There are various versions of the moral precepts of Buddhism. The following is based, with very slight variation, upon the version offered by my teacher Jiyu Kennett Roshi. The precepts themselves are from the Mahayana Brahmajala Sutra. The phrases that follow are from Keizan Zenji, a successor of Dogen. The paragraphs headed 'comment' are my own.
The Three Pure Precepts
Cease from evil: This is the house of all the laws of Buddha; this is the source of all the laws of Buddha.
Do only good: The Dharma of the Sammyakusambodai is the Dharma of all existence
Do good for others: Do good for others: Be beyond both the holy and the unholy. Let us rescue ourselves and others.
The Ten Great Precepts
1. Do not kill: No life can be cut off. The Life of Buddha is increasing. Continue the life of Buddha. Do not kill Buddha.
Comment: There are many ways of killing. There is killing the physical body and there is killing the spirit. Killing is Mara. Everything that tends toward killing is ‘marana’. To practise the Dharma is to transform marana. At the simplest level, strive not to take life. At the most subtle, have the faith to live and let live.
2. Do not steal: The mind and its object are one. The gateway to enlightenment stands open wide.
Comment: When illumined by the light of the Dharma, all things themselves become Dharma. Possessiveness and grasping hide the Dharma nature of the object. Mind always has an object. When the object is illuminated, we are illuminated.
3. Do not covet: The doer, the doing and that which has the doing done to it are immaculate, therefore desire is empty. This emptiness is the same as that of the Buddhas.
Comment: Covetousness includes all kinds of abusive desire, greed and licentiousness. Such desire is fantasy. Such fantasy can have karmic consequences that reverberate for aeons. However, it is still all empty from beginning to end.
4. Do not say that which is untrue: The Wheel of Dharma rolls constantly and lacks for nothing yet needs something. The sweet dew covers the whole world and within it lies the truth.
Comment: Dharma is Dharma beginninglessly and eternally, but it still calls for expression. To say what is true is to express the Dharma. To say what is not true is to hide the Dharma and to hide from it. There is no place, time or situation when the Dharma is not demanding expression, by words, by silence, by stillness or by deeds.
5. Do not sell the wine of delusion: There is nothing to be deluded about. If we actualise this we are enlightenment itself.
Comment: This refers to anything that colludes with or encourages delusion. Most basically it refers to alcohol and mind altering drugs. Beyond that to whatever undermines faith. People take to drugs and compulsive habits in flight from life. However, it is in this very human life that the great illumination is to be found.
6. Do not speak against others: In Buddhism, the truth and everything are the same: the same law, the same enlightenment and the same behaviour. None should speak of another’s faults. None should make such a mistake in Buddhism.
Comment: How we see and frame the acts of others reverberates throughout the community. Adding energy to quarrels or blackening another’s character is like wiggling in quicksand - one sinks ever deeper. Finding the way to true companionship is the samadhi in which Buddhas appear in all directions.
7. Do not be proud of yourself and devalue others: Every Buddha and every ancestor realises s/he is the same as the limitless sky and as great as the universe.
Comment: There is no need to inflate oneself and even less to diminish others, nor, indeed, the converse. Nothing is added, nothing subtracted thereby. Merely we add to our foolishness.
8. Do not be mean in giving either Dharma or wealth: There is nothing to be mean with: one phrase, one verse, the hundred grasses, one Dharma, one enlightenment, every Buddha, every ancestor.
Comment: What is all this for except to use in the service of the Dharma?
9. Do not be angry: There is no retiring, no going, no truth, no lie; there is a brilliant sea of clouds, there is a dignified sea of clouds.
Comment: Do not lose your dignity nor impugn that of others. Life is a pageant of many colours. It is good to understand the deeper currents and not get caught in the waves.
10. Do not defame the Three Treasures: to do something by ourselves, without copying others, is to become an example to the world and the merit of doing such a thing becomes the source of all wisdom. Do not criticise, but accept everything.
Comment: Taking refuge is true faith and it brings independence of the best kind. With Buddha as one’s friend what need one fear? The Three Treasures appear in many forms casting their radiance upon our lives. By ourselves we are nothing, but in that light everything.
Overall Comment: These great precepts of Mahayana Buddhism describe the life, form, mind and heart of Buddha. We can try to keep them and in the attempt we shall learn many things. In particular, we shall, on the one side, become acquainted with our own weakness, error and vulnerability. and on the other with the excellence of the objects of refuge. May this deepen our faith.