Five Precepts

The Way is practiced in this alluring world and busy city.
It relies on the Five Precepts as its foundation.

The Five Precepts are guidelines to a correct and moral way of life that will free us from future suffering and lead us to happiness and peace. Upholding the Five Precepts is a prerequisite for being reborn in the human realm. Whether we are born rich or poor, sickly or healthy, smart or stupid, attractive or homely, tall or short depends on the degree of purity with which we observe the Five Precepts.

No Killing: Refrain from abortion, killing or harming human beings or any sentient beings, such as animals, birds, or insects. The karmic consequence of killing is a shortened life span and illness.

No Stealing: Refrain from taking things away from others without permission, or getting things using deceit, force or any improper means. The karmic consequence of stealing is poverty.

No Sexual Misconduct: Refrain from improper sexual behavior, such as promiscuity and adultery. Unrestrained lust can cause much harm and heartache to oneself and those involved.

No Lying: Refrain from deceitful and false speech, slandering, gossiping, or foul language. Lying results in the loss of trust and friendship of others.

No Intoxicants: Refrain from taking alcohol, drug or any illegal substances which delude and muddle the mind. The karmic consequence of intoxication is ignorance.

If we uphold one of the Five Precepts, we will be protected by five guardian spirits. If we uphold all of the Five Precepts, we will be protected by twenty-five guardian spirits. If we uphold the precepts mindfully and sincerely, we will achieve greatness in this world, and enjoy great wealth and reputation. If we uphold the precepts adequately, we will get ordinary wealth and status. If we uphold the precepts poorly, we will still be guaranteed our human form. However, if we uphold the precepts in the poorest acceptable level, we will be reborn as a human being with missing faculties.
The Five Precepts are the foundations of all virtues. We must seize the opportunity of this lifetime to observe the precepts, and liberate ourselves from the suffering of samsara, the birth and death cycle.

Three Refuges

The difficult-to-attain human form has been attained.
The difficult-to-encounter Dharma has been encountered.
If this delusive form is not liberated in this lifetime,
until which lifetime must this delusive form wait to be liberated?

Taking the Three Refuges means to return to, and to rely on the “Three Jewels,” the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. We turn to and rely on the Buddha as our teacher, the Dharma as our medicine, and the Sangha as our friends. When we take refuge in the Three Jewels, we become formal Buddhist, just like students formally registering to attend school.

  • Firstly, we take refuge in the Buddha, the Awakened One, the teacher who guides us on our path of cultivation.
  • Secondly, we take refuge in the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha gives us many methods to enlightenment, including the Five Precepts, the Four Noble Truths, and the Six Paramitas. They teach us the ways to transcend suffering, and attain happiness, liberation and peace.
  • Thirdly, we take refuge in the Sangha, the community of ordained Buddhist monks and nuns. There are many paths of cultivation. To ensure we do not take the wrong path, we should seek guidance from those who truly devote themselves to the practice and teaching of the Dharma.

The Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng, says, “Buddha is the awakened mind; Dharma is truth; Sangha is purity.” The ultimate goal of taking refuge in the Three Jewels is to commit ourselves to realize our intrinsic Three Jewels, the awareness, wisdom, truth and purity inherent in our Buddha mind.

The Buddha’s Birthday Celebration Ceremony

The Buddha’s Birthday Celebration Ceremony is an annual celebration held on the eighth of April in the Chinese lunar calendar to commemorate the birth of the Buddha.

About 3000 years ago, Queen Maya had a dream in which she saw a six-tusked elephant entering her from her right side and she became pregnant. Ten months later, as dictated by Indian custom, she returned to her mother’s house to wait for the birth of the baby. On her way, she saw some beautiful and fragrant Sala trees at Lumbini Garden where she stopped to rest. As she raised her right arm to take hold of a tree branch, the baby Buddha was born from her right side. When the baby Buddha landed on earth, he took seven steps in each of the four cardinal directions; with each step he took, huge lotus flowers arose from under his feet. Pointing one hand toward the sky, and one hand toward earth, he declared: “In all of heaven and earth, I am the most venerated one.”(“I” refers to the inherent Buddha nature in all beings.) At this point, the whole earth shook, celestial maidens sprinkled the earth with heavenly flowers, the four Heavenly Kings showered the golden body of the baby prince with 12 kinds of fragrant water made from the most precious flowers, and the nine celestial dragons spurted two streams of water from their mouths, one warm and one cold, to bathe the baby Buddha. Every being in the heavens and on earth danced in exultation at the arrival of the Buddha, who taught that anguished beings would find the real causes and solutions to their suffering, and lost beings would find the right path to liberation.

