The Bodhisattva Precepts are the ethical guidelines of Zen practice. Working with the Precepts is paired with zazen as the core of our practice. It allows us to take the mind of meditation off the cushion into our daily lives as we work with our karma. Zazen teaches us how to stop and notice what we are doing in a given situation (the first Pure Precept is Cease from Evil), to become aware of habitual patterns and drop the self (the second Pure Precept is Do Only Good), and to see clearly what a wise response would be (the third Pure Precept is Do Good for Others).
Once a year, in February, a ceremony called Jukai takes place on a Sunday morning during which those who desire to become Buddhists “receive the precepts” and formally become a Buddhist. Our late Abbot Kyogen Carlson has written about what it means to take the Precepts as Path.
During the six weeks leading up to Jukai, a Wednesday evening course on the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts is offered. We discuss both the theory and practice of working with the precepts, as well as how precepts can provide a karmic mirror for our thoughts, habits, and actions. This course is followed by a week-long sesshin called Jukai sesshin. The sesshin culminates on a Sunday morning with the Jukai ceremony.
If you are thinking of taking the Precepts, you need to meet with the Preceptor (a different Teacher each year), ideally during fall term before the Precepts classes start. If you decide to take the Precepts, you are expected to take this class if at all possible. You are also encouraged to attend at least part of the Jukai sesshin if you can. Check the Calendar for the schedule for the Precepts class, Jukai sesshin, and Jukai ceremony in January and February of each year.