Great Vow

When doubt arises in my mind about this practice, I sometimes look to the Four Great Vows (or Great Vows for All as I have seen them called).  Usually, the doubt is transformed into confusion.  Other times, nothing happens.  And sometimes I am encouraged.

All beings, one body, I vow to liberate.
Blind passions, one root, I vow to terminate.
Dharma gates, one mind, I vow to penetrate.
The great Way of Buddha, I vow to realize.

Today, I ran across a quote from Robert Aitken’s The Practice of Perfection: The Pāramitās from a Zen Buddhist Perspective that brought to life the fourth great vow.  I offer this quote here to support us all in our mutual practice of living together on this planet.

Thank you for reading!  May we all be at ease!  May we all be peaceful!

“Buddha’s way is unsurpassed, I vow to embody it fully.”  The parent embodies the role of parent as intimately and personally as possible or the child cannot mature.  Outside the home, the machinist embodies the role of machinist as personally as possible – the nurse, the surveyor, the pedestrian, the patient in the doctor’s office embody their roles as personally as possible or their function is inadequate and the fabric of society is weakened.  Yet the parent can never fully embody the role of parent and is constantly practicing the task of integrating person and parent more and more intimately.  The machinist, the nurse, the surveyor, the pedestrian, the patient in the doctor’s office too are practicing.  In the same way, the Buddhist too is practicing the noble task of embodying the Buddha Way.  By practicing the Buddha Way we fulfill it.  And we continue to fulfill it endlessly.

(Note: This quote is from Robert Aitken’s The Practice of Perfection: The Pāramitās from a Zen Buddhist Perspective, p. 151.  For me, reading Robert Aitken Rōshi’s writings have been influential for my practice and my understanding of Zen.  There is a website dedicated to supporting Aitken Rōshi in his old age, especially since suffering from a stroke.  Click here for more info. He also maintains (with the help of his son, I believe) a blog. Thank you, Aitken Rōshi, for your tireless practice and dedication to the Buddhadharma!)

6 thoughts on “Great Vow”

    1. Hello! This is how I learned them at the Ann Arbor Zen Temple, which is part of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom led by Ven. Samu Sunim.

      You can find a pdf chantbook with these vows as well as other chants and sutras here:

      Just look for Spring Wind Sangha Chanting book link. From that webpage you can also find out more information about Samu Sunim and the various temples associated with this society.

      If you do check it out, I would love to hear what you have to say – there are translations of various Korean verses such as Naong Sunim’s Resolutions and Yebul (although we chant it in sino-korean).

      I also imagine Samu Sunim would love to hear your feedback too. You might email him (probably by emailing the toronto temple).

      Hope this finds you doing well!

    2. Oh…to directly answer your question, I don’t know where the translation originates, although I believe it originates with Sunim as developed over the years he has practiced here. For me, it originates with my exposure to it at the temple in Ann Arbor.

  1. Hi Venerable,
    Thanks for the great link! That’s the kind of stuff I love!
    I don’t recognize the part by Naong Sunim from our yebul, but yebul styles vary a bit and over time. (That said, he’s one of the people I want to know more about.)
    That phrasing of the four great vows reminds me a lot of a poem by Daehaeng Kun Sunim. I tried to translate it here, but the English still feels kind of clunky. (The Korean is really incredible.)

    “The Mind of all Buddhas”

    The mind of all Buddhas
    is my one mind.

    The truth of all Buddhas
    is the truth of my one mind and daily life.

    The body of all Buddhas
    is the body of each sentient being.

    The love and compassion of all Buddhas
    is the love and compassion of all sentient beings.

    Doing good or doing bad,
    All depends upon whether I rely upon my one mind.

    1. Hello! Thank you for this poem and your work on translating it. I am sure the beauty of the Korean language is hard to capture in English, but I deeply appreciated this version you posted. Thank you!

      Just a brief clarification – I personally am not a “venerable”. Just a student of the Dharma in the seminary under the direction of Ven. Samu Sunim.

      And I did not mean to suggest that Naong Sunim’s resolutions are part of Yebul. As far as I know, they are separate. I would love to hear how Yebul is chanted in your temple. Yebul is such a wondeful way of chanting refuge, but I am only used to the way I learned it here in the states. Perhaps one day we can exchange chants in person!

      I hope this finds you doing well!

      1. Hi Kusa,
        Ah, now I understand what you meant about Naong Sunim.
        Our morning yebul is similar to yours.
        It starts off with a longer bell chant, then moves to the “morning service,” then there’s a dedication of merit/prayer for the well-being of bascially everyone, followed by the seven refuges (same as yours) and then concluded with the heart sutra.

        For evening, it starts off with the same bell chant as in your book, and then exactly the same, concluding with the heart sutra.

        However, our noon ceremony is looong! Not much under 45 minutes, with more componets than I can count off hand.

        If you’re interested in the Great Compassion Dharani, Daehaeng Sunim translated this as well as the rest of the Thousand Hands Sutra into Korean, and then we translated the whole thing and published it as “A Thousand Hands of Compassion.” It’s a pretty radical translation and is more like a manual of spiritual practice. There’s a link on our site to a store in Korea that will ship overseas, but if you’re interested in this, let me know and I can also send you a 15-20 page presentation we did on the history of the Dharani. It’s pretty detailed and includes a lot of the Korean-language research (translated of course!).

        with palms together,
        Chong Go

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s