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The Bodhisattva vow is the vow taken by Mahayana Buddhists to liberate all sentient beings. One who has taken the vow is nominally known as a Bodhisattva. This can be done by venerating all Buddhas and by cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the six perfections of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhicitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings. Whereas the Prātimokṣa vows cease at death, the Bodhisattva vow extends into future lives.
A Bodhisattva vow is found at the end of the Avatamsaka Sutra, in which Samantabhadra makes ten vows to become a Bodhisattva. In the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, Shantideva explains that the Bodhisattva vow is taken with the following famous two verses from that sutra:
Just as all the previous Sugatas, the Buddhas
Generated the mind of enlightenment
And accomplished all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training,
So will I, too, for the sake of all beings,
Generate the mind of enlightenment
And accomplish all the stages
Of the Bodhisattva training.
The following table of the fourfold vow is as practiced by the Mahayana traditions of China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.
|Chinese (hanzi)||Chinese (pinyin)||Sino-Japanese||Hangul||Korean||Vietnamese||English|
|四弘誓願||Sì hóng shì yuàn||Shi gu sei gan||사홍서원||sa hong seo won||Tứ hoằng thệ nguyện||The Four Encompassing Vows|
|眾生無邊誓願度||Zhòng shēng wúbiān shì yuàn dù||Shū jō mu hen sei gan do||중생무변서원도||Jung saeng mu byeon seo won do||Chúng sanh vô biên thệ nguyện độ||Masses [of] creatures, without-bounds,|
[I/we] vow to save [them all].
|煩惱無盡誓願斷||Fánnǎo wújìn shì yuàn duàn||Bon nō mu jin sei gan dan||번뇌무진서원단||Beon noe mu jin seo won dan||Phiền não vô tận thệ nguyện đoạn||Anxiety [and] hate, [delusive-desires] inexhaustible,|
[I/we] vow to break [them all].
|法門無量誓願學||Fǎ mén wúliàng shì yuàn xué||Hō mon mu ryō sei gan gaku||법문무량서원학||Beob mun mu jin seo won hag||Pháp môn vô lượng thệ nguyện học||Dharma gates beyond-measure|
[I/we] vow to learn [them all].
|佛道無上誓願成||Fó dào wúshàng shì yuàn chéng||Butsu dō mu jō sei gan jō||불도무상서원성||Bul do mu sang seo won seong||Phật đạo vô thượng thệ nguyện thành||Buddha Way, unsurpassable,|
[I/we] vow to accomplish [it]
In Tibetan Buddhism there are two lineages of the bodhisattva vow. The first is associated with the Cittamatra movement of Indian Buddhism, and is said to have originated with the bodhisattva Maitreya, and to have been propagated by Asanga. The second is associated with the Madhyamaka movement, and is said to have originated with the bodhisattva Manjusri and to have been propagated by Nagarjuna, and later by Shantideva. The main difference between these two lineages of the bodhisattva vow is that in the Cittamatra lineage the vow cannot be received by one who has not previously received the pratimokṣa vows.
According to Alexander Berzin, the bodhisattva vows transmitted by the 10th-century Indian master Atisha "derives from the Sutra of Akashagarbha (Nam-mkha'i snying-po mdo, Skt. Akashagarbhasutra), as cited in Compendium of Trainings (bSlabs-btus, Skt. Shikshasamuccaya), compiled in India by Shantideva in the 8th century" including 18 primary and 48 secondary downfalls.
The 18 primary root downfalls of the bodhisattva vows are: