View Full Version : Making promises.

30 Jul 11, 00:08
Hi all,

I am new to this forum. I have a question, which I hope you guys can answer.

If you make a promise to a Buddha or Bodhisattva, and you don't fulfill it, what are the consequences? Would you be able to revoke it?

I know that breaking a promise is a break to one of the five principles, but if someone forgot or was unable to fulfill it, what would that person have to do to not gain bad karma?

This might sound like a stupid question, but ever since my mother told me not to make promises I can't keep, its been in the back of my mind for a while.

30 Jul 11, 02:30
Hi, leechee, and welcome to the forum.

Kamma is intentional action. The only way to generate bad kamma is to intentionally do something you know to be harmful. Since Buddhas and Bodhisattvas aren't living beings, but only symbols of ideals, the only person you might harm by breaking such a promise is yourself, psychologically or emotionally.

I agree with your mom about not making promises you can't keep, btw. If I make a promise, I do everything in my power to keep it. I also put things back where I found them, clean up after myself and don't talk with my mouth full. All those things improve the quality of life and reduce suffering in different ways. ;)

30 Jul 11, 02:54
If you make a promise to a Buddha or Bodhisattva, and you don't fulfill it, what are the consequences? Would you be able to revoke it?'Promises' we make to the Noble Ones can be said to be akin to self mission/vision statements with the intention to fulfill it to the fullest of our abilities for our own improvement and training, amongst other reasons. The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are mere 'witnesses' (alongside an assembly, if done publicly) to our resolutions. They are not wrathful samsaric beings awaiting to drop that thunderbolt just because one falters but like the kindest mirrors of compassion and wisdom, points back to our own minds, where of all our blessings and ills lie, where we first conceived that resolution.

I know that breaking a promise is a break to one of the five principles, but if someone forgot or was unable to fulfill it, what would that person have to do to not gain bad karma?First of all, we are humans and humans are not perfect. That's why the practice of morality or commonly known as 'sila' is a way to help us understand the relationship between us and others within the scope of the Noble Eightfold Path. More importantly is how our mind transforms and transcend suffering/unsatisfactoriness through sila. If I could cite one example from a great reformer & scholar in Chinese Mahayana, the late Ven Master Dr Yin Shun...in his 'The Way to Buddhahood', 'The Dharma Common to the Three Vehicles' Chapter', on 'The study of the Precepts', Pages 142-44:

First, sila, a Sanskrit word translated as 'precept' means calming, soothing. Generally when people hear the word 'precept', they associate it with rules-with written disciplines that vary acording to the period, place and circumstances; the most important thing, however is the actual substance of the precepts.

The function of the precepts is to stop evil and encourage the doing of good. The Buddha's original intention was not to restrain people by rules and regulations alone: He encouraged the restraint of a purified mind. When the mind is restless and annoyed, it engages in all kinds of evil which leads to nothing but torment and regret.

If one keeps the precepts with a pure mind, one does not have regrets and without regrets, one can have peace and happiness. Afflictions are like thorns covering the ground and keeping good grain from growing. Precepts kept with a pure mind are like cultivated weedless land in which seedlings can grow.

The precepts are also called the 'rules and regulations'.
The equivalent word is 'samvara', which literally means 'equally protecting' referring to the rules and regulations protect one from doing evil.
Because of differences in social relationships, lifestyles, physical strength and so forth, the Buddha established different specific precepts...to provide practitioners with a guide to put an end to evil and encourage good in their physical and verbal conduct. They are therefore called 'pratimoksa', meaning the specific precepts for liberation. Each of these precepts should each be kept for they can liberate one from specific faults.

In general, people who regard the precepts as important probably emphasise rules and regulations but neglect the essence of the precepts, which is mental purification taught by the Buddha. The ancient meditation teachers always spoke of the 'natural precepts' emphasising the pure mind with inner virtues. But the inclination towards purity of realization is not attainable by ordinary people. Actually, in the Buddha Dharma, 'faith enables one to enter the Way'. Faith is the origin of the Way. The truly pure faith and the vow to practice are the real foundation of the study of the precepts.
If we fail to honour our word, then the training is to do introspection and improve. That's called 'repentance'. See what the Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng taught On Repentance (http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/huineng/huineng6.html)

From the late Ven Master Dr Sheng-yen, in his 'Zen Wisdom: Conversations on Buddhism'...
On The Five Precepts (Page 63):

