A vow is a virtuous determination to abandon particular faults that is generated in conjunction with a traditional ritual.
Just as there are three types of moral discipline, so there are three types of vow: Pratimoksha vows, Bodhisattva vows, and Tantric vows.
Buddha gives extensive instructions on the Pratimoksha moral discipline and the Pratimoksha vows in the Vinaya Sutras.
Pratimoksha means `personal liberation’, and so a Pratimoksha vow is a vow that is motivated mainly by the wish to attain personal liberation.
There are Pratimoksha vows that are lay vows and Pratimoksha vows that are ordained vows.
Hundreds of Kadampa lay practitioners have taken the lay Pratimoksha vows; and there are now Kadampa monks and nuns worldwide who have taken the ordained Pratimoksha vows.
For more information on Pratimoksha vows, consult your local Dharma Center.
Bodhisattva vows are taken with the motivation of bodhichitta – a heartfelt wish to become enlightened to be able to benefit all living beings.
The Bodhisattva vows are explained in detail in the book The Bodhisattva Vow.
Once received, they can be retaken repeatedly. Maintaining the Bodhisattva vows is the basis of the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, which all Kadampas strive to follow.
Tantric vows are given in conjunction with Tantric empowerments, and are taken with the motivation of Tantric bodhichitta.
Tantric vows are explained in the book Tantric Grounds and Paths.