24 Hour Vows
The 24-hour Mahayana vows are a pratimoksha vow connected to the vinaya or ethics branch of Buddhist path. Before you seek the ceremony it is good to understand what are the vows and commitments. This is a commentary recorded during the ceremony for a group of students who requested the vows. This was done at a special retreat because it is easier to fulfill the mindfulness of the vows in a more structured environment. Certainly it is also possible to hold the vows and go to work and have a busy day.
September 21,2002 before dawn
You will be taking a vow of non-harming today until tomorrow morning, meaning not taking life. To the best of your ability you will be very careful where you step so you do not harm even any insect. If you go outside, be careful where you step and consciously think, “I am a holder of vows. In that way, I am harmless”. Not harmless in the ineffectual sense, like, “Oh, do not worry about him. He talks bad, but he is harmless,” but true harmlessness, a developed good quality which comes from the interior. “No living being needs to fear me because I myself am without intention to harm.” In that way, it acts as your protection.
You are about to receive the vow of not taking what is not given. This is non-stealing. You are not thieves and would never think to steal something from another person. Holding the vow however bring the merit of the vow to what is already careful in you. The further ramifications are; if you see even some small object, even a flower in the garden, and it has not been given, you may not take it. This land belongs to another person where we are holding this retreat. Everything here belongs to the owner of this property. If there is something that you need, then you request from the one who owns it. This does not have to do with getting a drink of water or tea, however. For these things the permission has already been given.
You will be taking a vow of celibacy today. Do not have sex for the next 24 hours or sexual conversation or activity such as flirting or kissing. That has the further ramification of not anticipating the sexual act, thinking, “As soon as this is finished this is what I am going to do.”
You will be taking the vow of telling the truth. Naturally you do not tell lies, but holding the vow mindfully creates needed merit. This has the ramification of not telling harsh truths that will cause harm or mental suffering for others. This has the ramification of examining your mind, “Is this the truth?”
You are taking a vow to avoid intoxicants. This includes cigarettes, drugs and any other intoxicants. This has the further ramification of not getting excited. Excitement is a kind of an intoxicant; so today you will observe the process of not taking your own internal intoxicant of excitement. Instead, we use a moderated enthusiasm so we can still think clearly.
You are taking the vow of abandoning large and high beds and thrones. The teaching throne is used by the Lama. To display respect for the Dharma, we place a high throne in order to receive the dharma teachings. This is correct. Even the king of a country receiving these vows would not sit on his high throne or sleep on the high and fancy bed. This has the further ramification of strongly abandoning pride. A careful cultivation of lack of pride and arrogance will allow you to keep the vow clearly.
You will be taking the vow of abandoning food at improper times. You will have a single meal today. In accordance to the vow you must begin eating before twelve o’clock. When you begin to eat, don’t eat fast, but continuously. When you put down your eating utensil you will be finished with your meal. You do not get up during the meal, not even to get salt. Make sure that the stove is turned off before you sit down, because once you get up your meal is finished. Whatever you have not consumed is left until the next day. And you do not take second portions. This is the rule.
You will be taking a vow of not wearing perfumes or ornaments or decorations today. Any ladies who might be jingling and jangling, if you are wearing earrings you take them off right now. Your mala is fine because that is your practice material. If you are wearing any perfume right now, directly after the ceremony you go and wash it off. The ramification is that you will not have pride in appearance.
Lastly, you are taking a vow of not singing and dancing. The ramification is that it allows you time to do authentic practice. Now we begin the ceremony.