How to become a buddhist

Interested in becoming a Buddhist? There’s no substitute for participating in a vibrant Buddhist community, but reading about the associated beliefs, texts, meditation, chanting, ritual, and other practices is a good place to start learning.

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How to become a buddhistHe who has gone for refuge in the Buddha, his Teaching and his Order, penetrates with transcendental wisdom the Four Noble Truths – suffering,the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the cessation of suffering.This indeed is the safe refuge, this is the refuge supreme. Having gone to such a refuge, one is released from all suffering.

Many people, after encountering the Dhamma or the Buddhist Teachings ask:
How do I become a Buddhist?

Once, there was a man called Upali. He was the follower of another religion and he went to the Buddha in order to argue with him and try to convert him. But after talking to the Buddha, he was so impressed that he decided to become a follower of the Buddha. The suttas record the Buddha’s reply and Upali’s reaction as follows:

Now I am even more pleased and satisfied when the Lord says to me: “Make a proper investigation first.” For if members of another religion had secured me as a disciple they would have paraded a banner all around the town saying: “Upali has joined our religion.” But the Lord said to me: “Make a proper investigation first. Proper investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself.”

In Buddhism, understanding is the most important thing and takes time. So do not impulsively rush into it. Take your time, ask questions, consider carefully, then make your decision. The Buddha was concerned that people should follow his teachings as a result of understanding and conviction.

I have done this and am convinced of its truth and that it is the path for me.
What do I do to become a Buddhist?

A person becomes a Buddhist by taking the Three Refuges, that is the Buddha, The Dhamma or his Teachings, and The Sangha or the community of enlightened beings. The Buddha said:

“To take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and to see with real understanding the Four Noble Truths,

Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the Transcending of Suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the transcending of suffering, This indeed is a safe refuge, it is the refuge supreme. It is the refuge whereby one is freed from all suffering.”

To take refuge, it is best done with the guidance of a monk. However, if such a person is not available, one may take refuge before an image of the Buddha. Place this image, which may be a statue,a picture or even a computer graphic such that when you kneel before it, it is at the level of your head or higher. Kneel before the image and put your palms together at your chest. Compose yourself, calm your mind and bow three times to the image such that your palms and forehead touches the floor. Then recite the following formula in Pali, which is the ancient language of the scriptural texts.

  • Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhasa
  • Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato samma sambuddhasa
  • Namo tassa, bhagavato, arahato, samma sambuddhasa
  • Buddham saranam gacchami,
  • Dhammam saranam gacchami,
  • Sangham saranam gacchami.
  • Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami,
  • Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami,
  • Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami.
  • Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami,
  • Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami,
  • Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami.
  • Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The Supremely Enlightened One
  • Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The Supremely Enlightened One
  • Homage to Him, the Exalted One, the Worthy One, The Supremely Enlightened One
  • I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
  • I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
  • I go to the Sangha as my refuge.
  • For the second time, I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
  • For the second time, I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
  • For the second time, I go to the Sangha as my refuge.
  • For the third time, I go to the Buddha as my refuge.
  • For the third time, I go to the Dhamma as my refuge.
  • For the third time, I go to the Sangha as my refuge.

You are now officially a Buddhist. But wait, the ceremony is not complete. The Buddha recommends that all his disciples keep the minimum of the Five Precepts. These are not rigid commandments that one is compelled to live by. They really are more like training rules that are taken voluntarily. They establish your virtue and protect you from harm in this life as well as in future lives. It is the foundation for your spiritual journey.

Yes, I would like to take the precepts and live my life accordingly, knowing that it is conducive for my happiness and welfare in this life as well as in future lives.
How do I take these Five Precepts?

Again, the Five Precepts are taken by reciting in Pali while in the kneeling position.

  • Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
  • Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
  • Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
  • Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
  • Sura meraya majja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.
  • I undertake the precept of abstaining from destroying living creatures.
  • I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking anything not freely given.
  • I undertake the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.
  • I undertake the precept of abstaining from false speech.
  • I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking intoxicants which lead to carelessness.

