Generaly speaking, followers of Buddha may be classfied into seven categories, namely:
1. Bhiksus, i.e., monks--men who have left home and taken the full vows to keep all the precepts;
2. Bhiksunis, i.e., nuns--women who have left home and taken the vows to keep all the precepts;
3. Siksamana--young women who learn the Dharma (Sramanerika, or female novices) and who intend to keep all the precepts. They are between 18 and 20 years of age. After a period of training, they may keep all the precepts and be Bhiksunis;
4. Sramenera--male novices who have left home and taken the Ten Precepts;
5. Sramenerika-female novices who have left home and who keep the Ten Precepts;
6. Upasaka--laymen who remain home to serve the Three Jewels;
7. Upasika--laywomen who remain home to serve the Three Jewels.
A lay Amidist should first take refuge in the Three Jewels and keep the Five Precepts.
What are the Three Jewels? They are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
There are Buddhas, such as Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism in this Saha world,  and the other Buddhas of the past, present, and future.
Dharma means the laws and principles comprising the teachings preached by the Buddhas of the past, present, and future.
Sangha denotes the transmitters of the teaching, and is represented by the community who perpetuate Buddhadharma and who serve as examples to the followers of Buddhism.
These Three Jewels may also be found in our nature--the Three Jewels with specific manifestations, and the Three Jewels that remain in this world.
The Three Jewels within our own nature are intrinsically possessed by each sentient being, and are not to be sought externally; that is, one's own spiritual illumination and enlightenment constitute the Precious Buddha; the absolute, permanent, complete, and pure truths constitute the Precious Dharma; and one's own nature and harmony are the Precious Sangha.
What are the Three Jewels with specific manifestations? These Three Jewels are different on account of personality, physical elements, causes, effects, characteristics, phenomena, entities, and functions. For instance, profoundly enlightened ones and the manifestation of Buddha in Three Kayas  are all known as the Precious Buddha. The truth of Bhutatathata (which means real Suchness or the ultimate and unconditioned nature of all things) and all the expedient approaches are all known as the Precious Dharma; All the saints and sages are known as the Precious Sangha.
What are the Three Jewels that remain in this world? They are the three which stay on earth to enable Buddadharma to be handed down, without immanent extinction for the benefit of sentient beings. For example, statues and relics, which we see, represent the Precious Buddha; the Tripitaka of Sutras, Vinaya and Sastras, which we see, contain the Precious Dharma; and the community of people who leave home to perpetuate Buddha's work for the benefit of sentient beings, constitute the Precious Sangha.
One has to take refuge in the Three Jewels of his own nature which he intrinsically possesses rather than taking refuge in the other kinds of Three Jewels.
"Buddha" means the Enlightened One. Everyone has the potential for being enlightened. Therefore, to take refuge in Buddha means to take refuge in one's own natural, basically enlightened mind.
Everyone is able to release this wonderful essence of truth. Therefore, to take refuge in Dharma means to take refuge in the wonderful truth of Bhutatathata (Ultimate Reality), which one intrinsically possesses.
Everyone is able to sustain the wonderful truth which is developed from one's own true nature. Therefore, to take refuge in Sangha means to take refuge in one's own nature and harmony, which sustain the Dharma of enlightenment.
This is entirely different from the doctrines of other religions which stipulate that only deities are deities, humans being excluded from their company and considered inferior to these gods forever. Such a situation, to say the least, is far from being equitable in Buddhism's view. In contrast, Buddhism emphasizes equality of Dharma, without distinction of superior or inferior. Everyone has the nature of enlightenment. Everyone may practice Amidism and realize Buddhahood. Although in participating in the ceremony of the Three Refuges, one takes refuge in the Three Jewels now existing in the world; he does this only to give guidance. However, one must also take refuge in the Three Jewels within one's own nature. As to the final realization of Buddhahood, by no means does it mean that one is to become a slave to any particular Buddha. An Amidist should be clear on this point--Buddhahood, by no means, can be achieved by proxy, nor is it ever conferred by others. It is the Buddhahood within one's own nature that has to become through the practice of Amidism.
In addition to taking the Three Refuges, one should try to keep the Five Precepts concomitantly with the practice of Amidism. It is compassionate not to kill. It is correct not to steal. It is appropriate not to hurt others sexually. It is faithful not to tell lies. It is sensible not to fog the mind with intoxicants. By keeping the Five Precepts, one works to practice the five secular virtues. In this world, what we need is loving-kindness, not cruelty; morality and virtue, not violence; courtesy and faithfulness, not deceit. We need reasonableness, not foolishness. Amidists who keep the Five Precepts develop virtues of kindness, morality, courtesy, sincerity, and reasonableness, not only as desirable elements for living in society, but also as provisions for the journey to the Pure Land.
In addition to the Three Refuges and Five Precepts, there are Fourfold Smrtyupasthana (that is, Four Subjects of Reflection, which are explained below) and the eightfold Aryamarga, the Eight Correct Paths among the thirty-seven Bodhipasika Dharmas (that is, thirty-seven conditions leading to Enlightenment), which should always be kept in mind.
