This week Roshi explained the Bodhisattva vows as we will begin chanting them as part of our service. Why would it make sense for us to chant such outrageous vows in the first place?
•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 realize it
On the surface it appears that these vows are impossible to fulfill, so what purpose do they really serve? Tesshin Roshi mentioned that these vows set us to really penetrate what is being said in the Heart Sutra. The sutra states …
“No path, no wisdom and no gain.
No gain – thus Bodhisattvas live this Prajna Paramita”
One cannot have gain with these vows, they are clearly impossible. What the vows do give, however, is a journey into deeper practice. One aspires to perfection, even if it is not possible to achieve it. We stop aiming for a specific goal to “complete” and instead vow to live a certain way for our entire life. There is no “graduation” from our practice!
Roshi next moved on to explain the relationship between the four Bodhisattva vows and the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is that life has suffering. We can never get away from this fundamental fact of existence. The first vow addresses this by having us realize this suffering and dedicating our life to the alleviation of suffering of all beings.
The Second Noble Truth is that the suffering in our existence has a concrete reason – namely our delusion about the true nature of reality. This is a critical teaching in Buddhism. Suffering is not caused by some supernatural force or as a punishment from a god due to misbehavior. It is simple cause and effect. The second vow reminds us that our delusions are endless, however, we will vow to transcend them all.
The Third Noble Truth states that because suffering has a cause it can be mitigated in this life right now. As such we vow that although the teachings for the Dharma are boundless, we vow to master them all. This is really the “good news” of Buddhism. The ability to eliminate suffering is in our hands. It is not easy, of course, but it is possible.
The Fourth Noble Truth tells us how to approach the task of eliminating our delusions through the Dharma. It lays out the eight-fold path of living including …
So, in the Fourth Bodhisattva Vow we state that this path is absolutely impossible to get completely right, but we commit to do it anyway.
Roshi emphasized that chanting the Four Bodhisattva Vows serves to bring the Four Noble Truths into our lives and practice. We chant it everyday as the Vows are endless, and the Truths are endless, and our practice, of course, is endless.