That’s it, now you are a practising Buddhist. The Three Refuges and Five Precepts can be repeated anytime you wish, either at regular intervals or when you feel the need to do so. Welcome to the Path. This is only the beginning and it is suggested that you join a Buddhist community to support it and be supported by it, and to continue to learn the Buddha’s Teachings.

How to become a buddhist

Buddhists are the people who follow the teachings and sayings of Buddha. Basically if you are following the Buddha dharma or the Buddha religion, you are a Buddhist. There are several ways in which you can become a Buddhist and if you are from some other religion and Buddhism seems to fascinate you and you think that it is the religion you should go for, you can choose to follow some tips that we are mentioning here.

How to become a buddhist

6 Easy Steps For Becoming a Buddhist

1. Move to an Area Where Buddhists reside:-

The best way to become a Buddhist is to learn Buddhist ideologies and to learn and adopt the Buddhist ideologies to the best level, you may choose to move to an area that has got Buddhists living in it. Simply meet these people, get the necessary knowledge about the Buddhist ideologies and spend some time with them learning and adopting their ways. Buddhists are very much stick to their praying schedule and thus you might have to wait till they finish their pilgrimage so as to have a meet with them.

2. Become a Follower:-

While you choose to follow some person who is a born Buddhist, you will be able to become a Buddhist in a better way as he is himself related to that religion from the very childhood and will make you aware of every good and bad point about it as well.

3. Get the Necessary Knowledge about Buddhism:-

Choose any way of becoming a Buddhist, but the most necessary is to get the requisite knowledge about it. The Buddha and his teachings should be the best of your knowledge and it is better if you know about the past and present of this religion as well.

4. Stay In Touch With the Buddhist Monks:-

Another way that can prove to be effective in making a Buddhist out of you is to get in touch with a Buddhist monk. You will find them in Nepal and other surrounding areas. Simply meet them, go on mediation with them. Talk with them and follow each and every word they teach you, but beware not to disturb them while they are in their pilgrimage.

5. Take the Three Refuges, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha:-

Buddha religion is basically based on the refuges and you will need to know all about these refuges before becoming a Buddhist. There are three refuges in Buddhism and these are mainly the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. If you wish to take a refuge, you will need to meet a monk and seek his guidance for this purpose. You may even choose to take a refuge before some idol of Lord Buddha is a Buddhist monk is not available.

6. Follow the Teachings Whole Heartedly:-

Simply meeting a Buddhist monk and enquiring about the refuges in not simply the enough thing, but instead you will need to follow the teachings as well. You should be completely aware about what the religion teaches the followers to inculcate in them and when you abide by that all, you will be able to call yourself a Buddhist.

Start your journey here!

Buddhism for Beginners is an initiative of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available.

Buddhism is an ancient religion based on the teachings of the Buddha (“Awakened One”)—the title given to the Indian spiritual seeker Siddhartha Gautama after he attained enlightenment more than 2,600 years ago. The Buddha’s best-known teachings, the four noble truths and the eightfold path, describe the nature of human suffering and a way to liberate oneself from the existential pains of life and reach nirvana.

These teachings spread from India throughout Asia and eventually the rest of the world. While the broader Buddhist family includes many different schools with their own beliefs and practices, these various traditions share a conviction that one can come to understand the truth of existence by living an ethical life dedicated to spiritual development.

That’s the short answer, but there is a lot more to say about it. Click on the questions below to dive deeper into Buddhist teachings, history, and practices.

Let’s get started.

Who are we talking about when we say “the Buddha”? The Buddha was a real person who lived in ancient India. But the term has come to refer to more than just the historical person.

Many associate Buddhism with meditation, and for good reason, but other practices are also important, and some Buddhists don’t meditate. Read about some of the most prevalent Buddhist practices and how to meditate.

The variety of Buddhist traditions across the globe is astonishing. Learn how Buddhism spread worldwide and what that means for those of us interested in it now.

The Buddha had a lot to say about how to understand life. As his teachings spread, they picked up parts of the local religious traditions and culture and naturally adapted to reflect that. Here are some key points of the Buddha’s philosophy.

