Receiving the Zen Precepts

Recommended books on the Precepts

The Mind of Clover (Aitken)
Waking Up to What You Do (Rizetto)
Wholehearted (Ellison)
Being Upright (Anderson)
If You’re Lucky, Your Heart Will Break (Ford)
The Heart of Being (Loori)

Recommended Books on the Precepts and Society

The Great Awakening (Loy)
The New Social Face of Buddhism (Jones)
Money Sex War Karma (Loy)
Pavement (Jensen)
Razor-Wire Dharma (Malone)

“Vast is the robe of liberation, 
a formless field of benefaction;
I wear the Tathagata’s teaching,
saving all sentient beings.”
—GBZC Sutra Book

The Precepts of skillful action are the moral and ethical teachings of the Zen Buddhist tradition. They’re not rules to be followed, but suggestions on how to navigate the difficult and messy business of being human in this human world. They describe how to fully actualize the absolute truth of interconnection and oneness in the relative of world of this and that. Moreover, the Precepts are among the Buddha’s clearest suggestions about how to find liberation right in the middle of our everyday lives.

The ceremony of formally receiving the precepts is called Jukai. People who have received the Precepts wear a rakusu (pronounced “rock-su”) during zazen, the black bib-like garment that is a miniaturized version of the Buddha’s robe, the robe of liberation. In this ceremony, each person receiving the precepts has the opportunity to read a sentence or three about each of the sixteen precepts. In this way, the ceremony is extremely powerful, communal, and inspiring. If possible, you should attend at least one Jukai ceremony before receiving them yourself.

Receiving the Precepts is not something we do when we believe we will never act against them, but is itself an expression of our bodhisattva aspiration to return, again and again, to our intention to let Precepts guide our lives.

The process of aspiring to be guided by the precepts, falling short of our aspirations, and atoning for the harming karma we create is the essence of Zen. This three-part process (aspiring, falling short, and atoning) is the heart of practicing Zen in our everyday off-the-cushion lives.

If you’re interested in taking the Precepts, you can inquire about this in dokusan with any of our transmitted teachers. It will be very helpful if you can make one of the cycles of the Precepts Discussion Group. Most people sew their rakusu themselves. For more information, see  Preparing for Jukai

You can find two Precepts recitations in our liturgy book.

Jukai Ceremonies in which the precepts are received are scheduled on an “as needed” basis, usually about twice a year.  (The most recent one took place on April 8, 2023.)  All GBZC participants, as well as friends and family, are welcome to attend, to witness this important event! 

Contact [email protected] for more information.

Our next Jukai ceremony at GBZC is scheduled for November 15th, 2014 at 4:30 PM.