Character is very important because it is a major factor in the course of our life. It influences how we see ourselves, how we relate to others and therefore how they relate to us, the way we deal with the vicissitudes of life and how we see the world. An important part of being a Buddhist is character building or developing what the Buddha called ‘a beautiful nature’ (kalyana dhamma, A.I,248; II,109). Broadly speaking, there are three steps in this process; (1) seeing the desirability of character transformation, (2) having a model or ideal character to work towards, (3) having and applying the means to modify the character.
Some people, due to fortuitous circumstances in former lives as well as in the present one, already have a beautiful character. Most do not. Most people have never seen the desirability or even the advantages of changing themselves. Some of the things that can create the desire for character transformation include a personal crisis that they themselves have been responsible for, a close brush with death or being inspired by a particularly admirable person. Having seen the possibility and the need for change, one must then have an ideal to work towards. The Buddha of course is the perfect ideal; infinitely patient, unfailingly kind, utterly honest and profoundly wise. To 'take Refuge’ in the Buddha is to accept him as one's guiding ideal. Having decided how one would like to be, one then needs a practical program of transformation. The Noble Eightfold Path is such a program, offering as it does guidance on every aspect of life; the intellectual, the ethical and the psychological.