Practicing Zen has often been likened to traveling in a fast car, or taking a jet on a roadless path to Nirvana, flying in a rocket to the limitlessness of empty space. But every great vehicle, no matter its power, requires an effective navigation system. Without a clear navigation system, then this meditation Porsche, this jet of Zen rocket can also take us to a bad place. The first vow we speak, immediately after wake-up every morning, is “Sentient beings are numberless; we vow to save them all.” But how do we accomplish this navigation of service and life among dreaming, suffering beings?
In 2,500 years of Buddhist teaching, the Precepts are our navigation system for employing the power of meditation to help ourselves, this world. They are not rules or laws, as in legalistic restrictions. We commonly describe the Precepts as functioning like traffic laws, the basic understandings of how we should flow in a given situation to optimize arrival of ourselves and all sentient beings in a place of comfort and infinite calm — attaining our True Nature. The Precepts make a clear life for ourselves and our Community, and help establish our correct function in this world, from moment to moment.
Taking the Five Precepts is considered “Taking Refuge (in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha)”. It is the basic, universal rite of entering the Buddhist mind-sciences, as a faith in direct experience of unmediated reality — Dharma. This ceremony also formalizes one’s link with a certain Dharma Teacher or lineage, as mentor and as spiritual base. (Taking the Five Precepts in no way excludes one from participating in retreats in other traditions or with other teachers.) After taking Five Precepts, and with the Teacher’s approval, one may begin teaching meditation to others.
Please consider downloading the Five Precepts into your soul’s eternal hard drive. It is a set of navigation wisdoms, based on over 2,500 years of meditation and practice, that crystallize best some basic ethical guidelines for arriving ourselves and all sentient co-passengers to the bliss of Anuttara Samyak Sam Bodhi. The Ceremony itself is a beautiful statement and re-statement of our goals as bodhisattvas-in-training, and well worth witnessing and participating in.
The group photo from ZCR's First Precepts Ceremony (2019), with Great Zen Master Dae Bong, Patriarch of Mu Sang Sah Temple, Korea, and The Most Venerable Oh Kwang Sunim, the former Abbot of the Serbian Zen Center and the Holy Metropolitan of All-Orthodox Buddhist Patriarchate and All Slavic Peoples, Constantinople.