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.
Of course. If we aren’t enlightened, chances are we are going to break the precepts sometimes. If we are just beginning to follow the precepts, then for sure we are going to break them sometimes. That’s why it’s called training.
What we don’t want to break is our refuge in the Triple Gem. If that happens then we loose all the protection of the whole practice.
If we do realize we have broken a precept, then we immediately make the determination to keep it in the future. We can wisely reflect on how it happened and the mental state we were in. We don’t obsess over it. We just determine to try and do things differently in the future. This determination is a hugely powerful factor in developing our mind.
In fact, this is why many Buddhists take the precepts on their own once or twice a day.
Buddhist organizations in the west often use different words to describe themselves. Here are some common terms explained.
Temple is by far the most common word used for organizations that include monastics. It might mean that the focus of the place is on offering spiritual services to the lay community.
Monastety definitely indicates there are monastics. Often there is is a focus on seclusion and they may be located a bit farther away from population centers. Sometimes they offer guest accommodations.
Community is an ambiguous term that may be used in an effort to sound “normal” and may mean that monastics are either not involved or have only a guest role.
Meditation center may indicate that part or all of the focus is on meditation. There may be organized retreats and overnight accommodation. Often they are affiliated with or are a part of a monastery.
Many older Buddhist organizations included this in their name instead of “temple” to avoid social stigma. Some, however, actively promote things such as dance, music, or language allong side Buddhist teachings.
There’s many other terms you might see as well, sometimes in combination with the ones above.
Vihara is the Pali word for dwelling and is often part of the name of Sri Lankan temples.
Society serves a similar purpose as “community”
Wat is the Thai word for temple or monastery.
Hermitage is usually interchangeable with monastery, although it might be more secluded.
Abbey and priory are English terms for monasteries, an Abbey usually being larger.
Sangha is Pali word that refers to a group of monastics or fully enlightened disciples. However in a group name it often just refers to a group of lay people.
Yes, yes. A thousand times yes. Most places don’t even have the concept of member, let alone require you to be one to participate.
For the most part, people living in western countries who are from Buddhist cultures are really excited to meet converts. Monks and nuns especially love to see people who have made a conscious choice to become Buddhists, just as they have made a conscious choice to become monastics.
Every temple or monastery will have a certain “culture” that you will need to adapt to, even if most people there are themselves converts. Learning to fit in is part of being a good guest and will ensure you get as much benefit as possible. Do your homework and people will surely forgive any initial faux-pas.
Your turn… Did you have apprehensions about visiting a temple or monastery for the first time? How did it work out?
There are lots of reasons.
- We loose confidence in the religion we grew up with.
- We marry someone who is Buddhist.
- We learn what the Buddha taught and we agree with it.
- We practice what the Buddha taught and find it helpful.
- We completely misunderstand what the Buddha taught and think we agree with a religion that we actually know very little about.
- Or some combination of the above.
Buy why do we actually take the plunge and declare, either publicly or privately, “I… am… a Buddhist!”? Because without committing ourselves, it’s very easy to get thrown off course. For example, we may suddenly realize that some of the things we weren’t happy about in our childhood religion actually turn up in the Buddha’s teachings. So if we’ve committed ourselves we don’t turn tail and run away. Because chances are we still haven’t understood the teachings.
Being a Buddhist affects all aspects of our lives, so having this wholesome identity serves as a powerful anchor.
Your turn… Why did you become a Buddhist? What are the benefits you have gained through this wholesome identity? Share in the comments below.
Now… you could certainly try being a Buddhist with wrong views. There’s lots out there. And it’s much better to be a Buddhist whow has a wrong view or two than to not be a Buddhist at all.
Tha said, there is a very common misunderstanding out there that you have to see something with your direct experience before you believe it. Even many Arahants can’t see their previous lives, so what about an ordinary Buddhist?
When we have faith in the Buddha’s enlightenment, then we believe in rebirth. It’s not that complicated.