The following are Taoism’s original ten precepts, along with twelve vows. These Taoist precepts and vows, recorded in the Chishu Yujue (Red Writings And Jade Instructions), were adapted from Buddhism in the 5th century CE, and are part of the original corpus of the Lingbao Scriptures, compiled by Ge Chaofu. The English translation is by Livia Kohn, and they are excerpted from The Taoist Experience - her anthology of Taoist texts: an excellent textual introduction to the Taoist path.
The Taoist precepts are modeled on the Bodhisattva vows of Mahayana Buddhism, in which practitioners vow to attain liberation in order to be of benefit to all living beings. As you’ll see, the precepts are similar to those found in other traditions, in their emphasis on avoiding the five basic unwholesome actions: killing, lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and intoxication.
One thing that gives them a distinctively Taoist flavor is their emphasis on the effects that wholesome vs. unwholesome actions have on our energy and spirit, i.e. our Three Treasures. For instance in the ninth precept we find: “Remember, all censure and hate diminishes your spirit and energy!” Also distinctively Taoist is a constant return of the practice to a child-like wonder, awe and openness to mystery: “I will cause my faith to extend to the heights of mystery and wonder” (the fifth vow).
Chishu YuJue (Red Writings And Jade Instructions)
The Ten Precepts
1. Don’t harbor hatred or jealousy in your heart! Don’t give rise to dark thieving thoughts! Be reserved in speech and wary of transgressions! Keep your thoughts on the Divine Law!
2. Maintain a kind heart and do not kill! Have pity for and support all living beings! Be compassionate and loving! Broadly reach out to bring universal redemption to all!
3. Maintain purity and be withdrawing in your social interactions! Be neither lascivious nor thieving, but constantly harbor good thoughts! Always take from yourself to aid others!
4. Don’t set your mind on sex or give rise to passion! Be not licentious in your heart but remain pure and behave prudently! Make sure your actions are without blemish or stain!
5. Don’t utter bad words! Don’t use flowery and ornate language! Be straightforward within and without! Don’t commit excesses of speech!
6. Don’t take liquor! Moderate your behavior! Regulate and harmonize your energy and inner nature! Don’t let your spirit be diminished! Don’t commit any of the myriad evils!
7. Don’t be envious if others are better than yourself! Don’t contend for achievement and fame! Be retiring and modest in all things! Put yourself behind to serve the salvation of others!
8. Don’t criticize or debate the scriptures and teachings! Don’t revile or slander the saintly texts! Venerate the Divine Law with all your heart! Always act as if you were face to face with the gods!
9. Don’t create disturbance through verbal argumentation! Don’t criticize any believers, be they monks, nuns, male or female laity, or even heavenly beings! Remember, all censure and hate diminishes your spirit and energy!
10. Be equanimous and of whole heart in all of your actions! Make sure that all exchanges between humankind and the gods are proper and respectful!
The Twelve Vows
1. I will study the perfected scriptures that set forth the Divine Law and open the liberation and salvation of all. I will bring forth a strong determination for the Tao. I vow to rise to the status of a great sage in my lives to come.
2. I will constantly practice compassion. I vow that all will learn of the Divine Law and that salvation will extend universally, without hindrance or distortion.
3. I will delight in the scriptures and teachings. I will study them widely to let my understanding deepen and to make my determination firm and enlightened. I will liberate and transform all those in ignorance and darkness.
4. I will respectfully receive the instructions of my teacher. I will spread the wonderful teachings far and wide so that all living beings might enter the gate of the Divine Law and forever depart from their paths of blindness.
5. I will cause my faith to extend to the heights of mystery and wonder. I will venerate and honor the teachings and moral injunctions. I will recite the scriptures morning and night without being lazy or remiss.
6. I will not labor for glory and fancy ornaments but break the chain of worldly causations. I will maintain a steadfast heart and resolved determination, so that all I undertake will be within the Divine Law.
7. I will diligently recite the great scriptures. I vow that all beings shall find the bridge of release and that all future life will enjoy good karma.
8. I will always maintain a mind of friendliness, free from all perverseness or falsity. I will remain without envy and ill-will, without evil and jealousy.
9. I will represent the sages in all situations where things are given life. I will pass on the teachings of the Numinous Treasure uninterrupted and without lapse.
10. I will purify my body and keep the precepts. I will observe the fasts and establish merit. Thereby I will lead the myriad beings to salvation and complete liberation.
11. I will read broadly in my studies and deeply penetrate the law contained in the scriptures. Thus I will prepare the way for heavenly beings to save all.
12. I will be with an enlightened teacher life after life. I will receive the teachings and spread them so that innumerable living beings may be saved.