All Bodhisattvas openly proclaim their vows
as they openly wish to benefit all with them.
Is the making of spiritual vows (making aspirations: 发愿) humbly in silence more powerful than to say them aloud? Before answering this, let us look at an important episode in the Immeasurable Life Sutra. In it is recorded that after Dharmakara Bodhisattva (who has become Amitabha Buddha) reviewed 210 kotis (1 koti is about 10 million or much more) of Buddha Lands through the power of Lokesvararaja Buddha (the Buddha in his time), and having made his vows to establish his Pure Land after 5 kalpas (world cycles) of deep silent contemplation, he reported having done so. The Buddha then urged him to proclaim his vows to inspire and delight the entire assembly of beings present, so that other Bodhisattvas can cultivate accordingly [in a similar way, or by riding upon his vows to benefit from them] to fulfil their innumerable great vows too.
Dharmakara Bodhisattva thus fully proclaimed his famous 48 great vows. After stating these vows, the earth resonated with the power of truthfulness of his strong resolutions by trembling. Heavenly flowers fell to honour him and spontaneous music of praise filled the air, which represents all Buddhas’ voices in unison, saying he will definitely attain unsurpassable right awakening (Buddhahood). Henceforth, throughout innumerable kalpas, he practised the immeasurable meritorious practices of Bodhisattvas (the Six Perfections), and taught others to do likewise, accumulating indescribably great merits and wisdom along the way, culminating in his attainment of Buddhahood 10 kalpas ago.
Dharmakara Bodhisattva had reviewed an astronomical number of Buddha Lands precisely to know how to deliberate in detail, on how to create the best Pure Land, as defined by his vows, to benefit all beings in all worlds. Exactly since his vows are to benefit all, he was urged to announce them to as many as possible. Although we might not have been in the assembly where this happened, or where Sakyamuni Buddha taught the sutra, we too can know about and appreciate his vows through studying this sutra now. Having made great vows, all Bodhisattvas have to do extensive ‘marketing’, so as to make known their availability and wishes to connect to and benefit all beings. This is how they can create positive karmic affinities.
Even if a beginner Bodhisattva is unable to benefit even a single being substantially yet, the sharing of vows do remind him or her to strive on with diligent practice. And practice does make perfect! Even if the elements do not resonate in response with our minor vows, what matters most is that they resonate deeply within, as we proclaim them before an image of the Buddha, asking him for blessings and to bear witness. If Dharmakara Bodhisattva did not proclaim his vows, which form one of the central messages of this sutra, (that will be the longest lasting in our world, extending 100 years beyond the Dharma-Ending Age, as specially protected by Sakyamuni Buddha,) it will not exist. And we would not be able to be inspired and delighted by his vows so many kalpas later, missing the path to his wonderful Pure Land where the swiftest non-backsliding progress to Buddhahood is guaranteed.
Thus, in Bodhisattva practice, there is the making of Bodhisattva vows to commit to the Bodhisattva precepts in proper ceremonies to mark the formal beginning of the Bodhisattva path, with other Dharma teachers and fellow Buddhists bearing witness. Even the receiving of the basic five precepts requires a simple ceremony to mark and announce one’s commitment. The making of spiritual vows followed by prostration, which can be done daily before one’s home’s shrine as a reminder is part of the crystallisation of Dharma practice expressed and fortified through mind, speech and body. Therefore, to correct the assumption in the opening question, the making of vows by proclaiming them is much more powerful than to only make vows privately and in silence. Even minor vows can be shared with a few good spiritual friends at least, which can motivate one and all to practise the Dharma better. There should be no pridefulness at all, just as Dharmakara Bodhisattva selflessly, sincerely and compassionately expressed his resolve for the welfare of all.
The more noble and sincere
your spiritual vows are,
the more should they
be nobly and sincerely shared.
The 48 Great Vows Of Amituofo: Boundless Blessings For This Life & The Next (4th Run)