Karma Chagme’s Summary of All Vows

Karma Chagme (1613-1678) composed a text called “How to Guard the Three Vows: The Sun that Dispels the Darkness,” which is the fifth chapter of his famous “Mountain Dharma” (Ri chos mtshams kyi zhal gdams). You can find the whole translation of this chapter in the download section of this blog (scroll down and see the right hand side).

Here, I will present his summary of all vows from that chapter. Instead of making footnotes (as in my translation), the notes are here integrated into the text in blue print.

Summary of All Vows
The three vows of refuge, the five of the householders,
Most basic are the “vows of refuge.” They are presented in three groups of three rules each. After one has taken refuge, one observes the following: 1a) One continually strives to worship the three jewels, b) one does not abandon the three jewels even at the cost of oneʼs life, c) one recollects the qualities of the three jewels and continually practices taking refuge; 2a) one does not turn to other deities, b) harm other beings and c) rely on non-Buddhist teachers, 3) one worships the images and representations of a) the Buddhas, b) the teachings and c) the community, even if they only consist of mere clay figures, single letters or shreds of robes.
As a householder, one can maintain five vows or less. These are avoiding 1) killing, 2) stealing, 3) sexual misconduct, 4) lying and 5) the consumption of intoxicating substances. Either two or three of these are to be observed (but one can also take all five). In the so-called approximation vow (upavasasaṃvara), one enters into all five commitments for the duration of one day, but “sexual misconduct” is replaced by chastity, and there are other additional vows such as avoiding elevated seating, singing, dancing, jewelry, perfume, and “untimely meals.” Literally, upavasa means “approach” or “approximation,” i.e., a lay person approximates the lifestyle of the ordained ones for the period of one day.

the ten vows of ordained novices,
These are the four roots of the vinaya: celibacy, not killing, not stealing, not lying about spiritual accomplishments, and additional vows such as avoiding intoxication, elevated seating, singing, dancing, jewelry, and perfume.

the two hundred and fifty-three vows of fully ordained monks,
In addition to the ten vows of the novices, the fully ordained ones have to follow a large catalogue of vows concerning the life in the sangha and regulating the contact with the layity. A good and complete documentation was published by Charles Prebish (1975). Buddhist Monastic Discipline: The Sanskrit Prātimokṣa Sūtras of the Mahāsāṃghikas and Mūlasarvāstivādins. University Park Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. (Maybe you can ask someone to send you a PDF?)

the vows of the bodhisattvas,
There are different sets of vows for the bodhisattvas. Candragomin has summarized them in his Twenty Verses (Bodhisattvasaṃvaraviṃśaka 6‒7, translation by Mark Tatz), forming the Yogācara tradition of the bodhisattva vows:

(6) With attachment to gain and respect,
Praising oneself and deprecating another;
Stingily not giving Dharma and wealth
To the suffering, [poor] and forsaken.
(7) Heedless of another’s confession,
Striking him out of anger;
Rejecting the Greater Vehicle,
And showing what appears like good Dharma.

The Twenty Verses are a summary of the ethics chapter of the Bodhisattvabhūmi.

the four white and the four black dharmas
that are to be accepted and rejected,
The four white dharmas: (1) Never consciously telling lies, ranging from “even if it costs one’s life” to “even for fun;” (2) always maintaining an altruistic motivation, never deviating from it, and not deceiving the beings; (3) cultivating the certainty that all bodhisattvas are buddhas and praising them; (4) motivating the beings regarding the unsurpassable awakening and the great vehicle, without giving up the lesser vehicles.
The four black Dharmas: (1) To deceive the guru; (2) to slander those who have cultivated the resolve for complete awakening; (3) to have no faith in spiritual merit and repent virtuous actions; (4) To deceive the beings.

the eighteen and the twenty transgressions,
According to the Madhyamakas, depending on which basic text they follow, there are eighteen or more root vows of the bodhisattvas. In his Śikṣasamuccaya, Śāntideva cites the Ākāśagarbhasūtra with nineteen transgressions, the first six of which apply to “kings and ministers.” The remaining twelve roots are for beginners and average bodhisattvas:

(1) To teach emptiness to the unprepared so that they lose faith;
(2) to induce someone to give up the great vehicle;
(3) to induce someone gifted only for the small vehicle to enter the great vehicle;
(4) to believe that one cannot remove the stains in the small vehicle;
(5) out of greed for wealth and fame, to praise oneself and disrespect others;
(6) falsely claiming that one has realized emptiness;
(7) inducing others to punish a monk;
(8) inducing a monk to abandon his meditation;
(9) giving up the decision to awaken;
(10-12) being stingy, angry, or hypocritical.

