by Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Read these ten vows carefully. First seek only to understand their meaning and intent. Then ask yourself whether or not they speak to you. Do they challenge you to live up to the principles they espouse? If they do, read them aloud as an affirmation of intent. Speak them as an act of ownership and commitment: This is what I am about as a religious person. These are among the core ideals I seek to manifest in my life through my actions. These are the pillars of truth I lean upon in my quest for spiritual awakening.

1. YHVH, the Unnamed and Unnameable Reality, is God, the Source and Substance of all Being and Becoming.

Aware that the ego forever creates gods in its own image for its own profit, I vow to recognize all ideas about God as products of human culture, bound by history and circumstance, and forever incapable of defining and describing the Reality Beyond Naming. Aware that the human being is capable of encountering God and of articulating that encounter through myth, metaphor, art, and music, I vow to enter into dialogue with other faiths and their followers to appreciate and experience more fully the depth of human spirituality, insight, and creativity. In this way do I vow to establish a common bond with all spiritual seekers recognizing that we are each particularist practitioners of a Universal Truth.

2. YHVH cannot be imagined and must not be imaged.

Aware of the suffering caused by allegiance to dogma and creed, I vow never to make idols of ideas or to mistake any ism for the Is. All religious teaching is human in origin and therefore subject to error, illusion, prejudice, pride, and politics. All religions are false insofar as they claim to be true. All religions are true insofar as they recognize and admit to being false. I vow to practice meditation as a means of emptying the mind of thought and image and thereby awakening to God.

3. Do not misuse religion or spirituality by taking God in vain.

Aware of the suffering caused by the misuse of God and religion in the quest of power, I vow never to mistake my path as the Path, my truth as the Truth, my idea of God as God, YHVH, Reality, but to surrender my opinion to the greater unknowing that is the One Beyond Knowing. I dedicate myself to humility in matters of the spirit, recognizing that at best I glimpse but an infinitesimal slice of the infinite Whole.

4. Remember the Sabbath and set it apart.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful living, I vow to cultivate Shabbat as a weekly day of mindfulness and attention, setting it aside for rest, renewal, reflection, and re-creation. I vow to cultivate the Sabbaths of the seventh year and the seventh cycle of years. In the sabbatical year I vow to rethink my priorities and reassess the decisions I have made that have brought me to this place in my life. I vow to make the changes that may be necessary to set my life firmly on a just and compassionate path. In the jubilee year I vow to free myself of debt and to help free those who are indebted to me. I vow to work toward a just world where all are free to develop their fullest potential.

5. Honor your mother and your father.

Aware of the suffering caused by old age, illness, and death, I vow to care for my parents to the best of my ability. Recognizing that no parent is perfect, I acknowledge the sacrifices that were made on my behalf and the role my own behavior played and continues to play in my family’s evolution. I vow to cultivate reconciliation with my parents and to merit their respect by living according to the highest that is in me. I vow to promote the well-being of all elderly people, doing what I can to honor and respect both aging and the aged and seeing in the old a repository of wisdom and experience necessary for right living and a healthy and honorable society.

6. Do not murder.

Aware of the suffering caused by the needless and wanton destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and justice and learn ways to protect the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to murder, not to let others murder, and not to condone any act of murder in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life. I recognize that murder refers not only to the literal taking of life, but to the killing of dignity. I vow to practice gentleness and respect toward all, learning how to struggle for what is right without falling prey to what is wrong.

7. Do not engage in sexual misconduct.

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate sexual responsibility and not to engage in sexual relations without compassion and commitment. I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children and adults from sexual abuse and to eliminate sexually transmitted disease. I vow to honor my body and the bodies of others by treating all beings with respect and dignity. I vow to hallow pleasure and the senses by seeing the wonder of life within and around me. I vow to uphold the holiness of sexuality by never degrading it, myself, or another through violence, ignorance, or deceit.

8. Do not steal.

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, theft, and oppression, I vow to practice acts of loving-kindness toward all things. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those in need. I vow not to steal or keep anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, yet work for the wise use of all earthly resources. I vow to cultivate peace by refraining from acts of violence (both verbal and physical), doing whatever I can to protect others from violence, and working with others to end violence in society as a whole.

9. Do not lie.

Aware of the suffering caused by wrongful speech and shallow listening, I vow to cultivate compassionate speech and attentive listening. I vow to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, compassion, justice, and hope. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain or to share information that will cause needless harm. I vow not to criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure and to cultivate an open mind. I will refrain from uttering words that cause needless division or discord, and I will make every effort to reconcile differences peacefully and compassionately and resolve all conflicts, however small.

10. Do not covet.

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate ethical eating, drinking, and consuming, to promote both personal and planetary well-being. I vow to live simply, to enjoy what I have before seeking to have more, and to labor for that which I desire honestly and justly. I vow to honor the differing gifts of people and to respect the property of others, seeing in another’s success inspirational lessons for my own efforts.