From the given title, there are two basic concepts to be identified, namely Buddhist identity and modern world. I shall attempt to discuss about Buddhist identity in general and my own identity as a Buddhist nun in particular within the contemporary time frame and social context.
Allow me to begin with the five basic requirements of being a Buddhist, (องค์คุณ 5 ของชาวพุทธ) I generally use this as a measurement to see how much can we consider ourselves Buddhists.
1. The Triple Gem. In the early period when the Buddha started to gather around himself a group of followers, namely the monks, taking refuge in the Triple Gem was a simple way of making an announcements to the entrance of the Sangha. Only later on when the community of monks expanded, then ordination procedure became more complicated.
Presently, to become a Buddhist, we go throught this simple ritual of making announcement by taking the Triple Gem as our refuge. So wer recite the simple formula:
Buddham saranam kacchami
Chammam saranam kacchami
Sangham saranam kacchami,
We repeat three times.
But what do we mean when we say the Buddha is our refuge? What is the meaning of the Buddha? There are differenct levels of, not the Buddha, but our understanding of the Buddha. The Buddha, generally is refered to the historical Buddha who was born in Lumbini, now in Nepal and actually walked the soil of the present Idia. But this physical historical Buddha, which is composed body went through the natural of impermanent and decay just like any human being. He could not same himself from the peril of life, how could we expect him to save us?
But there was something in his life, that is of our inerest. Something that transformed the Prince Siddhartha to become the Buddhist trust and belief that the Prince Suddhartha discovered the Truth - Buddhahood. The quality which made him a Fully Enlightened One.
This quality was not accessible to him alone, but it is accessible to everyone, The enlightenment which he discovered was true for him and can be true for each and everyone of us, men and women alike.
With this faith we follow his footstep. He was a great teacher, he proved us very clearly the life-map for each one of us to trudge our own path. Only with this commitment then the Buddha can be a true refuge to us.
Taking refuge in the dhamma again needs to be examined. Dhamma may refer to the collection of the Buddha's teaching, in many temples they are lined up I a beautiful gold plated carved shelf, and venerated as such. Dhamma my refer simply to things. But Dhamma that can be refuge to us is that Truth which ultimately leads us to the state of enlightenment.
Many Buddhists have trouble with the third refuge - the Sangha, some of them would make a point of making a distinction that their refuge is the Ariya Sangha-the enlightened Sangh, We may not need to stress to that extreme. Sangha-community of bhikkhun and bhikkhunis1 (1 In the West Where bhikkhus and bhikkhunis are rare, it could include all practicing Buddhists, both lay and monastics.) even the conventional sangha can still be refuge to us if they themselves are still in the path of practice towards enlightenment. Sangha in this sense should be our kalyanamitta, worthy friends, dhamma friends who would remind us then were go off the track, who would guide us with their knowledge, practice, who would simple be there when you need your spiritual companion for your practice.
So when we take refuge in the Triple Gem with a clear understanding then wer are on a firm footing to start our spiritual journey.
The Law of Kamma. The concept of "kamma" or
"Karma" is not unique to Buddhism as many Buddhists tend to claim. Many Indian traditions of the time shared the same concept. But In Buddhism, the belief in Kamma is a statement that we see everything as conditional. Our being is conditioned, our suffering is conditioned, so is our happiness. Buddhism answers to the challenge of science in this respect, A is because B is, in the well know Paticcasamuppada - law of dependent origination (which I will not go into detail at this point). The casual relation in Buddhism is very refine, when A is the cause of B, A is itself the result of something else, Everything is conditional, everything is inter-related, inter-dependent.
With the belief in Kamma, we do not wait and pray of
"others" to help us, but were realize that our future depend completely on our doing, here and now. We become realists and are able to look at ourselves and the world around us as they really are. We become independent in our practice, yet dependent as we are related to others.
Observing precepts, or moraility. For lay people, there re the basic 5 precepts to follow. This is an ethical ode common to almost all religions. The latter half of the Ten Commandments is very similar to the Buddhist 5 precepts. The precepts are the guideline for external expression - that of the words and action This becomes natural if we have a proper understanding of the teaching.
For monks and nuns who have chosen a lifestyle of renunciation, they observe more rules to help hasten them towards their spiritual goal. Number of precepts are not obstruction as people generally think, they are instead, a decoration, as Maha Pajapati took it as garland to decorate herself when she accepted the Eight Garudhamma on her ordination.
Some people who object to the ordination of women simply said it is not possible for women to observe the 311 precepts prescribed for bhikkhunis. When the Buddha set down precepts for monks and nuns, they are to be followed, and they can be followed. To say that these precepts are not possible to follow is to blame the Buddha for his vicious intention to lay down rules which cannot be followed.
4. One should not have other refuge. Apart from the Triple Gem, Buddhist should not have other refuge. Thai people followed animistic tradition before we accepted Buddhism. Animistic practice and belief has not been given up but rather is has been inco-operated into buddhism. Thai Buddhism is very colorful with the mixture of Animism, Brahmanism and Buddhism. However, when we pay respect to the tree-god. We have an understanding that our ultimate refuge is still the Triple Gem. The tree-gods are also subjected to the cyclical samsara, they also need to evolve themselves finally towards liberation.
5. One should not be excited about auspicious occurrences. Thai people ofter get excited at some strange phenomena which more often than not, are simply cases of obnormality in nature. There is nothing auspicious if a newly born kitten should have 5 legs. The more one is excited about such shtings, the further one is drawn away from the true message of Buddhism. Whether the kitten has 5 or 6 legs will not help us towards our own practice to lessen suffering and finally to enjoy spiritual freedom.
Once we have examined ourselves and found that we meet the basic requirement of being Buddhists, now we should know our responsibilities. When the Buddha established the four groups of Buddhists namely the bhikkhs, bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, he had expected certain responsibilities from them. He expected that they study the dhamma, and put it into practice, then should there be outsiders who should clam false accusation, they should be able to make correct standpoints and clarify the false accusation.
The prosperity or the decline of Buddhism depends on these four groups of Buddhists, their commitment and their responsibilities. Buddhism will decline, according to him, if these four groups of Buddhists do not respect the Buddha, the Dhamm, the Sangha, Sikha (things to learn) and Samadhi (meditation).
The common experience which we all share is suffering, it is real for everyone, and the Buddha provided the path to free ourselves from it. It is up to each one of us to strive to overcome suffering.
Within this mental structure we can discuss about Buddhist identity.