In the book Zen Chants by Kazuaki Tanahashi, he shared Joan Halifax’s version of the Four Great Vows (or Bodhisattva Vows). I’ve come across these before, having chanted them at a local sangha, but this particular version resonated with me more than most.
These vows are some of the most compelling to me within Buddhism. In general, I shy away from organized religion, preferring the more unmoored path of the mystic. Committing to all the trappings of any particular religious tradition has left me hollow when I’ve tried that path multiple times in the past, but I wouldn’t rule it out if that is where life takes me. Despite this aversion, I remain am captivated by the Mahayana/Madhyamaka idea of the bodhisattva, so much so that it became the central focus of the tarot deck I created for myself (which may one day be published).
If ever I were to craft a life purpose, these vows seem worthy of that. Our culture, many religions, and numerous self-help movements greatly exaggerate the need for an overarching guiding principle, so I hate to commit to such a thing no matter how much I may crave it. After all, a vow or a purpose or anything is ineffective as long as craving is involved. These vows are the closest I’ve come to being able to divorce yearning from aspiration.