- How to Practise Buddhism
- Yat-Biu Ching
Whenever we perform a task, we must do it completely and successfully. To
believe in a religion, one must first understand the principles of a religion to determine
if it can satisfy the needs of mankind and himself. Does it explain the question about the
universe and life thoroughly? Does it answer all the other questions one has? Does it do
it convincingly? To be a Buddhist, one must first study and understand Buddhism. The
Buddha said: "Believe and follow the principles of a religion, not the person
preaching the religion." This way, what one develops will be rational belief, not
After reading the previous chapters of this book, you may have developed favourable
impressions about Buddhism, and you plan to learn more about it. Now, you may have some
questions in your mind: "How do I become a Buddhist?" and, "How do I
practise Buddhism.' These questions will be answered in the following sections.
I. Take Refuge in the Three Treasures
If one desires to become a Buddhist, there is no initiation ceremony, which
one must undergo. if one understands the Buddha's teachings, and one is convinced
that His teachings is the right path and if one follows it, then one is a Buddhist.
However, according to the unbroken age-old tradition among Buddhists, one is considered
a Buddhist if one goes through the formal ceremony of 'Taking Refuge in the Three
Treasures'. The 'Three Treasures' refer to the Buddha, The Dharma (Teachings), and the
Sangha (Homeless Orders of Monks and Nuns). The ceremony means 'committing to the belief
of the Three Treasures' or 'leading our lives by following the guidelines of the Buddha,
the Dharma and the Sangha.'
The Buddha refers to the one who attained perfect enlightenment and used His attainment
to help and save mankind. He is man's greatest teacher. We therefore must honour, respect
and learn from Him.
The Dharma is the teachings of the Buddha, which explains the principles of Buddhism
and ways of practising Buddhism to attain enlightenment. It contains all the answers the
Buddha had realized. It is the guiding light, which will lead us to liberation from
sufferings. That is why we must study them thoroughly.
The Sangha refers to the Homeless Orders of Buddhist monks and nuns who have given up
the material pleasures of life to lead an ascetic life of low desires, and have devoted
their lives to preach Buddhism, to teach people to practise Buddhism, and to save man from
sufferings. They are our teachers that we can see, so we must respect them and learn from
The Sangha are the teachers, the Dharma are the teaching materials, and the Buddha is
the discoverer and creator of the materials. Buddhism is only complete when all
Three Treasures are together. If one only believes in the Buddha, it is no different
from a superstitious worship of idols. If one only believes in the Dharma, it is simply
like a scholar studying a subject of knowledge. If one only believes in the Sangha, it is
like finding a foster-father, foster-mother or ordinary teacher. A person is not
practising Buddhism if in his beliefs, any one of the Three Treasures is missing.
It is true that a person can practise Buddhism even if he does not undergo the formal
ceremony. However, someone who has not 'taken refuge' will have some feeling of
hesitation, and make excuses at the critical moments, he may say: "I am not a
Buddhist yet, I do not need to follow the rules." He will easily forgive himself for
doing bad deeds, he also will not be on guard at all times to keep from doing bad deeds.
The ceremony of 'Taking Refuge in the Three Treasures' has the meaning of resolution
and self-encouragement, to remind ourselves that "I am now a Buddhist, I have to
correct all my bad habits and behaviour from the past, I will study and follow the
teachings of the Buddha, to lead a good life, to achieve the ultimate goal of
Enlightenment." After taking the ceremony to become a Buddhist, one will make greater
efforts to control one's behaviour and conduct, and will caution oneself not to violate
the rules of being a Buddhist.
The ceremony will also serve to unite and organize all Buddhists, under a common
belief. Buddhists will provide each other with encouragement, persuasion, advise,
guidance, direction, and assistance to be on the right path in their road of practising
Buddhism and attaining enlightenment.
One should not overlook the importance of the ceremony. One should not have the
misconception that because he does not know any. of the Buddha's teaching and the ways to
practise Buddhism, or he is not mentally ready, he should not 'take refuge.' Actually, as
long as one feels that he wishes to learn and believe in Buddhism, he should 'take refuge,
especially when one does not know the Buddha's teachings and how to practise Buddhism. One
who feels that he does not have the equirements to become a Buddhist has a greater need
to. 'Take Refuge in the Three Treasures.'
