Brief Introduction for Beginners
Extracts from the internet and books. (May blessings and appreciation go to the authors of these articles).
We like to share a good write up with the younger generations who may wish to understand more about the commitments of becoming true Buddhists.
When to Become A Buddhist
As all beings have in-born Buddha-nature, therefore Buddhism is already within all living beings.
However, when a person says that he/she wants to become a Buddhist, it certifies that he/she is now prepared to fully commit to, and willing to,
- accept the teachings of the Buddha, and.
- to take refuge in the Triple Gem which comprises of the "Buddha, Dharma and Sangha".
After one has taken Refuge in the Triple Gem, and if one wishes to pursue further to improve his/her Buddhist practices and knowledge, he/she can proceed to taking some basic training rules:
- The Five precepts (these are the 5 basic training rules for Buddhists)
- The Eight precepts (add three more training rules to the five precepts)…..
- The Bodhisattva precepts for layperson
The above processes are similar to someone who first registers to become a student, and then wishes to proceed further step by step from Primary 1 to 5 and beyond, as his/her commitments increases.
Reasons for Taking Refuge 皈依的原因
If people observe the world around them carefully, they are bound to notice the pain, suffering and frustrations experienced by sentient being. A Buddhist will look for a way to end such distressing conditions in life just as a traveller caught in a storm will seek shelter. If the traveller is able to find shelter that is strong and safe, he will call out to others who are still struggling in the storm to join him in this safe refuge. Similarly, a person chooses to become a Buddhist when he understands who the Buddha is, and how the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha can provide him the way to end suffering. Out of compassion, he will also encourage others to take the same refuge.
The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
They are jointly called the TRIPLE GEM (三宝).
They represent qualities which are excellent and precious like a gem. Once a person recognises these unique qualities after careful consideration and is confident that the Triple Gem can help lead him towards happiness and Enlightenment, he takes refuge. It is, therefore, not out of mere faith, but with an open-minded attitude and enquiring spirit that he begins to practise the Buddha’s Teachings.
The Buddha (佛祖)
The word Buddha means the "Fully Enlightened One" or "Awakened One". It is the title given to those who have attained supreme and perfect Enlightenment. Buddhists acknowledge the Buddha as the embodiment of the highest morality, deepest concentration and perfect wisdom. The Buddha is also known to His followers as the "Perfected One" because He has wiped out desires, ill will and ignorance, and has overcome all unwholesome actions. He has put an end to suffering and is no longer bound to the cycle of birth and death.
The Buddha is the Fully Enlightened One because He has realised the Truth and sees things as they really are. He knows through His perfect wisdom, what is good and what is not good for all beings. Out of great compassion, He shows people the path leading to the end of suffering.
The Buddha’s exemplary conduct, perfect wisdom and great compassion make Him an excellent teacher. By His use of skilful means, He is able to reach out to all His followers so that they can understand His Teaching.
The Dharma (佛法)
The Buddha taught the Dharma solely out of compassion for sentient beings who suffer in the cycle of birth and death. The Dharma is therefore taught without any selfish motives. It is by nature pure and bright like a light that destroys the darkness of ignorance. When the Dharma is studied and practised, it brings many benefits now and in the future.
The Dharma is the Teaching about the nature of life. This Teaching of the Buddha is contained in the three collections of scriptures called the Tripitaka or the "Three Baskets". These consist of the sermons (Sutra Pitaka) said to have been taught by the Buddha, the rules governing the discipline of the monastic community (Vinaya Pitaka) and the philosophy and psychology of Buddhism (Abhidharma Pitaka).
A Buddhist gets to know about the Dharma by reading the scriptures (Sutras). He also learns from the writings and explanations of qualified teachers of Buddhism. When he has familiarised himself with the Dharma through reading and listening, he has to realise the truth for himself by putting them into practise. This means purifying his conduct and cultivating Mental Development until the Teaching becomes part of his own experience.
The Sangha (literal meaning is “harmoniously united assembly”. There are 2 kinds of Sangha in Buddhism.
- Bhikshu-sangha are men and women who have left the home life and have received full ordination in which they take vows to strictly adhere to the moral code of 250 precepts for Bhikshus (monks) and 348 precepts for Bhiksuni (nuns). The heart of these moral codes includes vows of poverty, celibacy and harmlessness. They penetrate the Buddha’s profound principles and awaken to the unconditioned. They obtain nothing outside and seek nothing inside.
