Do you need a teacher to become a Buddhist?

Yes.  Absolutely.  The Buddha.

For the Blessed One was the arouser of the unarisen path, the begetter of the unbegotten path, the expounder of the unexpounded path, the knower of the path, the expert with regard to the path, adept at the path. And now his disciples follow the path and become endowed with it after him.

Ven. Ananda, MN 108, Gopaka Moggallana Sutta

Many people are familiar with the Buddha’s statement that spuritual friendship is not half,  but the entire holy life.  People often miss the way he explained it in detail:

And through this line of reasoning one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life: It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, that beings subject to aging have gained release from aging, that beings subject to death have gained release from death, that beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair have gained release from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair. 

SN 45.2, Upaddha Sutta: Half

We are all extremely lucky to be alive in a time when the Buddha’s teachings are still available to us. We do need the help of many spiritual friends.  But the Buddha is the only teacher required. 


Top ten words every Buddhist convert must learn

Below are some of the most important words for new Buddhists to learn. The main words are Pali. If there are more common Sanskrit equivalents, they are in parentheses.


This refers to someone who has attained enlightenment on his own and establishes a community of enlightened disciples. All the Buddhas of the past share the same nine qualities. Our Buddha is Sidhattha Gotama.

Dhamma (Dharma)

The teachings of the Buddha that lead to full enlightenment. This word is also used by other religions but has different meanings.


There are two groups that Sangha refers to. One is all of the Buddhas disciples that have attained some level of enlightenment. The other is the community of monks and nuns. The use of the word sangha to refer to any group of people who practice together is new. It is important to remember that this third group is not the group we go for refuge to.


Someone who has attained full enlightenment.

sutta (sutra)

The collected sermons, discourses and verses spoken by the Buddha and some of his enlightened disciples.

kamma (karma)

In general, kamma just means action. In the Buddha’s Dhamma it specifically refers to actions that we do intentionally by body, speech, and mind that will give a result related to the wholesome or unwholesome nature of the action.


Pali is the language that the suttas are written in. It is still used today for liturgies.


Bhante is a way to address a monk, equivalent to Reverend or Venerable. (“Yes, bhante”). It is now often used as a noun, although it is not in Pali (“Have you seen any of the bhantes?”) As well it is commonly used as a title. (Bhante Sivali)

vandana & puja

Vandana means a worship service. Puja means an offering. Since they usually happen together, the two words are used interchangeably.


Puñña means merit. It is equivalent to good kamma. Specifically the Buddha taught that merit is collected through giving, being virtuous, and by developing the mind.

Top 9 Qualities of the Buddha Every Convert Should Know

If we want to get the most out of our Buddhist life it’s important that we understand exactly who the Buddha is. After all, not only is he our teacher,  he is the one who discovered  the teachings. Because we can’t see the reality of the teachings on our own until we have followed  them, we have to trust him.

1. Arahaṃ: Worthy. The Buddha is truly worthy because he has completely removed all greed, hatred and delusion from his mind.

2. Sammāsambuddho: Supremely enlightened. Unlike his disciples who also became enlightened, the Buddha did it without anyone’s help.

3. Vijjācaranasampanno: Endowed with knowledge and virtue. The Buddha had perfect virtue as well as all the special knowledge, including psychic powers, and direct knowledge of the results of actions.

4. Sugato: Follower of the Noble Path. He followed the Noble Eightfold Path all the way to the end.

5. Lokavidū: Knower of worlds. He understood the heavenly worlds, the human world, the ghost world, the animal wortld, an the hell worlds. He also understood how a person is reborn in each of these worlds and how to put an end to rebirth in any world.

6. Anuttaro purisadammasārathi: Peerless trainer of people. No matter what bad qualities an individual has, if there is the possibility for them to be trained, the Buddha can do it.

7. Satthā devamanussānam: Teacher of gods and humans. The Buddha helped both humans and gods to attain enlightenment.

8. Buddho: the Enlightened Teacher. He taught the Dhamma to others without holding anything back.

9. Bhagavā: the Blessed One. He was the only one who had all of these qualities.

Six names for the Buddha every convert must know

You could be forgiven for thinking that there are many different Buddhas because he has so many different titles and names. Some of these are names and some are more like titles. And some, like Bhagava and Tathāgata can be used to refer to Buddhas in the past, but this is always clear from the context.

Names are given in Pali and Sanskrit when they are different.

Blessed One (Bhagava)

This is by far the most common name used in the suttas. It is more of a title than a name. It is the 9th quality of the Buddha and means that he is the only one who has all nine qualities.
(Note: Blessed is pronounced with two syllables, bless-ed)


This is another very common way of referring to the Buddha. This is the way the Buddha will most often refer to himself. It is a difficult word to translate, but he gives us a good explanation in the Lokavabodha Sutta. (see pronunciation rule)


This was his family name. Sometimes in verses other people will also be referred to by this name. Usually it is clear from the context.


This is a name sometimes used in verses


This is what we would now a days call the Buddha’s first name. We actually don’t find this name in the suttas. Sometimes you will hear him called Siddhartha Gautama. (see pronunciation rule)


This means Sage of the Sākyas, the kingdom where the Buddha was born.

Further Reading:

Sutta Study

Convert Misunderstandings: A monastic can only teach the Dhamma if invited.


One very common myth among Buddhist converts in the west is that monks and nuns may only teach the Dhamma if invited. There is absolutely nothing in the monastic rules to support this idea. It most likely came as a PR move to make Buddhism seem less threatening. Unfortunately it is now used as a criticism of good monks and nuns who confidently share the Dhamma out of compassion as the Buddha intended.