After the ceremony, in one's mental state, living habits, behaviour and conducts, one
will be encouraged, supported, guided and helped by the Buddhist monks, nuns and other
Buddhists. For those whose will power and confidence are weak, 'Taking Refuge in the Three
Treasures' will strengthen their will power and self-confidence.
II. Observe the Five Precepts
To be a Buddhist, one must have a kind and compassionate heart, and one must
maintain good conduct and behaviour. All the conduct and deeds of a person are expressed
in three ways: by the body, speech and mind. One must therefore constantly keep one's
body, speech and mind pure This can be accomplished the following way:
1. Body: To keep the body pure, one must not destroy any lives, steal or commit
2. Speech: To keep the speech pure, one must not engage in improper talks.
3. Mind: To keep the mind pure, one must remove all greed, anger and false judgement.
If the mind becomes impure, for sure, one's deeds will be impure; if the deeds are
impure, there will be sufferings. So, it is of the greatest importance that the mind,
speech and the body be kept pure.
To help to guard against bad conducts and deed, Buddhists are required to observe the
Five Precepts of Buddhism. They comprise of a basic moral discipline applicable to any
person in a civilized society. These are the basic rules that Buddhists must follow:
1. No killing: not to destroy or harm human or animal lives.
2. No stealing: not to steal, or rob other people's money or property.
3. No adultery: not to carry on improper or immoral relationship or sexual activities.
4. No lies: to speak only the truth, not to lie, deceive, use abusive languages, or
engage in idle talk.
5. No intoxicants: Not to drink alcoholic beverages or take drugs as they will cause
man to lose control of their minds, and harm their bodies.
Observing the Five Precepts is the basis of leading a good life. Violating the five
precepts will not be accepted by the society and very often will be against the laws of
If all men observe the Five Precepts, there will be no murder; no theft and robbery; no
adultery and broken marriages; no fraud, cheat and swindling; the body and mind free of
alcohol and drugs will be clear and strong, and they will not commit wrong deeds due to
stupidity and bad behaviour. If all men observe the Five Precepts our society will be
peaceful and happy, and free of sufferings.
III. Four Stages in Practising Buddhism
Every Buddhist who practises Buddhism must go through four stages. They are
believing, understanding, doing and proving.
1. Believing: Once a person decides to become a Buddhist, he must have already acquired
some knowledge of Buddhism and has developed a certain amount of belief and faith in the
religion. He will now be able to thoroughly study, investigate, analyze and understand the
principles of Buddhism to gain the benefits because the principles are so complex and
voluminous. That is why believing is the first step in the study of Buddhism. With belief,
he will study Buddhism with a sincere attitude. Without any belief and if he had great
doubts, he would not have bothered to study Buddhism at all. And if he does, the learning
process will be hindered by scepticism and negative attitude and he will never succeed in
acquiring the correct understanding of Buddhism.
Buddhism does encourage its disciples to question and doubt. But, this should be done
in a positive manner. A Buddhist doubts and questions specific principles or theories of
Buddhism with an open mind, with the objective of gaining a better understanding of his
2. Understanding: After one believes, he must understand the principles of Buddhism -
How can Buddhism remove sufferings? What are the answers to the universe and life? How can
man achieve enlightenment? It is only after one has accurately and thoroughly understood
the teachings of the Buddha that one can solidify his belief and confidence in Buddhism.
3. Doing: This is actually doing what one has learned and experienced. Some people
recognize the superior knowledge contained in the Buddhist principles, however they only
recognize but do not accept or believe in the religion. Others study Buddhism as an
academic subject, they understand the principles but do not follow these principles.
To properly practise Buddhism, after understanding the principles, one must follow up
with actual experience, to practise Buddhism according to what he has learned. One must
maintain good conduct and behaviour, and purify the mind. This is the only way to change
delusion to wisdom, and reap the full benefits of practising Buddhism.
4. Proving: The last stage in practising Buddhism is proving. Whenever one deals with a
matter, one must have confidence, good understanding, and carry out the task with
endurance and dedication. At the end, one will be successful in realizing the benefits.