Are all Buddhists really vegetarian meditators? Is Buddhism pessimistic? Conflicting information about Buddhism is common. Read on to learn more about the most popular misconceptions.

Buddhism has come a long way from its roots. How does Buddhism understand a modern-day issue like abortion or grapple with advances in science? Find these answers and more here.

Discover the major Buddhist traditions.

Buddhist schools have proliferated and evolved over time. Though the resulting variety is astounding, all schools share a common foundation. Learn about the two major traditions and the largest sub-tradition here.

Theravada, the “way of the elders,” rests on core Buddhist teachings and is the predominant form of Buddhism practiced in Southeast Asia.

Zen is a Mahayana tradition that emphasizes simplicity, zazen meditation, nonduality, and nonconceptual understanding.

Nichiren Buddhism is a Mahayana school named after a 13th-century Japanese priest who stressed the Lotus Sutra.

The Pure Land schools, found primarily in East Asia, revere the Amida Buddha, or Buddha of Infinite Light, and put their faith in him to be reborn in the Pure Land, where enlightenment comes swiftly.

Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Vajrayana or tantric Buddhism, embraces a wide variety of experiences and mental and physical energies for use on the path to enlightenment.

Secular Dharma is a recent movement that aims to reinterpret the Buddha’s teachings in the context of the global, modern world.

The significance of the Buddha’s teachings often depends on who he was talking to. Get to know some of his disciples who appear throughout Buddhist texts.

Here are some more core teachings in Buddhist philosophy, including the eightfold path, the middle way, dependent origination, and more.

Mindfulness meditation isn’t the be-all end-all of Buddhist practice. Dive into more practices here.

Delve deeper into Buddhist teachings.

These five guidelines for ethical living are integral to the Buddha’s path of practice: refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false and harmful speech, and intoxication.

Buddhism for Beginners is an initiative of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available.

Buddhism for Beginners is an initiative of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a print and digital magazine dedicated to making Buddhist teachings and practices broadly available.

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How does one initially become a Buddhist?

Any person can be a Buddhist. One does not have to be “born” into Buddhism, nor do one’s parents have to be Buddhists. One can be of any race, country, socio-economic background, gender, etc. People wishing to identify themselves as Buddhists typically participate in a ceremony known as taking refuge in the Triple Gem. This is the simple act of reciting the refuge verse three times before a monastic. The refuge verse expresses an individual’s confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha as a means to alleviating suffering and attaining enlightenment. In accepting the path of the Triple Gem, one also agrees to observe the Five Precepts or rules which engender good conduct.

The meaning of taking refuge in the Triple Gem.

All Buddhists following the proper practice should take refuge in the Triple Gem as their first step. By taking refuge, one declare that he is a disciple of the Triple Gem. Triple Gem is the collective name for the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Taking refuge in the Triple Gem means “go to” and “rely on” the Triple Gem, to ask for help and get deliverance from sorrows. It is like children who feel safe in the protection of their parents. Old people find confidence if they go about with a walking stick. Sailors need the compass so that they will have a safe passage, and the people walking at night require bright street lights so that they can see which way to go.

The Triple Gem is also like a compass to us. We rely on it to find a safe harbour on the big ocean. Continual recitation of the refuge formula can bring about the support of the Triple Gem. We can overcome life’s misery to find our true self, a haven in this life and in the future.

Buddha is the Pali word for the Fully Enlightened One. Out of deep compassion, the Buddha taught people the way to end suffering and to gain enlightenment.

Dharma refers to Buddha’s teachings to overcome desire, ill-will and ignorance in order to liberate people from the cycle of birth and death. The Dharma includes the Tripitaka (the sutras, vinaya and sastras) and the Twelve Divisions of the Mahayana Canon.

Sangha is the Pali word meaning “group harmony”. Sangha here refers to the monks and nuns in the community. The two main characteristics of the monastic community are:

– all members in the monastic community try to end attachments as their common goal.

