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The Bodhisattva vow is the vow taken by Mahayana Buddhists to attain complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. One who has taken the vow is nominally known as a Bodhisattva. Whereas the Prātimokṣa vows cease at death, the Bodhisattva vow extends into future lives. There are two traditions of the Bodhisattva vow, one originating from Asanga and the other from Nagarjuna.
Taking the Bodhisattva vow
A Bodhisattva vow is found at the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra by Samantabhadra. In the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, Shantideva explains that the Bodhisattva vow is taken with the following famous two verses from 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.
As mentioned by Alexander Berzin (1997), the Bodhisattva vow transcends the present lifetime:
The promise to keep bodhisattva vows applies not only to this life, but to each subsequent lifetime until enlightenment. Thus these vows continue on our mind-stream into future lives.
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.
The following table of the fourfold vow is as practiced by the Mahayana traditions of China, Japan, and Korea.
|Chinese (hanzi)||Chinese (pinyin)||Sino-Japanese||Hangul||Korean||English|
|四弘誓願||Sì hóng shì yuàn||Shi gu sei gan||사홍서원||sa hong seo won||The Four Encompassing Vows|
|眾生無邊誓願度||Zhòng shēng wúbiān shì yuàn dù||Shū jō mu hen sei gan do||중생무변서원도||Jung saeng mu byeon seo won do||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||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||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||Buddha Way, unsurpassable,|
[I/we] vow to accomplish [it]
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 bodhisttva 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.
- 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.
- Berzin, Alexander (1997). "Vows and Closely Bonding Practices". Taking the Kalachakra Initiation. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 9781559390842. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
- 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.
- Lama Jampa Thaye, Rain of Clarity: The Stages of the Path in the Sakya Tradition. London: Ganesha, 2006.
- Blo-gros-mthaʼ-yas, Koṅ-sprul; Taye, Lodro; Rinpoche, Bokar (2003). Śes bya mthaʼ yas paʼi rgya mtsho [Complete Explanation of the Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva and Vajrayana Vows – Buddhist Ethics]. Treasury of Knowledge. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-191-X. OCLC 52906881.
- Panchen, Ngari; Gyalpo, Pema Wangyi; Rinpoche, Dudjom (1996). Sdom gsum rnam ṅes [Perfect Conduct: Ascertaining the Three Vows]. Translated by Gyurme Samdrub; Sangye Khandro. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 9780861710836. OCLC 34669418.
- Rinpoche, Bokar (1997). Vœu de Bodhisattva [Taking the Bodhisattva Vow]. Translated by Christiane Buchet. San Francisco: ClearPoint Press. ISBN 978-0-9630371-8-3. OCLC 42015705.
- Rinchen, Sonam; Chandragomin (2000). Sonam, Ruth, ed. Bodhisattvasaṃvaraviṃśaka [The Bodhisattva Vow]. Translated by Ruth Sonam. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-150-2. OCLC 44026191.
- Tson-Kha-Pa (1986). Asanga's Chapter on Ethics, with the Commentary of Tsong-Kha-Pa: The Basic Path to Awakening – The Complete Bodhisattva. Translated by Mark Tatz. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-88946-054-X. OCLC 605654078.
- Brahma Net Sutra
- The Actions for Training from Pledged Bodhichitta, Root Bodhisattva Vows and the Secondary Bodhisattva Vows by Dr. Alexander Berzin (including commentary according to Tibetan Gelug Tradition)
- Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow by Chandragomin
- Nine Considerations and Criteria for Benefiting Beings