The same goes for the study of Buddhism. If one has great confidence, understand the
Dharma well, and practise according to the Dharma with endurance and endeavour, one will
remove sufferings, find true happiness and peace of mind, and eventually attain
enlightenment. This will be the proof of what one has learned from the Dharma to be true.
IV. The Advantages of Practising Buddhism
The reason religion is important to life is obvious. It is a most important
component of mankind's spiritual life. It has incomparable power to stimulate and excite
life. At the same time, religion can bring peace to a society, purify people's minds,
giving people hope and confidence for the future. It helps people to live more reasonable
and high quality lives.
In general terms, religion has a comforting effect for the pessimists, it has a
cautioning effect for the criminals, and an encouraging effect for the kind people.
The advantages of practising Buddhism are very real and practical. Although it is a
religion, Buddhism is also a way of life in that it teaches the employment of basic ethics
in one's daily life, such as controlling oneself, serving others without discrimination,
and endeavouring towards one's perfection. if practised with devotion and firmness, it can
lead one to liberating wisdom - the so called enlightenment. For those of us who live in
the modern world and are subject to stress and strain, confusion and material
distractions, the teachings of Buddhism can help us improve our livelihood, make better
use of our personal resources.
Some people who do not know the teachings of the Buddha criticize Buddhism to be
impractical and 'escape from reality' because it deals with supramundane (beyond this
world) matters. They have actually quite mistaken the teachings of Buddhism. One of the
greatest masters of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism, Ven. Hu`i Ne'ng (7th century) said:
The Buddhist doctrine for this world
Is not to be separated from worldly knowledge.
To search for enlightenment apart from this world
Is equivalent to seeking horns on a rabbit!
This idea is in harmony with the thought of the late great master Ven. T'ai Hsu (20th
century), who advocated:
When manhood is perfected
Buddhahood is attained.
These comments are based on the fact that Buddhism deals with human life and its
liberation; it is necessary to thoroughly understand human nature through experience.
Practising Buddhism is very much mundane (within this world) dealing with our worldly
matters, and such practice brings about many advantages.
1. Buddhism helps people to obtain the correct perspective on
Buddhism thoroughly analyzes the question of the universe and life, with the
objective that man will obtain the correct understanding of life.
There are two common views of life, pessimistic and optimistic. An extreme pessimist
views life to be short and empty, and living is waiting for death. Consequently, a
pessimist remains sad and depressed all the time. An extreme optimist carries the attitude
of "enjoy while you can". He uses ecstasy and passion to fill the desires of his
senses and heart, he does not really care about the meaning of life and the objective of
living. He does not know and he does not care.
Buddhism's perspective on life, from the strict sense, is not pessimistic nor
optimistic. It is termed the "Middle way". What is the "Middle way"?
It means not to constantly whine and complain about life, nor to waste away life by living
in a constant state of daze. The "Middle way" recommends the use of the vision
of wisdom to remove life's fears, anguishes and misunderstanding, to recognize the truth
about life and to control one's destiny.
Fame and fortune are temporary. We didn't bring them with us when we came to this
world, and we cannot take them with us when we leave. Buddhism cautions man not to be too
obsessed with desires and greed. It advises us to be compassionate, charitable and kind.
We must not be handcuffed by the desire for fame and fortune. Wealth cannot provide us
with spiritual fulfilment. Only by having good conduct and pure minds, can we achieve
peace, contentment and true happiness in life.
2. Buddhism encourages man to lead life with endeavour
Buddhism is totally against the belief that life is controlled by destiny or
by a supreme being. It teaches that every person is responsible for his own deeds and
future. Every man must work hard with determination. To have a good tomorrow, we must
sacrifice our excessive pleasures today, by great endeavour and efforts. Only hard work
and good deeds now will bring about a good future.
3. Buddhism can purify the society
We are always saddened to learn about the abundance of crimes in our society
which occur on a daily basis - murder, theft, robbery, rape etc. It makes us lose faith
and hope in mankind. A Buddhist must observe the following five precepts:
(i) not to kill;
(ii) not to steal;
(iii) not to commit adultery;
(iv) not to engage in improper talks;
(v) not to take intoxicants.
