Becoming. . .

If you want to become a Buddhist, there are a few steps I’d recommend taking. Faith is important to Buddhism, just like all religions, but unlike the blind faith of abrahamic religions, your faith in Buddhism must be grounded in reason. Thus, to become a Buddhist, you must nurture this faith with some good old fashioned soul searching.

  1. Examine why you want to be a Buddhist. There are three reasons why people become Buddhist, the first being to search for the path to enlightenment or just generally a better life, the second being because it’s the faith they were born and raised into, and the third being to fulfil a sort of spiritual ego so they can feel spiritually superior to their peers. Hopefully the first describes you better, and if it doesn’t, learn how to drop this spiritual ego!
  2. Learn what Buddhism actually is. If you’re new, start with the basics. Read up on the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, the common terms like “Dharma”, “Karma”, “Nirvana”, and so on. Learn the difference between rebirth and reincarnation. Don’t be ashamed to pick up a “Buddhism for Beginners” type of book. I might suggest picking up the Dhammapada at some point, it’s the main reason I became a Buddhist myself.
  3. Learn the different types of Buddhism, and figure out what you do and don’t agree with. Some branches of Buddhism may be more agreeable to you than others. There are as many different ways to practice the Dharma as there are people practicing it. Are you more of a Zen Buddhist, rigorously training their mind through intense meditation? Are you a Pure Land Buddhist, praying to Amitabha Buddha’s name every day? Maybe you’re more of a Secular Buddhist, and you’d prefer to push aside the paranormal beliefs and instead focus on the morality and rationality of Buddhism? Or perhaps you’d prefer not to label yourself, and follow the Dharma to the beat of your own drum?
  4. After all of this, sit down and meditate on your findings. What do you now believe in? Do the core teachings of Buddhism resonate with you? Has the words of the Buddha lit a fire of determination within you? If so, congratulations, you’re a Buddhist, and you’re ready to begin your path by symbolically “taking refuge in the three jewels”. If not, take what you have learned from this research and continue on in life as a wiser person.

There are a few different ‘initiation rituals’ into Buddhism, but they are all simply that, rituals. However, it’s generally agreed upon in most schools that to officially become a Buddhist, you must “take refuge in the three jewels”. To me, this is more of an affirmation than a ritual, a commitment to the path of a Buddhist. First, you must “take refuge in the Buddha” by seeing him as the ultimate example of what kind of life you wish to live. Second, you must “take refuge in the Dharma”, the teaching of the Buddha, by following it and using it as your guide, and to search for further truth and wisdom through your life. Lastly, you must “take refuge in the Sangha”, the community of Buddhist practitioners, by viewing them as your companions in life, sources of feedback, support, and most importantly, friendship.

Peace and Love, Jim
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