43. Observe these two, even at the risk of your life.
The two primary vows or commitments of the Buddhist path are the refuge vow and the bodhisattva vow. More generally, the two primary commitments one makes on the spiritual path are to work on oneself and to help other beings. These two vows provide fundamental guidelines for how to approach your practice and your daily life.
You can take the refuge and bodhisattva vows in a formal setting, but the main commitment takes place in your heart. The ceremony is simply an acknowledgement of the pledge you have already made.
With the refuge vow, you promise to honor and respect the Buddha, to study and to practice the teachings of Buddhism, and to work with the sangha, or community of practitioners. On an inner level, you make a commitment to awakening, to cultivating knowledge, and to connecting with fellow seekers of wisdom and knowledge.
With the bodhisattva vow, you dedicate you life to the welfare of all beings. You make a commitment to develop the wisdom, compassion, and skillful means to be of real benefit to the world.
We don’t take many vows, but when we do, we need to take them seriously. To observe these two vows, it is not enough to go to a ceremony, celebrate, and then forget about it. They need to be woven into the fabric of your life. And you do not just take such vows once, but you do so repeatedly. In that way, you place everything you do in the context of these two simple but profound underpinnings of the dharma: working on oneself and helping others.
What would change if you took seriously the two principles of working on yourself and helping others as the measure of your actions? How committed are you to yourself or to others?