To take the Threefold Refuge
unmindfully or insincerely
is to only create an imprint with little impact.
Buddhism does not accept the Christian notion of original sin, so Buddhists do not think infants are inherently sinful. If an infant carries any ‘sin’, it is because of its behavior, or karma, in previous lives has made impressions on the infant’s eighth consciousness, the primary entity of life. So babies do not invariably inherit some “original sin of mankind” simply because they are born.
As infants, people do not yet have the ability to make judgments for themselves. And to perform the ceremony of taking refuge to become a Buddhist, one must make vows out of one’s volition [intention]; otherwise, the ceremony is invalid. Children are required to reach the age of seven before they can become Buddhist monastic; taking this as a point of reference, we could say that people should be at least seven years old and have the ability to make judgments for themselves before they participate in a ceremony to take refuge.
On the other hand, Buddhists strongly believe in the ability to transfer merit. So people should make merit through activities such as sponsoring vegetarian meals for monastics, giving donations and charity, reciting a Buddha’s name [e.g. Amituofo], or reciting sutras both before and after the child’s birth and in order to celebrate occasions such as the child’s completion of one month and one year of life [though such celebrations are secular]. People should perform such activities along with prayers for the child’s good fortune, longevity and wisdom.
Orthodox Chinese Buddhism
Chan Master Sheng Yen
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