"Now we come to the bodhisattva vow. In order to take the bodhisattva vow, however, we first have to know what it is. There are said to be eighteen root vows and forty-six branch vows of the bodhisattva, although the central gist is saying, 'I vow to save all beings from suffering.' But taking and following the vows are not as simple as that. They also comprise specific ways in which you determine to guide your interaction with others when you become spiritually reborn, born again in a mode in which you are living for others more than living for self. The vows guide you to live for self primarily through living for others, having exchanged self-preoccupation for other-preoccupation.
"The specific eighteen root vows and the forty-six minor vows all together constitute a kind of ethic and etiquette of altruism, a very strong, detailed, well-thought-out ethic of replacing the habit of self-preoccupation with other-preoccupation. This ethic and etiquette give us the opportunity to carry our meditation into daily life, to bring focused mindfulness with us into everyday interactions with others and even into our thoughts that concern others.
"For example, Shantideva mentions in his great work on the bodhisattva career how he commits never to sit idly and nervously rip out blades of grass as he waits on the ground for someone. He commits to move gently like a cat or a thief, so as not to disturb others when he enters or leaves a room. And my favorite one he commits never to point the way with his index finger when someone asks him directions but always to use the gesture of welcome with his full hand outstretched, as if inviting the person to go in the indicated direction, thinking to himself, 'Now I invite you to go where you have asked to go; in the future life I will invite you on the path to buddhahood.' These are ways of meditating with the body and with your speech as well as with your mind.
"The reason it is so important to learn the specifics of interactive meditation is that they immeasurably deepen solitary meditation. We can always retreat now and then, but we do spend a great deal of time interacting with others. We should try to interweave these two phases of development as much as we can, so we can maintain a constant progress. I like to invoke Bill Murray's famous precept, given in his role in the movie What About Bob? to make progress in 'baby steps.' We develop our minds, we improve our lives, we deepen our insight and increase our love little bit by little bit, by baby steps of progress. It is unrealistic to try to get there all at once; we inevitably fail, become discouraged, and too often decide it's no use trying.
"The bodhisattva vow is so like the good aspects of other world religions. It evokes Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the great compassion he taught, and the great compassion for others taught by Allah al-Rahman in Islam and exemplified in the deeds of the great adepts of Sufism. It is reminiscent of Confucius' notion of being loyal to others and gracious with them, and feeling true love ren for them. Ren means 'love.' The master wanted his disciples to be loving with others, not merely humane or genteel, though those virtues move in the right direction. When you are loving with others, then everything you do with them will be automatically gracious, exemplifying li, the complementary Confucian virtue of 'graciousness,' not mere 'propriety.'
"Hindus call the love of God bhakti, but they also have maitri love and all the other loving virtues gentleness and nonviolence, ahimsa, a common human religion of kindness, of friendliness, of love and compassion. Every human being needs love from others. We couldn't live without loving relationships with others, and we would never be happy ourselves unless we loved others. You don't need religion to know that: it's a common biological fact. We humans are a kind of group being, and the bodhisattva vow acknowledges that."