Let’s continue looking at the four vows. Again, they are:
Beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them.
The Buddha way is unsurpassable, I vow to realize it.
(Robe worn by Georgia O’Keeffe, Nevada Museum of Art.)
Last time I talked about the first vow, so this time I will go into the others. Our second vow is, Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them. Here again is an apparent contradiction; if delusions never end, how do we end them?
The topic of ending reminds me of my first koan, which was how do you stop the temple bell? Or perhaps it was, stop the temple bell. Either way I was confused. It wasn’t until I began to understand that there’s very little stopping of anything that I set aside the literalness of the koan. Eventually I saw the question as how do I become the temple bell?
The same goes for our delusions: greed, anger and ignorance. They constantly arise. So first we have to see this arising, not try to stop or reject it, and then we can ask ourselves, how do I become selfish or angry? How do I ignorantly divide and separate myself from the world around me? Just looking this way and observing our suffering is a beginning to ending our delusions.
With the third vow we have a more positive situation– Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them. Dharma in this case can have two meanings. One, it may refer to the endless teachings of the Buddha and the texts related to them. This is a literal understanding. We enter the gate of learning the Dharma, the texts, and teachings.
The other way is to interpret Dharma gate as a metaphor inviting us to enter into each of our life circumstances as teachings, as Dharma. Our life fills with boundless Dharma gates. Seeing our life this way is to realize our numerous circumstances are not trivial. The Dharma is everywhere, it is timeless, always present, whether it be the annoying neighbor, Covid 19, or social unrest, we have boundless opportunities for practice. We won’t always see things this way; this teaching goes against our selfish nature. And that is why we take the vow.