Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Bodhisattva Vow Ceremony
Note 1: This transcript is not an official publication of Siddhartha's Intent. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of madhyamaka.com. Please see note.
Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche's name is abbreviated to "DJKR" throughout.
Bodhisattva Vow Ceremony
Somehow there’s a new habit of saying “Happy Vesak”. We’re learning a lot from Christians. So I’d better follow what other people are doing. So “Happy Vesak”. Of course, we should be thinking of this man [i.e. the Buddha] at all times, not just today. But even [if we only] remember him today, just today, that will do. That’s already quite good in this day and age.
What we’re going to do today is take the bodhisattva vow, because today [Vesak] is a very special day1Vesak (वेसाख) = a holiday traditionally observed by Buddhists and some Hindus in South and Southeast Asia as well as Tibet and Mongolia. Also known as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima and Buddha Day, the festival commemorates the birth, enlightenment and parinirvana of Gautama Buddha in Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism - see Vesak., the day when Shakyamuni Buddha was born, enlightened [and passed into paranirvana]. So on this special day, we will renew our refuge [vows] and bodhisattva determination.
We cannot control our life, but we can control our mind
Shakyamuni Buddha, the person [in] whom were are going to refuge, was born today [over] 2500 years ago. He gave lots of teachings, [including the teaching] that we have no control over our life. We are totally dependent on causes and conditions2Ed.: the teaching of emptiness or nonself may also be expressed as the teaching of dependent origination, which states that all phenomena arise dependently. In other words, everything is dependent on causes and conditions, most of which are unknown to us and beyond our control - see pratityasamutpada.. It’s just a miracle [that we have been] able to survive up to now. We are just so small, just so small. But we forget [this]. We think that with proper education, proper technique, proper technology, and a proper political system we will be able to control our life. But time and again this has been proven not to be true.
One thing he told us that we could do is that we could control our mind, which we hardly invest [any] time and energy doing. Even now, yes of course a lot of people are dead because of this virus3Ed.: This online teaching was given during the period of social distancing that was part of the response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic - see wikipedia.. A lot of people are displaced. A lot of people have lost [their] jobs and lost [their] homes and really [it has] completely put our lives upside down. That’s very unfortunate of course, and we must do prayers for them. We must wish them well.
But I’m sure you [have] noticed [that] all of us are already thinking about our economy. All our leaders are busy thinking about our economy. We’re not really thinking about [how] in one way, the situation has also woken us up a lot.
The birds are having the best time. Even my own house here in Bir has two or three birds’ nests. There are so many birds flying [around]. They’re having the best time that I [can] ever remember. And places like Delhi never had a blue sky for a long time, and now they have blue skies. And I heard that pollution has gone down so much that more people are going to be healthier and live longer because of this [coronavirus].
This is such a turning point. It’s an amazing junction where we human beings should really be thinking about [how] after this - after [we have a] vaccine or whatever - we should think of at least living in a bit different [way]. But people don’t seem to have that thought in their head, especially our leaders. At least this time we could all stay indoors and wash our hands with soap and wear a mask. [But if] next time we have some sort of environmental disaster and we can’t even prevent anything by doing [things] like this, then what will we do? Well, I’m sorry I’m getting carried away thinking about these things a little bit. Because what can we do?
Well, we can do something. We can do prayers and we can take refuge and the bodhisattva vow. This is definitely going to make a difference. I’m very sure of this. Because I think you cannot underestimate the power of prayers, aspirations, and good wishes. Logic, rationalism and empiricism are important, but many times feelings and wishes are [also] so important. [They are] so important in our life. You know this.
Many of you have heard my teachings in the past, so I’m sure you’re quite used to what I’m saying. In a way, taking refuge is really surrendering to [and] taking refuge in the truth. That we are as fragile as a dewdrop on a blade of grass. That all our prosperity and beauty is beautiful and intact and organized, but [it is] as illusory as a rainbow.
Surrendering to that truth is the fundamental idea of taking refuge, and that’s what we’re doing. So we take refuge in the Buddha who taught us those truths. And we take refuge in the Dharma, the truth. And we take refuge in the Sangha, the community - or it could also be the system - that believes in that truth. The system, the path, the technique.
