I've been a student of Buddhism for 20 years and yesterday I took a giant leap (for me) by participating in a formal ceremony in which I vowed to live my life by Buddhist principles. I've always been a sucker for ceremony and ritual which never fail to bring chills to my back and a tear or two to my eyes, but as my spiritual teacher Nancy said when she hugged me after the ceremony, "This step has been a long time in coming."
I know that I have been using the Buddhist precepts as a guide for living for many years, and Nancy was clear in reminding us 8 preceptors that this ceremony did not mean we had or needed to perfect their actualization. Our vow was simply to use them as a guide in our spiritual training.
In this way, I do most deeply vow to train myself.
In the days before the ceremony, I gave a lot of thought to the word "vow." It's a word that holds powerful sway over me. I have "vowed to . . ." several times in my life. I was baptized a Catholic and made my holy communion and was confirmed. I participated in the sacrament of marriage. Two years ago, I took the Bodhisattva vow which begins like this:
As earth and the other elements, together with space, eternally provide sustenance in many ways for the countless sentient beings, so may I become sustenance in every way for sentient beings to the limits of space . . .
In a nutshell, I vowed to live compassionately with a clear intention to assist, benefit, and nourish all sentient beings. It's a tall order, for sure, but studying the teachings that lend themselves to this vow keeps me paying attention to every action, if not exactly in the moment at least upon reflection.
But getting back to vows. The big question for me is how these vows work together. Does taking one vow negate a previous vow? I know that my relationship to and understanding of the vows I have taken has changed. Does that constitute fickleness or growth?
One thing is certain: It is terribly important that I feel a connectedness and inclusivity among spiritual practices. Perhaps that is why I always speak this line in the morning recitation a bit louder and with the deepest respect and commitment, "Homage to the devotees of this and all paths of self-purification."
The vows I have taken are all part of the fabric of my spiritual life, woven strands that make a peculiar but nevertheless inspiring pattern.
May all find simplicity the joyous and practical guide.