Vows, commitments and modern life: Making offerings to the three jewels every day

If we commit any of the secondary downfalls we damage our Bodhisattva vows but we do not actually break them.  But this doesn’t mean they are not important.  Our secondary vows serve as the foundation for our root vows, so by weakening our secondary vows we increase the likelihood of likewise breaking our root vows.  To actually break our vows, we need to decide to no longer follow the bodhisattva path.  We need to decide we are no longer interesting in working for the sake of other or we no longer wish to become a Buddha or follow the Buddhist path.  If we have not come to such a decision, then our vows are not completely broken.  Geshe-la explains that, in our tradition at least, the actual vow we take when we take the Bodhisattva vows is to maintain the intention to one day become a Buddha, and we work gradually with all of the vows trying to keep them in increasingly qualified ways. 

The secondary downfalls are divided according to which of the six perfections they support.  In many ways, we can consider the different vows associated with each of the perfections as like the framework within which we practice the perfection according to the Lamrim teachings.  From another perspective, we can consider these vows as actual methods for actualizing each of the perfections within our mind.  In other words, it is by practicing the vows associated with the perfection of giving that we actually ripen this perfection within our mind.

Downfalls that obstruct the practice of giving

Not making offerings to the Three Jewels every day. 

Offerings to the Three Jewels can be physical, verbal, or mental offerings.  If a day passes without us making any of these three we incur a secondary downfall.  This vow also advises us to accumulate merit every day by making offerings.

Traditionally, at home we have a shrine where we keep our Buddha statues and in front of which we engage in our daily practice.  Even if it is only a corner of some room, we should consider this space to be very precious and we should treat it accordingly.  We should try, to the maximum extent possible, to only do Dharma things when we enter this physical space.  We can, if we wish, imagine a protection circle around this space and when we enter it, we actually enter into the pure land.  On our shrine, we traditionally set out 7 water bowls of offerings, each representing a different substance.  We can read about these in the Lamrim commentaries, such as in Joyful Path of Good Fortune.  When we make our offerings, we shouldn’t feel like we are just putting water in front of some metal statue, rather we should imagine that we are filling the entire universe with pure offerings to the living Buddhas who are actually there. 

If, for whatever reason, we are unable to actually physically set out water bowls, etc., we can put flowers, crystals and other precious objects in front of our shrine as our offerings.  But we shouldn’t have a Buddha image without some sort of offering in front of it, even if it is only a small candy.

Physical offerings aside, the best offerings we can make is our own practice of Dharma.  In reality, the Buddhas don’t need our offerings at all – we are the ones who need to make them so we can create the karma associated with doing so.  The offering that pleases the Buddhas the most is our own practice of their instructions.  Their entire reason for attaining enlightenment was to help lead us to the same state.  They can’t, however, bestow enlightenment on us like some present.  We must transform our own mind from a deluded, samsaric state into a pure, enlightened state.  How?  By putting into practice the instructions they have given us.  We do this with our virtuous actions of body, speech and mind.  Therefore, every day when we do our daily practice, or throughout the day when we try to apply the instructions we have learned, we should imagine that we are doing so in front of all of the Buddhas, and in particular our Spiritual Guide, and we should mentally engage in our virtuous action as an offering to them.

When we do this, our mind is primarily filled with gratitude and hopeful anticipation.  Gratitude with respect to their kindness in having given us the instructions and the opportunity to practice, and hopeful anticipation knowing that due to our practice we are building for ourselves a better future.  It is not enough to just “have faith” when we don’t know what that means.  From a practical perspective, it means we have gratitude and hopeful anticipation.  We know the value of what we have been given (admiring faith) and we are grateful for the opportunity to practice it (wishing faith).  On the basis of this we engage in the action knowing that by doing so we are moving closer to our eventual enlightenment (believing faith).


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