On formally taking the Five Precepts

Precepts Ceremony

Another re-posting from the now deleted ‘Marcus’ Journal’ I’m afraid – but one that I absolutely must place here for being so very close to my heart. On the 10th of May, 2008, my spiritual journey reached something of a culmination and new starting point as I undertook, along with three Dharma brothers, a formal and very beautiful ceremony to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and formally vowed to uphold the Five Precepts.

The ceremony was undertaken at the Hanmaum Seon Center in Anyang with my preceptor, who chose my Dharma name, being Seon Master Daehaeng Kun Sunim. The ceremony was led by Chong Go Sunim, and the other preceptees were Carl, Joe, and Joseph. Suki, Park and Amy from the Saturday group, and both ordained and laypeople from the temple, were also in attendance. Part of the ceremony involved me reading out a speech that I’d written for the occasion. This is the text of that speech:

The Dharma is simple. I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha, and today, gladly and in public, in this wonderful temple, with my good Dharma friends, and under the guidance of good Dharma teachers, I undertake to follow the five lay precepts – the basic moral and training requirements – and thus formally, for the first time, become a Buddhist.

It’s simple. I vow to abstain from killing, from stealing, from sexual misconduct, from telling lies, and from taking intoxicants. I do this for myself and for my friends, for my family and for my community; I do this because this practice IS the Dharma. It is not just the foundation, it is also the goal, not just the starting point, the five precepts are the Dharma itself. I follow the five precepts for the sake of all beings.

Someone might ask me why I want these restrictions, why I feel the need for these rules. But the precepts aren’t a prison, they are the key. Through the precepts we find freedom. Through my aspiration and vow to follow these trainings I allow my own true nature to act upon the world. These precepts are my deepest intentions, which here, today, I give voice to.

Of course I’m going to fail. Killing is inevitable in every mouthful of food I eat, no matter how strict a vegetarian I am. Stealing happens every time I posses something while others do not. Sexual misconduct lies in wait in almost every advertisement I see, every TV channel I watch. I tell lies when I say “I’m fine” or “good morning”. And what of intoxicants, do I count sugar? Do I stop drinking coffee?

Zen Master Daehaeng has reformulated the precepts, where traditionally they start with ‘do not’, she has given them new voice: ‘Love all beings equally and compassionately’, ‘Give alms and create virtue’, ‘Cultivate a pure and upright body and mind’, ‘Speak only the truth and uphold trust’, ‘Always maintain bright and upright wisdom’.

This is simple. This is the Dharma. And although I will stumble, and greed and anger and delusion will set me off course, in vowing to follow these precepts I am re-orientated. My efforts alone are not enough, sheer determination alone is not enough to follow these precepts. Yet by vowing to do so I allow the precepts to guide me and I allow the deepest and most fundamental part of me to respond.

This is my Buddha-nature, my foundation, my inherent nature, the part of me that is already the precepts, that doesn’t need the rules or the ceremony, that doesn’t need the chanting or the incense, but which responds to my vow and which wishes, through me, to fulfill it.

Thus the Five Precepts are, just as they were first set down by Sakyamuni Buddha and recorded in the Pali texts, “a vehicle of happiness, a vehicle of good fortune, a vehicle for liberation. Let our virtue therefore be purified and shine forth.”

8 thoughts on “On formally taking the Five Precepts”

  1. It’s nice to see your speech in writing (or at least in pixels). I’m not sure if I even heard a third of it in the moment it was read, I was so distracted by the rest of the room, and the burn on my arm!! haha

    I’ll have more of a response soon!
    Thank you Marcus

    I uploaded the pictures of the ceremony:

    if there is one you’d like to post, the URL is under the “share” button.

  2. Hi,

    Thanks Joseph! I’m surprised I even got through it – I was shaking so much and my voice was doing acrobatics! Oh, but what a day it was, eh? Fabulous.

    Anyway, enough of me putting up all my old posts! I think it’s time for me to step back for a few days now and write something new! LOL!

    Oh, and by the way, thanks for offering a picture… I’ll take you up on that! I no longer have my little camera – so if ever you’d like to add an image to one of my posts (with a note saying it’s your image of course), then feel free!

    All the best mate and thank you again, and with palms together,


  3. Thanks, Marcus, for this wonderful description of the ceremony and its significance in your life.

    In the Kwan Um School tradition, those who have already taken precepts can “renew” them at any precepts ceremony – even getting a new burn on the insight of the arm. Given all the trouble I create, I’ve acquired quite a few burns over the years. Perhaps it’s helped set me straight(er).

    And thanks, Joseph, for posting links to the ceremony pics!

  4. No problem, Barry! I’m not sure what will keep me in Samsara longer, my family or my camera!! haha

    And Marcus, I’ve right-click protected my photos, but the URLs are available for any of them. If there’s ever a picture you’d like to use, feel free!

  5. Thanks again Joseph! And thank you too Barry! (There’s got to be a joke in here somewhere about being regularly burnt by Buddhism! LOL!). And thank you too for that lovely review of ‘No River to Cross’ over on Ox Herding!Wonderful!


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