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Glossary - individual


precepts (kairitsu 戒律,kai 戒)

Rules of moral behavior that are binding on individual Buddhists and define their status in the institutional hierarchy. The precepts used by Chinese Buddhists in the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties were the ones most influential on Japanese Zen. They were based on the Four Part Vinaya (Shibunritsu, C. Sifenlü 四分律), a fifth century Chinese translation of the Vinaya of the Indian Dharmaguptaka school, and were prescribed in the Rules of Purity for Zen Monasteries (Zen'en shingi, C. Chanyuan qinggui 禪苑清規), compiled in 1103. The major sets of precepts found in those sources are: the ten precepts (jikkai 十戒) binding on novice monks (shami 沙彌) who have entered the Buddhist order by "going forth from home" (shukke 出家); the full precepts (gusokukai 具足戒) undertaken by full-fledged monks and nuns (daisō 大僧); the five precepts (gokai 五戒) for Buddhist lay people; and the bodhisattva precepts (bosatsu kai 菩薩戒), which both monks and lay people can receive to affirm their commitment to the ideals of the Mahayana. The novice precepts are crucial, for they mark the divide between householders and monastics who "leave home." As explained in the Four Part Vinaya novice monks undertake the following ten vows: (1) not to take life, (2) not to steal, (3) not to engage in sexual activity, (4) not to speak falsely, (5) not to drink alcohol, (6) not to adorn the body with flowers, headdresses, or perfumes, (7) not to sing, dance, or perform as an entertainer, and not to go to see or hear such things, (8) not to sit on high, magnificent couches, (9) not to eat at improper times, and (10) not to handle gold and silver, money, or valuables. The five precepts for the Buddhist laity are the same as the first five of the ten novice precepts, with the exception that only improper sexual activity (as opposed to all sexual activity) is proscribed. The full precepts comprise 250 rules for individual monks which are grouped according to the seriousness of the offenses and the means of expiating them. For example, the four most serious transgressions (sexual intercourse, theft, killing a human being, and falsely claiming superhuman faculties) are classed as offenses requiring expulsion from the sangha. The next most serious class of transgressions are offenses requiring probation and temporary exclusion from the sangha. The least serious offenses are ones that can be atoned by simply confessing them and transgressions of minor etiquette for which there are no explicit sanctions. See →"bodhisattva precepts" for a list of the precepts, the role they played in the history of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, and a discussion of the precepts now used in Soto Zen.

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