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    Becoming a Buddhist

    By Corey Tsang

    When a person wishes to become a Buddhist, he needs only to go to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha for refuge. This means that he will henceforth wholeheartedly, accept the Three Jewels as his shelter and guiding ideal. Generally the simple ceremony is done before a monk or, if one is not available, to do it at a shrine on which there is a Buddha-image, the symbol of one's spiritual direction and eventual realization. Offering flowers, incense and light, one bows before the image, declares his intention, and repeats the Refuge prayer three times, making a bow after each repetition. The prayer may be in Pali, Sanskrit, English or Chinese, depending on the tradition one chooses to follow.

    When the Threefold Refuge is done before a monk, one has to request for the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts. This clearly shows that one becomes a Buddhist after he has a thorough understanding of the Dharma and he should not be converted by others because Dharma is not a matter of belief, it uses no force, not even persuasion, to make convert. One will not make a good Buddhist if he is not ready to put to practice the Buddhist way of life. One should then make three bows to the monk and see in him as the personification of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The monk will then recite 3 times, the salutation to the Buddha:

    "NAMO TASSA BHAGAVATO ARAHATO SAMMASAMBUDDHASA" which means 'Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Perfectly Enlightened One'.

    Then he will recite the Refuge prater and the aspirant should repeat after him, each line that has been recited:

    To the Buddha I go for Refuge."

    To the Dharma I go for Refuge."

    To the Sangha I go for Refuge."

    For the second time, to the Buddha I go for Refuge."

    For the second time, to the Dharma I go for Refuge."

    For the second time, to the Sangha I go for Refuge."

    For the third time, to the Buddha I go for Refuge."

    For the third time, to the Dharma I go for Refuge."

    For the third time, to the Sangha I go for Refuge."

    The Refuges are always repeated thrice to ensure that the mind of the person taking them is fully aware of what has been said. They are recited either in Pali or English as given above, or in Sanskrit, which is as follows:


    Then the monk chants the FIVE PRECEPTS (Pancasila) one by one which the aspirant repeats after him. The Fire Precepts may be called the "Dharma for human beings" as their practice will make our world more bearable to live in and they are the basic and minimal observance of moral conduct by a Buddhist. They teach him to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and taking intoxicants of any kind.

    Going-for-Refuge to the Three Jewels is therefore an open declaration that we are Buddhists. The prayer said should not be mere recitation but should bring to our mind that the treasures in this lifetime consists of the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. We should understand fully what we are declaring so that we will commit ourselves to the declaration that we have made.


    What is meant by going for a Refuge to the Buddha? Do we know who is the Buddha or what is the Buddha? Surprisingly, many Buddhists in this country have only a vague idea of Him. Many also believe that they are Buddhists just because they think that their parents are Buddhists by their acts of offering incense to their family altar which, in fact, is ancestral worship and has nothing to do with Buddhism. Therefore it is important that such people be taught not only of who or what the Buddha is but what the Buddha is not.

    The Buddha is not God or a deity whom one should pray to for some fulfillment in life. The Buddha is not an incarnation of God like Jesus Christ is to the Christians. He is not a prophet nor a messenger of God. The Buddha does not answer your wishes or bring you to heaven just because you have accepted him as your Saviour. He is not the creator who decides the destinies of your life nor can he save you if you have not lived a wholesome life. However, the Buddha can show the way by mans of which you have to save yourself. This means that only you can save yourself and that you will have to work very hard at it in order to save yourself.

    So if the Buddha is not God, who or what is He? He is a human being but a very special human being, one who has gained what we call "Enlightenment". He is the fully Awakened One and He is one who has become free from all kinds of worldly passions; whose mind is pure; whose mind is full of wisdom; whose mind is full of love and compassion towards all sentient beings; a super human, the purest, the noblest and most virtuous of beings. All these qualities He possesses in the highest possible degree. This is but a brief description that one can make of a Buddha. Going for Refuge to the Buddha therefore means taking and accepting the Buddha as our ideal. The Buddha was a man such as we, so what He achieved, we too can achieve. If we accept this, if we act upon this, if we sincerely follow the path that has been trodden by the Buddha, then we are really going for Refuge to the Buddha - the First Refuge.
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