(by Van Hien Study Group,
based on commentaries of Elder Masters.)
2. Wish-fulfilling gem: "A jewel said to possess the power of producing whatever one desires. It symbolizes the greatness and virtue of the Buddha and the Buddhist scriptures." (A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, p. 504-505)
Upasaka/Upasika: Laymen/Laywomen who have taken at least one of the five lay precepts; in the context of this sutra, members of the laity who have taken the Bodhisattva precepts.
Three fish were stranded in shallow water. One returned to the sea by leaping over an obstacle in its path (a small boat). Another returned to the sea by swimming around the boat. The third fish just frolicked in the water, oblivious to its situation. In the end, when the water dried up, it suffocated to death.
6. If a monk or nun who has taken the Bodhisattva precepts and kept them since the last service cannot attend the semi-monthly Uposatha, he should request a colleague to represent him and state that he is in agreement with the proceedings. Acceptable reasons for absence include Dharma work and illness.
8. Uposatha: Semi-monthly service for recitation of precepts, either the Bhiksu/Bhiksuni or Bodhisattva precepts. According to the Vinaya, the recitation should be preceded by a public confession of transgressions. In practice, this part of the service is often omitted.
9. The Brahma Net Sutra was translated from a Sanskrit text. A Tibetan translation is also extant, confirming the Indian origin of the Sutra. Master Kumarajiva's translation bureau was reportedly composed of some three thousand monks.
The Brahma Net Sutra is "a two-fascicle sutra translated into Chinese in A.D. 406 by Kumarajiva of the Later Chin dynasty. According to the preface written by his disciple Seng-chao, this text corresponds to the tenth chapter of a much longer Sanskrit original consisting of 120 fascicles comprising sixty-one chapters. The first fascicle ... expounds forty stages of Bodhisattva practice ... The second sets forth ten major and forty-eight minor precepts. This sutra was highly valued in China, [Korea, Vietnam] and Japan as a work detailing precepts for Bodhisattvas, and many commentaries were written on it" (A Dictionary of Buddhist Terms and Concepts, p. 30).
Please note that the Mahayana Brahma Net Sutra, (and the Bodhisattva precepts contained therein), is a different text from the sutra of the same name found in the Digha Nikaya of the Pali (Theravada) canon. These Bodhisattva precepts are traditionally taken by Mahayana monks and nuns a few days (or sometimes immediately) after they take their precepts of ordination as a Bhiksu or Bhiksuni. The Bodhisattva precepts are also given on these occasions to advanced laymen and laywomen. Although the Brahma Net Sutra can be high in tone and demanding of practitioners, readers should not be scared away or discouraged. They should not, however, expect to grasp the full significance of the injunctions without developing the Bodhi Mind and engaging in serious practice.
The Sravaka (monks' and nuns') precepts were established by the
Buddha to correct problems as they occurred. For example, during the
alms rounds, young monks would receive less food than older ones and so
would sometimes go hungry. Therefore, the Buddha established the rule
that donations should be pooled and shared equally among all monks. The
Bodhisattva precepts, on the other hand, are based on eternal truths
inherent in the Self-Nature (e.g., the precepts on generosity). Thus,
while the Sravaka precepts are practical rules, the Bodhisattva precepts
are independent of time and space, but part and parcel of the
Self-Nature -- the Mind.
10. In Mahayana texts, the word "Sakyamuni" can be taken to mean a) a greatly compassionate being and b) an ascetic who has calmed his mind. In the cosmos, there is an infinite number of such sages -- an infinite number of Sakyamuni Buddhas.
Each time a Buddha is about to teach the Mahayana Sutras, he first
emits lights from various parts of his body as an auspicious sign. This
is to help members of the assembly to develop faith and deep respect,
thus becoming more receptive to the teachings and receiving extra
benefits. Emitting light is thus an act of compassion of the
11. Seven years of cultivation: this
refers to the six years the future Sakyamuni Buddha practiced alone
(after discovering that the ascetic teachings he received earlier were
not leading to
Supreme Enlightenment), as well as the forty-nine days he meditated under the Bodhi tree.
12. Jewelled Net (of Indra): one of the most beautiful and profound metaphors in the Mahayana tradition. It is associated with the Avatamsaka Sutra, with its conception of unity and universal interdependence:
Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra (Brahma), there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
The Hua-Yen [Avatamsaka] school has been fond of this image, mentioned many times in its literature, because it symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mutual intercausality (Francis Cook, Hua-Yen Buddhism,p.2).
15. Important point: if we truly
believe that sentient beings are the Buddhas of the future, we would
never think of killing them, or harming them in any way. Rather, we
would have feelings of compassion toward all sentient beings, without
exception. This sense of compassion is the very essence of the Bodhisattva precepts. Therefore, the Brahma Net Sutra states: "If you should have such faith/ Then this precept code is fulfilled."
Moreover, "parents" in the Mahayana context does not mean one's parents in this lifetime only but also throughout the eons of time. Through the eons of rebirth, all men and women must have been our fathers or mothers at one time or another. Thus, the word "parents" represents all sentient beings. (See, for example, the Filial Piety Sutra.)
In other words, to be filial toward one's parents means to have compassion for all sentient beings. Thus, if a person is truly filial to his parents, he is in effect observing all the Bodhisattva precepts.
This is because all these precepts have but one goal -- to nurture
compassion for all sentient beings by showing them the way to
17. Ultimate Path: The
Path or Way to Buddhahood, not Arhatship (goal of the Two Vehicles or
Theravada) or the paths of gods and humans. For example, if one were to
donate ten thousand dollars to a temple, hoping to receive wealth in a
future lifetime or to obtain happiness, one would not be following the
Ultimate Path. On the other hand, transferring the merits one has
accrued to all sentient beings so that they, as well as ourselves,may
achieve Buddhahood is the Ultimate Path.
18. Restraint and Cessation:
The basic or Sravaka precepts taught by the Buddhas (i.e., the five lay
precepts, the ten precepts of novice monks, or the 250 for Bhiksus) all
have an essentially negative tone. They are meant to prevent the
practitioner from committing offenses. The Bodhisattva precepts, on the
other hand, shift the emphasis toward the altruistic aspect: we should
consider all sentient beings as part of our family; we should be filial
to them, have compassion for them. Thus the Bodhisattva's precepts,
unlike other precepts, have two components: self-benefit and benefit to
others, with the emphasis on benefit to others.
20. In other words, the Bodhisattva
precepts are above differentiations, above idle speculation -- above
human reasoning. Trying to understand the Bodhisattva precepts in their totality with
our limited mind is no different from viewing the heavens through a
child's telescope! It is for this reason that the editors have relied on
the commentaries of knowledgeable Dharma Masters in preparing these
21. The Sravaka precepts (lay and Bhiksu/Bhiksuni precepts) are conferred only on able-bodied persons in full possession of their mental and physical capacities. This is because monks and nuns are the temporal representation of the Buddha on earth. Joining the Order is like being selected as officers in the army, the army of liberation.
In contrast, Bodhisattvas take the ideal of benefitting sentient beings as their only goal. Therefore, with a few specific exceptions, everyone can receive the precepts and everyone can study and put them into practice.Please note in this connection that for a Bodhisattva precept to be broken and either a Parajika (major) or secondary offense created, several factors must come into play: a) foundation, b) intention, c) action, d) result.
For example, in the case of the precept against killing: a) the object has to be a sentient being and the perpetrator aware of this fact; b) the aim must be to kill; c) an act of violence must be perpetrated; d) the victim must actually die. However, even if only one factor, intention (motivation) is involved, the Bodhisattva still incurs some negative karma for having violated part of the precept. (The importance of the mind is reflected in modern jurisprudence through the distinction between manslaughter, attempted murder, murder in the first and second degrees.)
Knowledge as to when and how a
precept is violated would remove some of the fear and reluctance that
laypersons sometimes have with regard to taking the precepts.
22. Before they receive the Bodhisattva precepts, sentient beings differ greatly in wisdom, status, wealth, and so forth. However, once they receive the precepts, they have joined the ranks of the Awakened, those "foremost in purity":
When sentient beings receive the Bodhisattva precepts ...
At that time, they become "supreme vehicles of the Dharma", and are foremost in purity.
23. Transformation beings:
refers to certain types of sentient beings, such as gods or dragons,
who can take the appearance of human beings for the purpose of, for
example, attending sermons or receiving the precepts (as such
opportunities are not necessarily available at all times in their
respective realms). See also note 109.
