How to become a buddhist

To be a Buddhist, we don’t need to wear any special clothing, change our eating habits, or give up material possessions or a social life. It’s as simple as changing our perception — not taking the obstacles that come our way so seriously, and seeing everything around us as interesting and full of potential. Simple to say but not always easy to do.

By understanding the teachings and using tools like meditation, as Buddhists we gradually alter our view of whatever is happening in life. It’s not about putting on rose-tinted glasses but rather removing veils that prevent us from seeing how things really are.

The Buddha’s teachings are a great treasury of helpful advice and each tradition emphasizes different aspects of Buddhism. When it comes to living the teachings, monks, nuns, and lay people have quite different lifestyles. What can we say here about Diamond Way Buddhists?

Diamond Way Buddhists are lay people, often with families and regular jobs, who incorporate Buddhist methods into their daily lives.

What makes you a Buddhist?

In order to be able to become Buddhist, we need to take responsibility for creating our own lives, with the confidence that cause and effect, or karma, really functions. Through our thoughts and judgments, we create habits and attitudes that either limit or free us. Through experience, we see that we create today the causes of our situations tomorrow.

If we want to take this responsibility and decide to use this chance to reach the state of a Buddha, what do we need?

We need values that we can trust. Mind is the only thing that doesn’t change. It wasn’t born and cannot die. It is always and everywhere like space. Enlightenment, or Buddhahood, is a fully developed state of mind and is the goal of Buddhism. As Buddhists, we make a connection with this state – we open up to it – and this we call taking refuge. We also take refuge in the teachings (Dharma) that bring us to the goal, in our friends on the way (Sangha), and in our teacher (Lama).

From the state of complete joy and accomplishment of enlightenment, we can do the most to benefit others. So Buddhists also strengthen their determination to pursue this goal, so that we can share it with others. And to use whatever strength and insight we get on the way for the benefit of all. This noble aspiration is known as the Bodhisattva Promise.

How do we become enlightened?

Practicing meditation, we get used to being in a state with less disturbing emotions and more joy and clarity. Then we try to bring the perspective experienced in meditation into daily life. If a difficult situation comes up, can we see it from a bigger perspective with less drama? Can we see the potential even in that person who’s triggering our emotions today?

Our meditation practice is like a laboratory; we work on ourselves in a closed environment. Then we check our view and reactions in daily life — stuck in traffic, negotiating at work, or trying our best with our partners, co-workers, or children. The proof of spiritual development is being better able to handle real-life situations with grace, skill, and humor.

If this sounds reasonable and like something one can use, then it’s natural to ask where to begin.

Where to start?

The easiest way in the West is to find a Buddhist center near you, where you can get an introduction to Buddhism and learn meditation. There are usually books, magazines and recorded lectures available to check out. If you like the people and meditations in the Buddhist center, then it makes sense to visit a lecture by a Buddhist master like Lama Ole Nydahl or Karmapa when they teach in your city or country.

Once people adopt a religion, they should practice it sincerely. Truly believing in God, Buddha, Allah or Shiva should inspire one to be an honest human being. Some people claim to have faith in their religion but act counter to its ethical injunctions. They pray for the success of their dishonest and corrupt actions, asking God or Buddha for help in covering up their wrongdoings. There is no point in such people describing themselves as religious.

Today the world faces a crisis related to lack of respect for spiritual principles and ethical values. Such virtues cannot be forced on society by legislation or by science, nor can fear inspire ethical conduct. Rather, people must have conviction in the worth of ethical principles so that they want to live ethically.

How to become a buddhist

The U.S. and India, for example, have solid governmental institutions, but many of the people involved lack ethical principles. Self-discipline and self-restraint of all citizens—from CEOs to lawmakers to teachers—are needed to create a good society. But these virtues cannot be imposed from the outside. They require inner cultivation. This is why spirituality and religion are relevant in the modern world.

