Taking the Zen Buddhist Precepts at Eon Zen


The tale is told that one day a drunkard stumbled into Shakyamuni’s itinerant sangha camp and asked to be ordained. Over the strenuous objections of his disciples, the Buddha agreed to ordain him. When the next day broke, the man awoke from his stupor, ran his hand across his shaved head, panicked and ran off, never to be seen again. 

The Buddha’s disciples were quite satisfied with themselves, and did not hesitate to say “told you so.” But the Buddha disagreed. He told his disciples that unbeknownst to the man, something deep within him called him to take the vows, and although it was no longer available to his conscious intention, a seed was planted that would bear fruit in the man’s karmic journey. 

Taking the vows is a personal decision for every individual. There is no requirement to take them. Their meaning will arise uniquely for each person. 

In fact it is common to not fully understand why you are taking them, or what they mean to you. The meaning and understanding evolve in the context of your life.

The Precept Study Series at Eon Zen is meant to give you a better understanding of what the Vows have meant in our Zen lineage, and what they might mean for you. This will give you a firmer ground as a starting point for what may be a lifelong exploration.

It has been said that “ordinary people live by karma, but that bodhisattvas live by vow.” (Uchiyama Roshi) So in consciously taking the Buddhist Vows, you are electing to enter a “non-ordinary” lineage of those who desire to reduce suffering for all beings. (In modern parlance we might talk about living guided by values and “purpose” rather than being driven by impulses.)

In a very simple way, practicing the vows means paying attention to — caring about — the difference between “living by karma” and “living by vow.” The fact that these two ways of living yield very different results is at the heart of Buddhist insight. 

How to act on that insight is the essence of Buddhist wisdom. And only we — flawed, confused beings — can bring the wisdom alive. If we don’t, then no one will. There are no saints especially endowed with the ability to bring this wisdom alive. If we don’t do it, the wisdom will dry on the vine and die. 

The vows are the spiritual compass on this journey, helping to guide our lives, practice and actions of body, mind and thought. 

May we practice the path in harmony together.

- Gyodo Sensei