Sojong Vows at the North American Kagyu Monlam
During the North American Kagyu Monlam, you will have the option to take the one-day Mahayana sojong vows every morning if you wish. The commitment of the vows is to observe the eight precepts from the moment you take the vows until the next morning at dawn.
These eight precepts are to refrain entirely from killing; stealing; sexual activity; lying; consuming intoxicants; sitting or lying on high seats or beds; eating at inappropriate times; wearing perfume, jewelry, or ornaments; and singing or dancing.
Not sitting or lying on high seats or beds means not sitting on seats or beds that are fancy, expensive, or large.
Not eating at inappropriate times means not to consume any food from noon until sunrise the next day. You are allowed to drink tea or translucent liquids. However, you may eat if you are sick and you may take medicine. The Mahayana sojong vows come from the kriya tantra, in which cleanliness and purity are of utmost importance. You should therefore abstain from eating any kind of meat, eggs, onions, or garlic during the period of the vows.
Not wearing jewelry or ornaments means not wearing jewelry or ornaments that you do not normally wear. If you normally wear a ring or other piece of jewelry, you may continue to wear it while observing the vow.
The Benefits of Taking Sojong Vows
The Tibetan word sojong means purification and restoration. It is the equivalent of Sanskrit upavasatha and Pali uposatha. The tradition of following the eight uposatha precepts on holy days is common to all Buddhist schools, and is especially strong in Theravada Buddhism. These vows are generally taken with the intention to purify one’s own negativities and to attain one’s own liberation. In our tradition they are called the Mahayana sojong vows because they are joined with the Mahayana motivation to benefit all beings. Owing to the power of intention, the results of keeping the vows in this way are immeasurably more vast.
It is traditionally said that following these precepts has the effect of increasing the power of all recited prayers as well as multiplying the merit accumulated from all spiritual practice and virtuous activity on that day.