Taking the Precepts

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.

If you are interested in taking the precepts, please contact a Guiding Teacher or Dharma Holder to discuss your intentions and practice.  Once you have received permission to study and take the precepts, you can begin to sew your rakusu.  At Boundless Way Temple, you can contact Todd Curtis at tac.curtis@gmail.com to support you in sewing practice. 

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 at the  Worcester Temple, and in the fall at the Greater Boston Zen Center.  Taking the precepts is entirely optional for members of Boundless Way Temple, the Greater Boston Zen Center and Boundless Way Zen. You may feel that this is a natural and important step on your spiritual journey. Or you may feel that taking the precepts is entirely unnecessary and perhaps even a distraction from your true path. Please feel free to study the preceptswhether or not you plan to take them, and know that you will be supported in whatever decision you make.


For those who decide to take the precepts the requirements are:

  • Meet individually with a Guiding Teacher or Dharma Holder 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 a Guiding Teacher or Dharma Holder
  • 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 intoxicating mind and body.
    6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer, I vow to take up the way of not finding fault with others.
    7. Meeting others on equal ground, I vow to take up the way of not elevating myself at the expense of others.  
    8. Using all the ingredients of my 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 harboring ill will.
    10. Honoring my life as an instrument of the Great Way, I vow to take the way of not defaming the Three Treasures.