– to achieve group harmony, members are required to strictly observe the following rules:

1. Unity in thoughts.

2. Equal rights for all members of the community.

3. Equal financial standing for all members.

4. Promotion and the sharing of common interests.

5. Being kind and courteous to each other in words.

6. Considerations and goodwill to others.

As a result, the monastic community provides an ideal environment for individual cultivation as well as forming an important base for the teaching of Dharma to the wider community.

In another word, the Buddha is the Saviour, the Dharma the truth and the Sangha the teacher. These are the basic and essential requirements for one’s cultivation. As an example, a patient needs the diagnosis of a good doctor (the Buddha), for the treatment of some serious illness we require correct medicine (the Dharma) and to recover we need people to give us assistance (the Sangha). In the same way, we have to rely on the help of the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha for our cultivation.

“Gem” normally describes precious stones. In our endeavours strive to be liberated from the distress of this life, the Buddha, Dharma and the Sangha are the most precious Gems we have.

A person might have made countless offerings in the shrines but without actually taking part in the refuge ceremony, one is regarded only as an interested bystander of the Buddhist way. This is likened to being an unregistered student who is allowed to attend classes unofficially as an observer.

One taking refuge should also have the right understanding and the right view. As well as having strong beliefs in cause and effect, and “to practice all virtues and cease all evil deeds.” Only by this way can we discover the real benefits of the Dharma and uphold our beliefs.

-From the book, Entry Into the Profound: a first step to understanding Buddhism and the booklet, The Significance of Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem & the Five Precepts published by International Buddhist Association of Australia Incorporated.

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Buddha stated emphatically that we can all become Buddhas, but what does it actually mean? A Buddha is someone who’s removed all of their shortcomings, corrected all of their deficiencies, and realized all of their potentials. Every Buddha started out just like us, as ordinary beings experiencing recurring difficulties in life due to confusion about reality and unrealistic projections. They came to realize that their stubborn projections didn’t actually correspond to reality, and through a strong determination to be free of their suffering, they eventually stopped automatically believing in the fantasies their minds projected. They stopped experiencing disturbing emotions and acting compulsively, freeing themselves of all suffering.

Throughout this, they worked to strengthen their positive emotions like love and compassion, and helped others as much as they could. They developed the kind of love that mothers have for their only child, but toward everyone. Powered by this intense love and compassion for everybody and their exceptional resolve to help them all, their understanding of reality became stronger and stronger. It became so powerful that their minds eventually stopped even projecting the deceptive appearances that everything and everyone exist on their own, disconnected from everything else. Without any impediment, they saw clearly the interconnectedness and interdependency of all that exists.

With this achievement, they became enlightened: they became a Buddha. Their bodies, their abilities to communicate and their minds became free of all limitations. Knowing the effect on each person of anything they would teach them, they were now able to help all beings as much as is realistically possible. But not even a Buddha is omnipotent. A Buddha can exert a positive influence only on those who are open and receptive to their advice and who follow it correctly.

And Buddha said that everyone can achieve what he did; everyone can become a Buddha. This is because we all have “Buddha-nature” – the fundamental working materials that enable Buddhahood.

Neuroscience speaks of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and develop new neural pathways throughout our life. For instance, when the part of the brain that controls our right hand becomes paralyzed, training with physiotherapy can cause the brain to develop new neural pathways enabling us to use our left. Recent studies have shown that meditation, such as on compassion, can also create new neural pathways leading to more happiness and peace of mind. So just as we speak of the brain’s neuroplasticity, we can likewise speak of the plasticity of the mind. The fact that our minds, and therefore our personality traits, are devoid of being static and fixed, and can be stimulated to develop new positive pathways is the most fundamental factor enabling us all to become enlightened Buddhas.

On a physiological level, whenever we do, say or think anything constructive, we strengthen a positive neural pathway that makes it easier and more likely that we’ll repeat the action. On a mental level, Buddhism says this builds up positive force and potential. The more we reinforce a network of such positive force, especially when we benefit others, the stronger it becomes. Positive force, directed at the ability to help all beings fully as a Buddha, is what enables us to reach that goal of being universally helpful.

