by His Holiness Trijang Dorje Chang1
THE SHORTCOMINGS OF DEGENERATING THE PRECEPTS
It is said in the Vinaya teaching, Vinaya Transmission, that even if one transgresses the great word of the Lord only a few times, one still experiences ill effects. Being non-virtuous and transgressing Buddha’s teachings lead to rebirth in the animal realms, as with the naga Elapatra.
In former times, when Shakyamuni Buddha, the Destroyer, the Qualified, the One Gone Beyond, was giving a discourse, Elapatra, King of the Nagas, whose name means “having branches of the ela,” transformed himself into a wheel-turning king to attend. Knowing who was sitting before him, Buddha said, “You harmed the teachings of Buddha Kashyapa [the previous Buddha]–are you now going to harm my teachings as well? Please listen to the teachings in your true form.”
The next day an enormous serpent with an eladub tree growing out of its head came to the discourse. When the wind blew through the branches of the tree it caused intense pain deep inside the serpent’s brain. The serpent was so huge that when its head had reached Buddha its tail was still leaving the village of Dorjun. Buddha’s disciples were terrified and began to run away, but Buddha said, “You need not be afraid. This serpent is the very same being that appeared here yesterday in the form of a wheel-turning king.” They asked Buddha what had caused the naga king to be born with such a monstrous body. Buddha explained that once, during the time of Buddha Kashyapa, the naga king had been a fully ordained monk who, while circumambulating an eladub tree, had hit his head on a branch and become angry. This disturbance weakened his precept [of abstaining from the unnecessary destruction of plants], and he lopped off the branches of the tree. This was the action that caused his present rebirth.
Reflecting on the shortcomings of breaking even this small precept, we should protect our vows properly.
THE ACTUAL BENEFITS OF PROTECTING THE PRECEPTS
The specific benefits of protecting the eight branches of the Restoring and Purifying Ordination
The benefits of abandoning the taking of life. In this life and in all future lives one’s life will be long, magnificent and free from illness.
The benefits of abandoning taking that which is not given. In this and in all future lives one will have perfect enjoyments, and others will not harm them.
The benefits of abandoning the sexual act. In this life and in all future lives one will have a good body with a beautiful complexion and complete sense organs.
The benefits of abandoning lies. In this life and in all future lives one will not be cheated, and others will take heed of what one says.
The benefits of abandoning intoxicants (including alcohol, cigarettes, mind-altering drugs and any other substance that loosens voluntary reserve). In this life and in all future lives one will have stable mindfulness and awareness, clear senses and perfect wisdom.
The benefits of abandoning large and high beds and thrones. In this life and in all future lives one will receive praise and respect from others, one will have proper bedding (soft, warm, whatever is needed), and one will have vehicles and animals for traveling.
The benefits of abandoning food at improper times. In this life and in all future lives one will have abundant and perfect crops and will obtain food and drink without effort.
The benefits of abandoning perfume, ornaments, and so forth. In this life and in all future lives one’s body will have a pleasant scent, color and shape and many auspicious marks.
The benefits of abandoning singing and dancing. In this life and in all future lives one will have a subdued body and mind, and one’s speech will continually make the sound of Dharma.
The general benefits of protecting the eight branches of the Restoring and Purifying Ordination
The great benefit in dependence upon time. In Victorious Concentration Sutra, Buddha says that if with a calm mind one makes offerings of umbrellas, victory banners, light and jewel ornaments to a hundred billion buddhas for eons equal to the number of sand grains in the Ganges River, a great deal of merit is acquired. However, if, during these degenerate times when the holy Dharma, the teaching of the One Gone to Bliss, has almost ceased, one keeps just one precept for a day and a night, the merit acquired is far greater than that of giving all those offerings to an uncountable number of buddhas over such a long period.
Therefore, if the Restoring and Purifying Ordination is protected just once in one’s life, the amount of merit accumulated is equal to the vastness of the sky and, as one accumulates this merit, one gradually achieves perfect happiness. By understanding this, one can see how fortunate one is to have the opportunity to take the ordination and how meaningful it is during these difficult and degenerate times. It is like finding billions of wish-fulfilling gems.
Even though one may not own one atom of a precious gem or have a single dollar, by keeping this ordination one can attain both temporary and ultimate happiness. The person who owns enough wish-fulfilling gems to fill the sky but does not keep even one branch of morality cannot attain rebirth as a human or a god, cannot practice Dharma to accomplish any of the three great purposes (higher rebirth, liberation or enlightenment), and cannot enjoy perfect helpers and enjoyments.
The great benefit in dependence upon the place. If one practices pure virtue in a pure realm for eons, the merit accumulated is not as great as that acquired by practicing virtue in an impure realm for the duration of a finger snap.
The benefit in dependence upon the nature of the precepts. In the sutras Buddha explained that if the most vicious of serpents, the great black naga, cannot harm those living in perfect morality, then there is no doubt that others cannot harm them.
The fully ordained monk [gelong] who lives within morality glows (with purity). Living in morality brings peace and happiness. Infinite benefits of morality can be described. (The best way to protect oneself from outer harm is to protect the inner ordination.) Just as a person without eyes cannot see shapes, a person without morality cannot attain liberation.
The benefit of creating the cause to meet the teachings of Maitreya Buddha. Maitreya Buddha promised that anyone who listens with devotion to the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha and protects the Restoring and Purifying Ordination will be born amongst his retinue as a disciple.
Therefore, if one wants to bring one’s cyclic existence to an end in the future by meeting the teachings of Maitreya Buddha, then now, while one has this precious human body with its eight freedoms and ten endowments and has met Buddha’s teachings and Mahayana teachers, it is extremely worthwhile to take the ordination of the Eight Mahayana Precepts and to protect these vows well.
The benefit of receiving protection from the gods. Many sutras explain that if one protects the precepts properly, the gods who are fond of virtue will protect one day and night.
The benefit of great power. Merit accumulated by one who protects the precepts is very powerful. A person living in the precepts who offers the Triple Gem a drop of butter that is only enough to cover the tip of a needle creates far greater merit than one not living in the precepts who offers the Triple Gem an ocean of butter. Merit accumulated over many eons by one not living in the Restoring and Purifying Ordination cannot be compared to the merit accumulated in just a short time by one living in the ordination.
The benefit of obtaining, without doubt, whatever one wishes. During this degenerate age, one who takes the Eight Mahayana Precepts and keeps them purely will definitely receive whatever one prays for.
The benefit of receiving the good body of a human or a god. If one protects the Eight Mahayana Precepts just once, one will attain the special bodies of gods or humans. Stories proving the benefits of such rebirths are too numerous to mention here.
The benefit of being an object for the accumulation of merit by others. One who takes ordination becomes an object for the accumulation of merit by others through becoming a (proper) object for offerings, prostrations, and so on. The higher number of precepts held by monks and nuns are the cause for others to create greater and more powerful merit by making offerings and so forth.
The benefit of simplicity. The Eight Mahayana Precepts has the advantage of being easy to take. It is said in A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life that if while bearing hardships of recitation over a long period, even many eons, one is distracted by other objects while reciting, the recitations will bear no fruit. To cultivate virtue through recitation there must be great concentration and no mental wandering from the beginning, through the middle to the end. Without proper concentration, all the difficulties borne during the recitation become meaningless.
On the other hand, with the Eight Mahayana Precepts one need pay attention for only the few minutes it takes to complete the ordination ceremony; afterwards, even if one’s mind is distracted, the benefits of taking the precepts are not diminished. Also, there are fewer precepts than in other ordinations and they have to be kept for only one day, a very short time. For myself and others like me there is no practice easier than this. When done, it has great meaning.
The benefit of liberation and full enlightenment. Protecting the Eight Mahayana Precepts (which are also known as the Eight Fast- Day Vows) becomes the cause ultimately to achieve full enlightenment. In Sutra Requested by Deva, Shakyamuni Buddha said, “Goshika, by protecting the Eight Mahayana Precepts on the eighth and fifteenth days [of the month] and during the month of Buddha’s Great Miraculous Deeds, one attains no less than Buddhahood.”
There is no question that one will receive the body of a god as well as peerless enlightenment by taking and maintaining the precepts. Furthermore, the qualities of a buddha’s holy form body, the thirtytwo holy signs and the eighty holy exemplifications, are achieved by having protected the eight branches in the past. Shakyamuni Buddha, who completed the mind-training in compassion for every sentient being, would not lie and can be fully trusted—if not because of his omniscient mind, then because of his great compassion. Since we do not have the clairvoyance to see karma and all its effects, we must rely on the explanations given by Shakyamuni Buddha, the fully enlightened one, who possesses great compassion, omniscient mind and perfect power. If we cannot trust the words of such a compassionate, fully enlightened being, then who can we trust to help us to complete the inner development of our minds?
In Sutra Requested by Kundu Sanring, the kind and compassionate Buddha was asked, “What previous karma did you, the Destroyer, the Qualified, the One Gone Beyond, collect in order to achieve the vajra holy body, the Buddha body possessing all qualities up to the inconceivable ushnisha [crowning top-knot]?”
The Destroyer, the Qualified, the One Gone Beyond answered, “This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning killing by pacifying the mental afflictions that would cause me to shorten the lives of others.”
“Why do the Buddha’s hands have thousand-spoked golden wheels and long fingers with webs of light?”
“This is the benefit of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning taking that which is not given.”
“Why does the Buddha have complete senses and a fully developed body?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning sexual misconduct, which is caused by mental afflictions.”
“Why does the Buddha have a tongue that can cover the whole mandala face and holy speech so sweet and enchanting, like the sweet sound of Brahma?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning alcohol, which makes the intoxicated careless.”
“Why does the Buddha have forty complete teeth, even and white, and why does he experience the highest and best tastes in food?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning taking food at improper times, motivated by mental afflictions.”
“Why is the Buddha’s body pervaded by the fragrant scent of morality?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning perfumes and colors [make-up], worn out of mental affliction.”
“Why is the Buddha’s holy body adorned with holy signs?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning singing, dancing and wearing ornaments out of mental affliction.”
“Why does the Buddha enjoy the three seats of Dharma [lotus and sun and moon discs]?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning the use of large and high thrones and beds through mental affliction.”
“Why does the Buddha have complete and clear senses, and why is one’s enjoyment of seeing the Buddha’s holy body never satiated?”
“This is the result of having practiced in past lives the morality of abandoning telling lies out of mental affliction.”
“Why does the Buddha have an inconceivably high ushnisha?”
“This is the result of in past lives having touched the ground with the five parts of the body [the four limbs and the head] in prostration and having made offerings to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, the guru, the leader of the disciples [preceptor] and the abbot.”
Infinite benefits could be mentioned, but only a few are described here, most of which are specifically mentioned in the benefits of the near-abiding pratimoksha [self-liberation] vows. The eight precepts of the one-day Mahayana Restoring and Purifying Ordination are similar to these pratimoksha vows, so one can rest assured that the benefits are also similar.
THE METHOD OF COMMITMENT
The eight branches of the near-abiding pratimoksha vows and the eight branches of the Mahayana Restoring and Purifying vows are the same in their observation of the eight abandonments, but vastly different in other ways.
The first and foremost difference is the source of the ordinations. The practice of the near-abiding pratimoksha method comes from Sutra of Dam-say Ne-jo, whereas the Mahayana Restoring and Purifying Ordination is taken from the tantric text Don-zhag Zhi-moi.
The second difference is that the near-abiding pratimoksha vows cannot be taken by those with the ordination of renunciation [rabjung], but the Mahayana Restoring and Purifying Ordination may be taken even by a fully ordained vajra master.
The third difference is in the motivation for taking the ordinations. The near-abiding pratimoksha ordination is taken in dependence upon the attitude of seeking the sorrowless state for oneself alone, while the Mahayana Restoring and Purifying Ordination is taken with the attitude of definitely achieving enlightenment for the sake of others.
The fourth difference is in the method of taking the ordinations. The preparation for taking the near-abiding pratimoksha ordination is to request attention and go for refuge, as in the sutra Dam-say Ne-jo. The preparation for the Mahayana Restoring and Purifying Ordination, as explained in the tantric text Don-zhag Zhi-moi, is first to request the attention of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions and then to promise three times to protect the precepts by following the example of the previous Victorious Ones.
The final difference is in the result achieved. The holder of the near-abiding pratimoksha vows will achieve, according to his or her motivation, the sorrowless state of both the lower and greater vehicles, whereas the holder of the Mahayana Restoring and Purifying Ordination who does not degenerate the vows will definitely achieve full enlightenment.
1 From Collected Works, commentary by Trusang Rinpoche. Translated by Lama Zopa Rinpoche. [Return to text]