Taking the Eight Mahayana Precepts
This practice is offered early in the morning on the 15th of every month. See Calendar for day and time.
The essence of the practice is to take eight precepts and to keep them purely for a period of twenty-four hours. Attendants should avoid wearing jewelry or perfume to the morning session. During the session, everyone will make promises to keep throughout the day, including avoiding after lunch. The teacher can explain and answer any questions about the practice at that time.
By doing this practice again and again, we acquaint ourself with the practice of moral discipline and thereby make our human life meaningful. We receive many great benefits from practicing moral discipline in this way. It helps us to solve the problems of this life by avoiding the causes of suffering; and it creates the cause for us to take fortunate rebirths in future lives and thereby protects us from the sufferings of lower rebirth.
In particular, because it is performed with bodhichittamotivation, this practice is very powerful for purifying negative karma. It accumulates a vast collection of merit and creates the cause for us to attain the unsurpassed happiness of enlightenment.
We first need to receive these precepts from a qualified Preceptor, and then we can take them on our own as often as we wish. Instructions on both these methods are included in this sadhana. If we wish to take the essence of this precious human life we should strive to engage in this practice as often as we can.
An explanation of the practice:
When we take the eight Mahayana precepts, we explicitly promise to abstain for twenty-four hours from eight actions:
- Sexual activity
- Taking intoxicants
- Eating after lunch
- Sitting on high or luxurious thrones or seats
- Wearing ornaments, perfume, etc, and singing and dancing, etc.
These eight, however, are merely symbolic, for in reality we promise to abstain from all non-virtuous actions for twenty-four hours. Taking and keeping these precepts is a special purification practice. Buddha realized that all living beings’ suffering comes from their previous negative karma, and so he taught special practices to purify it.
To purify our negative karma we must practice the four opponent powers: the power of regret, the power of reliance, the power of the opponent force, and the power of promise. These are explained fully in Joyful Path of Good Fortune. Within these four, we are here emphasizing the power of promise – promising not to repeat non-virtuous actions.
There are many levels on which we can make this promise. We can promise not to commit non-virtuous actions for the rest of our life, for a year, for a month, for a week, or, in this case, for a day. If we manage to keep our actions of body, speech, and mind pure for one day we can then extend it to two days, then to three days, and so on, until eventually we can keep pure moral discipline all the time. If we reach the point when we can keep our actions of body, speech, and mind completely pure all the time, we shall have accomplished the Pure Land. With a pure body and a pure mind there is no basis for experiencing suffering; instead we shall experience only unceasing happiness from within.
We all want to be happy – living in a pure environment with pure friends, pure enjoyments, and so on – but this is unattainable for as long as we have negative karma in our minds. Therefore, we need to rely upon Buddha’s skilful method for purifying our negative karma. This practice is very simple, and it lasts for only a day at a time; but it leads to very great results.
Special Annual Practice of Taking Precepts
Every year on the weekend before April 15th, which is the day when we celebrate Buddha’s Enlightenment, we engage in a two day fasting and purification retreat. At this time, we take precepts on the morning of each day and engage in three sessions of prayers and prostrations to purify our negative karma. Check our calendar for April to see the session times for this event.