The Four Vows
1. I vow to save innumerable sentient beings.
Both an external and internal component:
External: This is a compassionate thought, but we can’t really save all beings because we can’t even save ourselves. All we can do is try not to harm and offer any helpful assistance.
Internal: Sentient beings are also thoughts, which we can save. If a person is experiencing anger, the person or situation causing the problem is outside of us, but the anger is within. We can take the anger across, meaning from the shore of ignorance to the shore of wisdom. How this is accomplished depends on the practitioner. A Theravadin would probably express loving-kindness, a Zen practitioner would practice non-attachment, a pure land practitioner would practice the pure land mantra, etc.
2. I vow to cut off endless vexations.
Vexations are thoughts that vex us, that is cause us problems or suffering. The Teravadin sect calls them Defilements. We vow to try and end them by taking them across and not be affected by them.
3. I vow to master limitless approaches to Dharma.
In Buddhism, there are many dharma doors. This usually applies to meditation techniques. We can try many in order to find one we like.
4. I vow to attain Supreme Buddhahood.
This does not have to be in this very existence, but even in some future existence. It is a worthy goal to have.