Many Buddhists know of the 5 precepts for devotees or lay cultivators (non-monastics): No killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxicants. However, some may not of further precepts such as the Bodhisattva precepts. After having taking and upholding the Bodhisattva precepts for some time, and renewing it again, I think writing a reflection on taking the Bodhisattva precepts will help clarify what the Bodhisattva precepts is about. I may not have the wisdom like good and learned advisers like you readers, nor am I a person who has found the Way, but I would like to share my very little reflection on the Bodhisattva precepts.
Many people are afraid of taking the Bodhisattva precepts for so many reasons. Some may say "What? I have to be a vegetarian to uphold the precepts? I can't do that!", or some may say "What? There are so many precepts!! Having 5 is already too much for me! I cant uphold all the Bodhisattva precepts now". Truth to be told, if we can uphold the Bodhisattva precepts perfectly, then we are already have perfected the Bodhisattva practice. Since we are not perfect yet, we have to practice! And how do we do that? We observe the precepts. Some may ask, "There are so many precepts to remember. I am afraid of breaking the precepts and receive karmic retribution for it". It is better to have precepts for you to break, and then repent than not taking the precepts and thus having no precepts to break. If you have no precepts to break, you would not stay on the Bodhisattva path easily because you won't have the precepts to remind you. It is like upholding traffic rules. If you violate traffic rules regardless of whether you know the rules, you have to be responsible for it. But if you understand the traffic laws, you will be more careful with your driving. It is the same for the precepts. It does not mean that if you don't take the precepts and you kill a sentient being, you will not receive the karmic retribution for it. You will still receive karmic retribution. Taking the precepts helps us cut off our ignorance.
The guiding principle behind the Bodhisattva precepts is the Bodhisattva path. Many people look at the number of precepts but fail to look at the guiding principle behind it. By taking the precepts, we want to walk the Bodhisattva path, liberating sentient beings while walking the Way. You take great Bodhisattvas like Avalokitesvara, Manjusri, Ksitigarbha, and Samantabhadra Bodhisattvas as our role models and follow their examples. We give rise to great compassion, wisdom, diligence, and vows as our practice. It is like when you are lost in the woods with many people, and you found a way out. You come back to guide those who are lost out of the woods and into safety. Along the way there may be challenges dangerous animals like bears and wolves, but you help them conquer them on the way out of the woods. A person who walks the Bodhisattva path is like that. Using compassion, wisdom, diligence, and vows, the Bodhisattva guides people into liberation and out of suffering.
When taking the Bodhisattva precepts, do not be afraid of breaking them. Our attitude towards the practice should be positive. Don't think that "Oh dear, today I have given rise to anger, killing intent, greed, or lust again. I am so stupid. I have no wisdom". Think that "Oh I gave rise to anger, killing intent, greed, or lust again. Lucky I have the Bodhisattva precepts to remind me". The precepts serve as a constant reminder for us. There will be many occasions where we can practice and uphold the precepts. If you take the precepts, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will provide favorable conditions for you to uphold the precepts and help you on your Bodhisattva path. They will be delighted that there is one more person who is willing to take on the job to help sentient beings here. Many will come to aid you in ways you cannot imagine.
The further we take our practice, the greater the vows, practice, compassion, and wisdom we have. This is because we keep giving rise to the Bodhi resolve, making greater vows, improving ourselves, be mindful of ourselves, having greater compassion, and greater courage. With the Bodhisattva practice, we will not fear any obstacle that comes in our way. We can overcome any obstacle with our practice. Having no obstacle, what is there to worry about? When there is no worry over anything, our minds are free. Then we can see the Way clearly and confidently walk towards it.
So, if we have the chance, we should all understand the Bodhisattva precepts. We should learn to take the precepts, and uphold it. We should walk the Bodhisattva path and encourage others to walk this path with us.