It is very easy to neglect our vows. We get busy with our lives, we get busy with our regular practices that our vows tend to get put on the back burner and we never really take them seriously. We still don’t even really know what they are, much less check our behavior against them. This is a mistake, especially when we do not have regular access to a center.
One of the main functions/benefits of applying effort to keep our vows is by doing so we create the causes to maintain the continuum of our practice in this and all of our future lives. We have the Dharma now, we have an interest in practicing, we have found the solution to all of our problems, but it is so easy to become distracted and swept away by samsara and we gradually lose our level of interest and intensity in our practice. Even if we remember our practice, there is no guarrantee that we will make sufficient progress in this life to guarrantee that we maintain the continuum of our practice in life after life. If we fall into the lower realms, we will lose everything we have built and done and will spend incalculably long times suffering in the extreme. And then we will have to dig ourselves back out again. It is like somebody who has fallen into a deep hole, manages to climb most of the way out, and then falls right back down.
Our vows protect us because they are a practice of moral discipline, and moral discipline functions to create the causes for higher rebirth in the future. Practicing our refuge vows creates the causes to find the Dharma again and again in all our future lives without interruption. Practicing our bodhisattva vows creates the causes to find the Mahayana Dharma again and again in all our future lives without interrupton. Practicing our tantric vows creates the causes to find the Tantric Dharma again and again in all our future lives without interruption. And practicing the internal rules of the NKT creates the causs to find the Kadam Dharma again and again in all of our future lives without interruption. When I asked him many years ago, VGL said the way to guarrantee that I meet him in all of my future lives without interruption is to ‘concentrate on practicing Dharma and always keep faith.’ By putting the instructions of the spiritual guide into practice, we draw closer to him, create karma with him and if we do this with faith when we find him again we will once again want to put his instructions into practice. Putting the Dharma into practice creates the ripened effect to meet the guru again and again and keeping faith creates the tendencies to wish to put the Dharma into practice. When keeping our vows, we must do so with the intention to maintain the continuum of our practice for it to ripen in a qualified way. I wish to maintain the continuum of my practice, practicing my vows will enable me to do so, therefore for this purpose I apply effort to practice them.
It is a good idea to say, once a a month at least, review all of the vows and commitments and just check how we are doing, identify weaknesses in our behavior and make plans for doing better. Yes, we should do this every day, but as a starting point once a month is a good place to start. Then once a week and later once a day.
While building up to this, we can start with the essence of the different vows and try to keep them in mind every day. The essence of the refuge vows is “to make effort to practice Dharma, to receive blessings from the Buddhas and to turn to the Sangha for help.” The essence of the bodhisattva vows is “to cherish others more than you cherish yourself and to improve yourself for the benefit of others.” The essence of the tantric vows is to maintain pure view (pure conceptions and pure appearances). These we can remember and we should make a point to keep them always present within our mind.