Bodhisattva Precepts

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Introduction

There is a saying in Mahayana Buddhism: "Those who have precepts to break are bodhisattvas; those who have no precepts to break are outer-path followers." Many Buddhists know that receiving the bodhisattva precepts generates great merit, yet they believe this without a real understanding of the profound meaning of the precepts, or of what keeping these precepts entails.

They receive the precepts as a matter of course, knowing only that receiving them is a good thing to do. To try to remedy this situation, we are conducting the transmission of the bodhisattva precepts over the course of three days so that prior to the formal transmission ceremony, I can explain to all participants the meaning and significance of these precepts within the Mahayana tradition. Each participant, after understanding what keeping these precepts involves, is free to decide for himself or herself whether or not to take them. In this situation, many participants in the past did decide to take the precepts and were able to happily commit themselves to the bodhisattva path. Transmitting the precepts in this way─allowing aspirants to take them in good conscience and with proper understanding─can help aspirants plant the seeds of Buddhahood with no feelings of compulsion or guilt in their minds.

The virtue in vowing to observe the precepts is that it enables us to practice diligently to purify ourselves. These codes of behavior may also help us interact with others in a more peaceful and harmonious manner. If we can purify the actions of our body, speech, and mind through practicing the three sets of pure precepts, the five precepts and the ten good deeds, then, with the wisdom such practice give us, we can banish craving, covetousness, anger and all other afflictive emotions. With a bodhisattva's mind of compassion, we can accept and cherish all sentient beings, and by purifying our own conduct, we can help to transform society at large. Even in the midst of suffering, each individual sentient being can attain the altruistic bodhi-mind and also help others arouse this awakened mind of wisdom.

The combination of vows and precepts that we are transmitting here─including the four great vows, the three sets of pure precepts, the five precepts and the ten good deed─is quite accessible to everyone. There is ample flexibility in practicing the three sets of pure precepts: so long as their fundamental principle is adhered to, these precepts can be adapted to the different situations that a practitioner of the bodhisattva path may encounter. Such flexibility makes these precepts relatively easy to practice for a wide variety of people. As these precepts also function as guidelines for wholesome behavior for Buddhists, the commitment to practice them is a valuable undertaking for all practitioners.

I dare not change the content of the bodhisattva precepts, nor do I have the virtue necessary to invent new ones. I have simply referred to the various systems of bodhisattva precepts in both the Chinese and Tibetan traditions and adapted them to fit the needs of modern practitioners. In doing so, my hope is to promote the actualization of the spirit of the bodhisattva precepts, and I encourage all practitioners to receive and practice them.


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