The Ten Essential Precepts
The Ten Essential Precepts are inseparable from both Buddha Nature and our relations with each other. They are the strands of Indra’s Net.
1. A disciple of Buddha does not kill but rather cultivates and encourages life.
This precept expresses the bodhisattva’s intent to live compassionately and harmlessly. When understood in its broadest context, not killing can also be understood as not harming, especially not harming the body or psyche of another.
Thus, physical violence and abusive behavior (which includes physical threats, extreme displays of anger and maliciousness) are a kind of “killing.” In cultivating life we encourage open inquiry into and discussion of the Dharma and into the sources of religious and institutional authority at Zen Center.
In keeping with the aspiration of harmlessness, all firearms and other weapons designed principally for taking life have no place within Zen Center practice places.
We also acknowledge our role, either directly or in complicity with others, in the killing of other forms of life. As a sangha, when institutional questions of killing animals, plants and insects arise, we must carefully consider our real needs and our bodhisattva-inspired responsibilities to work for the benefit of all beings.
2. A disciple of Buddha does not take what is not given but rather cultivates and encourages generosity.
This precept expresses the bodhisattva’s commitment to live from a generous heart rather than from an avaricious mind. At a personal level, avaricious behavior harms the person who steals; on a community level, stealing can harm or even destroy the opportunity and the environment for Zen practice. Those who handle sangha funds or other assets also have a special responsibility to take care of them and avoid their deliberate misuse or misappropriation, both of which are institutional forms of stealing.
In addition, we recognize that the misuse of authority and status is a form of taking what is not given. Within the complex life of the sangha various hierarchical levels of authority and seniority play a role in some situations and not in others. It is particularly important that individuals in positions of trust do not misuse their status or authority as a way to achieve special privileges and consideration or otherwise control or inappropriately influence others.
3. A disciple of Buddha does not misuse sexuality but rather cultivates and encourages open and honest relationships.
The Zen Center sangha recognizes that sexuality is as much a part of the field of practice as any other aspect of our daily lives. Acknowledging and honoring our sexuality is part of creating an environment where conscious, mindful and compassionate relationships can be cultivated.
Special care must be taken when people of unequal status or authority enter into a sexual relationship. In particular, there are two forms of relationships which can lead to great harm and confusion. Therefore both are considered a misuse of sexuality within our community.
First, it is considered a misuse of sexuality for an adult within Zen Center to engage in sexual behavior with anyone at Zen Center who is a minor. Full responsibility for avoiding such relationships lies with the adult.
Second, it is considered a misuse of authority, responsibility and sexuality for a Zen Center teacher to engage in sexual behavior with his or her student. If a teacher and/or student feel at risk of violating this guideline, they should suspend their teacher-student relationship at least until they have sought counsel with a senior Zen Center teacher. Furthermore, it is considered a misuse of sexuality for a teacher at Zen Center to form a sexual relationship with a former student within six months of the termination of the student-teacher relationship.
Before forming a sexual relationship, all Zen Center priests, head students, or other persons in a formal role that entail clear advantages of influence in relationship to others should discuss the appropriateness of the potential relationship with a teacher or practice leader.
Particular care must be shown toward new students. We have learned that it takes about six months for a new student to establish the foundation of his or her practice and to understand the complex nature of inter-relationships within the sangha. In order to protect a new student’s opportunity to practice, we expect anyone who has been at Zen Center longer than six months to consult with a practice leader about a potential relationship with a new student during the first six months of the new student’s residency at Zen Center.
Everyone coming to Zen Center in any capacity has the right to be free from sexual harassment. Continued expression of sexual interest after being informed that such interest is unwelcome is a misuse of sexuality.
4. A disciple of Buddha does not lie but rather cultivates and encourages truthful communication.
The precept ‘not to lie’ is particularly important for the community life of a practicing sangha. While ethical transgressions can involve any of the precepts, many of these difficulties would not arise were there not an element of deceit involved. Lying to oneself, to another or to one’s community obscures the nature of reality and hinders the intention of bodhisattva practice. Within our community life, lying can also entail the deliberate withholding of information.
