How do people become members of your faith? Do they have to take any special courses, become baptized or just show up regularly at services?

In Buddhism we have no sacraments such as baptism or mass. If someone is born into a Buddhist culture then the principals of a Buddhist lifestyle are imbibed through the traditions of family and society. People who are not born into Buddhist cultures and become interested in the teachings do so from various perspectives such as an interest in meditation and Buddhist philosophy or through the inspiration of a person such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The level of interest and commitment varies from person to person and people new to Buddhism will often use a lot of the teachings without taking on the label of being a Buddhist.

If one wants to formerly become a disciple of the Buddha there are two preliminary steps "going for refuge" and "undertaking the five precepts". By taking refuge the practitioner makes the commitment to accept the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community of Buddhist practitioners as the guiding ideals of his life. By undertaking the five precepts he expresses his determination to bring his actions into harmony with these ideals through right conduct. Going for refuge and undertaking the precepts can be done formerly in the presence of a teacher or it can be done inwardly as a personal determination to follow the path suggested by the Buddha.

Briefly, the five precepts are a training in right conduct - refraining from killing, refraining from taking that which is not given, refraining from promiscuity, refraining from lying, refraining from taking alcohol or drugs that lead to intoxication. From the positive side this means a life of compassion and kindness to all beings, honesty, fidelity, truthfulness and sobriety.

In a Buddhist culture the laity will often go to the monasteries and reaffirm their faith and commitment by going for refuge and taking the five precepts. The full moon days are especially auspicious when this ancient ritual is enacted in Buddhist monasteries throughout the world. Although these rituals can be very uplifting they are not necessary for the practice of Buddhism.

Ajahn Viradhammo

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