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Date: 01/01/2014
  • Practices
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Five Vows

from chapter 8 of Coming Back to Life by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown; second edition, published 2014. Please acknowledge the source when you use any of these practices.


By now each of us in the workshop is in touch with our sincere desire to take part in the Great Turning. In the days and years ahead, however, there will be so many distractions and demands on us that we yearn for a practice to help us stay faithful to this intention of our hearts.

This became very clear to Joanna Macy on the last afternoon of a two-week intensive workshop. She was out walking and met a young monk from the Buddhist retreat center hosting the event. “Well,” he said, “Now I expect on your last day, you’ll be giving people vows.” Joanna told him that was not something she did. “Pity,” he said, “I find in my own life vows so very helpful, because they channel my energy to do what I really want to do.”

Continuing on her walk, Joanna looked at her hand and thought, “If we’re to have vows, they shouldn’t number more than the fingers of one hand.” Almost immediately the “Five Vows” came to her. 

When she later asked the group what they thought about taking vows, they were enthusiastic. They would soon be scattered far and wide, and making these vows to one another and to themselves deepened their sense of being linked as a community. Now used by many people around the world, the vows bring a heartening sense of belonging to a widening fellowship of intention.

In some cultures, the term “vow” can sound too religious or authoritarian. So we can choose to refer to them as “commitments” or “intentions.” In any case, they offer an anchor point, reminding us again and again of the purposes we hold dear and the behaviors that help us serve them.

Toward the end of the workshop, the vows are posted on the wall for people to read and consider if they want to take them on. On the last evening or last day, a simple ritual is held. All who are able to stand, and the guide recites each vow, asking the people if they wish to take that vow. Those who do, answer “Yes” and recite the vow; then a bell is rung. 


Five Vows

  • I vow to myself and to each of you to commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products, and energy I consume.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future beings, and our siblings of all species.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to support you in your work for the world, and to ask for help when I need it.
  • I vow to myself and to each of you to pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart, and supports me in observing these vows.


Contributor/Author: Joanna Macy & Molly Brown