Even when they are away from their temples, the monks strictly abstain from non-vegetarian food. In any case the temptation does not arise for them: after following a vegetarian diet for a year or two, they develop an invincible disgust for meat and fish. On several occasions, when the author of these lines has had the opportunity to take his meals [in one of the huts reserved for lay guests adjacent to the monastery where he was staying], he was visited by monks curious to see how and what he ate. However, as soon as they smelled the odor of his pork roast or his leg of lamb, they would dash out of the hut -- sick and ready to throw up (Le Code du Mahayana en Chine, p. 103).
Killing by expedient means: refers to the means employed to
facilitate the killing of a sentient being, such as pointing out the
whereabouts of a chicken to others, cornering it, binding its feet,
forcing its head onto the butcher block, etc.
Killing sentient beings, including slaughtering animals for food, is among the heaviest transgressions in Buddhism. This is not only because such acts create untold suffering but also because they cut short the lives of future Buddhas (as all sentient beings have a common Buddha Nature).The injunction against all forms of killing (including suicide), covering all sentient beings, is unique to Buddhism. Jainism, for example, approves of the penance of death by self-starvation, while Hindu ceremonies such as the Srauta rites
"center on offering into the altar fires oblations of milk, butter, honey ... domestic animals ..." (K. Crim,Dictionary of Religions, p. 369 and 790.)
Note: There are important exceptions to this rule. A well-known recent example is the self-immolation (suicide) of Master Thich Quang Duc in the early sixties to protest the persecution of Buddhists in Vietnam. The Master, a recognized and respected figure, killed himself not to escape personal suffering, but rather to call attention to the plight of the population at large, bring a halt to the persecutions and, in the good Mahayana tradition, save the perpetrators themselves from major transgressions.
The first Sravaka precept (the precepts of Bhiksus/ Bhiksunis) is not
to indulge in sexual relations, while the first Bodhisattva precept is
not to kill. This is because the Sravakas' main goal is to become Arhats
and escape Birth and Death. Bodhisattvas, on the other hand, take compassion as
their main calling, and killing is the very antithesis of compassion.
Another explanation is that the Sravaka precepts are specific to an
audience and time. Thus, in the time of the Buddha, when a
Bhiksu/Bhiksuni committed a certain offense, the Buddha, in response,
instituted a certain precept or regulation. This is how the first
Bhiksu/Bhiksuni precept against sexual relations came into being.
Bodhisattva precepts, on the other hand, are universal in scope, beyond
time, space and audience. They were promulgated independently of
specific offenses, to help the practitioner return to his Self-Nature
and achieve Buddhahood -- they are the precepts of the Mind.
26. The life of a sentient being can
be divided into two aspects: the internal, related to the physical body,
and the external, having to do with food, possessions, and the like.
The physical body is sustained by food and other essentials. If these
essentials are stolen, life becomes very difficult. In extreme cases,
stealing them is tantamount to taking a person's very life. Therefore,
the precept 'not to steal' is second in importance only to the precept
'not to kill.' Please note, too, that in the "Four Means of Salvation,"
charity is first and foremost. These are the four means by which
Bodhisattvas interact with society in order to carry out their work.
Charity, the giving of one's possessions to benefit others, is the
antithesis of stealing. (Master Yen-p'ei)
Stealing by expedient means: refers to such acts as hiding other people's possessions, etc. and then adopting an air of innocence, feigning ignorance as to what occurred.
27. According to the commentaries,
improper sexual behavior includes such actions as engaging in sex at
inappropriate times (in the daytime, on fasting or auspicious days) or
in inappropriate places (outside a couple's bedroom, for example).
28. Sexual relations with any sentient
being are strictly forbidden to monks and nuns. The purpose is to sever
attachments and cut off the very cause of Birth and Death (see Charles
Luk, tr., Surangama Sutra, p. 152 ff). See note 77 and the following:
This precept is placed third, indicating that it is not as heavy as the precepts against killing and stealing. But if you seek to get out of the Triple Realm by cultivating the Way, then sexual conduct is a factor that obstructs you even more than killing or stealing. Sexual conduct is... called "conduct which is not Brahma-like," because Brahma means pure. It's not pristine, not pure. It's also called "impure conduct " because it is the very root of Birth and Death. It's the source of revolving on the wheel of rebirth. In the Surangama Sutra it says: "All living beings are sustained in their lives because of sexual desire." If they cut off sexual desire, they can transcend revolving in samsara; they can leap out of Birth and Death (Master Hsuan Hua).
29. Examples of physical means include
nodding, shaking one's head, etc. An instance of lying through mental
means is when someone who has committed a misdeed remains silent when
asked. The most serious example of false speech in Buddhism,
constituting a major offense is to claim to have achieved a level of
attainment (Arhatship, for example) when one has not in fact attained
it. The purpose of such a claim is, of course, to receive respect and
offerings. Other lies are considered secondary in
30. Selling alcoholic beverages is
considered a major offense while consuming alcoholic beverages is only a
secondary one. (secondary precept No. 2). This is because Bodhisattvas
place compassion first and foremost and aim at benefitting others -- to
sell liquor is to harm others, to consume liquor is to harm only
oneself. Why should we not consume alcoholic beverages? Buddhism
prohibits alcoholic beverages not to deny enjoyment of life, but because
alcohol clouds the mind and prevents one's innate wisdom from emerging.
Thus, to sell liquor goes against the Bodhisattva's compassionate goal
-- to help sentient beings develop wisdom and achieve Buddhahood.
31. The Bodhisattva's aim is to benefit sentient beings. Therefore, when someone commits an offense, the Bodhisattva does not advertise it but patiently finds ways to counsel him. Furthermore, a Bodhisattva should mention the good points of others so as to encourage them on the right path and help them develop their potential.
Illustration: the Lotus Sutra relates the
story of a Bodhisattva named "Never Despise." Whenever he encountered a
layman or cleric, he would approach him, bow down to him, and say
aloud, "I dare not look down on you because you will become a Buddha in
the future." This declaration angered some persons, who would insult and
beat him. In response, Never Despise would simply run far away and
repeat, "I dare not look down on you because you will become a Buddha."
Why did the Bodhisattva Never Despise act that way? It was because he
cultivated the practice of seeing everything with eyes of equality, of
respecting all sentient beings equally, as they all have the Buddha
Nature and are all future Buddhas. Another explanation could be that
many cultivators cannot conceive of themselves as future Buddhas. The
Bodhisattva Never Despise was raising their sights, urging them to
strive for the full Enlightenment of Buddhahood.
32. "One can say that the habit of praising oneself and looking down on others is common to most people. That is why wherever we go, if we do not hear a person praise himself, we can hear him speak ill of others. Seldom do we hear anyone speak about his own shortcomings while praising the good points of others. That is why, since ancient times, it has never been easy to create an atmosphere of non-contention and happiness between individuals on this earth. If people got into the habit of "returning the light and looking within", aware every minute, every hour that they still have many shortcomings, while others have many good qualities, there would never be self-congratulation or criticism of others. This is particularly true in the case of Bodhisattvas, who should always admit their own mistakes and never entertain the thought of hiding them. If they were to hide their mistakes, those mistakes would not only not disappear, they would, on the contrary increase in intensity until in time they would control everything. By then, to extinguish them would be impossible. Moreover, not only should Bodhisattvas not hide their shortcomings, they should not boast of their achievements either. To do so would lessen the value of these achievements until in time they would disappear entirely. Then, even if they wanted to boast, they could no longer do so." (Master Yen-p'ei)
"To praise oneself and speak ill of others necessarily makes other
people suffer. Not only that, such action tends to raise the ego -- the
very opposite of the goal of cultivation. Furthermore, in the Avatamsaka Sutra (chapter
49), sentient beings are compared to the roots of a tree growing in the
rocks and sand of the barren wilderness, while the Bodhisattvas and
Buddhas are the flowers and fruits. Therefore, Bodhisattvas need
sentient beings. How can they go about criticizing them, unless it is
for the purpose of helping them correct their mistakes?" (Rev. Minh
34. This ninth precept includes two parts: (1) being angry and (2) harboring grudges. This precept, like others, takes compassion as its cornerstone. Once anger arises, all compassion is lost. The Bodhisattva should not harbor grudges toward anyone and should gladly forgive the mistakes of others.
Moreover, once we are reborn in this impure world, we are bound to
meet with events that go against our wishes. When these events occur --
as they are bound to -- we should keep calm and try to transcend them.
