How to live like a Buddhist? Buddhists live all over the world. They live in all kinds of ways, so there is no simple all encompassing answer to the question how Buddhists live. Still, there are a few things to take into account:
- Real Buddhists have taken refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha
- Many Buddhists meditate (though traditionally this was only done by a few monks)
- Buddhists will often vow to take on the Five Vows – pancha sila – either on religious holidays or throughout their life.
- Many Buddhists are vegetarians
- Buddhists often have rituals dedicated to the Buddha: puja rituals.
I’ll explain each of these.
1) Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha
A bit like baptism in Christianity, Buddhists have usually taken refuge in the Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teaching) and Sangha (the Buddhist community). This ‘triple gem‘ ritual is common to all types of Buddhism and therefore probably originated in early Buddhism. It’s basically a way of saying you believe that the Buddha was enlightened and will try to live up to his teachings (Dharma)and support those who try too (Sangha).
Refuge in the three jewels is the most important ritual in Buddhism
Most people who call themselves Buddhists in the West, meditate. This is a modern development, because meditation used to be something done by the rare monk who had the time and inclination. Not even the majority of Buddhist monks meditated.
3) Pancha Sila – the Five Precepts
The five precepts are the basis of Buddhist morality. To take Pancha Sila, that is, to vow to live according to the following rules of conduct, is a set of vows a lay-person may take on, to try and live by, to the best of their understanding. So here goes: Pancha ( = five ) Sila ( = discipline ), the Five Precepts:
- Do not take life
- Do not take what is not given
- Do not distort facts
- Refrain from misuse of the senses
- Refrain from self-intoxication through alcohol or drugs
The first of these is the reason many Buddhists refrain from eating meat altogether, or at least on religious holidays.
Refrain from misuse of the senses is usually interpreted as being about sex. For most Buddhists it means being faithful to your spouse, or partner. For nuns and monks it’s more strict: they’re expected not to have sexual relations at all. Some people interpret this to mean that homosexual relations should be avoided. However, I don’t think that can be traced back to the Buddha.
4) Buddhism and Vegetarianism
Most Buddhists in the West are vegetarians, but many Buddhists in Buddhist countries are not.
In case of Tibetan Buddhism there is a good reason for this: animal food was simply the easiest to produce and keep in the harsh Himalayan climate.
In general though it depends no how strictly one takes the vow to not harm any sentient beings.
5) Puja: Worshipping the Buddha?
Puja is a Hindu ritual in which the image of a God is cleaned and worshipped with candy, milk, flowers etc. There is often singing and chanting involved.
Puja in a Buddhist context surrounds Buddha images and statues, though pictures of the Dalai Lama or another spiritual teacher can get the same treatment.
The aim is not the worship of the person or the statue itself, but the spirit of Truth and Love that moved in that person. Many people believe that such rituals can help stimulate an attitude of devotion and this devotion itself can help bring about spiritual transformation.
Questions by readers (on a earlier version of this post)
What do Buddhists do in their daily life?
Buddhists are people, so most of their lives are just like ours: work, school, eating, sleeping, etc.
This opened my appetite to learn more, especially because it proves once again how similar all religions are. “Do not take life” is the exact “Do not kill” of the Bible and it goes on with “Do not steal”, “Do not lie”, etc.