The Bodhisattva Vow: A conversation about being honest & realistic

A student writes:

Having reflected on taking the Bodhisattva Vow for the last few weeks, I came to the conclusion that I am willing to take the necessary steps to enter that path and follow through with it. Although I am at times overwhelmed
by the scope of the implications. Rigdzin Shikpo said about the Bodhisattva Vow: “You are promising: I am going to be the person who awakens all other beings.” To be honest, I have now idea how I could possibly fulfill that promise, right now.

Lama Shenpen responds:

It is good to realise that as you undertake the vow of aspiration – and commitment to the Bodhisattva path – we will not really understand how we can fulfil it until we truly understand Emptiness – which is the same as the Indestructible Heart Essence.


I enjoy hearing about the Mahayana Vaster Vision and I find it awe-inspiring, but I sometimes I ask myself what that could mean for my daily life and my practice. It seems so small compared the grand and vast worlds conjured up in the sutras…

Lama Shenpen:

‘Small’ is our conceptual mind’s limited view of ourselves based on not seeing our true nature.


In Trungpa Rinpoche’s book “Myth of Freedom” I found a wonderful quote which I can completely get behind: “The bodhisattva vow acknowledges confusion and chaos – aggression, passion, frustration, frivolousness – as part of the path. The path is like a busy, broad highway, complete with roadblocks, accidents, construction work and police. It is quite terrifying. Nevertheless it is majestic, it is the great path. ‘From today onward until the attainment of enlightenment I am willing to live with my chaos and confusion as well as with that of all other sentient beings. I am willing to share our mutual confusion.’ “

I find this to be a very honest and very down-to-earth approach. Definitely a point where I can start to practice everyday: turning towards the immediacy of my experience and be honest about it. This also feels like something I can promise with at least some sense of understanding what I am getting myself into.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes – to follow the path takes absolute honesty – or perhaps what is more accurate is to say realising the truth of the path involves absolute honesty – both about the confusion and its opposite – our true nature.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

Members of the Awakened Heart Sangha are able to take the Refuge and Bodhisattva vows with Lama Shenpen. To become a member and student of Lama Shenpen, join the Living the Awakened Heart Training – the structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at