- To venerate all buddhas
- To praise all tathagatas
- To make offerings to all as Buddha
- To confess misdeeds of the past
- To rejoice in the happiness of others
- To request that buddhas dwell in this world
- To request dharma teaching
- To study the dharma in order to teach
- To live for the benefit of others
- 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.
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.