Religious / Spiritual Identity
As with any religion, belonging can make an important psychological difference to people’s lives. It provides informal support networks, as well as social opportunities. However, it is important to remember that Buddhism teaches that all things are characterised by the Three Marks – impermanence, suffering and not-Self. This means that while a sense of community and belonging has its benefits one shouldn’t become attached to it. The same is taught of the Buddhist religion as a whole. The Buddha compares the Dhamma / Dharma to a raft that one uses to cross a river. It may be an excellent raft, but when the river has been crossed, the heavy raft should not be carried with one on dry land. Similarly, one should not stay attached to the Dhamma / Dharma once its benefits have been taken. Thus, for Buddhists, belonging has its benefits, but ultimately it must be set aside if one is to progress on the path – initially one might belong to the lay community, then one should renounce this and belong to the community of renunciants, finally one must abandon all belonging to the conditioned world as belonging can act like attachment.
The most basic expectation of a Buddhist is taking the Three Refuges. This involves going for Refuge to the Buddha, the Dhamma / Dharma and the Sangha. Refuge ceremonies may take place in a monastery or temple by a member of the Sangha, but they are more often undertaken in private by aspiring Buddhists. Taking refuge should not be viewed as hiding away from something; rather it is commitment to pay attention to the Buddha’s teachings. This commitment may be expressed in daily life by listening to a Dhamma / Dharma talk, visiting a Buddhist centre, temple or monastery, following the Noble Eightfold Path, or simply attempting to be mindful and compassionate in one’s every day actions. Experienced Buddhists will practice meditation at both meditation centres and at home. A few devoted Buddhists will ordain as monks or nuns.