There are no sacraments in Buddhism in the sense they are found in Christianity.
There are, however, many parallels as you can see below. While most usually involve monastics, ordination is the only one that must.
Pregnant mothers will often go to a monastery and ask monks to chant a special blessing authorized by the Buddha, known as the Angulimala Paritta. Newborns are often brought to a monastery as soon as possible to have monastics chant a blessing.
When a person is very ill, they may request monastics to visit and give a sermon and chant protective verses. This was common even in the time of the Buddha. The sick person and there family may also chant on their own.
Monastics do not officiate at weddings, but couples will often go to a monastery before or after the wedding to receive advice on lay life and to listen to blessing chants.
Going for refuge and taking the precepts
Traditionally, going for refuge to the Triple Gem and undertaking the five precepts is considered conversion to Buddhism. Often lay people will recite them repeating after a monastic but it can also be done alone. This is often done every time one goes to a monastery.
After a family member or friend dies, people will often arrange an alms-giving and share merit with the departed. This is traditionally done after seven days, one month, three months, and at the year anniversary, although the schedule is not important.
Entering the monastic order
There is an official procedure established by the Budddha for novice ordination (leaving lay life) and high ordination (officially becoming a member of the monastic community). This is explained in detail in the Vinaya. This can onlybe performed by ordained monastics.
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.
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.
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.
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.