FAQ about Buddhism
What is the goal of the Buddha's teachings?
Buddhism is a teaching about how to live in peace, joy and harmony. It shows us how to be liberated from cravings, greed, addictions, envy, prejudice, anger, hatred, ill-will, confusion and ignorance. In short, to be free from all suffering, Ultimately, it directs the followers to break the bondage of birth and death through their own efforts and wisdom.
What is Buddhist practice?
The Buddhist path to happiness consists of cultivating ethical behavior, mindfulness (concentration) and understanding (wisdom). These are practices that can be incorporated in our everyday activities.
Is faith or belief important in Buddhist practices?
Yes. Faith is the motivational force for the Buddhists to keep practicing diligently. The goal of total liberation and true happiness through self-effort is not an easy target. However, faith or belief for the Buddhist is very different from other religions. Faith must always be balanced by wisdom, where nothing will be exempted from examination and question. Total submission to any teacher, deity or god-figure is a dangerous path and blind-belief must be rejected. The Buddha is entirely against superstition and metaphysical speculation.
Are there any Buddhist rituals?
In the Buddha's time, there is no ritual in his teachings. After he passed away, religious rituals evolved. The rituals are used to deepen the faith. The most common ones are prostration in front of Buddha statues as a sign of deep respect and gratitude, offering of flowers and fruits on the altar, burning of incense and oil lamp, and chanting of Buddhist scriptures. Rituals are not essential to Buddhist practices. Please read the essay 'A brief history of Buddhism' on this web site.
Do Buddhists believe in God?
Buddhists do not accept the concept of a 'Creator God'. However, Buddhists accepts the possibility of godlike heavenly existence, which is attainable for those with the aspiration and cultivation. Human existence is preferable to the Buddhists because it offers the right conditions for attaining full liberation from the bondage of birth and death.
What is emptiness and conditioned origination?
Emptiness is not nothingness, extinction, vacuum, or void. The word is used to described the reality that 'nothing can exist by itself'. Everything exists as a composite of many components, a convergence of many ever-changing conditions, thus the phrase Conditioned Origination. There can be no self-existence, or self-nature. (Since God is perceived as the 'be all and end all', and therefore can exist by itself, Buddhists do not accept God as a reality).
Why is self-effort so important in the Buddha's teachings?
Salvation and liberation from suffering is entirely dependent on self-effort. External help are merely minor factors. Human beings are capable of cultivating the conditions necessary for liberation because they have analytical faculties and memory, sense of regret for wrongdoings, and strong determination to self-improve. Cultivation of compassion, determination and wisdom is very important.
How does one become a Buddhist?
In Buddha's time, it is very simple. The Buddha or his assistant teachers would just say, come and see for yourself. Then one becomes a Buddhist. In later time, there is a simple ceremony which is called 'taking the three refuge'. Taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha personified the ideal of total enlightenment, Dharma is the Law of Nature which encompasses ethical living, mindfulness and wisdom, and the Sangha refers to those Buddhists who have attained non-attachment, selflessness, great wisdom and compassionate.
Frequently Asked Questions
By Bhikkhu Pesala
1. Do Buddhists believe in God?
It depends on what you mean by God. If you mean a supreme and almighty being who created the world and all the beings in it, and who decides the destiny of those beings after death, then Buddhists do not believe in any such God. However, if you believe that there must be something that transcends the material realm of the senses, something eternal and real that can be personally realised, and that transforms the lives of those who realise it, then Buddhists do believe in such a reality. It is called nibbana.
2. Why is Buddhism so negative and pessimistic?
Buddhism talks a lot about suffering and impermanence because living beings are very strongly attached to life and to the enjoyment of sensual pleasures. It is this attachment and enjoyment that is the cause of suffering. If one follows the Buddhist path, attachment is gradually reduced and finally eradicated altogether. The complete absence of attachment is the highst possible bliss. Even a little less attachment means less suffering, so Buddhism is a path of joy and liberation from pain, dissapointment, grief and despair. It is not pessimistic at all.
3. If there is no soul, what is reborn?
The idea of a self, person, me, or you is a misperception or illusion. There is a continuous chain of cause and effect throughout life, and this process does not come to an abrupt halt after death. Because the process is continuous, we perceive it as a fixed reality - as a person or soul. However, not one thought or one atom is permanent; everything is in a constant flux. The self is not destroyed by realising nibbana, because the self is a non-existent thing. What is destroyed is the illusion of self. When the illusion is shattered, all doubts will disappear.
4. Does one have to be a monk or nun to be a Buddhist?
Not at all. Monks and nus make a full-time commitment to the practise and study of the Dhamma, hopefully because they have strong faith in the Buddha's teaching. A layperson can also have strong faith in the Dhamma, but due to social responsibilities may be unable to follow the monastic life-style. Spiritual attainments depend on the maturity of one's insight, not on one's chosen vocation.
