Rewriting the Precepts for Our Time

- through Fabrice Groult

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Or how to follow one's own path away from the tables of the Way.

While the Zen monk Ryushin served as steward to the American Zen master John Daido Loori and they were out before dawn for a morning walk, they observed an unusual celestial phenomenon: a light appeared out of nowhere and with a huge sigh expanded into a multicolored sphere before contracting, disappearing and reappearing again. Amazed by such a spectacle, they were staring at it in silence without being able to grasp the cause when suddenly, Ryushin exclaimed: “I understood! It is a hot air balloon, and its flame comes from its heating mechanism”. Daido Loori then said to him: “By saying that, you just screwed up everything! » (You killed it, you just killed it)

Destroy one's illusions by acting on one's behavior: the role of the precepts

The precepts have the function of helping the disciple on the way to become free from some of his tendencies. The precepts are transmitted during one of the most beautiful ceremonies in Buddhism: the taking refuge. During this symbolic passage, one discovers and abandons oneself in confidence to the reality of the three treasures: the Buddha as a teacher; the Dharma the teaching, the law; and the Sangha, the vast community of those who practice and more broadly of all sentient beings. Now these precepts, if translated from the Eastern languages ​​where they were formulated, codified and transmitted, sound strangely like the laws given by Yahweh to the chosen people and engraved on the tablets of stone. In other words, a series of abrupt prescriptions and severe prohibitions: not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to get drunk, not to make untruthful remarks or futile remarks or remarks that sow discord, not to covet, not to get angry, not to have erroneous views… This body of injunctions no longer really corresponds to the understanding that many of us manifest and live in our time. Not that it is a question of allowing and authorizing everything, far from it, but these prescriptions are no longer able to encourage and emulate wisdom and compassion. Our way of being a parent teaches us, for example, that it is better to divert the attention of the child, to invite him to invest his energy in a positive and dynamic action rather than to muzzle and constrain him. If the peremptory and authoritarian no can still find its place, we can however sometimes prefer a yes and adopt a positive and loving attitude, to accompany the other.

The precepts today

A few years ago, a handful of Zen priests I had gathered rewrote the list of precepts in order to give them a nice and encouraging direction. Not killing has become “I vow to always protect and nourish life” for example.

The precepts have the function of helping the disciple on the way to become free from some of his tendencies. They are transmitted during one of the most beautiful ceremonies in Buddhism: taking refuge.

The precepts have exoteric and esoteric significance. The exoteric meaning is the most commonly accepted: in this example, it is about not taking life. The esoteric scope is infinitely more subtle and means not killing the aspiration to Buddha nature in oneself or in the other, not killing things by believing that you know them. Not to kill is also not to separate the fundamental unity between me and the others by cutting into it and adopting a dual vision. Not to kill another human being or oneself is obvious, but in its intimate and real understanding, this invitation is very broad. The simple precept not to kill reduces to its most elementary expression a crazy and wonderful ambition: the right desire of the bodhisattva who turns to life and not to death, and who chooses for this to celebrate life and not to fear or reject the death. Not killing is also not killing silence, laughter and wonder, true joy and celebration, not killing the beauty and truth of things and beings...

So we set to work rewriting the ten fundamental precepts, and it is in this form that we now transmit them during the ceremony. Here they are, imperfectly:

I vow to protect and nurture life.

I vow to live with an open heart and with generosity.

I vow to live out my sexuality and desires lovingly and harmoniously.

I vow to speak truthfully, in service and kindness.

I vow to be free from all kinds of addiction.

I vow to see beauty in others.

I vow to honor my beauty without being proud of it.

I vow to share the Buddha-Dharma and all precious things without counting.

I vow to sincerely pacify my heart.

I vow to embody in this lifetime the actions of enlightenment, wisdom and compassion.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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