So this is what we will do now. First we are going to take refuge. I’m sure many of you are at home, so you may have a statue of the Buddha. In that case, it’s very good. You should do prostration [to this statue] three times. [For] those who don’t have [a statue], I’m holding here a very beautiful Cambodian Buddha, which is one of my favorites. It’s a walking Buddha, a depiction of the Buddha walking in the street in the morning with a begging bowl for begging alms [Ed.: see image at beginning of document].
So thinking that you are taking refuge, please fold your palms together and then repeat what I say:
byang chub snying por mchis kyi bar
sangs rgyas rnams la skyabs su mchi
chos dang byang chub sems dpa' yi
tsogs la'ang de bzhin skyabs su mchi
jangchup nyingpor chikyi bar
Until the essence of enlightenment is reached,
sangyé namla kyapsu chi
I go for refuge to the Buddhas.
chödang jangchup sempa yi
Also I take refuge in the Dharma
tsoklang dézhin kyapsu chi
And in all the host of Bodhisattvas.
[From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, II:26, trans. Padmakara Translation Group]
(摘自寂天菩薩《入行論》第二品第 26 偈頌，釋如石漢譯)
One more time, this time in Sanskrit:
बुद्धं शरणं गच्छामि ।
Buddham sharanam gacchami
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
धर्मं शरणं गच्छामि ।
Dharmam sharanam gacchami
I go to the Dharma for refuge
संघं शरणं गच्छामि ।।
Sangham sharanam gacchami
I go to the Sangha for refuge.
With this you have taken refuge. What that means is that you have now accepted [the three marks of existence5trilakshana (त्रिलक्षण) = the three marks of existence: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) and anatta (non-self) - see trilakshana.: anicca, dukkha and anatta]: [First, anicca or impermanence6anicca (अनिच्चा) = impermanence - see anicca.]: that everything is impermanent. [Second, dukkha or unsatisfactoriness7dukkha (दुक्ख) = unsatisfactoriness - see dukkha.]: that nothing in the dualistic world gives us satisfaction. [Third, anatta or non-self8anatta (अनत्ता) = nonself - see anatta.]: that nothing you imagine or you see or you hear, nothing that you perceive externally or internally exists truly or independently. [The word] “truly” is important [Ed.: i.e. we are not becoming nihilist or denying conventional appearances]. So [you accept] these three.
When you say you have taken refuge, you have basically become a follower of this concept or this science or this view. And because of that, you will now therefore [choose to] live in a way that we call “noble living” or “right living”. I think that’s a good [translation].
Like not killing for instance. Because why would you kill? Why harm others? Because everything is impermanent. Remember the three things I said? Because of that, there is no point [in killing]. By doing so, you [will] end up suffering more.
Now that you have taken refuge, this has laid a foundation for [taking] the bodhisattva vow9jangdom (བྱང་སྡོམ་) = bodhisattva vow, bodhisattva precepts - see jangdom.. I’m so glad that we are taking the bodhisattva vow today. Just the fact that we are taking the bodhisattva vow, [that] alone is not only going to dispel the current disruptions that we have on our earth, [but also] it will really benefit the ongoing ailments and all kinds of problems.
The bodhisattva vow is basically a vow to awaken others. [By that,] I don’t mean you should go to people’s bedrooms at three o’clock in the morning and wake them up by banging on their door. Sentient beings are sleeping with the deep sleep of thinking that certain things are permanent [Ed.: i.e. sentient beings do not accept anicca or impermanence].
Remember, I was telling you earlier [that people could be] thinking in terms of “Hey, let’s do something different after this coronavirus. Let’s do something different for ourselves and for the world. For the earth, for our children, for our children’s children”. But all they think about is doing exactly the same thing that they have been doing for ages. This shows they are sleeping.
So [by taking] the bodhisattva vow, [we] vow to really make them see these things, make them realize this truth. It does not mean that you should print pamphlets of these three things [saying], “Everything is impermanent, everything is suffering, [everything is non-self].” [It does not mean you should print] pamphlets and knock on other people’s doors and try to convert people to this view. I mean for those who you can, you should. But defiled sentient beings are like sick people. It’s so difficult to communicate with them. It’s not that easy to communicate with them. And especially for some of us [who are] young bodhisattvas or initial bodhisattvas, in the process of talking to them and trying to convert them to these three views, you may [instead] end up being converted by their view.
