Bodhisattva Vows

by: Gelongma Thubten Chodron


There are two levels in the development of bodhicitta - the mind (or heart) dedicated to attaining enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. These are the aspiring and engaging bodhicitta. Whereas a person with the aspirin dedicated heart wants to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings, he/she is not yet prepared to engage in all of the practices and activities necessary to do so. On the other hand, a person who has generated the engaging dedicated heart joyfully undertakes the bodhisattva's practices of the six far-reaching attitudes (six perfections) by taking vow. The difference between aspiring and engaging bodhicitta is similar to the difference between wanting to go to Dharamsala, and actually getting onto the transport and travelling there.


The bodhisattva vows are taken on the basis of having taken refuge in the Three Jewels and some or all of the five lay precepts. Buddha prescribed the precepts and vows in order to protect one for doing actions which bring unhappy results and to help oneself attain enlightenment quickly and easily. Therefore, precepts and vows are not burdens to bear but are ornaments to be worn joyfully. 


The Eight Precepts of Aspiring Bodhicitta


After generating aspiring bodhicitta before the Guru and the Three Jewels, one should observe eight precepts in order to protect one's dedicated heart from degeneration in this and future lives.


How to protect one's dedicated heart from degenerating in this life:


1.       Remember the advantages of  bodhicitta again and again.

2.       To strengthen one's bodhicitta, generate the thought to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings three times in the morning and three times in the evening. Recitation and contemplation of the prayer for taking refuge and generating the dedicated heart is a geed way to fulfil this.

3.       Do not give up working for sentient beings even when they are harmful.

4.       To enhance one's bodhicitta, accumulate both merit and wisdom continuously.


How to  protect oneself from being separated from bodhicitta in

Future lives:


The four remaining precepts are explained in two complementary sets of four. These are: Abandon the  four black actions:

1.          Deceiving the Guru, abbot or other holy beings with lies.

2.          Causing others to regret virtuous actions that they have done.

3.          Abusing or criticizibg bodhisattvas or Mahayana.

4.          Not acting with a pure selfless wish but with pretension and deceit.

Practice the four white actions:

1.          Abandon deliberately deceiving and lying to Gurus, abbots and so forth.

2.          Be straightforward, without pretension or deceit.

3.          Generate the recognition of bodhisattvas as one's teacher and praise them.

4.          Assume the responsibility oneself to lead all sentient beings to enlightenment.


        The eighteen root bodhisattva vows


1.        a) Praising oneself or b) belittling others because of attachment to receiving material offerings, praise and respect.

2.        a) Not giving material aid or b) not teaching the Dharma to those who are suffering and without a protector, because of miserliness.

3.        a)Not listening although another declares his/her offence or b) with anger blaming him/her and retaliating.

4.        a) Abandoning the Mahayana by saying that Mahayana texts are not the words of Buddha or b) teaching what appears to be the Dharma but it not. 

5.        Taking things belonging to a) Buddha, b) Dharma or c) Sangha.

6.        Abandoning the holy Dharma by saying that texts which teach the three vehicles are not the Buddha's word.

7.        With anger a) depriving ordained ones or their robes, beating and imprisoning them or causing them to lose their ordination even if they have impure morality, foe example, by staying that being ordained is useless.

8.        Commiting any of the five extremely negative actions: a) killing one's mother, b) killing one's father' c) killing and arhat, d)intentionally drawing blood from a Buddha or e) causing schism in the Sangha community by supporting  and spreading sectarian views.

9.        Holding distorted views (which are contrary to the teaching of Budddha, such as denying the existence of the Three Jewels or the law of cause and effect etc.)

10.    Destroying a) town, b) village, c)city or d) large area by means such as fire, bombs, pollution or black magic.

11.    Teaching emptiness to those whose minds are unprepared.

12.    Causing those who have entered the Mahayana to turn away from working for the full enlightenment of Budhahood and encouraging them to work merely for their own liberation from suffering.

13.    Causing others to abandon completely their vows of self liberation and embrace the


14.    Holding and causing others to hold the view that the learner's vehicle (Theravada) does not abandon attachment and other delusions.

15.    Falsely staying that oneself has realized profound emptiness and that if others meditate as one has, they will realize emptiness and become as great and as highly realized as oneself.

16.    Taking gifts from others who were encouraged to give you things originally intended as offerings to the Three Jewels. Not gibing things to the Three Jewels that others have given you to give to them, or accepting property stolen from the Three Jewels.

17.    a) causing those engaged in calm abiding meditation to give et up by gibing their belongings to those who are merely reciting texts or b) making bad disciplinary rules which cause a spiritual community not to be harmonious.

18.    Abandoing the two bodhicittas (aspiring and engaging).


There are four binding factors which must all be present to transgress completely sixteen of the roots vows. The transgression of two vows, number 9 and 18, requires only the act itself. These four are:


1         Not regarding one's action as negative, or not caring that it is even though ones recognizes that the action is transgression a vow.

