The sōgan-ge (総願偈, Four Vows of the Bodhisattva) or literally “the complete vows of the Bodhisattva” are the famous four vows that Buddhists in the Mahayana tradition undertake. Followers make these series of vow in Buddhist services and express the determination to master Buddhist teachings (and there are many) as well as to help all beings.
The particular liturgy posted here is the one posted in my Jodo Shu Buddhist service book, which I picked up in my last trip to Japan in 2009. However, the liturgy is pretty much the same throughout all Japanese Buddhism, except for the last part, so you can pretty much use this regardless of what tradition you follow. Later, I picked up a Rinzai Zen liturgy book at Ginkakuji in 2010, which had a very similar version, which I’ve typed up here as well. In that version, the Four Vows are called the shigu seigan (四弘誓願), or “Four Vast Vows”.
The pronunciation of some characters varies just slightly from other online versions I’ve seen, but don’t despair. Many characters have multiple readings, so just use whichever version you’re familiar with. Feel free to print this out and use it on your own time. Enjoy!
Can’t read the characters?
If you’re having trouble reading the Kanji characters, you might have one or two problems with your computer:
- Your computer may not have Asian fonts installed. In Windows you have to enable UTF8 and East Asian fonts under the Control Panel. Modern Mac computers are fully compatible already.
- Your browser may be assuming the wrong character set. If you use a relatively modern browser and use UTF8 as character set, you should be able to read fine. IE, Firefox and Safari all read this fine as far as I can tell.
Even if not, then you can still use the romanized characters, and the English translation. Also check out this excellent page for more information.
Disclaimer and Legal Info
I hereby release this into the public domain. Please use it as you see fit, but if you attribute it to this site, greatly appreciated. Also, please bear in mind this is an amateur work, and should not be taken too seriously.
I dedicate this effort to all sentient beings everywhere. May all beings be well, and may they all attain perfect peace.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Hymn of the Bodhisattva Vows, Jodo Shu version
Note: I marked a “*” wherever the service book says you should strike the Buddhist bell.
The Hymn of the Bodhisattva Vows, Rinzai Zen version
Translation by Jodo Shu Research Institute:
However innumerable sentient beings are, I earnestly aspire to enlighten them all.
However inexhaustible our delusions are, I earnestly aspire to extinguish them all.
However immeasurable the Buddha’s Teachings are, I earnestly aspire to comprehend them all.
However incomparable the Enlightened Mind is, I earnestly aspire to attain it by all means.
I sincerely wish to share the Blessing with all beings, striving together to be born into the Pure Land and to follow the Buddha’s way to the ultimate goal.
Again, the last sentence is more specific to Pure Land Buddhism, but the Rinzai Zen version would essentially mean the same thing for the first four sentences.