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In this, the third teaching of his Tricycle Retreat, “The Precepts as Practice,” Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede delves into the Five Grave Precepts, the first half of the Ten Cardinal Precepts. Here they are as spoken in Roshi Kjolhede’s own sangha, the Rochester Zen Center:

1. I resolve not to kill, but to cherish all life.
2. I resolve not to take what is not given, but to respect the things of others.
3. I resolve not to misuse sexuality, but to be caring and responsible.
4. I resolve not to lie, but to speak the truth.
5. I resolve not to cause others to abuse alcohol or drugs, nor to do so myself, but to keep the mind clear.

The most common question about the Precepts asks how they are different than the Ten Commandments familiar to us from Abrahamic religion. Roshi Kjolhede answers this concern succinctly, saying they are “not prescriptive so much as descriptive.” That is, the Precepts, far from telling us what to do, describe the nature of the enlightened mind—a mind, he reminds us, that we all possess!

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