The Spirit of the Vow ~ Amida Shu Podcast 99: 20th October 2020 (Transcription)

Here is another passage from the Larger Sutra:

"the shramana Dharmakara then practised those true, unfailing and unsurpassed vows, rare in all worlds and ages, that bring serenity and joy.

"Before the Buddha Lokeshvararaja and all the devas, Brahma, Mara and a host of celestials, he established his resolve. Dharmakara practised as he had promised and as he did so his Buddhakshetra grew in extent and magnificence. The purity and magnificence of his Pure Land increased and increased. It was exquisite, unique, supreme and marvellous. It was vast, incomparable, magnificent, omni-present, eternally reliable and not subject to decay.

"He worshipped the Three Jewels and brought offerings to his teachers. He was gentle, charming, cheerful, amiable and pleasant to live with. His speech was honest, modest, mild, harmless and beneficial to all. His tender heart showed in the friendliness of his face."

 ~ Larger Pureland Sutra: (p.5 of the online-book, the quote is on p.19, Dharmakara’s Virtue, 30 [49-50] & 31[51]



This is podcast 99. When I started doing these podcasts back in April, I certainly didn’t expect that we would reach this number. It was not a pre-planned scheme to produce 100 podcasts, and yet, this is what has happened; and I think this, in a way, is an illustration of something about how we proceed. Recently we’ve started talking about precepts and vows, the Vows of Dharmakara, The Ten Mahayana Precepts, and so on. Some of us are thinking of whether we want to take precepts or start out on that sort of path, perhaps at the coming Bodhi Retreat. So, this is in the air at the moment; and I think the important thing to understand here is that what matters is the spirit.

Precepts are not a kind of legal document, they’re not things to haggle over the small-print, or to tie people down to precise details and so on. It’s a matter of grasping the true spirit of what the precept or the vow or prayer is all about, because this is what matters. What matters is in your heart, not what’s in the small print.

I can give an example: For instance, amongst the precepts that I have taken, there is a precept about not criticising the Sangha in the presence of non-members of the Sangha, and somebody said to me: “Does this mean, if there were a police investigation into some awful misdeed in the Sangha, that you wouldn’t co-operate because the police are not part of the Sangha?” Well, no, it doesn’t mean that at all. That’s not what it’s about. That’s not the spirit of the precept. The spirit of that particular precept is a bit more like a marriage. You don’t go round criticising your spouse in public, or if you do, you can’t expect to have a happy marriage for very long.

So, it’s important to grasp the spirit, rather than the detail.

In the same way, I didn’t have any detailed plan to produce 99 podcasts, but I do have a vow in my heart, as you might say; and it’s quite interesting to always look at What is one’s real vow?

What is the vow that you actually have in your heart? Quite apart from the formal vows or precepts that you have taken in a ceremony, which are a sort of outward declaration, just as (I’m using the illustration of marriage here) when you marry somebody, you say certain things in front of a priest and so on, but what is the real intention in your heart? What is the real love in your heart? This is what matters.

So, sometimes it’s a good spiritual practice to look at what is your vow? What is your personal vow really, you see?

And if I try to express in words my own case, my deep intention is to assist, foster and support the spiritual development of my disciples, to help them to thrive in whatever way is right for them and it will be different in each case, it will be different with each person… And the second is to spread the Dharma; and here again: what does that mean? It’s going to be different in many different circumstances. In some cases, it might mean producing 99 podcasts… And thirdly, of course, to put the Dharma into practice in my own life.

So, these three legs of a tripod, as it were, are one way of thinking about the vow that is in my heart. But of course, the vow that is really in my heart is very difficult to express in words, but this gives it some expression.

And sometimes, it manifests as a series of 99 podcasts, but when it does, I’m as surprised as anybody else.

Namo Amida Bu
Thank you very much


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