Parts in bold are from the text of the Bodhisattva Precepts; parts in italics explain how we keep a particular precept during the simple act of zazen.
The Gateway of Contrition
All my past and harmful karma,
Born from beginningless greed, hate and delusion,
Through body, speech, and mind,
I now fully avow.
A contrite heart is open to the dharma, and finds the gateway to the precepts clear and unobstructed. Bearing this in mind, we should sit up straight in the presence of the buddha and make this act of contrition wholeheartedly. – While we are sitting zazen, we are not running away, keeping ourselves busy, or distracting ourselves; we let our karma catch up with us.
I take refuge in the buddha – This is what buddhas have done, so this is what we are doing.
I take refuge in the dharma – When we stop running away, keeping ourselves busy, or distracting ourselves, the truth becomes clearer; we are opening ourselves up to this possibility by sitting still.
I take refuge in the sangha – We sit with others, or because others have done so and continue to do so.
Cease from harm – release all self-attachment. – We may not know what the right thing is to do, but we have stopped for a time.
Do only good – take selfless action. – We are engaging the activity of just sitting for the sake of all beings – we are not advancing any of our self-interested causes.
Do good for others – embrace all things and conditions. – We give up trying to change anything for a time. Instead, we bear witness. We allow the truth to permeate and change us. We allow wisdom to grow within and inform our future actions.
Do not kill – cultivate and encourage life. – We are not trying to get rid of what we don’t want, what we hate, or what we are afraid of.
Do not steal – honor the gift not yet given. – We are not grasping after what we want.
Do not misuse sexuality – remain faithful in relationships. – We are not doing anything to grasp or avoid intimacy, but instead we make it possible to notice a deeper intimacy with everything.
Do not speak dishonestly – communicate truthfully. – We are not speaking, but are perceiving directly. Our truth of the moment is silent.
Do not become intoxicated – polish clarity, dispel delusion. – We are doing without distraction or extra pleasure.
Do not dwell on past mistakes – create wisdom from ignorance. – Okay, we may be doing this in our minds. However, in this moment we are not making any mistakes. Over time we become more identified with this body, here and now, which is not defined by past mistakes.
Do not praise self or blame others – maintain modesty, extol virtue. – We are not saying or doing anything to build ourselves up or call attention to the faults of others.
Do not be mean with dharma or wealth – share understanding, give freely of self. – Our time of just sitting is completely useless in worldly terms, but it’s still an offering. It’s an offering of listening and looking. It’s an offering of humility and don’t-know mind.
Do not indulge anger – cultivate equanimity. – Sitting still is incompatible with anger. Don’t think so? Just try it!
Do not defame the three treasures – respect the buddha, unfold the dharma, nourish the sangha. – However skeptical we may feel in our minds, our bodies are enacting the buddha way.