of the Main Gate at Hsi Lai Temple
This is actually the Main Gate to
the Temple. One would usually expect to find it down at the entrance to
the driveway; however, for zoning reasons, it was placed here instead.
This is in some ways regrettable, for many people visit the Temple without ever
entering through the Gate!
The outside of the Gate displays
four lines of Chinese. This is essentially a poem about the importance of
the Temple's work. A rough translation is:
Hsi Lai compassionately liberates
thousands of millions of people.
Hsi Lai's dharma water flows forever through the five great continents.
The Eastern Pure Land's Buddha Light shines over 3,000 realms.
The compassionate heart of Buddha's Light blesses the saha realm (=samsara).
After entering the Gate, turn left
immediately to the First Pillar (at the far left end). Here is found the
The translation of the Vows given
in the Pilgrimage section below is a standard one. There are many
- "Sentient beings are numberless; I vow
to save them." The word "save" here is somewhat
theological. Other translations use "liberate,"
"release," or "free." Of course, no one can
"save" another; but we can work to create conditions in which all
beings achieve their fullest potential. This is the great Vow of
Compassion, a theme that will be returned to frequently on the pilgrimage.
- "Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to
put an end to them." "Desires" here is sometimes
translated "sins," "errors," "defilements,"
"impurities," "wrong-doings," etc. In essence,
this is the Vow to behave ethically. Buddhism teaches that there are
three essential trainings. These are: Morality, Concentration (or
Meditation), and Wisdom. Wisdom is the goal, Concentration the means;
but it is widely understood that one who is at odds with others, or is
bearing a burden of guilt, will be unable to progress far in Concentration.
Is it easy to solve a complex puzzle while you're angry? Or draft an
important letter while grieving? Only if our relationships are
"right" can we make progress in Concentration.
- "The Buddha's teachings are boundless;
I vow to master them." The characters for "Buddha's
teachings" mean something like "gates of the law" or
"Dharma gates." In some systems of Buddhism, the earliest
stage is that of sravaka or "hearer," signifying that we must hear
the teachings before we can learn them. We only approach Buddhahood,
then, through the Gate of learning the Teachings of the Buddha.
- "The Buddha Way is endless; I vow to
follow it." "Buddha Way," "Buddha Path,"
"Buddha Road": However you call it, it goes on; you never reach
the end. Those who think that they "have arrived" are
mistaken. Thus the old Zen teaching, "If you meet the Buddha on
the road, kill him!" That is, never "rest on your
Here are a few translations and
paraphrases of the Four Universal Vows:
From the Hsi Lai Temple
- Show great compassion and help all living
- Eliminate all evil deeds.
- Study Dharma.
- Practice diligently to achieve
From the Hsi Lai Temple
brochure (even within one organization, there are different translations!):
- Save all sentient beings.
- Eradicate all worries.
- Ceaselessly study the Dharma.
- Continually ascend to Enlightenment.
The most poetic version I've
found is by John Tarrant and Joan Sutherland:
- I vow to wake the beings of the world.
- I vow to set endless heartache to rest.
- I vow to walk through every wisdom gate.
- I vow to live the great Buddha way.
Finally, a translation from "the place
that started it all": The Four Vows are found in Section 21 of The
Platform Scripture of Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen. As
translated by Wing-tsit Chan, they read:
- I vow to save an infinite number of beings.
- I vow to cut off an infinite number of
afflictions resulting from passions.
- I vow to study an infinite number of gates
to the law.
- I vow to attain Supreme Buddhahood.
I hope these translations help you think more
deeply about the meaning and importance of the Four Universal Vows.
Proceed through the Gate and turn left. Stop at the furthest
Stand in front of the FIRST Pillar and repeat:
Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
Consider what it means to be compassionate. Think of some specific ways that you can show more compassion in your life.
Stand in front of the SECOND Pillar and repeat:
Desires are inexhaustible; I vow to put an end to them.
Consider what desires are preventing your progress. Think of some specific steps you can take to eliminate negative influences in your life.
Stand in front of the THIRD Pillar and repeat:
The Buddha's teachings are boundless; I vow to master them.
Consider the importance
of, and the means of attaining, Wisdom. Think of some specific practices you can build into your life to help you accomplish this, such as regular reading, discussion, meditation, etc.
Stand in front of the FOURTH Pillar and repeat:
The Buddha Way is endless; I vow to follow it.
Consider what is important to you. Think of what it would mean to truly dedicate yourself to the "Buddha Way," and consider whether you are ready to do so.