Chapter 2 - On Keeping The Precepts

1. The purpose of (receiving) the precepts is to remind us to be alert of our own thoughts and conduct. When we repent over any and every transgression, we are keeping the precepts.

2. When I say keeping the precepts, I do not mean that we should cling to the "form" of precepts, i.e. adhere to the precepts word for word. If you take such a literal approach, not only will you put yourself in a straitjacket, but you will also be at odds with the rest of the world. You will become judgmental and are prone to find fault with others thereby increase your own vexations. Therefore, the key is to observe the quintessence of the precepts, i.e., purify your deeds, words, and thoughts through keeping them. Basically, you should "be kind and compassionate to all beings while providing them with expedient guidance for practice." Whatever you do, observing this principle will safeguard you against possible breach of the precepts.

3. To a large extent, receiving the precepts means practicing forbearance. If you can be free of agitation, vexation, and violent reaction while listening to an insult or accusation against you, you are keeping the precepts.

4. The purpose of receiving the precepts is to safeguard our own minds, not to be critical to others. After we receive the precepts, their formless embodiment dwelling in our eight field of cognition will come forth to prevent us from breaching them. Therefore, we should use the precepts as our mentor and solemnly keep them so that our minds can be in accord with prajna (wisdom).

5. The purpose of receiving the precepts is to guard our own behavior, rather than using the criteria to find fault with others. Otherwise, we will be creating negative karma through our words, which is a breach of the precepts in itself.

6. Receiving the precepts is the beginning of our practice. We should use the precepts as our mentor and practice accordingly.

7. If your sense organs are impure, your false or misleading thoughts continue, and your ignorance remains, then you cannot be enlightened. When the Master hits you with the incense board in the meditation hall, he is hitting your ignorance and delusion. Therefore, you should restrain your sense organs and purify your deeds, words, and thoughts. Keep the precepts to the extent that the six sense objects can no longer contaminate your sense organs. This is the first step and the foundation of the practice of Zen.

8. There ought to be a difference after receiving the precepts. Afterwards, you should be more keen to ascetic practice, more eager to get rid of bad habits and evil thoughts, and should learn a great deal from the precepts.

9. Be patient and tolerant while receiving the precepts, then you are entering into the path of practice. Daily life ought to be simple - do not make a fuss. Do not complain about trivial things such as the bed is not cozy, or the food taste awful, etc. The purpose of holding a session to receive the precepts is to learn proper conduct and manners, not to build up connections, or to gossip about others thus create more karma of words.

10. What do we mean by keeping the precepts? It means watching closely the incipience of each and every one of our thoughts and ideas. All precepts are designed to tame our minds and to eradicate our vexations. The precepts represent the Buddha's conduct and samadhi, the state of the Buddha's mind. If a practitioner faithfully keeps the precepts without going astray in all deeds, words, and thoughts, his mind will be completely purified. He can then attain right samadhi and his immanent buddha-wisdom will unfold. Therefore, "the precepts are the foundation of bodhi (enlightenment)." Only by keeping the precepts can we attain samadhi, wisdom will naturally follow. Hence, "sila (precepts), samadhi (perfect absorption), and prajna (wisdom)" are inseparable. Only with the restraint of the precepts can we avoid transgressions that would confine us in samsara. Therefore, our mind-set is most crucial in keeping the precepts.

11. Among the five basic precepts, the most commonly violated ones are killing and lying. And we should pay special attention to the precept against lying, either as a slander, false boasting, or deception. What we say can help as well as destroy others. Kind words please people, vicious ones hurt; but most words exchanged are gossip that can only create karma of words. Quarrelling or debating with others will also make our minds scattered and restless. That is why "bodhisattvas are fearful of causes, sentient beings, retributions." We practitioners should also pay particular attention to comprehend this emphasis on "causes". Bodhisattvas can perceive the cause and effect of each and every move hence will never take any action that can lead to harsh retribution. But most people regret only after they have tasted the bitter fruits of their misconduct. That is why it is always too late when they sigh: "Had I known the consequences, I would never have done such and such things!" Therefore, the basic principal Sakyamuni Buddha expounded for our guidance in the precepts and sutras is the law of causality. Only by closely observe this principal will the results of our deeds be satisfactory.

12. Laymen often indulge themselves in the pursuit of fame and wealth thereby remaining in the cycle of rebirths. Monastic practitioners, on the other hand, diligently keep the precepts, meditate, and develop their wisdom in the hope of escaping the cycle of birth and death.

13. You should practice harder after receiving the precepts. Solemnly keep the precepts and endure all hardships so as to attain samadhi, and prajna. When you reach this stage, your words can naturally deliver other people, even the ghosts and spirits that come to hear you can be freed of their miseries. This is what we called "delivering others while working on your own liberation". At that stage, guardians of the Dharma will also come to assist you.

14. We monastic practitioners should use the precepts as our mentor and practice diligently to the extent that, when meeting us, people will feel the bliss of meeting a buddha and will naturally respect and admire us.