We were very lucky this week to have Tesshin chant for us the Bodhisattva Vows (Shigu Seiganmon). These verses are commonly chanted four times in Buddhist temples at the end of a sitting session. It was quite a moving experience!
Below is the English transliteration and translation of the chant…
Shujô muhen seigan do,
Bonnô mujin seigan dan,
Hômon muryô seigan gaku,
Butsudô mujô seigan jô.
However innumerable all beings are,
I vow to save them all
However inexhaustible my delusions are,
I vow to overcome them all
However immeasurable the Dharma Teachings are,
I vow to fathom them all
The Buddha’s Path is endless,
I vow to follow it to its very end
After chanting, Tesshin expounded on what these lines mean and how we can apply them to our practice and daily life.
“However innumerable all beings are, I vow to save them all”
Here we mean that we need to consider and care for everything. It is not just about helping myself or my family. It is about looking at the bigger picture. It is commonly said in Zen that we must care even for inanimate objects as even they have something to teach. How does one save all beings? Why would we make such a vow? It is nothing more than changing our perspective from “me and other” to “oneness.” Sound familiar?
“However inexhaustible my delusions are, I vow to overcome them all”
This vow is around modesty and determination. We are deluded creatures! It is said that knowing that you have a problem is the first step in addressing it. Buddhism talks about the “three poisons” of greed, hatred, and ignorance. It is said that from these all of the delusions of the mind arise. Knowing this gives us a tool to start figuring out how to overcome delusions – even if we have many!
“However immeasurable the Dharma Teachings are, I vow to fathom them all”
Tesshin has said many times that the practice is not easy. There are no short cuts on the path. The teachings are about reality and that is limitless. We cannot simply reach a surface understanding, declare success, and move our attention to the next “bright shiny object.” This is a life-long project – and even after a lifetime, we will not be done!
“The Buddha’s Path is endless, I vow to follow it to its very end”
This vow states that even if we save all beings, learn all the teachings and really know reality, and discipline the mind and dispel delusions we are still not done! One may ask, why bother if we are never done? This is why Buddhism is a religion. At some level we simply have to believe. The Buddha Path is endless and without bounds. It is reality in and of itself. If we want to truly understand then we must follow it to its very end!
Tesshin next discussed how we can take these vows and apply them to our everyday life. First, he suggested that it would be beneficial to chant this every morning after meditation. The idea is to renew your vows and give your day purpose. If you internalize what the vows are trying to teach it will affect all of your decisions throughout the day. For instance, If we vow to “save all sentient” beings in the morning it will be easier to help a colleague in the afternoon when they ask for help – even if it is inconvenient. Furthermore, if we have vowed to save everyone, perhaps we will be less distrustful of someone who does not share the same set of beliefs. (We really need this in this day in age!) Lastly, if we really vow to save everyone – this means everyone. (At this point we had a brief discussion about how Buddhism could open up more to minorities and we discussed ideas for next year about potential outreach.)
Next, Tesshin also reinforced the idea of commitment. These vows are not meant to be easy. Making big vows teaches us to commit to something and then work to accomplish it. Learning all the teachings of the Dharma is a huge task. It is not something to be done casually – it must be taken seriously.
Tesshin wrapped up by wishing everyone happy holidays and a happy new year. He also suggested that we use the holiday time to reflect on our practice and these vows and challenged us to come back recharged for a great 2019.