Why Keep Ethics?
When I think about vows and precepts, it reminds me of one time when Jhado Rinpoche came to Seattle. 2 other monks came with him: Geshe Tashi (his interpreter), and a younger monk that was his attendent. They were staying in a flat with a familiy of 3. Jhado Rinpoche once remarked, how amazingly kind the family was. They opened up their entire home to them and never locked any of their doors or cabinets. He said that the family trusted them because the monks were living in their vows.
I think what he meant by this, is that people who live in ethics, give others the gift of fearlessness or a feeling of safety.
Refuge vows are the basis for the other sets of vows and precepts. Once one has them, one can then take the bodhisattva vows. Then the refuge vows and bodhisattva vows set the basis for later taking the tantric vows. The purpose of having different levels of vows is to train in stages, instead of trying to chew everything at once. Just living in vows alone is a lifetime practice.
One can study the refuge vows and bodhisattva vows before taking them, so its good to get as much information on them as possible. I would recommend Geshe Sonam Rinchen’s The Bodhisattva Vow. It goes over the preparations for the vow, and a commentary on Chandragomin‘s 20 Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow. It’s an explanation of the 18 root vows and the 46 auxillary precepts. Chandragomin, interestingly, was a well known scholar and lay bodhisattva.
Below are some videos relating to the refuge vows and bodhisattva vows.