Our first resident expert, is a disciple of Shi Yan Chang in New York City. And, as typical of Shaolin disciples, when I asked for a short biography so that I could make the proper "introduction", the answer I got was, "Heng Xing". So much for ego and fifteen minutes of fame. But, this is typical, and it is what I deeply respect about the Shaolin arts, and the people who really practice it. No ego, no self-centeredness, no competition. Just work and devotion. There's much to learn from this.... So, without any more introduction here's Heng Xing, and his (Her? Who knows?) discourse on Buddhism.
What is Buddhism? It can be described as a religion but it encompasses more. Buddhism is the most profound and wholesome education directed by the Buddha who has achieved enlightenment for the benefit of all people. Like any other religion it is a matter of faith and commitment and then some. However, Buddhism doesn't require a blind following of tenets, customs and rituals. On the contrary, it encourages questioning and searching. It is a path of personal cultivation, the more you study and contemplate the more it is revealed what is true and what is false. There are as many truths as there are billions of people but the ultimate truth can only be known by personal journey (practice). It can't be handed down, taught or preached, they are all only "finger pointing". There's a saying that to explain Buddhism is the equivalent of "pointing to the moon". Buddhism is not something to be explained but to be experienced.
Buddha preached the "Middle Way" but within that there are precepts that must be kept in order to cultivate. The goal of Buddhism is to liberate all sentient beings from sufferings. The first step into Buddhism is "Taking Refuge". One finds a master or monk who is willing to give you refuge, that means the monk is willing to teach and guide you onto the path. You enter into a master /disciple relationship. But within that relationship one still must prove oneself in order for the master to impart his teachings accordingly, in other words, it's a building and growing process that involves trust and integrity between master /disciple and you must prove yourself up to the task.
When taking refuge you take refuge in the "Triple Jewels" which stands for the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. When we take refuge in the "Buddha", we are returning from our deluded state of mind and relying upon an Awakened, Understanding mind. Besides refering to the historical Sakayamuni figure, Buddha means "Awareness and Understanding". "Dharma" means "Right Understanding and Views". The teachings of Buddha is that delusion has obstructed us from seeing the true face of people and the reality behind matters and objects. When delusions is cleared and our minds are pure to an extent, we give rise to wisdom. With wisdom, we are able to see all things. Only when we have clearly seen the whole can our viewpoint and understanding be considered right. Taking refuge in the "Sangha" means you give respect to and uphold the holy order of monks and nuns around the world regardless of whether you know them or not, that means no talking badly about them. It also stands for "Purity and Harmony".
By the way, Taking Refuge in Chinese is Kui Yi Fo, Kui Yi Fa, and Kui Yi Shen. After taking Refuge as a lay person you are expected to follow the following basic precepts:
1. Do not kill; cherish all life with boundless kindness and humility.
2. Do not steal; develop a giving heart of boundless charity and benevolence.
3. Do not engage in false talk, double tongue, lying, gossiping, slandering, or speak foolishly or harshly. Either speak truth or maintain a noble silence.
4. Do not engage in sexual misconducts such as adultery or behaviors that would do harm to others.
5. Do not consume intoxicants, they distort the mind.
Those are the basics for lay people, even then you can still slip up now and then because we are all human. But once you have taken the vows to follow the "Five Precepts" you must try your best to follow it faithfully. The vows should not be taken lightly. Taking the Five Precepts is a separate and formal ceremony in itself just like the first ceremony of Taking Refuge in The Triple Jewels which formally declares your commitment to Buddhism, i.e. you become a Buddhist. The "Sangha" acknowledges you as one through the ceremonial rite. It's very similar to the seven sacraments that Catholics have to go through, the first is baptism which initiate you into the fold of Catholicism, then you take communion, then ... (it's been awhile), all the way up to the seventh sacrament whereby you either go into priest or nun?hood or get married and propagate little Catholics. Well, in Buddhism you have the Taking Refuge in the Triple Jewels, then Taking the Five (5) Precepts, after that the Eight (8) Precepts, then Ten (10) precepts. The first ten are the major precepts, follow by 48 secondary precepts, then another two hundred-fifty something or other precepts to follow, at that point you would have been ordained a monk.
Having said all that, not all disciples follow through to monk hood nor are they required to do so. Becoming a monk, priest or whatever is a personal choice.