Q: What does it mean to make a vow in Buddhism?
"Buddhism also teaches that all people cherish a fundamental wish in the depths of their lives—that is, to find happiness for themselves and to see their loved ones also become happy."
A: Living in turbulent times, people are bound to experience unexpected hardships, regrets and hopelessness. During such times, how do they find the strength to keep going?
Those who have a guidepost by which to live can pick themselves up and carry on. And Buddhism offers a solid philosophy for guiding us through the most difficult times.
Buddhism also teaches that all people cherish a fundamental wish in the depths of their lives—that is, to find happiness for themselves and to see their loved ones also become happy.
Nichiren Daishonin urged his disciples who were facing intense hardships to live with a sense of purpose based on this fundamental wish, which equates to a pledge, commitment or vow. The compassionate vow to lead all people to Buddhahood, or lasting happiness, serves as a vital foundation of Buddhism.
It may seem idealistic or self-sacrificing to make a grand vow when we have our own struggles to deal with. But making such a vow does not require sacrificing anything. It includes developing our lives while helping others do the same.
Nichiren, too, began with a simple wish for his parents’ happiness which in turn led him to deepen his vow for the happiness of all people. Likewise, as we overcome our own struggles and create fulfilling lives using our Buddhist practice, we activate our inherent Buddha nature and expand our compassion for others.
SGI President Ikeda says: “Believing in the boundless potential of all human beings as entities of the Mystic Law may be considered the essence of the Lotus Sutra. Not only is this an expression of deep faith in the Mystic Law but also of a profound trust and respect for human beings” (The Opening of the Eyes Lecture Series, p. 57).
When our belief in our unlimited potential and that of others increasingly becomes our foundation, we bring forth limitless courage, wisdom and compassion from within, thereby transforming our lives. Carrying out the vow to lead all people to enlightenment means sharing the teachings of Buddhism with those around us so that they can experience this same powerful transformation and continue, undefeated by any doubt, negativity or karma, to create lives of absolute freedom and fulfillment.
President Ikeda explains, “A vow in Buddhism can be likened to the power with which to sever the chains of karma, to free oneself from the fetters of the past and to forge a self that can look with hope to a new future” (The Opening of the Eyes Lecture Series, p. 57).
Though it may be easier to remember our vow when things are favorable, it is precisely when we face the greatest struggles that we must deepen our commitment by chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and challenging ourselves. By continuously affirming this vow for the happiness of self and others, we can realize our unique mission, cultivate our strengths and experience boundless joy.