Last month a member of our meditation group took part in a ceremony in the Buddha Hall at Shasta Abbey in which she solemnly vowed to live her life within the mandala of the Buddhist Precepts. The celebrant for the ceremony was Rev. Astor Douglas, assisting her were Rev. Master Shiko Rom, Rev. Master Jisho Perry and Rev. Helen Cummings. Rev. Vivian Gruenenfelder was one of the group of witnesses.
Although such a ceremony held at the request of the new Buddhist is an abbreviated version of the Jukai ceremonies which are held each year at the Abbey and therefore shorter, it is not any less meaningful. As I sat watching and listening to this ceremony I was struck repeatedly by the solemnity, care and gentleness of it all. The other three witnesses and myself were seated in the spacious Buddha Hall facing a small altar in front of and to the right of the main altar. Doreen, the new Buddhist, was invited forward to kneel at the small altar behind which sat Rev. Astor. To either side of them were Rev. Master Jisho, and Rev. Master Shiko. Our group were the only people in the hall and yet it was not empty. As the Precepts were offered to Doreen, we joined our response with hers in a soft-spoken reaffirmation of our own intention to keep them. It was a very moving ceremony. I have only been to one other Jukai besides my own nearly 35 years ago. This one reflected back to me all these years of training and I realized that we don’t “take the Precepts” as individuals. I too, was being given the Precepts together with Doreen and all the other beings in that Buddha Hall. They are offered to us as signposts to use as we walk on the Path. By choosing them rather than our ancient habit-energies as a source of guidance we naturally become less inclined to do harm.
Receiving the Precepts and thus formally committing oneself to deepening one’s training as a Buddhist practitioner is one of the most important steps one can take in the quest for self realization. It publicly affirms one’s desire to begin lessening the impact of our greed, anger and delusion. As we then begin to truly look at ourselves through the mirror of meditation and preceptual living, we catch glimpses of a kinder, more thoughtful and compassionate being that is actually right there inside just waiting to be let out into the world.
At a cursory reading, the 16 Precepts may seem to be simply another list of prohibitions. And if that’s as far as you see, that’s as far as you get. Although they may be simply written, as you bring them into your awareness each day their meaning becomes less clear and more complex. This work of burrowing into, of chewing on the Precepts seems to let you gradually become aware of your interactions with yourself and others. As you digest them and they become more and more a part of you, their kaleidoscopic nature becomes evident. They expand and contract as we breathe through our day. They sustain our search for Truth.