Buddhism is not something we believe in, but something we do.
The first step in becoming a Buddhist is taking refuge in the Three Jewels. By taking refuge, we commit ourselves to the Buddhist Path and following the Buddha’s teachings. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. They are called jewels because they are the most precious things to Buddhists.
Some people think there is only one Buddha, but there are many Buddhas. The four great Buddhas of our time are:
1. Shakyamuni, the Enlightened Buddha
2. Amitabha, the Buddha of Limitless Light
3. Medicine Master, the Buddha of Healing
4. Maitreya, the future Buddha
A Buddha is not a god.
Buddhists do not believe that the Buddha is a god. They believe he was a human being who became enlightened, understanding life in the deepest way possible. The Buddha told people not to worship him, but to take responsibility for their own lives and actions. He did not speak of a creator, but of a wonderful force of energy that links all beings together from time without beginning.
Buddhism does not have a bible, but many holy books.
The teachings of the Buddha were passed down by word of mouth and not written down until around 400 hundred years later. They were compiled into three sets and written on long narrow leaves and stored in baskets, called the “Three Baskets” or Tripitaka. The Three Baskets are:
1. Vinaya: Rules of conduct for monks and nuns.
2. Sutras: The Buddhas’ teachings (suttas in Pali)
3. Abhidharma: Philosophy
Buddhists believe in karma, the law of cause and effect.
Karma is a fair and just rule. It is like a boomerang. Every action and every thought we have, good or bad, will come back to us in the future. We have a choice to create new karma by what we say, do, and think. Intention is a major part of karma. If we accidentally step on an ant, we do not make negative karma. However, if we intend to kill the ant, negative karma is created.
Buddhists see themselves as part of nature, not apart from it.
They do not kill animals or use insecticides or pesticides.
Buddhists believe in rebirth, that each of us has many lives.
The same way there is yesterday, today and tomorrow, we also have past lives, a present life and future lives. We are born, grow old, die, and then are reborn again. This cycle is called the Wheel of Rebirth or saṃsāra. Actions in one life are likely to affect what we become in future lives. Buddhists say that this cycle can be broken by making kind and wise decisions in everything that we do and say. We can eventually become enlightened and reach a state of perfect peace.
Filial respect for parents and family life is the most important teaching of the Buddha. After his own enlightenment, the Buddha returned to teach his family the Dharma, bringing them peace and happiness. When his father became old and sick, the Buddha stayed by his bedside and washed and fed him.
The Buddha was the first to ordain women and untouchables in the history of religion. He believed that everyone had the same potential for enlightenment. His aunt Prajapati, his wife Yashodhara, and his half-sister Sundhari became the first Buddhist nuns.
Buddhist monks and nuns rely on the kindness of donors for their food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. In Southeast Asia, some monks and nuns go on alms round. They do not ask for food, but silently accept whatever is put in their bowls. This is not considered begging, but an opportunity for laypeople to create blessings.
Lay people are valuable in Buddhism, because they support the monks and nuns, so they can carry on the Buddha’s work. In this way the sangha and lay people benefit each other and together keep the Dharma alive.
In some Buddhist countries it is common for young boys to live some time as monks as part of their training and education.