Why is it called the great vow?
Ordinary people have many vows such as:
- Vegetarian vows,
- Vows to study religion,
- Vow to do good deeds
- Vows to quit smoking, vows to quit bad habits, etc.,
that's called vows. Especially people who have a good mind
towards goodwill also have to make a vow to promote you to
practice. These four vows, in the scriptures, are as
- The Prajnaparamita Sutra, volume 8
- The Lotus Sutra, volume 3, Chapter Herbal Medicine
- Peaceful Sutras, The Upper Book;
- Sutra of the Six Patriarchs
And some other Mahayana sutras, although the wording and
order of the vows have some differences, the basic meaning
is the same. Those four great vows are the great vessel
that carries the Buddhadharma into life, as is the
practice of the Buddha's legacy before he entered Nirvana.
All the monastic practices in Mahayana and Theravada
Buddhism are based on the basic teachings of the Buddha,
such as the Four Truths, Dependent Origination, the Three
Dharma Seals, and the content of the Thirty-Seven
Teachings in general. It is the essential knowledge that
begins for those who are just beginning to practice until
enlightenment. Buddhism established the means of spreading
the Buddhadharma throughout the ages to all human
subjects. Buddhism in the process of going deep into the
life of the masses must be called uncertain dharma.
Because it is understood that all methods of practice are
means. Means are different, but the sole purpose is to
escape samsara. The entire Buddhadharma is not apart from
the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. All dharma
practices that are not outside of the Four Noble Truths
but deployed, are the real Buddhadharma.
Talking about the vast vow to open your mind to the
limitless, limitless is so vast. Because living beings
often live with a narrow mind, the mind only knows how to
surround the self. As for the spirit of vast vows, the
Buddha taught practitioners to make four broad vows like
Bodhisattvas, thereby reminding practitioners to break
their limited thoughts and know what lurks in the body of
several hundred kilograms of this limitation.
vast vows that a Bodhisattva makes before becoming a
Buddha. The chant you often hear is exactly the same as in
the Mahayana sutras handed down:
- Boundless sentient beings vow to save
Endless afflictions vow to cut off,
The Dharma Door has boundless vows to learn,
Unsurpassed Buddhism vows to become
The content of the vows of the Bodhisattvas who have
compassion and want to save all sentient beings, such as
the Prajnaparamita Sutra and the Lotus Sutra, record:
I will save those who have not been saved, I will liberate
those who have not been liberated, I will comfort those
who are afraid, I will bring to Nirvana those who have not
Vows are usually distinguished under three circumstances:
- Prayer before action
- During action and
- After the action.
The vows are all determinations, performing extremely
great things, requiring courage, perseverance, wisdom, and
love for all sentient beings of the aspirant. Therefore,
vows are often understood as great vows that include all
vows. There are three prominent contents in the great
- Wish to attain supreme wisdom
- Vow to understand all dharmas to save sentient beings,
- Pray to uphold the True Dharma.
One prominent meaning in the great vows is that the
Bodhisattvas decide not to become Buddhas:
- If all sentient beings have not yet become Buddhas, then
Mahasthama Bodhisattva has not yet become Buddhas
- If hell is not empty, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva has not
yet become a Buddha.
And so, the mind of the aspirant must be extremely great,
as sublime as the four great vows of a Bodhisattva as
recorded in Dharani Kapa Volume One:
1- The mind is as wide as the earth to nurture the seeds
of the path of sentient beings until Buddhahood is
2- The mind is like a bridge, like a boat to bring
sentient beings to the other shore, the shore of
3- The mind is like the ocean, it is to contain sentient
beings, nurtures, and helps instill the Dharma in order to
4- The mind is as wide as space to be large enough to
accommodate all things, to be equal, to realize buddha's
The four great vows are sometimes understood as the
bodhisattva precepts, considered the vows for those who
practice the bodhisattva path. You, ordinary people,
cannot yet be Bodhisattvas, but if you learn to understand
and practice, and perform each operation in your daily
life in the spirit of Bodhisattva vows, your mind will
certainly be developed. Bodhisattva practice is to save
sentient beings and is also to save oneself, just as the
meaning of the Four Great Vows taught by the Sixth
- Sentient beings, afflictions, Dharma, and Buddhism are
also the self-mind of each person.
So, on the path of learning and practicing, these four
vows have a very deep meaning, you cultivators must not
just read them but understand the meaning to remind
everyone to advance together.
