The Eight-Branched One-Day Vow
Practices › Sojong | Tibetan Masters › Patrul Rinpoche
From the murals of Shechen Monastery. Used with permission of Rabjam Rinpoche.
The Method for Observing the Eight-Branched One-Day Vow
by Dza Patrül Rinpoche
At this time, listen with a motivation of bodhicitta set upon supreme awakening, and think, “I will take the ‘restoring and purifying’ (gso sbyong) vows according to the Mahāyāna, and I will keep them in order to bring all sentient beings, limitless as space, to the state of perfect and complete buddhahood.”
The Hīnayāna refers to the observance of the eight temporary vows as “the eight-branched, one-day vow,” and in their tradition, it is a practice [mainly] done by householders. In the Mahāyāna, the observance [of these vows] is conjoined with the intent of bodhicitta, and thus, it becomes “the discipline of vows that restrain negative conduct.” Here, [in the Vajrayāna], by integrating this practice [of observing vows] with deity-yoga through the stage of visualizing Noble Avalokiteśhvara, it becomes an ascetic practice and branch-vow of the Action Tantra (kriyātantra) of Secret Mantra. Furthermore, committing to training one’s mind, emulating the previous buddhas and bodhisattvas and not transgressing their ways is called “ethical discipline,” or “self-restraint.” Thus, [the practice begins with]: Just as the previous [tathāgatas, arhats, perfectly complete buddhas…] By following this format, I shall highlight [the essential sections of the Sojong sādhana].
Since the perfectly complete buddhas have progressed consistent with reality-itself, just as it is, they are tathāgatas (thus-gone ones). Because they have renounced the enemy—the four māras—they are arhats (enemy-destroyers). Since they have consummated the qualities of renunciation and realization and, having awakened from the deep sleep of ignorance, have expanded their intelligence to encompass all knowable things, they are perfectly complete buddhas.
For example, when the heavenly steed of a wheel-turning king enters into battle with the enemy, it does so intrepidly and without travail; it is willing to forsake its own life to protect the king. Likewise, because they show the unmistaken path to liberation and omniscience to all sentient beings, and because they are solely devoted to the purpose of others, [the tathāgatas] are like heavenly steeds. Further, because they carry the burden of benefitting all sentient beings, limitless as space, with great compassion and without needing to be asked and since they expound the unsurpassed purpose of the Mahāyāna, they are like great elephants.
Having completed their duties, they did what needed to be done. Having actively sought the benefit of others, they performed their tasks. Having abandoned the obscurations of karma and afflictions, they laid down [their] burden. Having achieved nirvāṇa, the state beyond sorrow, they reached their own goal. Having exhausted all unwholesome views and afflictions, which confine one to saṃsāric states, they have completely broken [all] bonds to existence. Since they demonstrate the Dharma that is virtuous in the beginning, middle, and end, they have perfect speech. Having severed all ties with saṃsāric existence, their minds are completely liberated. Because their primordial wisdom is totally omniscient, their wisdom is completely liberated. These describe the qualities of the tathāgatas, whose example we follow.
The following [section] sheds light on the bodhicitta motivation they trained in. Since they have abandoned concern for themselves, [they act] for the sake of all sentient beings. Because they establish [beings] in the temporary states of higher rebirths, they benefit them. Because they ultimately establish [beings] in definite goodness, they liberate them. Because they have purified the karmic causality of miserliness, they eliminate famine. Because they have purified the karmic causality of hatred, they eliminate illness. [Furthermore], the complete perfection of all aspects conducive to awakening is the path and the definite realization of unsurpassed, perfectly complete awakening is the result.
[Regarding the practice of Sojong], the second Buddha, [Padmasaṃbhava] of Uddiyāna, said, “It fully ‘restores’ (so) all virtue, and ‘purifies’ (jong) all negativity without exception. Therefore, since it restores virtue and completely purifies negativity, the Tathāgata named it the practice of Sojong.” Hence, one should think, “Just as [the past buddhas] took up and kept the Sojong vows for the sake of all sentient beings—to benefit them, to liberate them, and so on—so shall I take up the eight-branched vow and keep it flawlessly, without corruption, from this very moment until sunrise tomorrow.” [Keeping this in mind], one repeats accordingly.
[The words starting with] just as the previous [...] constitute the Prayer of Taking the Eight Temporary Vows. [These eight branches are divided into] (1) the four branches of discipline, (2) the single branch of attentiveness, and (3) the three branches of abstinent conduct.
(1) The four branches of discipline restrain one’s mind from unwholesome actions. Since these are the roots of all vows, they are known as the four root [vows]. They are as follows:
- The first is to not kill [any being]. Besides [not killing] a human being, [one should not] even [kill] a being belonging to the animal realm, such as a louse or even its eggs.
- The second is to not steal. Besides [not stealing] substantial possessions owned by others, [one should not] even [steal] a morsel of food.
- The third is to abandon non-celibate conduct. Besides [not] pursuing the contact of males and females for sexual pleasure, [one should not] even look at one another with a lustful mind.
- The fourth is to not speak lies. Besides [not] telling a severe lie, [such as] lying about one’s spiritual attainments, claiming that one possesses qualities of the bhūmis and paths that one does not actually have, [one should not] even mislead others playfully or for fun.