Buddhist disciples celebrate the Buddha’s birthday by holding the ceremony in which a statue of the baby Buddha is placed at the center of a water fountain decorated with fragrant flowers. Following a chanting and offering service, participants take turns ladling the fragrant water in the fountain and pouring it over the baby Buddha statue while chanting the “Bathing the Buddha Gatha”. This ritual symbolizes the washing away of the greed, anger, ignorance and all the accumulated defilements in our minds. A pure mind brings wisdom and blessings. The beauty of the flowers, the sweet fragrance emanating from the water fountain, and the mindfulness and respect called forth by the bathing ritual serve to remind the participants to always avoid unwholesome thoughts and actions, and maintain the purity of body and mind at every moment.

The Buddha came into this world for one express purpose: to challenge us to look directly at the meaning of life and death and show us the way to transcend the endless cycles of suffering caused by our ignorance of or refusal to face the truth. In the Buddha’s Birthday Celebration Ceremony, we are inspired and encouraged to reflect on the meaning of our own birth and death and to truly get to know the Buddha waiting to be born in each of us.

Guan Yin Ceremony

Bodhisattva Guan Yin, which means the “observer of sounds,” is also known as Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. A Bodhisattva is someone who aims to become a Buddha and at the same time vows to help all other beings reach Buddhahood. Guan Yin Bodhisattva has actually attained Buddhahood countless kalpas (a Sanskrit word for a time unit measured in tens of millions of years) ago. When the Bodhisattva was practising many kalpas ago, he heard the chanting of the Dharani of the Great Compassionate Mind. He was moved and immediately resolved to manifest a thousand hands and a thousand eyes so he could be fully equipped with the great power to help all beings who were suffering. At the moment he made this compassionate vow, a thousand hands, each with an eye on its palm, immediately manifested in his body.

Although already a Buddha, Guan Yin is willing to come into this world as a Bodhisattva. He vows to listen for the cries of any beings who are in danger or distress and immediately comes to their rescue when they single-mindedly chant his name. With the unconditional compassion and unwavering resolution to help all beings, Guan Yin is able to access the power of the pure mind to manifest a thousand hands and eyes, and to show up in 32 different bodies. For example, Guan Yin can show up as a man, a woman, a monk, a nun, a statesman, the wife of a statesman, a young boy or a young girl, to help whoever can be helped by manifesting that character.

The story of how the Bodhisattva comes to be known as “Guan Yin” and how he vows to liberate all beings from suffering is described in “The Universal Gateway Chapter,” of the Lotus Sutra. The liturgy of the Great Compassionate Repentance is based on the Dharani of the Great Compassionate Mind and is compiled by Zhi Li, a Tiantai School Master in the Song dynasty (960-1279). In a Guan Yin Ceremony, participants chant the “Universal Gateway Chapter” and the Great Compassionate Repentance together in an atmosphere of reverence and goodwill. The energy of compassion generated from the ceremony opens our hearts and minds to learn from Guan Yin, and to care for ourselves as well as all beings with unconditional compassion.

Medicine Buddha Ceremony

The path to enlightenment consists of many ways of practice. These different practices serve to accommodate people with different dispositions, needs, and issues in their lives. The Medicine Buddha Ceremony is a practice that is especially good for those who are seeking relief from afflictions of the body and mind. In a Medicine Buddha Ceremony, participants gather in a magnificently decorated hall and chant the Medicine Buddha Sutra together with mindfulness and respect. Chanting this Sutra with single-minded concentration and whole-hearted sincerity will bring about the following benefits:

First, for those who are suffering from many physical ailments, who are poor and deprived of daily necessities, who often encounter disasters, accidents, or situations of distress and danger, chanting the Medicine Buddha Sutra will bring recovery from ailments, abundance and blessings to the participants and to the beings to whom the ceremony is dedicated.

Second, for those who have broken the precepts, or the rules of conduct set up by the Buddha, chanting this Sutra can clear the sins and obstacles resulting from their transgressions.