What is the use of getting angry or getting even? Supposing we were lost
in the depths of the forest, filled with poisonous plants, deadly
insects and ferocious beasts. We should expect to be pricked by thorns
and bitten by insects. The best course of action is to find a way out of
the forest. To lose one's temper, cursing the thorns and insects, is
irrational, to say the least. (After Master Yen-p'ei)
35. "Few people would dare slander the Buddha. However slandering the Dharma or Sangha is another story. An example of slander of the Dharma is to criticize the Two-Vehicle Teaching as inadequate for all sentient beings. Slandering the Sangha is very common nowadays. If a cleric breaks the precepts, he will receive bad karma, but this does not preclude him from being a good teacher. It is like being lost with a group of people in a deep, dark ravine and among them is a leper who happens to have a torch. A wise person would suppress his revulsion and follow the leper to safety. Please note in this regard the teachings on the Four Reliances, the most important of which is reliance on the Dharma, not on any particular teacher. Moreover, the Buddhist disciple should have a calm mind, free of discrimination in all circumstances. To speak ill of others is to harbor a mind of discrimination, not yet realizing that good and bad, correct and incorrect are in essence non-existent and dream-like." (Rev. Minh Duc)
Note: Major Precept #8 stems from greed, #9 from anger and #10 from delusion.
36. Someone who falls into the Three
Evil Realms (hell, hungry ghosts, animality) can expiate his offenses
and achieve rebirth in the human realm only after countless years. Only
then will that person be likely to understand family obligations or
learn the teachings of the Buddha. According to Buddhist teachings,
cultivation is easier in the human realm, which contains both hardship
and happiness, than in a realm with too much hardship (Three Evil
Realms) or too much happiness (Celestial Realms).
37. All the Bodhisattva precepts are
based on compassion, on avoiding harm and being of benefit to others. To
break them intentionally is to have no compassion toward sentient
beings and to lose the seed of Enlightenment. One is then cast out of
the Sea of the Dharma and is no longer a Bodhisattva. Note that the most
important thing in cultivation is to develop and nurture the seed of
Enlightenment (the Bodhi Mind), because without that seed, one cannot
become a Buddha.
39. A Buddhist disciple who is to
become an emperor or a high official should first receive the
Bodhisattva precepts because the mistakes made by a person in high
position have wide and far-reaching implications. It is, then, an act of
compassion to urge leaders to study and observe the Bodhisattva
precepts so that they can work for the benefit of the many instead of
40. Why should one rise to greet and
make offerings to Elder Masters? It is because they are the causes and
conditions which help the cultivator attain Enlightenment. To fail to
respect and draw near them is to lose the benefits of their
teachings. In accord with the Dharma: with body, speech and mind (rising to greet them, saying welcoming words, in all sincerity).
41. No hands for 500 lives: the disciple will be reborn as a worm, reptile, etc. This retribution appears unusually harsh at first sight; however, in Buddhism, the worst karma is to lack wisdom, the consequence of intoxication. Without wisdom, we can never escape Birth and Death and are bound to revolve in samsara not only for 500 lives but even for untold eons!
A story is told of Mahakasyapa (the senior disciple of the Buddha)
visiting the Jeta Grove accompanied by Anathapindika (a famous
benefactor of the Order), and suddenly catching sight of a black ant
scrambling across his path. Drawing Anathapindika's attention to the
insect, he recalled that in untold eons past, during the
times of the six previous Buddhas, he had come across that ant. Now,
under Sakyamuni, the seventh Buddha, he himself had become an Arhat, but
the poor ant, after eons of rebirth, was still just an ant, condemned
to scavenge for scraps of food, condemned to the sufferings of an
insect's life -- as devoid as ever of wisdom!Please note that selling
alcoholic beverages is a major or root offense as opposed to consuming
intoxicants which is only a minor offense. To drink alcohol hurts only
oneself, but to sell alcoholic beverages hurts others and goes against
the Mind of Compassion that a Bodhisattva should nurture at all
42.Exception: "When the
Buddha was in the world, King Prasenajit's Queen had received the eight
precepts of a layperson. One time, King Prasenajit wanted to kill his
cook. When his Queen heard about this she wanted to save the cook, so
she bedecked herself in fine adornments, put on fragrant powders, placed
flowers in her hair, and prepared delicious food and wine. Then she
took along several ladies-in-waiting and went to see the King. King
Prasenajit was extremely pleased with the wine and the food, and
afterwards the Queen beseeched the King to forgo his idea of killing the
cook. The King consented, and so in this way the cook was saved. The
next day, the Queen went to the Buddha's place and repented. She had
already taken the eight lay precepts, and one of them is that one can't
put fragrant oils or perfumes on one's body or flowers in one's hair.
She had also drunk wine the previous day...But since
the only reason she did all that was because she wanted to save the
cook's life, the Buddha said, "Not only have you not transgressed the
precepts, you actually have gained merit and virtue" (Master Hsuan
43. Eating meat not only goes against
the spirit of Great Compassion, it also has far-reaching health
implications as illustrated by the recent refusal of the European
Community to buy American beef from cattle fattened with hormones. See
also the following passage from the Lankavatara Sutra, the only text recommended by Bodhidharma:
In the present sutra, all meat-eating, in any form, in any manner, and in any place, is unconditionally and once for all, prohibited for all. Thus, Mahamati, meat eating I have not permitted to anyone, I do not permit, I will not permit. Meat eating, I tell you, Mahamati, is not proper for homeless monks (D.T. Suzuki, Lankavatara Sutra, p. 219).
44. Pungent herbs: "They are: leek, onion, garlic, and a few other such herbs such as asafoetida, an ingredient common in curries etc. Eaten raw they are believed to incite people to anger and disputes; eaten cooked they increase one's sexual desire." Buddhist adepts are advised to avoid them, as their consumption tends to disturb the peacefulness of the mind. "According to the [Surangama Sutra], garlic, three kinds of onions, and leeks are the five forbidden pungent roots. 'If eaten raw, they are said to cause irritability of temper, and if eaten cooked, to act as an aphrodisiac; moreover, the breath of the eater, if reading the sutras, will drive away the good spirits.'"
Note: Much of the publicized health benefits of garlic
and other pungent roots may be industry-inspired and/or commercial
puffery. Buddhist practitioners, particularly those who recite mantras,
are usually advised to avoid them altogether.
Offenses arise from the mind;
Repentance is done by the mind.
When the mind forgets them,
The offenses exist no more.
The mind forgetting and the
Both then are empty.
This is true repentance and reform.
(Master Hsuan Hua, tr.)
49. Note the example of the youth Sudhana in the Avatamsaka Sutra, who traveled "south" to some one hundred and ten cities in search of the truth. If it were not for his determination to go wherever required to find the Dharma, how could he finally be admitted to Maitreya's Tower and achieve Enlightenment in one lifetime? An exception to this rule is when one is already fully conversant with a particular sutra or commentary, or when the sutra or commentary is being taught in a language one does not understand.
The sutras teach that when attending a Dharma lecture, a practitioner
should concentrate on listening and learning the Dharma. He should
avoid personal reactions to the teacher, such as, the teacher i) has/has
not violated the precepts; ii) comes from a poor/wealthy background;
iii) has a pleasant/unpleasant physical appearance; iv) has good diction
/ a speech impediment; v) has a melodious/harsh voice.
50. When preaching the Dharma, a
Bodhisattva disciple should always emphasize the development of the
Bodhi Mind. Thus, when teaching the practice of Buddha Recitation, for
example, he should urge his listeners not only to recite the Buddha's
name but also to teach others to do likewise -- all the while seeking
rebirth in the Pure Land as a stepping stone to Buddhahood. An exception
to the rule of not turning away from the Mahayana is when the capacity
of the audience is limited and, for reasons of expediency, can only be
taught the Two-Vehicle Path as a stopgap measure.
51. This precept -- looking after the sick -- exists only in the Bodhisattva precepts. Reason:
The Bhiksu/Bhiksuni and lay moral codes are based on self-cultivation
and purification, while the Bodhisattva moral code rests on compassion
-- compassion for the sick and helpless. Why are the sick foremost among
the Eight Fields of Blessings? It is because the other Fields of
Blessings, including the Buddhas and sages, derive from our sense
of gratitude. We are grateful to Sakyamuni Buddha for leaving his throne and luxurious life to find the Path to Enlightenment and teach it to us. The sick, on the other hand, constitute a Field of Blessing based on compassion. Since the highest moral attribute in Buddhism is compassion, the sick represent the foremost Field of Blessings.
