I have been practicing the Dharma (Buddhist way) for about two years now. After several years of travelling I developed a sense of spirituality which was further fuelled by books by the Dalai Lama and Jack Kerouac among others. Eventually I went on a retreat in Ireland with the FWBO (Friends of the Western Buddhist Organisation) and began to take it more seriously.
Like Christianity and other religions there are many different ways to approach Buddhism. But for me it's more a way of living and thinking rather than religious rituals and set beliefs. This, I think, is the reason it has become the fastest growing 'religion' in the West. The main difference between Buddhism and Islam or Christianity is that Buddhists place little emphasis on the worshipping of God the 'creator' and more on the spiritual development of the individual.
Occasionally I go to the
temple to pray or take part in a puja (ceremony), but mostly I meditate
on my own and try to observe the main precepts that the prophet Buddha
taught. These include; compassion, a understanding of impermanence,
an acceptance that there is always some sort of suffering and an acknowledgement
that you can minimise this through right understanding, right thought
and action, right speech etc.
In Thailand I have noted that their practice is far more ritualised by making merit, appeasing spirits and respecting the monkhood, this is because they practice Theravada Buddhism, an older and purer form of Buddhism. But I have grown up under the influence of a Western culture, which is often at odds with the austerity that is promoted in Buddhism. This for me is the greatest challenge, therefore I tend to approach Buddhism in a metaphysical manner.
Certainly it has benefited my character, I now have more understanding and acceptance of fate, and I'm more tolerant and less stressed out. I also have a diminished fear of death and a greater desire to practice goodwill towards others. Mostly I just lead a regular life like my friends around me, knowing that if I do something unworthy, the karmic energy will come back to haunt me some time later.