What are the four subjects of reflection?
The first area for reflection is that this body of ours is impure. For instance, one comes from somewhere unclean and passes to something unclean. He is altogether unclean, both inside and outside.
The second reflection is that all sensations are liable to pain. Generally speaking, there are eight kinds of suffering: birth, illness, aging, death, separating of loved ones, unavailability of sought-for objects, encounters with hated persons or things, and the scorching dominance of the five skandhas. To enumerate each of the sufferings one by one would be a limitless task. For example, no one may claim that he has no annoyances at all, either at home or in his community. As the Chinese saying states, "Eight or nine things out of ten go against our wishes." Events which go contrary to our wishes fail to gratify our minds and constitute various kinds of suffering.
The third reflection is that the mind is impermanent, since thought is born and dies in the mind, from moment to moment, without leaving a permanent trace.
The fourth is the reflection that all things are without ego, without reference to a nature of its own, since all things (dharmas) are only assumed names, are only vague images of the real, and nowhere is the real self-nature to be found.
In short, the above ideas are the Four Reflections which our minds should dwell upon to enable us to strengthen our faith in Amidism.
What are the Aryamarga--the Right or Correct Paths?[Editor's note: also known as the Eight Noble Path]
1. Samyag-drsti - Correct Views
2. Samyak-samkalpa - Correct Thoughts
3. Samyag-vac - Correct Words
4. Samyak-karmanta - Correct Deeds
5. Samyag-vayama - Correct Endeavors
6. Samyak-smrti - Correct Mindfulness
7. Samyak-samadhi - Correct Concentration
8. Samyag-ajiva - Correct Livelihood
Samyag-drsti--Correct Views preclude wrong information. One should not see what should not be seen; that is, one's eyes should not be polluted by wrong information.
Samyak-samkalpa--Correct Thoughts prevent one from thinking what should not be thought; that is, one's heart should not be corrupt.
Samyag-vac--Correct Words require one to refrain from saying what should not be said; that is, one should not befoul the mouth with untrue words.
Samyak-karmanta--Correct Deeds mean that one should engage in correct occupation. For example, people in the community who conduct or participate in philanthropic or medical work and care for the sick assume an admirable profession. There are other occupations, however, such as meat packing and the slaughtering of livestock. People who choose these also choose a particular occupation-but there is a difference! As it is said, 'An arrow-maker worries about failure to wound, while an armor-maker worries about failure to protect." Therefore, from among the many occupations one should choose a correct one which develops virtues and accumulates merits, rather than an improper one which would secure the opposite effects.
Samyag-vayama--Correct Endeavors are closely related to correct deeds. For instance, persons involved in the various occupations mentioned above all work with equal diligence, but some are working and proceeding on the path leading to deliverance and Buddhahood, while others travel on the road leading to an evil destination. Again, an Amidist may stay up late and get up early, and with vigorous endeavor work hard on the road leading to Buddhahood. Therefore, there is a vast difference between correct endeavors and incorrect activities.
Samyak-smrti--Correct Mindfulness (attentiveness) involves awareness of ideas in the mind which are about to emerge, but have not yet appeared. One should start any thdught from a kind and good heart. The mind should not be contaminated by impure thoughts.
Samyak-samadhi--Correct Awareness means that anything which is correct and proper should be done wholeheartedly, with undivided attention. What is proper and correct? For instance, the practice of Amidism is proper and good. We should practice Amidism devoutly until we are entirely free from distraction and attain the state of Amidist samadhi, which is a form of correct awareness.
Samyag-ajiva--Correct Livelihood means that we should check our physical, vocal, and mental actions against all the correct factors mentioned above and, from the beginning, follow the proper laws and live with body, speech, and mind kept pure and clean. By no means should we do anything that causes us to lead a wicked life.
The explanation of the Eight Correct Paths is given above solely for the convenience of beginners who have only just started to study Buddhism. It will not be so simple if further, deeper study is conducted in accordance with doctrinal teachings.
In addition to wholeheartedly practicing Amidism with undivided attention, an Amidist may take, from time to time, the truths of the Four Reflections and the Eight Correct Paths to check his physical and mental behavior in order to prevent physical laxity and weakening of faith, determination, and practice.
As to methods of practicing Amidism, an Amidist should select one technique that fits in with his own background and temperament. Generally, there are several methods of practice. One technique is the Respiration Method, which may be most convenient. This may be practiced by saying the first four syllables of the invocation "Namo Amitabha;" that is, "Namo Ami--"while inhaling, and finishing with "--tabha" while exhaling. Thus as long as he is able to breathe, he will utter the name of Amitabha. Eventually, he will invoke the name of Amitabha at all times--walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. This requires some effort, indeed. When he is at the end of his life and is about to give up his last breath, his life-long karmic flow will follow his final ejaculation of Buddha's name, and enable him to be reborn in the Western Paradise and to see Buddha Amitabha.
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