Precept-Taking and Renewing Ceremony
The Meaning of Becoming Buddhist
The Buddhist journey begins by your being able to accept yourself the way you are, both bad and good. When you are able to accept yourself, you can trust and believe in yourself as a Dharma agent for change. When you can trust yourself, then you can help yourself and wake yourself up. If you can wake yourself up then you can help and wake up others. In the process you discover your Buddha nature and the Buddha nature of others, and realize that we are an interdependent and interrelated whole.
Buddhists are happy people and peaceable beings because it is a joy to follow the path of non-violence and liberation. They are helpful and responsible because they practice Dharma and observe precepts. They are called bodhisattvas, wisdom beings, because they cultivate compassionate heart and serve people with wisdom eye.
Throughout history a small number of dedicated people has made a great difference in changing our society and reshaping the world community. It is my belief that although small in number, we Buddhists can make a world of difference and contribute to the creation of a global society that would preserve the ecological integrity of our universe.
The Three Refuges
The Three Jewels offer us meaning and purpose. The first Jewel, Buddha, is one who is fully awake and wise, so we learn to direct ourselves to awakening, keeping a mindful attitude, being wise and compassionate in our everyday life. The second Jewel, Dharma, is universal truth, teaching and discipline, so we learn to direct ourselves over and over toward what is true and right, and mold our life accordingly. The third Jewel, Sangha, is the community of followers and non-followers and also the community of human beings and non-human beings (the universal sangha). We learn to live in peace and harmony with all beings and dedicate ourselves to extending our loving kindness to all.
The Three Refuges and Five Precepts promote right livelihood and social responsibility. It is our aim to become living embodiments of the Three Jewels. To remind ourselves of this, we take the fourth refuge, I go to the Three Jewels within myself as my Refuge.
One must do one's best to maintain and uphold the vows, as one's own true self is the only measure. Having completed a number of prostations and a short meeting about precepts and what they mean, one takes the following eight vows.
1. Do not harm, but cherish all life.
2. Do not take what is not given, but respect the things of others.
3. Do not engage in sexual misconduct, but practice purity of mind and self-restraint.
4. Do not lie, but only speak the truth.
5. Do not partake in the production and trading of firearms and chemical poisons.
6. Do not waste, but conserve energy and natural resources.
7. Do not harbor enmity against the wrongs of others, but promote peace and justice through non-violent means.
8. Do not cling to things that belong to you, but practice generosity and the joy of sharing.
Why Take Precepts
Peace, love and happiness form the basis for the true meaning of human life. Therefore, in order to make our lives meaningful and enriching we must discover peace, love and happiness in our everyday lives. The purpose of human life is to realize that all beings are an interconnected and interrelated whole, and to enter the non-dual gate of inconceivable liberation.
Traditional Buddhist practice points out a clear direction and provide guidance and support for those who set out on this journey of discovery. The Buddhist journey always begins by taking refuge in the Three Jewels and the Five Precepts. The Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha) provide a spiritual focus while the Five Precepts furnish us with moral guidelines.
Most importantly, we need faith. Faith in Buddhism is very different from other religions. It is not a belief in God or in doctrines; instead, it is a belief in ourselves. In Buddhism we believe that we are all endowed with Buddha-nature and therefore, despite our habits and defilements, our original mind is pure, untainted and completely free from duality. In other words, Enlightenment and Liberation are inherent in us all. For this reason alone, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas among us constantly urge us to discover our true nature Right Now.
It is the Buddhist belief that we can always help ourselves spiritually, no matter what our life is like. The only reason why we don't, it is not our past karmic hindrances or past difficulties, but our lack of trust in ourselves. We do not believe that we are originally Buddhas. It is as though we question the existence of the sun on a cloudy day, because we cannot see the sunlight. Once the clouds scatter, we realize that the sunshine and blue mountains have always been there. Likewise, once we gain wisdom, we know that we have been Buddhas all along.
Often people do not take precepts because they may break them later. Nevertheless, Buddhist teachers urge them to take precepts. The reason is because there is a difference between people who commit wrongdoings after taking precepts and those who do so without taking precepts. People who commit wrongdoings after taking precepts are more aware of their mistakes and know to renew their precepts and start again. For those who commit wrongdoings without taking precepts there is no such awareness. Often they don't even think about their wrongdoings, and continue to harm themselves and others.
Three Thousand Prostrations Participants are encouraged to perform 3,000 prostrations. There are two main reasons for doing the prostrations: one is to surrender yourself completely and remove the defilements of the three poisons (greed, hatred and delusion) in order to make the transition from Samsara to Nirvana. You dedicate the first one thousand prostrations to repenting and forgiving all your past wrongdoings, the second one thousand to forgiving the wrongdoings of others and the last one thousand to making your resolve to follow the path of wisdom and compassion. You also honor all the Buddhas in the three periods of time so they may attest to the sincerity of your heart. All participants should finish the 3,000 prostrations by the date of the Precept-Taking ceremony. If you cannot, promise to your temple priest that you will complete the prostrations before the end of the year. If you cannot perform full (five point) prostrations for physical or health reasons, you may perform bows standing or seated with or without occasional full prostrations.
Chanting of the Three Refuges Those taking the Precepts are required to recite the Three Refuges out loud in Pali, Sanskrit or English, thirty-three times each day. Chanting the Three Refuges regularly with devotion will help you embrace the great tradition of the Three Jewels now taking root in the West and help you maintain calmness and peace and clarity in your everyday life.
Fees and Offering
The fee for the Precept-Taking Ceremony is $150 ($120 for full-time students or unwaged). $100 is to cover expenses, $20 is an honorarium for teachers and $30 is a donation to the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom. Please send $50 with your registration form, the balance payable on the day of ceremony. The fee for renewing precepts is $50. On the day of the ceremony, it is customary to bring offerings for the altar such as candles, incense, flowers, fresh fruits, cakes, dried fruits, nuts or seeds, or any other gift one may wish to make.