The Bodhisattva Precepts (traditional Chinese: 菩薩戒; ; pinyin: Púsà Jiè, Japanese: bosatsukai) are a set of moral codes used in Mahayana Buddhism to advance a practitioner along the path to becoming a Bodhisattva. Traditionally, monastics observed the basic moral code in Buddhism, the Prātimokṣa (such as that of the Dharmaguptaka), but in the Mahayana tradition, monks may observe the Bodhisattva Precepts as well.
The Brahmajala Sutra, translated by Kumārajīva (c. 400 CE), has a list of ten major and forty-eight minor Bodhisattva vows. The Bodhisattva Precepts may be often called the "Brahma Net Precepts" (Chinese: 梵網戒; pinyin: Fànwǎng Jiè), particularly in Buddhist scholarship, although other sets of bodhisattva precepts may be found in other texts as well. Typically, in East Asian Mahayana traditions, only the ten major precepts are considered the bodhisattva precepts. According to the sutra, the ten major bodhisattva precepts are in summary:
Breaking any of these precepts is described as a major offense in the sutra. A fuller description is as follows:
Asanga (circa 300 CE) delineated 18 major vows and forty-six minor vows in the "Bodhisattvabhumi" section of the Yogācārabhūmi Śāstra. These Bodhisattva vows are still used in all four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. The eighteen major vows (as actions to be abandoned) are as follows:
According to Atiśa, the Prātimokṣa vows are the basis for the Bodhisattva vows. Without keeping one of the different sets of Prātimokṣa vows (in one of the existing Vinaya schools), there can be no Bodhisattva vow.
In the Sōtō school of Zen, the founder Dōgen established a somewhat expanded version of the Bodhisattva Precepts for use by both priests and lay followers, based on both Brahma Net Sutra and other sources. Many various translations exist, the following is used by John Daido Loori, rōshi at the Zen Mountain Monastery:
The Three Treasures are universally known in Buddhism as the Three Refuges or Three Jewels.
These are also known as the Three Root Precepts, and are mentioned in the Brahma Net Sutra as well.
In practice, the acceptance of and ordination of the Bodhisattva Precepts varies greatly depending on the school of Mahayana Buddhism. In East Asian Buddhism, a fully ordained monk or nun ordains under the traditional prātimokṣa precepts first according to the vinaya of the Dharmaguptaka. In the Chinese tradition, this is called the Four Part Vinaya (Chinese: 四分律; pinyin: Sìfēnlǜ). Then as a supplement, the same disciple would undertake the Bodhisattva Precepts as well.
Monks and nuns are not considered "ordained" by the Bodhisattva Precepts, but rather by the "Four Part Vinaya", while the Bodhisattva Precepts served to strengthen the Mahayana ideals. Similarly, the Bodhisattva Precepts are given to lay disciples to strengthen their devotion to Buddhism as well. Such disciples often take the basic Five Precepts and then the Bodhisattva precepts as a supplement.
In Buddhism in Japan, the "Four-Part Vinaya" was deemphasized with the rise of Saichō and the Tendai sect and a new monastic community was set up exclusively using the Brahmajala Sutra's Bodhisattva Precepts. All Vinaya ordinations at the time were given at Tōdai-ji in Nara and Saichō had wanted to both undermine the power of the Nara Buddhist community and to establish a "purely Mahayana lineage", and made a request to the Emperor to Later Buddhist sects, which was granted 7 days after his death in 822.
Later Buddhist sects in Japan, including the Sōtō school of Zen, Jōdo-shū and Shingon Buddhism, adopted a similar approach to their monastic communities and exclusive use of the Bodhisattva Precepts. By this time in Japan, the Vinaya lineage had all but died out and Japan's remote location made it difficult to reestablish though limited efforts by Jōkei and the Shingon Risshu revived it for a time. This was further enforced during the Meiji period, when the Nikujiku Saitai Law (肉食妻帯) of 1872 decriminalized clerical marriage and meat-eating.