Initiation of the Precepts through Witnessing (mokgyeok jeonsu)
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When the eye encounters the precepts, they are transmitted and received.
The eyes of those receiving the precepts come into contact with those who are teaching them, therefore, in this meeting completely free from thought between the Precept Master’s eyes of compassion and the Precept Student’s eyes of sincerity, it can be said that the precepts have taken form.
It is only in this way, receiving the precepts for an eternity, without any transgressions, meditation is cultivated and the transformation into Buddhahood is brought about. Today, those gathered here as well have the task to bear in mind the notion of “mokgyeok jeonsu,” initiation through witnessing.
In the time of the Buddha as well, it was said that meeting the Buddha and having one’s eyes come into contact with him was the completion of receiving the precepts. His 10 great disciples and his 1,200 followers all received the precepts in this way. Without explaining each and every article in the Vinaya, he said simply said, “come, o monk” and the precepts were transmitted and received. Far more important than the form of the precepts, it is only these precepts grounded deep in the mind that remain as solid as diamond, indestructible. This is why the place I am sitting here today is none other than the “diamond ordination platform.”
After Buddhism was transmitted to Korea from China, Precept Master Goshim wanted to be ordained in front of Mañjuśrī Bodhisattva on Mt. Cheongryang in China, and so he embarked on a practice of “three steps one bow.” In other words, by taking a bow with every three steps, he traveled for two years until finally arriving to the outskirts of a village on Mt. Cheongryang. Then, an old monk suddenly appeared and lo and behold, he called out, “O, Goshim!” Precept Master Goshim was shocked and surprised and he simply stared in response. The old monk then said, “I am Manjusri Bodhisattva. Since I have already transmitted the precepts, you have already received them,” and with that he suddenly disappeared.
When the Silla era Precept Master Jajang went to China’s Mt. Cheongryang, also aiming to receive the precepts, he prayed strenuously in front of a Manjusri image for seven days and seven nights. On the day of the annual memorial service, an old monk appeared before Jajang and said, “O, Jajang, I am Manjusri. When we looked at one another I’ve already transmitted the precepts and you’ve already received them.” He then gave Jajang one of the Buddha’s robes and wooden bowls, upon which he disappeared.
Precept Master Jinpyo of Geumsan-sa also had an initiation experience like the ones above as did Precept Master Dae-eun, who 150 years ago was also “initiated through witnessing” at the Ajabang at the Seven Buddha Hermitage on Jiri Mountain.
Thus, as the precepts initiated through witnessing are the precepts of the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, the mind, one’s self nature, Mahayana Buddhism and The Most Supreme.
However, since this type of initiation is only applicable to those with superior spiritual capacities, for those with middling or inferior skills the Buddha explained the precepts in other, more appropriate manners. Namely, when the Buddha’s son Rahula wanted to ordain at a relatively young age, the Buddha had the great disciple Upali, known as the chief upholder of the precepts, inform him of the various types of precepts available. He informed him that for the śrāmanera, there were ten precepts, then explained that for the fully ordained bhiksu there were 250 precepts and for the bhiksunī, 348. He instructed him of the 5 precepts for lay believers, who were calledupāsaka (laymen)andupāsikā(laywomen), respectively. After that, he told of the Bodhisattva precepts, for both renunciate bodhisattvas and lay bodhisattvas.
The foundation of the Buddha’s dharma of the precepts is in the “three sets of the pure precepts” (samchwi jeonggye). The first set are the samvara-śīla, “keeping all the precepts,”a focus on keeping every one of the precepts in an effort to eradicate the bad habits of humankind. The second is the kuśala-dharma-samgrāhaka-śīla, “practicing all virtuous deeds,”which entails teaching all 84,000 dharma methods in order to cultivate the myriad virtues. The third of these is sattvārtha-kriyā-śīla, “granting mercy to all sentient beings,”focused on using the mind of great mercy and compassion to bring about the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Because there is nothing that is missing within all the vinaya teachings of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, it is said that they are “inclusive.” Because the teachings of the vinaya are originally undefiled, it is said that they are “pure.” In addition, by creating the foundation for Buddhist practice, precepts bring about the centering of our easily distracted minds. Therefore, speaking metaphorically of the precepts as a container, it is said that only when the “precept vessel” is perfect will the water of meditation properly stew. Moreover, it is within that meditation that wisdom is created. Thus, of the three main teachings of the precepts, mediation and wisdom, it is precisely the precepts that constitute the foundation.
If we wish to defeat the three poisons of desire, anger and ignorance, we will have no success without the power of the three practices of the precepts, mediation, and wisdom. By continuously cultivating the precepts, the cravings of desire are eliminated and we can abstain from every vice. Cultivating meditation, the mind in which anger is easily aroused settles down, and we are able to engage in every kind of good deed. Cultivating wisdom, ignorance is cast off, bringing about the redemption of all sentient beings.
The words the Buddha said immediately before his parinirvana, “become a master through the precepts” stand as his immutable admonition bequeathed to us, and they are the key to our practice. The explanation and reception of the bodhisattva precepts at this time, here on the diamond ordination platform at Jogye-sa, is no simple affair. It becomes the opportunity to keep affirming and rededicating our vows to fulfill our duty and mission as disciples of the Buddha.
In this cold and cruel world, as the Buddha’s disciples, we inherit his “wisdom life,” taking his place to fulfill his acts of wisdom and compassion that remain to be accomplished. The meaning of this lays more in abiding by the precepts than simply receiving them.
Though we come here today as people who up until yesterday lived selfish lives, today in this place, as disciples initiated into the bodhisattava precepts through your witnessing, you must cultivate the karma of bodhisattvas through acts of compassion and benevolence.
I have said that only the precepts received through witnessing would last unbroken until the time of enlightenment; well then, the question is, how do you plan on doing so?
Even if but one speck of dust gets in your eye
it is the chaotic invasion of a foreign invader