“Desires are endless” — Governor Jerry Brown evokes a Zen vow

As reported on Buddhadharma News Wednesday night, California Governor Jerry Brown, in noting the victory of the state’s Prop. 30, evoked one of Zen’s Four Vows.

Via the Los Angeles Times: “Desires are endless. I vow to cut them down,” Brown said, when asked how he would maintain the discipline “not to go on any spending binges.” As the Times notes, Brown recited that vow nightly when he was living at a Zen monastery in Japan in the 1980s.

But what are the Four Vows? The late Sensei Sandra Jishu Holmes explains them in her teaching, “I Vow.” Click through here to read more.

When we take the precepts of a Bodhisattva, with every one we say, “I Vow.” What does this mean? The vow exists on both the absolute plane and on the relative plane. Bodhisattvas make a public announcement that they have raised the bodhi mind in the form of the Four Great Vows and the Sixteen Precepts.

I vow to liberate all beings.
I vow to cut down all desires.
I vow to study and practice well to master the Dharma.
I vow to realize the Supreme Way.

Read the rest of Holmes’ teaching here. You’ll find more about the vows in Zenkei Blanche Hartman’s teaching, “Living a Life of Vow.”

And, of course, don’t miss, “A Greater Happiness,” Pema Chodron’s look at the vows of the bodhisattva-warrior, from our current, November magazine.

For more about Jerry Brown, read the Shambhala Sun’s profile of the governor, “Zen and the Art of the Possible.” He’s also featured in “Joining Heaven and Earth,” a forum about dharma and politics.


  1. buddhagirl says

    Please inform those of us outside the USA as to what steps Governor Jerry Brown has taken to repeal the death penalty in California.

  2. comment says

    I find Brown's use of a bodhisattva vow to justify austerity just another delusion he should cut down as well. Brown's bodhisattva vows are for himself, not to be imposed on the public, which is suffering greatly due to the collapse of the states finances. It is almost as stupid as Christian politician Jesus-talk, and as practicing religious contemplative conversant with both zen and Christian traditions, I think Brown needs to keep his zen to himself.

  3. the untouchable says

    I am governor Jerry Brown
    My aura smiles
    And never frowns
    Soon I will be president

    Carter power will soon go away
    I will be Fuehrer one day
    I will command all of you
    Your kids will meditate in school

    Your kids will meditate in school

    california über alles
    über alles california

    Zen fascists will control you
    100% natural
    You will jog for the master race
    And always wear the happy face

    Close your eyes, can't happen here
    Big bro' on white horse is near
    The hippies won't come back you say
    Mellow out or you will pay

    Mellow out or YOU WILL PAY!

    california über alles
    über alles california

    Now it is 1984
    Knock knock at your front door
    It's the suede/denim secret police
    They have come for your uncool niece

    Come quietly to the camp
    You'd look nice as a drawstring lamp
    Don't you worry, it's only a shower
    For your clothes here's a pretty flower

    Die! on organic poison gas
    Serpent's egg's already hatched
    You will croak, you little clown
    When you mess with president brown

    When you mess with President Brown

    california über alles
    über alles california

    – dead kennedys, 1979

  4. bob says

    jello biafra was a true visionary; he foresaw the rise of the corporate /militarized new-age police state. i am humbled

  5. buddhagirl says

    C'mon guys, I asked a serious question – see comment one – and I was hoping for an erudite response from those in the know.

  6. says

    Jerry Brown is a leader, but not a dictator. Like all Calif. governors he works with a large group of people whose votes can cancel many things he attempts. In this rocky economy, his first priority is to move his state away from the precipice of bankruptcy. He didn't cause this problem (Brown himself lives very austerely), he took on the Sysiphan chore willingly, and I can think of no one else more able and appropriate for the job.

    Our personal goal in Buddhist practice is to live with equanimity, as this is the only point of view that can allow us to act appropriately through the storms of life. I've watched Brown all these years and have confidence that given the difficulties and stench of the system in which he acts, he will do whatever he can to create a better environment for people to thrive.

  7. buddhagirl says

    Well thank you for responding Lotuspetal. I assume that's a 'zilch' on efforts to overturn the death penalty? As a Buddhist and a politician i would think that Jerry Brown is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. As you've said, he's not exactly a one-man band in office. So i don't see that the need to focus on the economy should eclipse all other vital issues, particularly one that goes to the core of both human rights and Buddhist vows. Perhaps in California the death penalty stays on the statute books but has not been enacted for some years? I wouldn't know but the alternative is that he is signing off on ending each death row inmate's life. Heavy karma. And an action that doesn't exactly square with "equanimity", lotuspetal. Bodhicitta should trump equanimity always – in other words standing up for the sanctity of life is more important than somehow mentally resolving such moral quandries so that you don't get passionate or emotional about the suffering of others.