Living beings are limitless; I vow to deliver them.
Mental afflictions are inexhaustible; I vow to cut them off .
Dharma gates are incalculable; I vow to practice them.
The buddha way is unsurpassed; I vow to attain it.
shujō muhen sei gan do 衆生無邊誓願度
bon-no mujin sei gan dan 煩惱無盡誓願斷
ho mon muryō sei gan gaku 法門無量誓願學
butsu do mujō sei gan jo 佛道無上誓願成
This verse expresses the basic vow (seigan 誓願) of the bodhisattva: to attain (jō 成) the way of the buddha (butsudō 佛道), which is awakening, for the sake of delivering (do 度) all living beings (shujō 衆生) from suffering in the round of rebirth. The four vows commit the bodhisattva, in effect, to a never-ending struggle, for there are limitless (numberless) beings to save, inexhaustible mental afflictions (bonnō 煩惱) such as greed, anger, and delusion to cut off (dan 斷), and an inconceivable variety of dharma gates (hōmon 法門), that is, modes of Buddhist study and practice (gaku 學).