Introduction and Translation
by Bhiksu Heng Kuan

This article begins a new series, which will discuss and present examples of the vow as an important but often neglected tool to be used in cultivation of the Way. The series is called "Vow Boat" because vows are a boat, which if used effectively, can carry us across the sea of misery to the shore of liberation. The spoken vow is a symbol of unswerving resolve to be continually evoked in the face of any obstacle so that the adept can realize his goal.

As with all dharmas at Gold Mountain, the value of their theoretical aspect lies not with the idea, but with the idea as it is embodied in practice. It is appropriate, then, that this series should begin with some actual events which took place on January 23rd, 1974, Maitreya Bodhisattva's birthday and the Chinese lunar New Year, when several Sangha members and laymen made their vows before the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions and the great assembly of cultivators at Gold Mountain. Preceding the first of a list of vows made on this occasion is a transcript of the words of the Venerable Master Hua to those who had just made their vows:

"The Sangha members and laymen at Gold Mountain have made unsurpassed resolutions to realize Bodhi, and have enlisted the strength which is born of great vows. In the history of world Buddhism, adepts such as these are rare, but from the vantage point which enables one to review the span of limitless aeons, disciples of the Buddha who have made vows are numerous. In this period of the world cycle people have entered a Dharma ending age, and have forgotten the essentials of true cultivation.

"To give birth to the strength which comes from vows which no ordinary man can make, you who make vows must learn your vows by heart, hold them close to you, and not neglect them by letting them slip away from you as if nothing had transpired on the day you made them. A negligent attitude will not be accepted. You must truly remember you have made vows. How should you remember them?

"In the past Bhiksus Heng Ju and Heng Yo (who are now bowing once every three steps over a 1,000 mile route) made vows to do what other men cannot do. They vowed to manifest eternally as great and powerful vajra heroes wherever I appear, to endure what others cannot endure, and to undertake what others cannot undertake, engaging in ascetic practices without any thought of success.

"In cultivating the Way, nothing is more important than making vows, and it can also be said that nothing is more important than patience. Of those who are able to be patient, all will certainly realize their karma in the Way. Patience is the ability to endure any circumstances, which are not as you would have them as if they were as sweet as candy. The ability to endure in this way without letting the fire flare up is the method for perfecting your patience, and the method for accomplishing your karma in the Way. Today, and likewise in the past, I have paid particular attention as you have made your vows, but I have not yet heard anyone vow to perfect patience under insult. I couldn't tell you what vows to make before you made them, because vows must be made by the one who will hold them. If someone were to tell you what vows to make, the vows would be his, not yours. But in the future I hope that everyone will cultivate the practice of patience, because it is very important."

Here is the first set of vows to be presented in this series: Vows made by other members of the Sangha may be found in issues one through five, with their biographies.

On the 23rd of January 1974, Maitreya Bodhisattva's birthday, Sramanera Heng Lu made the following vows:

"Since my birth, there have been those I can remember who, being concerned with the desires and sufferings of people, spent time and put forth effort for the benefit of the community. It is for the purpose of repaying this kindness that I make these vows, desiring to join in working for the attainment of people's wholesome inclinations and for an end to their unhappiness.

1. I vow to repay the vast kindness of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

2. I vow to benefit living beings.

3. I vow to end the sufferings of living beings.

4. Birth in human form is a difficult blessing to attain. I vow to use my blessings for the sake of all sentient beings.

5. Sakyamuni Buddha cultivated for six years on Snow Mountain relinquishing the hold on his flesh-body. Following the model of the Buddha's awesome practice, I vow to wear no more than three layers of cloth on my bask at a time.

6. Many of the world’s people are starving, working hard yet receiving little to fill their stomachs. In accord with the Mahayana teaching of great compassion toward all living beings, I vow to eat only one meal a day.

7. The Great Master Hsuan Hua has cultivated the limitless Dharma methods vigorously since before my birth, crossing over all those helplessly turning in confusion. In accord with this Venerable teacher's tireless labor for the sake of proclaiming the Dharma and transforming living beings, I vow never to lie down.

8. I vow to always wear the clothes of a bhiksu.

9. I vow to always take food before noon, and only for health.

10. I vow to always take sleep after the bell and before the boards.

11. Meeting the Buddhadharma and practicing accomplishes merit, which shouldn't be wasted. I therefore vow to transfer to all sentient beings the merit produced by holding these vows.

12. I vow to speak correctly of important matters, and not to dwell on what is unimportant.

13. I vow to always speak, with principle, never failing to remember my principle even as I speak it.

14. I vow to advance living beings along the way to Bodhi.

15. Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to arose them over.

16. Samadhis are limitless; I vow to leave them behind.

17. Nirvana is boundless, I vow that I, last of all, shall accomplish it.

18. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas come together to aid those sincere in their cultivation; I vow to be worthy.

19. The myriads of Dharma doors teach and transform; I vow to master them.

      20. The Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha is a delight beyond measure; I vow to move there.

      21. Buddhahood is inconceivable; I vow to realize it.