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What is the Purpose of Taking the Sojong Vows on Buddha Purnima?

May 19, 2014

What is the Purpose of Taking the Sojong Vows on Buddha Purnima?

Buddha Purnima is an auspicious day. A precious day. A day that all of us celebrate – all of us as students of Buddha Shakyamuni. While the date of Buddha Purnima varies with different traditions, as Buddhists we all agree that during this month we celebrate the life of a person who was very precious and important to us.

So we celebrate Buddha’s presence in our world: his birth; then, the most important aspect of the Buddha’s activity, his enlightenment; and his Parinirvana, which is another important activity, one could say. All three of these aspects of Buddha’s presence fall on this very day, as I’m sure you know.

So we celebrate this day according to our traditions, according to the way we feel it is special. But I’m not sure whether Buddha himself would have agreed with our method of celebrating this anniversary. This is simply because this was not the main purpose of his life or message. Buddha’s main purpose lay in the way in which he lived his life – what ever positive examples he could pass on. His life was his message. If we truly appreciate this, and at least aim to follow and apply this purpose in our own lives, then I think this is something that he would have liked.

Nevertheless, this tradition of celebration has been carried on for more than 2500 years. Of course, it is our right, individually, and according to our customs, that we mark this special day in which ever way we feel appropriate. I believe that it is important that we mark this moment every year by doing something positive – something beneficial – just as we are doing today.

Right now, we are receiving the vow of Sojong. I think that this is exactly what the Buddha would have wished. In taking these vows – even if it’s for a mere 24 hours – we become free of samsaric duties. We are free of the conditioned samsaric rules. We are liberated from disturbing emotions. We can think more clearly. We are able to understand how life functions. How we react. How we respond to one another. Most importantly, we understand how we are able to appreciate one another, because we create an atmosphere, an environment in which we are free of disturbing emotions. And by doing so, the karmic cycle also reduces, opening up more space for developing compassion, understanding and loving kindness. There are so many beautiful benefits from creating this wonderful environment.

The taking of the Pratimoksha Vows is therefore not a way of restricting ourselves at all, but rather a way of opening ourselves up to many beautiful possibilities.

I believe the vows are of great benefit. They are designed to benefit not only ourselves, but all sentient beings, in a very practical, tangible way.

I say tangible because it is not something far away that we have to wait or wish for, but something we experience in the present moment. We experience the benefits while we obtain these vows – actually without having to do much ourselves. The vows benefit our mental attitude, and by doing so, they can even bring purity to our physical attributes, such as our speech or actions. So even if we were to gather the smallest of virtues, it would multiply to limitless ends.

Therefore, we must rejoice. We must rejoice for ourselves. We must rejoice for all sentient beings. And we must offer this as an offering to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions.’


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