Buddhism is the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) about the truth of life and universe that reveals the concepts such as the Four Noble Truths, Karma, and the cycle of rebirth (reincarnation). It is a whole school of teaching called dharma which is much older than the word “religion”. Buddhism is still a popular “religion” nowadays, with millions of people all over the world who practice it. The first step to becoming a Buddhist is understanding basic Buddhist beliefs; this will help you decide if Buddhism is the religion for you. Then, you can practice Buddhism and take part in centuries-old traditions.
1. Learn basic Buddhist terminology. This will make it much easier to understand everything you will read, since many Buddhist terms can be very unfamiliar, especially to Westerners. The basic terms of Buddhism include but are not limited to:
Arhat: a being who has attained Nirvana.
Bodhisattva: a being who is on the way to enlightenment.
Buddha: an awakened being who has achieved perfect enlightenment.
Dharma: a complicated term that usually refers to the teachings of the Buddha.
Nirvana: spiritual bliss. Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhism.
Sangha: the Buddhist community.
Sutra: a sacred Buddhist text.
Venerable: The title of an ordained monk or nun, seen wearing the specific colored robes of their tradition and sect.
2. Familiarise yourself with different Buddhist schools. The two most popular Buddhist schools today are Theravada and Mahayana. Though these two schools have the same basic beliefs, there are differences in the teachings they focus on: Mahayana focuses heavily on becoming a bodhisattva, Theravada focuses on practicing the dharma, and so on.
There are many other schools of Buddhism, such as Nichiren Shoshu, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism.
Schools of Buddhism are far from being the same. There are similarities to a degree but many schools of Buddhism have gone off on tangents over time.
Because Buddhism is such an ancient religion, there are many intricate differences between all the schools that cannot be covered in detail here; spend time researching Buddhism to find out more.
3.Read about the life of Siddhartha Gautama. There are many books talking about the founder of Buddhism, and a simple online search will reveal many articles about his life as well. Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who left his palace and lavish lifestyle to seek enlightenment. Though he is not the only Buddha in existence, he is the historical founder of Buddhism.
4.Learn about the Four Noble Truths. One of the most foundational concepts of Buddhism is summarized a teaching called the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. In other words, suffering exists, it has a cause and an end, and there is a way to bring about the end of suffering.
5.Learn about reincarnation and nirvana. Buddhists believe beings live multiple lives. Once a being dies, they are born into a new life, and this cycle of living and dying continues eternally. A being can be reborn in in a variety of forms and conditions of life.
6.Understand karma. Karma is closely intertwined with reincarnation and nirvana because karma determines where and when a being will be reborn. Karma consists of the good or bad actions of previous lifetimes and this lifetime. Bad or good karma may affect a being right away, thousands of years from now, or in five lifetimes, depending on when the effects are meant to occur.
Negative karma results from bad actions or thoughts, like killing, stealing, or lying.
Positive karma results from good actions or thoughts, such as generosity, kindness, and spreading Buddhist teachings.
Neutral karma results from actions that have no real effect, such as breathing or sleeping.
1.Find a temple you feel comfortable joining. Many major cities have a Buddhist temple, but each temple will stem from a different school (such as Theravada or Zen), and each will certainly offer different services, classes, and activities. The best way to learn about temples near you is to visit them and talk to a Venerable or lay devotee.
Ask about what services and activities the temple offers.
Explore the different shrines.
Attend a few services and see if you like the atmosphere.
2.Become a part of the community. Like most religions, Buddhism has a strong sense of community, and the devotees and monks are welcoming and informative. Begin attending classes and making friends at your temple.
Many Buddhist communities will travel together to different Buddhist temples across the world. This is a fun way to get involved.
If at first you feel shy or nervous, this is perfectly normal.
Buddhism is the most popular religion in many countries like Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Korea, Sri Lanka, China etc.
3.Inquire about taking refuge in the Triple Gem. The Triple Gem consists of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. When you take refuge in the Triple Gem, you will likely undergo a ceremony in which you vow to uphold the Five Precepts, which are to not kill, not steal, not commit sexual misconduct, refrain from false speech, and not consume intoxicants.
The specific aspects of the ceremony will vary from temple to temple.
Do not feel obligated to take the Three Refuges, since upholding Buddhist morality is the most important part of this religion.
If you cannot take the Three Refuges because of cultural reasons, or if you cannot find a temple near you, you can still uphold the Five Precepts.
Once you take refuge in Buddhism, you are officially a Buddhist.
Practicing Buddhism in Daily Life
1.Keep connected to the Buddhist community. Attending classes at the temple where you took refuge is a great way to stay connected to the Buddhist community. A quick note upon visiting temples, don’t sit with the bottoms of your feet towards altars, Buddha statues, or monks. Women may not touch monks in any way, even to shake hands, and men cannot do the same with nuns. A simple bow will do. Most temples offer lessons in yoga, meditation, or various sutra lessons. Spend time with friends and family members who are Buddhist, too.
2.Study Buddhism regularly. Many translated sutras are available online, your temple might have a library, or you can buy sutras. There are also many different Venerable monks and lay Buddhists who have written explanations of Buddhist sutras. Some of the most popular Buddhist sutras are: The Diamond Sutra, The Heart Sutra, and The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
Teach others what you have learned about Buddhism once you think you’ve mastered a concept.
There are hundreds of Buddhist concepts and teachings to study, but try not to feel overwhelmed or pressured to “get it” right away.
Attend classes taught by a Venerable or lay devotee at your temple.
3.Uphold the Five Precepts. When you took refuge in the Triple Gem, you vowed to uphold the Five Precepts, but this can be difficult at times. Do your best to not kill any living creature, be honest, not consume intoxicants, do not steal, and do not commit sexual misconduct. If you break the precepts, simply repent, and do your best to keep upholding them.
4.Practice the Middle Way. This is an important part of Buddhism which requires Buddhists to lead a balanced life that is not too lavish or too stringent. The Middle Way is also known as the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which teaches Buddhists to abide by eight elements. Spend time studying all eight: