What do you have to do to be a Buddhist?


      -“What do you have to do to be a Buddhist?”

      Someone asked me this a few days ago, and my immediate response was almost to reply, “Nothing!” but that wouldn’t have really been true.

      I think he was mostly asking about worship, looking at it from a Christian, must go to church on Sunday perspective, so in that sense, you don’t have to attend ceremony at a temple. The head monk of the temple, KwanSaeEum Bosal, or Shakyamuni aren’t going to spite you. Most Korean lay-people attend a temple ceremony about once a month and make their donation to the temple. Some go weekly and some who are making their way through difficult life struggles might go daily or do an extended temple stay. For myself, I enjoy visiting temples for more relaxing factors and attending an evening ceremony is a good way to keep some “Buddhist” momentum going in my personal practice. Zen Master Seung San said something along the lines of what you do outside the temple it being more important than the time you spend worshipping inside. I don’t think that reasoning is anything new, nor does it not apply to any religion or belief.

      Worship is something that has developed in Buddhism, but it is not required. Mahayana has developed into a more devotional practice for lay-people. Many Korean Buddhist truly believe that KwanSaeEum Bosal (Avalokita Bodhisattva) is really watching over them, or that Shakyamuni Buddha is a sort of God being. The general point of view I’ve heard from monks about that is that we are all at a different level. The Buddha’s teachings are too difficult for most people, so a devotional practice is able to reach much further. Besides, the power of faith remains beyond my understanding, so who am I to say anything about it, really. What I do understand about true Buddhist faith, though, is that faith is important, but never as a blind faith. The Buddha taught to question everything he spoke, if it doesn’t suit you, then leave it alone. By doing this, you actually see the truth in the teaching more deeply. He is the only great religious figure who ever said this about his own teachings. Having said that, many of his teachings were spontaneous, and meant for the listener only, so they could be generally irrelevant or seem out of context. I realize many people’s beliefs don’t accept rebirth, but even if you take all the teachings of rebirth out of Buddhism, what you are left with is an extraordinary path to lead your life by; developing right understanding to eradicate our ignorance of the causes of our suffering, then removing suffering from the roots of our subconscious. Meditation is usually recommended as the best way to acquire this knowledge.

      The most important thing you can do to “be Buddhist” is to live without causing suffering for others. The five basic ways to avoid causing suffering are by not killing, not stealing, not comiting sexual misconduct, not lying, and avoiding intoxicants. Be compassionate to all beings and strive to develope knoweldge.

      I avoided calling myself Buddhist for a long time, until I realized I couldn’t really say I wasn’t one anymore. Buddhism is a rather loose term now, anyway. On the surface, it has developed in several directions from the Buddha’s original teachings. From my understanding, the Theravada tradition has remained the closest to the original, but the heart of all traditions are still very close. 



8 responses »

  1. Hi,

    Lovely post, and great photo too! Thank you Joseph.

    And although I agree that meditation is important for some people and may be the ideal practice for them, you know, for many people, for those of us who are not good meditators, there are alternatives.

    I do meditate more or less daily as I trust that it is probably the best practice of all, but I’m not good at it and don’t sit for too long. So I supplement with prayer, chanting, and a little bowing too.

    For many people, most Asian Buddhists in fact, meditation is not so important. What is important is, like you say, ‘to live without causing suffering for others’.

    Thank you so much again,


  2. Joseph, each time I read your work, coupled with its peaceful photography, I am carried to a place of instant inspiration. You are doing special work and your passion for the subject is instantly apparent. Thank you for your insights. Although we don’t connect on the physical level too often, I am constantly aware of our spiritual connection ❤

    I’ve just signed onto an online course “Mindful Reflection on Teaching-Learning Situations” offered by a teacher from my grad school at the SIT Graduate Institute. It’s provide through this center http://www.mindfulinquiry.org, if anyone, especially teachers or caregivers, out there is interested. I look forward to sharing my adventures in mindfulness with you.


  3. I can’t say enough how much I like what you’re doing. It seems to always coincide with my studies and it does help to clarify some aspects I miss in the lectures. The picture is beautiful and seems to carry the very essence of perfection and enlightenment.

    Can’t wait for more!


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