Taking the Black…I Mean the Grey…OK, the Five Precepts

This past weekend, I have decided to take a major step in my devotion to my Buddhist practice. I have decided to take the five precepts. In Buddhism, there are five precepts that one should use to guide their ethical aspect of their practice. Here are the exact precepts I will be taking:

  1. I resolve to abstain from doing harm, but to cherish all life.
  2. I resolve to abstain from taking what is not given,
    but to respect the things of others.
  3. I resolve to abstain from engaging in sexual misconduct,
    but to practice purity of mind and self-restraint.
  4. I resolve to abstain from lying, but to speak the truth.
  5. I resolve to abstain from partaking in the production and trading
    of firearms and chemical poisons.

This is supposed to be the foundation of one’s spiritual practice before they can work on gaining wisdom and ultimately enlightenment. They are known in the original language of the Buddha’s time, Pali, as sila, samadhi and panna (prajna in Sanskrit). I have taken the precepts before but that was as part of Meditation Retreat I took for vipassana meditation.

So why am I taking the precepts again? Even though I had learned this different form of meditation, at least one that is fairly different from Zen meditation, I never really left my Korean Zen tradition. I have incorporated aspects of what I learned in my Meditation Retreat but I remain a Korean Son (Zen) Buddhist. I have always considered taking the precepts under my own tradition. Heck, I even considered becoming ordained as a monk. For a number of reasons, I never got around to taking them.

This year, I started going to a temple in Chicago that is based on the Korean tradition. I had done a temple stay here about 9 years ago and coincidentally ended up doing the temple stay while founder of this Temple movement was in Residence. I got to spend a tremendous amount of time with him throughout that weekend. The temple and the temple movement has a very generic name, the Zen Buddhist temple. The founder is a Korean monk by the name of Samu Sunim and he was brought up in the same tradition that I was brought up in, the Chogye Order. I felt so at ease with him. When I interact with or am in the presence of a Korean Monk, I admit that there is a fair amount of baggage that I bring to the experience. Not so around Samu Sunim.

Although he has left the order, he is extremely well regarded and respected within the order. From my experience, this is exceedingly rare. This has allowed me to get over a hang up of insisting that I get take the precepts within my order. Also, the precept ceremony will be happening at the Chicago Temple with Samu Sunim presiding. I took that as a sign even though I don’t really believe in such things. Both Samu Sunim and the head teacher of this Temple have agreed to take me on even though it is fairly late in the process. They have already done three classes on each of the precepts so I was giving some homework to catch up on. As part of the devotional practice, I have to do 3,000 prostrations and chant one’s devotion to the three jewels of Buddhism (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) 33 times a day. This week, we are on the 4th precept which covers lying and false speech. Each week we are supposed to pay special attention to the precept that we have just covered and that has already yielded a couple interesting experiences for me.


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