TAKING THE PRECEPTS
Zen is a particular expression of the Dharma of the Buddha. As such, it shares with all schools of Buddhism a commitment to the Path the Buddha taught as the sure path to liberation. While Zen puts great store in the practice of concerted meditation, it cannot dispense with the other elements of the Path—moral uprightness and an aspiration to wisdom—without utterly losing its bearings.
In union with all of the sons and daughters of the Buddha, we therefore take the precepts. They function as a guide because they straightforwardly describe the comportment of the awakened and awakening ones. We check our body, speech, and mind against them in order to see where we still need to apply greater effort and resolve—and cultivate greater insight and wisdom—in our practice.
In our tradition we take the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts:
The Threefold Refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha
The Three Resolutions to do good, to avoid evil, and to liberate sentient beings
The Ten Cardinal Precepts:
I resolve not to kill, but to cherish all life
I resolve not to take what is not given, but to respect the things of others
I resolve not to misuse sexuality, but to be caring and responsible
I resolve not to lie, but to speak the truth
I resolve not to cause others to abuse alcohol or drugs, nor to do so myself,
but to keep the mind clear
I resolve not to speak of the faults of others, but to be understanding and
I resolve not to praise myself and disparage others, but to overcome my
I resolve not to withhold spiritual or material aid, but to give them freely
I resolve not to indulge in anger, but to practice forbearance
I resolve not to revile the Three Treasures, but to cherish and uphold them
They are taken/renewed once a year in a ceremony called Jukai, generally held in conjunction with Temple Night on the Friday before Thanksgiving. In keeping with the long tradition of the Dharma, anyone who presents themselves that evening may take them (there is no preliminary catechesis involved). Anyone with questions about them is certainly free to bring them up in the context of dokusan, and occasionally they are the subject of teisho.
The importance of the precepts for Zen practice is highlighted by the fact that they are taken again in conjunction with ordination and with sanctioning as a teacher. Indeed, they are often incorporated into wedding ceremonies held at the Center. The incomprehensible profundity of the precepts is highlighted by the fact that towards the end of one's koan training they are taken up as koans in their own right.