1- Boundless sentient beings Vow to save:
are so many sentient beings that do not count, there are
no borders, but you still make a vow to save all of them
without leaving a single person, that is, saving them all
the time without stopping, and leaving no one behind.
Whether it is the sentient beings in the mind or the
sentient being outside, they all make a vow to save.
Saving sentient beings regardless of number should be
called boundless so that you no longer think about who is
relative, who is not relative.
Usually, your mind is very narrow in your ego, so those
who are easy to teach will be saved, those who are
difficult to teach will not be saved, those close to you
will be saved and those who are against you will not be
saved. Or just save a moderate number, because thinking
that saving many people will be tiring, after doing it for
a while, you will feel tired, that is not the
bodhisattva's mind. In this spirit, a practitioner must
make a vow to save all sentient beings without leaving
anyone, so that the vastness of his mind will grow larger
and larger. Therefore, each human being, each living
being, has the responsibility to save them all. To do
this, you must constantly ask yourself, have you fulfilled
your responsibilities. You have to reflect on your own. If
you only make vows but don't practice, saving sentient
beings will only speak out of your mouth.
The word sentient beings say enough, is due to the
conditions that arise. For example, there must be parents,
a spiritual consciousness, to be clear, it must be made up
of the five aggregates and the seven great aggregates. It
was due to coincidence of course it was unreal in nature.
As soon as you receive this sambhogakaya, you have
experienced countless sufferings. In the sutras, it is
often said that there are: Three sufferings and eight
sufferings…. Those are the great human woes. Suffering is
immeasurable, but you are willing to save all. Salvation
means overcoming, sentient beings are boundless, then your
vows are also boundless. But you need to understand that,
saving sentient beings here, has two meanings:
- Following the bodhisattva's vows and saving all sentient
beings outside, this is easy to understand and see.
- And also have to be aware of saving sentient beings from
your own mind, this you can understand but not, or
difficult to see.
Sentient beings in your minds are deluded beings,
delusional beings, unwholesome beings, jealous beings,
evil beings, those very minds are sentient beings, not
other beings. An evil mind that arises is a living being,
a delusional mind that arose is a living being, an
unwholesome mind that has arisen is a living being, a
jealous mind that has arisen is a living being, and an
evil mind that has arisen is a living being. All those
minds that arise are all sentient beings, saving all those
sentient beings, so you are called self-nature and
self-saved. That is, you save yourself right in your own
nature, not save outside, that's called true salvation.
Saying that the self-nature is self-satisfied, that is, in
the minds of sentient beings with wrong views,
afflictions, and stupidity, they will save by the right
view. Having had the right view, then use the wisdom of
Prajna to defeat stupid and deluded beings. Each time is
self-saved, when wrong views come, right views are
attained, when delusions come enlightenment when
foolishness comes wisdom when evil comes good ones, such
conversion is called true salvation.
If every day you save sentient beings outside, but cannot
save sentient beings in your heart, then your vow will not
be fulfilled. To save sentient beings in the mind, to save
sentient beings outside; If sentient beings in the mind
cannot be saved, sentient beings outside can never be
saved. Indeed, such as Sentient beings are jealous,
sentient beings are angry but you have not completely
saved them, but when your jealousy or hatred arises, then
you want to hit people, you want to cause trouble with
people so what. So say:
- It is not possible to save sentient beings outside if
the sentient beings in your mind have not been saved.
- So you
are always ready to save sentient beings, but closest to
the sentient beings in your mind, you have to try to save
it first, then save the sentient beings outside. Saving
sentient beings in the mind is the true salvation, so the
Sixth Patriarch said:
- Self-nature of boundless sentient beings vow to save.
2- Endless Afflictions Vow To cut Off:
afflictions are things that confuse, upset, and
restlessness, causing discomfort in the mind. It means
that when your mind is insecure, like angry or jealous of
someone, the fire of anger rises to your head, creating an
extremely uncomfortable psychological state. Defilements
in general include two things: Basic afflictions and
dependent afflictions or secondary afflictions. One of
these two types of afflictions has a very deep root that
is difficult to get rid of, that is the Basic affliction
or illusion from thought, which consists of 6 things:
greed, hatred, delusion, pride, doubt, and wrong view.
As for the type of afflictions that are easy to eliminate,
that is Depending on Afflictions or Secondary Afflictions:
including 20 things:
Impatience or anger, 02. Hatred or resentment, 03.
Hypocrisy or concealment, 04. Stinging talk or worry, 05.
