Bodhisattva Precepts in Soto Zen Buddhism
Soto Zen Buddhism International Center
receiving the precepts, we become Buddhists
Buddhism is not an ethnic religion, no one is born a Buddhist.
In order to be a Buddhist, we need to make up our minds to
take refuge in the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.
In this way, we receive the Buddhas precepts as guidelines
for our life. Originally in India, monks received 250 Vinaya
precepts and nuns received 348 precepts. Lay people received
5, 8, or 10 precepts. In Mahayana Buddhism in China, monks
and nuns received both the Vinaya precepts and the Bodhisattva
precepts that were probably created in China.
in Japanese Tendai School
beginning of the 9th century, Saicho (767-822), the founder
of the Japanese Tendai School, decided it was necessary to
confer only the Mahayana precepts. Saichos reason for
this was that Japan was a Mahayana country and the Vinaya
was not Mahayana. In the Tendai School, the Mahayana precepts
were called Endon-kai (perfect and immediate precepts) which
consisted of the threefold pure precept, the 10 major precepts
and the 48 minor precepts. These originated in a Sutra called
the Bonmo-kyo (The Brahma Net Sutra). According to modern
scholars, this Sutra was composed in China in the 5th century
CE and not in India.
Zenji received only the Bodhisattva precepts
Zenji (1200-1253), the founder of Japanese Soto School, originally
became a monk in the Japanese Tendai tradition in 1213. Therefore,
he received only the Mahayana precepts. According to his biography,
Dogen had some difficulty receiving permission to practice
in a Chinese monastery. This was because he had not received
the Vinaya precepts which was a requirement to be recognized
as a Buddhist monk in China. However, he did not receive the
Vinaya precepts. To his disciples and lay students, Dogen
Zenji only gave the 16 precepts that were called Busso-shoden-bosatsu-kai
(the Bodhisattva precepts that have been correctly transmitted
by Buddhas and Ancestors). The nature of the Bodhisattva precepts
we receive in Soto Zen tradition is quite different from that
of the Vinaya precepts.
Bodhisattva precepts in the Bonmo-kyo
introduction to the ten major precepts and the 48 minor precepts,
in the Bonmo-kyo it says,
Vajra-brilliant Jeweled Precepts are the original source
of all Buddhas, the original source of all living beings
possess Buddha-nature. All beings with intent, consciousness,
form, and mind be it sentience or thoughts
are included in the precepts of Buddha-nature. This is because
for every occasion there is definitely a cause, and in every
instance, it is absolutely within the permanently-dwelling
Dharma Body. Hence, the ten Pratimoksha Codes arise in the
world. They are precepts of the Dharma. They are received
and upheld in utmost reverence by all beings of the three
periods of time. For the great multitudes, I shall now speak
again on the chapter The Treasury of the Inexhaustible
Precepts. They are the precepts of all living beings;
their source is the purity of Selfnature. (translated by
Dharma Realm Buddhist University, Buddhist Text Translation
Society, Talmage, Ca. 1982, with minor revisions by author).
the introduction of the ten major precepts, the Sutra says,
At that time, when Shakyamuni Buddha sat beneath the
bodhi tree and attained unsurpassable awakening, he first
set forth the Bodhisattva pratimoksha.
is the text of the precepts, and here, it refers to the Bonmo-kyo.
This means that the Bodhisattva precepts were established
as soon as the Buddha attained unsurpassable awakening and
even before he began to teach. Historically, this is not true.
After the Buddhist Sangha was established,, Shakyamuni Buddha
admonished his disciples when they made mistakes and said,
You should not do it again. Such admonitions by
the Buddha were memorized by Upali, one of the Buddhas
ten great disciples. At the meeting lead by Mahakashapa immediately
following the Buddhas death, Upali recited such admonitions.
This was the source of the Vinaya precepts. The Buddha did
not establish any precepts or regulations before people made
mistakes. In the Vinaya text, the stories explaining why the
different precepts were made were recorded. When we read these
stories, we can see that the Buddhist Sangha was a gathering
of actual human beings. People made all sorts of mistakes
even though they aspired to study and practice the Dharma
under the Buddhas guidance.
