By Dharma Master Yin Tak
Recorded by M. Lui

The disciplinary codes or Vinaya, aiming at disciplining disciples' way of living as well as cultivation, are necessary guidelines set by Buddha consequent to a disciple's wrongdoing. Seeing a monk commit an improper act, Buddha would first warn him against repeating it. If he filed to comply, punishment would be administered according to the disciplinary codes. Rules that resulted were later collected into the basket of Vinaya and upheld as standards for monastic living.

Along with monastic regulations are rules for laity as well. Some of them are observed by both communities and others, specific for a group.

Disciplinary observance is the first step for every Buddhist along the path of cultivation, No matter what the approach, preceptive adherence leads.

The Buddhist canon contains ample illustrations of how significant disciplinary rules are. Some of these will be cited later in this lecture.

An eminent master of the past had left this verse:

      The disciplinary rules -
      The compassionate ferry across the ocean of suffering and
      The source of hundreds of thousands of virtues -
      Were honored by sages of the three yanas and
      Handed down by generations of masters.

In the ocean of suffering we drift without cease; in the ocean of samsara we go with currents of vexations and karma, intermittently floating and sinking. But aboard the safe ferry of compassion, that is, in upholding the disciplinary rules, we will leave suffering behind eventually. For preceptive observance is the forerunner of all virtues and the launching pad of all good. Without the precepts, good deeds will never be. Sages of the three yanas or vehicles, namely, sravaka, pratyekabuddha, and bodhisattva, and many patriarchs of past generations, all reverentially and vigilantly abided by them in practice.

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra has this to say on the subject:

      To realize Buddha nature and
      To attain the great nirvana,
      The pure precepts must be cultivated and upheld wholeheartedly,
      Failure in keeping the precepts
      Makes a follower of mara's,
      Not a disciple of mine.

Our goal of following the Buddhist path is solely to realize Buddha nature innate in everyone. In other words, to attain Buddhahood, to reach the state of neither birth nor death - nirvana. This is in the mind of every serious Buddhist, and firm commitment to the upholding of pure precepts is the key to it. Otherwise, inability to observe those precepts already received stands to exclude a practitioner from the company of Buddha's disciples, land him or her among ranks of evil, and shut himself or herself out of enlightenment.

The Sutra of Samadhi of the Light of Sun and Moon also states:

One sharp and bright, erudite in all three collections of Buddhist texts but wanting in preceptive wisdom due to the inability to observe the precepts, is still bestial.

An individual may be both bright and learned in the Buddhist canon, but failure in preceptive observance prevents any gain of preceptive wisdom and sustains uncivilness.

The Avatamsaka Sutra, too, gives us a prompt about preceptive adherence.

Observance of the teaching of disciplinary codes ensures the right Dharma of Buddha be kept and the teaching undefied, the Triple Gem live on and the Dharma abide.

All Buddhists will pray for the three gems of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha to last on earth, to teach, guide, help the living beings out of the ocean of suffering, and make liberation from samsara a possibility for all.

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra says:

One who upholds the precepts will have no fear in mind at life's end.

A good keeper of the precepts, clear in conscience, does not worry about future rebirth, but, if otherwise, may become apprehensive and fearful.

The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra also lists five benefits from upholding the precepts:

  1. Preceptive codes affirmed;
  2. Triumph over adversary;
  3. Calmness before a crowd;
  4. Doubts will resolved; and
  5. The right Dharma to last.

In unwavering observance, the preceptive codes received remain strong and impregnable, unaffected by external forces and unharmed by outside detriments. Through indebted to many and having made enemies in lives gone by, we earn protection from rigorous preceptive adherence. What is more, we will win them all over. Self-assured from the keeping of precepts are equipped with adequate wisdom, we are no longer afraid in the presence of a crowd. As for any doubts both our own and others' clarity in mind and force of concentration gained from upholding the precepts will generate wisdom and, subsequently, a solution. Contrarily, the mind scattered and wandering, the mental function will falter. Proper adherence to disciplinary codes will enable the right Dharma to carry on, untouched by evil or heretics. Observance by one land many wil ensure a bright future for Buddhism and world peace at large.

The Satayasiddhi Sastra says:

      The house of the Way
      Is pillared upon disciplinary codes;
      The mental fortress of meditation
      Is walled by precepts.

Pillars are to a building as precepts are to the cultivation of the Buddhist way. Without such support, the whole practice collapses no matter how inept. Similarly, like the fortress guarding a city, precepts wall off external invasion against the meditative mind.

From the gins of keeping the precepts, we now move on to losses that may be incurred in their violation.

Depravation to the three undesirable planes of existences ensues filure to keep precepts already received. Such a fall is inevitable if the disciplinary codes are not complied with, good practice nor carried out, and misdeeds committed.

The Brahma Net Sutra drawbacks as follows:

A disciple of Buddha who renounces out of pure faith and receives the pure precepts of Buddha, then intentionally transgresses is unworthy of offerings from devotees, hence prohibited from walking the country's ground and forbidden to drink its water. Five thousand devils shall thereafter block one's way, yelling big thief! When one visits homes, villages, and towns, the devils will sweep away one's footprints. Condemned as a thief in the Dharma and ostracized by all living beings, a preceptive transgressor differs not from an unwanted creature or a wooden stump.

Monastics are often given offerings of all sorts precept, no offerings should be made because:

      A benefactor's offering of rice,
      Every grain as immense as Mount Sumeru,
      Must be paid back if the Way be unrealized,
      Whether one be furred or horned.

A transgressor of the precepts is unfit to swallow any single grain of rice offered. For lay followers make offerings to monastics to facilitate their cultivation of the Buddhist path so that more living beings may be helped and teachings of Buddha promulgated. Transgression is an infinitely serious matter. The transgressor is thereby unfit to step on the lank or drink its water, that is to live there and claim rights of residence. A thief even to devils, one is guilty of stealing offerings from benefactors without paying the dues of observing the precepts and cultivating properly. The devils sweep away the footprints out of disgust, not wanting to lay their eyes on such. Everyone else, equally irate, wants no more of the sight. A good keeper of the pure precepts, dignified and composed, is well regarded, but a transgressor, like a beast and a block of wood, earns no respect.

Preceptive violation causes five negative consequences:

  1. Harm to oneself;
  2. Reproof by the wise;
  3. Ill fame be cast to oneself;
  4. Fear and regrets at life's end; and
  5. Descent to the undesirable planes of existence after death in accordance with one's own negative karma.

Precepts are initially received with the goal of cultivating and attaing enlightenment. Once violated, all efforts to have kept them are in vain. With personal growth an spiritual development in ruins, nobody suffers but oneself.