During the Han dynasty, an official named Yuan-Nang murdered an official named Ch'ao Ts'o. Afterwards, day and night, he saw the ghost of Ch'ao Ts'o coming to take revenge. Realizing his mistake, he left home and became a Bhiksu, cultivated vigorously, and was no longer troubled by the ghost. Because he did not encounter the ghost again, he vowed to become a Bhiksu in his succeeding lives and became a great, renowned Dharma Master who lectured on Sutras and taught widely, coveting neither fame nor wealth. For ten lives he cultivated diligently and met no more ghosts. He rose to a higher and higher position in every life until, in his tenth life, he became the Emperor's teacher and was given the title "National Master." The Emperor made him a gift of an aloeswood chair, the kind only emperors used. It was so handsome and beautifully carved that when National Master Wu Ta sat down on it he suddenly thought, "Just how many Dharma Masters are there as lofty as I? How many have received a gift from an Emperor as fine as this chair?" His one thought of arrogance laid him open for the attack of the revengeful ghost of Ch'ao Ts'o of ten lives past. Instantly, one of his legs began to swell, and a sore which had the shape of a human face formed on it. It was complete with a mouth, nose, eyes, and ears. Not only that, it could talk. "You want to get away from me, " it would say, "but you can't. I am determined to take your life." It also demanded to be fed, and would eat only fresh, raw meat. If Wu Ta didn't give meat to the sore, it would cause him unbearable pain. Even though he was a National Master, Wu Ta had no way to get rid of the sore ... Earlier, National Master Wu Ta had taken care of the Venerable Kanaka when the latter's body had broken out with noxious boils. He had waited on him, served him broths and medicines, and had cured him. At that time, the Venerable Kanaka had said to him, "In the future, no matter what difficulty besets you, no matter how insoluble your problem may seem, come to such and such a place in Szechwan and I will find a way to help you. Wu Ta had no recourse but to find Kanaka in Szechwan. The Venerable Kanaka used "samadhi water" to wash Wu Ta's sore, and the human face disappeared. Actually, the Venerable Kanaka, who was a fourth stage Arhat, did not really have an illness. He deliberately manifested a disease as a method to save National Master Wu Ta in the future. (Master Hsuan Hua)
53. Not looking after the sick (Minor
precept No. 9) is to fail to save lives, while storing weapons is to
create the conditions for actually destroying life. Both go against the
Mind of Compassion of a Bodhisattva.
54. A Bodhisattva disciple should not avenge even the death of his parents because this would be killing the parents of a past lifetime to avenge the parents of the current lifetime.
Such action goes counter to the spirit of compassion -- the very marrow
of Buddhism. Note in this regard the concept of filiality in Note 16.
During the Ch'ing Dynasty in China, in Yang Chou, there was a person named Ch'eng Pai Lin. One day he had a dream in which Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva told him, "Tomorrow the Ch'ing army will arrive. Out of the seventeen people in your household, sixteen will survive. But you cannot escape your fate. Tomorrow Wang Ma Tze will kill you, because in a past life you stabbed him twenty-six times and killed him." Then Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva added, "There is still an expedient method that may work. Prepare a fine feast tomorrow, and when he comes, invite him to eat with you. Afterwards, allow him to kill you. Perhaps that will change things."
The dream was vivid and when Ch'eng Pai Lin awoke the following morning, he went out and bought wine and vegetables, brought them back, and had a feast prepared. Then noontime came, someone knocked at the door. He opened the door and said, "Are you Wang Ma Tze?" "How strange," said the man at the door, "I'm from the north, how did you know my name?" His host invited him in and said, "... You're welcome; I've prepared a feast for you. Won't you join me?" Then he related the dream he'd had the night before. "Last life I killed you with twenty-six stabs of a knife, and so this life you have come to kill me. After we've finished this meal, you can do it." Wang Ma Tze pondered over this and said, "But if you killed me last life, and I kill you this life, won't you kill me again next life? It will just go on and on. No, I won't kill you." Then he took his knife and scratched twenty-six marks on his host's back to represent that the debt had been repaid. Not only did Wang Ma Tze not kill his host, but afterwards they became very good friends. Wang said to his host, "The Ch'ing army is following en masse. They are not reasonable, so the best would be for you and your family to go to Su Chou. It's safe there." So that is what Ch'eng Pai Lin did. This is a case of turning grievance into friendship and reversing the retribution that is due one. From this you can see that it's possible to alter one's fate. (Master Hui Seng)
In Buddhism, the more offenses a person commits and the heavier these
offenses are, the more a Bodhisattva should have compassion for him.
Buddhism exists because there are people who commit infractions and
offenses. Thus, the most revered and most popular Bodhisattvas of the
Mahayana always live in places of great turmoil and suffering.
55. A Bodhisattva should not act as a
country's emissary for the purpose of spying or fostering war. However,
if he were to do so to put an end to war or military confrontation, he
would be acting in a spirit of compassion. The key words in this precept
are for personal benefit or evil intention.
56. To sell human beings and domestic animals is to make one's living off the life of others; to sell coffins and products connected with the disposal of corpses is to make one's living off the death of
others. Unconsciously, if not consciously, one is happy to see others
die, since one's livelihood is dependent on the number of deaths. The
offense can be subtle -- in the rejoicing mind -- or not so subtle, as
demonstrated by periodic exposures of questionable practices in the
funeral industry. (See US News and World Report, March 23,
1998.) To make one's living off the life and death of others is to lack
compassion, the very essence of Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore, all
professions or trades connected with the above are forbidden to aspiring
57. This secondary precept 13 is related to major precept 7 (praising oneself and disparaging others) and major precept 10 (slandering the Triple Jewel). The offense committed here is secondary because: a) unlike in major precept 7, there is no self-praise and b) unlike in major precept 10, the objects of slander are virtuous persons, which include the Sangha (the community of monks and nuns) but not the Triple Jewel as a whole (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha).
More important, this secondary precept 13 deals specifically with slander without cause. For a follower of the Two Vehicles (Theravada), this type of slander is a major offense, because it is immoral. (The emphasis here is on the personal integrity of the slanderer.) However, for a Bodhisattva, it is a secondary offense, because baseless slander can be refuted and is thus less likely to do permanent damage to the victim than slander based on fact. (The emphasis in this instance has shifted to the well-being ofthe victim -- compassion being the basis of Bodhisattvahood.) (After Master Yen-p'ei)
This example illustrates the major difference between the Bodhisattva and other precepts. See also note 62.
In Asia, the period between the fourth and ninth months coincides with the reproductive cycles of such insects as ants and earthworms. Therefore, the Buddha forbade the setting of fires during those periods, out of a spirit of compassion toward all creatures, however lowly and helpless.
Note: The blanket bombing of enemy targets, common in modern
warfare, can be subsumed under this precept. Even when not many persons
are harmed, tremendous destruction may be wrought on other sentient
beings, seen and unseen, as well as on the environment.
59. To the followers of the Monastic
Tradition (i.e., early Buddhism or Theravada), the attainment of the
state of Arhat is the ultimate goal. They are attached to that teaching
as the orthodox and highest form of Buddhism. For Mahayanists, such a
goal is limited and unwholesome. Therefore, unless a person cannot profit from Mahayana teachings,
it is an offense for a Bodhisattva to teach the Two Vehicle Tradition.
To do so would cause sentient beings to lose the great benefit of
Supreme Enlightenment and Buddhahood.
Why should a Bodhisattva teach the difficult Bodhisattva renunciation
practices to a novice coming from afar? It is to test his capacity as a
potential Bodhisattva and strengthen his resolve for the difficult
tasks ahead. Moreover, to succeed in cultivation, a novice must
cultivate a wholesome mind(seek Buddhahood and rescue
sentient beings). To do so, he has to (1) set aside the ego/sever the
attachment to the self (burn one's body...) and (2) be willing to
sacrifice himself for sentient beings (forsake his body for starving
beasts...). Unless the novice is ready to make such commitments, he is
not a good "vessel of the Dharma" and is likely to fail.A famous example
of such commitment is the story of Master Hui-k'o, the second patriarch
of Zen, who knelt in the snow for days and finally cut off his arm, to
persuade Bodhidharma to accept him as a disciple.N.b. This precept is directed specifically at monks and nuns, as an example of the Bodhisattva ideal. See also The Seeker's Glossary of Buddhism, under "Generosity".
