“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! ^-^)