5. Why Are Buddhists Not Always Vegetarians?
A lay Buddhist can make a free choice what he or she eats. A monk or nun has fewer options, and usually has to make do with what is offered. As long as one does not kill, urge to kill, rejoice in killing, nor speak in praise of it, one can buy and eat meat. The kamma depends on one's intention. Those who kill or trade in animals to make a living will inherit their bad kamma. It is a wrong livelihood for a Buddhist, but not everyone in the world is a Buddhist. Even so, some Buddhists may be fishermen or may raise livestock. Growing fruit and vegetables nearly always involves the deliberate destruction of many living beings too. Not everyone can afford pure organic produce.
6. What happened to the Buddha after he died?
The Buddha is not in heaven, nor "in" nibbana. He put an end to all kinds of rebirth.
7. Is it still possible to gain enlightenment?
Yes, it is possible, but it is not easy. To realise nibbana in this very life requires the utmost dedication, transparent honesty, and strenuous effort. Almost anyone may realise nibbana if they try hard enough, the trouble is, most people just do not try hard enough, or are not wise enough so though they try hard, they don't succeed because the method they are using is wrong.
8. Do heaven and hell really exist?
Yes, of course. One could hardly believe otherwise if one just reads a dozen or so discourses of the Buddha. However, believing is one thing; knowing and seeing by means of psychic powers is far more difficult. The Buddha and his leading disciples had psychic powers so they could converse with celestial beings or see the evil-doers suffering in hell or as hungry ghosts due to their evil deeds. "Seeing is believing" as they say. If you cannot see, then you must believe. You don't have to believe if you don't wish to, as it is prudent not to accept anything on hearsay, but if you dismiss heaven and hell as mere allegories for pleasure and pain, then you would find this hard to justify from the Buddhist texts.
9. Are the disabled suffering due to past evil kamma?
Not all present results are the results of kamma done in previous lives. If one drives carelessly and has a road accident one may end up disabled. However, some people are born with physical or mental disabilities, and some get killed or injured due to the carelessness of others. In such cases we must assume that the cause lies with the victim's past kamma. It does not follow that careless or drunken drivers should not be prosecuted if they accidentally injure someone. Even though they had no intention to cause an accident, carelessness is blameworthy, Killing someone by recklessness is not murder, but it may be manslaughter, and should be punished severely. The likely result of such reckless or negligent behaviour is that at some point in the future one will suffer a similar fate, and be killed or injured through no fault of one's own.
10. Is intentional killing always wrong?
Yes, it is always unwholesome kamma with the unpleasant future result of disease, injury, or premature death. However, killing is always justifiable (sic). Even the terrorist can justify, at least to himself or herself, why he or she has to murder dozens of innocent civilians. If one were undeluded and totally mindful, there is no way that one could kill any living being. However, human beings are seldom undeluded, and rarely mindful, so they can always justify killing: "If I don't kill the mosquitos I will get malaria," or "If I don't carry out this abortion, the mother may kill herself, or the baby will have a miserable existence as an unwanted child," or "If we don't execute this murderer he will kill many more people." All such justifications make false assumptions based on one's conditioning, which is nothing but the unskilful mental attitude of aversion, ill-will, or anger. Killing and anger is always justifiable, and only part of being human, but that does not make it right.
FAQ's about Buddhism
excerpted from Taming the Tiger
Dr Akong Tulku Rinpoche
What is Buddhism? I think when I look at it and try to simplify it I would say that in my view Buddhism is about self-development; how to develop loving-kindness, how to develop compassion; how to develop tolerance. It Is about how to develop ourselves in this direction so that we are not just thinking of ourselves but thinking of how we can help all other people. It is about self-development but not in the sense of development of ego or self-importance, but about developing loving-kindness and compassion so by achieving that we can also help others. I think this is a simple description of what Buddhism Is.
This is a path which most decent human-beings would try to follow regardless of religion - or no religion - so in what way does Buddhism offer anything different?
I think the main difference between the Buddhist path and others is that Buddhism always says that you have to deal with all obstacles and that you should not try to escape from anything - including yourself. It teaches that you have to come to terms with all your own emotions and all situations - positive as well as negative. You have to face yourself, and deal with your own fears and reactions and not run away. Buddhism also says very clearly say that in order to develop tolerance, loving-kindness and compassion you have to train, or tame, your mind. Just trying to have positive thoughts Is not quite enough; you have to achieve them; therefore an essential part of the path of Buddhism is the practice and study of meditation. In the beginning It may look as though the learning and practice of meditation is running away from the problem but it is not. It is the opposite. You practise and study meditation in order to be able to face problems and be better able to help others. I think that overall there is much similarity in the teachings of all religions but I think that Buddhism emphasises that you have to deal with all your own rubbish before you can be much help to others.
Some people feel attracted to "Tibetan" Buddhism but are not clear about how much is Buddhism and how much is the Tibetan culture. Some of the imagery can seem quite alien. Can you give some guide lines?
I don't think it matters very much. Those who wish to understand will understand whatever you do. Many stranger things happen! For example, an astronaut went to the moon and soon tourists will be going there. It seems very strange to me, but those who want to understand the significance of this, will find an understanding. From the Buddhist view, the Buddha taught many different techniques - 84,000 different teachings - in order to help different sorts of people. Tibetan Buddhism passes on to us these teachings on how to help and how to benefit. There is nothing in any of the teachings that can do harm to anyone or can encourage wrong views. That would be against the principle of Buddhism. Every teaching - all 84,000 - contains something positive and the Tibetan approach, the Vajrayana approach, is included In these. But the presentation doesn't really matter. Different people like different presentations; some people like one style, some people prefer another. Though Buddhism originally came from India many Indian people prefer the Tibetan style and the Tibetan art. It is not necessarily the case that Indians always prefer the Indian style, and Tibetans the Tibetan style; some Tibetans may prefer the Indian style. So I think it is very much up to each individual. The art, the pictures, the decorations - these just represent things. They give your busy mind something to do which is more positive than thinking about what your neighbours are saying. They are there to help you. But if you find that they not helpful - then there is no need to look at them - you can just think of what they represent. It doesn't matter what you believe, what matters is what you do!
In the traditional Buddhist countries women have a low status in society, is this due to the religion - Buddhism - or is it the culture of the country?
I think Lord Buddha's teaching is valuable for whoever comes. The teachings are for whoever has a brain. He taught more for some and less for others but it is not important whether they are "man" or "woman". He ordained his own step-mother as the first nun and this was the first time ever that there was the possibility for women to follow a religious life. But society is a different matter. Wherever you go in the far East a women's job is to stay at home and look after the children or her parents. Therefore, although a few nunneries exist they are normally smaller and poorer than the monasteries. In these nunneries I am sure there will be some nuns who teach the other nuns and perhaps sometimes a very famous nun to whom lay people go to receive the teachings. Generally though, men - and therefore monks -are more respected than women but I think It has more to do with society, with the culture, than with Lord Buddha's teaching.
Although Buddhism places a great emphasis on compassion there is not a good record of active compassion in eastern countries' can you comment on this?
One of the main teachings of Tibetan (or Vajrayana) Buddhism is called the 'Six Paramitas' All Vajrayana and Mahayana teachings are based on the six paramitas and the first paramita is "generosity" or "charity". I think that when someone who is a true Buddhist gives to charity they give very sincerely and very honestly. In western society you may notice that perhaps people are giving more than in the East, but the giving is more likely to be based on ego and more likely to have strings attached. Too often it is charity with a capital "C". "I am the one who gives and 'they" receiver and "I want to become very famous because I am so generous. I want to have a label saying how good I am to poor people". Buddha once said that if you want to give with a pure heart, first you have to meditate and develop wisdom so that you can give without attachment. We discussed "non-attachment" earlier. "Non-attached" charity is when you give something totally, both mentally and physically. It means having the right state of mind when you make the gift as well as the actual gift itself. In a previous life the Buddha gave his own body; in another life he gave his eye. We should all try to achieve that level of non-attachment, non-possessiveness. I think that those who give charity in the East are more likely to have that development. If you don't have that development, that right state of mind, if you cannot truly give wholeheartedly with no strings attached, then the person who receives your gift may benefit but you may end up with a poisoned mind. I think that perhaps people in the West may not understand that some wisdom is needed. I think in the East they may take more time and try to develop themselves first. This may take some time and may mean that for certain periods in their life they do not give much but I think the idea of giving has always existed.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
on Buddhism and Dzogchen
This collection of frequently asked questions (FAQ) provides brief answers to many common questions about Buddhism and Dzogchen meditation. It was compiled by Lama Surya Das, in response to the many inquiries which have come to him as a Buddhist teacher.
" General Questions
o How do I know which spiritual path or practice to pursue?
o Do I need a teacher in order to go forward in the spiritual life?
o Where can I learn to meditate? I have read books about it and want to experience it more personally.
" About Buddhism
o Is Buddhism a religion? Do I have to convert in order to practice meditation, visualizations, yoga, etc.? Are all religions leading to the same place?
o What is Dharma? I hear and read this word everywhere.
o What is enlightenment? Is it the goal of meditation? Where is Nirvana? Can anyone be a Buddha?
o What is a Buddhist teacher? What does one do, day to day?
o What are the major approaches to Buddhism?
" About Tibetan Buddhism
o How does Tibetan Buddhism relate to what the historical Buddha actually taught? What is Tibetan Buddhism?
o What is Dzogchen?
o Where does the Dalai Lama of Tibet live? When will he visit the USA again? How can I meet him?
o What is a Lama?
" About Meditation
o What is meditation? Is it good for everyone?
o What is the best time of day to meditate, pray and perform my spiritual practices?
o When I meditate, I often fall asleep, or at least doze off now and then. What remedy can you suggest?
" Reading List
o What are some good books to read as introductory material to meditation Buddhism, enlightenment, etc.?
How do I know which spiritual path or practice to pursue?
There are few shortcuts. Trial and error -- following your heart's intuition, while seeking advice from those who have gone before you -- seem to provide the main highway. It is a gradually unfolding process, for which both patience and perseverance are required. Mistakes are inevitable, so do not be easily discouraged. Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones. The great Way is right beneath your feet. Please do not overlook that. There are countless Dharma gates. It is up to you to enter.
Do I need a teacher in order to go forward in the spiritual life?
Good friends and experienced mentors can be very helpful. Be open to the influence of others, but not overly dependent on them. It is always healthy to maintain a certain amount of critical judgment for yourself.
It could certainly be worth checking some spiritual teachers out, and see if they are offering what genuinely interests you in a way that you can relate to. Find out who and where they are, and check them out for yourself. Sincere self-examination and keeping an open, inquiring mind are also among the best propellants to move you along the Path. Reading about the teachers, mystics and Wayfarers of the past is often inspiring, informative, and can provide guidance.
Where can I learn to meditate? I have read books about it and want to experience it more personally.
There are many meditation centers, retreats, workshops and classes in our country, as well as elsewhere. You can find them by word of mouth; on the bulletin boards of health food stores, spiritual bookshops and college campuses; in the Yellow Pages (though not necessarily the best way to find the best in this field); through religion forums and Buddhist bulletin boards on the Internet; listed in the backs of books about meditation; in publications like "Tricycle" magazine; through my homepages on the world wide web; etc.
Be wary at the outset of too much commercialism, fantastic promises, instant enlightenment programs, charlatans who may take advantage of the naive and inexperienced, and anything else that does not feel right for you. Your intuition in these matters is probably your best guide.
Check things out for yourself. Spirituality can best be learned, like swimming, by testing the waters yourself, and not from books. Use your common sense in finding what is suitable for you.
Is Buddhism a religion? Do I have to convert in order to practice meditation, visualizations, yoga, etc.? Are all religions leading to the same place?
Of course Buddhism is one of the major world religions, but it is more of a psychological-philosophical-ethical system of awakening; a technology of enlightenment. Since Buddha's teaching does not posit a supreme Creator, Buddhism does not fit the usual definition of a religion. Buddhism takes an agnostic stance on such matters as the Creator question. It is not atheistic, as some uninformed critics suggest. Buddha's principle subject was suffering and the end of suffering, not theological and ontological issues.
All religions are similar in many ways, yet each has its different emphases. A good comparison might be the different types of cuisine in the world; all food is for nourishment and enjoyment, yet there are many different styles suited to varying peoples, tastes and habits. My own teacher Kalu Rinpoche used to answer this question by saying you do not need to convert. It is probably useful to hold your current beliefs up to examination, whatever they may be. Investigation is said to be one of the most transformative agents facilitating enlightenment. There is nothing to believe in Buddhism, and everything to discover.
To study the Buddha's way is to study the self;
To study the self is to transcend the self.
To transcend the self is to be enlightened by all things.
-- Zen Master Dogen
What is Dharma? I hear and read this word everywhere.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word. It means teaching, truth, doctrine, spirituality, or reality. It means the truth of things as they are. Its literal meaning is that which supports or upholds. Dharma is thus likened to the ground we stand upon.
Another, lesser known meaning of dharma is "that which remedies, alleviates, heals and restores". The truth embodied in Dharma teachings heals what ails us, on the very deepest level.
Buddha Dharma refers to the teachings of the compassionate, enlightened Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, who lived in the fifth century B.C. in northern India.
What is enlightenment? Is it the goal of meditation? Where is Nirvana? Can anyone be a Buddha?
Nirvana, the so-called Other Shore (of enlightenment, the goal of the Buddhist path) is everywhere and nowhere. It is not a place. Nirvana is more a state of mind: one of total awareness; deathless peace; joy, ease and fulfillment; and perfect freedom. Nirvana is by definition the highest form of everlasting happiness, desirelessness, fulfillment and peace. It is experienced by the heart-mind liberated from the fetters of ignorance, dualism and delusion, and freed from conflicting emotions including attachment and desire.
Anyone can realize such an innate reality, which is your own true nature. This is technically known as Buddha nature. To awaken fully and irrevocably to that is awakened enlightenment, Buddhahood. That is why Buddha said: "I only point out the Way; it is up to you to walk it."
Meditation, the conscious or intentional cultivation of attention and awareness, is a skillful means or effective method leading directly to awakened enlightenment.
What is a Buddhist teacher? What does one do, day to day?
Teachers of Dharma, both in East and West, have adopted various lifestyles. A Buddhist teacher can be a monk or nun, a lay person, or a yogi who is in between lay and monastic lifestyles. He or she may conduct meditation retreats, seminars, and workshops; be part of, or even lead, a monastery, nunnery, retreat center or other kind of intentional community, or live alone; be sedentary or peripatetic, or some combination of both; be a Buddhist scholar, translator, and writer-lecturer; lead a congregation, or be an academic; or any combination of the above. Buddhist teachers traditionally spend a certain amount of time meditating, praying, and studying in seclusion to deepen their spiritual realization, for the benefit of both themselves and others.
Traditionally, a Buddhist teacher is authorized or empowered by his or her own teacher, thus continuing a lineage of transmission, blessings and authenticity stretching back in an unbroken line to the historical Buddha himself.
What are the major approaches to Buddhism?
There are many different schools, sects, orders and styles in Buddhism, not unlike Christianity and Hinduism. The main divisions are Theravadin and Mahayana, or the Southern and Northern (Asia) Schools.
These two are further expanded into three: Theravadin, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Vipassana teachings fall mainly, although not exclusively, under the first category. Zen teachings, Pure Land, Nichiren, Sokka Gakkai, and Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, are loosely categorized under the second. Tibetan Buddhist groups and centers are in the third category. It should be understood that many of these groups represent an open, inclusive, nonsectarian outlook which encompasses more than one fixed category.
Theravadin teachings are generally characterized by an emphasis on renunciation, restraint, mindfulness, desirelessness, morality, selflessness, simplicity and individual liberation. Mahayana teachings emphasize compassion, impeccability, altruism, wisdom and love combined, emptiness, openness, mind-training, and unselfish efforts towards universal enlightenment. Vajrayana, or tantric, teachings emphasize integration, celebration, guru devotion, energy, fearlessness, nonduality, and immanent enlightenment.
Buddhism in the West at present represents a unique historical occurrence: the coexistence in one single country of all the various types of Buddhism extant in the world. The emerging American Buddhism, and western Buddhist teachers generally, displays a fairly broad and inclusive approach.
The emerging American Buddhism and Western Buddhism tends to be open, honest, nonsectarian, and inclusive; gender-unbiased; democratic; a non-hierarchical approach to awakened enlightenment. It is shaping up as experiential and practice-oriented, rather than intellectual; as demystified and essentialized; lay-oriented, although with significant room for the monastic experience; dynamic, and integrated with daily life in the modern world.
American Buddhisms -- there are probably more than one already -- tend to be creative, adaptable, exploratory, and skeptical and inquiring; psychologically astute; humorous, with a keen appreciation of the absurd; ecumenical, and open to cross-fertilzation. American Buddhists are generally well-informed, well-educated, open-minded citizens of the modern world. They are as often as not socially engaged; supportive of basic human rights; concerned about family life and a sane future for this planet; and ecologically conscious.
About Tibetan Buddhism:
How does Tibetan Buddhism relate to what the historical Buddha actually taught? What is Tibetan Buddhism?
The Buddhism of Tibet represents the last extant wisdom culture to survive intact from ancient times. Tibet was a cloistered, theocratic Buddhist state which, until 1959, preserved all the teachings of the Buddha in a unique situation. Tibetan Buddhism includes the Theravadin, Mahayana and tantric Vajrayana traditions of Buddhadharma. All the sutras and tantras are preserved and practiced in Tibetan Buddhism. Many Buddhist sutras and commentaries in the Sanskrit language, which were lost in India during the Moslem invasions of northern India, were later discovered intact in Tibetan monastery libraries.
Buddhism was brought from its land of origin, India, in the Sixth Century A.D. to Tibet, where it incorporated certain indigenous traditions in becoming the colorful Tibetan Buddhism we know today.
What is Dzogchen?
Dzogchen is the consummate practice of Tibetan Buddhism. It is practiced mainly by the Nyingma Lineage in Tibet, although all four sects of Tibetan Buddhism practice it to some extent.
It derives from the Maha Ati Tantra, and represents the nondual, or absolute/ultimate teaching of pure and total intrinsic awareness, innate wakefulness.
Dzogchen is considered, in Tibet, an advanced and secret teaching. Today it is said by certain senior Tibetan lamas to be "a teaching for our time", because it is direct, immediate, essentialized, adaptable and profound: a naked awareness practice applicable to any circumstance or situation, and easily integrated into modern life.
Where does the Dalai Lama of Tibet live? When will he visit the USA again? How can I meet him?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama lives in the Himalayan foothills at Dharamsala, in northern India; he has been there since the Sixties, after forced to flee Tibet when it was conquered by the Red Chinese in 1959. The Indian hill station of Dharamsala is the capital of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.
In the last few years, The Dalai Lama of Tibet has come to the USA every year, sometimes twice a year. This pattern is expected to continue. In general, he alternates East Coast and West Coast visits, often with one or more stops in the South, Midwest or Rockies. In the summer of 1999, he will be giving the Kalachakra Initiation in Bloomington, Indiana.
A Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and active human rights advocate, he is the political head of his country as well as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Contact the Office of Tibet in New York City for further details, at 212-213-5010.
What is a Lama?
A lama is a trained, authorized, learned and empowered spiritual teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The Dalai Lama is the chief lama. In a humorous vein, sixty or seventy years ago Ogden Nash wrote in the New Yorker magazine:
"With one 'l' he's a priest;
with two 'll's' he's a beast.
But I'll bet a pair of silk pajamas
there aren't any three 'lll' lamas.&>
What is meditation? Is it good for everyone?
Meditation is the intentional, conscious cultivation of attention and awareness, often called mindfulness. Developing mindful awareness purifies, illumines and frees the mind. It liberates awareness from habitual conditioning, compulsion and attachment; clarifies, resolves and eases inner conflicts; and expands and raises consciousness. Meditation "untangles what is tangled," as Buddha said. It provides access to a profound sense of oneness, of interconnectedness, of sanity and coherent wholeness. Meditation enhances powers of observation and sharpens the mind. It demonstrably brings inner peace, calm, centeredness, enhanced focus, concentration, relaxation, rejuvenation, balance of mind, increased receptivity and acceptance, clarity and deep insight. This is something anyone can benefit from.
What is the best time of day to meditate, pray and perform my spiritual practices?
Anytime is the best time. And one can do it almost anywhere. However, practically speaking, first thing in the morning and last at night are generally found most conducive to spiritual practice. Dawn and dusk are also good times to use inner work-- being, not just doing-- to gracefully bracket a busy day.
Bringing the cultivation of contemplative awareness into every activity, every moment, is the heart of spiritual practice. Make your life a prayer, as Saint Paul said. This is the way to bring together heaven and earth, the sacred and the mundane, into a truly integrated, seamless whole.
When I meditate, I often fall asleep, or at least doze off now and then. What remedy can you suggest?
Try meditating with eyes open, if sleepy. Brighten the room. Wash your face with cold water. Try sitting outside. Do walking meditation, breathing exercises, chanting, prayer, etc. Walk backwards to raise your attentive vigilance. Sit for shorter periods of time, rather than prolonging meditation periods as long as possible even while dozing or drifting dreamily. (Killing time only deadens ourselves.). Inspire and enliven yourself, with whatever works. It is quality of awareness that counts, not mere quantity of time and effort. It is easier than you think!
What are some good books to read as introductory material to meditation Buddhism, enlightenment, etc.?
There are many good books. "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche is excellent. The Dalai Lama's recent series of books from Harper San Francisco publishers are good (see "Open Heart, Awakened Mind") as is his autobiographical "Freedom In Exile". Joseph Goldstein (author of "Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom"), Sharon Salzberg ("Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness"), Ane Pema Chodron ("Wisdom of No Escape"), Charlotte Joko Beck ("Everyday Zen"), Jon Kabat-Zinn ("Wherever You Go, There You Are") and Jack Kornfield ("A Path With Heart"), and Thich Nhat Hanh ("Peace Every Step" and "The Miracle of Mindfulness") each have several other excellent books in print.
Chogyam Trungpa's numerous books are very interesting, beginning with his autobiography, "Born in Tibet". "Entering the Stream" by Sherab Chodzin Kohn and Sam Bercholz is a fine anthology of Buddhist teachings. "Women of Wisdom" by Tsultrim Allione is a fascinating account of female Himalayan masters.
"Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" by Paul Reps is delightful. "Zen in America" by Helen Tworkov and "How the Swans Came to the Lake" by Rick Fields give excellent anecdotal history and insights into Buddhist developments in America. "The Awakening of the West" by Stephen Batchelor is a thoughtful history of Buddhism's advent in the Occidental world.
"How Can I Help?" by Ram Dass is inspiring. The "Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell, is a marvelous Asian classic.
A romantic recounting of the Buddha's life is found in "The Light of Asia" by Sir Edwin Arnold, a venerable classic among Buddhist poems in the West.
"Thoughts Without a Thinker" by Dr. Mark Epstein is an interesting introduction to Buddhism and psychology. Jack Kornfield's "A Path With Heart" is a useful study of the perils and pitfalls on the spiritual path.
"Tibetan Buddhism From the Ground Up" by Alan Wallace, and "The World of Tibetan Buddhism" by the Dalai Lama are also recommended.
"Repeating the Words of the Buddha" by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and "Natural Great Perfection" by Nyoshul Khenpo and Surya Das introduce Dzogchen teachings and practice. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche's books about Dzogchen ("The Crystal and the Way of Light", "Dzogchen: The Self-Perfected State", etc.) are well worth reading.
Frequently Asked Questions on Buddhist Culture
(Compiled at BuddhaNet, 1998)
Here are some additional FAQ's ( frequently asked questions) we regularly get asked about on BuddhaNet. If you have any more questions around Buddhist culture in all traditions, please feel free to e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Do Buddhists pray?
Buddhist don't pray to a Creator God, but they do have devotional meditation practices which could be compared to praying. Radiating loving-kindness to all living beings is a practice which is believed to benefit those beings. The sharing of merit is a practice where one dedicates the goodness of one's life to the benefit of all living beings as well as praying for a particular person.
For further discussion on the nature of Buddhist devotion and faith, see DEVOTION.ZIP in BuddhaNet's file library - General section
In Tibet prayer is going on most of the time. Tibetans pray in a special way. They believe that when certain sounds and words, called mantras, are said many times they arouse good vibrations within the person. If a mantra is repeated often enough it can open up the mind to a consciousness which is beyond words and thoughts.
In Japan millions of Buddhists pray to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. They believe that Amida has created a Pure Land in the west and that those who have faith and repeat Amida's name in prayer will go there. Yet they also believe that Amida is really within them.
How do you become a Buddhist?
In one way being a Buddhist means belonging to a particular community of people and following a path of life taught by the Buddhas (enlightened beings). Members of the Buddhist community are formally joined by taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teaching) and the Sangha (the community of noble disciples).
Why do Buddhists chant?
It reminds one of the Dharma so that it is not forgotten; when meditation is not possible and when bare mindfulness does not give much consolation, it can be used to great advantage as an extension of meditation into words to produce calm, some peace within; and certainly, it expresses one's strong confidence in the Dharma. Reciting the same chants day after day also has an advantage - the making of wholesome repetitive karma which of course will bear very good fruit.
What about Buddhist shrines and images?
The shrine found in Buddhist homes or temples is a focal point of Buddhist observances. At the centre of the shrine, there is usually an image of the Buddha. This image may be made of a variety of materials such as marble, gold, wood or even clay. The image is a symbol that helps people to recall the qualities of the Buddha.
The shrine may also have such objects as a volume of Buddhist scriptures to represent the Dharma. Some shrines may include other items such as images, pictures or photographs of Buddhist monks and masters to represent the Sangha. When a Buddhist stands before a shrine, the objects he sees on it help him to recall the qualities that are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This inspires him to work towards cultivating these qualities in himself.
Why do Buddhists bow?
In Buddhism, the traditional gesture of reverence to the Triple Gem is to place the palms of both hands together and raise them high in front, usually up to the level of the forehead. In order to express deep veneration, a Buddhist may bow or prostrate before the image of the Buddha, members of the Sangha and the masters of the Teaching. When a Buddhist prostrates before an image, he acknowledges the fact that the Buddha has attained the perfect and supreme Enlightenment. Such an act helps the Buddhist to overcome egoistic feelings and he becomes more ready to listen to the Teaching of the Buddha.
Are there Buddhist holy places?
The four holy sites as places of pilgrimage for Buddhists are Lumbini where the Buddha was born, Bodh Gaya where the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi tree, Sarnath where the Buddha gave his first teaching of the Dharma and Kusinagara where the Buddha passed away. See "In Search of the Buddha" on BuddhaNet.
What about Buddhist festivals?
Buddhist festivals are always joyful occasions. Every May, on the night of the full moon, Buddhists all over the world celebrate Vesak for the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha such a long time ago.
In the Theravada tradition, practices observed by laypeople at Vesak include the observance of eight precepts (the regular five plus not taking food after midday and celibacy and not over indulging in sleep). Also the laypeople may participate in chanting and meditation and listening to sermons.
In Thai villages people get ready during the day. They clean their houses and hang up garlands of flowers. The men take clean sand from the river bank and spread it over the temple courtyard, where everyone walks with bare feet. Statues of the Buddha are brought out of the temple to be washed and polished and all the books come out to be dusted. When it is dark, the villagers gather with candles or small oil lamps. The biggest Buddha statue is put on a platform outside the temple and lights shine all round it. Scented water is thrown onto it. Holding their lights, everyone starts to move round the Buddha statue so that in the end it is encircled with light.
What about Buddhist marriage ceremonies?
Monks are prohibited from being marriage celebrants but they can "bless" the couple by reciting the Dharma (chanting) after the secular ceremony.
What is a Buddhist funeral like?