Similarly, the more we focus on the absence of anything real corresponding to our false projections of reality, the more we weaken the neural pathways, first of believing in this mental nonsense and then of projecting it at all. Eventually, our minds become free of these delusional neural and mental pathways, and free as well of the pathways of the disturbing emotions and compulsive behavioral patterns that depend on them. Instead we develop strong pathways of deep awareness of reality. When these pathways are empowered by the force of aiming for the omniscient mind of a Buddha that knows how best to help each and every limited being, this network of deep awareness enables us to attain the mind of a Buddha.

Because we all have a body, the facilities to communicate with others – primarily speech – and also a mind, we all have the working materials for attaining the body, speech and mind of a Buddha. These three are likewise Buddha-nature factors. We all have some level of good qualities – our instincts for self-preservation, preservation of the species, our motherly and fatherly instincts, and so on – as well as the ability to act and affect others. These too are Buddha-nature factors; they’re our working materials for cultivating the good qualities, such as unlimited love and care, and the enlightening activities of a Buddha.

When we examine how our minds work, we discover further Buddha-nature factors. All of us are able to take in information, group things together that share some quality, distinguish the individuality of things, respond to what we perceive, and know what things are. These ways in which our mental activity works are limited now, but they too are working materials for attaining the mind of a Buddha, where they will function at their peak potential.

Arrow down

Since we all have the working materials for becoming a Buddha, it is just a matter of motivation and sustained hard work before we become enlightened. Progress is never linear: some days will go better and some days worse; the road to Buddhahood is long and not easy. But the more we remind ourselves of our Buddha-nature factors, the more we avoid becoming discouraged. We just need to keep in mind that there’s nothing inherently wrong with us. We can overcome all obstacles with a strong enough good motivation and by following realistic methods that skillfully combine compassion and wisdom.

How to become a buddhist

Athit Perawongmetha / Getty Images

  • B.J., Journalism, University of Missouri

In conversations about religion, there is often discussion about converting from one religion to another. For some people, Buddhism may offer an option if you are not finding yourself a good fit for the religion you currently practice.

Factors to Consider

Buddhism is not a religion suitable for everyone to convert to. As a religion, Buddhism takes discipline and dedication, many of the doctrines are very difficult to wrap your head around, and its vast body of teachings can be intimidating. Additionally, there are subtleties of practice and dozens of different schools of thought that can be bewildering until you find the niche that’s right for you.

The entire idea of conversion is not one all that suited to a discussion of how to become Buddhist. For many, a spiritual path that arrives at Buddhism does not feel like a conversion at all, but merely a logical step along a destined path. Being a Buddhist for many people does not involve an active abandonment of one path for another, but simply following a path that naturally leads where it was destined to go. A Buddhist may well still feel that they are being taught by Jesus, but also by Dogen, Nagaruna, Chogyam Trungpa, the Dalai Lama, and the Buddha.

People who are eager to convert others to their religion usually believe their religion is the “right” one—the One True Religion. They want to believe that their doctrines are the true doctrines, that their God the real God, and all others are wrong. There are at least two problematic assumptions with this view, and people who intuitively sense these contradictions are often the types of people that become Buddhists.

Can There Be a “True” Religion?

The first assumption is that an omnipotent and omnipresent entity such as God—or Brahma, or the Tao, or the Trikaya—can be completely understood by human intellect and that it can be expressed in doctrine form and transmitted to others with unfailing accuracy. But this is a disputable assumption, because many of us who are drawn to Buddhism are instintively aware that no doctrines of any religion, including your own, can own the complete truth.

All belief systems fall short of perfect understanding, and all are frequently misunderstood. Even the truest doctrines are just pointers, shadows on a wall, fingers pointing to the moon. We might do well to follow the advice of Aldous Huxley in The Perennial Philosophy, who argued persuasively that all religions are really just dialects of the same spiritual language—and equally truthful and equally flawed as tools for communication.

Most of the doctrines of most of the world’s religions reflect some small part of a great and absolute truth—a truth that perhaps should be considered symbolic rather than literal. As Joseph Campbell would say, all religions are true. You just have to understand what they are true of.

