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Thread: Great Vows

  1. #1

    Great Vows

    Greeting Jundo and Sangha
    A persistant question seems to have arisen out of my zen practice and it refers in particular to one of the Great Vows as follows."Though the beings are numberless I vow to save them"How am I to understand and apply this vow.
    Palms Together

  2. #2
    In truth we are not separate from all beings.

    Practice with a listening ear, practice with an open heart, practice as though you had the many arms of Senju Kannon bosatsu.


  3. #3
    By learning to conduct ones life skillfully and in ways that inspire others to do the same.

  4. #4

    I concur in the above comments, and might add that this (like so many Buddhist tenets) has many flavors.

    Part of "saving all sentient beings" (which, by the way, Dogen says includes the fences, stones, walls, tiles and such) is finding that nothing in the universe requires anything, not anything at all. The whole first section of Genjo Koan, which we talked about the last week or so, is right on that point. So, by this perspective, even innocent Jews marching into Nazi ovens or little children with debilitating illnesses ... nobody is ever in need of saving any more than a blade of grass can be made a more perfect blade of grass.

    Then, of course, teaching people to come to see these Buddhists truths, by teaching Buddhism for example, is a way to "save all sentient beings". You help people come to see life in the above way of "nothing needs saving".

    By another perspective, simply saving yourself by working for your own "enlightenment" is "saving all sentient beings" because, in Buddhist philosophy, you ARE all sentient beings in the most radical sense (as much as your eyes, toes, hands and heart are just you, but even more "one" than that ... as much as your eyes are your eyes).

    Now, historically, the above perspectives are one reason that Buddhists have not done as good a job, perhaps, as Christians and such in building hospitals, schools and orphanages. (That is a very misleading statement, actually, because Buddhists have provided medical care, education and other social services to the general population in many countries ... and the Christians often partly have missionary work in mind in many of their charitable activities ... However, certainly, Buddhists could have done more than we have done).

    Thus, the current "engaged" view of "saving all sentient beings" and acting in Compassion involves charitable work in society. I believe in this strongly.

    So, although a drowning man requires not the slightest saving by the Buddhist view, the Buddhist view is also to jump in the water and save him. Though sick children require nothing, we should work hard to find a cure. Sides of a single coin. All "simultaneously true".

    Did that help?

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I might add that the Precepts come into play here too, by guiding us to select behavior which, as we can, is healthful and helpful and reduces harm. What that course of action might be, however, is sometimes pretty black and white (saving a drowning man) or gray and we must just make the best guess we can.

  5. #5
    A persistant question seems to have arisen out of my zen practice and it refers in particular to one of the Great Vows as follows."Though the beings are numberless I vow to save them"How am I to understand and apply this vow.

    I've always read it as living each day with the (deliberate) intention that w improve the life or situation of anyone we come in contact with... friend, family, co-worker, total stranger. You CANNOT literally save every being in the world. But you can INTEND to.
    The intention (if not always the fact,) is that they're better off for having been around us. Easy to say, very hard to put into consistent practice. And one must always keep in mind: one doesn't always know or even have a clue WHAT someone else needs to be saved from. SO, living by giving your best to all beings at all times is hard, but the only practical (albeit, often very hard) way to live out the vow.
    Just my thoughts.

  6. #6

    4 great vows

    Hello Malcolm, and all here:
    This is the most wonderful question, and it is one which should always be before us in all things.

    How am I to understand and apply this vow?

    How indeed!

    The answer isn't like any answer (as I 'know' answers to be).
    The understanding isn't 'understanding' the way I think of understanding to be.
    Using words is like trying to touch something through a plate glass window.
    Or like trying to pick something up to put it in your mouth with violin music.
    (A couple of weeks back I got to see the Dali exibit and surrealism is able to get to some places and express them accurately, but HOW?)

    To me it is a perfect match: saving is simultaneous: when 'you' 'save all sentient beings', 'all sentient beings save 'you'.'
    Eveything saves everything. Everything does it all together. Saving is ongoing and everpresent 24/7 nonstop.
    But I have this mind and it has a desire to 'understand.' It is kind to give the mind something to 'understand.' Until I get that chance (that chance comes out of zazen) to experience the mind for what it is--in true appreciation--(it is not to be belittled or discounted)--because, after all, this very mind is the ribbon and the box and the thing in the box we call 'saving', we call ' _______(fill in the blank).'

