Religious ordinations often contain precepts and vows. What is the significance of a vow? When one makes a vow or resolute promise — when one decides to live by a code — the results or effects of that code immediately project themselves throughout society and the world. Even without devoting a conscious effort to vows, they influence one’s mind and actions. So, if one promises to abstain from killing absolutely anything in the world, the world rests a little easier, being absent of one more potential killer.

What’s so bad about breaking vows, is that they render the initial vow to be meaningless. Vows are only powerful as long as they are kept, but they gain potency and strength as the duration of their vow is increasingly fulfilled. In breaking a vow, the falling rhythm of karma and causality begins to turn and further vows of the same sort are less sincere or powerful as a result. And on a more mundane level, this explains people who repeatedly take up a practice and quit, or are constantly trying new things but stick with none of them. These are all weak vows which dilapidate with their inconsistency.

It’s strange how, in the beginning of a person’s desire for wisdom or knowledge or whatever, they look all over the place for it. They throw themselves into all sorts of esoteric crap and profound philosophies and practices in order to discover some kind of truth. But then, after all avenues have been exhausted, one does what comes naturally to their person. On a more mundane level, this is how many politicians begin careers: the ambition and enthusiasm to change the corruption inherent to systems of law. And of course they all end up following the path of least resistance.

Okay, so maybe it’s a little different than the ambitions of a politician. But… looking for enlightenment in the wrong place can end up the same way, except one ends up completely at the bottom of desire and chaos. The eye of the tempest! Kinda weird how those who seek to maintain positions of order end up maintaining chaos. That’s what they’re protecting you against in religions when they say you must kill yourself (metaphorically, of course).

What to do…


2 Responses to “Vows”

  1. parallelsidewalk Says:

    Breaking vows for me is one of the perennial structure vs. complexity arguments. Like, in theory I’m a proponent of keeping one’s vows, but realistically a lot of vows can be very harmful and renouncing them would be the better option.

    When I left Islam, I didn’t break any “vows” per se, but did violate the terms under which I’d “give witness”. I said, literally thousands of times, during prayer ‘Ashahadu la illaha il allah wa mahhamdan resulullah’, that is, ‘I give witness that there is no god but god (or, according to some sufis, a better translation would be ‘nothing exists but god’) and muhammad is his servant and messenger’. Since now I would say ‘I give wtiness that I do not know enough of the great ultimate to comment on it, nor to say that any person served any specific role in relation to it’, I am effectively saying ‘You know all that shit I said? Yeah, I was basically lying’.

    These days I’ve gone (back) to the Buddhism and Taoism that I used to use as my guide in examining the big questions, but I’ve gotten very careful about saying to myself or others that I know, if I know not. Part of that is I decided not to take any sort of vows/precepts until I knew I truly understood what they entail. It probably seems like a wimpy approach, but I really want to get things “right”, if indeed that is possible. That being said, I think there’s a very good chance I’ll end up taking Buddhist lay precepts at some point.

    Did any experience in particular trigger this post or just general musings?

  2. I think it explains some of my skepticism of the big emphasis religious groups place upon vows and rites. Essentially vows are there to exaggerate the understanding that one should only undertake a spiritual ordination in earnest seriousness, and with all things considered. For this reason I’ve always been wary of say, Tibetan lineages or various magickal groups. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but I’m too much of a conspiracy theorist to place too much faith in a large religious group. But then again, we make our own vows and refuges all the time…

    >>Did any experience in particular trigger this post or just general musings?

    Maybe my answer is similar to yours: I’ve always been afraid of strict precepts. I just don’t like dogma, as I think it quickly becomes a control mechanism. And I’m always afraid of being in a cult, or of joining a group that claims authority on the divine answer. So… I’ve never opted to be initiated into any Buddhist groups as a result. But then again, I remember the precepts pretty well and use them as a practice strategy sometimes. Like, I’ll spend a day or a week just watching my speech and seeing how it affects the way I feel.

    What’s interesting is that my martial arts school functions like a traditional one, in that one is initiated by one’s dedication to the practice and subsequent deeper teachings are the natural outcome of this. There are certainly initiation rites (“entering the door” and so forth in Daoist practice) but for the most part, one creates one’s own vows. I, however, have not been formally initiated into this.

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