The Search for Transcendence

The other false assumption is that thinking the correct thoughts and believing the correct beliefs are what define religion. For a great many people, there’s an assumption that proper practice of ritual and behavior is what constitutes proper religion. But an attitude that is perhaps more accurate is that of historian Karen Armstrong when she says that religion is not primarily about beliefs. Rather, “Religion is a search for transcendence.” There are few statements that more clearly reflect Buddhist attitude.

Of course, transcendence can be conceptualized in many different ways, also. We might think of transcendence as union with God or as entry into Nirvana. But the conceptualizations may not be that important since all are inherently imperfect. Maybe God is a metaphor for Nirvana. Maybe Nirvana is a metaphor for God.

The Buddha taught his monks that Nirvana cannot be conceptualized and that any attempt to do so is part of the problem. In Judaic/Christian teaching, the God of Exodus refused to be limited by a name or represented by a graven image. This is really a way of saying the same thing the Buddha taught. It may be hard for humans to accept, but there are places our almighty imaginations and intellects simply cannot go. The anonymous author of a great Christian work of mysticism said as much in The Cloud of Unknowing—finding God/transcendence requires first that you give up the illusion of knowledge.

Lights in the Darkness

This is not to say that beliefs and doctrines have no value because they do. Doctrines can be like a flickering candle that keeps you from walking in total darkness. They can be like markers on a path, showing you a way others have walked before.

Buddhists judge the value of a doctrine not by its factual accuracy but by its skillfulness. In this context, skillfulness means any practices that reduce suffering in a meaningful, genuine way. A skillful doctrine opens the heart to compassion and the mind to wisdom.

Realistic self-evaluation tells us that rigidly fixed beliefs are not skillful, however. Rigidly fixed beliefs seal us off from objective reality and from other people who don’t share our beliefs. They render the mind hard and closed to whatever revelations or realizations Grace might send our way.

Finding Your True Religion

The world’s great religions have all accumulated their share of both skillful and unskillful doctrines and practices. It is also quite clear that a religion that’s good for one person can be all wrong for someone else. Ultimately, the One True Religion for you is the one that most completely engages your own heart and mind. It is the set of beliefs and practices that provide you with the possibility of transcendence and the tools for seeking it.

Buddhism may be a religion for you to investigate if Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or Wicca no longer engages your heart and mind. Buddhism very often is of great appeal to anyone from whom common sense and intuition have caused dissatisfaction with current religious practice. There is a cool, dispassionate logic in Buddhism that appeals to many people who struggle with the heated fervency of other mainstream religions—especially those that demand faith and obedience rather than intelligent, logical exploration.

But there are many people who find illumination and a pathway toward transcendence from those other religions. No genuine Buddhist would consider coaxing him or her into abandoning that successful belief system for another. This is one of the things that perhaps makes Buddhism unique among world religions—it embraces any practice that is truly skillful—that legitimately reduces suffering.

Engaged Buddhism

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism, the esteemed Vietnamese monk perfectly summarizes the Buddhist approach toward religious belief systems:

“Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.”

Buddhism is a religion that some people can enter into with their entire hearts and minds without leaving critical thinking skills at the door. And it is also a religion that has no deep compulsion to convert anyone. There are no concrete reasons to convert to Buddhism–only the reasons you find within yourself. If Buddhism is the proper place for you, your path is already leading you there.

Preparing for Ordination

According to Buddhist practice, there are three stages or steps. The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara. Then in the third stage, self-cherishing is eliminated

Becoming a Buddhist monk or nun is truly a meaningful and worthwhile way to spend your life, and to be of benefit to others. We are very fortunate that the monastic tradition started by the Buddha is still alive today, thanks to the devotion, dedication and efforts of many thousands of monks and nuns in Asia over the last 2500 years. Although there is great benefit in becoming ordained, the life of a Buddhist monk or nun also carries a deep responsibility for oneself and for others.

How to become a buddhist

Knowing the Buddhist Teachings

Before making the decision to take ordination, one should have a thorough foundation in the teachings of the Buddha, such as the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment (lam-rim). Traditionally a student requesting ordination has completed several years of study and practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher. If you are beginning, check your local area for a center or study group where you can generate an understanding of the teachings, gather the support of other dharma students and have the guidance of a qualified teacher.