Now, there are, of course, proper situations for teaching and improper ones. Many guidelines for this can be found in the Vinaya rules. Most have to do with respect for the Dhamma. None of them have to do with being invited.

And of course we have to be skillful and make sure that our intentions are themselves in line with the Dhamma.

Sutta Study:

The Three Refuges

We can officially convert to Buddhism by reciting the Three refuges below. After that, we work to follow the Buddha and his teachings as carefully as we can.

Buddhaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Dhammaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Sanghaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.

Dutiyam’pi Buddhaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Dutiyam’pi Dhammaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Dutiyam’pi Sanghaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.

Tatiyam’pi Buddhaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Tatiyam’pi Dhammaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.
Tatiyam’pi Sanghaṃ saranaṃ gacchāmi.

I go for refuge to the Buddha.
I go for refuge to the Dhamma.
I go for refuge to the Sangha.

For the second time I go for refuge to the Buddha.
For the second time I go for refuge to the Dhamma.
For the second time I go for refuge to the Sangha.

For the third time I go for refuge to the Buddha.
For the third time I go for refuge to the Dhamma.
For the third time I go for refuge to the Sangha

A note on pronunciation: The ṃ is pronounced link an ng. The ā is drawn out.

How do I convert to Buddhism?

Converting to Buddhism is primarily a personal, mental action that is supported by a community.

We become a Buddhist when we acknowledge the Buddha as our fully enlightened teacher, his Dhamma teachings as our guide to happiness, and the Sangha as his fully enlightened disciples who followed that Dhamma to its final goal.

Officially, we do this by reciting the Three Refuge privately or publicly. If done publicly it can be recited by repeating after a monk, a nun, or a trusted lay teacher.

Usually we agree to follow the five lay precepts at the same time.

Sutta Study:

Learn this one weird pronunciation trick every Buddhist convert should know.

The biggest mistake people make when pronouncing Buddhist words is with the letters TH. In English those letters are either pronounced with a soft, hissing sound like in the word think, or a harder buzzing sound like the word that. But in all Indian languages such a Pali (the Buddha’s language), Sanskrit, Hindi, and Sinhala, the H is basically silent. It’s actually pronounced with a strong out breath, but you are better off just ignoring it.

This is also the case for kh, gh, ch, jh, ṭh, ḍh, th, dh, ph, and bh. The ph is always just pronounced like a p, never an f. And both c and ch are always pronounced a a hard ch sound, like church.

So this means that Theravada (Teaching of the Elders) is pronounced like “tear a piece of paper” not “therapy.” The other commonly mispronounced word is Tathāgata (a title of the Buddha). The H in both cases is completely silent.

The technical term for these letters is mahaprāna. Other examples of words that use them:

  • khanda–aggregate
  • Sangha–the order of monks and nuns
  • jhāna–deep state of meditation
  • Dhamma–the Buddha’s teaching
  • phala–fruit or result
  • bhikkhu–monk

What is the Buddhist flag?

What we now call the international Buddhist flag was created in the late nineteenth century. It represents the six colours of the Buddha’s aura, the light that could radiate from his body when he chose. The sixth color is called pabbhassara. This is often considered to be a combination of the other five. Sometimes it is translated as pure radiance.

Flag_of_Buddhism.svg (1)

We find a mention of the colours in the Buddha’s aura in the story of the miracles he performed in the town of Uruvela, shortly after his enlightenment. (Although the list of colours is slightly different.) The following is the version of the story in verse (Angirasa is another name for the Buddha):

Near the Nerañjarā, the Lord
spoke thus to the matted hair ascetic Uruvelākassapa:
“If it is not inconvenient to you, Kassapa,
let me stay this day (only) in the fire-hall.”

“It is not inconvenient to me, great recluse,
(but) as I am anxious for your comfort I warn you
that there is a fierce serpent king there,
of psychic power, a terribly venomous snake.
Do not let him harm you.”

“It is not likely that he can harm me.
Please do you, Kassapa, allow (me the use of) the fire-room.”
“It is given”; having understood this,
the fearless one entered, fear overpassed.

Having seen that the holy man had entered,
the chief of snakes, afflicted, blew forth smoke.
The chief of men, joyful, unperturbed,
blew forth smoke there too.

But the chief of snakes, not conquering anger,
blazed up like a fire.
The chief of men, highly proficient in the condition of heat,
blazed up there too.

When both were in flames,
the matted hair ascetics, as they were looking at the fire-room, said:
“Beautiful indeed is the great recluse,
(but) he will be harmed by the serpent.”

Then at the end of that night
the serpent’s flames became extinguished,
but the multicoloured flames of him of psychic power remained,
and multicoloured flames, dark green,
then red, crimson, yellow and crystal-coloured
were on Angirasa’s body.

Having put the chief of snakes into his bowl,
he showed him to the brahmin, saying:
“This, Kassapa, is your serpent,
his heat was mastered by heat.”

Mahakhanda, Vinaya Pitaka

Do you join a group or become part of a “people” when you convert to Buddhism?

When you become a Buddhist, it doesn’t involve joining a group or becoming part of a “people”.

For example, when you convert to Judaism you become part of the Jewish people. When you become a Christian you are part of the body of Christ. Many Christians believe that God works specifically through the group.

In Buddhism, conversion is really a personal matter and there is no need to join a group. In traditional Buddhist countries people don’t think of themselves as members of the local temple. They have a relationship with the temple, but it is as a supporter and participant. In western countries, Buddhist temples or groups usually maintain a membership to meet legal requirements.

When a Buddhist becomes a fully ordained monastic then they become part of a group known as the Sangha. This involves an official procedure that requires members of the Sangha accepting you into the group.