Orthodox Chinese Buddhism

How does one become a Buddhist?

All Christian denominations, new or old, emphasize the importance of baptism. It is only after baptism that one formally becomes a Christian. For many Christian sects, the beliefs behind this ritual are similar to those of some Indian religions that superstitiously claim that bathing in a sacred river can cleanse one's sins.

If one wants to become an orthodox Buddhist disciple, one must take refuge in the Three Jewels. The significance of this ritual is very much the same as that of a royal coronation, the inauguration of a president, or the admission of a new member to a political party. It is an expression of loyalty from the bottom of one's heart, a zealous promise, a prayer out of admiration, a new life, and a pious taking of sanctuary. Therefore, Buddhism stresses the importance of taking refuge. Without taking refuge, even if one believes in and worships the Buddhas one remains a noncommitted student of Buddhism, an auditor who never registered for classes. This ritual functions to solidify one’s faith and commitment.
In the ritual of taking refuge, a monk or a nun is invited to witness and lead the recitation, which goes as follows:

" I (your name), take refuge in the Buddha, take refuge in the Dharma, take refuge in the Sangha. (three times)
I (your name), have taken refuge in the Buddha, have taken refuge in the Dharma, have taken refuge in the Sangha. (three times)
I (your name), from now on, having taken refuge in the Three Jewels,
having become a Buddhist, will study and practice in the Dharma,
will always support the Three Jewels, and will never renounce this faith.
The ritual, simple but solemn, is designed to cause one to wholeheartedly take sanctuary in the Three Jewels, to rely on and revere the Three Jewels, and to bring forth pure, staunch faith and confidence. The first jewel is the Buddha, the second is the Buddha's teachings, and the third is the community of monastics who spread the Buddha's teachings. Taking refuge in these three can lead one to the jewels of peace of body and mind in the short term and liberation from samsāra or even to Buddhahood in the long term. That is why the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are called jewels, and why having faith in Buddhism is called “taking refuge in the Three Jewels.”
Orthodox Chinese Buddhism, How Does One Become a Buddhist?, p.63-p.64

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