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So You Want To Be A Buddhist?

So You Want To Be a Buddhist?

A Reader recently wrote:

I have recently begun listening to your pod-cast, after starting to bring enlightenment to my life, but wanted to ask a question, that has been troubling me for a while.

I only really came across these teachings after I began learning meditation from a local Buddhist monk, as a way of combating frequent migraines. The more I learned about the meditation, the more I picked up on the Buddhism aspect and this has brought me to learn about the whole thing and bring some positive order to my life. However I have never lived like a saint, and have lived a life that frequently went against everything that I am now learning and wish to follow (although nothing illegal). I don’t want to wash away what I have done in my past, as they are all actions that at the time I chose to participate in, and I believe that my past actions define who I am.

I accept that starting to learn and follow the Buddhist path will help to reverse the negative karma that I have accrued, but is there a way to properly draw a line under things (much in the same way a Christian is Christened?), and begin on a healthier path?

And my response:

I’m guessing you are looking for the Buddhist equivalent of “Being Saved” or even something like a Baptism from Christianity. There really isn’t anything like that. If you want to become a monk and actually live in a monastery, there are many vows and rituals to take, but I am assuming that’s not what you want. You’re a regular lay-person and looking for a way to “start over” as a Buddhist.

I found an answer to this question at there are also several good responses to the answer there. Basically, their answer is:

How does one formally convert to Buddhism?

The historical Buddha referred to his teachings as a “system of training,” not as a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle. As a result, the concept of “conversion” doesn’t really exist in Buddhism.

Buddhism is a practice tradition, not a faith tradition. Buddhist practice, or training, cultivates the qualities of compassion, wisdom, generosity, and creativity.

This means that Buddhists don’t have to adopt any doctrine, creed, or belief system. Even the concepts of refuge and precepts are completely dependent on each person’s interest and experience.

All that’s required is practice. If there’s a Buddhist center near your home, you can visit and get instruction from them. If there’s no center, nearby, there are many books that can teach you how to practice.

Basically, my advice is to sit down and meditate for a while, and try to act in a mindfully Buddhist manner from now on. That’s all there is to it. If you want to BE a Buddhist, then just start “acting” like one. Once the ‚Äúact‚Äù becomes a normal way of doing things, you’ll be there. That’s all there is to it!

5 comments to So You Want To Be A Buddhist?

  • Gambatte

    One of the issues for me is in when to consider myself a buddhist?
    I have a feeling that to be a buddhist I should strictly adopt the precepts, follow the eightfold path unflinchingly etc….
    However, I still eat meat, I still occasionally have a drink (not in any way excessively)My Dharma is what I gain online and thro books and the only sangha is online aquaintances. I have no specific school of buddhism, I read widely and meditate when I can. Making it a part of my life, along with family and work.

    I then look back at my Christian background and see the difference in observance between lay members and ordained clergy.

    Maybe I am a buddhist, just not a monk?

  • The answer given here is the mainstream view among Western practitioners. However, there are some traditions in which there is a formal “conversion” process. To cite one example I found on the internet here:

    Unlike other Buddhist groups or traditions in France, the practice of Tibetan Buddhism requires a conversion process. In the late 1970s and 1980s, many more people joined the Tibetan communities. Since the 1990s, conversions have been subjected to stricter verification of the initial motivation to join and the spiritual progression into the Buddhist path. This “recoupment” is a reaction to the drifts in doctrine and practice that have occurred by this time because of the dramatic increase in potential adherents.

    That’s talking specifically about France, but it applies to Tibetan traditions worldwide. There’s no need to single out the Tibetans in particular on this issue, though; I’ve found that among Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhists the question “Are you a Buddhist or not?” is thought to have a much more definite answer than it does in the minds of many Westerners.

  • Chris

    Hello there

    I didnt get a chance to thank you for including my question (above) in your daily email as I have been away for a few weeks with work. I thought it would be a nice idea to tell you that your response and the response of others has put me a little more at ease with everything, and your answer was confirmation of what I thought might be the case. Like Gambatte above I have no Sangha other than the one I turn to online – there is a local group, but I have been warned off of them in the past by the Theravada monk who taught me in the first place. Learning for me has become a very personal experience. I find it difficult at this early stage to associate specifically with a school of Buddhism, as the books and articles I read dont directly lend themselves to one, but I know what I am doing is having a positive effect and understand this is kind of the point of the whole thing.

    Thanks again

  • To respond to Gambatte, you are a Buddhist when you act as one.

    Master Dogen gave us a simple equation for our lives: Practice = Enlightenment. When you practice the Buddha way, you are a Buddha. Steve Hagen likened being a Buddha to being a pedestrian. When you stand up and walk, you are a pedestrian. When you cease walking, the pedestrian no longer exists. So it is with Buddhism — when you observe the precepts, or when you act out of generosity, etc. in those moments you are a Buddhist. It is a special practice, a practice without an external goal. The practice is the goal.

    Being enlightened (or being a practicing Buddhist) is not like graduating from college. You graduate from college, and you are now a “college graduate.” You don’t have to do anything more to be a college graduate — that label is a label of state, a label of accomplishment. It is forever true from that point on. But enlightenment and wisdom don’t work that way — you have to be enlightenment and wisdom. You can’t do 50 prostrations and get a certificate that says “Buddhist.” It’s not a matter of state, an on-off switch for your life. It is a matter of being, a practice to be manifested in your actions so that it gradually (but totally) infuses your lifestyle.

    “Practice is not a means to attain enlightenment but the manifestation of enlightenment itself.”
    — John Daido Loori, The Heart of Being

  • Jami

    Interesting distinctions. Catholics do not recognise the concept of ‘former’ Catholics; only, lapsed. According to the Church, those who see themselves as buddhist are, if born into the Church of Rome, still Catholics.

    Muslims do not recognise the idea of Conversion to other faiths. Classically, you are a Muslim or an apostate (hence, the saying: ‘It is easy to enter Islam but impossible to leave’).

    Still, ‘practice’ is central to the Monotheisms; and it wld be unfair to say they are just ‘status’ oriented. Perhaps, the concept of karma, with its future rewards or deductions, is a more subtle way of regulating human behaviour. In the Indo-Asian context (to Hindus and Sikhs)karma is operates similarly. And both do not ‘really’ entertain the idea of Conversian and do not require the need for the ‘regulation’ of ‘apostasy’.