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How to Become a Formal Buddhist

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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The incomparable and profoundly exquisite Dharma!

It is rare that it can be met with, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of ages!

We are now permitted to see it!
We are now permitted to hear it!
We are now permitted to accept it!
We are now permitted to hold it!

May we truly understand the meaning of these words of the Tathagata!

The above verse is called the "Gatha for opening Sutras (Written Teachings)" and it is quite appropriate that your first steps in formally becoming a Buddhist begin with this thought.

These are the basic instructions required to formally and fully begin the practice of the Middle Way.

Since this will provide the foundation upon which you hope to grow, it is very important that these first steps be clearly understood and accomplished.

Taking the Three Refuges

The earliest method of formally becoming a Buddhist was to ask the Buddha for admission to the Order.

This was done by looking to the Buddha for direction and teaching, looking to the Teaching itself as a source of one's advancement and comfort, and looking to those who were already the Buddha's followers for guidance and companionship.

Thus the Three Great Refuges were born and, in the traditional formula, were taken by the petitioner's saying

I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the Dharma, I take refuge in the Sangha.

While this sacred formula has been said in many languages from that time to this, thus changing its outward form, it is not in any way different now than it was in the time of the Awakened one,

and Buddhists of all sects have always taken this as the first and basic step to sincere Buddhist practice.

It is always preferable to receive the Refuges directly from a fully Ordained Monk or fully Ordained Nun who serves as "Refuges Master" for this rite.

Since that is not always possible, this page provides a means by which one may begin the practice of the Middle Way.

Taking Refuges On One's Own

To take the Refuges in this expedient fashion, you should first prepare a place of solemn and tranquil nature.

Since Buddha-Nature is everywhere, a complete Buddhist altar is not necessary; however such an altar may help you to focus the mind.

When all is prepared and you are in a state of calm purposefulness, with clean garments and body, face the altar or any appropriate direction, kneel and repeat aloud:

Because he is the most perfect sage and teacher, who caused his own liberation and thus made clear for all future generations the excellent path of liberation from the sufferings of birth and death, I take refuge in the Buddha.

Because the Buddha's great compassion was recorded for the benefit of all living beings and the truth he revealed is unsurpassed, I take Refuge in the Dharma.

Because he himself wore the robe and thus began and guided the Compassionate Order, I take refuge in the Sangha.

(Repeat Refuge Vows twice more for a total of three times)

Now it is appropriate to perform three full prostrations (bows to the floor with the forehead touching the floor and the palms of the hands facing upwards) and,

if possible, to make an incense offering. Do not rise immediately, but spend a few moments single-mindedly reflecting on the Three Refuges and the Triple Jewels they represent.

Following your reflection, consider the Three Pure Precepts from which all Buddhist Precepts come:

Cease to Do That Which Causes Harm.

Cultivate Your Personal Virtue.

Do Only Good for Others.

Complete the ceremony by making a vow to yourself that these Precepts will be the new guiding principles of your life.