The Bodhisattva Precepts

Practice is more than sitting

While zazen is central to Zen practice, Zen is something more than that as well.

So in addition to sitting in zazen, we have:

  • Study of and practice of the precepts.
  • Study of the Dharma.
  • A relationship to a teacher, who as a kind of guide and mentor helps us with the maturation of our understanding and our practice

The Bodhisattva Precepts

Early in this course I said that Zen addresses two radical questions: “huh?” and “so?”

Hopefully you’ve had a glimpse of how your sitting like a buddha, revealing your awakened mind, can address the questions of what your life is, who you are and what the meaning of this reality is.

The second question (“so?”) asks: given what you’ve found, what are the implications for living? This leads us to the precepts, the aspects of living life as a Buddha.

You may have heard or read that receiving the precepts are part of the formal training of Zen students and are a part of the process of “taking refuge.” This is true. But the precepts are for all who practice.

The three treasures:

  • Being in the Buddha
  • Being in the dharma
  • Being in the sangha

The three pure precepts:

  • Don't cause suffering
  • Do good
  • Do good for others

The ten grave precepts:

  • Do not kill
  • Do not steal
  • Do not be greedy
  • Do not lie
  • Do not cloud the mind
  • Do not speak of others errors and faults
  • Do not elevate the self and blame others
  • Do not be withholding
  • Do not be angry
  • Do not slander the Three Treasures

Living the 16 Bodhisattva precepts

Reflect on the ways these precepts address acts of body, speech and mind.

Because they are often stated negatively — as “do not”s — people often mistake them for rules to be obeyed or disobeyed. But this is a very limited way of understanding them.

The precepts are are ways of appreciating the wondrous complexity and unity of our lives from 16 different perspectives and living your life accordingly.

Try translating the precepts for yourself, finding language that clarifies for you.

If you hear them as proscriptions, transform them into aspects of your life. For example, “Do not kill” could be lived as “affirm life.”

When we speak of the precepts, then, we’re really talking about different aspects on our life. The precepts are undertakings that we use to raise our mindfulness of what is in accord with the practice of Zen and what tends to take us off that track

And the longer you practice the more these precepts serve as reminders.

Highways and freeways have raised reflectors—called Botts-dots in California— so that if your car strays across the lane marker you hear and feel the bump, bump, bump. They are reminders of what we’re doing.

Zen practice involves a mindful awareness of how these precepts are ways of understanding and living our practice.

It means walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

Working with the precepts we begin to get some sense of what it means to live in accord with our sitting practice. We begin to get a sense of the interrelatedness of all life — the fact that we are not just all in this together but that we are all this together. And we begin to attune ourselves more sensitively and more responsibly to what we can do to appreciate what this life really is and how to make this world a better place  At whatever level we’re operating – whether it's at home and family, or at large in the community, or globally.

The Zen Peacemaker Precepts

The Zen Peacemakers offer a variation on the 16 precepts, not expressing the precepts as"do nots."

The Zen Peacemakers three tenets, the Three Steps to Peace, are:

1. Not-knowing, thereby giving up fixed ideas about ourselves and the universe. Ride the breath into Great Silence. Empty yourself and let go of all your knowing; let go into spaciousness.

2. Bearing witness to the joy and suffering of the world. From not-knowing, see as many positions of a given situation as possible. Listen deeply. Be inclusive and connect with many perspectives, without being limited by attachments and aversions and without fixing your position.

3. Loving actions towards ourselves and others. An impulse to action will arise. We call this action a loving or healing action because it has naturally emerged from not-knowing and bearing witness to the wholeness of a situation. Trust yourself Take action - do it! Offer your action with gratitude and love for the well being of all.

Click here for the 16 Zen Peacemaker precepts: >>>

This course offers only a brief introduction to the precepts. In a future Ashoka course you will have an opportunity to study the precepts more deeply.