By NINA HATTON
Making a vow affects us in ways that cause us to think and act with more focus, intention, and commitment than before we made the vow.
Having taken the Five Mindfulness Trainings almost 20 years ago and then committing as an aspirant of the Order of Interbeing two years ago, I have become aware that, for me, making a public vow has boosted and solidified my commitment to live in a way that aligned with the a life that brings me home to who I truly am, taking refuge in the Three Jewels and traveling on the Eightfold Path.
I have found that making such commitments not only makes the “way” more clear to me, but I feel energized by it. Making these vows had changed me in some ways, for the better. I used to feel that the Five Mindfulness Trainings were like a North Star for me, the direction was there, and provided support and guidance. Since committing to OI aspirancy, the image that has arisen is more like a “Yellow Brick Road” and this has encouraged and guided me even more. I can always see it, with all its beauty and promise, and truth. It’s the way home. The more I’ve learned from Fred, Angie Parrish, and other teachers at FCM, the clearer the path becomes.
At FCM we are incredibly fortunate to have an abundance of Intensives, retreats and workshops we can choose from to deepen our practice and our understanding of ourselves. The Way of the Bodhisattva, also known as the Bodhicharyavatara, was written by Shantideva, an 8th Century CE Indian monk, philosopher and poet.
While attending university as a young man, Shantideva's fellow students considered him to be quite a slacker, so they challenged him to give a Dharma talk in front of everyone. The discourse he gave literally blew everyone ’s minds. This seemingly lazy, disinterested young man eloquently, in long, elaborate, exquisite poetry, with the colorful, dramatic imagery of his time, presented step by step instructions on just how to relinquish one’s attachment to the Self and become a Bodhisattva.
Shantideva is quoted often. He takes us through systematic steps, beginning with extolling the excellence of bodhichitta, and on through deeper and deeper levels of how to combat our doubts, impatience, misdeeds, lack of diligence, and so on, ending with perseverance, meditation and wisdom.
In his fierce and convincing manner, Shantideva insists we examine our behaviors, reactions and mind states, convincing us that we really do want very much to relinquish the samsaric world and find joy and meaning in a bodhisattva way of life. To slay the ego and be solely alive for the purpose of helping others awaken, to help them heal and see the true nature of reality, is the mission of a Bodhisattva. As one of his verses teaches:
77. The source of sorrow it the pride of saying "I;"
It's fostered and increased by the false belief in self.
To this you may believe that there is no redress,
But meditation on no-self will be the supreme way.
Early in his treatise, Shantideva instructs us to make a commitment to follow this path of a Bodhisattva, to make our lives much happier by conquering the ego, (giving up feeding a false sense of self) and dedicating our lives to helping others wake up and reduce their suffering.
On March 14, thirty-two FCM members who had enrolled in the yearlong 2020 Intensive The Way of the Bodhisattva, took the Bodhisattva Vow in a ceremony conducted by Fred. Eleven bodhisattvas-to-be were present in the FCM Meditation Hall and the others took their vows via Zoom. Seven participants renewed the vows they had made in a previous year.
The ceremony was quite moving and the vow, which we all read in unison, was lovely and powerful. After the evening chant and incense chant, the ancient Bodhisattvas’ names were invoked and we all made prostrations to them, touching the earth.
Angie, Maria Teresa Jaureguizar and Fred each read offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Confession for Wrongdoing and the Seven-Limbed Prayer. Then we all repeated after Fred vows of Taking Refuge, Generating Bodhichitta, and the Bodhisattva Vow. After these, a Prayer of Rejoicing was read in unison by all.
At the end of the ceremony, participants walked up individually to Fred so that he could cut a lock of their hair. Those of us not physically present in the hall also cut a lock of our own hair at that time, and mailed it to Fred. He keeps the hair of his flock together, in the tradition of the Buddha.
For those of us who took the Bodhisattva Vow on March 14, I believe there is more joy and clarity in our walk along this path. I feel much gratitude for this opportunity to deepen my adherence to and reverence for this journey. And, to quote Ram Das, “we are all just walking each other home.”
Nina Hatton of Tallahassee is a retired speech-language pathologist who has been a member of FCM for four years, having studied Buddhism and practiced in the Plum Village tradition (off and on) for over 20 years. She is an OI aspirant about to ordain, along with six other OI aspirants from FCM, on May 2, and is co-lead of the FCM Membership Team.