    HOW? and HOW!

    I'm sorry my work schedule and stuff has me here so infrequently. But it is wonderful to have the forum here, and all of you here, and these great questions about such things as great vows.

    I might add one more thing if I may: one of my teachers, sensei Rev. Bob McNeil would say "When the question goes away, the mind experiences a satisfaction no different than if you had gotten an answer!"

    Interestingly questions seem to have 'minds' of their own. They seem to have their own life. They appear when they appear and they go when they go: like a stray cat taking up with you and then one day seen no more.
    While the question is with you--let it circle your legs and scratch it's ears: pick it up and listen to it purr. Pet it for too long and it will let it's claws tell you 'enough already.' Even questions 'vant to be alone' sometimes. At least, this reflects in part some of my experiences.

    So there's my thoughts, like clothes ready to fold out of the dryer, like tea leaves in the bottom of a cup.


    (PS I wrote this with a 'we,' and as I re-read it, 'me' is mo betta)

  7. #7
    by putting forth the effort

  8. #8

  9. #9
    I have often stumbled over this line myself because it just nudges a bit too closely to my recovering Christian koan and makes me shiver.

    So, as I sometimes do, I have removed that word "save" and replaced it with the word "honour" in my own mind and heart. I know, I know...maybe not kosher. But, I can vow to honour all sentient beings and I think that, if I do this as a practice, it will get me closer to what is meant by this than trying to save anyone, especially my raggedy ol' sef. :?

    In Gassho~


  10. #10
    I have removed that word "save" and replaced it with the word "honour" in my own mind and heart.

    As I mentioned above, I went with "Help" or, "assist."
    I'm with you... SAVE conjures up images of unworthiness, sin and television preachers with bad hair and dimples. But, I figure, if I'm in a lifeboat, an intend to help all those other folks who were on the ship with me when i went down, no matter how much I intend to help, A)I cannot possibly rescue everyone, and B)some people will refuse to be helped.
    But if the intention is there, and genuine, I can look in the mirror afterward.

  11. #11
    Even questions 'vant to be alone' sometimes.
    Priceless! :lol:

    Sorry, couldn't resist. Back to topic. ops:

  12. #12
    Hi Guys,

    It is interesting to me that the word "save" conjures up no particular linguistic baggage for me, and I envision just a life preserver over the side of a row boat. Maybe it is my lack of Christian background? Some other folks have expressed difficulty with the word "Refuge" in the Precepts for the same reason ("I take refuge in the Buddha I take refuge in the Dharma I take refuge in the Sangha"), and I don't feel that either. "Refuge" is a port in a storm, a friend to rely on.

    Anyway, I would suggest that only part of the meaning of "save" (or "assist" or "honour") is in your subjective intent or your subjective action/inaction. The Koan is "Who is there in need in saving? Who is doing the saving?"

    We had a related thread to this awhile back ...


    For Treeleaf's Retreats, I changed the Four Vows a bit to capture the Sysyphian nature of the task (with inspiration to a similar set of Vows by Ven. Stev Hagen).


    To save all sentient beings, though beings numberless

    To transform all delusions, though delusions inexhaustible

    To perceive Reality, though Reality is boundless

    To attain the Enlightened Way, a Way non-attainable

    Gassho, Jundo

  13. #13
    I guess my sense of unease with it would come from a basis of 'who am I to save them?'

    Again brought up a through a catholic school it has suggestions of going out and saving those ignorant savages and bringing them to god. One of the reasons I was drawn to Soto Zen was the lack of prosletising and the assumption that each is on their own path/training and they need to be responsible for their own 'saving'

    I too would go with help/assit. I feel comfortable with offering help or making people aware of help but leave it to the other to accept it.

    Gassho, Kev

  14. #14

    Ok. You see this guy? This guy probably knows. This guy is you. Whatever you may think, this guy is you. Now he may not look like you, but I think you know what I mean.

    Gassho Will

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  17. #17
    Yeh, well to my understanding anyway :lol:

    When we do (whatever worthy thing) we are being Buddha...


  18. #18
    Momma always said "Buddha is as Buddha does."

    I definitely recommend that talk.

    Gassho Will

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