Moving into the World

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Bodhisattva mind is the aspiration to awaken, to help others, and to help others awaken. The intention to do so is sometimes roused without conscious effort; in other cases, teachers encourage self-inquiry:

What are the roots of my own caring action? What have we to offer one another to alleviate suffering? How do we begin to act compassionately for change? Especially, how do we begin those actions for change that may not happen naturally and spontaneously?

Ram Dass & Mirabai Bush

On the path to moving out into the world, a crucial shift occurs when the desire to relieve suffering becomes a firm resolve to do so. In Mahayana Buddhism, resolute practitioners take four bodhisattva vows. Today, formal vows may seem quaint or fanatical, but true vows are more than ceremonial promises; they have transformative power.

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to liberate them.
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s Way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it.

The first bodhisattva vow is: "Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to liberate them." This bold declaration means many things; in the context of engaged Buddhism, it signifies an unbounded commitment to practice compassion.

Any worthy aspiration can be kneaded into a homemade vow. Robert Aitken does this by composing short verses, such as:


Waking up in the morning
I vow with all beings
to be ready for sparks of the Dharma
from flowers or children or birds.