Individuals and Communities
Belonging can mean different things in different Buddhist communities. However, a set of basic values reflecting the Noble Eightfold Path and the Five Precepts are unifying. Similarly faith in the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths gives Buddhist communities an identity. Generally, the action holding people together is taking the Three Refuges: going for refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma / Dharma, and the Sangha. This can be done collectively in a ceremony, as part of the daily life of a family or individually. Another action which demonstrates belonging to the Buddhist community is chanting. For Theravadins, parts of the Pali Canon are often chanted collectively, or followers will go and listen to members of the Sangha chant. For devotees of the Mahayana, Mahayana Sutras or Mantras are often chanted. In both cases this can act as a communal act bringing followers closer and instilling a sense of belonging as well as clearing the mind in a form of meditation.
While it is easy to spot members of the Sangha by their clothes and shaved heads, it can be hard to distinguish lay Buddhists from non-lay Buddhists in the community. However, Buddhists try to avoid attachment to material possessions, so will shun wearing excessive amounts of jewellery or expensive clothes.
On Uposatha days or other Buddhist festivals, Wesak for example, Buddhist communities come together. On each Uposatha day devout members of the lay Buddhist community will take three extra precepts and will usually congregate at a local temple or monastery to make offerings, listen to Dhamma / Dharma talks and participate in meditation sessions. This is where there is a real sense of belonging in the community.
It is important to note that the means by which these actions and beliefs can be expressed usually involve the Sangha, particularly for Theravadan communities. For example on special days, the lay community will make an effort to provide alms food for the monks and nuns, as well as listening to Dhamma / Dharma talks given by, or participating in meditation sessions led by, the monks and nuns. For followers of the Mahayana expressions of belonging to a community can be more devotion based (particularly for groups such as Pure Land Buddhists). Therefore, members of the Sangha are not so important for the expression of these beliefs. Theravadans, too, have many devotional practices, but will often go to monasteries where there are a number of beautiful Buddha statues and images on special days.