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The countdown to eternity: taking the Bodhisattva Vow

I’m considering taking the Bodhisattva Vow in a few days. I’ve told a few people about it, one of whom was Waylon who has also taken the vow; he was told to sit down and write an essay explaining why he wanted to do it. I thought that was a great idea, so it’s my turn.

I guess the short answer is: why not do it? That sounds unbelievably flip, so let me explain. I’ve long believed that we are not here for ourselves; that we are here specifically to help others and to make their passage through their lives easier. I still stand by that belief, and if anything, I more firmly believe it. Taking the Bodhisattva Vow is a natural extension of that belief, carried to its logical extreme, if you will. In essence, I am setting aside my own full enlightenment and passage out of the cycle of Samsara until all creatures… cows, dogs, chickens, people (even the ones I don’t like) are able to achieve full enlightenment themselves. Quite the task. I read in someone else’s blog recently that the essence of the Vow can be summed up like this: “Last person out of Samsara, please turn off the lights. And, let that be me.”

While it seems incredibly daunting from a long range perspective… I mean, come ON… I have to stay here and go through this over and over and over again until every sentient being achieves enlightenment, regardless of what that might look like for them and regardless of how long it takes. And there are definitely days where I feel like I want out… it’s what motivated me to study Buddhism in the first place, and here I am, choosing to stay in… on purpose. But with purpose as well.

Taking the Vow resonates with me, even though I’ve been studying Buddhism for just under five years now. I can’t explain why, it just seems that this is what I am supposed to do. Perhaps I took the Vow in a previous life, and in essence, I am renewing it for this life (and all future lives as well, I add); kind of a “I did it before, time to remind myself again” type of thing. I wouldn’t doubt it, to be honest.

I talked with a friend of mine recently about taking the Vow, and that it seemed a little scary to me, especially when I looked at it in the long term. Tenzin told me to not look at it like that, to take it one day at a time. “The future is a dream,” he said, “all we have is now, which quickly becomes the past and also a dream.” A good reminder.

Why do I want to take the Bodhisattva Vow? Ultimately because I believe that all of us in this realm possesses the capacity for infinite good; that every creature can achieve full realization of our infinite potential and that we owe it to each other to help us achieve that potential. Because if I truly do believe that I am not here for myself, that I am here to make the lives of others somehow better, then I really don’t have any choice.

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Greg Dec 20, 2009 7:23pm

Why take it in a few days? Why not now? Actually, when you came across these vows, you're already there.

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Todd Mayville

Todd is a single dad of four diverse and lively kids, and is an English teacher and climbing team coach at a local public high school. A rock climber, cyclist and avid reader, Todd also practices yoga and meditation as often as he possibly can, which helps him stay at least a little centered and sane.