When the Medicine Buddha was practising to become a Buddha, he decided to help those who were sick, poor and deprived find the path to enlightenment once he attained Buddhahood. He made the following twelve vows:

  1. May all beings look as radiant and magnificent as the Buddha.
  2. May all beings be inspired and enlightened when they see the radiant light emanating from the Buddha.
  3. May all beings have inexhaustible supplies to meet all their daily needs.
  4. May those who have strayed from the path find their way to enlightenment, and those who have practised for their own enlightenment alone be inspired to practice for the enlightenment of all beings and never regress from their Bodhisattva vows.
  5. May all beings adhere to the practice of pure conduct and fully uphold the precepts.
  6. May anyone who hears and recites my name obtains complete recovery from ailments and total relief from pain and suffering.
  7. May all beings enjoy good health, peace and happiness, and go on to attain enlightenment.
  8. May any women who wish to be reborn as men have their wish fulfilled.
  9. May all beings learn to see things as they really are and practice the Bodhisattva Way.
  10. May all beings be free from worries, irritations and miseries.
  11. May all beings get nourishment and satisfaction from an abundance of food and drinks and obtain peace, joy, and comfort from the Buddha’s teachings.
  12. May all beings obtain all the beautiful things they wish for.

However, merely wishing and praying for abundance in material things and comfort of the physical body will only give us temporary relief and blessings. To reap the true benefits of chanting the sutra, we should especially pay attention to this verse in the sutra: “Our mind should be free of defilement and turbidity, free of anger and wickedness, filled with charity, compassion, joy, and selflessness, and open to embrace all beings and phenomena without bias and attachment.” This verse describes the state of mind of the Buddha. With the wisdom to see through the impermanent, changeable, and empty nature of all phenomena, the Buddha no longer has any greed or attachment for any possessions. With the compassion to feel the anguish suffered by every afflicted being and the wish to grant everyone real joy and comfort, the Buddha is forever free of anger and irritation toward anyone or anything. When we chant, practice, and live every moment of our lives with the state of mind of the Buddha, we will surely attain the fruit of enlightenment.

The Meaning of Repentance

The principle of causality, which states that all worldly phenomena, including our thoughts and actions, are subject to the law of cause and consequence, is a fundamental teaching in Buddhism. The wrongs and harms we committed in the past bring the obstacles we face in our lives now, and the wrongs and harms we do now will bring obstacles to our future. These obstacles are called karmic obstacles, which are the ripened fruits of our past actions. They bring hurdles and hardship to our career, family, health, and cultivation.

However, karmic obstacles can be avoided and removed through the process of repentance, which consists of two elements. One involves the rituals of confession in which we make offerings such as flowers and fruits to the Three Jewels as we sincerely confess and repent our sins. Through these rituals, we look honestly into our minds for the causes of our wrongdoings, sincerely accept responsibility for the harms we have caused, and resolve never to commit the same transgressions again. The other involves contemplation in which we reflect on the empty nature of all worldly phenomena, including our body, mind, and karma. When we keep our minds pure, clear, undisturbed by any thoughts, emotions and concepts, we will be able to transcend all karmic obstacles.

Once there were two dissenters of the Buddha, King Ajatasattu and Devadatta, who conspired to discredit the Buddha’s teachings and harm the Buddha. After their failed plots, King Ajatasattu found malignant tumors growing all over his body. He sought help from Jivaka, the most famous doctor in Buddha’s time, who was known for his miraculous power to cure any disease. But the miracle doctor told the King, “I may be the best doctor alive, but I cannot cure your tumors, for they are the karmic consequences of your ill will to harm the Buddha. The only way to get rid of these painful tumors is to go directly to the Buddha and repent your sins.” The King then had his attendants carry him to the Buddha, to whom he confessed his wrongdoings and made earnest repentance. Surely enough, his tumors disappeared the next day. When we get sick, we can use the occasion to examine our minds and reflect on our actions, speech, and thoughts, and repent for the transgressions we have committed. In addition, we should vow to always do good deeds, and walk the path of enlightenment. Getting to know our pure mind is the ultimate repentance for all the deluded acts we have done since time immemorial, and the cleanest, fastest way of removing our karmic obstacles.

