Buddhism Your Questions Answered (171 FAQ)

Q&A 41. What to do if you are unable to keep vows?

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Q: Master Lu, if an individual is unable to keep their vows to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? Will they be punished?  Is there any way to solve this?


  • If an individual is unable to keep the vows they made to Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, they are likely to be punished, but it is not always the case. Whether they will be punished or not depends on their motives behind breaking those vows. Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Dharma Protectors have a certain level of understanding and forgiveness towards us.
  • If you cannot keep your vows due to natural causes, then you will be forgiven to a certain degree.
  • If you cannot keep your vows due to personal reasons or human factors, then it is most certain that you would be punished.
  • If you know your punishment is coming, you must recite the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance to resolve it – there is no other way.
  • You must kneel and repent in front of the statue/image of the Bodhisattva. Reflect upon your mistakes quietly, and pray to the Bodhisattva to resolve any forthcoming disasters.
  • On the day that you fail to keep your vow (within 24 hours), you can complete more recitations of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance. For example, recite 49 times that day.  ­
  • However, if 24 hours have already passed, do not recite Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance too many times. It is recommended that you recite the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance no more than 7 times per day, otherwise your karmic obstacles may be activated. Therefore, it is best to spread your recitation out by completing a regular number of recitations over several days.
    You could also choose to temporarily stop your daily recitation of the Eighty-Eight Buddhas Great Repentance. Instead, recite it 7 times for the sole purpose of repenting your failure to keep your vow.  You must continue these recitations for one week in order to resolve impending disasters.
  • At the same time, you should make a new vow, and recite the Heart Sutra 21 times per day.
  • By doing so, you are reorienting and cleansing your mind. Through this method, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Dharma Protectors will forgive you for your wrongdoings.  As a result, your major disasters would be turned into smaller ones, and the small ones would be completely eliminated.
  • Be mindful and cautious when making vows. You should act in accordance with karmic conditions, and know your capabilities and limitations.
  • If you fail a “Dream Test”, i.e. you have a dream in which you fail to keep your vow, this is also considered as an act of breaking your vow.  Please refer to Q&A 90: Having Dream Tests.
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