The 48 Vows (四十八願)

The 48 Vows refers to the 48 vows made by Hozo Bosatsu (Dharmakara) prior to the start of ascetic training to attain Buddhahood. These were described in 'Shojubun' of the "Muryoju-kyo Bussetsu Muryoju-kyo Sutra" (Sutra of Infinite Life, translated by Kosogai), which is the Konpon kyoten (primal scripture) of the Jodo (Pure Land) Sect. There are variances in the translation of the "Muryo-kyo Sutra," or the original Sanskrit text of "Bussetsu Muryoju-kyo Sutra," so that there are discrepancies in the number of vows. Muryo-kyo Sutra is roughly divided into the 24-vow group and the 48-vow group. Of the above two groups, the former is considered to represent the philosophy of the early Pure Land sect, whereas the latter is supposed to represent that of the late developed stage of the Pure Land sect. Various Japanese lines of the Pure Land Buddhism sect, such as the Jodo sect and the Jodo Shinshu (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism), consider the '18th Vow' to be particularly important.
Summary
Vow 1
Title: Musanakushu no gan (no three evil worlds hell)
Original Text: If, when become a Buddha, there should be either hell, or the animal state of existence, or the realm of hungry ghosts in my Buddha-land, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 2
Title: Fukyoakushu no gan (no return to the three evil worlds)
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the beings born in my Buddha-land should retrogress into the three evil realms, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 3
Title: Shikkaikonjiki no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the beings born in my Buddha-land are not all the color of genuine gold, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 4
Title: Muukoshu no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas born in my land are not all of identical appearance, without distinctions of noble looks or ugliness, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 5
Title: Shukumyochitsu no gan (the power of knowing the past lifetimes of oneself and others) and Ryoshikishukumyo no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas born in my land are not possessed of the supernormal ability to remember their previous lives, and the ability to know the events of a 1100 nayuta years of kalpas in the past, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 6
Title: Ryotokutengen no gan and Tengenchitsu no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas born in my land do not possess the divine eye, which can see a hundred thousand nayuta of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 7
Title: Tenniyomon no gan and Tenjichitu no gan (天耳智通の願)
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas of my land do not possess the divine ear, which can hear the teachings of a 1100 kotis of nayuta of Buddhas, or do not faithfully observe those teachings, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 8
Title: Tashinshitsuchi no gan and Tashinchitsu no gan (the vow of super-knowledge that penetrates the minds of others)
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas of my land do not all possess the intuitive mind, which knows the thoughts of all beings of a hundred thousand kotis of nayuta of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 9
Title: Jinsokunyo no gan and Jinsokuchitsu no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas of my land should not possess the supernatural power of traveling anywhere instantaneously, even beyond a 1100 kotis of nayutus of Buddha lands, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 10
Title: Futongeshin no gan and Rojinchitsu no gan (漏尽智通の願)
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in my land should rise to thoughts of self-attachment, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 11
Title: Hisshimetsudo no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas of my land do not all firmly abide in a concentrated state of meditation and equanimity (Samadhi) until they have reached nirvana, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 12
Title: Komyomuryo no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, my light should be too limited to illuminate a hundred thousand nayuta of kotis of Buddha-lands, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 13
Title: Jumyomuryo no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the duration of my life should be limited, even to the extent of 1100 kotis of nayutas of kalpas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Vows 12 and 13 come after Vow 11, which vows to unfailingly have anyone who dies a peaceful death in the Pure Land become a Buddha, and thus it refers to the virtue they should possess. Vow 12 and Vow 13 explain Shinbutsudokan.
Vow 14
Title: Shomonmuryo no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the number of the shravavakas in my land could be known, even if all the beings and pratyekabuddhas living in this universe of a 1000 million worlds should count them during a 1100 kalpas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 15
Title: Kenzokuchoju no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in my land should have limited lifespans, except when they wish to shorten them in accordance with their original vows, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 16
Title: Rishofuzen no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in my land should even hear of any wrongdoing, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.
Vow 17
Title: Shobutsushomyo no gan, Shobutsushoyo no gan, Shobutsushosan no gan, Shobutsushisha no gan, Osoeko no gan, Senchakushomyo gan (選択称名願), Ososhogyo (往相正業) (sorted by summarized test)
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the innumerable Buddhas in the land of the 10 quarters should not praise and glorify my name, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Shosan, shomyo and shisha all mean to praise and admire but are not used for chanting any particular name.
Vow 18
Title: Nenbutsuojo no gan (the vow to pass away peacefully and be reborn in Paradise through invocation of Amitabha), Senchakuhongan, Hongansanshin no gan, Shishinshingyo no gan and Ososhinjin no gan
Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the sentient beings in the lands of the 10 quarters, who sincerely and joyfully entrust their faith to me, desire to be born in my land and call my name mere ten times, should not be born there, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Excluded, however, are those who commit the five heinous deeds and slander the True Dharma. Reading in Japanese: When I attain Buddhahood, all sentient beings who have faith in me, offer prayers to Amida Buddha even only 10 times and wish to be reborn in my land with their whole hearts shall be reborn in my land. Otherwise, I shall never attain perfect enlightenment.