- Sagely-sangha are all of the Arhats and Bodhisattvas:
- Arhats are those who become enlightened by means of the Four Noble Truths of suffering,. Their enlightenment is not ultimate because they only enlighten themselves and do not yet know how to enlighten other beings, like the Bodhisattva do.
- Bodhisattvas are those that set their will/determination on the quest for Bodhi. He cultivates the six perfections of giving, morality, patience, vigor, concentration power and wisdom; and the myriad practices of virtue for many lifetimes until he becomes a Buddha.
Wise and learned, the Sangha are able teachers of the Dharma. They can also be like trusted friends inspiring the lay followers along the path of Good Conduct.
The “lay followers” is a term for those who have not shaved their heads and are still living within their own households but who accept the Four Noble Truths and the other teachings of the Buddha and seek happiness and Enlightenment as their common goal in life. They also uphold common moral values such as avoiding injury to others in any way. Thus a new Buddhist can look to other members of the lay community for help and advice in times of need.
The Similarity of taking Refuge and taking a Journey
To understand better the idea of taking refuge, one might take the example of a traveller taking a journey to a distant city where he has never been to before. He will surely need a guide to lead him towards his destination. He will need a path to follow. He may also wish to have travelling companions on the journey.
A Buddhist working towards attaining happiness and Enlightenment is like the traveller trying to reach that distant city. The Buddha is his "guide", the Dharma his "path" and the Sangha are his "travelling companions".
A Buddhist takes refuge in the Buddha as his guide because he believes that the Buddha, having attained Enlightenment Himself, is able to guide him towards that goal.
The Dharma that he takes as his refuge is like taking a pathway that has been well laid out. The Dharma shows the rules of Good Conduct to help him avoid unwholesome actions and the techniques of Mental Development to help him overcome distractions. It also teaches him how to overcome ignorance and gain Enlightenment.
Taking refuge in the Sangha is like having good travelling guide who care for him unsure of his actions/pathways and encourage him along. The members of the Sangha, are ideal companions to help the lay follower to purify his unwholesome ideas and correct his behaviour through sound advice and instruction, and encourage him to continue his journey to Enlightenment.
The Act of Taking Refuge (皈依法的过程)
A Buddhist expresses his intention of taking the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha as his refuge by repeating the following lines thrice:
"I go to the Buddha for refuge.
I go to the Dharma for refuge.
I go to the Sangha for refuge."
These lines can be recited by the person alone before the image of a Buddha or repeated line by line after a monk or master. A Buddhist may repeat the Threefold Refuge daily to remind himself that he has made a commitment to attain the goal of happiness and Enlightenment through the guidance and inspiration of the Triple Gem.
The Benefits of Taking Refuge (皈依的好处)
A Buddhist performs the act of taking refuge as the first step on the path to Enlightenment. Thereafter, through Good Conduct and Mental Development, he tries to achieve contentment, self-control, a calm and clear mind, and wisdom. Even if Enlightenment is not achieved in this life, a Buddhist who takes refuge in the Triple Gem is more likely to have favourable conditions for attaining Enlightenment in a future life.
The MAIN teachings of Buddha
A Buddhist must have confidence in the teachings of Buddha, and to accept, understand and practise the teachings of the Buddha.
Append below are some of Buddha’s MAIN teachings:
The Four Noble Truths (四圣谛)
In His first sermon to the five ascetics in the Deer Park near Varanasi, the Buddha spoke of the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths summed up, in a systematic formula, are the central teaching of the Buddha.
- The Truth of Suffering; The truth is that suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is unavoidable.
- The Truth of the Cause of Suffering; The Buddha discovered that the direct causes of suffering are
- desire or craving, People who desire to possess many things can never be fully satisfied, hence greed arises. Because of desire and greed, people will lie, cheat and steal to get what they want. Uncontrolled desires can also lead to addiction, for example, smoking, drinking and overeating. Desire when obstructed can lead to ill will and anger. This in turn can lead to harsh words, violent quarrels and even fights or killings. All this is suffering.
- ignorance. Ignorance is the inability to see the truth of things, to see things as they really are. Hence, they suffer from all kinds of misunderstandings and delusions.
