Discussing the Three Aggregate Precepts Centered on the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts

Shan Yan
Shan Yan
Since 2022 till now, I have been following the kind mentor of BPI to start the journey on Buddhism....Read More

  Essay Writing of Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated
  —– (Issue 8) —–

  Discussing the Three Aggregate Precepts Centered on the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts

  Instructor: Shi Wuguang
  Author: Shi Fafu
  March 20, 2022

I. Introduction

  As a member of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated, I made a vow when I joined the association: “I vow to take the Buddhas’ Practice and to attain Buddhahood as soon as possible. This is the same teaching that the Buddha gave in the Lotus Sutra. In Volume 1 of the Lotus Sutra, it is written, ” You should wholeheartedly accept and preserve the words of the Buddha. The words of the Buddha Tathagatas are never false. There are no other vehicles, only the single buddha vehicle. ” That is to say, the Buddha taught that only by practicing the Bodhisattva’s way of life can one attain Buddhahood. In order to practice the Bodhisattva Way, one must hold the Bodhisattva precepts. It is also mentioned in Volume 1 of Shishi Yaolan: “The Three Aggregate Precepts are the Mahayana Bodhisattva precepts. It is clear that the Three Aggregate Precepts are the Bodhisattva Precepts. And because the ten major precepts and the forty-eight secondary precepts in the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts have the connotation of the Three Aggregate Precepts, it is necessary for members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to accept and uphold the Bodhisattva Precepts, and the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts is very suitable for members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to uphold.

  There are many versions of the Bodhisattva precepts in the Great Tibetan Sutra, this article is mainly based on The Brahma Net Sutra Lusana Buddha Says Bodhisattva Precepts (hereinafter collectively referred to as The Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts) translated by Master Kumarajiva. That is, ten major and forty-eight secondary precepts) as the research center, the analysis of The Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts has the connotation of Three Aggregate Precepts, which is very suitable for members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to accept and uphold. The text part is mainly divided into three chapters.
  1. The definition and connotation of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts).
  2. The connotation of The Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts and its relationship with the Three Aggregate Precepts.
  3. The importance and superior benefits of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts).
  The final conclusion part is mainly a summary of the previous chapters. On the basis of understanding the superiority of The Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts, it is more recognized that it is very suitable for members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to accept and uphold. Members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated follow the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts to accept and uphold, so that they cannot forget their original intentions, better practice the real Bodhisattva practice, and complete the Buddha way.

Ⅱ. The definition and connotation of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts)

  What is the Three Aggregate Precepts? It is recorded in Volume 3 of the Mahayana Sutra of Previous Lives and Contemplation of the Mind-ground:” Sentient being should accept the Bodhisattva Three Aggregate Precepts, benefit all sentient beings, practice all good dharma precepts, and practice all discipline precepts.”

  It is also said in the Famen Mingyi Collection: “The Three Gatherings of Pure Precepts: ‘All evils must be cut off, and this is the precept of discipline. All good things are to be cultivated. All sentient beings are to be taken across. These Three Gatherings of Precepts are the Bodhisattva Way.
  From the first two scriptures, Three Aggregate Precepts can be defined as: “To cut off all evil methods, to practice all good methods, and to take across all sentient beings. In short, it means “to cut off evil, to practice good, and to take across all sentient beings.

  It is also said in the Mahayana Sutra of Previous Lives and Contemplation of the Mind-ground, Volume 3: “If all sentient beings, for this cause and condition, can cultivate great bodhicitta and have great compassion for all sentient beings, they should take the Three Aggregate Precepts of the Buddha. It is clear that the spirit of the Three Aggregate Precepts is: “Seeking the supreme bodhi and benefiting sentient beings with great compassion. That is to say, in order to benefit all sentient beings, one should take the Three Aggregate Precepts and attain supreme bodhicitta.

  The Treatise on the Stages of Yogic Practice Volume 40, says, “What are the bodhisattva precepts? The Bodhisattva precepts are of two kinds: ‘One is the precept for the home and the other is the precept for the monks. And according to this, the two precepts of home and out home are pure. There are three types of precepts: ‘The precept of the monastic discipline, the precept of the discipline of the good, and the precept of the benefit of sentient beings. It is clear that the Bodhisattva Precepts and Three Aggregate Precepts are equal without requiring subtle distinctions, and that both family members and monks are suitable for taking the Bodhisattva precepts (Three Aggregate Precepts).

