Samantabhadra’s Ten Vows

  1. To venerate all buddhas
  2. To praise all tathagatas
  3. To make offerings to all as Buddha
  4. To confess misdeeds of the past
  5. To rejoice in the happiness of others
  6. To request that buddhas dwell in this world
  7. To request dharma teaching
  8. To study the dharma in order to teach
  9. To live for the benefit of others
  10. To transfer all merit to others

After my first talk in San Rafael, I was asked about the origin of the bodhisattva vows; I had to confess that I hadn’t researched that as part of putting the talk together, and that I didn’t really know.
Ahead of the second talk, I did what I usually do in these circumstances these days, and checked on Wikipedia, which was not as helpful as I had hoped (I later read a good article by Robert Aitken highlighting their appearance in the Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch), but which pointed me to Samantabhadra’s vows.
This was especially apposite under the circumstances: while I am sure I have come across them several times over my years of practice, for me they are indelibly linked with my shuso practice period at Tassajara. Abbot Steve – who led the group in San Rafael for many years –  had made the vows an integral part of his own practice, and as part of the routine and ritual of the practice period, he and I had chanted them together every morning.
My memories of this highlight how much banal self-concern can arise even during the most formal practices: after I had finished ringing the wake-up bell each day (it was warm enough that autumn that I did that just wearing a T-shirt until the end of November), I changed into my robes and went to the Abbot’s cabin for green tea prepared by the anja (I actually stuck to hot water, as I felt it was less likely to cause me to leave the morning schedule for a bathroom break – this was happening at four in the morning, and zendo activities were continuous until around seven thirty; while there were a couple of occasions when bathroom breaks were possible, I preferred not to have to take them).
Once we had taken our refreshments, and had a little conversation if we were not observing sesshin silence, the jisha left to prepare the kaisando for the first incense offering of the morning jundo; Steve and I did the robe chant together, put on our okesas, laid out our zagus, and then recited the vows, with a prostration for each, side by side towards the altar in the cabin.
Even as I was aware of the deep intimacy of the moment – not least from listening closely to him, having to mumble along until I had memorised them for myself – I was often internally grumbling about how hot I was. Having just run from one end of Tassajara to the other ringing the wake-up bell, then putting on all my robes, and coming to Abbot’s cabin where a fire was often lit, and finally doing a vigorous series of prostrations, I was inevitably sweating by the end of it, knowing that, with the zendo also being cosily heated, I would not cool down for a while, and would be sitting zazen while feeling clammy.
And even while I was agitated by that, I knew that really there was nothing to complain about, and it was usually easy just to let that internal voice go. Steve and I would bow to each other to mark the end of the tea, and he would leave to start the jundo, while I had a couple of minutes to make my way to the zendo to make my formal entrance ahead of him.

Sojun morning jundo kaisando 2 copy.jpg
I took many photos during that practice period. This one is perhaps the best to illustrate this story – having left the morning tea one morning, I took a picture of the kaisando offering from the bathroom of the shuso cabin, though in this case, the doshi is Sojun, who was visiting while Steve was away at some point.

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