Envy or jealousy, 06. Stinginess, 07. Deceit or
manipulation, 08. Duplicity or unduly flattering, 09.
Hurting others or destructive, 10. Arrogance or
conceitedness, 11. Shamelessness, self-shameless, or
having no shame of self, 12. Recklessness, or having no
shame of other people, 13. Fluctuations, or instability of
mind and body, 14. Torpidity or drowsiness, 15 Unbelief or
faithlessness, 16. Indolence or laziness, 17.
Thoughtlessness, uninhibitedness, or lack of self-mastery,
18. Senselessness, 19. Uncollected state or unsteadiness,
20. Inaccuracy of knowledge, or do not understanding in a
In addition, there is a Delusion of Dust and Sand, a
Delusion of Ignorance.
Second, it is illusions, that is shadows, it appears and
it passes and disappears, it does not last. So it is
Many afflictions have no end, but you take an oath to
eliminate them, that is to generate a large and steadfast
mind that does not retreat, goes on and on and on. When
there is still defilement, it is still necessary to cut it
off, not get discouraged, not give up, or just cut a
little and then save it.
Because bodhisattvas clearly know defilements, understand
the nature of afflictions, that is, Nirvana. That is,
afflictions that do not have a real nature are afflictions
or do not have a fixed nature as afflictions, so no matter
how deep the affliction is, it is still clear that it is
emptiness. And since it is emptiness, it can be changed,
not afraid of not ending. This is a belief, a strength to
let you continue to practice. There are many people who
practice for many years but still have not gotten rid of
their afflictions, the reason is that when you have not
yet practiced, you will see that there are no false
thoughts, but when you sit down to meditate, you will have
delusions. Then the question:
- Why do you sit in meditation and see delusions?
As I have mentioned above, basic and dependent afflictions
have many different manifestations, so normally you never
notice, so you don't know what kind of afflictions you are
having present in your mind, so you don't see delusions.
But when meditating, your mind is now quiet, only then
will you see false thoughts arise. That is why the more
you meditate, the more defilements and delusions you see.
But you don't need to be afraid, because when you see
false thoughts, that means your mind is already
concentrated, so you can see false thoughts, not by
sitting in meditation but by having many delusions.
Those who practice without eliminating or transforming
afflictions are indeed not Buddhist practitioners.
Because, the Buddha, the reason became a Buddha, was
because he had eliminated all ignorance and afflictions.
Due to the end of ignorance and afflictions, his mind was
completely quiet, pure, clear, and became a Buddha.
Because he was fully enlightened, people called him
It is up to you to get rid of defilements and not. If you
don't practice, it's like having food but not eating, you
will forever be hungry. That's why the Sixth Patriarch
teaches you to use the wisdom of your own self-nature to
get rid of false thoughts.. etc. To get rid of all those
minds is called:
- Self-mind of sentient beings boundless afflictions vow
to be cut off.
3- The Buddha's Dharma is immeasurable, vowing to learn:
According to the sutras, the Buddha's practices include:
- Eighty-four thousand methods
The number of eighty-four thousand cultivation methods
refers to a large number, that a practitioner vows to
practice and learn. Although there are many cultivation
methods, just choosing one practice and then practicing
for achievement is the achievement of all. But here it is
said that a person who vows to learn and practice to the
end does not miss any dharma, that is, not afraid of much,
not afraid of difficulties, not just study a little
halfway and then stop. Furthermore, this vow speaks of
your boundless diligence. In fact, no matter how much the
Buddha's Dharma is if you understand it carefully, it's
also from the heart. Dharma is also born from the mind,
but immeasurable Buddha dharmas also arise from the mind,
- Because sentient beings have eighty-four thousand
afflictions, the Buddha taught eighty-four thousand
Buddha-dharmas to deal with them.
Eighty-four thousand afflictions come from the mind, and
the cultivation methods come from the mind. Because
sentient beings have innumerable minds, there are
innumerable dharmas to eliminate the innumerable minds of
sentient beings. If you realize your own mind, that's the
original dharma. If you study and practice that dharma
right away, you'll instantly master every dharma and every
dharma comes from that mind, nothing else, so you're not
afraid of not learning over
Cultivators, especially monastics, no matter how difficult
it is, you must definitely learn. If you learn to
understand the Dharma, your practice will be right and you
will really understand the way of practice. Otherwise,
even if you have practiced for a long time in the
religion, you are still a country person. A Chinese Zen
master, he reminds us that:
- If a person leaves the home life, but the teachings have
never been taken to heart, how can the profound morality
In this teaching of the Patriarch, I think, whether you
are a monastic or a layperson, you must also be aware that
you should make efforts to study and learn the true Dharma
according to the Buddha's teachings. Only then can you
save yourself and save people from confusion, darkness,
and suffering. On the path of cultivation and learning,
you must often think:
- What have I contributed to Buddhism? Is it possible to
make Buddhism flourish?
