The below explanations of jukai are quotations from:

Rev. Shohaku Okumura, "The Bodhisattva Precepts in Soto Zen Buddhism," Dharma Eye 13, 1–3 (2004).

Meaning of Jukai (officially becoming Zen Buddhist)

Since Buddhism is not an ethnic religion, no one is born a Buddhist. In order to be a Buddhist, we need to make up our minds to take refuge in the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. In this way, we receive the Buddha’s precepts as guidelines for our life.

The basis of the Bodhisattva precepts is the reality of all beings to which the Buddha awakened. In other words, impermanence, egolessness, and the interdependent origination of all things. When we awaken to the reality that we ourselves and all other things are impermanent and ego-less, we see that we cannot cling to anything. We are then released from attachment to ourselves, our possessions, and all other objects. When we awaken to the fact that each thing is interconnected to every other thing, like all the knots in Brahma’s net, we see that we are supported by everything and live together with everything. We can exist only within relationship with others. That reality is the source of the precepts. When we see the interconnectedness of all beings, we can only try to be helpful to them and avoiding being harmful to them.


At a precepts ceremony in the Soto Zen tradition, first we make repentance by reciting the following verse:

“All the twisted karma ever created by me, since of old,
through beginningless greed, anger and ignorance,
born of my body, speech and thought.
I now make complete repentance of it all.”

There is another repentance verse taken from Samanthabhadra-sutra that says:

“The ocean of all karmic hindrances arises solely from delusive thoughts.
If you wish to make repentance, sit in an upright posture and be mindful of the true nature of reality.
All faults and evil deeds are like frost and dew.
The sun of wisdom enables them to melt away.”

This verse clearly shows that our precepts are based on awakening to reality and wisdom of such reality.

The Three Refuges

We then take refuge in the Three Treasures: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The Buddha is the one who awakened to reality. The Dharma is reality itself, the way things truly are. The Sangha are the people who aspire to study and living according to the teaching of the reality of all beings.

The Threefold Pure Precepts

Next, we receive the threefold pure precepts: 

(1) the precept of embracing moral codes,
(2) the precept of embracing good deeds, 
(3) the precept of embracing all living beings. 

These three points are the direction we walk on the Bodhisattva path.

The Ten Major Precepts

The ten major precepts are:

(1) do not kill, 
(2) do not steal, 
(3) do not engage in improper sexual conduct, 
(4) do not lie, 
(5) do not deal in intoxicants, 
(6) do not criticize others, 
(7) do not praise self and slander others, 
(8) do not be stingy with the dharma or property,
(9) do not give way to anger, 
(10) do not disparage the Three Treasures.

On the first precept, Dogen Zenji comments in Kyoju-kaimon, “By not killing life, the seeds of the Buddha are nurtured, and one is enabled to succeed the Buddha’s life of wisdom. Do not kill life.” In order to nurture the seeds to actualize Buddha, we should strive not to kill. In the same way, the other nine major precepts all show the virtue of the true reality of all Beings.

Zen and the precepts are one

The Bodhisattva precepts we receive in the Soto Zen tradition are also called Zen-kai (Zen precepts). This means that our zazen and the precepts are one. In our zazen practice, we put our entire being on the ground of true reality of all beings instead of the picture of the world that is a creation of our minds. By striving to keep the precepts in our daily lives, we strive to live being guided by our zazen.