What is expected of a good Buddhist?
In the Theravada tradition, a Buddhist will make a commitment to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha* and observe the five precepts. Here taking refuge means having confidence and be guided by the protective principles provided by these three factors to a better way of life.
The Buddha (from the Sanskrit word buddhi, meaning wisdom), which literally means the awakened or enlightened one, symbolises the goal of enlightenment to which Buddhists aspire. The Buddha is not regarded as a god or an incarnation of a divine being to be worshipped. In fact, since the Buddha has attained parinibbana (complete nibbana) after death, he is beyond the call of prayer. Taking refuge in the Buddha means having confidence and being guided by the Buddha's teachings (Buddha Dhamma).
The pali word Dhamma has many meanings and in this context it is the teachings of the Buddha (The Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Kamma etc), in particular the natural laws of the human existence which the Buddha taught. Taking refuge in the Dhamma means being mindful of body and mind, essentially following the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Sangha means the collective body of monks who are the followers of Buddha’s way of life. They provide guidance to the lay people in the Buddhist way of life.
The practice of the five precepts is important to develop morality (sila). Cultivation of Sila is essential as it is the foundation on which the spiritual progress is based.
The five precepts are:
1. Abstain from destroying or harming living beings
2. Abstain from 'taking that which is not been given' (stealing)
3. Abstain from sexual misconduct
4. Abstain from unskillful speech (lies, slander, offensive speech etc)
5. Abstain from intoxicating drinks and drugs
It should be noted that these are not commandments. A Buddhist may recite the five precepts daily at home or at a place of worship and undertake to observe them.