Learning & Practice

The Relevance of the Bodhisattva Vows in Day-to-Day Life

"By breaking down our sense of self-importance, all we lose is a parasite that has long infected our minds. What we gain in return is freedom, openness of mind, spontaneity, simplicity, altruism: all qualities inherent in happiness."

— Matthieu Ricard

This course is about living the Path of the Everyday Bodhisattva. With this in mind, let’s explore how the Bodhisattva vows can be applied to our everyday life. We don’t exist in isolation, but in a continual, dynamic interrelationship with our internal and external experiences. This principle is beautifully encapsulated in the concepts of interdependence, emptiness, and not-self in Buddhist philosophy.

Take a moment to reflect on the following statement: "Every thought, every word, and every action is like a ripple in the vast interconnected web of existence. What we do impacts not only us but also the people around us and the world at large." This understanding shifts our perspective from the 'I' centric orientation of manas to the 'we' centric orientation of the Bodhisattva ideal.

Let’s contemplate a real-life scenario to connect these teachings to our practice. Think about a relationship where two people are experiencing some distance due to poor communication and misunderstanding. They are having difficulty truly "seeing" each other and consequently don't feel cared for or know how to express their care for each other.

Let's view this situation through the lens of the Bodhisattva vows and the eight consciousness model.

The first five consciousnesses—those tied to our five senses—provide a direct connection to our lived experience. However, this connection is subject to the interpretation of the sixth consciousness, which might create stories or narratives based on preconceived notions, resulting in misunderstandings and miscommunications. In this scenario, each person might misinterpret each other's words and actions, leading to feelings of hurt or resentment.

Then, the seventh consciousness, or manas, steps in, identifying with these stories and feelings, solidifying a sense of a separate self that feels threatened or neglected. This ego-centric perspective leads to defensive and reactive behaviors, further straining the relationship.

Finally, these patterns of interaction get stored as seeds in the eighth consciousness, storehouse consciousness, deepening the proliferation of negative patterns and reinforcing the separation and hurt.

Let’s imagine ourselves and a person we care about in this situation. Rather than remaining entrenched in our narratives and reactions, we try to invoke the spirit of the Bodhisattva vows. Here's how they might help.

The first vow, 'Beings are numberless; I vow to care for them all,' prompts us to realize that every individual, including the person with whom we've lost connection, is part of the interwoven fabric of life. This encourages us to step beyond our own hurt and empathize with their experiences, challenges, and perspectives. The vow reminds us to expand our capacity for understanding and compassion, seeing the other person not as an adversary but as another human navigating their life's complexity.

The second vow, 'The patterns of greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly; I vow to abandon them all,' is a powerful tool for introspection. We recognize and acknowledge our tendencies to fall into reactive patterns rooted in selfishness, anger, and misunderstanding. This vow serves as a commitment to leave behind these harmful habits. Instead of reacting defensively, we consciously choose to respond with wisdom, openness, and love.

Next comes the third vow, 'The Dharma gates are everywhere; I vow to enter them all.' This vow tells us that every situation, no matter how challenging, is a gateway to deeper understanding and transformation. Our strained relationship is not a burdensome obstacle but a Dharma gate. We start to see every interaction as an opportunity to practice patience, forgiveness, and deep listening. The friction becomes a mirror, reflecting back to us the areas where we need to grow.

And, the fourth vow, 'The Dharma Way is unsurpassable; I vow to fully embody it.' This vow asks us to wholeheartedly commit to the path of wisdom and compassion - the Dharma Way. We endeavor to bring this commitment into every corner of our life, into every interaction, no matter how seemingly insignificant. In the context of our relationship, this might mean always striving to communicate mindfully, expressing our thoughts and feelings with care, seeking to understand before seeking to be understood, and showing unconditional goodwill.

As we apply these vows in our everyday life, we begin to transform our heart-mind. The once dominant egocentric perspective (manas) starts to dissolve as the altruistic Bodhisattva ideal begins to take root. In this process, our relationship, once a source of hurt, can become a powerful catalyst for growth and awakening.

The Bodhisattva vows are not just beautiful spiritual ideals but practical tools and approaches for transforming our everyday life and the world we share. As we practice embodying  these vows, we will find ourselves becoming a source of peace, understanding, and compassion, becoming a healing agent in the world.

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