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Being a Buddhist

Buddhists generally describe themselves as happy people. But becoming Buddhist doesn’t magically change the world around us to fit our needs. So what is it that changes?

To be a Buddhist, we don’t need to wear any special clothing, change our eating habits, or give up material possessions or a social life. It’s as simple as changing our perception — not taking the obstacles that come our way so seriously, and seeing everything around us as interesting and full of potential. Simple to say but not always easy to do.

By understanding the teachings and using tools like meditation, as Buddhists we gradually alter our view of whatever is happening in life. It’s not about putting on rose-tinted glasses but rather removing veils that prevent us from seeing how things really are.

Dharma: The Teachings

The Buddhist dharma starts with the fundamental truths that the Buddha himself taught—the four noble truths, the three marks of existence, the eightfold path, etc.—and includes the vast body of Buddhist teachings that have been developed in the 2,600 years since then. It’s worth noting that the Sanskrit word dharma also means a thing or object in the conventional sense. In either case, the word denotes a basic law or truth of reality.

Dharma is the teachings delivered by the Buddha and added to by countless generations of accomplished and realized men and women. This dharma describes, points to, and evokes the eternal dharma as it appears in our unadorned and uninterpreted life experience.

Sangha: The Community

The term sangha has traditionally referred to monastics and arhats in whom lay practitioners take refuge. This has changed in the West, where sangha has come to mean the community of Buddhist practitioners generally, both monastic and lay. Buddhists here also use the word to describe a specific community or group, and you will often hear people talk about “my sangha,” meaning the Buddhist community to which they belong.

A sangha is a community of friends practicing the dharma together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. The essence of a sangha is awareness, understanding, acceptance, harmony and love. When you do not see these in a community, it is not a true sangha, and you should have the courage to say so. But when you find these elements are present in a community, you know that you have the happiness and fortune of being in a real sangha.

 Mastering Meditation

To start a meditation, we first calm and focus the mind. To do this we usually concentrate on the breath or on an object. We then use this focused attention to develop insight. The ultimate aim of Buddhist meditation is insight into the nature of mind – enlightenment.

Meditating on the Buddha, or on the Buddha-like qualities of one’s liberated or enlightened Buddhist teacher, accomplishes both of these. The outer form attracts and holds our attention. And with the insight that our own nature is enlightened like the Buddha’s, we can make fast progress.