To strive to maintain purely all the vows we have taken.
We fulfil this commitment by reminding ourself that we need to keep to the best of our ability all the vows and commitments we have taken.
In total, there are more than 240 different vows and commitments of Kadampa Buddhism. This series of posts has been going on for close to a year now, and there are still many more vows to go. When we first start practicing Dharma, we have countless aeons worth of bad habits within our mind. It is completely unrealistic to think just because we have learned the vows and commitments, attending a few classes, received a few empowerments, that we will somehow be able to keep all of our vows and commitments purely. Geshe-la advises us we need to work gradually with all of our vows, trying to identify the circumstances where we are likely to break them, and develop plans for how to avoid doing so.
The vows are, in effect, a synthesis of all of the teachings. By putting our practice of our vows and commitments as something central to our practice, rather than the usual afterthought, we will gradually and surely be lead to our final destination of enlightenment. The vows are like road signs that always point in the direction of enlightenment. No matter how lost we might become, all we need do is revisit our vows and commitments, reflect on the different ways in which we might be acting in contradiction with them, and then gradually adjust course to live our life in a way consistent with them. They will never deceive us, they will never lead us astray. There is never a time where it is appropriate to set our commitments aside. This does not mean we do not need to interpret them skillfully given the different circumstances we find ourselves in, but we never set them aside.
Our vows are like are best spiritual friends who always give us good advice. There is little more valuable in this world than somebody we can turn to who will always give us good advice. Our vows are such a friend. Like any true friend, our vows might not always be gentle with us. It might sometimes be painful to look into the mirror of Dharma because we don’t want to confront our own wrong behavior. But in reality, the mirror of Dharma never judges us. It merely points the way without judgment. If we allow it to, it will protect us from all mistakes and gradually transform all of our behavior into correct behavior.
In their simplest form, the essential meaning of the refuge vows is to solve your inner problem of delusions by relying upon Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The essential meaning of the Pratimoksha vows is do no harm, to yourself or to others. The essential meaning of the Bodhisattva vows is to put others first. The essential meaning of the Tantric vows is maintain pure view out of compassion. We may not be able to remember all 240+ vows, but we can remember their essential meanings. We cannot commit to keeping all of our vows purely, but we can commit to never giving up trying our best to do so.
It is said that the cause of higher rebirth is the practice of moral discipline. Every time the tendencies within our mind push us in the direction of committing some negative deed, if we recall our vows, we recall the karmic consequences of negativity and the advantages of virtue, and then we decide to not engage in that negative action we are practicing the “moral discipline of restraint.” Each time we do this, we create the karma for another precious human life. If we have 50 such negative tendencies ripen in a day, and we resist 50 times, in one single day we create the causes for 50 future precious human lives. Each vow is like a lottery ticket that wins every time. It never loses.