Having continuously thought like that, the vow:
- Endless Dharma vow to study
Is to see your own nature, and often practice the Dharma,
which is called true learning. Learning here is learning
right in your own nature, that is, learning what method to
realize your own nature, not learning anything else
outside. Therefore, the Sixth Patriarch said:
- Such is the self-nature method of vowing to learn.
4- Unsurpassed Buddhism vows to become:
Enlightenment in Buddhism is the unsurpassed state and you
are committed to achieving it. That is to practice vowing
straight to Buddhahood, so even if you go through
countless lives of hardship, you are still determined to
practice to the extreme, not just cultivate to achieve a
few small results like Srota- apanna, which is the first
of the four saints, is enough, if you think like that,
your mind is still small.
The spirit of the Buddha is equal because all sentient
beings have Buddha nature, that is, all sentient beings
can become Buddhas, so the Buddha clearly said:
- I am the Buddha who has become, and you are the Buddha
who will become.
This is also the wish of the Buddha when appearing in this
world as the Lotus Sutra said:
- I appear in this world for the purpose of showing all
sentient beings or teaching all sentient beings to
enlightenment and penetrating the Buddha's knowledge to
become a Buddha.
The Buddha's aspiration is to help all sentient beings
realize the Buddha's knowledge and understanding in you in
order to attain enlightenment and live like a Buddha, not
to teach you to practice and then kneel at the Buddha's
feet. Buddha is very egalitarian.
If a cultivator understands this, then you will have
strong faith and determination to practice until the day
you become a Buddha. When you understand like that, you
don't have to worry about not being able to practice,
because it's within your power. There is only one thing
that you have to dare to forget your delusional crazy ego.
Buddhahood is the aim of the cultivator. To attain
Buddhahood, you need to practice in the right direction.
Buddha-nature is the pure and clear awareness that
everyone has. If you don't have Buddha-nature, how can you
practice to attain Buddhahood? Buddha-nature is like rice
or fire in a tree. Because rice is available, you cook it
into rice; Because there is already fire in the tree, it
is only when you brush the tree that it emits fire.
Therefore, you must be sure that, if you put in the effort
to practice in accordance with the process of cultivation
as taught by the Buddha, you will surely one day attain
Buddhahood. That's something you have no doubt about. Just
afraid that you will go in the wrong direction, not
according to the Buddha's teachings, you will fall into
the wrong path. Therefore, as a Buddhist practitioner, you
need to be careful while practicing. Deeper understanding,
you will see clearly, that the meaning of becoming a
Buddha is in your own mind and not elsewhere. For that
reason, the Sixth Patriarch said:
- Self-nature of sentient beings Buddha vows to become.
Aspiration is a wish in which there must be practice. If
not, then that wish is just a wish, not thought of in
vain. By studying the Way, you clearly understand that
this insanity caused by stubborn delusions is not real, so
you are confident that you can eliminate it so that you
can become a Buddha. It's not far away, nothing is
difficult, just enough faith. Therefore, cultivation is to
develop the mind to practice until becoming a Buddha, not
to practice to be reborn in heaven or to practice to
experience some results for fun. The person who generates
such a mind is the one who generates a vast mind, without
borders, so-called the vows are deep and thick.
The profound meaning of the four great vows is very deep,
helping cultivators get rid of all ideas of opposites,
discrimination, inside and out to live fully with true
light. When you are awake, you have to stay awake forever,
keep your mind firm, go forward and never retreat, and
always open your mind wide. That is, transform the narrow
sentient being's mind back to the Buddha's mind. Through
this transformation, you will forget the low, selfish
habits because of the ego, so the more you practice, the
more spacious your mind will rise.
