In the Bodhisattva vows (sometimes called the Bodhisattva Precepts) of Mahayana Buddhism, the bodhisattvas take vows stating that they will not realize or attain Nirvana until all sentient beings have done so. This four-part vow is made out of compassion and the bodhisattva devotes his/her powers to helping others attain Nirvana.
Buddhist lay persons may take the bodhisattva vows in order to initiate their spiritual journey. The following table of the fourfold vow is as practices by the Chan and Zen tradition.
|Shi gu sei gan
|The Four Great Vows
|Si hong shi yuan
|Shu jo mu hen sei gan do
|I vow to liberate all beings, without number
|Zhong sheng wu bian shi yuan du
|Bon no mu jin sei gan dan
|I vow to uproot endless blind passions
|Fan nao wu jin shi yuan duan
|Ho mon mu ryo sei gan gaku
|I vow to penetrate dharma gates beyond measure
|Fa men wu liang shi yuan xue
|Butsu do mu jo sei gan jo
|I vow to attain the way of the Buddha
|Fo dao wu shang shi yuan cheng
Brahma Net Sutra
The Brahma Net Sutra translated by Kumarajiva (circa 400 CE) has a list of ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva vows. The ten major vows are as follows:
- Not to kill any living creature
- Not to steal anything
- Not to engage in any form of sexual misconduct
- Not to lie or use false speech
- Not to trade alcoholic beverages
- Not to discuss the faults and misdeeds that occur by any Buddhist
- Not to praise oneself or disparage others
- Not to be stingy or abusive towards those in need
- Not to harbor anger or resentment or encourage others to be angry
- Not to criticise or slander the Three Jewels
Asanga (circa 300 CE) delineated 18 major vows and forty-six minor vows. These Bodhisattva vows are still used by the Gelukpa and Kagyu traditions of indo-tibetan Buddhism. The eighteen major vows (as actions to be abandoned) are as follows:
- Praising oneself or belittling others due to attachment to receiving material offerings, praise and respect.
- Not giving material aid or (due of miserliness) not teaching the Dharma to those who are suffering and without a protector.
- Not listening although another declares his/her offence or with anger blaming him/her and retaliating.
- Abandoning the Mahayana by saying that Mahayana texts are not the words of Buddha or teaching what appears to be the Dharma but is not.
- Taking things belonging to Buddha, Dharma or Sangha.
- Abandoning the holy Dharma by saying that texts which teach the three vehicles are not the Buddha’s word.
- With anger depriving ordained ones or their robes, beating and imprisoning them or causing them to lose their ordination even if they have impure morality, foe example, by staying that being ordained is useless.
- Committing any of the five extremely negative actions: (1) killing one’s mother, (2) killing one’s father, (3) killing an arhat, (4) intentionally drawing blood from a Buddha or (5) causing schism in the Sangha community by supporting and spreading sectarian views.
- Holding distorted views (which are contrary to the teaching of Buddha, such as denying the existence of the Three Jewels or the law of cause and effect etc.)
- Destroying towns, villages, cities or large areas by means such as fire, bombs, pollution or black magic.
- Teaching emptiness to those whose minds are unprepared.
- Causing those who have entered the Mahayana to turn away from working for the full enlightenment of Buddhahood and encouraging them to work merely for their own liberation from suffering.
- Causing others to abandon completely their vows of self liberation and embrace the Mahayana.
- Holding and causing others to hold the view that the Sravaka vehicle does not abandon attachment and other delusions.
- Falsely stating that oneself has realised profound emptiness and that if others meditate as one has, they will realize emptiness and become as great and as highly realized as oneself.
- Taking gifts from others who were encouraged to give you things originally intended as offerings to the Three Jewels. Not giving things to the Three Jewels that others have given you to give to them, or accepting property stolen from the Three Jewels.
- Causing those engaged in calm-abiding meditation to give it up by gibing their belongings to those who are merely reciting texts or making bad disciplinary rules which cause a spiritual community not to be harmonious.
- Abandoning the either of the two types of Bodhicitta (aspiring and engaging).