In order to uphold the precepts, first we need to understand them. First, we need to have faith. We should trust in the Buddha's precepts. We need to have faith in the Triple Jewel. If we cannot keep the precepts, it is because we do not believe in them. Therefore, first we need to trust that the precepts set down by the Buddhas are the truth. We can investigate for ourselves to see if they are true or not. If we feel that the words of the Buddha are not in accord with the truth, then we do not have to believe them. But the principles that the Buddha spoke do accord with the truth; therefore we should cultivate accordingly. We need to be clear about this. We are not worshipping an idol; we are revering the truth. As Buddhists, we need to be very clear about this point.
Once we have faith, what is the next step? We often speak of faith, understanding, practice, and realization in cultivation. Faith means faith in the Buddha's precepts, in the Triple Jewel. Next comes understanding. We need to understand the precepts. "Ultimately, what kind of precepts have we made vows to receive?" All of you are gathered here to study in order to understand the nature of the precepts you will receive. How do we uphold them? What are the exceptions and "coverings"? This is what we need to understand. When we have complete faith and understanding, we can receive the precepts. In this way, the precept substance can shine forth from our nature.
First comes the Precept Dharma. Since we have faith in the Triple Jewel, we study the Buddha's precepts. What kinds of precepts are we studying? The Lay Bodhisattva Precepts. There are many kinds of Lay Bodhisattva Precepts. What we will be receiving are the Six Major and Twenty-eight Minor Precepts from Chapter Fourteen "On Receiving Precepts" in the Upasaka Precepts Sutra.
The Upasaka Precepts Sutra was translated by Dharma Master Tan Wu Zhen of the Northern Liang Dynasty. Due to time constraints, we cannot expound in detail the causes, conditions, and wonderful points of the precepts. But at least we can gain a basic understanding. There are various categories of the Bodhisattva Precepts.
Today we are here to study the precepts, to have faith in the Buddha's Precept Dharma. After studying the precepts, we should receive them. When we receive the precepts, the transmission will be based on this reference manual and on the Great Vehicle Dharma for the transmission of the precepts. At that time, the three Precept Masters will invite the Bodhisattvas from the ten directions to come to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas to certify the precept transmission.
The Handbook of Bodhisattva Precepts for the Laity speaks of the unconditioned substance of precepts. The Dharma Master for the Bodhisattva Precepts will say: "All disciples of the Buddha, since all of you can bring forth these fourteen deep, vast vows, I now ascend the seat and bow on behalf of all of you, to respectfully invite the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions to transmit to you the perfect substance of the precepts." That is known as the precept substance. This is the most important time for you during the precept transmission. It's when you receive the substance of the precepts.
Everyone should read this section, so that when the time comes you can contemplate accordingly to receive this superior precept substance.
After producing faith and understanding, when we receive the precepts, we have to truly and sincerely place the six major and twenty-eight minor precepts in our minds, so that we can stop evil and avoid wrongdoing. We should put into practice the dharma of the precepts. We should not do what we are not supposed to do. Even when we dream, we should tell ourselves that it's not permissible to do such and such a thing. That power comes from the precept substance. We have that power if we have truly received the substance of the precepts. Once we have the precept substance, we will gain a kind of strength in our body, mouth and mind. There is a change in our conduct and demeanor. Even when we are dreaming, our thoughts and our behavior are not the same as before; this is known as the precept conduct.
To be continued