(2) The single branch of attentiveness is to abstain from alcohol. If one does not refrain from alcohol, one’s mind will become careless. When intoxicated by alcohol, one cannot be mindful of every aspect of what to do and what not to do, and one may also forget about the vows one has taken. As a result, one may engage in non-virtuous actions and cannot keep any of one’s vows properly. For this reason, one abstains from all intoxicating food and drink, such as alcohol made from fermented grain like wheat or barley; alcohol made from honey, flowers, or any other fermented substance; as well as intoxicating fruit or roots.
(3) As for the three branches of abstinent conduct, in order to help one to be conscious of one’s vows, one abstains from all activities of a lay householder and emulates the excellent conduct of the bodhisattvas. Thus, one abstains from the following activities.
First, (a) one abstains from dressing up and looking attractive or applying sweets scents like camphor and sandalwood, which are applied with the intention to charm; (b) one abstains from adorning one’s body with garlands of flowers, jewels, and so on; and (c) one abstains from earrings, bracelets, and so on. These are the three kinds of adornment. [Further], (d) one abstains from moving one’s limbs for the sake of frolic and laughter, and (e) one remains silent in every respect by abandoning the three kinds of entertainment: dancing; singing melodiously by elevating and lowering one’s voice; and playing instruments, such as string instruments or flutes.
Second, one abstains from eating at inappropriate times and does not consume any food (such as grains and fruit) to quell one’s hunger from noon until sunrise the next day. One may, however, drink liquids (such as water and tea) to quell the pangs of thirst.
Third, one abstains from sitting on high and luxurious seats. This means not to sit upon any seat higher than one cubit or upon seats [bedecked with] silks and brocades or [the skins of] tigers and leopards, which are unsuitable for ordinary people.
Since the three kinds of entertainment, such as dancing, and the three kinds of adornment, such as garlands, are regarded as one branch, we identify three branches of abstinent conduct. Thus, thinking, “I shall keep these eight branches without corruption until sunrise tomorrow,” one repeats the following: From this moment, I will not kill…
To develop such discipline to perfection, the Dhāraṇī of the Essence of the Six Pāramitās of the Noble Amoghapāśha Sūtra specifies the numerous benefits of the Dhāraṇī of Pure Discipline, such as, by reciting this dhāraṇī, all accumulations of ethical discipline by the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the three times will be brought to perfection within one’s own mind, all faults due to prior violations of discipline will be purified, and henceforth, [one’s discipline] will not decline. Thus, one repeats [the Dhāraṇī of Pure Discipline, beginning with] om̆̇ amogha…
When the bodhisattvas of the past performed enlightened activities, they did so with a mind of love, with heartfelt aspirations made throughout the three periods of the day and the three periods of the night. Because of their aspirations [for sentient beings], one’s path is easy, one’s entry is easy, and one completes the merit of eons. [Thus], one repeats the aspiration that consummates the pāramitā of discipline, from the Prayer of Maitreya: [Through flawless] discipline in accordance with the rules of conduct…
The glorious protector Āryā Nāgārjuna said, “For men and women who keep this eight-branched vow, their wish to restore and purify will grant them the divine bodies of gods.” In the past, when Lord Buddha was alive, those who kept the one-day vows a single time—even if with solely a selfish mind—were reborn in the God Realm of the Thirty-Three. It is said that even those who have slightly transgressed the one-day vows will be reborn in the God Abodes of the Four Great Kings. Thus, the benefits [of taking these vows] are unfathomable. Moreover, it specifically states in the Moon Lamp Sūtra that “The merit of practicing a single precept for a single day and night during an era when the holy Dharma is being destroyed and the teachings of the Sugata are coming to an end is far greater than the merit of making offerings to millions of buddhas for inconceivable eons.”
Thus, it is of greater benefit to keep a single vow for a single day during the final times of the present Buddha’s teachings than it would have been to keep vows for a long time when the teachings still flourished. Furthermore, the benefits of taking vows with a mind of bodhicitta are as immeasurable as space and will lead to the attainment of perfect buddhahood. In particular, in the present context, when this practice is combined with the profound yoga of deity and mantra according to the Secret Mantra Vajrayāna, one will join the ranks of vidyādharas in this very life. However long it may take, it will not take more than sixteen lifetimes to attain the supreme siddhi of mahāmudrā. Thus, one should rejoice! However, if one does not seal such virtue in the end with dedication, it can become destroyed by various conditions, such as anger. Therefore, one should adorn the conclusion of these roots of virtue with dedication prayers directed toward great awakening by reciting the [the dedication prayer found in the sādhana that begins with the words]: By this merit…
| At the request of H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, this was translated from Tibetan to English by Ina Bieler in 2020 and edited by Ilana Cohen in 2021. Special thanks to Lopön Thubten Nima for his assistance. English translation © 2020. All rights reserved. (Reproduced here with permission.)
o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po. "bsnyen gnas yan lag brgyad pa'i sdom pa srung thabs/." In gsung 'bum/_o rgyan 'jigs med chos kyi dbang po. TBRC W24829. khreng tu'u: si khron mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 2003. vol. 3: 146–154
All direct quotations from the Sojong sādhana are in bold. ↩