On each morning of the Kagyu Monlam we will have the possibility to take the Mahayana sojong vows. Taking these 24h vows is not necessary, however following the precepts has an effect of intensifying all recited prayers which will be fulfilled sooner and the merit accumulated from spiritual practice on that day is multiplied.
The Tibetan word sojong is the equivalent of Sanskrit uposatha. The tradition of following the eight uposatha precepts on holy days is very common in all Buddhist schools and, in the modern days, it is especially strong in Theravada Buddhism. The reason why the vows taken in our tradition are called the Mahayana sojong vows is the unique motivation. Ordinary uposatha precepts are usually taken with the intention to purify one’s negativities and to attain one’s liberation. However, if we take these ethic vows with the intention of benefiting all beings, then - owing to the great power of motivation - the results of maintaining self-discipline are immeasurably bigger. Sojong vows taken for the benefit of all beings are called Mahayana sojong vows.
Sojong is the act of refraining from 8 kinds of activities, from the time the vows are taken until the next morning. We vow to refrain from:
3. sexual activity (celibate),
5. intoxication (alcohol, drugs),
6. taking a high seat,
7. eating in inappropriate time,
8. singing and dancing or wearing ornaments and perfume.
"Not taking high seats" means not to sit or sleep in places which are associated with high social status like royal throne or bed; using them could evoke a sense of pride in us. Using ordinary chairs and standard beds is not an infringement of this vow.
"Not eating in inappropriate time" means not taking meals after midday till next morning. Drinking i.e. tea and liquid food in which one can see once own reflection is allowed. This rule does not have to be followed only in cases of serious illness when fasting could threaten life (i.e. diabetes) or if it is necessary to take medications. When following the sojong vows, the purity of taken food is extremely important. Therefore one should avoid foods which contain any form of meat, eggs, onion and garlic at all times when keeping the vows.
"Not wearing jewellery and ornaments" means not to put on jewellery which we do not usually wear. For example, if you always wear your wedding ring, you do not need to take it off for the time you are following the sojong vows.
Adapted by Lama Rinchen