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What do you have to do to become a Buddhist?

16th September 2010

What do you have to do to become a Buddhist?

This simple question ... What do you have to do to become a Buddhist? Has been an item I have been asked time over and over again. I thought writing a blog post about what it entails would be useful to people.

When undertaking a religion many people believe there should be a ceremony such as a Christening like when becoming a Christian. Buddhism is the same in many respect here, as you may know, Buddhism is about a way of life, about freeing your mind and looking beyond day to day material possessions and material motives. The most important thing of all when becoming a Buddhist, is time and understanding.

To become a Buddhist, you must take your time, learn, consider, ask questions, study and then gain that understanding of exactly what being a Buddhist is. The Buddha was concerned that people should follow his teachings as a result of understanding and conviction.

You see, in Western society, you are born into your religion, for example in England, many are born into Christianity more often than not without ever really being given the opportunity of practicing it, it doesn't offer any improvement to your minds condition, it's just a label upon you. That is my experience anyway, and through study, I understand that religion should be used to improve your mental state and being.

So, when you're at the stage of being convinced you want to practice Buddhism what next?

Well, a person becomes a Buddhist by taking the Three Refuges, that is the Buddha, The Dhamma or his Teachings, and The Sangha or the community of enlightened beings. The Buddha said:

"To take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and to see with real understanding the Four Noble Truths... Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Transcending of Suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the transcending of suffering, This indeed is a safe refuge, it is the refuge supreme. It is the refuge whereby one is freed from all suffering."

To take refuge, it is recommended to be undertaken with the guidance of a monk. However, you may not have access to a monk so you may take refuge before an image of the Buddha. Place this image, which may be a statue, a picture or even a computer graphic such that when you kneel before it, it is at the level of your head or higher.

To highlight the last point:

- you should take refuge with an image, statue or computer graphic of the Buddha
- Kneel before it
- Kneel so it is level of your head or higher

Now while you are kneeled before the image, put your palms together at your chest. Compose yourself, calm your mind and bow three times to the image such that your palms and forehead touches the floor. Then recite the following formula in Pali, which is the ancient language of the scriptural texts.

 Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhasa
 Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhasa
 Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato, samma sambuddhasa

 Buddham saranam gacchami,
 Dhammam saranam gacchami,
 Sangham saranam gacchami.

 Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami,
 Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami,
 Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami.

 Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami,
 Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami,
 Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami.

This translate as:

    Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The Supremely Enlightened One
    Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The Supremely Enlightened One
    Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The Supremely Enlightened One

    I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
    I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
    I go to the Sangha as my refuge.

    For the second time, I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
    For the second time, I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
    For the second time, I go to the Sangha as my refuge.

    For the third time, I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
    For the third time, I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
    For the third time, I go to the Sangha as my refuge.

That is it ... you are now officially a Buddhist! The ceremony isn't 100% complete at this point though, we need to turn you into a practicing Buddhist the Buddha recommends that all his disciples keep the minimum of the Five Precepts. It sounds kind of scary at this point but do not fear this is not a rigid commandment that determines your authenticity as a Buddhist, no not at all, they are more like training rules that are taken voluntarily. These Five Precepts establish your virtue and protect you from harm in this life as well as in future lives. It is the foundation of your spiritual journey.

The Five Precepts if you choose to follow them are as follows:

    Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
    Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
    Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
    Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
    Sura meraya majja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

     This translate to:

           I undertake the precept of abstaining from destroying living creatures.
           I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking anything not freely given.
           I undertake the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.
           I undertake the precept of abstaining from false speech.
           I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking intoxicants which lead to carelessness.


Now the process and ceremony has completed, you are a practicing Buddhist. The Three Refugees and Five Precepts can be repeated anytime you wish, either at regular intervals or when you feel you need to do this, there is no time limitation to this.

You are now on the Path, this is only the start and its recommended that you join a Buddhist community in large to support you while on the Path. In coming months I plan to dig out more information on this for the Western World.