Renewing the Bodhisattva Precepts

 “Has the Sangha gathered together?”
We are all gathered.”

Is everyone united and in harmony?”
We are united and in harmony.”

For what have you all gathered?”
We have gathered to hear the Bodhisattva Precepts explained, and to reflect upon our own shortcomings.

Thus begins the ceremony for the Bodhisattva Precepts in Korea. While laypeople can and do take these precepts, every six months, monks and nuns are required go to their regional head temple for this ceremony.  (It’s  held once a month in meditation halls and sutra study halls, but it’s also held separately for those who aren’t in one of those.) Attendance is required; they actually make us sign in before the ceremony, and then sign out again after it’s over — no signing the ledger and slipping away!  Traditionally, this should be held at least once a month, but there is a lot of overlap with the Thousand Hands Sutra, which is chanted ever day.

Of the Ten Precepts, when western Buddhists think of numbers 6-10, they may be actually thinking of the ones from the set of Bodhisattva Precepts. 

6: Not discussing the faults of others.
7: Not praising yourself, or speaking ill of others.
8: Not being stingy with material or spiritual aid.
9: Not indulging in anger
10: Not speaking ill of the Three Treasures, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

You may have heard of the precepts against sleeping in a high bed, wearing perfumes, and accepting gold and silver. These are the original precepts of the Vinaya school, and are for renunciates. Whereas the Bodhisattva precepts were developed later, and are not necessarily for monastics alone.

  In total, there are 48 Bodhisattva Precepts. They originate from the Chinese version of the Bramha-jala Sutra, which takes the form of the Buddha reciting these precepts (here’s a link to one version of this sutra). Essentially what the Buddha is saying, is that those who are enlightened behave like this, and not like that. So if you want to become enlightened and a blessing for those around you, (and greatly reduce your own suffering) start by following the example set by the great practitioners whose awakening is reflected in their behavior.

Interestingly, the demand for complete vegetarianism comes from this sutra, as does the requirement of not eating the garlic and onions (perhaps they were considered the oysters of their day?) Some of these precepts seem like they are directed towards lay people, while others are clearly for monastics.

Some of these precepts are:

Don’t act as an agent or emissary for political powers,
respect your teacher and fellow practitioners,
help nurse those who are ill,
not teaching for the sake of profit,
not teaching those who would use what they learned to harm Buddhism and the faithful,
and so on. 

Here’s the full entry for a couple of precepts, to a taste of how they are presented (the quotes come from here) : 

On Slander and Libel

A disciple of the Buddha must not, without cause and with evil intentions, slander virtuous people, such as Elder Masters, monks or nuns, kings, princes or other upright persons, saying that they have committed the Seven Cardinal Sins or broken the Ten Major Bodhisattva Precepts. He should be compassionate and filial and treat all virtuous people as if they were his father, mother, siblings or other close relatives. If instead, he slanders and harms them, he commits a secondary offense.  
These precepts are also often worded in a way that makes it hard to deceive ourselves: he must not do it himself, nor command others to do it, nor allow it to happen through inaction, etc.

Some of these precepts also carry interesting insights into how the culture of how people lived at the time. I’m sure we can extrapolate the intention of the following precept, but look at who it’s directed at: slash and burn farmers.

On Starting Wildfires

A disciple of the Buddha shall not, out of evil intentions, start wildfires to clear forests and burn vegetation on mountains and plains, during the fourth to the ninth months of the lunar year. Such fires [are particularly injurious to animals during that period and may spread] to people’s homes, towns and villages, temples and monasteries, fields and groves, as well as the [unseen] dwellings and possessions of deities and ghosts. He must not intentionally set fire to any place where there is life. If he deliberately does so, he commits a secondary offense

 Martine Batchelor has actually published an excellent translation of the complete Korean ceremony with precepts. It’s called The Path of Compassion: The Bodhisattva Precepts.  If you are at all interested in this subject, I recommend checking out her book. This sutra and ceremony are a huge part of the Buddhism of Korea, Japan, and China. I’d like to write a lot more about it, but I can’t find my copy! (If you’re the person I loaned it to, please send it back! ^-^)

Sunday Photo; Great Unification Buddha at Seorak Mountain

As you can imagine, it’s been a bit of a strange week here in Korea, but one that reminds me why it’s good to practice.

This Buddha sits just past the entrance into Seoraksan National Park, on the grounds of Sinheung temple, and is one of three Great Unification Buddhas in Korea that I am aware of, there may be others.

Seoraksan, known as the most beautiful mountain in South Korea, was originally a part of the North when the line separating the two was first drawn along the 38th parallel. When fighting ended in stalemate in 1953, the new line, now the DMZ, dissected the old one, with South Korea gaining this area in the east.

Less than 50km from the DMZ, it’s as good a place as any to pray for reunification of the peninsula. Those who have not seen their brothers and sisters in 60 years have concerns that once they are gone there will be less initiative for the two side to work things out, and lets hope that possibility isn’t as far off as it seems now.

How to overcome suffering: Questions and answers with Daehaeng Kun Sunim

   Look at how water flows.
When it meets a hole,
it fills it and continues to flow.
When water meets a rock,
it flows around it.
The path of finding your true self
is like this.
-Daehaeng Kun Sunim




In her regular Dharma talks, Daehaeng Kun Sunim often took questions afterwards. Some of these, and the answers, are quite useful to practitioners. We’ve been working on putting some of these into a small ebook edition called, Find the Treasure Within. We’re not quite finished, but I’ll go ahead and post slightly condensed versions of these. Some of what she says is so striking that I’ve highlighted it.

 Check out her answer to the question: Is life suffering?

I had always hoped that my children would grow up happily because my childhood was not so good. Yet, no matter how hard I try, my life doesn’t seem to be turning out the way I wanted.
         I read in some book that Shakyamuni Buddha once told people, “Life is suffering.” Is that true? Does this mean there’s nothing I can do about these things?
Every one of us experiences many things during our life, such as illness and poverty, joy and happiness. It might seem like some of those things happened by accident. However, because you were at that place and time, those things occurred and you experienced them. In fact, all the things that we experience are the result of what we have done over a great number of eons. It’s just that when they return to us, they tend to have a different appearance, so we don’t recognize them.

What we receive today is the outcome of what we did in the past, but how we react to this determines what our future will be. So don’t think that the difficulties you’re facing happened by chance.

However, even hardships are another face of your true self, which is trying to teach you. So, don’t blame others or the era for the difficult situation you are in. Instead, you should be grateful to your true self, which is giving you another chance to change things. Forgetting about your inner self and being depressed because of difficult circumstances cannot be excused.

When some hardship occurs, you can get angry and complain about it, or you can think of it as a good opportunity to complete yourself. Which way you approach things is entirely up to you. But your future depends upon the decisions you make.

It’s true Shakyamuni Buddha said, “The world is full of suffering,” and, “the world is like a burning house.” However, these were warnings given to people who chased after only material things, to people who never reflected upon the truth. 
Most people move through their life dragging their difficulties behind them. Thus they suffer twice: once when the difficulties come to them, and once more as they try to carry them along.  Every single Buddha has also experienced hardships because those things are the results of what one has made in the past,  and this applies to everyone. However,  without clinging to anything, Buddhas release everything to the fundamental place, the inner self, and by doing that, whatever they encounter becomes one with the inner self and so dissolves and melts away.

Once those bad situations have arisen, there’s not much that can be done about them. But, if you let go of all those difficulties to your inner self without holding on to them and without making discriminations about them, then you will not have to suffer from carrying them with you. You will also be freeing yourself from future suffering. When you keep doing this, you will gradually attain calmness and your suffering will dissolve,  and finally you will see your inner self, the truth.  

