The Bodhisattva Vow
A Practical Guide to Helping Others
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Also available as an audiobook on CD
A Bodhisattva is a person who, motivated by great compassion, has developed a spontaneous wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings.
By taking the Bodhisattva Vow, he or she undertakes to follow the Bodhisattva’s way of life by practicing the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration, and wisdom.
This book shows how we can emulate the thoughts and deeds of a Bodhisattva and transform our ordinary daily life into the Bodhisattva’s way of life.
It also includes a powerful purification practice taught by Buddha for eliminating negative karma.
“A perfect transmission of the ancient wisdom of Buddha to the modern world.” — EAST WEST JOURNAL
Keeping the Bodhisattva Vows
This book is concerned principally with the Bodhisattva vows. In Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Shantideva advises those who want to know about the Bodhisattva vows first to study Akashagarbha Sutra, and then, for a more detailed explanation of the daily practices of a Bodhisattva, to read Compendium of Trainings.
Shantideva explains that those who have taken the Bodhisattva vows should know what the root and secondary downfalls are, how to prevent the vows from degenerating, how to purify downfalls, and how to complete the practice of the Bodhisattva vows. All these are explained in this book.
Once we have taken the Bodhisattva vows, we should strive to prevent them from degenerating by retaking our vows several times each day, and then avoid incurring root or secondary downfalls by relying upon mindfulness, alertness, and conscientiousness.
There are four main causes of the degeneration of the Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva, or Tantric vows, which are known as the ‘four doors of receiving downfalls’. These are: not knowing what the downfalls are, lack of respect for Buddha’s instructions, strong delusions, and non-conscientiousness.
To close the first door, we should learn what the downfalls are and how they are incurred. This can be done by listening to teachings on the subject or by reading authentic commentaries, such as the instructions given below.
To close the second door, we should try to overcome disrespect by contemplating the following:
Since Buddha is omniscient, knowing all past, present, and future phenomena simultaneously and directly, and since he has great compassion for all living beings without exception, there is no valid reason for developing disrespect towards his teachings. It is only due to ignorance that I sometimes disbelieve them.
To close the third door, we should try to subdue our strong delusions by practising the meditations described in The Meditation Handbook. If, by practising Lamrim, we are able always to maintain good intentions such as love, compassion, and bodhichitta, there will be no basis for incurring Pratimoksha or Bodhisattva downfalls; and if, by practising generation stage and completion stage, we overcome ordinary appearances and ordinary conceptions, there will be no basis for incurring Tantric downfalls.
We can close the fourth door, non-conscientiousness, by repeatedly bringing to mind the disadvantages of incurring downfalls and the advantages of pure moral discipline. In this way, we become more conscientious.
In brief, the method for preventing our vows from degenerating is to train in renunciation, bodhichitta, the correct view of emptiness, generation stage, and completion stage. By sincerely practising these, we overcome our ordinary attitudes and control our mind, thereby removing any basis for downfalls.
© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition