A vow was a promise of sorts, often placing a restriction on the monk who swore by one. Although they were not eternally binding, they were taken seriously by the swearer. Although there was no eternal damnation in breaking a minor vow, the monk would often feel that it was his or her duty to obey it more strictly in the future. 
Monks often took certain vows so they might learn certain lessons. For example, a monk might take a vow of silence to better understand the importance of communication and listening. Once the monk felt that he had learned that particular lesson, the vow had served its purpose and was no longer followed.  The monks of the Three Orders had been known to put themselves in situations that would test their vows, such as entering a battle while under a vow of nonviolence, or working among geisha during a vow of chastity. 
The Four Vows Edit
Although most vows were optional and taken individually, the Book of Duties listed what could be considered almost mandatory vows. These vows were collectively known as the Four Vows, and were adhered to by virtually all sects of the Brotherhood of Shinsei, although each sect might have its own interpretation as to what exactly the vows entailed.
The First Vow, Pacifism Edit
Living beings are countless; I vow to save them all.
This vow had been intepreted by most Shinseist sects as a vow of non-violence and pacifism or even an endorsement of a vegitarian lifestyle. Monks of the Seven Fortunes carried out this vow through acts of arbitration and diplomacy.  Although some sects had taken this vow to advocate redemption for Shadowlands creatures or Tainted beings, other sects such as the Order of Thunder and the Kuni Witch Hunters excluded such creatures from this vow and instead point to the Second Vow for how to deal with them. One sect, known as the Questioners, tried to fulfill this vow by interacting with people in order to alter their perception of the universe with odd questions and odder behavior. 
The Second Vow, Rejection of the Material Edit
Defilements are endless; I vow to cleanse them all.'
The most common interpretations were as 1) an admonishment of material pleasures, thus leading to vows of poverty or chastity; 2) an encouragement to retreat from humanity and serve as an exemplar through one's own enlightenment; 3) as an endorsement of interacting with society to counteract impure influences; 4) as a call to deal with the disharmony caused by unquiet spirits; or 5) as a call to arms against the blatant defilements of the Shadowlands, as advocated by the Order of Thunder and the Kuni Witch Hunters. 
The Third Vow, Education Edit
Shinsei's teachings are unlimited; I vow to learn them all.
Another version of this vow was "the teachings are infinite; I vow to learn them all", leading to the common interpretation of this vow was as both an encouragement to study and acquire knowledge. An example of this in practice was the view of the Four Temples monks, who sought knowledge in all forms and thus had temples that were not only places of worship but libraries and archives.  Another common interpretation was that of strict readings of the Tao, which almost all sects undertook. Other sects, such as the Questioners, instead theorized that Shinsei intended for the Tao to serve only as the start of wisdom, not the end.
The Fourth Vow, Enlightenment Edit
The path of enlightenment is supreme; I vow to attain it.'
All sects sought enlightenment in their own ways, and although many sects had their own methods, the recent rise of the Five Keepers and the Keeper of the Five Rings had demonstrated that there might be no one set path to enlightenment, or that there may be many.
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