However, releasing everything like this isn’t easy if you’ve never tried it before. So, first, you should firmly believe that the truth is within you. In other words, know that your fundamental mind has the ability to take care of everything.  Next, you should understand that everything you confront is not suffering, but rather just another aspect of yourself.  Entrust it completely to your inner self.  Afterwards, the things you entrusted will dissolve because your inner self, your foundation, is the source of everything and the source of infinite energy.  
As I said before, the best way to solve the things you face is to truly let go of everything to your inner self with firm faith, because this is where everything arises from. This is true virtue and is the only way to live truly free






 copyright 2010, The Hanmaum Seonwon Foundation


Jogye Order International Seon Center Opens

This just in from the website of the Jogye Order:

The Jogye Order International Seon Center is now open to be a center to promulgate Korean traditional culture and Korean Buddhist meditation (Ganhwa-seon) to the world. The opening ceremony for the newly built center in Seoul was held on November 15. Jogye Order President Ven. Jaseung, members of the Council of Elders Ven. Jeongmu and Ven. Jongha, Director of the Bureau of Education Ven. Hyeoneung, Director of the Bureau of Dharma Propagation Ven. Hyechong, President of the Central Council Ven. Boseon, National Assemblymen Choi Byeong-guk and Jo Yun-seon, and local officials and other monks and nuns with over 1000 people attended the ceremony.

Here’s the full report.
And here’s the new International Seon Center.

The Five Precepts

Early next year the Bangkok Hanmaum Seonwon will be holding a ceremony for those wishing to formally take Buddhist refuge and precepts. The exact date has yet to be announced, but anyone interested in taking part is encouraged to come along to the next Bangkok Seon Club for more details.

Last month, as we continued our discussion at a local ice-cream place, the topic of next year’s ceremony came up. Someone asked about the exact wording of the precepts in the Hanmaum tradition, and so here they are, as written on my own Certificate of Precepts witnessed by Chong Go Sunim:

The Five Precepts

Being in harmony with one’s fundamental mind is the source of all upright behaviour. So always observe within yourself, returning there whatever confronts you, and uncover your inherently bright, true nature.

1. The Precept of Not Killing.
Knowing that all other lives are part of my life,
I vow to treat all other bodies as I would my own.

2. The Precept of Not Stealing.
Letting go of desires for others’ possessions,
I vow to cultivate generosity.

3. The Precept of Avoiding Improper Sexual Conduct.
Letting go of lust and harmful states of mind,
I vow to strive to keep my mind pure.

4. The Precept of Avoiding Harmful Speech.
I will not tell lies.
Being careful of what I say,
I vow to live with truth and sincerity.

5. The Precept of Avoiding Intoxicants.
I will never drink to excess.
For the sake of myself and others,
I vow to live within my limits.


Link: WUaL: On Formally Taking the Five Precepts

Footprints of the Ox

Do you notice anything wrong with this painting? 


If you grew up on a farm, chances are you noticed that he’s following the hoof prints in the wrong direction!

The painter may have been a city boy, but, this also may have been deliberately painted like this.
As a warning. 

In the Tex Ox Herding pictures, the hoof prints are the traces of our fundamental mind. These are the deeper, transcendent experiences that arise as we make efforts to put our understanding into practice. 

The danger is that if we aren’t careful, these experiences can become footholds for ‘me’ and ‘I’. Look what I experienced. Now I know….  Not to let go of these is to put our neck in the noose.

The antidote is not to cling to even the magnificent and sublime experiences we have. We have to step forward, letting go of everything we think we know, and even the things we are worried we don’t know. We have to go forward with empty hands, trusting in the inherent Buddha essence within us all.
Genju, over at 108 Zen Books, posted a great painting by Hakuin that really speaks to this. 
It’s called “Blind Men Crossing a Log.”    


Walking in the dark,
on this narrow and dangerous path,
what would you depend on to guide you?
Ordinary knowledge
and mistaking the desires of the body for your true essence
will surely lead to missteps
and disaster.
Carefully, carefully now.
Though stepping forward into darkness,
the light of this fundamental mind,
this divinity, this Buddha essence,
guides each step
and shows the way.

(Thanks to Jack for the photo of the ox herding image.)