Now we get to the nitty-gritty. Buddhism is basically made of three things:

  1. The Buddha: the Awakened One.
  2. The Dhamma: the teaching, including the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and a large canon of sacred texts.
  3. The Sangha: the community of Buddhist monks and enlightened beings.

You become a Buddhist partly by taking "refuge" in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. This is a fancy way of saying that you agree to learn from the Buddha's example, from the sacred texts, and participate in some way in the organization of Buddhist monks and lay persons.

How do you become officially a Buddhist? Well, unlike some religions, membership can be a little vague. If you say, "I'm a Buddhist", you're not likely to be questioned by anyone, because there aren't any universal badges of membership. A Catholic gets baptized, a Jewish man get circumcised, but a lay Buddhist (non-monk) isn't necessarily required to go through any special ritual.

It is a good idea to contact a Buddhist priest. Look for temples and associations in the Yellow Pages, or go to the Global Resources Guide at the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. The priest (which can be a man or a woman) will guide you through initiation into his/her branch of Buddhism, and perhaps set up some kind of commitment ritual, but it isn't absolutely necessary.

If you don't want to get in touch with a priest (or you can't) but would still like to do something to mark the occasion of your setting out on a new path, you can perform a do-it-yourself initiation online. Otherwise, just try to follow the Five Precepts, learn about the Four Noble Truths, and congratulations: you're a lay Buddhist.