Observing the above five precepts is the foundation of leading a good life. Committing
any of the precepts is against morals and the law of society.
If all of mankind were to observe the five precepts, there would be no crime in
society, no broken marriages and families, and no mistakes made when one is drunk or on
drugs; Wouldn't this be a peaceful and happy society. That is why Buddhism contributes
towards purifying the human mind and behaviour in society.
4. Buddhism can help develop self-respect, self-confidence and
Buddhism believes that every person is his own master. We are not anyone's
slave, we do not have to rely on Buddha or God. Buddha was a man before he became
enlightened. With good behaviour and endeavour, and following the teachings of the Buddha,
we may one day become Buddhas. This belief can certainly boost our self-confidence and
In other religions, man is created by God, and no matter how hard a man tries, he
cannot save himself. He still must have God's help to achieve eternal life. In addition,
man is always subordinate to God. God is the lord, and man is his servant. Such thinking
can be quite discouraging.
Buddhism teaches that every man has the basic ingredient to become Buddha. Our success
and failure is up to ourselves. Any man who practices Buddhism can become Buddha one day.
This is because of his own endeavour, not because of the grace or help from Buddha.
Other religions attribute man's success to God, because man's wisdom was given by God.
Therefore God is praised for man's success. Buddhism does not agree with this. It believes
that man's success is the result of his own endeavour. The glory belongs to man himself.
If man fails, he has to work harder to achieve his goals.
Such thinking of Buddhism frees man from God's bondage. It gives man the freedom from
God's all mighty power. It reminds him that he is responsible for his own deeds, and is
responsible for his own future with no one else responsible. Since man is not created by
God and is not his servant, he has the right to decide his own fate and future. Since man
is not controlled by God, he can have his independent character, and self-respect, and
5. Buddhism can help man to achieve true happiness
When a Buddhist studies and understands the principles of Buddhism, and
practises according to the principles, therefore leading a life free of sufferings, he can
achieve true happiness.
First, what is happiness? The following five points will explain when a person has
found true happiness and how Buddhism can help man to achieve true happiness.
(i) He is always at peace, and does not have worries. Buddhism advises man to be
content, practise meditation, and to avoid extremes. Subsequently, he will have a peaceful
mind, and have no worries.
(ii) For the difficulties and problems he is facing, he accepts and copes with them
with a positive attitude, not blaming anyone or anything. Buddhism teaches that whatever
misfortune a person is facing is caused by his own deeds in this life or in past lives. He
must therefore face the problems bravely and patiently. Man must be prepared to face the
consequences of his own deeds. he must not blame other people or things.
(iii) He is able to obtain satisfactory answers for his questions about the universe
and life. All the teachings of Buddhism do not praise or glorify the power of the Buddha.
They explain the basic questions of the universe and life thoroughly, to allow man to
obtain satisfactory answers. and, the teachings are compatible with science.
(iv) He has found a satisfactory answer about the future, specifically, life after
leaving this world. Buddhist teachings explain that all things occur because of
"Cause" and "Conditions". Mortal human being can practice Buddhism to
achieve enlightenment therefore breaking away from life sufferings to enjoy eternal
(v) His future, destiny, and success are not controlled by someone else. Buddhism
teaches that all beings are equal. There are no beings above us to control our life and
death, our successes and failures, our blessings or misfortunes, we are our own masters,
our own lords. As long as we make our best endeavour, we will have a bright tomorrow, and
will achieve true happiness.
The teachings of Sakyamuni are as applicable today as they were in the past. Buddhism
is not exclusively for the benefits of one race, nor for any particular historical period,
nor for any geographic location. Nor is it a fantastic or strange thing to talk about. It
is for all, at any time in any place, for any person.
As a matter of fact, the Buddha's teachings are most rational, real, pertaining to our
daily life, and are as new as tomorrow! Although the Buddha talked in a simple way, yet
what he taught is essential, fundamental and applicable to our present materialistic
[Originally published in Yat-Biu Ching, Buddhism You Too Can
Understand, (Canada: True Faith Buddhism Association of Canada, 1992), pp. 52-67.]
Sincere thanks to Phramaha Somnuek Saksree for
retyping this article.