The Bodhisattva Vow

May I attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. 

This is the root Mahayana aspiration. No one has to take this vow, but the decision to adopt it is a turning point in anyone's practice.

Khenpo Karthar, who is the abbot of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra has said that it is important that we recognize the distinction between feeling loving- kindness to others, acting out of general compassion for others and this special bodhisattva aspiration.  For in taking this vow, we voluntarily give up the pursuit of individual enlightenment except that it may benefit all sentient beings in their quest for enlightenment.


The Bodhisattva Vow:

May I assist all sentient beings to attain Buddhahood, and may I be the last one to attain Buddhahood when all sentient beings have attained Buddhahood as did Avalokiteshvara {Tib.: Chenresi, pictured above.]

It is not possible to succeed on the Mahayana path without keeping in mind the 64 bodhisattva vows.  They are found in the Highway for Bodhisattvas [Tib.: Jangchub Shunglam] by Je Tsongkapa [1357-1419] which contains Asanga's root text along with a commentary. 

Here are the definition and types of bodhichitta, the types of morality, the types of vows and how bodhisattva vows are taken, an explanation of the eighteen root bodhisattva vows and the forty-six secondary ones, the four factors that cause one to break bodhisattva root vows, how the vows are broken, how they may be lost, how to keep them, how to restore them, and all the benefits of keeping the bodhisattva vows.

May I be a guard for all those who are protectorless,
A guide for those who journey on the road,
For those who wish to go across the water,
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

For all those ailing in the world,
Until their every sickness has been healed,
May I myself become for them
The doctor, nurse, the medicine itself.

                 ~ Shantideva


ON BODHICITTA:  The Compassionate Heart of the Enlightened Mind

 It is the supreme elixir

That overcomes the sovereignty of death.

It is the inexhaustible treasure

That eliminates poverty in the world.

It is the supreme medicine

That quells the world's disease.

It is the tree that shelters all beings

Wandering and tired on the path of conditioned existence.

It is the universal bridge

That leads to freedom from unhappy states of birth.

It is the dawning moon of the mind

That dispels the torment of disturbing conceptions.

It is the great sun that finally removes the misty ignorance of the world. 

   ~ from Bodhisattva Charya Avatara by Shantideva [700 CE]


" ... When the 16th Karmapa came to America, at one time
he was asked, "Are there other emanations of
bodhisattvas in the world? For example, do they
exist in our society, in countries like America 
and Europe, and so on." In answer, His Holiness
said, "There are a lot of them. They are all
over the place. But they are difficult to
recognize. They are not necessarily going to 
look like me. They are not necessarily going
to have a shaven head, wear the robes of a
Buddhist monk, and so on."  

~  Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche. Densal, Spring/Summer 2000 [v.15, n.1] 9. 


Corollaries or Vows that Follow from the Bodhisattva Vow:

We pledge TO AVOID:

1. Praising yourself and belittling others because of
your attachment to receiving offerings, being respected
and venerated as a teacher, and gaining profit in

2. Not giving material aid or teaching the Dharma to
those who are pained with suffering and without a
protector because of your being under the influence of
miserliness and wanting to amass knowledge for yourself

3. Not listening to someone who has previously offended
you but who declares his offense and begs forgiveness,
and holding a grudge against him.

4. Condemning the teachings of the Buddha and teaching
distorted views.

5. Taking offerings to the Three Jewels of Refuge for
yourself by such means as stealth, robbery or devious

6. Despising the Tripitaka and saying these texts are
not the teaching of the Buddha.

7. Evicting monks from a monastery or casting them out
of the Sangha even if they have broken their vows,
because of not forgiving them.

8. Committing any of the five heinous crimes of killing
your mother, your father, an Arhat, drawing blood
intentionally from a Buddha or causing a division in
the Sangha by supporting and spreading sectarian views.

9. Holding views contrary to the teachings of the Buddha
such as sectarianism, disbelief in the Three Jewels of
Refuge, the law of cause and effect, and so forth.

10. Completely destroying any place by means of fire,
bombs, pollution and black magic.

11. Teaching Sunyata to those who are not ready to
understand it.

12. Turning people away from working for the full
enlightenment of Buddhahood and encouraging them to work
merely for their own liberation from suffering.

13. Encouraging people to abandon their vowed rules of
moral conduct.

14. Causing others to hold the distorted views you might
hold about the Hinayana teachings, as well as belittling
the Hinayana teachings and saying that their practice
does not lead to Nirvana.

15. Practising, supporting or teaching the Dharma for
financial profit and fame while saying your motives are
pure and that others are pursuing Dharma for such base

16. Telling others, even though you may have very little
or no understanding of Sunyata, that if they obtain as
profound an understanding as you have, that then they will
become as great and as highly realized as you are.

17. Taking gifts from others and encouraging others to
give you things originally intended as offerings to the
Three Jewels of Refuge.

18. Taking anything away from those monks who are
practicing meditation and giving it to those who are
merely reciting texts.

     ~ from The Complete Six-Session Guru-Yoga Primer 

      courtesy K. McD.

Some related links:

Shantideva's reliance upon the guru

Ven. Thrangu Rinpoche

Taitaku Pat Phelan

Taking the vows:  S.Gilman's pilgrimage