Taking the Precepts

What is Zen?

Zen is beyond words and forms, yet it has been handed down to us from person to person through the container of Buddhist practice for generations. As Zen students we are called to creatively embody the essence of this practice. If we hold too tightly to form, we miss the essence. If we have no form we miss the opportunity to walk the paths hewn with so much loving care by those who came before. Our challenge as followers of the way of Zen is to use and create forms skillfully to deepen our practice together.

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts in the Zen tradition were originally designed as guidelines for living a life that supports and deepens practice in everyday life. They can also function as an endless source of contemplation and help us to continually awaken to the universal nature of reality that we call Buddha Nature. “Taking the precepts” with a teacher who has received Dharma transmission from his or her teacher is a way to publicly acknowledge commitment to this way that is beyond words and forms. We vow together to embrace the actual circumstances of our lives, and to enter fully into whatever we encounter.



“Jukai…is to acknowledge to yourself the importance of wisdom in your life.”
-John Tarrant, Roshi

Jukai is the ceremony in which Zen practitioners receive and take on the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts. Preparing for Jukai in Boundless Way Zen involves the study of these precepts and of the Jukai ceremony itself. Preparing for Jukai also involves sewing a rakusu, a version of the Buddha’s robes traditionally worn by those who have received the precepts.

For those that are interested in formally taking the precepts, we offer two opportunities for participating in a public ceremony each year, in the spring and fall at Boundless Way Temple, and in the fall at the Greater Boston Zen Center.  Please see the calendar for the Temple dates.  Students are invited to take them with any one (or more than one!) of the teachers.

The first step in taking the precepts is to discuss your intention to take the precepts with a Guiding Teacher or Dharma Holder.  Once you have received permission to study and take the precepts, you may contact Aaron Caruso, Erin Barbour, or Corwyn Miyagishima for support in sewing a rakusu.

Download the BoWZ Jukai Ceremony booklet.


For those who decide to take the precepts with David, Melissa, and/or James, the requirements are:

  • Meet individually with Melissa, David, Josh, and/or James to discuss your readiness to take the precepts
  • Read at least two of the suggested precept study books
  • Write a short piece describing what taking the precepts means to you, and how you will work with each precept in your life
  • Receive permission from David, Melissa, Josh, and/or James
  • Sew a rakusu (the bib-like garment that is the outward symbol that someone has taken the precepts – instructions and resources are available)
  • Commit to participate in one of the two yearly precepts ceremonies.

Recommended Reading

  • Robert Aitken: The Mind of Clover
  • Reb Anderson: Being Upright
  • Bernie Glassman: Infinite Circle
  • Daido Loori: The Heart of Being
  • Diane Rizzetto: Waking Up to What You Do

The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts

  • The Three Treasures
    1. I take refuge in Buddha.
    2. I take refuge in Dharma.
    3. I take refuge in Sangha.
  • The Three Pure Precepts
    1. I vow to avoid evil.
    2. I vow to practice good.
    3. I vow to save all beings.
  • The Ten Grave Precepts
    1. Recognizing I am not separate from all that is, I vow to take up the way of not killing,
    2. Being satisfied with what I have, I vow to take up the way of not stealing.
    3. Treating all beings with respect and dignity, I vow to take up the way of not misusing sex.
    4. Listening and speaking from the heart, I vow to take up the way of not speaking falsely.
    5. Cultivating a mind that sees clearly, I vow to take up the way of not giving or taking drugs.
    6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer, I vow to take up the way of not discussing the faults of others.
    7. Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame, I vow to take up the way of not praising myself while abusing others.
    8. Being grateful for the gifts of this life, I vow to take up the way of not sparing the Dharma assets.
    9. Transforming suffering into wisdom, I vow to take up the way of not indulging in anger.
    10. Honoring my life as an instrument of the Great Way, I vow to take the way of not defaming the Three Treasures.