Lighting incense and placing flowers in front of a Buddha statue does not make one a Buddhist because the Buddha did not teach us to pray to his imagery.
Sitting in meditation and chanting does not make one a Buddhist because many non buddhist spiritual practices have that too.
Having profound knowledge of Buddhist scripture does not make one a Buddhist because these are nothing but a scholar’s pursuit.
Respecting monks and nuns does not make one a Buddhist because any human beings can show respect to a fellow human beings.
So what makes us a Buddhist?
Is it because we carry a Buddhist name or because we went through a ritual?
I believe one is a Buddhist when they follow the Buddha’s teachings. The first lay disciples of Buddha did not go through any ritual. They listen to what Buddha taught. They believe his teachings will lead to happiness and they declare that henceforth, they would follow his advice. That made them disciples of Buddha.
Of the various advices from Buddha, the most fundamental for a lay person is the five precepts.
- Abstain from Killing and harming living beings
- Abstain from stealing and taking things that were not given to us
- Abstain from sexual misconduct.
- Abstain from wrong speech
- Abstain from intoxicants
Therefore I think a person stop being a Buddhist when they no long heed these precepts laid down by Buddha.
It does not matter that we build a golden giant pagoda or a 5 storey statue of Buddha in our backyard. It does not matter if we wear Buddhist costume daily. If we no longer follow the Buddha’s teachings, then we are no longer Buddhist!
Along this logic, no Buddhist will ever cause harm to another fellow human being (including people of other religion and faith)
This is because when one intentionally cause harm or kill another fellow human, they had turned their back on the very first and fundamental advice from Buddha. At that moment, they cease to be Buddhist.
For those who had forsaken the advice from Buddha, I hope wisdom will show them the correct path and method to deal with their circumstances. May they quickly return to the peace within Buddhism.
For those who does not understand these simple logic. I hope they understand and stop spreading wrong information which inadvertently promote more hatred in this confused world.
For those who follow the Buddha’s teaching steadfastly, I hope you help spread the importance of upholding the precepts to fellow Buddhist.