61. The offenses described here are
relatively minor, such as charging high rent or high interest on loans.
Otherwise, the transgressions would be the major offense of stealing
(second major precept). On filial piety, see note 16.
62. Principles of the Bodhisattva precepts: The Sravaka precepts were promulgated by the Buddha as the offenses actually arose. They were expressly devised for monks and nuns and are to be taken only by them. The Bodhisattva precepts, on the other hand, are the precepts of the Mind, and are common to all sentient beings. Therefore, they can be observed by all.
The essence of the Buddha Nature includes such
qualities as compassion, filiality, etc. Each of us intrinsically
possesses the Buddha Nature, the primary cause of Buddhahood. Observance of the Bodhisattva precepts creates the conditions for
the Buddha Nature to manifest itself. When cause and conditions come
together, the result is Buddhahood. This is referred to as the "essence
of the Buddha Nature".
63. Bodhisattvas engage in countless cultivation practices. One such practice is to light incense and then either place the incense pieces on a large incense burner before the image of a Buddha or, alternatively, raise a small burner to one's forehead and recite verses of praise or mantras while facing the Buddha. If a disciple, out of envy, gossips about a Bodhisattva who engages in these practices (calling him a fake and a showoff, for example), the disciple commits a secondary offense.
This precept is similar to precept 13, but differs with respect to
the goal of the offender. In precept 13, the aim of slandering monks in
particular is to defame them and make them lose offerings, while in this
precept it is to cause discord within the Sangha.
64. "Throughout the eons of time, all
male sentient beings have been my father; all female sentient beings
have been my mother. I was born of them." This is a poetical way to
express the truth that we are all related throughout the eons of time,
and thus to save sentient beings is to save one's family and ultimately
(1) In the first part, there are two related concepts, "rescue and protect" and "rescue and deliver". The first concept relates to the potential victim, while the second concept embraces the killer as well. To help both, it is necessary to develop the killer's sense of compassion. Once there is true compassion, all killing ceases, and both the killer and the victim are liberated. Thus, the sutra states: "the disciple should always teach the Bodhisattva precepts to rescue and deliver sentient beings." (2) Furthermore, not only the living, but also the dead, should be liberated. Therefore, monks and nuns should be invited to explain the Bodhisattva sutras and precepts on the death anniversaries of parents and other kin.
Note: "If a Bodhisattva sees an animal on the verge of being killed, he must devise a way to rescue and protect it":
Now, if you wish to save a certain being but it's beyond your capacity, then you should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name. For example, you may see some pigs or sheep that are about to be slaughtered, and you can't liberate them because you aren't able to buy them all. At this time you should singlemindedly recite the Buddha's name so those creatures can hear it. You can speak Dharma also. You can say to them, "All of you living beings should bring forth the Bodhi resolve [Bodhi Mind].'" This is creating causes and conditions for rescuing their wisdom-light (Mind). Although you are not saving their physical bodies, you are rescuing their wisdom-light. (Master Hui Seng)
66. When a Buddhist dies, it is the
practice for relatives to recite the sutras and perform other
meritorious acts, transferring all the merits to the dead. This helps
the deceased achieve rebirth in the Pure Lands ("behold the Buddhas")
or, alternatively, to obtain a good rebirth in the human or celestial
realms. Rebirth in the Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha is the aim of many
Mahayana Buddhists, as this is viewed as a realistic goal, considering the circumstances of ordinary human beings in the Saha World. See also note 94, last part.
67. A Bodhisattva must not return anger for anger. This is because wherever there is anger, all compassion is lost. "To seek revenge and maim and kill and prosecute" is to create the causes of future sufferings and ensure that they will never end. Even today, this lesson has unfortunately not been learned despite all the hindsight available to us from past warfare and genocide: "President Clinton came [to Kigali] today to talk to scarred and mutilated survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and to acknowledge that the world could have protected them, though it did not . . . Both in his meeting with the victims and the speech to an invited audience here, Mr. Clinton called for sharper vigilance against genocide and swifter prosecution of its perpetrators ..." (NY Times: March 26, 1998).
N.B. Buddhists do not cultivate a sense of vengefuless
because they realize that sentient beings know only Cause and Effect in
the present, but not in past or future lifetimes. The present
perpetrators might have been the victims in a previous lifetime; thus,
to exact retribution now may be to jeopardize the parents of one
lifetime in order to avenge the parents of another! This truth can be
glimpsed in the current wave of ethnic conflicts in Africa and the
Balkans. See also secondary precepts 10 and 21 as well as note 64.
68. "According to the Brahma Net and Avatamsaka Sutras, we should ignore appearances and external forms when seeking a good teacher. For example, we should disregard such traits as youth, poverty, low status or lack of education, unattractive appearance or incomplete features, but should simply seek someone conversant with the Dharma, who can be of benefit to us. Nor should we find fault with good spiritual advisors for acting in certain ways, as it may be due to a number of reasons, such as pursuing a hidden cultivation practice or following an expedient teaching. Or else, they may act the way they do because while their achievements may be high, their residual bad habits have not been extinguished. If we grasp at forms and look for faults, we will forfeit benefits on the path of cultivation.
"Thus, when Buddha Sakyamuni was still alive, the Bhikshu Kalodayin was in the habit of moving his jaws like a buffalo; a certain Bhikshuni used to look at herself in the mirror and adorn herself; another Bhikshu liked to climb trees and jump from one branch to another; still another always addressed others in a loud voice, with condescending terms and appellations. In truth, however, all four had reached the stage of Arhatship. It is just that one of them was a buffalo in a previous life, another was a courtesan, another was a monkey, and still another belonged to the Brahman class. They were accustomed to these circumstances throughout many lifetimes, so that even when they had attained the fruits of Arhatship, their residual habits still lingered."We also have the example of the Sixth Patriarch of Zen. Realizing that the cultivators of his day were attached to a literal reading of the sutras and did not immediately recognize their Buddha Nature, he took the form of an ignorant and illiterate person selling wood in the marketplace. Or else, take the case of a famous Zen Master who, wishing to avoid external conditions and concentrate on his cultivation, took the expedient appearance of a ragged lunatic, raving and ranting. As a result, both distinguished Masters were criticized during their lifetimes. The Sixth Patriarch was faulted for his ignorance, while the Zen monk was called insane and berserk. Therefore, finding a good spiritual advisor is a difficult task indeed" (Thich Thien Tam, Buddhism of Wisdom and Faith).
69. A Bodhisattva should not follow the Two Vehicle teachings or worldly teachings because they all have one principle in common: the rejection of the concept of Buddha Nature as basic to all sentient beings.
There are exceptions to this precept not to study and practice
non-Mahayana teachings. "If one needs to understand worldly doctrines in
order to rescue people from the world, then one can study those
doctrines. However, if one studies them with the sole purpose of
benefitting oneself and fails to seek Supreme Enlightenment, then it is
not permissible to study them." (Master Hui Seng)
70. "What is meant by skillfully administering the resources of the Three Jewels? If one receives goods for the Buddha Jewel but uses them for the Dharma Jewel, this is misusing goods. Or, if one receives them for the Sangha Jewel but uses them for the Buddha Jewel, that is also misusing goods. In Buddhist teachings, it becomes clear that Cause and Effect are quite complicated. If money is given to repair an image of Sakyamuni Buddha and the money is used to print sutras instead, then one has used the Buddha Jewel money for the Dharma Jewel.
Misuse of funds of the Triple Jewel in this way is considered
stealing. If one is not very clear about the precepts, however, one may
not realize this and assume that as long as the money is used for the
Triple Jewel, it is permissible." (Master Hui Seng)
72. "All visiting Sangha members should be invited to receive offerings in accord with their position in the Sangha (seniority of ordination). They are part of the assembly that keeps the precepts and, as such, should receive their share of the offerings. If one does not offer a visiting Sangha what he rightly deserves, if one is greedy for profit and receives individual offerings, that is a violation of the precept against stealing." (Master Hui Seng)
N.B. In ancient times, a meal offering was a
particularly welcome opportunity, as it spared the clerics the time and
effort of the alms round and allowed them more time for practice.
Above, offerings should go to the Buddhas of the Ten Directions;
In the middle, to the community of monks;
Below, to all sentient beings of the Six Realms.
Offerings belong to all without distinction.