If you are a person who understands the Way well, then the
more you open your mind, develop your Bodhi mind, and then
widely communicate it to society, the brighter the light
of Buddha Dharma will be and the world will be less
To propagate the Buddhadharma is to help people in this
world practice the true path. Guiding people to practice
the path of liberation is the mission of monastics and
laypeople, and that route is through the bodhisattva
practice. Therefore, it is necessary to have a noble,
solid, and long-term aspiration to study. Those four great
vows are based on the teaching principles of the Four
Noble Truths, or in other words, it is the application of
the Buddha's spirit of turning the wheel of dharma through
the practice of the Four Noble Truths. In order to save
sentient beings' suffering, you make a vow:
- Boundless sentient beings vow to save. That is the first
The second noble truth, the cause of suffering is
defilement and craving; so you make a vow:
Endless affliction vows to eliminate. That is the second
The third Noble Truth, which is the content of the
Buddha's teachings, is to teach sentient beings, so you
make a vow:
- Dharma-method boundless vows to learn. That is the third
The fourth noble truth, is the state of Nirvana liberated,
Buddha realized, is the result of cultivation; so you make
- Unsurpassed Buddhism vows to be. That is the fourth
By making the four great vows, you quickly destroy your
own narrow-mindedness, so these four great vows are
methods to help you practice diligently, an exercise for
cultivators, not just reading in the rite of recitation.
Having understood this well, every time you say these four
great vows, you will find it very meaningful.
In short, the profound meaning of the four great vows is,
first of all, to realize that life is suffering and to vow
to save boundless sentient beings. From the point of view
of cultivating the mind, this means saving the concept of
sentient beings in the mind. Mindfulness of sentient
beings means the concept of craving and attachment leads
to samsara. Samsara is the content of suffering in the
three realms of the six paths. A student of the Way needs
to transform that mind into a mind of liberation. That is
the spirit of self-interest, while the spirit of benefit
for others is to promote the spirit of teaching sentient
beings. If you yourself wish to be free from samsara, then
you also wish all sentient beings to be free from samsara.
But in order to fulfill the spirit of boundless sentient
beings, you need to practice compassion and wisdom. If you
are not virtuous enough, you will not be able to fulfill
that noble purpose. Like a person who enthusiastically
jumps into deep water to save someone who is about to
drown but can't swim, both of them eventually drown. In
Mahayana teachings, it is emphasized that if you want to
teach others, you must first practice cultivation
yourself. If you don't practice on your own, but advise
others to practice, it won't be effective. Saving
boundless sentient beings is the achievement of boundless
merit and wisdom.
Realizing the nature of defilements, practitioners vow to
eliminate and guide others to practice. Mahayana Buddhism
concretizes the method of eliminating defilements through
the teachings of the Six Paramitas: Generosity, morality,
patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom. Practicing
these six dharmas has the ability to cut off endless
defilements. The nature of craving always tempts people,
who are deeply aware of craving, the more persistent
suffering is, and trying to practice, will eliminate
defilements. When you cut off a part of afflictions, you
will realize a part of liberation. Afflictions are the
burden of a traveler in the desert, and when the burden is
removed, the traveler can walk leisurely.
Only by practicing will you cut off defilements and
cravings to attain Nirvana. Mahāyāna Bodhisattva, because
he was restless about the path of learning and saving
birth, made a vow:
- The Buddha's Dharma is immeasurable and vows to study.
This dharma is not only limited to the practice methods of
Buddhist schools, but Mahayana Buddhism also emphasizes
the doctrinal importance of The five sciences, which are:
- The learning of communication: The ability to be fluent
in the language, words,
- The learning of technology: The ability to be proficient
in professions, mathematics, science, literature, and
philosophy in foreign languages.
- The learning of medicine or the knowledge of Curable
diseases: The ability to understand Medicines, and methods
- The learning of Logic and Science: The ability to be
fluent in the real, fake, right, wrong... is the ability
to reason, and explain.
- The realization of the inner Truth: Ability, clear
knowledge, including the experience of practicing the
Three Tripitakas of Buddhism.
Therefore, the idea of studying is always attaching life
to the cause of spreading the Dharma. People who have a
great vision, use skillful means to spread the
Buddhadharma, so it is necessary to study a lot and
understand widely; should not be subjective, consider the
Dharma you practice as important, the other method is not
Buddha is the one who has attained perfect Nirvana, for
the sake of self-realization and enlightenment for people
to achieve perfect enlightenment. According to Mahayana,
in order to realize Buddhahood, one must practice the
Bodhisattva path. It is for that reason that vows:
- Unsurpassed Buddhism vows to have become.
If you don't have firm aspirations, when you encounter
obstacles, your initial mind will turn back.
This is the quintessence of Mahayana teachings, through
the means of cultivating and saving sentient beings
without leaving the heart of the Buddha Dharma.