Four Great Vows of Bodhisattvas, First Vow

Sentient beings are innumerable;

I vow to help them all.
Afflictions are inexhaustible;
I vow to end them all.
Dharma doors are boundless;
I vow to master them all.
Buddhahood is supreme;
I vow to attain it.

With much enthusiasm to learn and practice the teachings, most people start by reading books and listening to teachings by various teachers and writers. But in the vows above, we see that mastering the many Dharma doors, the different methods of learning and practice, is the third vow, not the first.

Our first step in becoming a bodhisattva is to give rise to the vow to help all beings. If we practice just to help ourselves or those we love, our mind will not be broad and spacious. It will be narrow and constricted, and our practice will be selfish.

With the first great vow, the aspiration to help all beings, our great compassion will be generated and it will compel us to be diligent on the bodhisattva path. Without this compassion and diligence, we will give up when encountering obstacles. Thus the first vow is imperative if we are to truly help others.




The cause of suffering is selfish desire,

whether it is the desire for pleasure,

desire for revenge

or simply desire for a long life.

~ Buddha 



Human Potential


Of the different realms in samsara, the cycle of rebirth, being reborn as a human offers the greatest potential for spiritual advancement.

In some existences, everything is so wonderful that there seems to be no suffering in sight. In other existences, beings suffer so much themselves that even thinking of alleviating the suffering of others is virtually impossible.

But as humans, we personally know suffering and can empathize with the suffering of others around us. As humans, we have both the ability to find our own happiness and the compassionate wisdom to help others find their way to happiness.



The Habit of Doubt

While we are supposed to not blindly believe what we are told, our skeptical minds can work overtime. Our reasonable inclination to question new ideas can lead us to doubt anything new and different.

This can occur with our practice of the Buddhadharma as we are told to experience the truth of the teachings for ourselves.

I can observe that when I constantly want new experiences and possessions, I will be disappointed because my ability to want far out paces my ability to attain. When I allow myself to become upset, I feel unsettled when the anger subsides. When I say something that hurts another, I feel remorse and wonder how to undo the harm I have done. Fortunately, when I am considerate and mindful, I feel good, knowing I have done what is right. And when I chant, I feel calm and happy.

So I can see cause and effect occurring right now.

But what about the future? What about all the things I have done in the past? If I'm distracted, I can't remember what I went to do in the next room! I certainly can't remember my past karmas.

At some point in our learning and practice, we need faith. Not in a religious sense because the Buddhadharma is not a religion. I mean faith—as in unwavering belief—in the everyday sense.

People get married with the faith that they will spend the rest of their lives with their spouse. We board a plane with the faith that we will land safely. A lot of what we do requires faith. There are just some things we cannot prove in advance. But trusting the person we marry and knowing that flying is very safe, we act on our faith and fly happily off on our honeymoon.

When the Buddha warned us that doubt is one of the six poisons, he was not talking about reasonable doubt; but blind, unsubstantiated doubt. As the provable things he said are found to be true by us, we will come to the things that we need to accept on faith. At this point, when the teachings have struck a chord within us and we have been so deeply moved by them, we need to let go of our suspicion and mistrust. We need to let go of our habit of doubt.




By nature, all people are equal; thus, no person is, by nature, superior to another. Cognizant of just how often we give in to negative emotions like greed, anger, impatience, and jealousy, we will realize that we have little to be arrogant about. It would be much wiser to develop humility, recognizing that with our many faults we need to focus on correcting them. And as we get compliments for our improvement in correcting our faults, we must work even harder to put aside our pride and to practice humility.