In the earliest days of the Buddhist Sangha, to be a Buddhist was simply to be a monk. One would approach the Buddha, and asking to become his disciple the Buddha would simply respond “Ehi Bhikkhu” or “Come Monk.” As time went on, gradually the process of becoming a follower of the Buddha would expand, as rules of order and furthered processes of admission were instituted to ensure harmony and spiritual growth within the sangha. Eventually, a process for the admission of laity (making lay vows, but holding no aspiration to a monastic vocation) was instituted, culminating with the establishment of the historic Fourfold Sangha (of Monks, Nuns, Laymen, Laywomen).
Profession of Vows
When one makes a vow, they make a serious commitment — without coercion, and of their own volition — to orient their life to the continued study and practice of Buddha-Dharma. It is a commitment that involves daily, disciplined practice consisting of meditation and introspection, study of the sutras and wisdom texts, teacher/student engagement, and the practice of ethical conduct in sangha life.
Lay practitioners, after a period of study and participation in sangha life, may make a full formal commitment in the witness of the Sangha (practicing community) by Going for Refuge to The Triple Gem and professing Five Precepts vows. Additional training stages beyond this profession are available for those wishing to continue on the Lay Path of practice.
Monastic practitioners, discerning a clerical vocation, undertake an incremental path involving more time and specific training — under the careful supervision of an ordained and sanctioned teacher — in which the aspirant may come to fully understand the realities and responsibilities of the vocation and further determine their intention and suitability to serve in this particular way.
While the level of responsibilities and commitment differ from Lay to Monastic profession, the consistent focus is on maintaining one’s Attention, Intention, and Self Discipline. The practice of Buddha requires an unflagging commitment to practice and to the ongoing care and cultivation of sangha life.