Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The meaning of “there are no precepts”


“Why does Jodo Shinshu deny and discourage the observance of Buddhist precepts? Can I observe precepts and be a Shinshu follower? Why it is said in Jodo Shinshu that “there are no precepts”?

In Jodo Shinshu we do not deny nor discourage anybody to try to observe precepts. We are not against precepts; we do not say that followers of this school should not try to observe precepts or to lead a moral life. What we say is that we should not think that trying to observe precepts creates personal merits or that by doing this we can add something to the salvation of Amida. We are born in the Pure Land and become Buddhas only due to Amida’s Power, not to our own efforts in observing precepts or in doing such and such practices.

My advice is this: as a voluntary choice, and not a requirement for birth in the Pure Land, try your best to live a moral life, which can include not to hurt anybody directly or indirectly, don’t steal, don’t engage in sexual misconduct, don’t lie, don’t drink intoxicants, don’t eat meat, etc., but never relate this to your attainment of Buddhahood which comes only through Amida Buddha’s Other Power. Your success or lack of success in voluntarily observing precepts has no connection with your Enlightenment, so be relaxed in this matter. This is the difference between Jodo Shinshu and other Buddhist schools.

What a Jodo Shinshu follower does is to delete once and for all the words “personal merit” or “personal virtue” from his Buddhist vocabulary. These concepts may have some significance in other schools but in Jodo Shinshu they have no significance at all.

Neither Shinran Shonin nor any patriarch of our school ever said, “kill, steal, lie, cheat on your wife, etc.”, but rather they intended to say: “even if you don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat on your wife, etc., it doesn’t mean that you are a good person capable of attaining Buddhahood by yourself.” This should be very well understood.

Also even if it is said in the sacred texts that in the last age of the Dharma precepts do no longer exist, this doesn’t mean that we should kill and steal as we like. The expression, “there are no precepts” means that people living in the last age of the Dharma are no longer capable of using precepts in order to advance to Enlightenment. Thus, precepts are as good as non-existent for the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice. I repeat, precepts are as good as non-existent for the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice which means the attainment of Buddhahood.

But still we can read in the sutras and other Buddhist books about the precepts so we can’t say they have been deleted from our written or collective memory. We can read about them and see how the Buddhas want us to behave, think and talk, so we should try to guide our lives by them as well as we can, but doing so no longer constitutes merit or a means to advance on the path to Enlightenment.

This is because our capacities to truly observe the precepts both in letter and spirit are as little as non-existent. Jodo Shinshu states that the minds and environment of beings living in this age distant from the physical presence of Shakyamuni are so much perverted that they cannot advance to Buddhahood by themselves using various methods of self-improving until one day purity, perfect wisdom and perfect compassion is achieved.

So we say that Jodo Shinshu doesn’t believe in the spiritual capacities of unenlightened beings. This is why we do not insist on precepts. Everything unenlightened beings do in the three ways of action[1] is poisoned by ignorance and egoism, so they can’t be called pure or good actions useful for attaining Buddhahood. Attachment to our so-called goodness is just another illusion among the many that we inherit from the distant past.

That being said, I ask you again, please do not misunderstand the teaching of our school:

-         Jodo Shinshu is not an encouragement to immorality, irresponsibility or laziness.
-         Followers of this school may try their best to lead a life based on non-harming Buddhist principles explained in the precepts.
-         Jodo Shinshu states that Enlightenment comes through Amida Buddha and is not gained by the actions of unenlightened beings
-         Jodo Shinshu believes that only Buddhas have true merits that can be shared with others.

In short, do your best in your everyday life to live according to the precepts but rely only on Amida for the attainment of Buddhahood. Also, if you fail in perfectly observing the precepts, and I am certain that you will fail, don’t ever feel that you are excluded from Amida’s salvation. Don’t transform your trying to observe precepts into an obstacle blocking the nondiscriminating Compassion of Amida Buddha.

[1] With mind, speech and body.

2 comentarii:

Anonymous said...


Very nice, very clear, post. Thank you. And I quite agree, following precepts is a practice - a tough and ongoing one - but there's no way that I can get to Buddhahood just from my own efforts!

Don't get me wrong, I love the precepts, in some ways I consider myself to have even taken refuge in the precepts themselves, but the more aware you are of the precepts, the more carefully you observe them, the more you see that we can't help but to break them!

Full observance of the precepts is only possible when we get out of the way and let our actions come from that one place of wisdom and peace and love. A place I call Buddha-nature, - or Amida.

Thank you,


Melvin said...

Hi Adrian,

Thanks for the post.

May I say we hold the precepts for a good reasons not because we want to please Buddha or for the sake of enlightenment or for the sake of shinjin settlement, BUT for a good reasons.

The good reasons are precepts help guide us to refrain from harming others and the same time helping ourself.

Precepts help us to at least lead a life of tranquility with less turmoil and chaos which is all for our own good.

We CANNOT hold "complete" precepts TODAY as we understand our inner world or instinct as did Ven Master very well as what he claimed as religious evils. Especially TODAY'S world is full of temptations everywhere.

Especially when come to REAL precepts, a priest or monk cannot even have sexual life (engaged in matrimony)which is exceptional in shinshu priests as I understand.

Also, I know that concuring desire is the most hardest part specially sexual desires (greed) which is like a nature calling as "urination". However, with precepts we can at least sincere to our one and only partner (wife) and NOT playing third or fourth parties around which are bad and causing social problems.

Thanks Amida's shinjin of salvation.

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