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BECOMING A BUDDHIST?

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Beginning Your New Life

 

In the 21st century, Buddhism has become the fastest growing religion among Americans. Many people these days are reading books about Buddhism, practicing Buddhist meditation, and applying Buddhist ideas at work, play and with relationships. If you are one of those who is very interested in the dharma, you may one day decide to formally become a disciple of Buddha and live the path of understanding, faith and love.   The aim of this web page is to help you familiarize yourself with what is needed to become a Buddhist.

 

Below covers these topics: 1) Know the basics, 2) Understanding is Important, 3) How do I become a Buddhist? 4) The Affirmation and Ordination Ceremony, 5) What is the Meaning of Taking Refuge? 6) Taking the Bodhisattva Vows, 7) Taking the Five Precepts, 8) A Path Open to All.

 

Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Connecticut

Know the Basics 

 

If you would like to make Buddhism your religion, there are some things to consider. First, you should be familiar with the basic tenants of Buddhism such as karma, rebirth, Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path, the Five Precepts, the Nembutsu, the Pure Land, and Amida Buddha. It is not necessary to accept all of these concepts in the beginning, but one should be willing to consider them. The Buddha never asked his disciples to believe something because he said it. He said that one needed to prove it true for oneself.

 

 

Understanding is Important

 

In Buddhism, understanding is the most important thing and understanding takes time. So do not impulsively rush into Buddhism. Take your time, ask questions, consider carefully, and then make your decision. The Buddha was not interested in having a large number of disciples. He was concerned that people should follow his teachings as a result of a careful investigation, consideration of the facts and personal experience.

 

 

How do I become a Buddhist?

 

Join a Buddhist sangha (a temple, church or group), support them, be supported by them and continue to learn more about the Buddha's teachings. Read about the teachings, apply them in your life, attend services and retreats, open your heart and mind to the working of Great Compassion. Then, when you are ready, you can formally become a Buddhist by undertaking the Affirmation or Ordination Ceremony. 

 

Affirmation and Ordination

 

The decision to become a Buddhist is marked by either Affirmation or Ordination Ceremony. These two types of ceremonies are different but share certain religious aspects. First of all, the Affirmation Ceremony or the Kikyoshiki is unique to Shin Buddhism only. It is a form of personal religious confirmation, in which the participant publicly acknowledges his/her orientation and commitment to the Pure Land path of Shinran Shonin and the recognition of the working of Great Compassion (Other Power) in their lives. At the Buddhist Faith Fellowship, one must successfully take the Discovering Buddhism 101 Course in order to participate in this ceremony. We believe that one should have some background in the Buddha’s life, teachings and practices in order to undertake such an important ritual.

 

As stated above, this ceremony is unique to Shin Buddhism, which is a lay religious movement and not a religious order. This ceremony does not entail the transmission of the Three Jewels or the Five or Ten Precepts from teacher (monk) to disciple. In Shin Buddhism, we are each others teachers. Moreover, according to Shin Buddhism, the ultimate transmission can only come from the direct and personal experience of the working of Great Compassion, which is called shinjin or true entrusting. What's more, Shin Buddhism does not formally have lay precepts, which can be received from human to human transmission; instead they manifest naturally through the shinjin experience.

 

The Affirmation Ceremony allows the participant to publicly acknowledge his/her personal faith experience in the Buddha (Amida), the Dharma (the teachings and the truth) and the Sangha (those who practice the dharma and entrust themselves to the infinite life and light). Furthermore, the Affirmation Ceremony may also confirm the Five Precepts as the best ways to compassionately live in our suffering world. Again, this is not a transmission of the ethical code but just a reminder of its importance. In addition, the Affirmation Ceremony may include the reciting of the Six Paramitas, the Bodhisattva Vows and/or the Shin Buddhist Affirmation as reminders of the Buddhist path. In this ceremony, recipients are given a Buddhist name (homyo), an Affirmation Certificate and Shin Buddhist Okesa. There is usually a small donation requested to cover the costs.

 

In contrast, the Ordination Ceremony is only conferred by a fully ordained monk, in which the lay participant receives the human to human or teacher to student, transmission of the Three Jewels and the Five Precepts and sometimes even can take the Bodhisattva Vows. The participant is then ordained as a lay follower or as it is know in Sanskrit as an upasaka (ordained lay male follower) or upasika (ordained lay female follower). He/she then receives a certificate and a Buddhist name. As a result, the ordainee is formally initiated as a lay member and linked to a monastic order, in which he/she dedicates him/herself to the Three Jewels and the Five Precepts. The ordaining monk is usually seen as the lay followers main teacher.  These ordained lay followers may then, in the future, decide to intensify their practice and become fully ordained as monks (bhikkus) or nuns. The Ordination Ceremony is conducted by monastic orders only. Since the BFF is a lay congregation, it does not conduct ordinations. If you are interested in lay ordination please refer to a local Buddhist temple or center with a resident monk or nun.

 

 

           What is the Meaning of Taking Refuge?

 

 

To publicly take refuge in the Three Jewels is to change the direction of ones life and make an effort to embody the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.

 

To take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in the living source of understanding, faith and compassion, symbolized as Amida, the Buddha of Eternal Life and Light and her historical human manifestation, Shakyamuni Buddha. One sees the historical Buddha as the greatest teacher and the embodiment of our true human potential.

 

To take refuge in the Dharma is to take refuge in Reality-as-it-is, the Ocean of Oneness, the Buddhas teachings and the path of understanding, faith and compassion.

 

To take refuge in the Sangha is to take refuge in the community that practices according to the Buddhist path and strives to manifest and embody Enlightenment here on Earth.

 

The Three Jewels are present in every quarter of the universe as well as in our hearts, in every person and in all other species inhabiting every galaxy. By dedicating ourselves to learn, practice and embody the Three Jewels, you will have the proven vehicle to nourish the ability to love and understand within ourselves 

 

The Affirmation ceremony is the first step to becoming a disciple of Buddha. You begin the process to be transformed from within. Gradually, through the working of Other Power, you will be made to deeply realize that each of us is the main concern of Great Compassion. As Shinran Shonin said, we who are like rubble will be turned into gold. 

 

The colors of Buddha's enlightenment
buddhistflag.gif
The official Buddhist Flag

Taking the Bodhisattva Vows

 

The Bodhisattva Vows are the very essence of the Mahayana (Universal Vehicle) Buddhism. They are the torch lighting our spiritual path. These Vows are the great boat that carries us all to the Other Shore, the Pure Land, and the inspiration guiding us in this life with the great heart of compassion and love. A Bodhisattva is a being that devotes him or herself to compassionate deeds, striving to benefit all beings and seeking their Enlightenment before his or her own.

 

By taking refuge in the Bodhisattva Vows, we endow our lives with profound spiritual meaning. They allow us to embody our highest religious aspirations, in which we commit ourselves to deeper understanding and love and selfless service. They have the power to transform us into gentle spiritual warriors with courageous armor of patience, perseverance and mindfulness, and enduring arrows of generosity, wisdom and compassion.

 

These Vows are a living promise that we reaffirm everyday, not just once in a lifetime. Therefore, we should strive to recite them regularly and practice them always.

 

Sentient Beings are numberless,

I vow to save them all.

 

Sufferings are inexhaustible,

I vow to end them all.

 

Dharmas are boundless,

I vow to learn them all.

 

The Buddha Way is unsurpassable,

I vow to embody it.

 

 

Taking the Five Precepts

 

The Fivefold Precepts have the capacity to protect life and make our lives beautiful. They are not rules or commandments but are guidelines to wholesome and ethical living and truly witness our commitment to live an awakened life.  Through the compassionate working of Amida in our lives, we are empowered to better practice them and are encouraged to move forward in the direction of peace, joy and awakening. Likewise, they are the foundation for the happiness of the individual, family and society. These Precepts help us avoid making mistakes and creating suffering, fear and despair but instead bring joy, understanding and peace into our suffering world. 

 

The Five Precepts are as follows:

 

 

1.         I practice the training of love, I refrain from killing.

 

2.         I practice the training of generosity, I refrain from stealing.

 

3.         I practice the training of contentment, I refrain from sexual misconduct.

                       

4.         I practice the training of mindful speech, I refrain from harmful speech.

 

5.        I practice the training of mindful consumption; I refrain from intoxicants  

          & harmful substances that harm myself, society and the environment.

 

A Path for All 

 

We are talking about going on a wonderful path and living a new kind of lifestyle. For 2,500 years, Buddhism has been a proven path for millions of practitioners. It may be now up to you to travel it too. You must understand this is completely possible; there is no reason at all that you cannot travel this path.  This is the beauty of the Pure Land teachings: it is completely available to all whether we are saints or sinners, ignorant or wise. Remember Great Compassion always remain with us. She is moving, seeking and working to liberate you from suffering. Just stop, take notice and be grateful.

 

 
"Emancipation is promised
even while we are in Samsara."

--Zuiken