However, those who commit the five heinous sins and slander the true Dharma are excluded. Free translation: Reading in Japanese: When I attain Buddhahood, if all the people who have faith, offer prayers to Amida Buddha even only 10 times and wish with their whole hearts to be reborn in my land cannot be reborn in my land, I shall never attain perfect enlightenment. However, those who commit the five heinous sins and slander the teaching of Buddha are excluded.

(Excerpts from page 29 of "Sacred Scriptures of Jodo Shinshu, the Jodo Sanbu-kyo," published by Hongan-ji Temple in 1996)

Honen regarded this as the most important vow of all and explained it by saying, 'Therefore, I declare that, of the 48 Vows, Nenbutsujo no gan (the vow to pass away peacefully and be reborn in Paradise through invocation of Amitabha) is the king of hongan.'
Vow 18 is therefore also referred to as 'Ohongan.'
In his "Songoshinzomeibun," Shinran stated the true meaning of intention in the passage as follows.
Those who commit the five heinous sins and slander the True Dharma are excluded' was to 'simply exclude.'
Those sinners who commit the five heinous deeds should be despised, and it should be made known that to slander the teaching of Buddha is a deadly sin. Understanding the seriousness of these two sins, may every one of the sentient beings in the land of the 10 quarters die a peaceful death.

Derivational Observation: It has been explained that 'ohako,' as used to express 'one's forte' in conjunction with various performing arts, including Kabuki, was derived from Vow 18.

Vow 19

Title: Shishinhogan no gan, Shushokudoku no gan, Rinjugenzen no gan, Genzendosho no gan, Raigoinjo no gan and Shishinhogan no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the sentient beings in the lands of the ten quarters who aspire for enlightenment, doing good deeds and sincerely wishing to be born in my land, should not, at their death, see me appear before them surrounded by many holy men, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 20

Title: Shishineko no gan, Jikishotokuhon no gan, Kenenjosho no gan, Fukasuisha no gan and Yokushokasui no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the sentient beings in this land who, having heard my name, concentrate their thoughts on my land, do various good deeds and sincerely transfer the merits toward my land with a desire to be born there, should not eventually fulfill their aspirations, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. With respect to the term 'kasui' (to thoroughly carry out one's faith), 'Shinran' means to carry out one's faith throughout a lifetime.

Shinran preached the Religious Conversion through Amida's Three Vows whereby, as this kasui no gan explained, one should master Kemon (Expedient Means), as represented by Vow 19, followed by Shinmon (Truth) as represented by Vow 20, and then move to Gugan (Immense Profession generally referring to the 48 Vows) as represented by Vow 18.

Vow 21

Title: Gusokushoso no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in my land should not all be endowed with the thirty-two physical characteristics of a Great Man, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 22

Title: Gensoeko no gan, Hisshifusho no gan and Isshofusho no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the Buddha-lands of other quarters who visit my land should not ultimately and unfailingly reach the Stage of Becoming a Buddha after one more life, may I not attain perfect enlightenment. Excluded are those who wish to teach and guide sentient beings in accordance with their original vows. Hence, they wear the armor of great vows, accumulate merits, deliver all beings, visit Buddha-lands to perform the Bodhisattva practices, make offerings to Buddhas, Tathagatas, throughout the ten quarters, enlighten uncountable sentient beings as numerous as the sands of the River Ganges, and establish them in the highest, perfect enlightenment. Such Bodhisattvas transcend the course of practice of the ordinary Bodhisattva stages, manifest the practices of all the Bodhisattva stages and actually cultivate the virtues of Samantabhadra.

Vow 23

Title: Kuyoshobutsu no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land, to make offerings to Buddhas through my transcendent power, should be unable to reach immeasurable and innumerable kotis of nayuta of Buddha-lands in a short period of time as that for eating a meal, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 24

Title: Kuyonyoi no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land should be unable to obtain offerings as they wish when accumulating merits by worshiping the Buddhas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 25

Title: Setsuissaichi no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land should be unable to freely preach the Dharma with the all-knowing wisdom, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

I shall speak to everyone and everything in the universe with the Wisdom of the Buddha.

Vow 26

Title: Tokukongoshin no gan and Naraenshin no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, there should be any Bodhisattva in my land not endowed with the strong body of the Vajra-god Narayana, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 27

Title: Banmotsugonjo no gan and Shoshuenshin no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the sentient beings should be able, even with the divine eye, to distinguish by name and calculate by number all the myriads of manifestations provided for the humans and devas in my land, which are glorious and resplendent with detail exquisite beyond description, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 28

Title: Dojoju no gan and Kendojoju no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land, even those with little store of merit, should not be able to see the Bodhi tree, which has countless colors and is four million li in height, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 29

Title: Tokubensaichi no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land should not acquire eloquence and wisdom in upholding sutras and reciting and expounding them, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 30

Title: Bensaimujin no gan and Chibenmukyu no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the wisdom and eloquence of the Bodhisattvas in my land should be limited, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 31

Title: Kokudoshojo no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, my land should not be resplendent, revealing in its light all the immeasurable, innumerable and inconceivable Buddha-lands, like images reflected in a clear mirror, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 32

Title: Myokogojo no gan and Hokogojo no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, all the myriads of manifestations in my land, from the ground to the sky, such as palaces, pavilions, ponds, streams and trees, should not be composed of both countless treasures, which surpass in supreme excellence anything in the worlds of human and devas, and of a 1100 kinds of aromatic woods, whose fragrance pervades all the worlds of the 10 quarters, causing all Bodhisattvas who sense it to perform Buddhist practice, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 33

Title: Sokkonyunan no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters who have been touched by my light, should not feel peace and happiness in their bodies and minds surpassing that of humans and devas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 34

Title: Monmyotokunin no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the sentient beings in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters who have heard my name should not gain the Bodhisattva's insight into the non-arising of all Dharmas and should not acquire various profound dharanis, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 35

Title: Nyoninjobutsu no gan, Nyoninojo no gan (Honen's Commentary on Daikyo), Henjonanshi no gan ("Jodo wasan," by Shinran), Tennyojonan no gan and Monmyotennyo no gan ("Nyoninojo kikigaki," by Zonkaku)

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the women in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters who, having heard my name, rejoice in faith, awaken aspiration for the Enlightenment and wish to renounce womanhood, should after death be reborn again as women, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Another version of Vow 18

Vow 36

Title: Monmyobongyo no gan and Joshubongyo no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters who have heard my name, should not, after their passing, always perform sacred practices until they reach Buddhahood, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 37

Title: Saraichikyo no gan and Nintenchikyo no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in the immeasurable and inconceivable Buddha-lands of the ten quarters who, having heard my name, fall on their knees to revere and worship me, rejoice in faith and strive to practice Bodhisattva training, should not be respected by all the devas and people of the world, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 38

Title: Ebukuzuinen no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in my land should not obtain clothing, as soon as they so desire, and if the fine robes as prescribed and praised by the Buddhas should not instantaneously become available to them, and if these clothes should need sewing, bleaching, dyeing or washing, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 39

Title: Jojukeraku no gan and Jurakumuzen no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the humans and devas in my land should not enjoy the happiness and pleasure of a monk who has renounced worldly desires, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 40

Title: Kenshobutsudo no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land who wish to see the immeasurable glorious Buddha-lands of the 10 quarters should be unable to view all of them reflected in the jeweled trees, just as one sees the reflection of his face in a clear mirror, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 41

Title: Monmyogukon no gan and Shokongusoku no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the lands of the other quarters who hear my name should, at any time before ascending to Buddhahood, have physical disabilities, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 42

Title: Monmyotokujo no gan and Jujokubutsu no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the lands of the other quarters who hear my name should not attain the samadhi as referred to as 'pure emancipation' and, while dwelling therein, without losing concentration, should be unable to make offerings at once to immeasurable and inconceivable Buddhas, and the World Honored One, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 43

Title: Monmyoshoki no gan and Shosonkike no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the lands of the other quarters who hear my name should not be reborn into noble families after death, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 44

Title: Monmyogutoku no gan and Gusokutokuhon no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the lands of the other quarters who hear my name should not rejoice so greatly as to dance and perform the Bodhisattva practices and should not acquire stores of merit, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 45

Title: Monmyokenbutsu no gan and Jujokenbutsu no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the lands of the other quarters who hear my name should not all attain the samadhi called 'universal equality' and, while dwelling therein, should not always be able to see all the immeasurable and inconceivable Tathagatas until those Bodhisattvas too become Buddhas, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 46

Title: Zuiimonpo no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in my land should be unable to hear spontaneously whatever teachings they may wish, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 47

Title: Monmyofutai no gan and Tokufutaiten no gan

Original Text: If, when I become a Buddha, the Bodhisattvas in the lands of the other quarters who hear my name should not instantly reach the Stage of Non-retrogression, may I not attain perfect enlightenment.

Vow 48

Title: Tokusanponin no gan

Classifications

Eon and Kyogo
The 48 Vows have been broken down into three categories by Eon and Kyogo, of China.

The name and grouping of each category is as follows:

Shoboshingan and Kyubutsushingan (求仏身願): For Buddha to perfect the Body of Buddha, Vows 12, 13 and 17

Setsujodogan (摂浄土願)・Kyubutsudogan (求仏土願): Completion of the Buddha Land, which allows sentient beings to be reborn in: Vows 31 and 32

Sesshojogan (摂衆生願)・Rishojogan (利衆生願): To seek salvation for sentient beings: The remaining 43 vows

Shinran

Shinran, of Japan, broke down the 48 Vows into reality and apotheosis. These vows were developed to resolve the problems of all the sorrows and suffering of sentient beings that had been observed. In the true meaning, all their 'suffering' will be solved when sentient beings become Buddhas and, hence, to become a Buddha upon dying a peaceful death in the Pure Land is the most important part of the 48 Vows.