2         Not abandoning the thought to do the action again.

3         Being happy and rejoicing in the action.

4         Not having shame or consideration about what one has done.


To prevent oneself from experiencing the results of transgression the vows, one can purify by means of the four opponent powers. Prostration to the thirty-five Buddhas and the Vajrasattava meditation and recitation are excellent methods to purify transgressions. As one's bodhisaattva ordination has been damaged by completely breaking root vow, one should purify and then retake the vows before a Spiritual Master or before the objects of refuge- the Buddhas and bodhisattvas- that one has visualized.


      The forty-six auxillary bodhisattva vows


       To eliminate obstacles to the far-reaching attitude of generosity and obstacles to the moral

discipline of gathering virtuous actions, abandon:  


1.        Not making offerings to the Three Jewels everyday with one's body, speech and mind.

2.        Acting out selfish thoughts or desire to gain material possessions or reputation.

3.        Not respecting one's elders (those who have taken the bodhisattva vows before oneself or who have more experience than oneself).

4.        Not answering sincerely asked questions that one is capable of answering.

5.        Not accepting invitations from others out of anger, pride or other negative thoughts.

6.        Not accepting gifts of money, gold or other precious substances that others offer to oneself.

7.        Not giving the Dharma to those who desire it.

To eliminate obstacles to the far-reaching attitude to moral discipline, abandon:

8.        forsaking those who have broken their moral discipline: not giving them advice or not relieving their guilt.

9.        Not acting according to one's vowed training as it would generate or sustain faith in others.

10.    Doing only limited actions to benefit sentient beings, such as strictly keeping the Vinaya rules in situations when not doing so would be of greater benefit to others.

11.    Not doing non-virtuous actions of body and speech with living-compassion when circumstances deem it necessary in order to benefit others.

12.    Willingly accepting things that either oneself or others have obtained by any of the wrong livelihoods of hypocrisy, hinting flattery, coercion or bribery.

13.    Being distracted by and having a strong attachment to amusement, or without  any beneficial purpose leading others to join in distraction activities.

14.    Believing and saying that followers of the Mahayana should remain in cyclic existence and not try to attain liberation from delusions.

15.    Not abandoning negative actions which cause one to have a bad reputation.

16.    Not correcting one's  own deluded actions or not helping  others to correct theirs.

To eliminate obstacles to the far-reaching attitude of patience, abandon:

17.    Returning insults, anger, beating or criticism with insults and the like.

18.    Neglecting those who are angry with one self by not trying to pacify their anger.

19.    Refusing to accept the apologies of others.

20.    Acting out thoughts of anger.

To eliminate obstacles to the far-reaching attitude of joyous efforts, abandon:

21.    Gathering a circle of friends or disciples because of one's desire for respect of profit.

22.    Not dispelling the three types of laziness (sloth, attraction to negative actions, self-pity and discouragement).

23.    Without attachment, spending time idly talking and joking.

To eliminate obstacles to the far-reaching attitude of meditative stabillization, abandon:

24.    Not seeking the means to develop concentration, such as proper instructions and the right conditions necessary to do so. Not practising the instructions once one has received them.

25.    Not abandoning the five obscurations which hinder meditative stabilization: excitement and regret, harmful thought, sleep and dullness, desire, and doubt.

26      Seeing the good qualities of rthe taste of meditative stabilization and becoming attached to it.


To eliminate obstacles to the far-reaching attitude of wisdom, abandon:

27  Abandoning the scriptures or paths of the Theravada (Hinayana) as unnecessary for one    following the Mahayana.

28,  Exerting effort principally in another system of practice while neglecting the one one already has, the Mahayana.

29      Without a agood reason, exerting effort to learn or practice the treateses of non-Buddhists which are not proper objects of one's endeavor.

30      Beginning to favor and take delight in the treatises of non-Buddhists although studying them for a geed reason.

31      Abandoning any part of the Mahayana by thinking it is uninteresting or unpleasant.

32      Praising oneself or belittling others because of pride, anger and son on.

33      Not going to Dharma gatherings or teachings.

34      Despising the Spiritual Master or the meanings of the teachings and relying instead on their mere words; that ids, if a teacher does not express him/herself well, not trying  to understand the meaning of what he/she  says, but criticizing.

To eliminate obstacles to the morality of benefiting others, abandon:

35.    Not helping those who are in need.

36.    Avoiding taking care of the sick.

37.    Not alleviating the sufferings of others.

38.    Not explaining what is proper conduct to these who are reckless.

39.    Not benefiting in return those who have benefited oneself.

40.    Not relieving the sorrow of others.

41.    Not giving material possessions to those in need.

42.    Not working for the welfare of one's circle of friends, disciples, servants, etc.

43.    Not acting in accordance with the wishes of others if doing so does not bring harm to oneself of others.

44.    Not praising those with good qualities.

45.    Not acting with whatever means are necessary according to the circumstances to stop someone who is doing harmful actions.

46.    Not using miraculous powers if ones possesses this ability, in order to stop others from doing unwholesome actions.

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