Harvey, Peter. An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press, 2013, p237.
You may also find resources that translate Pranidhana directly as “Bodhisattva vow”, which is “the vow in Mahayana Buddhism to follow the six pāramitās (perfections) and attain Buddhahood, the taking of which is deemed as the first entering of the Mahayana path. The core of the bodhisattva vow is: ‘I vow to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings’ ”.
SOURCE: “Bodhisattva vow.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Encyclopedia.com. 9-13-2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com.
Buddhists use their vows as a kind of compass, a way to stay on the path. You may not know where you’re ultimately headed, or if you’ll ever get there, but your vows tell you what direction to keep moving in. Following one’s vows in every moment — living in now, as is said in Zen — can be seen as the path itself.
SOURCE: “Beginner’s Mind : FAQs”, Lion’s Roar, September 2019, p.28.
The Four Great Vows / Bodhisattva Vows of Mahayana Buddhism
Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
The Buddha Way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.
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* Rev. Domyo Burk began Zen practice in 1996, and was ordained as a Zen monk in 2001 by Gyokuko Carlson Roshi. She then spent seven years in full-time residential monastic training at Dharma Rain Zen Center, which included a practice period at Tassajara Monastery in California. In 2010, she received Dharma Transmission, authorizing her to teach in the Soto Zen lineage, from Gyokuko Carlson Roshi. She now serves as the spiritual and executive director of Bright Way Zen in Portland, Oregon
- “There is nothing to gain in meditation”; “we must keep a non-seeking mind”; “you already have Buddha-nature, it’s only our desire that gets in the way.” Do these statements sound familiar? If so, why do Buddhists take vows? Isn’t a vow also an expression of one’s desire? a form of “goal seeking”? Do you think taking vows contradicts the teaching of “non-seeking mind”?
- Do you feel a sense of “Spiritual Urgency”? If so, how did it come to be? How do you keep it alive?
- Do you have any aspiration that you are working towards? whether you can achieve it or not? How does having this aspiration affect your life and the choices you make? ?
- Regardless of your religion and the spiritual vows you have taken (or not), please check out: “Best Practices for Bodhisattvas” by Josh Bartok. Your life journey may be closer to the Bodhisattva Path than you realized!
- If you have already taken the Four Great Vows, or if you are just curious about how they relate to a Buddhist’s practice, we recommend reading an excerpt from a talk given by the late Sensei Jishu Holmes: “I Vow”: