śīla: rules, precepts or vows?

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śīla: rules, precepts or vows?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:53 pm

Are "precepts" as they are often known rules, vows or something else?

In East Asia more often than not the idea of jie 戒 (Skt. śīla; Tib. tshul khrims) is one where an "unexpressed form dharma" (Chn. wubiao sefa 無表色法; Skt. avijñapti-rūpa-dharma) is transmitted from preceptor to the recipient. This is why lineage for precepts is essential. You cannot just pick up the Vinaya or Bodhisattva precepts and practice from there. There must be some kind of formal transmission of this form dharma otherwise it doesn't exist and you are not really "upholding precepts", or so the theory suggests.

That being said, though, in my research of precepts in Buddhism I sense there is something at odds with how śīla seems to have been understood in the early sangha.

It was generally just rules laid down for the community, which somewhere along the lines became formalized precepts which disciples would formally vow to uphold. The five lay precepts and later ten virtues were formalized extensions of the original ground rules laid down over the course of the Buddha's career. When alcohol was prohibited, for example, it was merely a rule laid down by the Buddha following an incident. I wrote about this here if you're interested:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2012/03/ ... cohol.html

However, the texts just indicate this was a rule people were expected to follow. It was not a vow or precept. Just a house rule.

So, it begs the question, what is śīla? Is it just rules for the sangha and personal conduct? Is it sacred vows that must be upheld under penalty of karmic retribution? Is it a form dharma that is formally transmitted from a preceptor that furthermore must be maintained?
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Re: śīla: rules, precepts or vows?

Postby Sherab » Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:21 am

Sila is like any other phenomenon. It is dependently arisen.
Sila is also a fetter that is abandoned on the path of seeing.
Therefore, sila is merely a tool to help the practitioner to reach a particular destination.
Once the destination is reached, the tool can and should be cast aside.
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Re: śīla: rules, precepts or vows?

Postby plwk » Thu Mar 22, 2012 2:21 am

Are "precepts" as they are often known rules, vows or something else?

Looks like it depends on who's doing the translation and also which tradition is transmitting as some are using these terms interchangeably and have their own interpretation on what constitute vows, precepts, rules...
This is why lineage for precepts is essential. You cannot just pick up the Vinaya or Bodhisattva precepts and practice from there.

I am not sure if that's entirely true. The Mahayana Brahma Net Sutra does allow one to undertake the Bodhisattva Vows with certain stipulations under certain conditions...
http://www.ymba.org/bns/bnsframe.htm
23. On Teaching the Dharma Grudgingly
After my passing, if a disciple should, with a wholesome mind, wish to receive the Bodhisattva precepts, he may make a vow to do so before the images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and practice repentance before these images for seven days.
If he then experiences a vision, he has received the precepts.
If he does not, he should continue doing so for fourteen days, twenty-one days, or even a whole year, seeking to witness an auspicious sign.
After witnessing such a sign, he could, in front of images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, formally receive the precepts.
If he has not witnessed such a sign, although he may have accepted the precepts before the Buddha images, he has not actually received the precepts.

However, the witnessing of auspicious signs is not necessary if the disciple receives the precepts directly from a Dharma Master who has himself received the precepts. Why is this so? It is because this is a case of transmission from Master to Master and therefore all that is required is a mind of utter sincerity and respect on the part of the disciple.

If, within a radius of some three hundred fifty miles, a disciple cannot find a Master capable of conferring the Bodhisattva Precepts, he may seek to receive them in front of Buddha or Bodhisattva images. However, he must witness an auspicious sign.
I was attending a 4 day teaching recently on Atisa's Bodhipathapradipa and the presiding Rinpoche mentioned that only in acute and exceptional circumstances (like in times of war, famine, sickness, disasters, upheavals, totally unable to find a proper Guru/Preceptor) that one can undertake the Bodhisattva Vows by making offerings to the Triple Gem and oneself motivated by Bodhicitta and a sincere aspiring mind. One need not wait for any auspicious signs as one's pure motivation suffices unlike the stipulation of witnessing an auspicious sign in the Brahma Net Sutra. He repeated that this method is only for the exceptional cases.
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Re: śīla: rules, precepts or vows?

Postby kirtu » Fri Mar 23, 2012 8:12 am

Huseng wrote:Are "precepts" as they are often known rules, vows or something else?

In East Asia more often than not the idea of jie 戒 (Skt. śīla; Tib. tshul khrims) is one where an "unexpressed form dharma" (Chn. wubiao sefa 無表色法; Skt. avijñapti-rūpa-dharma) is transmitted from preceptor to the recipient. This is why lineage for precepts is essential. You cannot just pick up the Vinaya or Bodhisattva precepts and practice from there. There must be some kind of formal transmission of this form dharma otherwise it doesn't exist and you are not really "upholding precepts", or so the theory suggests.


You definitely have a point here but as plwk notes (by inference from what the lama said) and as you indicate with the "unexpressed form dharma" lineage carries weight which is one of the reasons that Tibetan Buddhist lamas teach taking vows from a vow holder. One could actually just follow the precepts on one's own but a real positive impetus is imparted when one takes the precepts formally and follows them. There has to be a discussion of this in Vasubandhu and certainly in the Vinaya teachings.

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Re: śīla: rules, precepts or vows?

Postby ground » Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:13 am

plwk wrote:I was attending a 4 day teaching recently on Atisa's Bodhipathapradipa and the presiding Rinpoche mentioned that only in acute and exceptional circumstances (like in times of war, famine, sickness, disasters, upheavals, totally unable to find a proper Guru/Preceptor) that one can undertake the Bodhisattva Vows by making offerings to the Triple Gem and oneself motivated by Bodhicitta and a sincere aspiring mind. One need not wait for any auspicious signs as one's pure motivation suffices unlike the stipulation of witnessing an auspicious sign in the Brahma Net Sutra. He repeated that this method is only for the exceptional cases.

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