Only one root is taught for those bodhisatvas who are particularly blunt, namely at least not to give up the resolve for awakening.

the fourteen root pledges of the mantra vows
There are countless pledges in the different tantras and tantra classes. After one has been initiated into one of the highest tantras, the fourteen root transgressions mentioned here are especially important:

(1) To disrespect the vajra master;
(2) to disobey the Buddha’s instructions;
(3) to be angry with oneʼs vajra siblings;
(4) to give up love, even for a single being;
(5) to lose bodhicitta;
(6) to disregard religious teachings;
(7) to reveal secrets to the immature;
(8) to disregard one’s psycho-physical constituents as something ordinary;
(9) to disregard that which is pure by nature;
(10) to feel affection for the wicked;
(11) to construct mental concepts of the ultimate truth;
(12) to cause someone to lose faith;
(13) to reject the substances of the pledges of mantra;
(14) to disrespect women.

and the eight grave transgressions,
The eight serious violations are:

(1) To engage (in the activities of the mantra) with women who have nopledges;
(2) to get into conflict with others during the activities of the mantra;
(3) to accept the external and internal nectar of the pledges from women who are not qualified in the sense of the mantra;
(4) not to teach mantra although it has been requested by qualified students;
(5) to answer qualified questions about mantra evasively;
(6) to spend more than one week with those who despise the great vehicle;
(7) to consider oneself a mantra adept if one knows only some of the rituals of the stage of cultivation;
(8) to reveal secrets to unqualified persons.

the roots of the body, speech, and mind of the Nyingmapas
and the twenty-five branches.
These were taught in detail as the hundred thousands of millions.

In brief, the roots of all these vows are as follows:
The entire prātimokṣa is included in avoiding harm for others
together with the mental basis for that.
The entire system of the bodhisattva vows is included in bringing benefit to others
together with the mental basis for that.
The entire system of the pledges of mantra is included in one-pointed devotion to the guru.

If you say: “In detail, it is too detailed, in brief, it is too brief;
but what is practiced concretely?”
[I reply]: Preserve the four roots as if they were your life,
abandon alcohol and meat [of animals killed] for your sake, etc.—
these are the purest vows of this day and age.
They are also of utmost importance for the vows of the bodhisattvas and mantra.

Whatever activities of virtue accumulation one pursues,
the core of the entire training of the bodhisattvas
is the cultivation of the resolve to awaken for the sake of all beings,
and to make wishes for the dedication of the root of virtue
for the benefit of all beings
and for attaining perfect awakening.
The meaning of this [is explained in the sutra of] detailed advice to the king.

Whoever your root guru is
—whether ordinary being or a buddha—
think of him as being inseparable from the lord of the [buddha] family
on the crown of your head.
This is the pledge of the guru’s body.

Practice whatever is appropriate for you:
The deity of meditation with your body, recitations through your speech,
holding the breath or vajra recitation.
This is the pledge of the speech of the deity of meditation.

View your mind as emptiness, mahamudra,
perform as best as you can on days such as the tenth of the month timely offerings,
the tantric feast, and torma offerings!
Never explain to those who hold wrong views the vital points of mantra.
This is the pledge of the dakini’s heart.

Continue your efforts regarding the offering of tormas and the torma
of the twenty-ninth day of the last month.
The twenty-ninth day of the last month is the penultimate day of the Tibetan year. The focus of this torma offering ritual is to come to a conclusion with the past year by repelling negativity and misfortune and thus averting it for the next year. The ritual is traditionally performed in all households, monasteries, and retreat places all over Tibet on this day.

Perform as best you can on the appropriate days of the year, the appeasements
and petitions, and the feast offering.
Since one cannot avoid mistakes in ritual practice regarding the protectors, etc., “amendments” must be made on certain days to appease these deities. “Petitions” are requests to the deities regarding fortunate conditions in the future. The “feast offering” is one of the obligations one has towards the yidam deity.

In it are contained the pledges concerning the gods of wealth [who provide] qualities
and the protectors of the teaching [who engage in various] activities.

Watch at all times the essence of your mind.
That is the pledge of liberating one’s mental continuum through realization.

From time to time, train in the visualizations of the compassionate exchange
of yourself and others,
Literally, the “sending” of one’s happiness to others and the “taking” upon oneself the suffering of others.

fulfill the hopes of your trainees concerning empowerments,
transmissions, instructions, and so forth.
This is the pledge of bringing the mental continuum of others to maturity
through compassion.

Make aspirations and dedications that everyone who is connected
[to you] through seeing, hearing, remembering, and touching,
may be born in the buddha field of great bliss.
This is the pledge of the great vehicle that samsara is to be completely emptied.

In this way, the pledges are differentiated and summarized.
They are clearly differentiated and easy to practice.

[Colophon]
This was taught by Rāga Asya (Karma Chagme) during the noon session
of the twenty-fourth day of the eighth month of the horse year.
The text literally says “the ninth day of the red half of the month,” which refers to the second half of the month with a waning moon. Since only the animal sign is mentioned, three years are most likely, namely 1642, 1654, or 1666.

It was written down by Tsöntrü Gyatso, who had requested the teaching.
If there are mistakes in it, I confess them before the scholars.
May all beings bring the three vows to perfection through this virtue.

[This translation was made in August 2000 in Hamburg and slightly revised in 2020 by Jan-Ulrich Sobisch.]

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