Moreover, the offerings destined for the community of monks belong to all monks and nuns, not only those residing at the temple, but also to currentvisiting monks and nuns as well as future visitors. Thus, technically, the offerings should be divided equally among all those present, with a portion set aside for future visiting monks.
This editor remembers visiting a temple in India and upon seeing
goods piled up in corner rooms, thinking to himself that the temple was
too wealthy. Later he realized that these goods had been set aside for
visiting monks in observance of this precept!
74. It is very important to issue invitations to monks and nuns according to their proper order or seniority according to the time of their full ordination as a Bhiksu or Bhiksuni. This is to avoid discord and dissension within the assembly, with popular monks receiving the bulk of the invitations and others receiving none. For a layperson to fail to respect this precept is to lose deep merit and virtue, as he would, in effect, disrupt the harmony of the Sangha. Thus, to issue a discriminatory invitation goes against the spirit of compassion and non-discrimination that all Buddhists, particularly Bodhisattvas, should nurture.
Furthermore, to offer a discriminatory invitation even to 500 Arhats
is not necessarily meritorious because the degree of merit or virtue
depends on three factors: the recipient, the gift and, most important,
the mind of the giver. If the gift is presented with a
mind of compassion and equanimity, with no thought of gift, recipient or
giver, then the merits accrued become infinite. Otherwise, they are
limited. See in this connection the Vimalakirti Sutra.
In general, an improper livelihood is any occupation that is contrary
to the spirit of compassion toward sentient beings. Such occupations
include not only traditional ones like fisherman and hunter but also
working in slaughter houses or ammunition factories. In the sutras, the
Buddha even forbade monks and nuns from tilling the soil, planting
crops, or pressing seeds to get oil because such actions often result in
the killing of small animals and insects. (Laymen, being subject to a
lesser standard of morality, are not prohibited from engaging in such
activities. Moreover, they may even be given the opportunity to earn
merit and virtue through service to the clergy. Monks and nuns, relieved
of daily chores, can then concentrate on their main calling --
practicing the Dharma for the benefit of all.)
77. Matchmaking is singled out in this precept because it creates the karma of attachment, the very cause of endless births and rebirths within Samsara.
A Bodhisattva, motivated by compassion for the suffering of all
sentient beings in the cycle of existence, cannot be a party to the
creation of such karma. (See also note 28.)
In popular Buddhism, the special days and months of
fasting are explained as special times when the celestial rulers of this
galaxy go on their inspection trips to assess the compliance of human
beings with the basic moral tenets. Therefore, people watch themselves
during those times and are on their best behavior by abstaining from all
offenses! On a deeper level, this is an expedient means of bringing
practitioners gradually to a pure style of living all year.
79. This precept deals with offenses from the point of view of timing. From that perspective, killing or stealing at particular times (fasting days) constitutes a minor offense, on top of the major offense.
81. Selling Bodhisattvas, Bhiksus, Bhiksunis,
can be understood literally (as in time of war) but can also refer to
those who take advantage of Buddhism to further their personal
interests, financial and otherwise. Examples that immediately come to
mind are salespeople who gain clients through connections with the
clergy as well as politicians on the lookout for votes.
82. A Bodhisattva should not sell knives. The Bodhisattva precepts are the precepts of the Mind-Nature. Thus, if one were to store knives and clubs to kill and maim, it would be against the spirit of compassion inherent in the Mind-Nature and therefore against the precepts. However, if knives are stored as kitchen utensils, such action does not go against the spirit of compassion, and therefore is not against the precepts.
Confiscation of possessions: As theft, confiscation of
property is a major offense. However, in this context, the emphasis is
on the abuse of power, which constitutes a secondary offense.
83. A Bodhisattva should not raise cats, dogs. There are several reasons for this. One is compassion: cats eat other sentient beings, while pigs are raised to be eaten themselves and foxes for their skins or for medicinal purposes. Secondly, raising domestic animals gives rise to feelings of attachment, which is precisely what the cultivator seeks to avoid. It also takes time and effort, which would better be devoted to the "great matter of Birth and Death." Yet, there are exceptions to this rule: to give temporary shelter to a starving cat in the middle of winter is clearly the right thing for a Bodhisattva disciple to do.
Note: Under this precept, to keep a dog to watch over one's property is not considered an offense for a lay Bodhisattva.
84. A Bodhisattva cannot watch fights (gang fights, bullfights ...) or armed battles because such action goes against the spirit of compassion. How can a compassionate person watch maiming and killing and derive enjoyment from it? The same goes for being party to gambling, where one party necessarily has to lose.
Note: the key expression here is "unwholesome intentions."
If the Bodhisattva's intention is to mediate conflict and prevent
bloodshed, he not only may watch battles, etc., he may indeed be
obligated to do so.
86. Bhiksu bound by reeds.
In the time of the Buddha, there was a Bhiksu who observed the precepts
to the letter. One day, he was accosted by brigands who stole his
clothes and begging bowl and, fearing reprisal, were about to kill him.
Fortunately, there was someone among them who knew about Buddhism. He
said, "There is no need to kill him. Just tie his hands and feet and
leave him among the living reeds. That will be enough." The Bhiksu thus
bound did not move lest he uproot the fresh reeds and thus break the
precept "not to kill." When the brigands had left, a passer-by saw the
monk and untied him. Henceforth, he became known as the "Bhiksu bound by
Illustrative Story on Keeping the Bodhi Mind. A
Bodhisattva should maintain the Bodhi Mind in each and every thought
without retrogression: In days of yore, an older master was traveling
along a winding country road, followed by a disciple carrying his bags.
As they walked, they saw lands being tilled while farmers and oxen were
strained to the utmost. Countless worms and insects were maimed or
killed in the process, and birds were swooping to eat them. This led the
disciple to wonder to himself, "How hard it is to make a living. I will
cultivate with all my strength, become a Buddha and rescue all these
creatures." Immediately the Master, an Arhat able to
read the thoughts of others, turned around and said, "Let me have those
heavy bags and I will follow you." The disciple was puzzled but did as
instructed, changing places with his teacher and walking in front. As
they continued on their way with the hot sun bearing down on them, dust
swirling all around them, the road stretching endlessly in front, the
disciple grew more and more tired. It wasn't long before he thought to
himself, "There are so many sentient beings and there is so much
suffering, how can I possibly help them all? Perhaps I should try to
help myself first." Immediately, the Master behind him
said, "Stop. Now you carry the bags and follow me." The puzzled disciple
did as told, knowing he was not supposed to ask questions. He took up
the bags again and walked behind. This sequence repeated itself several
times. The Master walked in front with the disciple carrying the bags,
then the disciple in front with the Master carrying the bags, back and
forth, until noontime came and they stopped for lunch. Then the disciple
gathered his courage and asked the reason why. The Master said, "When
you had exalted thoughts of saving all living beings, you were a
Bodhisattva in thought, and I as an Arhat had to follow you. But as soon
as you had selfish thoughts of saving yourself only, you were no longer
a Bodhisattva, and being junior to me in years and cultivation, you had
to carry my bags."
89. The word "parents" refers to our
fathers and mothers through the eons, i.e., all sentient beings. The
words "good spiritual advisors" can include a friend or even an enemy
since both can teach us aspects of the truth. Note the concept of
"adverse-conduct" Good Spiritual Advisor. In the Lotus Sutra,
Devadatta was such a person who, through constant goading, allowed
Sakyamuni Buddha to perfect the paramita of patience. The Buddha thus
attained Supreme Enlightenment faster than He would have, had it not
been for the constant thorn in His side that Devadatta
90. The general point of the
resolutions is to cut down on the poison of greed. The Buddhist disciple
should rather die than break the precepts. Why? Because death concerns
only this present life while breaking the precepts can cause suffering over many lifetimes.
(1) to abstain from sexual relations with anyone;
(2) to earn the offerings of the laity (clothing, food, shelter ...) by faithfully observing the precepts;(3) to earn the respect of the laity by faithfully observing the precepts;(4) to control the mind of attachment to the five dusts (form, sound, fragrance, taste and touch);(5) to help all sentient beings attain Buddhahood.
The most important resolutions are the last two.
92. A disciple should not travel to
dangerous areas as this would be flirting with death -- the taking of
his own life -- an offense against Major precept no. 1. Moreover, as a
Bodhisattva, he should not provoke others to incur evil karma through
93. This precept establishing the
order of seating, i.e., the ranking of a monk by his sacerdotal age (the
date he took the precepts) only, is revolutionary, considering that it
was promulgated more than 2,500 years ago.