Ⅲ. The connotation of The Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts and its relationship with the Three Aggregate Precepts

  In the previous chapter, I analyzed the definition and connotation of the Three-Gathering Precepts, which are suitable for both lay people and monks. In fact, the Brahma Net Sutra also contains all these precepts.

  The Three-Gathering Precepts are the general outline of the Bodhisattva precepts, but there is no set or specific Bodhisattva precepts in the Vinaya Pitaka. Since ancient times, Chinese sages have extracted the precepts from such scriptures as the Chākyamuni Sutra, the Brahma Net Precepts Sutra, the Earth Holding Sutra, the Treatise on the Stages of Yogic Practice, the Bodhisattva Good Precepts Sutra, and the Bodhisattva Upasaka Precepts Sutra.

  Due to the different details of the Bodhisattva precepts in different versions, after consulting many classics, it is found that the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts translated by Master Kumarajiva includes ten major and forty-eight secondary precepts covering the general outline of “cutting off evil, cultivating goodness, and taking across sentient beings” in the Three-Gathering Precepts, Also, because the content of the ten major and forty-eight secondary precepts in the Brahma Net Sutra is relatively extensive, I will not list them here. The following will only use the “ten major precepts” as an example to illustrate.

  The ten major precepts in Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts are: “Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, selling alcoholic beverages, broadcasting the faults of the assembly, praising oneself and disparaging others, stinginess and abuse, anger and resentment, and slandering the Three Jewels. It is not difficult to see that not doing these ten rules is the precepts of discipline, that is, cutting off the evil precepts; doing the opposite of these ten is the precepts of goodness, that is, practicing good precepts; according to this precepts of goodness (cultivating good precepts) to actively rescue All living beings is the precept of taking all living beings, that is, the precept of taking across all living beings.

  For example, the first “killing precept” in the “Ten Major Precepts”, if you stick to not killing all sentient beings, you are cutting off the evil karma of killing, which is the precept of discipline; Not only do you not kill sentient beings, but you are also able to facilitate the rescue of all sentient beings, so that they can leave the suffering of being killed and gain the power of fearlessness. This is practicing goodness, that is, taking the precepts of goodness, and at the same time, manifesting the precepts of taking across sentient beings, that is, taking the precepts of sentient beings. It can be seen that the “Killing Precept” fulfills the Three Aggregate Precepts of “cutting off evil, cultivating goodness, and taking across sentient beings”, and ultimately, it also fulfills the connotation of “benefiting sentient beings with great compassion”. The other nine precepts are the same, and each of the ten precepts is a fulfillment of the Three Aggregate Precepts.

  Next, let’s look at the “Forty-eight Secondary Precepts “, and take the first “Precept of Disrespecting Teachers and Friends” as an example to illustrate. The first “Precept of Disrespecting Teachers and Friends” mainly states that bodhisattva practitioners should not only be humble and respectful to teachers and friends, but also make offerings in accordance with the Dharma. This secondary precept already includes the elimination of the evil karma of arrogance and disrespect, which is the precept of discipline; when you practice humility and respect and make offerings to teachers and friends in the same way, you are cultivating goodness, which is the precept of goodness; If you benefit all sentient beings with the Dharma obtained by humbly and respectfully making offerings to teachers and friends, you are saving sentient beings, which is the precept of taking sentient beings. As for the rest of the secondary precepts, it can also be deduced based on this. It can be seen that all the forty-eight secondary precepts also have the Three Aggregate Precepts.

  It is clear from the above that although the Brahma Net Sutra does not contain the names and contents of the Three Aggregate Precepts, the ten major precepts and forty-eight secondary precepts mentioned in the Sutra all fall within the three major areas of the Three Aggregate Precepts, namely, “cutting off evil, cultivating goodness, and taking across sentient beings,” and also correspond to the connotation of “benefiting sentient beings with great compassion.

  It is also stated in the forty-eight secondary precepts of the Brahma Sutra Bodhisattva precepts that the mind deviates from the Mahayana precepts and does not study the Buddhist precepts, both of which state that a Bodhisattva should exclusively seek the Mahayana Dharma and not study or accept the second vehicle Dharma or even the evil views of heresies. This is consistent with the meaning of Three Aggregate Precepts “Seeking the Supreme Bodhi”.

