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THE PRECEPTS

Precepts of Moral and Compassionate Action

The sixteen bodhisattva precepts are a set of vows of ethical conduct taken many times in a Zen practitioner’s life. They derive originally from the vinaya, monastic vows taken on ordination during the Buddha’s time (250 precepts for monks, 348 for nuns). Lay people took only the first five vows. The bodhisattva precepts used in the Mahayana tradition emphasize conduct to benefit others, and are taken by both monastic and lay practitioners. The short set of sixteen precepts we use in our tradition were formulated by Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen in Japan. They form the basis of several ceremonies: jukai (receiving the precepts), priest ordination, marriage and funeral. Many Zen centers chant the precepts once a month on the full moon, in a ceremony of reflection, repentance and renewal.

The precepts are inexhaustible mindfulness practices. They are also lifetime koans.

THE SIXTEEN BODHISATTVA PRECEPTS

The Threefold Refuges
I take refuge in Buddha (the principle of enlightenment within).
I take refuge in dharma (the enlightened way of understanding and living).
I take refuge in sangha (the community of beings).

Pure Precepts
I vow to avoid all action that creates suffering
I vow to do all action that creates true happiness.
I vow to act with others always in mind.

Grave Precepts
Not to kill but to nurture life.
Not to steal but to receive what is offered as a gift.
Not to misuse sexuality but to be caring and faithful in intimate relationships.
Not to lie but to be truthful.
Not to intoxicate with substances or doctrines but to promote clarity and awareness.
Not to speak of others’ faults but to speak out of loving-kindness.
Not to praise self at the expense of others but to be modest.
Not to be possessive of anything but to be generous.
Not to harbor anger but to forgive.
Not to do anything to diminish the Triple Treasure but to support and nurture it.

THE 10 GRAVE PRECEPTS with commentary by Bodhidharma & Dogen Zenji

The First Grave Precept: Not Killing
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the everlasting Dharma, not giving rise to concepts of killing is called the Precept of Not Killing."

Dogen Zenji said, "The Buddha-seed grows in accordance with not taking life. Transmit the life of Buddha's wisdom and do not kill."

The Second Grave Precept: Not Stealing
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the unattainable Dharma, not having thoughts of gaining is called the Precept of Not Stealing."

Dogen Zenji said, "The self and the things of the world are just as they are. The gate of emancipation is open."

The Third Grave Precept: Not Misusing Sex
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the ungilded Dharma, not creating a veneer of attachment is called the Precept of Not Misusing Sex."

Dogen Zenji said, "The Three Wheels are pure and clear. When you have nothing to desire, you follow the way of all Buddhas."

The Fourth Grave Precept: Not Lying
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the inexplicable Dharma, not preaching a single word is called the Precept of Not Lying."

Dogen Zenji said, "The Dharma wheel turns from the beginning. There is neither surplus nor lack. The whole universe is moistened with nectar, and the truth is ready to harvest."

The Fifth Grave Precept: Not Giving or Taking Drugs
Bodhidharma said "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the intrinsically pure Dharma, not giving rise to delusions is called the Precept of Not Giving or Taking Drugs."

Dogen Zenji said, "Drugs are not brought in yet. Don't let them invade. That is the great light."

The Sixth Grave Precept: Not Discussing Faults of Others
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the flawless Dharma, not expounding upon error is called the Precept of Not Speaking of Faults of Others."

Dogen Zenji said, "In the Buddha Dharma, there is one path, one Dharma, one realization, one practice. Don't permit fault-finding. Don't permit haphazard talk."

The Seventh Grave Precept: Not Praising Yourself While Abusing Others
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the equitable Dharma, not dwelling upon I against you is called the Precept of Not Praising Yourself While Abusing Others."

Dogen Zenji said, "Buddhas and Ancestral Teachers realize the empty sky and the great earth. When they manifest the noble body, there is neither inside nor outside in emptiness. When they manifest the Dharma body there is not even a bit of earth on the ground."

The Eighth Grave Precept: Not Sparing the Dharma Assets
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the genuine, all-pervading Dharma, not being stingy about a single thing is called the Precept of Not Sparing the Dharma Assets."

Dogen Zenji said, "One phrase, one verse - that is the ten thousand things and one hundred grasses; one dharma, one realization - that is all Buddhas and Ancestral Teachers. Therefore, from the beginning, there has been no stinginess at all."

The Ninth Grave Precept: Not Indulging in Anger
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the selfless Dharma, not contriving reality for the self is called the Precept of Not Indulging in Anger."

Dogen Zenji said, "Not advancing, not retreating, not real, not empty. There is an ocean of bright clouds. There is an ocean of solemn clouds."

The Tenth Grave Precept: Not Defaming the Three Treasures
Bodhidharma said, "Self-nature is subtle and mysterious. In the realm of the One, not holding dualistic concepts of ordinary beings and sages is called the Precept of Not Defaming the Three Treasures."

Dogen Zenji said, "The teisho of the actual body is the harbor and the weir. This is the most important thing in the world. Its virtue finds its home in the ocean of essential nature. It is beyond explanation. We just accept it with respect and gratitude."

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