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Four Great Vows

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Four Great Vows

By Seon (Zen) Master Dae Bong


Every morning in our international Zen temples and centers and at the end of ceremonies in , we all recite the Four Great Vows. So, it is important to understand the meaning and how to use them in our practice.

The First Great Vow: Sentient Beings are numberless; we vow to save them all. This means our correct direction.

When practicing, many people worry about what technique they should use; which is the best, which is the fastest. But most important is our direction. If our direction is clear, then everything will help our practice. Then, any technique, any situation, any condition will benefit our effort. But if our direction is not clear, even the best technique will not bring the correct result.

It is like this: you are in Seoul and you want very much to visit your mother who is in Busan. You can take a plane, a train, a bus. You can drive a car or walk. You can go in a wheelchair. Any vehicle will help you. If you direction is correct, then you will eventually arrive. But if your direction is not correct, even if you have a Ferrari, you may arrive in Pyongyang.

This vow teaches us the correct direction. Why do you practice? For yourself? To feel peaceful? To be happy? To be famous? For your family? For your country? Why? For Enlightenment? If you get Enlightenment, then what?

We don’t practice Buddhism for myself. We practice to realize our true nature and save all beings moment-to-moment. That means, when you are with your spouse, help them. When you are with your children, don’t just push your idea. Understand their mind and help them. It means help nature. Help the air, the water, the animals, the insects, all beings. Human beings think this is my world. That is crazy. This world belongs to all beings. So we must appreciate, help and take care of all beings. That is human beings’ true job. If you find human beings’ true job, then any kind of body job is OK. We practice Buddhism to realize our true nature and help all beings.


The Second Great Vow: Delusions are endless; we vow to cut thru them all. This means everything is made by our thinking, but originally our thinking is empty, everything has no self-nature.

Avatamsaka Sutra says, “The whole universe is created by mind alone.” This world is made by thinking. You make your world. I make my world. Dogs make dog’s world.

Buddha taught all suffering comes from craving and attachment. Craving and attachment come from our thinking. If we cut off our thinking, then this world is already paradise. We can use all things to help others. This brings great happiness and peace.

Buddha said, “Everything is appearing and disappearing. That is the law of appearing and disappearing. When appearing and disappearing both disappear, that stillness is bliss.” Jesus said,The kingdom of God is within.” Many people think paradise is some place outside they go to, like Hawaii. But Buddha and Jesus taught paradise is inside. So when you cut thru delusions, that is paradise.

The Third Great Vow: The Teachings are infinite; we vow to learn them all. This does not mean the 84,000 sutras. It means every moment is a great teaching, I vow to attain them all. So this means we vow to pay attention moment-to-moment.

The Diamond Sutra says, “Past mind cannot get Enlightenment. Present mind cannot get Enlightenment. Future mind cannot get Enlightenment.” Past, present and future are not yours. Also your body, your family, your house, your country, your things are not yours. Only one thing in this life is yours: moment. This moment. That is zero divided by infinity second. Very short. If this moment is clear, your life is clear. If this moment is not clear, your life is not clear. All wisdom, love and compassion appear in this moment. If we want to attain Great Love, Great Compassion and Great Wisdom, the

Great Bodhisattva Way
, we must pay attention moment to moment, non-stop. That is our practice.

The Fourth Great Vow: The

Buddha Way
is inconceivable; we vow to attain it. Buddha had a Great Question: What is life? What is death? What is human being? What am I? And he didn’t know. He only went straight don’t know for six years. One morning he saw a star and got Enlightenment. So this vow means only go straight don’t know.

So, Buddha’s “Don’t Know, Bodhidharma’s “Don’t Know” and your “Don’t Know,” are they the same or different? If you say “same,” you become blind. If you say “different,” you lose the way. If you say “don’t know,” you are only a parrot. So what can you do?

Outside, the mountains are high; white clouds float back and forth.               A young person helps a halmoni cross the road.


Seon (Zen) Master Dae Bong was born in Philadelphia, in 1950. He studied psychology at the university. He later met Zen Master Seung Sahn and became his student. He has lived in Zen centers and temples in the , Europe and Asia since 1977. He became a monk in 1984 and received inka from Zen Master Seung Sahn in 1992 and Transmission in 1999. Since 1999, he has been Guiding Teacher (Joshil) of Mu Sang Sa Gyeryong San International Zen Center in .


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