An important exception to this seniority rule is made for those who lecture on the Dharma. In this case, anyone, including a layperson, can deliver Dharma talks and even Dharma Masters should listen if the need arises. This custom is expressed in the well-known saying, "The novice speaks the Dharma, the Dharma Masters listen."(The novice referred to here is Master Wu Ta, who lectured on the Lotus Sutra to the Fourfold Assembly at the age of 15! See also note 52.)
94. This precept is divided into two parts. "When the precept tells people to establish monasteries and temples, it is so they can cultivate blessings; when it tells people to explain the Great Vehicle Sutras, it is so they can cultivate wisdom." (Master Hui Seng)
A practitioner should have a clear understanding of the causes and conditions of calamities and fortunate events. These occur as a result of bad or good karma -- and karma has its source in the mind. Reciting or explaining sutras has the power to change a wicked mind into a pure mind, a deluded mind into an enlightened mind. Thus, to recite or explain sutras is to create good karma, enabling sentient beings, alive or dead, to escape or mitigate the impact of negative karma. Since a Bodhisattva's mission is to rescue sentient beings and guide them to enlightenment, he should recite and explain Mahayana sutras on all occasions, and particularly during the ceremonies for the dead. (Master Prajna-Suddhi)
More than a century ago, in his extensive study of the Brahma Net Sutra, the Dutch clergyman Dr. J.J.M. de Groot wrote:
Recitation and lectures on the [Amitabha] Sutra, accompanied by ritual services ... [are held not only for deceased monks but] also for laypersons every seven days for seven consecutive weeks, if the family of the deceased so desires and can afford them ... These ceremonies for the dead are special events in their own right and, as long as they last, the family life of all concerned becomes topsy-turvy ... Suffice it to say that these ceremonies are almost never neglected, thus making the 39th precept of the Bodhisattva Code one of those which exercise the most practical influence on the life of the Chinese. (Le Code du Mahayana en Chine, p. 146.)
Ceremonies for the dead are in fact the best occasions to meet and teach the living!
95. A disciple of the Buddha should explain Mahayana sutras and moral codes to all sentient beings. From the point of view of the early schools of Buddhism, the Dharma is a precious jewel and it should therefore not be given out without the proper request.
From the point of view of the Mahayana tradition of being of benefit
to all sentient beings, the Bodhisattvas should freely share and make it
available to all. Sentient beings are upside down and deluded. How can
they know about the Dharma and request it?
96. The Buddha taught that monks and
nuns should wear garments of a different hue from those worn by ordinary
persons. Their clothes should also be different in cut and appearance
and their heads should be shaved. However, these distinctive features
are also found among other people. For instance, some convicts shave
their heads in American prisons, while in China, certain groups of
religious people wear robes similar in appearance and color to those of
Buddhist monks and nuns. The truly distinguishing features of a Buddhist
cleric could be the marks on the top of his head, the result of
voluntarily burning dots with incense on the day of his full
While this may appear contradictory, it actually is not. In the egalitarian spirit of Buddhism, everyone should be able to take the Bodhisattva precepts. However, the purpose of conferring any precept is to benefit the recipients and lead them to Enlightenment. With their heavy karma and strong guilt feelings (always sad, nervous and self-reproachful), those who have committed the Cardinal Sins are not normally good vessels for the precepts. They may even denigrate the precepts, creating even more negative karma. Thus, to withhold the precepts temporarily while advising them to engage in sincere repentance is a realistic course of action. This notwithstanding, those who have sincerely repented and demonstrated their true change of heart may, under certain circumstances, receive the precepts. (Even King Ajatasatru, guilty of patricide, was able to repent and become an Arhat.) This is in conformity with the pre-eminent role of the mind in Buddhist teaching and the all-compassionate spirit of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
The Dharma rules prohibit monks and nuns from paying respect and bowing to kings, parents, relatives. Monks
and nuns represent the Dharma, which should not be subject to (or seen
as subject to) temporal authority. More fundamentally, the clergy should
not rely on ("bow to") advice and teachings outside the Dharma.
98. People with heterodox views. From the Mahayana point of view, any person who does not develop the Bodhi Mind (the Mind of rescuing all sentient beings, leading them to Supreme Enlightenment and Buddhahood) is heterodox and limited.
An exception is made in the case of kings, rulers or high officials, to whom the Brahma Net Sutra should be taught, even if they are not Buddhists or hold heterodox views. This is because a ruler's views can influence multitudes, and Bodhisattvas, out of compassion for the many, should make an attempt to expose him to the compassionate teachings of the Buddhas.
N.B. In precept 39, the Buddha taught that a Bodhisattva should explain the Mahayana sutras and moral codes (i.e., the Brahma Net Sutra)
to all sentient beings, regardless of time and place. In precept 42, on
the other hand, He forbids the recitation of the Bodhisattva precepts
to those who have not received them or to externalists. This seeming
contradiction is understood as follows. In precept 39, the Buddha was
speaking from the point of view of rescuing and liberating sentient beings, while in precept 42, He was speaking from the viewpoint of preventing evil karma. Thus, those who have not received the precepts may not attend the monthly Uposattha recitation,
which includes confessions of offenses, as they may then tend to
criticize the "sinners" and incur negative karma for themselves. On the
other hand, anyone can listen to the sutra itself on other occasions and benefit thereby.
99. "This precept is referring to people who deliberately decide to break the precepts. It prohibits the intent to violate precepts before one has actually violated them." (Master Hui Seng). If a particular precept is actually violated, the offense depends on the specific violation.
If a Bodhisattva monk develops thoughts of violating the precepts, he is unworthy of receiving any of the offerings from the faithful. A story is told in the sutras of three deities who were washing a Bhiksu's robe in the Ganges but could not hold it under water. Yet, as soon as they took a single grain of rice donated to a temple and placed it on the robe, the robe sank to the bottom. The story illustrates how important offerings of the believers are, particularly if they are made with a pure mind. If a monk or nun accepts such offerings, but does not cultivate the precepts, these offerings become great liabilities, leading the errant cleric down the path of perdition. Even deities and ghosts follow such a cleric and sweep away his very footprints to prevent anyone from following his example.
Animal, wooden stump. A monk who breaks the precepts, who is
unclear about what constitutes keeping or breaking them, is no
different from a sentient being driven by instinct or an inanimate
object. Therefore, he is "no different from an animal or a wooden
100. One way to observe this precept
nowadays is to print and distribute Mahayana sutras and commentaries
free or for a nominal charge, for the benefit of all. The great
teachings on the Buddha Nature are contained in the Mahayana sutras;
therefore, one should revere the sutras by adorning and displaying
101. The essence of Mahayana
teachings is to help all sentient beings develop the Bodhi Mind, and
create the causes and conditions of full Enlightenment. Sentient beings
here, of course, include animals as well as unseen deities and ghosts.
Thus, the sutra says that wherever he goes, be it crossing a mountain,
entering a forest, crossing a river or walking in a field, a Bodhisattva
should help all sentient beings develop the Bodhi Mind. Teaching the
Dharma to animals and ghosts, for example, can benefit them, because
their minds are then influenced by the compassionate words of the
Bodhisattvas. Thus, this precept contains the expression "concentrate
and say aloud". See, for example, the following anecdote:
There's ... an incident from the Buddha's time. There were Bhiksus in the assembly who had certified to Arhatship. Some of them were old and didn't have any teeth. When they recited the Sutras, they didn't sound very eloquent. This prompted a [novice] to say, "When you recite the Sutras, you sound like a bunch of dogs barking." Just because of this one sentence of slander, in his next life he fell into the destiny of a dog.One of the bhikshus he slandered was an Arhat. If he had slandered an ordinary person, he would have had bad karma, but it would not have been so bad. But because he scolded a sage, in his next life he became a dog. Because he was a dog, he had the habits of a dog, and he liked to steal food to eat. He would grab tidbits from the kitchen of his master. Once, his master saw this and cut off the dog's four legs and threw him out onto the grass. The dog was yelping in pain. Shariputra happened to walk by at that point. He spoke Dharma for the dog, telling him, "You know, the Four Elements are really suffering. Your body is false. Put it down; don't get angry." After Shariputra spoke Dharma, the dog didn't yelp anymore, and he died in peace, passing away quite happily. Since at the moment of his death he didn't give rise to anger, he was reborn again as a person and left the home life at seven years of age under Shariputra. Shariputra spoke the Dharma for him, at which point he certified to Arhatship. So you see, this person was once a novice, then he became a dog, and then he became a person again.
