Identity & Belonging in Practice
Buddhist families with religious commitment practice their faith in a number of ways. The most basic way of expressing faith is through showing respect to an image of the Buddha. Most households will have such an image usually in a communal room. The image will normally be stored on a high shelf, showing the relative importance of the Buddha and acting as a sign of respect. Other family practices may include regular chanting of Buddhist Scriptures, taking the Three Refuges together, taking the Five Precepts together, visiting temples together and prostrating oneself before the Buddha. For Mahayana families, people may renew their bodhisattva vows together; this is the promise to strive to become a bodhisattva and eventually a Buddha. Mahayana families may also chant mantras, particularly those who follow the Trantrayana. On Uposatha days Buddhist families may additionally take the Eight Precepts, meditate, listen to Dharma talks and study scriptures together.
In many ways the most important way the Buddhist community as a whole expresses its faith is through supporting the Sangha. This includes giving alms food to monks and financing temples. The Sangha as a community expresses faith through the monks and nuns renunciation of lay life, meditation and study of the Dhamma / Dharma. It also reciprocates the lay community’s support by providing them not only with the means of doing good deeds, but also by acting as a source of teaching and through the provision of spiritual guidance.
The most important impact of Buddhist faith on the wider non-Buddhist community is through their belief in pacifism. Most Buddhists are strongly opposed to war as it involves taking life (breaking the First Precept). This means they often play an important role in peace keeping talks and in organisations such as the UN. Buddhists are also involved in ‘grass roots’ politics and political protests. Buddhist protests can range from the recent non-violent protests of the Sangha in Burma to the self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc in 1963 in Vietnam, to the more recent demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in Tibet.