Within the precept conduct, there are exceptions, "coverings," upholding and violations. There are instances in which we are supposed to do something and instances in which we are not supposed to do something. There are also exceptions and within these exceptions there are instances in which we cannot do some things. All of these comprise the precept mark, which we have to learn. In short, we obtain the precept substance because we have faith and understanding in the dharma of the precepts. When the precept substance acts upon our body, mouth, and mind, that is known as the precept conduct. And when we achieve the perfect, unobstructed Middle Way, then it is called the perfect precept mark. Thus the principles of faith, understanding, practice, and realization discussed in Buddhism can be used to explain the precepts.
All of you have come here to seek the precepts, and you are in the stage of "faith" and "understanding"; therefore everyone must be reverent toward the Triple Jewel. Only through respect can you benefit from the Dharma. Next, you have to ponder the precepts and understand them. Thus you can obtain the true and perfect substance of the precepts when you receive them.
The Precepts Handbook is a handbook for reciting precepts. We have just said that there are many kinds of Bodhisattva Precepts. Then, is it the case that each kind of the Bodhisattva Precepts has a precepts handbook? Some Bodhisattva Precepts do have a handbook and some do not. The Bodhisattva Precepts Handbook we use is taken from Chapter Fourteen on Receiving Precepts in the Upasaka Precepts Sutra compiled by the Great Master Ou Yi. There is one incorrect word which we have corrected based on the Tripitaka. Therefore it can be said that we have revised the Handbook taken from the Upasaka Precepts Sutra by Great Master Ou Yi. Now we will introduce the contents of the Handbook in order to make it easier for everyone to use.
The text of the precepts that we should receive and uphold are found on pages one through twelve of the handbook. Page fifty has an explanation of the basic terminology. The Lay Bodhisattva Precepts are classified based on their nature into eight categories to make it easier to learn and uphold them. Please refer to page fifty-eight for the eight classifications.
The first category of not killing living beings includes one major precept and seven minor ones. The second category of not stealing has one major precept and two minor ones. The third category concerns lust. The fourth pertains to karma of the mouth. The fifth regards not using intoxicants and drugs; the sixth category is related to making offerings to the Triple Jewel and respecting one's elders and teachers; the seventh category pertains to respecting the Triple Jewel and honoring one's elders; and the eighth discusses kindness and compassion. Someone may say, "Why is the eighth one on compassion? Is it the case that the others do not pertain to compassion?" Each one of the precepts is based on compassion; they issue forth from the great compassionate minds of the Buddhas, it is just that the eighth category specifically pinpoints the principle of compassion.
Now we will discuss the first category of not killing, which contains one major precept and seven minor ones. We will introduce every category in a systematic way, describing the exceptions and prohibitions as well as the retributions; afterwards we will discuss the aspects pertaining to the major and minor precepts. Following that, we will discuss their application to our daily life, in the aspects of body, mouth, mind as well as basic attitude and environment, by which we will learn what we should, to protect these precepts.
There are four appendices in the back of this Handbook.
Appendix One, from page 146 through 153, contains the Venerable Master's instructional talks regarding precepts. Everyone should read it over. Most of us are disciples of the Venerable Master, and we should understand how the Master taught us to study and practice the precepts.
Appendix Two covers methods that aid us in the upholding of precepts. For example, it describes how to bring forth the Bodhi mind; how to give wealth and material goods without attachment; when to give and when not to give; how to counteract thoughts of hatred, because hatred is counterproductive to compassion; how to cultivate the four applications of mindfulness and restrain our desires; how to understand the relationship between reciting the Buddha's name and upholding precepts; and so forth.
Appendix Three deals with the nature of rituals. For instance, why should we recite the precepts? How do we go about reciting? Or in the case of receiving the Eight Vegetarian Precepts, if one cannot go to the monastery to receive them, what alternative ways are there to receive them? When we violate the precepts, how can we repent? All these issues pertain to rituals.
To be continued