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2020-09-01

Observe, Even If It Costs You Everything

Practice of the Week
Observe, Even If It Costs You Everything

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these slogans, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

from Training in Compassion
Norman Fischer, adapted


“Observe, even if it costs you everything.” Traditionally, this refers to observing your religious commitments no matter what the cost – keeping the faith-related vows you have taken.

In Buddhism, the two primary commitments are “The Three Refuges” (taking refuge in Buddha as your teacher, Dharma as your teaching, and Sangha as your community), and "The Four Bodhisattva Vows" (the necessarily impossible tasks of saving all beings, overcoming all delusions, mastering all positive practices, and becoming the practice, through and through). In a wider sense, the Three Refuges mean committing yourself to the possibility of spiritual awakening, to the path of awakening, and to the community of all beings within which your awakening unfolds. The Bodhisattva vows -- all very lofty and idealistic commitments, indeed -- define the horizon of what we may aspire to, in the most noble and uplifting version of our lives.

Whatever your vows, this slogan is a reminder to observe them – stick to them – no matter what.

We may also think of the word “observe” in a more open sense as simply to pay attention. All vows are included in this one commitment: to be committed to paying attention to our lives, to being honest about what is going on and unflinchingly realistic about how we are behaving and thinking. The heart of mind training is here: don’t go to sleep, don’t deny, don’t make excuses, don’t blame anyone, done wish for something else. Live your life with your eyes and heart wide-open. No matter what.


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 religious vows in a formal, cermonial setting, but the main commitment takes place in your heart. If there's a formal ceremony, it is only an acknowledgment of the pledge you have already made.

For Buddhists, the "Three Refuges" vow is a 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. The Bodhisattva Vows are a dedication of one's life to the welfare of all beings. It's 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. 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: working on oneself and helping others.

Practice: 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?

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