Forms of the Precepts

There are many forms of the precepts; I like those listed below:

  1. Precepts is a translation by Jakusho Kwong Roshi
  2. Those listed in Buddhism, in a Nutshell are a shorter version
  3. Precepts is a bit more wordy, and its source is uncertain
  4. Kobun's Precepts is more esoteric and elegant, and is probably based on a translation by Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi of Bodhidharma's precepts. (Bodhidharma was reputedly the original Zen patriarch in China, about 1500 years ago.)
  5. In Aspects of the Precepts both positive and prohibitory sides of each precept are succinctly paraphrased, to suggest a balanced understanding.

The precepts may be empty and open, with no specific meaning. Instead Precepts represent the mystery of reality, of what actually is. For example the first precept is in the prohibitory form "no killing life" and in the positive form "affirm life". But as a statement of what actually is the precept's meaning is more like "there is no killing of life". Henry David Thoreau said something like "life in us is like the water in a river"; we presumably are its banks and bed until the water of life wears through us to our replacements as we age and die.

The literal meanings implied by many versions of the precepts are arguable. Many are open to misinterpretation and many are impossible to observe; for example it is not possible to live without eating, and in the process having killed the source of your food. You can't even boil water, or take a step, without killing some life forms. Even "higher" concepts, which to my mind come closer to the intent of the precepts, are flawed; one can argue every word and phrase. But to do so could violate other precepts, such as no demeaning of the triple treasures, no praise or blame, no preaching, and no dwelling on past mistakes; as well as other concepts, such as right speech, emptiness, equality, and no (permanent) self.

Beyond the good examples for morality suggested by the precepts, one arrives at Koans about the meaning of existence, and death. Some versions of the precepts preface each precept with the Koan: Buddha Nature (or self nature or enlightenment) is wondrous (and/or imperceptible, mysterious, profound, ungraspable).

I do not even think that Buddhist teachings are necessarily consistent with science and physics, or even reality and truth; and they can only suggest what self nature is. But there are also profound uncertainties in science, e.g., consciousness, neutrinos, and the field(s) that permeate (quantum) reality. Other teachers and other teachings, in addition to science and/or Buddhism, contribute enormously. I feel that skepticism and doubt are healthier than belief when considering any particular teachings.

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