Becoming a Buddhist is a journey that anyone can choose to make. It does not matter whether you are born into the practice or not. It is a decision that has to come from within oneself.
The practice of Buddhism is on the rise with many followers. Many people across the world are now interested in the teachings of Buddhism. They learn about the practice in so many ways especially through reading and are applying the ideas in the various aspects of their lives.
Buddhism can be seen as a path to living. Therefore, to become a Buddhist has more to do with the way you perceive life as a whole. And Buddhism teaches the truth about life and existence. You do not need to change the way you dress, eat or even the way you relate to people to show you have become a Buddhist. Just understand that Buddhism is a journey to ultimate happiness and will not have you become less of who you are.
If you are among the people interested in the path to happiness and have decided to become a disciple of Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), then this journey is for you.
We will be guiding you through the paths of becoming a true Buddhist with these three steps:
• The Basic Concept of Buddhism
• Taking Refuge in The Triple Gem
• Uphold The Buddhist Ways
Follow these steps accordingly in order to understand Buddhism and the proper way to become a Buddhist.
The Basic Concept of Buddhism
To become a Buddhist, there is a need to know the foundation on which Buddhism is built. You should at first study the life of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), know the principles of the Four Noble Truth, Karma, Reincarnation, the Eightfold Path, and the Five Precepts. Understand that you are not mandated to accept these teachings. Buddha himself asked his disciples to only believe what he taught if they prove it themselves to be true.
• The Life Siddhartha Gautama: Siddhartha Gautama founded Buddhism. He was mainly known as a prince who left his possessions to seek out enlightenment. He later found the light and started teaching the path to this awakening. This was the birth of Buddhism. Study more on the life of the founder of Buddhism by reading related books or searching for articles online.
• The Four Noble Truth: The Buddha centered his teachings on the reality that humans suffer and the need to alleviate this suffering. These sufferings take happiness away from us leaving us in struggle and violence. Therefore, there is a need to find a lasting solution to human suffering.
The Four Noble Truth is the focal point of Buddhism. All other teachings of Buddha reflect this teaching.
The tenets of the Four Noble Truth involves :
1. The truth that all beings are afflicted with sufferings.
2. The truth that craving and desire which are soul’s illusion are the causes of these sufferings.
3. The truth that awakening (enlightenment) can displace the illusion of the soul which leads to desire and craving, causing suffering to end.
4. The truth that you can attain this awakening gradually through the Eight Fold Path or the middle way.
Understanding the Four Noble Truth is the major step to attaining enlightenment. Once you attain enlightenment, you have attained true happiness (Nirvana) which is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.
• The Principle of Karma: The law of karma states that for every action you take there is always an inescapable consequence. It is the chain of causes and effects. Karma has it that the consequences of our actions can be right immediately, in thousands of years time or even in the next lifetime. This means that time is not a barrier to Karma.
Karma can be negative. This occurs when one takes actions that are harmful to another, or harmful to oneself or both. These deeds are unwholesome and are encouraged by hatred, greed, and deception. Examples of such actions are killing, lying, and stealing. These actions bring negative Karma and one should avoid such actions.
Karma can also be positive. This happens when one’s deeds lead to others well-being, or one’s own well-being, or both. These deeds are wholesome and encouraged by compassion, generosity, and wisdom. These deeds bring positive Karma and should be promoted.
We also have neutral Karma. This results from deeds with no real effects. Actions such as breathing, eating, and sleeping bring neutral Karma.
The experiences one pass through today can be a result of one’s good or bad deeds in the past. The consequences of Karma whether good or bad can not be averted. Do good deeds to attract future happiness and avoid bad Karma to keep future misfortune away.
Buddhism encourages the practice of morality and compassion in order to avoid the negative consequences of the natural law of Karma.
• The Principle of Reincarnation/Rebirth: Buddhists believe in multiple lifetimes. When a being dies, he is reborn into a new life. This cycle continues eternally.
Rebirth and Karma work together to present a trusted explanation. The effects of Karma can take time to manifest but cannot be stopped. Therefore, for a being to be reborn in multiple lives, the consequences of his deeds in the current life must manifest when the time is due.
One can be reborn in different ways and in different realms. The human realm is just one of the many existing realms. The Buddha was able to remember most of his past lives. There are many Buddhist monks today who also remember their past lives.
• The Eightfold Path: This is the path that leads to the lasting end of suffering. This path is also referred to as the Middle Way because it involves staying in between living too lavishly and living too stringently. Abiding by these Noble Eight elements will put you on the way to alleviating suffering. It involves meditation, diligence, understanding, and virtue.
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Intention
3. Right Speech
4. Right Actions
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration
The Eightfold path trains you to develop virtue and morality. The mind can only meditate deeply to find out the truth when the body is at a reasonable comfort state.
• The Five Buddhist Precepts: Becoming a Buddhist also comes with an obligation to uphold the Five Buddhist Precepts. When you take refuge in the triple gem, you will vow to keep these obligations.
1. Avoid being the cause of death to any living creature.
2. Avoid telling lies and dishonesty.
3. Refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. Refrain from ingesting alcohol or any beverage that causes intoxication.
5. Avoid intentionally taking what belongs to another to become yours.
Keeping these precepts might be difficult at times especially for beginners. However, when you find yourself breaking any of the precepts, it is advisable that you repent and struggle harder not to fail again.
Taking Refuge in The Triple Gem
This is where you take the action towards becoming a Buddhist. Find out the different Buddhist schools, search for a Buddhist temple to join, be a part of the Buddhist community, and then Take refuge in the triple gem. With these practices, you will become a recognized Buddhist.
• The Different Buddhist Schools: There are many schools of Buddhism existing today. Such schools as Pure Land Buddhism, Esoteric Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Nichiren Shoshu, and many others. However, the Mahayana and Theravada are the two most popular schools of Buddhism.
These schools possess some degree of similarity but are different in very many ways. For example, the Mahayana and Theravada have the same fundamental belief system but, the Mahayana focuses their teachings on being a Bodhisattva, while Theravada teaches more on the practice of Dharma.
• Finding a Suitable Temple: To find out for yourself the true practice of Buddhism, you have to find a temple of your preference and join. There are Buddhist temples in many cities in the world. Each temple rises from a particular Buddhist school. Thereby, the teachings and classes would differ in some ways.
The best way to choose a suitable temple is to visit the temples and make inquiries from the community. Ask for the activities they offer and attend some classes to determine if you are comfortable with the atmosphere.
Start from the Buddhist temple nearest to you. When you find the most convenient temple, join the community.
• Be a Part of The Buddhist Community: After joining a temple, it is important to participate actively in the activities of the community. Buddhism encourages communal living so you will be highly welcomed and guided gradually by both the devotees and the monks.
Attend classes and make friends with others. Follow up with various other fun activities such as trips to various Buddhist temples across the world. This can be a great way to involve yourself adequately.
Seek guidance and ask questions, the monks are accommodating and will inform you gently. If you feel anxious at first, see it as normal, you will get there with time.
• Take Refuge in The Triple Gem: Once you have gotten a reasonable knowledge on the life of Buddha, you may decide to officially register as a Buddhist. You can do this by taking refuge in the Triple Gem. This involves a ceremony of affirmation, where you publicly declare your commitment to the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma that make up the Triple Gem. During this ceremony, you vow to uphold the Five Buddhist Precepts.
Before taking refuge in the Triple Gem, you must prepare yourself adequately for this special ceremony. Do not feel pressured to take refuge, instead understand very well the requirements and the process of the ritual involved. This is where you profess your faith in:
– The Buddha – the universal and the historical.
– The Dharma – the teachings and truth of the reality.
– The Sangha – the people who practice and have faith in the Dharma.
You are likely to receive a certificate of affirmation and a Buddhist kata (symbolizes the robe the monks wear). You wear this scarf in gatherings to show that you have officially taken refuge in the Triple Gem.
Note that this ceremony of taking refuge differs with the different Buddhist schools. The community you have joined will guide you through this process once you make up your mind.
Uphold The Buddhist Ways
Now that you are officially recognized as a Buddhist, it is important to keep living out your vows. Remain connected to the community you have joined, form the habit of studying Buddhism, keep the five precepts, and follow the Eightfold Path. Recognizing these Buddhist ways will keep you on track to experience the ultimate happiness, which is the goal of Buddhism.
• Grow in The Community You Have Joined: To grow in faith in Buddhism, you should endeavor to attend gatherings and classes at the temple where you have taken refuge. This is the best way to remain connected to the faith. Most temples teach meditation, sutra lessons, and yoga. Attend these to improve your awareness. Also discuss Buddhism with people of similar faith, whether friends or family members.
Remember that your growth also involves your passion to uphold the Five Buddhist precepts, and also following the middle way. These are very important in the Buddhist faith. Since it is the manifestation of these principles in your life that proves that you are really practicing Buddhism.
• Always Remain Devoted to The Study of Buddhism: Buddhism is an age long practice with so many concepts. It is quite impossible to understand all about Buddhism immediately after becoming a Buddhist. Hence, it is advisable to keep studying Buddhism on a regular basis.
The temple where you took refuge may have a library which can be of immense help to you. There are also many Buddhist sutras which are available on the internet that you can read. Some popular Buddhist sutra that you can purchase include, The Diamond Sutra, The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, and The Heart Sutra.
Even while you may feel the pressure to learn so many things about Buddhism within a short period of time. You should bear in mind that Buddhism consists of so many concepts to understand in a short time. Therefore, you should take it gradually, the most important thing is that you understand each concept you have learned.
Never forget to ask questions whenever there is a matter that is beyond your understanding. The monk, venerable or nun is always available to explain further. Moreover, some questions are better answered by experienced personnel than just seeking a written solution.
Buddhism is a practice that requires the personal submission of the follower. This means that it is neither the ritual nor the affirmation that makes you a Buddhist. It is therefore your choice and personal agreement to follow the path of Buddhism as laid by the Buddha. Once you have decided within you to practice these precepts, then you are a Buddhist, with or without any ceremony.
When there is no Buddhist Temple close to you, you can still practice Buddhism on your own. Do not give up, just keep studying and practicing. Whenever you make out a chance, you can make a trip to a location where you can find a Buddhist temple. Even while you may not be regular to the temple, a visit once in a while will strengthen your faith.
Finally, never be hard on yourself when you find it difficult to understand most Buddhist teachings and practices. Just remain open to learning, you will appreciate everything with time.