Fording the Stream: An Affirmation of the Bodhisattva Way of Life

by Ven Dharmakara Boda, The Buddhist Channel, Feb 23, 2008

Los Angeles, CA (USA) -- There are few expressions which capture the essence of Madhyamika Buddhism better than "fording the stream and returning to it with equal measure".

All of the teachings throughout the history of the Buddhism, from Siddhartha Gautama to the present day, are a part of that stream, countless keys to countless Dharma Doors which call out to us to "ford the stream" and learn from those who have walked the path before us.

On March 18, 2006, in commemoration of the 1,500th anniversary of the dedication of the original Ashrama Vihara in Bangladesh to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the regents of the Mahabodhi Sunyata Seminario de Espana in Tarragona, Spain, and lineage holders of the Chan Ssu Lun tradition, entered that proverbial "stream" and re-established the Avaivartika Order of Ashrama Vihara as a contribution to the United Nations' International Decade of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

While the Affirmation which appears below is an excerpt from the pravrajya ordination of the Avaivartika Order and contains the Four Great Vows, as well as the proper understanding and practice of the Bodhisattva Dharma, it is not meant to take the place of receiving the vows and instruction from a qualified teacher. With that said, it has always been an acceptable practice throughout the history of the Buddhist tradition to voluntarily undertake this way of life, especially when a qualified teacher is not available.
The principle that there is no distinction between doctrine and practice constitutes the basis of all Buddhist thought, no matter how much it may be lost in sectarian Buddhist ideas.

The Buddhist spiritual experience will reveal itself neither to the scholar nor to the conversationalist, but only to the man or woman who makes the central conceptions of Buddhist thought the basis of their mental activity, the subject of their deepest meditation, and the foundation of all their actions.

Every scriptural point is valid only to the extent that we engage it, embody it in our own learning and experience, upon the road to awakening.

Neither the nature nor the reality of the Bodhisattva Sangha, the grand fraternity which devotes its entire effort with one mind, one will and one over-riding thought, to the welfare and liberation of all beings, can be grasped by other means except by attunement to one's inner nature and nurture by a full joy and natural awe before the idea that there is no human aim higher than to understand the truth.

I know that every sacred pledge should be the result of deep thought and true feeling, and I will later reflect in silence, enriched by contemplation, and carry this pledge over into daily manifestation.

I know that there is no external fount to which I direct that pledge.

Thus I direct that pledge not to human creatures or an external being, but to the Buddha-nature that is being awakened within me.

I know that the essential nobility, the germ of Buddhahood is within myself, and will dissolve any mental inhibiting view of myself that masks that nobility and will help all others to do so.

I know that this pledge can be taken by anyone at any time, but the level of thought and intensity with which it is taken will determine the force and reliability of its execution.

To be able to take one's place in the glorious company of Bodhisattvas is not to assume that one can, purely on one's own, fulfil this exalted aim. But once one has truly affirmed it, no other aim has any comparable significance.
The Liberation of All Sentient Creatures

Although I pledge to save every being, I recognise what the Buddha declared, that there are no individual sentient beings to be saved.

Thus I understand that I must develop a view of the essential unity of all things and must see that unity reflected in every apparently separate living creature.

I understand that while I see fragmented consciousness on the worldly plane, due to the fragmentation of my own consciousness, I will look yet more profoundly and see the thread that unites all consciousness.

I understand that the apparent individualized consciousness reflected in the individual natures is the universal consciousness of all things.

I understand that the Bodhisattva recognising the higher within himself thereby recognises the higher within others.

The Unattainable

I understand that the ideal of helping all sentient creatures is an ideal that cannot ever be fully attained and yet I will throw my whole being into its achievement.

I will see my Bodhisattva pledge as a pledge to carry the flame of the truth of the Dharma and to transmit that flame to all who are ready to receive. Thus one day all may be liberated. This is my pledge to save all sentient creatures.

While alive I will recognise of the connection between the moment of birth and the moment of death, of the intimate relationship between the pain of one human being and the sorrow of all humanity.


I understand that the prospect of such a vow is naturally perplexing to the lower mind, which is almost totally ignorant of the priorities of the true nature and knows very little about this life.

I know that if this pledge is taken prematurely, lacking this sense of necessity, it will precipitate difficulties, generate a sense of culpability with transgression, generate tortured anxiety about the nature of my personal path, involve futile comparisons and contrasts with other human beings, make me feel isolated and alone. But out of all these Mara generated experiences there will come a future ripeness.

I know that those who have well traveled the Bodhisattva path, who have taken the vow again and again, know that soon after one has made such an affirmation, one is going to be tested. I shall overcome.


I perceive that my own true interest and liberation is bound up in serving others to the utmost, and I will develop the supreme wisdom to know at any given time, in any particular context, what the true self-interest of another is.

I perceive that living correctly in accord with the Dharma as a Bodhisattva, is doubtless the noblest endeavour conceivable for any human being anywhere on earth in the past present or the future.

I perceive that the Bodhisattva is more than a human creature with a generous heart. It is the becoming of an ideal. Thus the potential life of others can be reflected in me. My Buddha-nature is to be found in every man and universal brotherhood must by my behaviour be seen to be attainable by every human creature that is aware.