- The Truth of the End of Suffering;
- when greed and anger arise in one’s mind, one experiences unhappiness and when the thoughts of greed and anger cease, one’s mind becomes happy and peaceful. To end suffering completely one must remove desire, ill will and ignorance.
- Enlightenment. By putting the Buddha’s Teachings into practice, people can also achieve supreme Enlightenment. Enlightenment has countless qualities, of which perfect wisdom and great compassion are the most important. With these qualities, we are able to help countless beings to overcome their suffering.
- The Truth of the Path leading to the End of Suffering.
- The Middle Path.
- The Eightfold Path
Noble Eightfold Path
The Noble Eightfold Path, (八正道 ) discovered by the Buddha Himself, is the only way to Nirvana. It avoids the extreme of self-torture that weakens ones intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards ones spiritual progress.
It consists of the following eight factors:
1. Right Understanding. It is based on knowledge and not unreasonable beliefs
2. Right Thoughts. Examples: thought of Harmlessness, non-sense pleasures, and kindness/compassion,
3. Right Speech. Example: falsehood, stealing, slandering, harsh words and frivolous talks.
4. Right Action. refraining from killing, stealing and unchastity, self-controlled and mindful of right of others.
5. Right Livelihood. Avoid trade in deadly weapons, animals for slaughter, in slavery, intoxicants and in poisons, and earning your living which is not harmful or cause sufferings to others.
6. Right Effort.Effort is the root of all achievement. Thus, no matter how great the Buddha’s achievement may be, or how excellent His Teaching is, one must put effort to put the Teaching into practice before one can expect to obtain the desired result.
7. Right Mindfulness. Examples: Mindfulness with regard to body, to feelings, to thoughts, to mental objects. Right Mindfulness is the awareness of one’s deeds, words and thoughts.
8. Right Concentration. Training the mind to focus on a single object and to remain fixed upon the object without wavering. The constant practice of meditation helps to prepare one for the attainment of Wisdom and Enlightenment ultimately.
The Ten Good Deeds (十善)
1. Do not kill
2. Do not steal
3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
4. No lying
5. No double-tongued speech
6. No abusive speech
7. No irresponsible speech
8. No greed
9. No hatred
10. No delusion
The first three are the first three of Five Precepts; these are Body deeds. The last three are the Three Poisons, these are Mind deeds. The remaining four is an elaboration of the evil deeds performed by Speech. Body, speech and mind are the three means of actions.
Three Poisons / Three Evil Roots (三毒)
- hatred and
They are called the Three Poisons or Three Evil Roots, which are the primary source of all evil deed. It is the Three Poisons that create all bad Karma, resulting all kinds of suffering in accordance with the Principle of Cause and Effect. The Three Poisons are also obstacles to the attainment of good Karma. Thus we have to abandon them by all means.
Greed is the cause of many offences. The five greedy desires are: wealth, sex, fame, eating and sleeping. Greedy desire is endless and therefore can never be satisfied. The lesser the greedy desire, the happier and more satisfied we are. The best prescription to deal with greed is in giving away.
Hatred is another cause of evil deed. We should not lose temper and get angry when we are unhappy. We should be calm and patient.
Is Persistent belief in something false and distorted. We have to observe and think in an objective and rational manner, so as to avoid prejudice and misunderstanding. For instance, if we don't believe in cause and effect, and then commit offence frequently, we will suffer from the retribution.
A Daily Routine of a Good Buddhist
1. Paying homage to the Buddha (Reflecting on and reciting the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Samgha)
2. Observing the moral precepts (Observing the five or eight precepts to lead a good moral life)
3. Doing the act of charity (Offering alms-food, pure water, flowers, perfumes, and light to the Buddha and the monks)
4. Cultivating loving-kindness (Developing loving-kindness, compassion, Metta towards all living beings)
5. Striving for perpetuation and propagation of Buddha's Teachings (Participating in religious associations, supporting the Buddhism Practice, donation and distribution of books on Buddhism, teaching and discussing Buddhism)
6. Practising mindfulness on tranquillity and insight meditation (To overcome the real nature of personality-belief and to see mind and matter in oneself and to contemplate on their nature of impermanence, suffering and no-soul.)
7. Sharing merit (To share the meritorious deeds of charity, morality and meditation by saying "May all living beings gain the benefit of merit equally with me)