As expressed by Buddhism, before taking up spiritual cultivation, those
who have established their faith already, should reinforce themselves with strong
resolution. Faith, like a navigation compass, shows the cultivator the right
course, from which he must not deviate, and Resolution, like a generator, is
the driving power to press him forward towards the goal of Enlightenment. In
view of this, it is imperative that Buddhist should abide themselves by the
Four Great Vows in the following:
1) I vow to deliver infinite sentient beings from suffering;
2) I vow to eliminate infinite vexing passions;
3) I vow to learn infinite Dharmas;
4) I vow to attain supreme Buddhahood.
The positive spirit of Buddhism, as seen in these Great Vows, in superb and remarkable. Firstly, instead of seeking personal advantages or the reward of going to paradise for enjoyment, the object of cultivating Buddhism is to help all sentient beings, including those living things as well as those living in Heaven, to deliver themselves from sufferings and to achieve happiness. Secondly, with the view of attaining Supreme Perfect Enlightenment, the Buddhist should exert every effort to learn the fundamental Truths of life and the universe. Thirdly, notwithstanding his awareness of infinite sentient beings, infinite vexing passions, innumerable Dharmas and unexcelled Buddhahood, he carries out the four Great Vows without fear and retreat. If such spirit of undaunted courage and unswerving determination is said to be passive and negative, we would be at loss to know what is truly positive
Because of their unique appeal, the remarkable and superb vows of the three Bodhisattvas may be briefly described here for readers reference. 1) Bodhisattva Samantabhadras Tenfold Vows; 2) Bhikkhu Dharmakaras (Amitabha Buddha) forty-eight Vows; 3) Bodhisattva Manjushris 141 Vows. Of Bodhisattva Samantabhakras Ten Great Vows, the Vow to be in sympathetic accord with sentient beings is quoted in the following extracted passage:
Next, virtuous men, the Vow to be harmoniously acquiescent with every variety of sentient beings, is this: to all of them of the Dharma-realms, the Infinite Woid and the Ten Quarters . I vow that I would respond with them at all times, and would serve them with every sort of offerings and be helpful to them in every way as I would do to my parents, teachers, Arahants and Tathagatas all alike. To those who suffer from illnesses, I would be a good physician; to those going astry, I would be a guide to show them the right path; to those in darkness, I would be a light; and for the poor and needy, I would be a discover of hidden treasures; thus a bodhisattva extends to all beings with equal benefits and bestows his loving care upon them all alike. And why? Because to be in sympathetic response and in accord with sentient beings is tantamount to serving and making offerings to all Buddhas; to honor and to serve sentient beings is no less than serving and honoring all Buddhas; and to gratify sentient beings is same as gratifying all Tathagatas. Why? It is because Great Compassions is the Essence of every Buddha and every Tathagata that in response to all sentient beings, it arises spontaneously. From Great Compassion comes Bodhi, and Bodhi comes from Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. Thus sentient beings are essential for the development of Bodhi, and if there were no sentient beings, no Bodhisattva could ever attain Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. Now, Virtuous men, ponder well on the truth of this parable. If equality is accorded to all sentient beings, then Great Compassion will be fully consummated. Therefore, to respond to sentient beings with Great Compassion is no less than serving and doing homage to Tathagatas. The way of Bodhisattvas to respond to sentient beings is this: even the karma and klesa of sentient beings may come to an end, never my effort of sympathetic response to all the them would cease. This vow to be harmoniously acquiescent with sentient beings, incessantly in my thought, is carried out into deeds of the body, mouth and mind unremittingly and tirelessly.
From this, it is abundantly clear that Bodhisattve Samantabhadras ideal of serving sentient beings is incomparable and remarkable. In view of the fact that the scope of our services is generally limited to a group, or to a section of the community only, therefore we should emulate Samantabhadra by extending our services to infinite living beings of every variety. Whereas in every society the question of services is usually based on personal relationships or group interest, Samantabhadra, however serves sentient beings indiscriminately and according to the principles of Equality. In every religion the object of worship is its founder: Samantabhadra holds that to serve and to make offerings to all beings is tantamount to serving and doing homage to the Tathagata. Whereas those who dedicate themselves to serve humanity, may do so in this life at best. The Bodhisattva extends his services in the manner unremittingly and tirelessly for infinite periods of time. In the light of this principle, it is incontroversial that Buddhism is by no means a passive and pessimistic religion.
Also, the sublime forty-eight Vows of Amitabha Buddha are most awe-inspiring indeed. In setting up the Supreme Happiness Buddhaland, it is his aspiration that in that Buddha Country not only is the aspect of material civilization at the most advanced level, but its people, apart from being good looking, should also achieve Potential Freedom (of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) and are all equal with one another. At the time he made those great vows, Buddha heard him and assured him, saying: In hunting for treasures in the ocean, if one is determined to do son, regardless of the lapes of a number of aeons, certainly he would reach the seabed, where he may obtain valuables to his liking; likewise, if a pursuer of Tao is firmly resolved to proceed to the Path of Enlightenment, by his persevering effort, surely he will get to the destination. After his fulfilment of his forty-eight Vows, it culminated in his complete development of Buddhahood, and he was named Amitabha Buddha. In fact, NaMo A-Mi-Ta-Bha had been the most popular Buddhist slogan in China for many centuries.
Next, Bodhisattva Manjushris one hundred and forty one Vows, rocorded in The Pure conduct Chapter of Avatamsaka, are profoundly significant and meaningful. For every act, just a very simple and ordinary activity in ones daily life, there is a vow attached, and instead of saying to wish for oneself, every vow is a wish for all sentient beings, exclusively. From the standpoint of Buddhism, every Buddhist should be always considerate of others and wish them well in everything. Because he identifies himself to be at one with sentient beings and at par with all of them, he is free of the concept of ego-personality; this as reiterated in the previous chapter, is in accord with the Buddhist Theory of Universal Equality.
In short, from those Bodhisattvas sublime Vows mentioned in the above, the All-Courage, All-Power and All-Compassion of Buddhism may be seen, but this may be unusually hard for religionists, philosophers, statesmen and scientists all over the world to emulate.