I perceive that this ideal is not imposed as an idea. The Bodhisattva state is a natural state within each human creature which has been covered with a blanket of Ignorance. I shall remove that blanket of ignorance.

I perceive that I must look for the potential virtue and correctness in others, and see that there does exist so much potential for the common good in others, that I will be capable of handling judgements of their limitations.

I perceive that it is important not to forget our true human heritage, our real nature and, thus, will travel securely upon the Eightfold Path, free from the pressures of social and personal relationships.


I understand that there is another kind of suffering, both more tragic and nobler. It is the suffering for others. I see that I must helplessly observe countless humans destroy themselves and one another, committing useless acts of physical and psychological violence, yet find no individual fault in them.

I know that the Bodhisattva is imperfect and suffers frustration, but I must stand and watch this, and not be caught into egoistic suffering.

I know that I must stand as witness to seemingly perpetual personal degradation and yet see the untouched purity of our Buddha-nature.


I know that I must live in this world, seeking the true interest of every sentient creature, in detachment from clinging and craving the world of the senses.

I know that the Bodhisattva path requires the sacrifice of Identity, beginning with universal mind and ending with the smallest element of existence. This sacrifice and compassion is the same thing.

Every word and each day is like an incarnation. Thus I will allow myself to be reborn in wisdom each second with my mind always open and receptive to the dharma.

The Recognition of the Bodhisattva Pledge

I recognise that a human being with a wavering mind and a fickle heart may utter this pledge, but I will authentically affirm it in the name of my true Buddha-nature. Thus I will develop the full potency of this pledge and practice restraint and thereby established a high degree of reliability in my life and human relationships.

I recognise the power of this pledge and seek its realisation, but know that failure carries no guilt or shame, it carries even stronger resolution after apparent failure to succeed, forgetting the folly of the past.

I recognise the possibility of failure and the possibility of forgetfulness, but somewhere deep in myself I wish to be measured and tested by this pledge.

I recognise that this pledge is unconditional, and releases the spiritual will, and with it brings my highest self-respect and respect for others who have taken this pledge. I will open my wisdom-seeking mind, the seed of awakening.

I recognise that a drop of water is no different than the ocean and that a candle flame is no different than the sun; the small mirrors the large.

Thus, my pledge mirrors the vibrant pledge of all Bodhisattvas. Thus offered, it is powerful and supreme.

I recognise that persons with greater wisdom than myself have taken precisely such a vow and have affirmed this pledge time and time again. Therefore, with this pledge I am, however frail, however feeble, a part of the family of those who are the self-chosen, united with all unknown but unvanquished friends of the human race and members of the noble family.

Bodhisattva Qualities

I will make many discoveries upon this Bodhisattva path, but the hardest lesson to learn is patience and persistence. This is a pledge in favour of selfless service, and it cannot ever be premature. It will develop that patience and persistence.

I know that inexhaustible are the ways of compassion of wise beings. True Compassion cannot really be weighed or measured.

I will reject mundane compassion and develop the true Compassion that is not pity, empathy, or sorrow for others, but an enlightened application of the energy of Compassion that is understanding and joyful in the intention to help others help themselves.

I will develop the true Benevolence that is not social charity or hedonistic giving, but a giving in which there is a sacrifice of my own Identity as a giver.

I will develop that Benevolent love also in my capacity to receive without the Identity of a receiver, because I know that sometimes it is difficult to know how to receive both the Benevolence and Compassion of others.

I will develop true Happiness that is selfless and comes from within, being unaffected by the world of the senses. Thus the aura of constant well-being will surround me..

I will develop a true Equanimity in front of criticism and assaults upon both my apparent body and mind.

I will develop a true Equanimity in the face of praise and rewards.

I will develop Equanimity, which is not Intellectual indifference.

Thus if someone helps me or harms me may I regard that person as my best teacher.

I will remain constantly aware that all creatures feel pain and that human creatures suffer, though many do not see that suffering in the false happiness of the senses that they experience. Thus I will help all, being tolerant of human imperfections and lack of vision.

I will develop true introspection, free critical enquiry and growth for the benefit of all sentient creatures.

I will develop the wisdom to see through false worldly differences based upon Duality, such as capable versus inept, physical versus mental, the intelligent versus the unintelligent or self versus others. I will develop Prajna as the "non-discriminating mind," where the clinging to the dual notion of self and other objects is absent.

The Affirmation of the Bodhisattva Pledge

I commit myself to correct Attitudes with Joy, correct Intentions with Compassion, correct Actions with Benevolent love, and Equanimity with Bliss for the welfare of all beings and will gradually establish myself in the practice of a Bodhisattva.

I will not violate the purity of this faultless, noble Family.

Everywhere and always will I live and strive for the liberation of every creature throughout the world from the bonds of conditioned existence.

Everywhere and always I will respect the abundance of nature, both animals and other life forms, observing the natural law of the Dharma as a guardian without seeking dominance.

The Sugatas of former times committed themselves to the Bodhisattva path, gradually establishing themselves in the practice of a Bodhisattva. So, I too commit myself to growth upon this path for the welfare of all beings and will gradually establish myself in the practice of a Bodhisattva.

I pledge union in the Bodhisattva Sangha as a son/daughter of the Buddha. My birth as a human being has become fruitful and justified, joined with all sentient beings in the light of the Dharma.
This I pledge before all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, past, present, and future.

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