The Five Precepts are a protecting mechanism for practitioners. They help to ensure the purity of their lives and minds so that they can safely and steadily continue to practice. For this reason, precepts are necessary for the serious practitioner.
On Karma: (Pages 55-6)

Karma in Sanskrit means 'action'. When we have carried out an action, that action is over. It is something of the past. What remains can be called karmic force. It is this karmic force that leads to a particular consequence in the future, either in the present life or in a future life. In all cases, what exists is a cause and consequence relationship. Therefore what people generally refer to as karma is more correctly described as karmic force. Many people think: 'If I do something now, I will suffer or enjoy the fruit of that action at some time in the future'. This is not quite correct. It is true that we will experience the consequences of our actions later on but those consequences are not fixed. Karmic forces relates to us as a shadow relates to a person. Although the shadow always follows, it always changes shape and intensity with changes in light and position. In the same way, karmic force will always follow an individual but the karmic effects of a particular action are not fixed.

Why is this so? The continual performance of new actions modifies the karmic force accordingly. So if you generate virtuous karma, the the force of previous non virtuous karma will lessen. Of course, the opposite is also true: evil actions will magnify the force of already existing bad karma. In some cases, where particular actions have been performed for a long time, the karmic force of all these separate actions can come together in one gigantic consequence. If the bulk of that karmic force were bad, the consequence would be terrible.
On Precepts and Karma: (Pages 76-7, 73-4)

The Buddha taught that there were certain questions that were inexplicable and unfathomable and if people contemplated these concepts in hopes of coming up with answers they could become deluded or confused. One of these is to try to understand what the Buddha's mind is capable of. Another is to try to understand the workings of karma. Karma is difficult and in fact, impossible to fully and clearly explain. The point is while karma is inconceivable, we have to come up with analogies to try to explain its facets. None of them does justice to the actual thing. This time around, I used a banking analogy. If you do not like that analogy, I will try and come up with another one. But all of them will be analogies and will therefore fall short of the real thing. As Buddhists, the main thing for us to understand is that our thoughts, speech and actions have consequences that we will receive, in this life and in future lives.

If you are on the Bodhisattva Path, you can always repent your bad actions, speech and thoughts and still practice the precepts. Precepts are guidelines for behaviour, not commandments. The Bodhisattva Precepts alerts us to what we should or should not do. We should not break the precepts but if we do, what is done is done. We should then repent and continue with our practice. Nevertheless, we are still responsible for the karmic consequences. Precepts in Buddhism should not be thought of as commandments that are either kept or broken.
From my experience with various learned Ordained & Laity circles, if one is a holder of the Bodhisattva Precepts or Vows, the degree of the offense section is taken into account. There are many sets of Bodhisattva Vows/Precepts available in Mahayana, some more in content than others.

If it is a breach of the root/primary/major ones, the offense level is a 'parajika', then one has to repent, confess the transgression (normally in an assembly or before a Preceptor) and re-take the entire set of Vows again at the next available Upavasatha/Uposatha (the bi-monthly days of observance, normally calculated on the new/full moon days of the lunar calendar) or designated availability of the Sangha.
See one reference from the Brahma Net Sutra:

The most serious type of offense in Buddhism. "An offense that merits casting out -- being cast out of the sea of the Buddhadharma ...
The second meaning of Parajika [is] 'an offense that brings about a fall'. That is, if one commits a Parajika Offense, one falls into the Three Evil Destinies" (Master Hui Seng). A monk or nun who has committed a Parajika offense is subject to expulsion from the Order.
If it was a breach of the secondary/minor ones, then one repents and confesses the transgression for that section at the next available Upavasatha/Uposatha (the bi-monthly day of observance, normally calculated on the new/full days lunar calendar) or designated availability of the Sangha.

30 Jul 11, 06:38
Welcome to the group, leechee,

As FBM has already said, kamma is intentional action. The Buddha said that it was pointless for us to speculate about the results of kamma.

If someone is forgetful, or unable to do whatever they've promised for genuine reasons, I don't see why that would be a problem.

Sometimes the promises we make can be promises to ourselves (such as giving up smoking cigatettes for example) and we can always renew them again.

with kind wishes,


30 Jul 11, 15:46
Wow, I learned something everyday!

Thanks all for your awesome answer.