Blessing Ceremony

There are two types of Blessing Ceremonies: one is to bring blessings to one’s family and relatives who are still living; the other is dedicated to the deceased. In both services, the participants chant sutras and mantras to pay respect and homage to the Three Jewels – the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, which represent perfect wisdom and compassion, the solution and relief for all suffering. Relying on the power of compassion of the Three Jewels, the participants pray for the removal of disasters and obstacles, for growth in wisdom and prosperity in the lives of their family, for a pure, bright, and harmonious universe, as well as for the deceased to be reborn in the realms of the pure and blessed.

88 Buddhas Repentance Ceremony

In the 88 Buddhas Repentance Ceremony, participants repent by chanting the names of 88 Buddhas, which is an excellent way to clear our karmic obstacles and draw out our inner wisdom.

The sources of the names of the 88 Buddhas were not recorded in the repentance liturgy and remained unknown until Dao Pai, a Qing Dynasty Dharma Master, decided to look them up. Master Dao Pei was ordained as a monk at a young age. The very first time he chanted the 88 Buddhas’ names, he experienced a cool serenity never felt before. Even when he became an old man, he would experience the same pure joy each time he chanted the Buddhas’ names, so he set out to look for the sources of the names in the sutra collections. He discovered that the first 53 Buddhas’ names came from the Sutra of Visualizing the Two Bodhisattvas, the King of Medicine and the Superior Physician, and the last 35 Buddhas’ names came from the Maharatnakuta Sutra. Fearing that without this knowledge, future readers of the liturgy might not treat it with the proper respect and veneration, he added this documentation in the preface to the liturgy with the aim of strengthening the faith and earnestness of the practitioners as they chanted the names of the Buddhas.

The power of chanting the Buddhas’ names is documented in the past life story of Shakyamuni Buddha at the time of the Buddha Suryarasmi. One day, Shakyamuni Buddha, a practising monk, heard the chanting of the 53 Buddhas’ names and immediately sensed an indescribable joy, which he felt must be shared with all beings. He had the message passed along to 3,000 people, who followed his example and chanted the 53 Buddhas’ names with deep respect and remembered each buddha’s name by heart. These people subsequently attained Buddhahood in three different time periods or kalpas.

Shakyamuni Buddha also felt the suffering of beings who had to carry with them heavy karmic obstacles, so he taught them to repent by chanting the 35 Buddhas’ names.

Chanting the 88 Buddhas’ names is a practice that allows us to pay respect to all the Buddhas who have already attained enlightenment and the buddha-to-be in each of us. Reflecting on and repenting the bad habits that keep us from enlightenment will reduce our false pride and clear new paths for us in our lives.

Liang Huang Jeweled Repentance Ceremony

The Liang Huang Jeweled Repentance liturgy was written and compiled in the Southern Liang Dynasty (502-557) in China by the famous Chan Master Zhi Gong at the request of Emperor Wu.

One night, a few months after the death of his Queen Chishi, Emperor Wu heard some rattling noise outside his bedroom as he was getting ready for bed. When he peeked outside his bedroom door, he saw a big boa constrictor staring at him. Surprised and frightened, the Emperor said to the snake, “This is a stately court, a place of majesty and decorum, hardly a place for a snake to hang out.” The snake said, “Your Majesty, I was your queen Chishi. I am now reborn as a snake because in my past life, out of anger, jealousy, self-indulgence, and cruelty, I destroyed many things and harmed many lives. Now I have nothing to eat and no cave to hide. Most painfully, I am constantly being bitten by the many insects living under my scales. It is out of desperation that I come to seek help from your Highness, hoping through the merits of your Majesty, I can escape this vile body.” Then the snake disappeared.

The next day Emperor Wu consulted with Chan Master Zhi Gong. The Master said, “The karma obstacles of the former Queen must be cleansed by repentance and prostrations to the Buddha.” The Emperor then asked the Master to compile a list of Buddhas’ names and to write the text of repentance based on the sutras. The Master compiled a repentance liturgy that was ten volumes long. The Emperor then followed the liturgy and made repentance on behalf of his queen. One day, as he was getting ready to chant, he smelled a sweet fragrance in the room. When he looked up, he saw a person of grace and beauty standing before him. The person said, “By the grace of your Majesty’s sincere repentance on my behalf, I am now reborn as a heavenly being in the Trayastrimsa Heaven. I come especially to thank your Highness.” Then the person disappeared.