Open and direct communication is essential in our work and practice together. We are each entitled to straightforward, complete information when we request feedback regarding our behavior, standing, or performance within the community. We can expect, upon request, for this to be given by appropriate persons in the spirit of honesty and compassion.
Students at Zen Center should feel that they can carefully explore the Dharma and study the self in an atmosphere of trust. Zen Center teachers and practice leaders shall not disclose information they receive in dokusan or practice discussion when confidentiality is requested and agreed to, unless serious harm may result to individuals or to the sangha if the information is not disclosed.
Even when there is no specific request for confidentiality, such information is not to be shared casually under any circumstances by either of the people involved in the conversation. In the collaborative teaching process at Zen Center, however, consultation among teachers regarding matters that are not strictly confidential may be appropriate, particularly where residential students are involved. All those who engage in such consultations should make every effort to ensure it is done in a sensitive, fair and respectful manner.
5. A disciple of Buddha does not intoxicate self or others but rather cultivates and encourages clarity.
Bodhisattva practice occurs within the context of clear presence and mindfulness and a state of mind that is not conditioned by intoxicants of any sort. When enough clarity is lost it is all too easy to break the other precepts. Furthermore, it is our intention for Zen Center to be an environment that supports those who are attempting to live without intoxicants.
Therefore, alcohol or drug intoxication within Zen Center is inappropriate and is cause for concern and possible intervention. When any resident of Zen Center is involved in abusive or addictive use of intoxicants, it is important to remember that release from all attachments lies at the heart of Buddhist practice and he or she is expected to seek help with the counsel of a Zen Center practice leader. Because denial is frequently a symptom of addiction, the sangha is encouraged to help addicted persons recognize the need for help.
6. A disciple of Buddha does not slander others but rather cultivates and encourages respectful speech.
This precept arises from a bodhisattva’s efforts to build social concord and understanding. False and malicious statements in and of themselves are acts of alienation from oneself and others.
The consequence of slander is often pain for others and divisiveness in the community. Where the intention to slander does arise, the effort to understand its roots is an expression of this precept.
7. A disciple of Buddha does not praise self at the expense of others but rather cultivates and encourages self and others to abide in their awakened nature.
While rejoicing in one’s wholesome qualities and deeds is a time-honored Buddhist practice, praising oneself or seeking personal gain at the expense of others arises out of a misunderstanding of the interdependent nature of self. Within the institution of Zen Center it is sometimes necessary to criticize the action of certain individuals or groups; when doing so one should pay particular attention to one’s motive and to the specific content of what is said and to whom it is said.
8. A disciple of Buddha is not possessive of anything but rather cultivates and encourages mutual support.
All positions at Zen Center, including that of the abbess or abbot, are for the support of everyone’s practice and awakening. Neither the resources of Zen Center nor any position within Zen Center are the possession of any one person. It is not appropriate for anyone, especially a teacher, to use his or her relationship to Zen Center for personal gain or fame at the expense of the sangha or the practice- intention of its members.
In the spirit of non-possessiveness, decision-making bodies at Zen Center should make decisions together in a cooperative and accountable manner, and with a wholehearted effort to consider all points of view. It is particularly important that Zen Center’s finances, decision-making structure, and minutes of major decision-making bodies be made available in an accessible and understandable form.
9. A disciple of Buddha does not harbor ill-will but rather cultivates and encourages lovingkindness and understanding.
The harboring of ill-will is a poison for individuals and for the community. Even more corrosive is the harboring of ideas of revenge. Zen Center sangha members having conflicts or tensions with others or with decision-making bodies should attempt to resolve them with anyone directly involved in a spirit of honesty, humility and lovingkindness. however, if informal resolution is not possible, mediation should be sought as a way to clarify the difficulty.
10. A disciple of Buddha does not abuse the Three Treasures but rather cultivates and encourages awakening, the path and teaching of awakening and the community that takes refuge in awakening.
As the three treasures are inseparable from one another, awakening informs our practice and our community life, practice informs our community life and our awakening, and our community life informs our awakening and our practice. To abuse any one of the treasures harms the other two. To acknowledge our transgressions, to seek reconciliation, and to renew our commitment to the precepts is the working of Buddha Nature and re-establishes our place in the sangha. When the sangha is complete the Triple Treasure manifests.