Bodhisattva vow

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The Bodhisattva vow is the vow taken by Mahayana Buddhists to attain complete enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. One who has taken the vow is nominally known as a Bodhisattva. Whereas the Prātimokṣa vows cease at death, the Bodhisattva vow extends into future lives. There are two traditions of the Bodhisattva vow, one originating from Asanga and the other from Nagarjuna.

Taking the Bodhisattva vow

A Bodhisattva vow is found at the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra by Samantabhadra. In the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, Shantideva explains that the Bodhisattva vow is taken with the following famous two verses from Sutra:

Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,
So will I too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.[1]

Alexander Berzin (1997) asserts that the bodhisattva vow transcends the present lifetime:

The promise to keep bodhisattva vows applies not only to this life, but to each subsequent lifetime until enlightenment. Thus these vows continue on our mind-stream into future lives.[2]



In Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattva vows to work for the relief and liberation (nirvana) of all sentient beings as long as samsara persists.

This can be done by venerating all Buddhas and by cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhicitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings.[3]

East Asia

The following table of the fourfold vow is as practiced by the Mahayana traditions of China, Japan, and Korea.

Chinese (hanzi) Chinese (pinyin) Sino-Japanese Hangul Korean English
四弘誓願 Sì hóng shì yuàn Shi gu sei gan 사홍서원 sa hong seo won The Four Encompassing Vows
眾生無邊誓願度 Zhòng shēng wúbiān shì yuàn dù Shu jo mu hen sei gan do 중생무변서원도 Jung saeng mu byeon seo won do Masses [of] creatures, without-bounds,
[I/we] vow to save [them all].
煩惱無盡誓願斷 Fánnǎo wújìn shì yuàn duàn Bon no mu jin sei gan dan 번뇌무진서원단 Beon noe mu jin seo won dan Anxiety [and] hate, [delusive-desires] inexhaustible,
[I/we] vow to break [them all].
法門無量誓願學 Fǎ mén wúliàng shì yuàn xué Ho mon mu ryo sei gan gaku 법문무량서원학 Beob mun mu jin seo won hag Dharma gates beyond-measure
[I/we] vow to learn [them all].
佛道無上誓願成 Fó dào wúshàng shì yuàn chéng Butsu do mu jo sei gan jo 불도무상서원성 Bul do mu sang seo won seong Buddha Way, nothing-higher,
[I/we] vow to accomplish [it]


In Tibetan Buddhism there are two lineages of the bodhisattva vow. The first is associated with the Cittamatra movement of Indian Buddhism, and is said to have originated with the bodhisattva Maitreya, and to have been propagated by Asanga. The second is associated with the Madhyamaka movement, and is said to have originated with the bodhisttva Manjusri and to have been propagated by Nagarjuna, and later by Shantideva. The main difference between these two lineages of the bodhisattva vow is that in the Cittamatra lineage the vow cannot be received by one who has not previously received the pratimokṣa vows.[4]

See also


  1. Śāntideva (2002). Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra. Translated by Neil Elliott and Kelsang Gyatso. Ulverston: Tharpa Publications. p. 30. ISBN 9780948006883. OCLC 51621991. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Berzin, Alexander (1997). "Vows and Closely Bonding Practices". Taking the Kalachakra Initiation. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 9781559390842. Retrieved June 15, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Gyatso, Kelsang (1995). Joyful Path of Good Fortune. Translated by Tenzin Phunrabpa (2nd ed.). London: Tharpa Publications. pp. 442–553. ISBN 978-0-948006-46-3. OCLC 35191121.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lama Jampa Thaye, Rain of Clarity: The Stages of the Path in the Sakya Tradition. London: Ganesha, 2006.

Further reading

  • Blo-gros-mthaʼ-yas, Koṅ-sprul; Taye, Lodro; Rinpoche, Bokar (2003). Śes bya mthaʼ yas paʼi rgya mtsho. Treasury of Knowledge. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-191-X. OCLC 52906881. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Panchen, Ngari; Gyalpo, Pema Wangyi; Rinpoche, Dudjom (1996). Sdom gsum rnam ṅes. Translated by Gyurme Samdrub and Sangye Khandro. Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 9780861710836. OCLC 34669418. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rinpoche, Bokar (1997). Vœu de Bodhisattva. Translated by Christiane Buchet. San Francisco: ClearPoint Press. ISBN 978-0-9630371-8-3. OCLC 42015705. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rinchen, Sonam; Chandragomin (2000). Sonam, Ruth (ed.). Bodhisattvasaṃvaraviṃśaka. Translated by Ruth Sonam. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications. ISBN 1-55939-150-2. OCLC 44026191. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tson-Kha-Pa (1986). Asanga's Chapter on Ethics, with the Commentary of Tsong-Kha-Pa: The Basic Path to Awakening – The Complete Bodhisattva. Translated by Mark Tatz. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-88946-054-X. OCLC 605654078.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links


it:Voto del Bodhisattva ja:誓願 nl:Bodhisattva-beloftes pl:Cztery ślubowania ta:போதிசத்துவ உறுதிமொழிகள் zh:四弘誓願