When we give the precepts here, people have trained for years in different aspects of it, and finally it comes down to the week of receiving the precepts. That week the preceptor works directly with the people who are going to receive the precepts and the training culminates in the ceremony of Jukai, the receiving of the precepts. That marks the formal beginning of the practice of the precepts in one’s life. From then on, having taken those vows, a person becomes very conscious of the precepts in all of their encounters. Little by little, the koans of the precepts in daily life begin to pop up, and they become the stuff that creates the face-to-face encounter. That process continues through training, and when students get to the very end of their training, they face 120 koans that test their understanding of the precepts and whether or not the precepts are being manifested in their life. The transmission of the precepts is actually a separate transmission, one of three transmissions that happen, which collectively make up Dharma transmission. They are inseparable from Dharma.

Ultimately, we need to understand that the precepts aren’t passive; they’re proactive. It’s not enough not to kill. The precept says “Affirm life; do not kill.” There’s an affirmation that needs to happen. Although the priest in this koan didn’t kill anyone himself, he still violated the precept Do Not Kill, because he did not affirm life in his encounter with this general. I think he was just gutless. It doesn’t take guts to kill. It takes guts to affirm life. It takes guts to nourish. It takes guts to go against the force of the majority and to stand up for what’s morally right. Tell me, how do you transform watching into doing?

Dogen talks about the Four Virtues of the Bodhisattva, which are giving, loving speech, service for the welfare of all beings, and identity with others. He says what we call giving, or dana, means non-greed. The self gives the self for the sake of giving the self. There’s no agenda to it. You just respond; you just give. He says, “To row a boat or to construct a bridge over a river is equally the bodhisattva’s practice of giving. If you study giving carefully, you realize that living as well as dying are both giving. To be sure to make a living and regulate a business is no other than giving. Flowers are innocently fondled by the wind and birds trust freely to time. These too are feats of giving.” “Indeed,” he says, “by reason of being originally gifted with the power of giving, one’s present self came into being.”

The delusion of the self separates us from everything. That’s the fundamental cause of pain and suffering of self and others. How do we transform watching into doing? Practice means to do. By definition, it’s action. Compassion is a willingness to step into the fray and to take responsibility for the whole catastrophe. Practice means realizing and manifesting wisdom and compassion in our lives. If you think that zazen is passive, then you have not yet experienced the zazen of the buddhas and ancestors.