India, where I now live, has been home to the ideas of secularism, inclusiveness and diversity for some 3,000 years. One philosophical tradition asserts that only what we know through our five senses exists. Other Indian philosophical schools criticize this nihilistic view but still regard the people who hold it as rishis, or sages. I promote this type of secularism: to be a kind person who does not harm others regardless of profound religious differences.

In previous centuries, Tibetans knew little about the rest of the world. We lived on a high and broad plateau surrounded by the world’s tallest mountains. Almost everyone, except for a small community of Muslims, was Buddhist. Very few foreigners came to our land. Since we went into exile in 1959, Tibetans have been in contact with the rest of the world. We relate with religions, ethnic groups and cultures that hold a broad spectrum of views.

Further, Tibetan youth now receive a modern education in which they are exposed to opinions not traditionally found in their community. It is now imperative that Tibetan Buddhists be able to explain clearly their tenets and beliefs to others using reason. Simply quoting from Buddhist scriptures does not convince people who did not grow up as Buddhists of the validity of the Buddha’s doctrine. If we try to prove points only by quoting scripture, these people may respond: “Everyone has a book to quote from!”

Religion faces three principal challenges today: communism, modern science and the combination of consumerism and materialism. Although the Cold War ended decades ago, communist beliefs and governments still strongly affect life in Buddhist countries. In Tibet, the communist government controls the ordination of monks and nuns while also regulating life in the monasteries and nunneries. It controls the education system, teaching children that Buddhism is old-fashioned.

Modern science, up until now, has confined itself to studying phenomena that are material in nature. Scientists largely examine only what can be measured with scientific instruments, limiting the scope of their investigations and their understanding of the universe. Phenomena such as rebirth and the existence of the mind as separate from the brain are beyond the scope of scientific investigation. Some scientists, although they have no proof that these phenomena do not exist, consider them unworthy of consideration. But there is reason for optimism. In recent years, I have met with many open-minded scientists, and we have had mutually beneficial discussions that have highlighted our common points as well as our diverging ideas—expanding the world views of scientists and Buddhists in the process.

Then there is materialism and consumerism. Religion values ethical conduct, which may involve delayed gratification, whereas consumerism directs us toward immediate happiness. Faith traditions stress inner satisfaction and a peaceful mind, while materialism says that happiness comes from external objects. Religious values such as kindness, generosity and honesty get lost in the rush to make more money and have more and “better” possessions. Many people’s minds are confused about what happiness is and how to create its causes.

If you study the Buddha’s teachings, you may find that some of them are in harmony with your views on societal values, science and consumerism—and some of them are not. That is fine. Continue to investigate and reflect on what you discover. In this way, whatever conclusion you reach will be based on reason, not simply on tradition, peer pressure or blind faith.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet. He is co-author, with Thubten Chodron, of “Approaching the Buddhist Path,” from which this article is adapted.

Originally published in the Wall Street Journal on July 6, 2017.

How to become a buddhist

Becoming a Buddhist used to be a thing of the east before the 50s. Ever since the eastern world opened its arms towards the western societies, many people from the west are also getting into becoming a Buddhist by reading books about Buddhism, practicing Buddhist meditation and also by applying Buddhist principles in their daily lives. So what does becoming a Buddhist mean in today’s day and age? How does one become a Buddhist? Anyone interested in Dharma may come to a point where he or she would want to decide whether they truly are a Buddhist or not.

Buddhist people around the world normally relate or depict themselves as content and joyful people. But does becoming a Buddhist tremendously change the world around us? What changes will it bring to the people who embrace the teachings of the Buddha, the enlightened one?

To put it in simple terms, one does not need to wear any special robes, change his or her eating habits, give up material possessions or any kind of social life. Becoming a Buddhist simply means changing one’s insight into anything that is happening around them. One would see everything around him or her as interesting as well as full of potential, which is very easy or simple to say but usually not easy to do.

What makes one a Buddhist?

Anyone can be a Buddhist. An individual does not particularly have to be born or raised in Buddhist culture nor do anyone’s parents have to be Buddhist. The said individual can be of any race, region, gender, socio-economic background, etc. Anyone who identifies themselves as Buddhists commonly take part in a ceremony known as taking refuge in the three gems; the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. This ceremony involves the simple act of reciting the refuge verse three times. This verse reveals the participant’s confidence and trust in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha so as to alleviate suffering and to ultimately attain enlightenment.

How to become a buddhist

In simple terms of becoming a Buddhist, taking refuge in the three gems signifies go to and rely on the three gems i.e. to ask for help and be liberated from sorrows and sufferings. In other words, taking refuge may serve as a guide to be liberated from lifes misery to find ones true self, a haven in this life or the next one.

Taking Refuge in Buddha

Buddha, meaning the one who is Enlightened or the enlightened one, provided teachings out of deep compassion to the people to find a way to end suffering of the world, eventually attaining enlightenment. By taking refuge in Buddha, one takes his or her first steps towards becoming a Buddhist. It also means that the qualities of the Buddha are also inherent within us. The Buddha possesses wisdom which helps one to understand what he or she is doing, compassion so that one can have a soft heart and be there for the others, and power so that the practitioner can continue the journey towards Buddhahood.

Taking Refuge in Dharma

Dharma, which is the second aspect of taking a refuge, guides an individual to get the better off desires, ill-will and ignorance so as to anticipate him or her from the cycle of birth and death. Taking refuge in Dharma does not mean the participant should follow a prescribed path. Becoming a Buddhist really means that one has to look inside their own mind, and the dharma guides him or her to do the exact same thing. Dharma helps an individual to move towards the path of stability and can also act as a protection for one’s mind and heart.

Taking Refuge in Sangha

The final step of taking refuge, Sangha is a community of people who are on the same path of finding liberation from suffering. Sangha, in Pali words, means group harmony. The members of Sangha can be considered as warriors as they are trying to tame Samsara while also being there for one another, supporting each other and care for one another. Since nobody is perfect, sangha acts as an inspirational figure for the people who want to amplify their understanding of mindfulness, compassion and awareness. Practicing Buddhism together can also help one to find discipline. Since there are also other people around who are going through the same phase, it gives the individual a sense of encouragement.

Finally to end it all, one simply needs to take refuge in the three gems in order to identify as Buddhists but there is no hard and fast rule to become a Buddhist. One can simply pertain to the teachings of Buddha and be inspired to be a better person to become a Buddhist. Similarly practicing meditation helps one to be mindful of things around them.

How to become a buddhistPhoto by Liz Highleyman.

Note: In 2018, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche became the subject of a number of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct and stepped back from the community he led, Shambhala. While Lion’s Roar does not endorse him as a Buddhist teacher, we understand that some may want to access his past teachings in light of recent events, and so we are continuing to make this article from our archive of past issues available for those who wish to do so.

Many people these days are reading books about Buddhism, practicing Buddhist meditation, and applying Buddhist principles in their work and personal lives. If you are one of those who is interested in the dharma, you may come to a point where you want to decide whether you really are a Buddhist or whether you are not.

The formal decision to become a Buddhist is marked by the refuge ceremony, in which you take refuge in what are known as the three jewels: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha (the community of Buddhist practitioners). Some people who take the refuge vow wonder afterwards if they made the right choice, so it’s important to consider seriously whether becoming a Buddhist is what you want to do with your life. Taking refuge is not a temporary situation. Once you take the refuge vow, it’s supposed to last forever.

Taking refuge is about how we are going to lead our lives. We take refuge because we have looked everywhere for a place we could be content, where we could reduce our anxiety. But when we looked at our world, we realized that there is no place for us to find harmony, or to understand the nature of things.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha

We take refuge in the Buddha because we are taking the same journey as he did. The Buddha lived in a palace and had good food and drink. If there had been movies then, he would have watched them all. He did everything there was to do, yet he realized that something was still not quite right. So like the Buddha, we ask, “Where is our life taking us?” and, like the Buddha, we look inside to understand the mind.

When we take refuge in the Buddha, we take the Buddha as an example. The Buddha is not a god—this is not a theistic situation where Buddha is better and we are worse, or he is the boss and we are the servants. In fact, Buddha is us. We are Buddha, but we have not yet realized our full buddhahood.

The Buddha realized that there is really no self. When he looked at the self, that self we hang on to so tightly, he realized that it does not really exist. From a greater point of view, he not only saw beyond personal ego, he also overcame the notion of external phenomena altogether. The Buddha realized the egolessness of both self and other. He actually overcame the whole world of duality—samsara and nirvana, existence and non-existence, eternalism and nihilism.

So we look at the Buddha with respect and appreciation for showing us how to live our life. When we take refuge in the Buddha, we take shelter from confusion, chaos and suffering. We are overcoming our discursiveness and our conflicting emotions. It is very personal. Nobody else can identify that thought for you; nobody else can deal with that emotion for you. You have to work it out for yourself.

When we talk about taking refuge in the Buddha, we mean the qualities of the Buddha that are inherent within us. The Buddha possesses wisdom, compassion and power: wisdom so we know what we are doing, compassion so we have a soft heart and care about others, and power so we can continue the journey. We call that buddhanature. We are taking refuge in our intrinsic enlightenment.

Taking Refuge in the Dharma

This leads us to the dharma, which is the second aspect of taking refuge. What’s important is not so much who the Buddha was but what he expressed—the truth, the dharma. The Buddha’s message that there is no self was “a fearless proclamation of the truth.”

When we begin to meditate, we discover that we’re always thinking about things such as who we know, where we’ve come from, what we’re going to do. We realize that our idea of who we are is all in relationship to other. We have created this individual identity in relationship to other.

So at a certain point, when our mind begins to relax and our thoughts begin to disappear, we may become a bit frightened. Our sense of boundary begins to dissolve. There is no one to talk to. There is no one there. We realize we’re just holding on to an idea of who we are; we are holding on to a conceptualization. In fact, everything we engage in is conceptualization. The process of meditation helps us realize the truth of the dharma. So can we be that fearless? Can we look at what is there—or what is not there?

When we take refuge in the dharma, we are not following some prescribed path. We really have to look inside our own mind, and the dharma helps us to do that. Truth is constant, so the dharma provides some stability in our life. The dharma acts as our protection; it protects our mind and it protects our heart.

Taking Refuge in the Sangha

Finally, we take refuge in the sangha, the people who are on the path with us. Those who are in the sangha are warriors, because they are trying to overcome samsara. Members of the sangha support one another and care for one another. They are not perfect, but they inspire us because they are people who want to deepen their practice of mindfulness, awareness and compassion. The sangha is also a container. When we practice together, the sangha helps our discipline. We realize that there are other people around who are going through the same thing. That gives us a feeling of encouragement.

We are talking about taking a special path. But this path has been traveled by great practitioners before us, and it is now up to us to travel it. We must understand this is completely possible; there is no reason at all that we cannot travel this path. Yes, we all have our own individual situations or karma—some of us tend to be a little bit more lazy, some of us tend to be more uptight. We all have various tendencies. But the truth remains the same. It is unchanging within us.

That is the beauty of the dharma: it is completely available. We don’t need any particular credentials in order to understand it. On the other hand, we do need to hear, meditate and contemplate. We do need to understand what we are doing. We do need to correct our misunderstandings.

Taking refuge does not mean that we take Buddha’s words as the unquestioned truth. We must question the words of the Buddha. We need to ask, “Is this real? Does this actually work? Does it make sense?” The Buddha didn’t say, “I am going to save you.” He said, “You have the ability to make your situation better. You have all the capabilities. It is up to you.” Ultimately, that is the truth in which we are taking refuge.