The three types of Vows – Part 2 Boddhisattva Vows

Bodhicitta Vows



Bodhicitta is the moisture on which the seed of spiritual growth can unfold. The Mind of Enlightenment encompasses both our aspiration and practical steps not to cause harm to others but also to take responsibility single handed to bring happiness and enlightenment to all sentient beings, with love, compassion and absolutely no regard for our own welfare and interest. These two aspects are known as aspirational and practical Bodhicitta[1].


 Bodhicitta vows should be kept for as long as we take to reach Enlightenment and should be thus deeply engraved in our mind stream. Unlike Pratimoksha vows, which are dissolved at death, Bodhicitta vows are carried from one life stream to another, forming the basis for our next incarnation, as part of our karma. This vow is much more difficult to abide by than the Pratimoksha, as it relates to our entire mental attitude, the realm of our thoughts and aspirations, which are subtle and difficult to monitor and control. Nevertheless it is also extremely powerful in lifting us away from all disturbing emotions that are destroyed and no longer just avoided as in the previous case by our compassionate and caring attitude towards all other beings, leaving no space for anger, desire and lifting the veils of our obscurations.


According to Dudjom Rinpoche, the Bodhisattva vow has three main sections.


The first one is refraining from harmful deeds which can be considered from two different traditions. One tradition derives from the sutra Dampo Koe (The Sutra  according to Manjushri. It is the tradition of Shantideva[2]. The other is the great Bhumi which is the tradition of Asanga received from Maitreya and spread in Tibet through Atisha.


In Nyingmapa tradition, which follows the lineage of Acharyat Padmasambhava, the vows are received according to Nagarjuna Tradition and the view is maintained according to both lineages.


The second section is amassing virtuous deeds or training in the six perfections of generosity, moral discipline, patience, diligence, contemplation and wisdom


The last section is service to others using the practice of the four means of gathering disciples or bringing others to the dharma. These four practices are known as displaying generosity, speaking pleasantly, leading others to the path of dharma and acting according to one’s word- enacting the dharma in one’s own life


As mentioned above there are two aspects to Bodhicitta, the aspiration, which is wishing to attain the state of being able to help all mother sentient achieve liberation and practical Bodhicitta which is the actual steps we make to accomplish this aspiration. Accordingly, the great master Longchen Rabjam taught that the vow for the Bodhicitta of aspiration is to contemplate the four Immeasurable[3] whereas the vow for practical Bodhicitta is to train in the six perfections.


Dudjom Rinpoche describes the nature of the vow as follows:

The nature is the mind moist with love and compassion that wishes to obtain full awakening for the sake of others, together with the intention to abandon all faults of the three doors[4]


And further


Here, love is defined as the kind of unconditional love a mother has for her only child, directed towards all sentient beings by viewing them all with loving-kindness joined with the strong desire to see them all established in true, permanent  happiness.

A mind moist with compassion refers to the un- diminishing wish to see that all beings are set free from suffering and the causes of suffering

The desire to achieve full awakening is the wish to engage in activities solely for the purpose of benefiting others. With this attitude, one desires to unite method and wisdom in the practice of aspirational and practical Bodhicitta and to actualise the nature of the six transcendent virtues as well as abandoning all circumstances that would obstruct one from accomplishing the purpose of others. (sic)


 The most important to understand here is that following the path of the Bodhisattva ultimately leads to full Buddhahood .Six categories summarise the path which are common to both Nagarjuna and Asanga tradition in the following manner

 The awakened mind arises simultaneously with the realisation of the nature of emptiness; the innate compassion that arises spontaneously from within is the awakened mind of the essential nature of emptiness

The second category develops during the training and development of the two accumulation of merit, relative and absolute[5]. This externally arisen mind is known as relative awakened mind, whereas the subtle awakened mind born from the awareness of the nature of reality is termed ultimate awakened mind.

The third level occurs when engaged in accomplishing the purpose of others whilst training in pure morality, single pointed meditative absorption and self liberating wisdom.

 The fourth level occurs on the path of preparation and accumulation, when we are engaged in realising the nature of emptiness free from limitation.

[1] see appendix Boddhichita

[2] The teachings on the profound nature of emptiness were compiled by Manjuhri and commentaries were composed by Nagajurna, establishing first that all phenomena are empty of any inherent nature, this according to conventional reality.

[3] Love, Compassion ,joy and equanimity

[4] Ascertaining the three Vows, Ngari Panchen, commentary by HH Dudjom Rinpoche, Wisdom Publication, Boston, 1996


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