  In summary, the content and connotation of the Brahma Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts coincide with the Three-Gathering Precepts. If the ten major precepts and the forty-eight secondary precepts are fully fulfilled, the Three-Gathering Precepts of “cutting off evil, cultivating goodness, and taking across sentient beings” will be fulfilled at the same time. When sentient beings create good and bad karma, they will have suffering and happiness according to the law of cause and effect. If one acts and speaks in accordance with bad karma, bad habits, and vexations, he or she will corrupt all good deeds and cause all suffering.

  The Brahma Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts were formulated by the Buddha in accordance with the wisdom of cause and effect. As long as one strictly keeps the Bodhisattva Precepts, one is in harmony with wisdom, one can cut off evil and do good, cut off vexation, get rid of suffering and achieve happiness, and rescue sentient beings. In the Brahma Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts, it is stated that one can take the Bodhisattva precepts no matter what form one is, as long as one can understand the words of the Dharma Master. The members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated are both monks and lay people, which shows that the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts are very suitable for our Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated members to take.

Ⅳ. The importance and superior benefits of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts)

  (Ⅰ) The importance of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts)

  In the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts, Volume 2, it is written, “The Bodhisattva Precepts are the origin of all Buddhas, the foundation of the Bodhisattvas, and the foundation of all the disciples of the Buddha. Therefore, all disciples of the Buddha should take them, recite them, and learn them well. This sutra also says, “These are the ten parajikas of the Bodhisattva, which should be learned. One should not commit each of them as a mere speck of dust, let alone commit all ten precepts. If you violate them, you will not be able to develop bodhicitta in your present body, and you will lose your position as king, the wheel-turning king, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, and you will also lose the ten directional decisions, the ten kinds of well-nourished heart, characteristics of diamond heart, and the ten permanent and wonderful fruits of Buddhahood. you will fall into the three evil paths and should not hear the names of the Triple Jewels of your parents for two or three kalpas. Therefore, one should not commit each of them. You and all other Bodhisattvas who are learning, will learn, and have learned these ten precepts should learn to hold them with respect. It can be seen that the Bodhisattva Precepts are very important, they are the root of the Buddha dharma and the root of all precepts, all Bodhisattvas should accept and uphold the Bodhisattva Precepts well.

  In the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts, Volume 2, it is also written, “When a sentient being receives the precepts of the Buddha, he or she is admitted to the status of all Buddhas. When they have attained the same status as the Great Enlightenment, they are truly the disciples of all Buddhas. When a sentient being receives the Bodhisattva precepts, he or she takes on the status of a Buddha and becomes a true disciple of the Buddha. From the cause of taking the Bodhisattva precepts, the full possession of all the Buddha’s vows, merits, abilities, and blessings will lead to the ultimate fulfillment of Buddhahood. Therefore, if a member of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated wants to be a true disciple of the Buddha, to practice the Bodhisattva Way and the Buddha’s Practice, he or she must uphold the Three Aggregate Precepts in order to have the fruit of Buddhahood.

  (Ⅱ) The superior benefits of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts)

  The Bodhisattva always appears in the body of a king when he is in the six paths to rescue sentient beings by the power of great compassion and vows. Because the status of a king has great virtue, he can better lead sentient beings. By taking the Bodhisattva precepts, one can always be a king in the six paths. The one who keeps the Bodhisattva precepts the best is the Buddha, the one who keeps the precepts a little bit worse is the Bodhisattva, and the one who keeps the precepts the worst can be the king of Hell. But the premise is that you are in the state of keeping the precepts, that is, you must keep the Bodhisattva precepts in your heart. For example, in the Mahayana Sutra of Previous Lives and Contemplation of the Mind-ground Sutra, Volume 3, it says:

