I witnessed a friend take barma rabjung vows tonight...the preliminary vows to becoming a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The other night I took the Bodhisattva vows.
That felt like a serious commitment to me. And it is. But this...there is a visible, palpable difference. A tangible sign of commitment in this lifetime. Although he is not yet a fully-ordained monk, he now has the robes of a monk. He has the serious precept vows...vows which I have promised myself and taken to heart as best I can, but not in a formal way as he did tonight. I admire him for his courage. But I fear for his stamina.
Lama Phuntsok, who transmitted the vows, talked about the significance of taking them. They are not something you put on or take off, depending on how you feel. They are not something you can keep by default, as in, "Oh, I forgot to steal for a whole year!" He said taking the vows was like saying, "All right, from this moment I begin the conscious work of becoming a good person."
When I took refuge, Sonam Rinpoche said, "Now you are guaranteed to achieve enlightenment...but you must work for it." Tonight Lama Phuntsok said, "When you take vows you understand that no one is responsible for your enlightenment but you." And of course, the Buddha said no one can give you liberation or enlightenment. He was only the finger pointing at the moon.