THE SECONDARY VOWS & DOWNFALLS
The Bodhisattva Vows are formal promises to refrain from two sets of negative actions. Buddha himself prohibited these actions for disciples training in the bodhisattva path to enlightenment. In other words, these vows guide our behaviour so that we can be of greatest benefit to ourselves and others.
The Bodhisattva vows are very powerful to generate merit and keep us firmly on the path of Bodhisattva conduct. The gurus of the past often emphasised that at the moment of passing away from this life, our Bodhisattva vows should be intact.
When our vows are intact at the time of death, their power carries forward to our next rebirth and continually generates merits. This means that even if we unknowingly commit a downfall in future lifetimes, we still generate merit unless we take the vows again and are once again consciously aware that we are holding them.
You are invited to a free talk on the topic of the Secondary Bodhisattva Vows. Along with the Three Principal Aspects of the Path, this is prerequisite study material for anyone aspiring to receive higher tantric initiations like Yamantaka and Vajra Yogini.
This free talk is part of our Preparing for Tantra series. All talks will be held in-person at Kechara Forest Retreat. A good grounding in Buddhism is recommended for anyone who wishes to attend this series of talks.
The Tibetan tradition of the Bodhisattva vows consists of 18 root vows and 46 secondary vows. They are derived from the Akashagarbhasutra or Sutra of Akashagarbha, as cited in the Compendium of Trainings (Skt. Shikshasamuccaya) compiled by Shantideva in India during the 8th century.
The 10th-century Indian master Atisha received this particular version of the Bodhisattva vows from his Sumatran teacher Dharmakirti (Dharmapala) of Suvarnadvipa, which he later transmitted to Tibet. All Tibetan Buddhist traditions adhere to this system of transmission in regards to the Bodhisattva vows.
In the 15th century, Lama Tsongkhapa composed a commentary to the vows, known as An Explanation of Bodhisattva’s Ethical Discipline: The Main Path to Enlightenment. This became the core explanation on the Bodhisattva vows in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.