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This is a basic introduction for those interested in taking
Refuge, Bodhisattva or Genyen vows.
You take Refuge once. Regardless of tradition, you are then
a �refugee.� The Bodhisattva vow is renewed as often as
possible. It's a �mind� vow, and we tend to break it often.
Intent is the watchword.
There have been many inquiries about Refuge and Bodhisattva
vows. The answers, from the point of view of the various
traditions and lineages are as varied as the fish in the
sea. Nyingje Companion's view attempts to be broad and all
encompassing, but it is only one of many points of view.
For other articles visit our Resource Library and follow
the appropriate links.
Genyen Vows are also a possibility. After taking Refuge and
Bodhisattva vows, you might wish to continue by engaging
the precepts. A description of Genyen vows is given below.
If you are interested, please consider what is written
there and discuss the vows with your teacher.
These vows are not about joining something specific, but
about your own personal journey. You may �carry� your vows
from tradition to tradition as you walk the path. The vows
are not particularly religious in nature, although you may
wish to use the strength and power of your religious
conviction as support in keeping the vows. Many Christians,
for example, have taken these vows. Nothing wholesome need
Teresa or Yeshe (or any Companion) would be happy to talk
to anyone who has concerns in this area. We sometimes take
vows or make resolutions in life. To do this in a ceremony
reinforces our conviction and sets a mark, a specific time,
in our lives, like a birthday or anniversary. For those
interested, Nyingje Companions offers vows annually. Vows
can also be accepted spontaneously and individually at any
What we are marking is our conviction and determination in
the path of meditation and kindness. We see, intuitively,
that we would like to get our mind clear of the
obscurations that are hindering us. We feel that this path
is working for us, and we celebrate our journey by
establishing our conviction and determination through
taking refuge. A refuge name is given that is chosen on the
basis of the person's personal strengths and convictions.
It is an inspirational name. Some people take on their new
name, or use their name in practice situations, some don't.
All of this is a personal choice.
We have been following the path of meditation off and on
for some time and we have come to the conclusion that it is
helping. Even so, we find it difficult to establish a
regular practice. The Refuge vow is taken to mark this
realization, and establish our determination. It provides
In Buddhist circles, it is traditionally accepted that one
takes refuge only once. It doesn't matter if the teacher
giving refuge vows is in your tradition. Someone following
the Tibetan tradition, for example, might take refuge from
a Zen Master. Many Christians, etc., have taken refuge as
they find mind training techniques helpful in their daily
life and spiritual growth. It does not negate or interfere
with one's religious convictions. It's more like achieving
a level in martial arts, but in this case we're wrestling
with the mind.
One takes refuge in three aspects:
In the Buddha, as an example that a human being can wake up
in this lifetime. The term Buddha is a descriptive word or
title, like president, referring to one who has �awakened�
or fully trained his or her mind. The historical Buddha was
Sidhartha Gautama. One doesn't �become� a Buddhist. It's a
state of mind.
In the Dharma, the teachings and techniques handed down all
through history from all cultures and traditions, as well
as �the way�. Dharma is not just the cookbook, to give an
analogy, but includes the active skill of mixing the bread,
kneading it, and baking it. It is an active thing. Dharma
is not Dogma.
In the Sangha, as the fellowship of our fellow travelers on
the path to clarity. This term is very broad and transcends
culture or belief system. It doesn't have a �membership
list� or specific structure. Lily Tomlin put it well:
�We're all in this together - alone.� Sangha is a support
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This vow it usually taken a year or so after taking refuge.
We have come to the point on the path where we realize that
most of our �problems� revolve around the fact that we are
centered, habitually, on our self and our personal
preferences. We come to the conclusion that the only way we
will ever achieve peace is to take care of others' needs
before our own. It doesn't mean we neglect our personal
needs, we see them more clearly, but we focus more
outwardly. It's about getting our personal self interest
tamed a bit. It is traditional, for example, to give the
preceptor (the teacher giving the vow) a gift of something
we hold dear. It should be something we don't really want
to part with, although it may be of little value otherwise.
Much insight comes from long pondering of what we will
give, and seeing the impact this has on our habitual
One can take the Bodhisattva vow over and over as we
progress along the path, as we will often break it. It is
Having taken Refuge in the Three Jewels, and having come to
grips with the pith of the Lesser and Greater Vehicles, we
might decide that we would like to work with the precepts:
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which
is not given.
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks
and drugs which lead to carelessness.
The precepts are not particularly moralistic rules that we
decide to take on, but practices that we wish to explore.
They are an adventure into our inner selves. Genyen vows
are temporary. They are taken for a specific period of
time. There are many translations of these vows, but the
five listed above offer the essence.
When I (Yeshe) took monastic vows there was a sixth vow
that was particularly meaningful to me. It was:
I undertake the precept to not harm another's faith.
Perhaps, in today's world, this precept is especially
helpful. Please consider including it in your own vows.
Genyen vows should never be taken lightly. Taking monastic
vows in this lifetime is a very auspicious occasion. Genyen
Vows are basically lay monastic vows. You may become a monk
or a nun in this lifetime! This is not a step UP into
greater credentials - It is a gesture of total surrender -
it is outrageous!. Our sincerity and devotion to the path
is paramount in making this decision. If our decision is at
all connected with claiming territory then it is initially
perverted. We must examine our own motivation. At some
point we have to get real. Can it happen in this lifetime?
The precepts are not so much moral rules to follow but
practices to explore in our journey toward personal growth.
The readiness to actually commit is what is most needed.
The vows are not an addition to our legend, they are an act
Within the context of Nyingje Companions, Genyen Vows
should follow earlier vows by perhaps a year. A program of
personal study and introspection should be undertaken.
Close interaction with a worthy mentor is important during
this period. One must connect with someone outside oneself.
The mind is slippery! Ego mind is the great trickster - go
with it if you must, but forget about taking vows. A little
effort brings little result - a greater effort brings
greater result (and it is said that too much effort brings
no result!) That's the way of it! It's really all up to
you. If you can get beyond you, even for a moment, than
you're ready to take Genyen Vows. Safe journey!
-Those who observe, learn, a whole life long.
-Wie observeert, leert , een heel leven lang.
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