Red Cedar Zen Community, 1021 N Forest, Bellingham Washington

Precepts Study

Precepts and Lay Ordination (Jukai)

The root of all Buddhist practice is sila or ethical conduct. In Zen this positive conduct in support of awareness is clarified and supported by working with the 16 Bodhisattva Precepts. In our regular Wendesday night schedule we perform a monthly precepts ceremony to remind ourselves of these precepts and renew our vow to work with them as best we can. The precepts are listed below.

Individual students may choose to deepen their relationship with the precepts and make a public statement of their intention to do this practice by formally receiving the precepts in the ceremony of Jukai. Jukai literally means “to receive the precepts.” In this lay ordination ceremony the precepts are received from a fully transmitted teacher. One receives a Dharma name, simple robe (rakusu), and lineage paper showing you as part of our Soto Zen lineage family. Receiving the precepts also strengthens and formalizes one’s relationship with the teacher.

The usual pattern if one chooses to move towards Jukai after at least three years of practice is to ask one of our three local teachers (Seishu John Wiley, Yuzan Nancy Welch, or Nomon Tim Burnett) or our Guiding Teacher, Zoketsu Norman Fischer, for permission to start studying the precepts in preparation for jukai.

Precepts students usually take up each precept one at a time reading about in one or more books and studying their own attitudes and life experience with each precept and responding or discussing that precept in some way with the teacher they are working with. The exact approach is worked our in consultation with the teacher.

Recommended books on the precepts

  • Taking Our Places : The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer
  • The Mind of Clover : Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics by Robert Aitken
  • Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts by Reb Anderson
  • The Heart of Being: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen Buddhism by John Daido Loori
  • Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen practice for meeting every situation with intelligence and compassion by Daine Eshin Rizzetto

Study suggestions: (1) obtain two or three of these books, (2) read the introductory material, (3) read the section on one of the ten prohibitory precepts and spend about a month considering how that precept plays out in your life, (4) actively process the experience by speaking with a dharma friend or teacher, journalling or writing a letter, (5) repeat the process with the other nine prohibitory precepts. Finding others to study the precepts with, either in a group currently preparing for jukai or people simply interested in enriching their lives with the precepts is very helpful as well.

After precept study is established, one asks the teacher for permission to start sewing a rakusu, the bib-like garment which represents Buddha’s robe. The student sews the rakusu with the support of sewing teachers in Bellingham (Chris Burkhart), Vancouver (Susan Elbe), or California (various teachers at San Francisco Zen Center). Even if you’ve never sewn before it can be done.

This sewing is a meditation practice itself – one takes refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha with each stitch. Once the rakusu is done it is given (or mailed) to the teacher at least a month before the Jukai ceremony is scheduled. Prior to the Jukai ceremony the teacher writes your new Buddhist name on the back with his seal and an encouraging Dharma phrase.

Note: the Jukai ordination is not required or expected of students practicing with us. Most people who take this step find it very helpful once the time is right. Others choose not to take this ritual step. Whether or not to take this step is up to you. It is also valuable to study the precepts without taking jukai.

If you wish to recieve the precepts formally in the jukai ceremony please speak with Tim or Norman or our lay teachers, Yuzan Nancy Welch and Seishu John Wiley. We will discuss different options for how to work with the teachers in preparation for the ceremony.

The Bodhisattva Precepts

The Sixteen Bodhisattva precepts are a guide for living and points of practice. When we receive the precepts in ordination ceremonies these are the precepts we agree to study and live by. See the previous page on the Jukai (Lay Ordination) ceremony.

The Three-Fold Refuge

I take refuge in Buddha.
This is the stillness, the clarity, the kindness that is the real nature of all life.

I take refuge in Dharma.
This is the way of life, day by day, that accords with Buddha.

I take refuge in Sangha.
This is the community of all being that is our refuge and support. 

Three Three Pure Precepts

I vow to refrain from all action that increases suffering.
This is the intention to always practice a wise restraint.

I vow to perform all action that increases awareness.
This is the intention to do wholesome actions that make ourselves and others truly happy.

I vow to live for and with all being.
This is the intention to always try to see everything with an unselfish eye.

The Ten Clear-Mind or Prohibitory Precepts

(stated below in positive and negative terms)

Do not kill; Cultivate and encourage life

Do not steal; Honor the gift not yet given

Do not commit sexual misconduct; Remain faithful in relationships

Do not lie; Communicate truth

Do not intoxicate self or other; Polish clarity, dispelling delusion

Do not slander others; Create wisdom from ignorance

Do not praise self or blame others; Maintain modesty, extolling others

Do not be possessive or stingy; Share understanding, giving freely

Do not harbor ill will or anger; Dwell in equanimity

Do not abuse the Three Treasures; Respect the Buddha, Unfold the Dharma, Nourish the Sangha 

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