Master Koshu Itabashi Zenji,
Former Head Priest of Soto Zen Buddhism
idea of the Bodhisattva precepts is different from the Vinaya
precepts. This difference is pointed out in the Bonmo-kyo
where it says that the Bodhisattva precepts were set forth
when the Buddha attained unsurpassable awakening.
Zenji pointed out the same thing at the very beginning of
his Kyoju-kaimon (Comments on Teaching and Conferring
the Precepts), The great precepts of the Buddhas have
been upheld and maintained by the Buddha. Buddhas conferred
them to buddhas, and ancestors transmitted them to ancestors.
Receiving the precepts transcends the borders of past, present
precepts are not a collection of the Buddhas admonitions
to the monks who made mistakes and prohibitions against making
the same mistakes. The precepts are the same as the true Dharma
that has been transmitted by buddhas and ancestors. This is
why they were called the precepts of Dharma in the Bonmo-kyo.
The ten precepts are the ten ethical aspects of the Dharma
to which Buddha awakened. They were then taught to his disciples
and were transmitted by the ancestors, generation after generation.
of the Bodhisattva precepts is the reality of all beings to
which the Buddha awakened. In other words, impermanence, egolessness,
and the interdependent origination of all things. When we
awaken to the reality that we ourselves and all other things
are impermanent and ego-less, we see that we cannot cling
to anything. We are then released from attachment to ourselves,
our possessions, and all other objects. When we awaken to
the fact that each thing is interconnected to every other
thing, like all the knots in Brahmas net, we see that
we are supported by everything and live together with everything.
We can exist only within relationship with others. That reality
is the source of the precepts. When we see the interconnectedness
of all beings, we can only try to be helpful to them and avoiding
being harmful to them.
At a precepts
ceremony in the Soto Zen tradition, first we make repentance
by reciting the following verse, All the twisted karma
ever created by me, since of old, / through beginningless
greed, anger and ignorance, / born of my body, speech and
thought. / I now make complete repentance of it all.
is another repentance verse taken from Samanthabhadra-sutra
that says, The ocean of all karmic hindrances arises
solely from delusive thoughts. / If you wish to make repentance,
sit in an upright posture and be mindful of the true nature
of reality. / All faults and evil deeds are like frost and
dew. / The sun of wisdom enables them to melt away.
clearly shows that our precepts are based on awakening to
reality and wisdom of such reality.
take refuge in the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The Buddha is the one who awakened to reality. The Dharma
is reality itself, the way things truly are. The Sangha are
the people who aspire to study and living according to the
teaching of the reality of all beings.
we receive the threefold pure precepts: (1) the precept of
embracing moral codes, (2) the precept of embracing good deeds,
(3) the precept of embracing all living beings. These three
points are the direction we walk on the Bodhisattva path.
Ten Major Precepts
major precepts are: (1) do not kill, (2) do not steal, (3)
do not engage in improper sexual conduct, (4) do not lie,
(5) do not deal in intoxicants, (6) do not criticize others,
(7) do not praise self and slander others, (8)do not be stingy
with the dharma or property ,(9) do not give way to anger,
(10) do not disparage the Three Treasures.
first precept, Dogen Zenji comments in Kyojukaimon,By
not killing life, the seeds of the Buddha are nurtured, and
one is enabled to succeed the Buddhas life of wisdom.
Do not kill life.
to nurture the seeds to actualize Buddha, we should strive
not to kill. In the same way, the other nine major precepts
all show the virtue of the true reality of all beings.
and the precepts are one
precepts we receive in the Soto Zen tradition are also called,
Zen-kai (Zen precepts). This means that our zazen and
the precepts are one. In our zazen practice, we put our entire
being on the ground of true reality of all beings instead
of the picture of the world that is a creation of our minds.
By striving to keep the precepts in our daily lives, we strive
to live being guided by our zazen.