When we understand the power of vows we’ll be sad not to have them

Apr 28, 2022


We all know that when we decide to do something, we will do it. It’s the first step. That’s the bare-bones meaning of intention: I will, volition. A vow is a very potent decision to refrain from doing this or that. Without vows we can’t make much progress on our spiritual path at all. Just being good is not enough, as Lama Zopa Rinpoche says. When we get this, we will be sad not to live in vows.


And Buddha loves his vows! All the lamas tell us that we simply can’t get enlightened unless we live in the three sets of vows. 


The first lot, when we first commit to the Buddhist path, are the vows that enable us to achieve our own freedom from all the nonsense: don’t kill, don’t lie, etc.; there are five of them. (And then there are the many vows for the monks and nuns.) 


Why are they so powerful? The bottom line is this: every second of the day, whatever we think and do and say sows a seed in our mind, and at the time of death we want our delicious, rich, intentional, non-killing, non-lying, non-stealing, non-harming karmic seeds to be triggered to ensure we will get another human birth in which we will have no thoughts to harm others and in which no bad things will happen to us. This is the logic of the natural law of cause and effect: we create our own future.


Normally, the key factor that determines these results is the motivation that underpins our intentions, our actions. But until we’re pretty advanced spiritually, our goodness is pretty weak; attachment mostly runs the show. 


And, second, it’s only when there’s a firm intention to not kill, not lie, not steal that we leave the seeds in the mind. So, here we are right now probably not killing, but if there’s no intention, there’s no karma of non-killing, no seeds left in the mind, no good future results.


If we need plenty of these rich delicious seeds in our bank vault to provide our future good results, how do we create them?


By living in vows. The power of vows is such that every second you are keeping them – even when there’s no intention to not kill, not steal; even in your sleep; twenty-four hours – we are dropping seeds into our bank vault.


The life we have right now, with this human body, our good tendencies, our wish to practice a spiritual path, no way we would have it unless we had lived in vows in the past. 


Vows not only set us up for a good future rebirth, they program our mind, they mold our mind. It’s logical. When we learn to drive a car we actually take hundreds of vows, but of course we don’t call it that. We vow to not put the foot on the brake at the same time as the accelerator, to not turn the steering wheel left if you want to go right – think about it! We learn them until they become so natural that we do it all instinctively. 


How wonderful to instinctively not want to harm sentient beings! 


And vows not only program us in these tendencies for the future they also put atomic bombs under the karmic imprints from the past. And by purifying our tendencies we also purify the likelihood of meeting situations in which we feel we’re forced to kill, etc.


There are billions of humans, each of us getting this human body as the result of a non-killing karmic seed being triggered at the time of our past death. 


But look at the other karmas that play out in the lives of most of them. There are four ways that our karma ripens: One is the rebirth. Second, there are the mental tendencies, our habits. Three, our experiences. And four, environmental results.


It’s a pretty rare thing to point out a human being who also doesn’t kill (the tendency similar to the past cause of not killing), doesn’t get killed (the experience similar to the cause of past not killing), and is healthy (the environmental result of not killing). The cause is they’ve lived in vows. 


But look at the number of humans who have the tendency to kill, who get killed or die young, who get sick – the three results of having killed in the past. The cause of this is not having purified all aspects of the karma of killing. The most tragic one, of course, is the tendency to kill because that ends up creating the cause for suffering lives and all the suffering results again and again.


We all know we don’t want 1. to kill, 2. get killed or die young, or 3. get sick. So we need to create the cause not only to get a human life again but to have the miracle of these good conditions by living in vows.


Then we can carry on our spiritual path without anything holding us back.



More blog posts

The buddhas and bodhisattvas come where they’re needed

A question came up recently: Since Lama Zopa passed away and there have been prayers for his swift return, is that to be taken in a literal sense? Will he only reincarnate if there's prayer? It’s a really good question, and the answer is completely logical and simple...

Big surprise! Attachment is the main source of our problems

As far as the four noble truths are concerned, the main source of our suffering is attachment: this is what we have to understand. This is surprising: we don’t think like this. This is not Jung's model of the mind, or Freud's. And you don't get attachment from your...

Neuroses are not at the core of our being and therefore can be removed

Let’s talk about the fundamental point that underpins all of Buddha’s teachings from A to Z – all of Buddha's teachings from A to zed, as we say in England and Australia. According to the Buddhist analysis, the neurotic states of mind, the unhappy states of mind, the...

Share this article