Animamia wrote:...I admit I have not had much time to spend reading and learning...
More important than reading is to establish a daily meditation practice (even if it's only 15 or 20 minutes, but be consistent every day) and establish mindfulness throughout the day, trying to be aware of the mind and body. Are your intentions rooted in renunciation, harmlessness, and goodwill? Or are they rooted in greed, hate, and delusion? What are the consequences and results of your intentions? Try not to rush yourself through the day, and when people test your patience, realize that they are suffering, so have compassion for them. This is the foundation of Buddhism, takes five minutes to learn, and several lifetimes to master.
Animamia wrote:1. If I wanted to become Buddhist, how would I go about it? Is there any kind of "initiation" equivalent to being baptised or such? Also, at what stage would I be ready to do so. I obviously have much learning to do, but do I have to know all I can know before I can take the step of becoming a Buddhist? How much time should I spend learning also? I am currently a mature student with 2 children studying biology at university, which takes up a great deal of my time.
As far as I know the only requirement is sincerity, which is expressed by Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/wheel282.html
Also, if you go to a temple or monastery they should be able to help you out.
Animamia wrote:2. The only Sanghas I can find near me practice Zen and Kadampa, which are forms is Mahayana if I am not mistaken. Would I be able to attend these if I followed Theravada Buddhism?
I am not familiar with Kadampa, but Zen has a fond place in my heart. Although, I have seen one Zen sangha that had very loose morals, and another that was a new age spiritual center masquerading as Zen. Do some research on your local sangha and if it seems to have a solid reputation, there should be nothing to worry about. Follow your heart.
Animamia wrote:3. I like to wear some make-up, take care of my appearance etc. How would this fit in with Buddhism? I have read somewhere that acts of self-indulgence like this are frowned upon. Also vegetarianism and things like this I am unsure of.
Lay followers (you) should follow the Five Precepts which prohibit killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and intoxication. When you go to a temple or monastery, plan to follow the Eight Precepts for the duration of your stay, which up the ante to sexual abstinence, no meals after noon, no singing, dancing, music, perfume, or cosmetics, and no luxurious beds. Also, remember that many Buddhists are incredibly sensitive to the chemicals in perfumes and other scented products.
Many Buddhists eat meat. It is a good idea to see the effect of cutting back on meat, but do not feel like it is a precondition to becoming a Buddhist.
I hope this is helpful,
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.