Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

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svmonk, modified 7 Years ago at 10/1/14 10:04 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/1/14 10:01 PM

Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
I posted this in another thread that petered out, so I'm hoping maybe I can get some opinions from others here. I guess most people view barriers to First Path as being the usual sorts of psychological baggage like the hinderances, but I'm interested in something different. Specifically, whether a vow can be a barrier. Mahasi Saydaw says something to that effect in his book "The Seven Stages of Purification and The Insight Knowledges". This book goes through a traditional treatment of the stages of insight, which Daniel  updates with a more modern treatment in MCTB. But on pg. 52 he says:
Some meditators are unable to go beyond the Knowledge of Equanimity about
Formations due to some powerful aspirations they have made in the past,
such as for Buddhahood, or Paccekabuddhahood, Chief Discipleship, etc.
In fact, it is at this stage that one can ascertain whether one has made
any such aspiration in the past. Sometimes when he has reached this
stage the meditator himself comes to feel that he is cherishing a
powerful aspiration. However, even for an aspirant to Buddhahood or
Paccekabuddahood, the Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations will be
an asset towards his fulfilment of the perfection of wisdom
(panna-parami). This Equanimity of Formations is of no small
significance when one takes into account the high degree of development
in knowledge at this stage
What Mahasi Saydaw seems to be saying here is that if one has an aspiration, either taken in this life or a previous one, to become a buddha in a future life, one cannot get beyond High Equanimity and First Path is blocked. In fact, the last sentence seems to imply that such a person doesn't cycle back to the A&P and thorough the Dark Night and Reobservation again, but remains in High Equanimity.

Has anyone heard any cases where this has happened to someone? Or is this a set of beliefs, like the traditional "elimination of defilements" at each path which Daniel in MCTB indicates from his experience and that of lots of others is more a kind  of wishful thinking?

One aspect of this statement is that it is framed in a belief structure which affirms physical rebirth. After all, whether or not one made an aspiration for Buddhahood and the rest is kind of moot if one doesn't believe in rebirth (the Secular/Natural Buddhism viewpoint). Maybe like Brahmavihara practice, such an aspiration in the absence of rebirth is just a technique to improve one's character/psychological state? Within the
belief structure of rebirth over a hundred thousand  lifetimes, stopping short of elimination of the self sort of makes sense. If you are trying to save all beings (the Mahayana Bodhisattva Vow), a sense of agency might come in handy. But, on the other hand, it also might get in the way if
it gets too strong.

Any thoughts?
Banned For waht?, modified 7 Years ago at 10/2/14 12:23 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/2/14 12:23 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 500 Join Date: 7/14/13 Recent Posts
don't worry about it. It does not make sense to have this kind of vow but if you have then you can always brake it by wanting to attain Buddhahood as fast as possible.
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Piers M, modified 7 Years ago at 10/2/14 5:34 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/2/14 5:34 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/7/10 Recent Posts
You might like to read the book "Venerable Acariya Mun Bhuridatta Thera, A Spiritual Biography by Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno". It's a classic of its kind about the life of an extraordinarily gifted Thai monk in the last century and there is a passage written in there that at some point during his meditation he realized he had made a vow in a previous life to become a Buddha which was blocking his progress towards arahantship in that life.
I seem to remember reading something along the lines that because the vow had not been too strong, he was able to let go of it. Or rather he decided that he wanted liberation in that very life and to not continue with his previous aspiration (same thing I suppose). 

It's supposed to be a freebie but it is for sale on Amazon or you can read it online here

~Piers

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Teague, modified 7 Years ago at 10/2/14 6:41 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/2/14 6:41 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 104 Join Date: 8/1/11 Recent Posts
Haha.  That's an interesting concept.  In light of that:

Let it be known that I hereby renounce any such vows I have made that would hinder my progress towards first path!

Now I shall go meditate.

-T
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 7 Years ago at 10/3/14 1:40 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/3/14 1:40 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Formal resolutions like that actually do have power, and even the belief that you might have made a vow has similar power, so your resolution as stated above sounds like a great plan.

Settle into this moment, as it is here, now, all throughout that the thing is found, as this is it.

Daniel
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Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago at 10/3/14 1:57 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/3/14 1:57 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 1448 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Piers M:

I seem to remember reading something along the lines that because the vow had not been too strong, he was able to let go of it. Or rather he decided that he wanted liberation in that very life and to not continue with his previous aspiration (same thing I suppose). 

It's supposed to be a freebie but it is for sale on Amazon or you can read it online here
~Piers



Umm if memory serves me it was a vow to gain enlightenment with his long term companion, who was not incarnated at that time. He got it then went and had the companion incarnate in some kind of deva realm where he taught them what was needed to get it.
It is a fun read....lots of cool stuff I've never been exposed to mythologically. Probably should read it again....got me wondering.
~D
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svmonk, modified 7 Years ago at 10/3/14 11:26 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/3/14 11:26 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Thanx for the reference, I will check it out. Sounds interesting.

I was actually wondering if anyone subscribed to DhO and reading this who has achieved First Path or tried to and ran into the vow obstacle had such an experience, i.e. someone more contemporary?
Eva Nie, modified 7 Years ago at 10/4/14 12:29 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/4/14 12:29 AM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 831 Join Date: 3/23/14 Recent Posts
I don't really understand vows.  If you want to do something than just do it.  If you are not already doing it, then parts of you must not be fully on board with doing it, and you should probably be looking at that issue first to see what the issues are.  If parts of you are not fully on board with doing it, then can you even trust yourself to keep the vow forever?  If you break the vow even once, then aren't you instantly a liar?  And how many people never ever break their vows?  And as mentioned already, what if you change your mind later with hopefully improved insight and knowledge of self? 
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svmonk, modified 7 Years ago at 10/5/14 9:54 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 10/5/14 9:53 PM

RE: Can a Vow be a Barrier to First Path?

Posts: 396 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Eva M Nie:
I don't really understand vows.  If you want to do something than just do it.  If you are not already doing it, then parts of you must not be fully on board with doing it, and you should probably be looking at that issue first to see what the issues are.  If parts of you are not fully on board with doing it, then can you even trust yourself to keep the vow forever?  If you break the vow even once, then aren't you instantly a liar?  And how many people never ever break their vows?  And as mentioned already, what if you change your mind later with hopefully improved insight and knowledge of self? 

Eva,

Vows operate at the level of intention. Intention is the power behind karma. The idea behind vows is to harness the power of intention to achieve some positive result, positive karma in effect. Wanting to do something is kind of like a small version of a vow, the intention is generated but perhaps without the power of commiting to it that a vow has. With a vow, you say not only that you want to do it but that you intend to do it and put the full power of your effort behind it. Sometimes you even state the vow publically. So it is easier to not follow through or break the intention if the vow isn't there. Of course, if you don't follow through or break the vow, then you need to apply some mindfulness to figure out why. This often in and of itself leads to important insights. And it is often the case, as you say, that people put vows aside after the effect has been achieved. That effect can be a learning from the inability to achieve the vow or it can be from having deeply achieved it and having the vow no longer relevant. That's been my experience of vows anyway.

There's a couple of short essays that talk about vows, in a recent book "Seeds of Viritue, Seeds of Change" by Jikyo Cheryl Wolfer. The book is all by Zen priests who are women. I particularly recommend the essays "The Birth of Vow" by Jion Susan Postal (who died of cancer earlier this year) and "Notes from the Frontier" by Etsudo Patty Krahl. Patty is a good friend of mine, and I met Susan a couple of times over the years too.

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