The fascinating story behind the origin of the Liang Huang Jeweled Repentance demonstrates the power of reflecting on our wrongdoings, accepting responsibility for them and repenting with whole-hearted earnestness. The courage to repent and reform immediately brings peace and blessings to us.

Compassionate Water Repentance Ceremony

The Water Repentance liturgy was written in the Tang Dynasty by the Imperial Dharma Master, Wu Da, who found out first hand that karmic retributions and consequences may remain invisible through many ages and reincarnations, but can never be escaped and must be repaid.

During the reign of Emperor Yi Zong in the Tang Dynasty (mid 9th century), a young monk named Zhi Xuan once went on the road to visit monasteries across the land. In one unremarkable temple he stayed in, he smelled a repugnant odour coming from the neighbouring dormitory room. When he went over to check it out, he saw a monk lying in bed, his whole body covered with odorous sores. Due to his hideous sight and odour, everyone in the monastery stayed away from him. However, Zhi Xuan did not abandon this suffering man but treated his sores with kindness and care. With the help of this kind caretaker, the sick monk soon completely recovered. Both men began getting ready to move on in their paths. Before they departed, the recovered monk said to Zhi Xuan, “If you ever find yourself in any catastrophe or trouble, you may come looking for me at Jiulong Mountain in Peng Province, Sichuan. When you see the twin pine trees on the left side of the mountain, you will have arrived at the right place.” With that, the recovered man went on his way.

Many years later, Zhi Xuan’s virtuous conduct and profound practice won him high regard and respect from the Emperor, who knighted him with the honourable title of Imperial Dharma Master and gave him the name Wu Da, meaning “thoroughly enlightened.” In addition, the Emperor granted him a throne decorated with eaglewood from which to lecture the Dharma. As soon as Master Wu Da ascended on the throne, his mind gave rise to the thought, “I am now under one person but above thousands of people.” At this moment, a painful growth shaped like a human face appeared on his knee; the human face had a mouth that would open and ask to be fed, causing the Imperial Master excruciating and unbearable pain. The most famous doctors all over the country were helpless in finding the cure for this hideous tumour.

In his moment of desperation, Master Wu Da remembered the offer given by the monk he cared for a long time ago. He immediately set out to seek this man who could be his saviour. When he arrived at Jiulong Mountain, he saw the twin pine trees. Behind the trees stood a magnificent hall where a monk was expecting him with a welcoming smile. The monk consoled Master Wu Da and reassured him that with the pure water from the clear spring below the cliff, the tumour could be completely washed off.

The next day, an attendant boy led Master Wu Da to the spring. As Master Wu Da was getting ready to splash water on the tumour on his knee, the human face on the growth shouted, “Stop! Do not flush me away! Haven’t you read the story of Yuan Ang and Chao Cuo from the History of Western Han?” Master Wu Da answered, “Sure. The two were archenemies in the riotous Western Han period around second century BC. Yuan Ang persuaded the Emperor to kill Chao Cuo, and the Emperor ordered Chao Cuo to be cut in half at the waist.” The human face said, “You were that Yuan Ang who had Chao Cuo killed, and I was that Chao Cuo who suffered that horrific death. When I was being executed, hatred filled my heart, and I swore I would seek revenge at the first chance. Unfortunately for me, for your last ten reincarnations, you have been an eminent monk who has strictly upheld the precepts; therefore, Dharma guardians were always around you to protect you, depriving me of any chance to do you harm. However, when the gift from the Emperor stirred up your arrogant thought for fame and wealth, your tainted mind gave me a chance to get close to carry out my revenge. Now with the purity of the samadhi water, which has been blessed by the Venerable Kanaka, the enlightened sage whom you saved, I can be liberated from hatred, and I will no longer seek revenge.”

The pure samadhi water cleansed away the tumour with the human face, and also the longstanding feud between the two enemies. Master Wu Da wrote the text of repentance, which he chanted every morning and evening to thank the Venerable Kanaka, and named it the Compassionate Water Repentance. Now practitioners can wash away the longstanding feud and bitterness in their own minds by reflecting inwards and repenting with a mind of purity and gratitude.