When he was a dog, he still retained the good roots from his past lives, and that's why he could understand human speech. Since he died happily, in his next life he became a left-home person again. After that, he never took the full Bhikshu precepts; he wanted to stay a novice forever so he could serve his teacher Shariputra, to repay his kindness ...Therefore, if animals and transformation beings can understand the Dharma Master's words, they can take these precepts. Of course, if they don't understand, they can't take them. (Master Hui Seng)
There are many ways to teach sentient beings: verbal teachings, bodily teachings, and mental teachings.
The verbal form of the Dharma, the most common among humans, is the
least effective and the least efficient. If one does not have the
capacity to teach verbally, one can teach via one's behavior (bodily
teaching). This is one of the methods used by the Buddha: upon seeing
His marks of greatness, people develop respect and become his disciples.
The last form of teaching, mental teaching, is done by silent vows and
dedication of merit.
102. Why should a Dharma Master occupy a high seat while speaking the Dharma? It is because sentient beings learn and accept the teachings better when their minds are receptive, i.e., when they have developed eagerness and respect. Furthermore, a Dharma Master should be seated, as it is then easier to keep his mind empty and still.
"There are exceptions to this rule. In the Sanghika Vinaya it says 'a Bhiksu may be running chores and performing affairs for the stupa, the temple or the Sangha. When he goes to the king or sees the lords of estates, and if they should say to him, 'Bhiksu, would you please speak the Dharma for me?' at this time the Bhiksu can't insist that the king sit on a lower seat while he sits on a high chair.' He can't immediately force that type of situation. He can't hold to the letter of the law. This is an exception to the rule." (Master Hui Seng)
A Dharma teacher can be anyone -- a monk, nun, layman, or even an inanimate object such as a meditation cushion. The Avatamsaka and Amitabha Sutras, for example, speak of clouds and trees speaking the Dharma ... Upon watching leaves fall one by one from a tree, a person can awaken to the truth of impermanence -- the transitory nature of all life forms. The youth Sudhana in the Avatamsaka Sutra had fifty-two teachers, ranging from Bodhisattvas, to deities, to courtesans. The story is told in the sutras of a group of people lost in a deep, dark ravine. Among them is a leper who happens to have a torch. A wise person would suppress his revulsion and follow the leper to safety.
Why is a Dharma Teacher or good spiritual advisor necessary on the
path to Enlightenment? It is because he can nurture our Bodhi Mind and
our wisdom -- the two crucial factors in cultivation.
Note: An originally well-intentioned disciple might turn
against the Dharma out of jealousy of the respect accorded to the
clergy, anger at their criticism of his own mistakes, or disappointment
at the behavior of individual monks and nuns.
A Bodhisattva should rightfully receive offerings from all:
Whatever a cleric receives is for the benefit of the Sangha as a whole
(and by extension, all sentient beings). Therefore, he need not thank
laypersons for their donations, except as an act of courtesy. In fact,
thanking a donor actually decreases the latter's merits (ego-based
giving vs. altruistic giving) and is thus a disservice to him.
105. If a Bodhisattva acts in this manner, he is no different from a worm in a lion's body, eating away at the lion's flesh.
The lion is the fiercest of animals, and when he roars all the other
beasts flee. In the same way, people who have taken the precepts are
likened to a lion; no other beings will bother them. However, just as
worms that live in the lion's body dare to feed on the lion's flesh, so
too, disciples within Buddhism can undermine the entire system. Buddhist
disciples themselves are capable of destroying the Dharma, more so than
the people outside Buddhism. (Master Yen-p'ei)
106. Bodhisattvas are their friends:
a reference to the pure lands of the Buddhas, particularly the Pure
Land of Amitabha Buddha, where the faithful will be reborn in the
company of Bodhisattvas and other spiritual friends. See the Amitabha Sutra:
"Moreover Shariputra, all those born in the Land of Utmost Happiness never fall back. Among them are many whose next birth will be in Nirvana. The number of them is extremely large; there is no reckoning that can tell it. Only in measureless, unlimited, innumerable kalpas could it be told. Shariputra, the beings who hear this ought to make a vow -- a vow to be born in that land. Why should they? Having succeeded thus, all are then persons of the highest virtue; all are assembled in the same circumstances." (H. Seki, tr.)
"Once when the Buddha Shakyamuni was in the world, there were two Bhikshus cultivating in the mountains. One day, one of the Bhikshus went down the mountain to get food and left the other one sleeping. In India at that time, the Bhikshus simply wore their sashes wrapped around them; they did not wear clothing underneath. This Bhikshu had shed his robe and was sleeping nude. He probably was a lazy person, and with no one on the mountain to watch after him, he'd decided to take a nap. At that time a woman happened along, and seeing the Bhikshu, she was aroused and took advantage of him. Just as she was running away from the scene, the other Bhikshu returned from town and saw her in flight. Upon investigation he found out that the woman had taken advantage of the sleeping Bhikshu, and he decided to pursue her, catch her, and take her before the Buddha in protest. He took out after her, and the woman became so reckless that she slipped off the road and tumbled down the mountain to her death. So one Bhikshu had violated the precept against sexual activity and the other had broken the precept against killing. Although the Bhikshu hadn't actually pushed her down the mountain, she wouldn't have fallen if he hadn't been pursuing her.
"'What a mess.' concluded the two Bhikshus. Messy as it was, they had to go before the Buddha and describe their offenses. The Buddha referred them to the Venerable Upali. But when Venerable Upali heard the details, his verdict was that, indeed, one had violated the precept against sexual activity and the other against killing, offenses which cannot be absolved. 'You're both going to have to endure the heIls in the future,' he concluded. Hearing this, the two Bhikshus wept, and they went about everywhere trying to find someone who could help them.
"Eventually, they found the Great Upasaka Vimalakirti, who asked why they were crying. When they had related their tale, he pronounced his judgment that they had not violated the precepts. 'If you can be repentant,' he said, 'then I can certify that you didn't break the precepts.' 'How can that be?' they asked. 'The nature of offenses is basically empty,' replied the Upasaka. 'You did not violate the precepts intentionally, and so it doesn't count. It is an exception.' Hearing this explanation by the Great Teacher Vimalakirti, the two Bhikshus were enlightened on the spot and were certified as attaining the fruition...So there are many exceptions within the prohibitive precepts. But if people always look to the exceptions, they will simply not hold the precepts..." (Master Hui Seng)
N.B. In the above story, Vimalakirti was referring
specifically to the two major precepts of not killing and abstaining
from sexual activities. The two monks did not violate these precepts
because the mind (intent) was not involved. Vimalakirti was not
addressing possible issues of secondary responsibility.
108. The True Mark of all dharmas is
a key concept in this sutra. It refers to the essence or noumenon of
the Bodhisattva precepts, which is "neither born nor unborn, neither
eternal nor extinct, neither the same nor different, neither coming nor
going." In other words, the True Mark of all dharmas = essence of the
Bodhisattva precepts = Emptiness. To observe the
Bodhisattva precepts in the true sense, we have to transcend the ego --
there is no practitioner, no sentient beings to be saved, no precepts
being observed. Otherwise, our practice is merely a human practice,
tainted by ego and self-interest, not a Bodhisattva practice, not
a paramita action. (Rev. Nhat-Chan)
"Once there was an old cultivator ... Although he claimed to be a Buddhist, all he cultivated were outside ways. That meant his outlook and knowledge were deviant. One day a person came and asked him, 'You're an old cultivator with a lot of practice behind you, but does a great cultivator fall within Cause and Effect or not?' ... The old cultivator very casually, without a moment's hesitation, replied majestically 'Great cultivators do not fall within Cause and Effect.' He bellowed it out. Now, that sentence might not have seemed important, but when he died he became an old fox ... The old fox ... had some [karmic affinities] with Ch'an Master Pai Chang. It began to turn up at the Master's Sutra lectures, taking on the appearance of an elderly layman with a long white beard and the ruddy face of a child -- for it had spiritual powers by then."(Master Hsuan Hua)
Eventually, the layman/old fox was enlightened by Master Pai Chang, who taught: "Great cultivators are not unclear about Cause and Effect. It is not that they don't come under it; they are not obscure about it." Soon afterward, the layman/old fox died peacefully and was given the last rites of a monk.
110. See note 10.