  The blessings and happiness now enjoyed by a king are the consequence of his habitual cultivation of the virtue of morality, The three pure precepts that he kept in former times, and he has obtained a king’s body as a wondrous result in the realms of humans and gods. If someone arouses the bodhi-mind, the power of his vow will help accomplish the unsurpassed result. If he strictly keeps the pure precepts of the upper grade, he will be masterful in his activities and become a Dharma king; His magical transformations due to supernormal faculties will fill the ten directions, and he will universally save all beings according to their conditions. If one observes the bodhisattva precepts of the middle grade, one will gain mastery in merit and become a wheel-turning king; Everything will come about in accordance with the mind’s actions, and immeasurable humans and gods will all faithfully obey. If one keeps the precepts of the upper lower grade, one will become a great demon king, and all nonhumans will lead one another on to submit; Even though, when observing the different grades of precepts, one may transgress against them, because of the superiority of the precepts one will be able to become a king. If one keeps those of the middle lower grade, one will become a king of birds and beasts, and everything that flies or runs will submit; Even though there may be transgressions of the pure precepts, because of the superiority of the precepts one will be able to become a king. If one adheres to those of the lower grade, one will become King Yama and, residing in hell, be ever masterful; Even though one may violate the prohibitory precepts and be born in an evil path, because of the superiority of the precepts one will be able to become a king. For this reason, all beings should receive the bodhisattva’s pure precepts; If one duly observes them without transgression, one will become a king of men wherever one is born.

  However, according to the law of cause and effect, one should also have the cause to practice faithfulness, otherwise, being a king will cause his people to rebel, and the family will be destroyed, and the country will be in chaos. As it is written in the Buddha’s Sutra on Self-Love, there are five most serious sins among all evils. Being unfilial and unfaithful, killing relatives and kings, destroying families, and causing chaos in the country is one of the five serious sins. From the effect to the cause, looking at the dynasties and dynasties, the dynasty that suffered the overthrow must have been the king who practiced the cause of disloyalty. Therefore, in order to have a noble status and lead sentient beings better, members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated should accept the bodhisattva precepts and at the same time cultivate the cause of loyalty. Otherwise, they will be destined to be emperors in the future, and they can only be the last emperors. It is impossible to better lead all living beings to escape suffering and obtain happiness.

V. Conclusion

  This paper first explains the definition and connotation of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts) and the relationship between the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts and the Three Aggregate Precepts and suggests that the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts are very suitable for members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to take. The author then goes on to explain the importance and superior benefits of the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts) to further strengthen the confidence of the members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to take the Bodhisattva Precepts. At the same time, the importance of practicing faithfulness is especially mentioned, in case there is no faithfulness in taking the Bodhisattva precepts, one can only be the last emperor in the future and cannot benefit sentient beings better.

  This paper only focuses on the viewpoint that the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts is suitable for the members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated to take the Three Aggregate Precepts. The scope of the topic taken is relatively small, but it is more practical, hoping to increase the recognition and confidence of the members of the Buddhas’ Practice Incorporated in the Three Aggregate Precepts (Bodhisattva Precepts), so that they can better take the Bodhisattva Precepts and practice Bodhisattva practice. There are still many problems in this paper, such as the lack of rigorous logical reasoning and the lack of strength of the arguments, etc. I hope to improve under the guidance of the director and other masters in the future.

Reference Materials

  I. Ancient texts (in chronological order of dynasties)

  [Eastern Jin] Translated by Tan Wulan: Buddha’s Sutra on Self-Love, vol.17,Dazheng Store.
  [Hou Qin] Translated by Kumarajiva: The Lotus Sutra, vol.9, Dazheng Store.
  [Hou Qin] Translated by Kumarajiva: Brahma Net Sutra, vol.24, Dazheng Store.
  [Northern Liang] Translated by Tan Wuchan: The Sutra of the Precepts for Upasakas, vol. 24, Dazheng Store.
  [Tang]Translated by Pramita: The Mahayana Sutra of Previous Lives and Contemplation of the Mind-ground, vol.3, Dazheng Store.
  [Tang]Translated by Li Shizheng: Famen Mingyi Collection, vol.54, Dazheng Store,
  [Tang]Translated by XuanZang: The Treatise on the Stages of Yogic Practice, vol.30, Dazheng Store.
  [Northern Song] Translated by Shi Daocheng: Shishi Yaolan, vol.54, Dazheng Store.

  Ⅱ. Others

  Shi Shengyan: “Ten Virtuous Karmas and Paths Are Common Tracks of Boddhisattva Precepts”, http://buddhism.lib.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-BJ001/08_02.htm Date retrieved: February 27, 2022.

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Discussing the Three Aggregate Precepts Centered on the Brahma Net Sutra Bodhisattva Precepts