So what we do is first [i.e. before attempting “bodhichitta in action”10jukpa semkyé (འཇུག་པ་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་) = bodhichitta in action, comprised chiefly of the practice of the 6 paramitas - see jukpa semkyé.] we generate the motivation [i.e. “bodhichitta of aspiration”11mönpa semkyé (སྨོན་པ་སེམས་བསྐྱེད་) = bodhichitta of aspiration, comprised chiefly of the practice of the 4 immeasurables - see mönpa semkyé.]. Here the bodhisattva vow is “I will enlighten all sentient beings. I will awaken all sentient beings. May all my action, whatever it is, may it one way or another, directly or indirectly, become the cause to awaken them.”
So let’s take the bodhisattva vow.
Think that all the buddhas and bodhisattvas are in front of you. And especially this time, think there’s a special Tara there, the Tara that heals, Medicine Tara [Ed.: for example, the seven-eyed form of White Tara, Sitatārā]. She’s there because we have a specific reason this time. And also Mahakali is there. And probably during the bodhisattva vow-taking, she’s not in her usual very wild form, but she’s very beautiful, dark blue, very loving and compassionate.
So thinking these things, please fold your palms together and repeat this after me:
ji ltar sngon gyi bde gshegs kyis
byang chub thugs ni bskyed pa dang
byang chub sems dpa'i bslab pa la
de dag rim bzhin gnas pa ltar
de bzhin 'gro la phan don du
byang chub sems ni bskyed bgyi zhing
de bzhin du ni bslab pa la'ang
rim pa bzhin du bslab par bgyi
jitar ngöngyi déshek kyi
Just as all the Buddhas of the past
jangchup tukni kyépa dang
Have brought forth the awakened mind,
jangchup sempé labpa la
And in the precepts of the Bodhisattvas
dédak rimzhin népa tar
Step-by-step abode and trained,
dézhin drola pendön du
Likewise, for the benefit of beings,
jangchup semni kyégyi zhing
I will bring to birth the awakened mind,
dézhin duni labpa lang
And in those precepts, step-by-step,
rimpa zhindu labpar gyi
I will abide and train myself.
[From Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara, III:23-24, trans. Padmakara Translation Group]
(摘自寂天菩薩《入行論》第三品第 22, 23 偈頌，釋如石漢譯)
You have taken the bodhisattva vow
What we should do after having taken refuge and the bodhisattva vow
Just briefly, having taken refuge, it’s really important that you don’t fall into views13drishti (दृष्टि) = view, orientation, perspective, belief (sometimes translated as "wrong views" to reflect the Buddhist understanding that ultimately all views are wrong views) - see drishti. such as [permanence14takta (རྟག་ལྟ་) = eternalism, view of permanence. The belief that there is a permanent and causeless creator of everything; in particular, that one's identity or consciousness has a concrete essence which is independent, everlasting and singular - see takta. etc.] because otherwise it contradicts what you [just] accept[ed], and then it [i.e. your refuge vow] doesn’t work. And try not to harm beings.
The bodhisattva vow is infinite, but the [main] thing about the bodhisattva vow is [for] you [to] try your best and try to upgrade your bodhisattva practice step by step. Your practice is basically, “I wish to awaken beings.” That’s the main practice.
Yes, of course, a lot of us are very ignorant, we are selfish, [and] we will not always be thinking about other people. But this does not mean that you have broken the bodhisattva vow [at] the root. I want you to understand that. But if [you have] a sober and calculating mind, and after calculation if you think “I don’t want to think about awakening other sentient beings”, then yes [in that case] you have given up the bodhisattva vow.
If you want to know more about the bodhisattva vow and the bodhisattva path, you should read the bodhisattva sutras and shastras. Also, don’t think that an idea such as “awakening sentient beings” is [too] abstract. And also don’t think, “Oh there are too many sentient beings [for me to awaken all of them]. It’s so tiring, I can’t do that. That’s impossible.” You should not think that. Because remember [how] earlier I was telling you about selflessness and the illusory nature of everything? Quantity, time - all that is our projection. And as you enhance your bodhichitta more and more, you will realize there’s not a big difference between one hundred sentient beings and one sentient being. It’s all relative. So then through this, your bodhichitta will become bigger.
That’s the end of [the bodhisattva vow]. Please pray that you may become the perfect medicine and a perfect savior or friend or family to all sentient beings.
For those who can see, I’m holding a flower. On behalf of all of you I will offer this [flower] to this Buddha as a thanksgiving [offering] for bestowing the bodhisattva vow and refuge.
Okay, so wash your hands and take care of yourself and stay safe. That’s it.
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Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio