Bodhisattva vow

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The Bodhisattva vow is the vow taken by Mahayana Buddhists to liberate all sentient beings. One who has taken the vow is nominally known as a Bodhisattva. This can be done by venerating all Buddhas and by cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhicitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings.[1] Whereas the Prātimokṣa vows cease at death, the Bodhisattva vow extends into future lives.

Avatamsaka Sutra[edit]

A Bodhisattva vow is found at the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra, in which Samantabhadra makes ten vows to become a Bodhisattva. In the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, Shantideva explains that the Bodhisattva vow is taken with the following famous two verses from that sutra:

Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,
So will I, too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.[2]

East Asia[edit]

The following table of the fourfold vow is as practiced by the Mahayana traditions of China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.

Chinese (hanzi) Chinese (pinyin) Sino-Japanese Hangul Korean Vietnamese English
四弘誓願 Sì hóng shì yuàn Shi gu sei gan 사홍서원 sa hong seo won Tứ hoằng thệ nguyện The Four Encompassing Vows
眾生無邊誓願度 Zhòng shēng wúbiān shì yuàn dù Shu jō mu hen sei gan do 중생무변서원도 Jung saeng mu byeon seo won do Chúng sanh vô biên thệ nguyện độ Masses [of] creatures, without-bounds,
[I/we] vow to save [them all].
煩惱無盡誓願斷 Fánnǎo wújìn shì yuàn duàn Bon nō mu jin sei gan dan 번뇌무진서원단 Beon noe mu jin seo won dan Phiền não vô tận thệ nguyện đoạn Anxiety [and] hate, [delusive-desires] inexhaustible,
[I/we] vow to break [them all].
法門無量誓願學 Fǎ mén wúliàng shì yuàn xué Hō mon mu ryō sei gan gaku 법문무량서원학 Beob mun mu jin seo won hag Pháp môn vô lượng thệ nguyện học Dharma gates beyond-measure
[I/we] vow to learn [them all].
佛道無上誓願成 Fó dào wúshàng shì yuàn chéng Butsu dō mu jō sei gan jō 불도무상서원성 Bul do mu sang seo won seong Phật đạo vô thượng thệ nguyện thành Buddha Way, unsurpassable,
[I/we] vow to accomplish [it]


Buddhist monk rescuing injured sparrow. Likir Monastery, Ladakh, India

In Tibetan Buddhism there are two lineages of the bodhisattva vow. The first is associated with the Cittamatra movement of Indian Buddhism, and is said to have originated with the bodhisattva Maitreya, and to have been propagated by Asanga. The second is associated with the Madhyamaka movement, and is said to have originated with the bodhisattva Manjusri and to have been propagated by Nagarjuna, and later by Shantideva. The main difference between these two lineages of the bodhisattva vow is that in the Cittamatra lineage the vow cannot be received by one who has not previously received the pratimokṣa vows.[3]

According to Alexander Berzin, the bodhisattva vows transmitted by the 10th-century Indian master Atisha "derives from the Sutra of Akashagarbha (Nam-mkha'i snying-po mdo, Skt. Akashagarbhasutra), as cited in Compendium of Trainings (bSlabs-btus, Skt. Shikshasamuccaya), compiled in India by Shantideva in the 8th century" including 18 primary and 48 secondary downfalls.[4]

The 18 primary root downfalls of the bodhisattva vows are:[5]

  1. Praising ourselves and/or belittling others
  2. Not sharing Dharma teachings or wealth
  3. Not listening to others' apologies or striking others
  4. Discarding the Mahayana teachings and propounding made-up ones
  5. Taking offerings intended for the Triple Gem
  6. Forsaking the holy Dharma
  7. Disrobing monastics or committing such acts as stealing their robes
  8. Committing any of the five heinous crimes: (a) killing our fathers, (b) mothers, or (c) an arhat (a liberated being), (d) with bad intentions drawing blood from a Buddha, or (e) causing a split in the monastic community.
  9. Holding a distorted, antagonistic outlook
  10. Destroying places such as towns
  11. Teaching voidness to those whose minds are untrained
  12. Turning others away from full enlightenment
  13. Turning others away from their pratimoksha vows
  14. Belittling the shravaka vehicle
  15. Proclaiming a false realization of voidness
  16. Accepting what has been stolen from the Triple Gem
  17. Establishing unfair policies
  18. Giving up bodhicitta

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gyatso, Kelsang (1995). Joyful Path of Good Fortune. Translated by Tenzin Phunrabpa (2nd ed.). London: Tharpa Publications. pp. 442–553. ISBN 978-0-948006-46-3. OCLC 35191121.
  2. ^ Śāntideva (2002). Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra [Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life]. Translated by Neil Elliott and Kelsang Gyatso. Ulverston: Tharpa Publications. p. 30. ISBN 9780948006883. OCLC 51621991.
  3. ^ Lama Jampa Thaye, Rain of Clarity: The Stages of the Path in the Sakya Tradition. London: Ganesha, 2006.
  4. ^ Dr. Alexander Berzin, Root Bodhisattva Vows,
  5. ^ Dr. Alexander Berzin, Root Bodhisattva Vows,

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]