Vows, commitments and modern life:  the freedom of restraint

To refrain from non-virtue. 

This commitment advises us to avoid all negative actions, especially transgressions of our refuge, pratimoksha, bodhisattva and tantric vows.

The reason for this is simple:  all non-virtuous actions are harmful in some way, either to ourself or to others; and all of a Buddha’s actions are beneficial in some way, either to ourself or to others.  So non-virtuous actions and a Buddha’s actions are completely opposite of one another.  When we train in Tantra, we are in effect bringing the future result of being a Buddha into the path right now.  Basically, by applying effort to act like a Buddha now we will more quickly actually become one in the future.  Christians sometimes wear these bracelets which say, “what would Jesus do?” and they use this as a constant reminder of how they should act in their daily life.  Tantric practice is essentially the same.

It was explained earlier that a Buddha’s form body is the karmic result of the Commitments of Buddha Vairochana (the ones discussed over the last several posts).  A Buddha’s form body is like a machine in this world that only engages in virtue and which functions to ripen and liberate all around us.  Abandoning all non-virtue is the method by which we bring ourselves into alignment with this liberating power.  We sometimes think becoming a Buddha means we take everything on ourselves.  But in reality, it is more an issue of putting ourselves into alignment with the Buddhas already doing this work in this world.  Their enlightened actions flow through our karmic relationships to eventually liberate all living beings.

There are more than 240 different Kadampa vows and commitments, so it is sometimes very hard to know how to practice them all.  That is why Geshe-la provides us with the “essential meanings” of the vows.  The essential meaning of our pratimoksha vows is “do no harm.”  The essential meaning of our refuge vows is “rely upon Buddha, Dharma and Sangha to change your mind.”  The essential meaning of our bodhisattva vows is, “put others first.”  And the essential meaning of our Tantric vows is, “maintain pure view out of compassion.”  If we just do these things, then we are practicing the essential meaning of all of our vows, everything else is just more specific applications/implications of these general principles.  To avoid non-virtue, then, is to do our best to live our life consistent with these basic moral precepts.

Many people mistakenly view moral discipline as a constraint or a limitation on their freedom.  In fact, it is the exact opposite.  We are currently completely unfree because we are controlled by our delusions, but it is by restricting the freedom of our delusions through our practice of moral discipline that we set ourselves free.  It is by indulging in our delusions that we actually restrict our freedom.

2 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  the freedom of restraint

  1. I used to experience a kind of inner shut down whenever I heard the words ‘Moral Discipline’, now when I see or hear those words I experience an inner perk up and a wish to know more. Isn’t it extraordinary how Dharma takes us in the completely opposite direction to the one our deluded mind anticipates!?
    Who would of thought that Moral Discipline could be a route to true freedom.
    Great teachings Kadampa Ryan.

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