Buddhism is an ancient religion founded by Siddharta Gautama that teaches concepts such as the Four Noble Truths, karma and the cycle of rebirth. Buddhism is still a popular religion today, practiced by millions of people around the world. The first step to becoming a Buddhist is to understand basic Buddhist beliefs. This will help you decide if Buddhism is the right religion for you. Then you can practice Buddhism and participate in centuries-old traditions.
Table of Contents
- 1 Understand the basic Buddhist concepts
- 2 Take refuge
- 3 Practicing Buddhism in everyday life
- 4 Tips
Understand the basic Buddhist concepts
Learn basic Buddhist terminology.
This makes it much easier to understand everything you read, as many Buddhist terms can be very unfamiliar, especially to Westerners. The basic concepts of Buddhism include: Arhat: A being who has attained Nirvana. Bodhisattva: A being on the path to enlightenment. Buddha: An awakened being who has attained 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 community of Buddhists. Sutra: A sacred Buddhist text. Venerable: An ordained monk or nun, commonly seen in orange robes.
Familiarize yourself with the different Buddhist schools.
The two most popular schools of Buddhism today are Theravada and Mahayana. Although these two schools share the same beliefs, there are differences in the teachings they focus on: Mahayana focuses heavily on becoming a Bodhisattwa, Theravada focuses on practicing the Dharma, and so on. There are many other schools of Buddhism such as Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism. No matter which school interests you, the basic teachings of Buddhism are the same. Because Buddhism is such an ancient religion, there are many complex differences between all the schools that cannot be covered in detail here. Spend some time researching Buddhism to find out more.
Read about the life of Siddhartha Gautama.
There are many books that speak of the founder of Buddhism, and a simple internet search will yield many articles about his life as well. Siddharta Gautama was a prince who left his palace and lavish lifestyle to seek enlightenment. Although he is not the only existing Buddha, he is the historical founder of Buddhism.
Learn about the Four Noble Truths.
One of the most fundamental concepts of Buddhism is summed up in 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 leading to the end of suffering 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. The Four Noble Truths are not negative. They are actually meant to reduce suffering by looking at them. The Four Noble Truths emphasize that it is not important to seek pleasure. If you find yourself confused by the Four Noble Truths, you are not alone. It takes years for people to fully grasp this teaching.
Learn about reincarnation and nirvana.
Buddhists believe that all beings have multiple lives. When a being dies, it is reborn into a new life, and this cycle of life and death does not end until Nirvana has been attained. A being can be reborn in the human, celestial, animal, infernal, asura, or hungry ghost realms.
Karma is closely related to reincarnation and nirvana because karma determines where and when a being is reborn. Karma consists of the good or bad actions of previous lives and this life. Karma, bad or good, will affect a being directly: in thousands of years or in five lifetimes, depending on when you want the effects to occur. Negative karma results from bad actions of the mind, such as killing, stealing, or lying. Positive karma results from good actions or thoughts, such as generosity, kindness, and spreading the Buddhist teachings. Neutral karma results from actions that have no real effect, such as breathing or sleeping.
Find a temple that you would like to join.
Many larger cities have a Buddhist temple, but each temple derives from a different school (such as Theravada or Zen). Also, each one certainly offers different services, courses, and activities. The best way to learn about temples near you is to visit them and talk to a venerable or lay follower. Inquire about what services and activities the temple offers. Explore the different shrines. Attend some services and see if you like the atmosphere.
Become part of the community.
Like most religions, Buddhism has a strong sense of community, and the followers and monks are happy to invite and inform. Start attending classes and making friends at your temple. Many Buddhist communities travel together to various Buddhist temples around the world. This is a fun way to join. If you’re shy or nervous at first, that’s perfectly normal. Buddhism is a popular religion especially in China, India and other parts of Asia. So if you only speak German, there might be a language barrier.
Inquire about taking refuge in the Three Jewels.
The Three Jewels consist of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When you take refuge in the Three Jewels, you are likely to undergo a ceremony in which you vow to uphold the Five Commandments, which are not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery, to refrain from false speech, and not to consume any intoxicants. The specific aspects of the ceremony vary from one temple to another. Do not feel obligated to take the Three Refuges as upholding Buddhist morality is the most important part of this religion. If you cannot take the Three Refuges for cultural reasons, or if you cannot find a temple near you, you can still uphold the Five Commandments. Once you have taken refuge in Buddhism, you are officially a Buddhist.
Practicing Buddhism in everyday life
Stay connected to the Buddhist community.
Attending classes at the temple where you have taken refuge is a great way to stay connected to the Buddhist community. Most temples offer classes in yoga, meditation, or various sutra lessons. Also, spend time with friends and family who are Buddhists.
Study Buddhism regularly.
There are many translated sutras available on the Internet, your temple may have a library, or you can buy sutras. There are so 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 Sutras. Teach others what you have learned about Buddhism when you feel you have mastered a concept. There are hundreds of Buddhist concepts and teachings to study, but try not to get overwhelmed or feel compelled to “get it” right away. Attend courses taught in your temple by venerable or lay devotees.
Uphold the Five Commandments.
When you have taken refuge in the Three Jewels, you have sworn to uphold the Five Commandments, but that can be difficult at times. Do your best not to kill any living creature, be honest, use intoxicants, steal, or commit adultery. If you break the commandments, just regret it and do your best to keep upholding it.
Practice the Middle Way.
This is an important part of Buddhism, which requires Buddhists to live a balanced life that is not too wasteful or too strict. The Middle Way is also known as the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which teaches Buddhists to observe eight elements. Spend some time studying all eight: Right View Right Thought Right Speech Right Action Right Livelihood Right Effort Right Mindfulness Right Concentration
Helping others is an essential part of Buddhism. Spend a lot of time learning about Buddhism before taking refuge in the Three Gems. In Buddhism, there are many complicated philosophical texts. Don’t get frustrated if they confuse you.