Having a Spiritual Guide

In any venture we undertake, we need someone who can teach and guide us. This is especially true in our spiritual journey where a qualified teacher can provide the guidance we need to be successful in our practice. Our teacher can help provide the foundation for the monastic life, and will understand when we are ready to take on the commitment required for the monastic vows of ordination. You need to have a teacher who can give you permission to be ordained

Entering the Buddhist Path

Take the time you need in developing your spiritual practice. Once one understands the value of the Buddha’s teachings and feels they are appropriate for one’s own spiritual development, the next step is to formally establish yourself as a Buddhist by taking “refuge”.

It is also important to strengthen one’s practice by taking “lay vows” preparing one for living with vows; many students will also practice celibacy for a period prior to taking ordination. Know yourself and know whether you will feel comfortable being a monk or nun.

Considering Ordination

If possible spend some time living in a monastic community receiving advice from the resident monks or nuns on what it is like to be a monastic. Discuss with monks and nuns who have lived with the vows and can offer very practical information on how to maintain one’s commitment. Members of the monastic community are happy that you are interested in following the monastic path and want to support you in your ordination. Resources and articles are also available online.

Programs are being developed where lay practitioners considering ordination can gain an understanding and experience of the monastic life in protected retreat environment.

A Lifelong Commitment

The vows of a Buddhist monk or nun are taken for life, therefore it is important to spend time and take great care in reflecting on the various advantages and disadvantages before making a decision. Some monasteries in Asia (e.g. in Thailand) offer part-time ordination programs, usually for men, which allow one the possibility to live as a monastic for a few days, weeks, months, or years. However, in the Tibetan tradition, one makes a commitment for life. And although there are cases of people who take vows and later give them back and return to lay life, this is not recommended. The vows are taken with the determination to keep them for the rest of one’s life.

How to become a buddhist

Being Part of a Community

Becoming a Buddhist monastic means that you are joining a community—the Sangha. The purpose of the community is to study and practice the Buddha’s teachings, and whenever possible, to share them with others. Traditionally, one stays in a monastic community for at least 5 years after becoming ordained. However, as monastic communities are still in development in many parts of the world, this is not always possible. In some cases, one can also reside within a dharma center under the guidance and protection of one’s teachers. One should investigate the possibilities that are available to join monastic communities prior to ordination.

Living in community also means that we share our resources, our habits, our practice and our personalities. In learning to live in a community one can face many difficulties, particularly as many of us have been raised in cultures of individual expression. In order to protect our ordination, the vinaya (code of conduct) for monastic life is very explicit in how we live in community.

Supporting Yourself

Traditionally, when one joins a monastic community, the four basic requisites of food, clothing, dwelling and medicine are provided. However, as Buddhism is relatively new to many parts of the world, resources to support the monastic communities are limited. For those considering ordination, it is important to consider what resources are available for support once one has taken ordination. Many monks and nuns provide service to their local dharma communities in exchange for their basic needs. The International Mahayana Institute also provides support in dependence on available resources. It is contrary to the Vinaya (code of conduct) for monks and nuns to work in worldly jobs to support themselves. Those seeking to become monks or nuns should discuss their situation with their teacher or senior Sangha to ensure their stability once they have taken ordination.

These points should give you a better idea of the realities – and challenges! – of living as a Buddhist monastic.

Taking it Further

  • The International Mahayana Institute (IMI), FPMT’s community of monks and nuns has more detailed guidelines and next steps.
  • Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive has compiled talks given by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche on Advice for Monks And Nuns
  • Additionally, Nalanda Monastery has compiled some very helpful material to read while considering ordination
  • There is an excellent booklet by Ven. Thubten Chodron which you may find helpful. Preparing for ordination: Reflections for Westerners Considering Monastic Ordination in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. For copies contact Dharma Friendship Foundation PO Box 30011 Seattle, WA 98103, USA
  • Pre Ordination Course held annually at Tushita Retreat Center