A simple ceremony where the good deeds of the departed are remembered, a Loving-kindness meditation can be done and a sharing of merits.
What is a Stupa?
When the person who has died is a Buddha (enlightened one) or an Arhant (saint) or an especially great teacher, relics are collected after the cremation. These may be placed in a stupa or pagoda (burial mound) or in a Buddha-rupa (image of the Buddha). Whenever the Buddhist sees a stupa in the countryside or a Buddha-rupa in a shrine room it is a reminder of the dharma (teaching) and it is honoured because of that.
Source: BuddhaNet, Sydney, Australia, http://www.buddhanet.net/
What is meditation?
A definition I like to use is, "Meditation is an activity involving the cultivation of mindfulness and the application of methodologies to change ourselves in order that we become more fulfilled and more able to see Reality. ".
Meditation is about becoming more fulfilled, but also has the function of helping us to more clearly understand the nature of the world we live in. These two goals are really the same, since we can't be fulfilled if we have serious misunderstandings about life. In particular we have to learn what conditions (actions, thoughts, etc.) give rise to happiness and which to unhappiness.
Meditation gives us tools to quiet the mind so that we can become more aware of the mental processes that lead to greater fulfillment. It also offers us tools to change our mental states so that we become happier.
Do you have to be a Buddhist to do Buddhist meditation?
No. You don't have to adopt any religious belief system in order to do the meditation practices that we teach here.
Can anyone meditate?
Pretty much. People who have experienced schizophrenia should be cautious about taking up meditation, and although meditation can help with depression I wouldn't advise anyone to start meditating while they are feeling profoundly depressed (they should wait until they're feeling more balanced).
Apart from that. I think just about anyone can learn to meditate. Those who get least from meditation are usually those who want instant results. Meditation is like going to the gym -- you have to actually do the work to get the benefits. Let go of that quick-fix mentality and accept that some changes take time, and you'll find your meditation practice will be very helpful
Can meditation help with stress?
Meditation is a particularly effective way of dealing with stress. It helps us to calm down and to become more aware of how stressful feelings arise.
What's kinds of meditation do you teach here?
We mostly teach the most widespread meditation practices, including mindfulness of breathing, development of lovingkindness, and walking meditation. These practices are found in virtually every major Buddhist tradition. In addition we teach mantra meditation, which is mostly associated with Mahayana Buddhism, although some of the mantras we teach come from the Theravadin tradition.
How is this different from Transcendental Meditation?
Transcendental Meditation is an adaptation of Hindu mantra meditation, involving the recitation of the "seed syllables" (the essential names, if you like) of Hindu deities. Although TM can be effective, the organization that teaches it is very money-oriented, and charges a lot for the practices they teach.
Do you need to have a teacher?
Like most skills, you can learn a lot on your own, but a teacher can be helpful to guide you when times get tough or when you have a blind spot. You can teach yourself to paint, for example, but having a teacher can speed the process and make learning more interesting and productive. It's the same with meditation.
Refuge - FAQ's
by Ken Holmes
What is Refuge?
The meaning of Refuge becomes deeper and deeper as one proceeds along the Buddhist path and its real depth and magnitude is only known at enlightenment. To put it very simply, to take Refuge is to turn decisively towards the most powerful, sublime, true and meaningful force in the entire universe, seeking its strength, protection and guidance. These will be necessary in order to successfully rid one's mind of confusion and suffering and to attain the peace, wisdom and qualites of enlightenment. This process - of connecting profoundly with the absolute - begins formally with the ceremony of 'Taking Refuge' and is thereafter developed through study and meditation to become a deep inner strength. It is also a commitment to the Buddhist path.
By taking the Refuge ceremony, one becomes a Buddhist. From then on, the inner confidence and support that comes from taking Refuge daily forms a psychological basis for all the work of self-knowledge and transformation of the Buddhist 'path of peace'. Like the foundation of a house, Refuge is the basis upon which all other Buddhist practice is built.
Is Refuge the same in all Buddhist traditions?
All traditions (Tibetan, Theravada, Zen etc.) share the basic Refuge in the 'Three Most Precious Things' (often translated as 'the Three Jewels'): the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
In the mahayana traditions, the scope of the basic refuge is widened from almost every point of view: what one takes refuge in, how long one takes refuge for, why one takes refuge etc. (see below)
In the vajrayana traditions, the refuge is extended to include three more fields (gurus, yidams and protectors) for practical reasons related to the intense nature of the vajrayana path.
In what does one take Refuge?
In all forms of Buddhism, one places ones trust in:
the Buddha as the best teacher,
his teachings (Dharma) as the best spiritual path to follow and
the Sangha, the holders of those teachings, as the best guides and companions on that path.
In vajrayana Buddhism, three more refuges are added: the gurus, yidams and protectors:
the gurus are the source of spiritual transmission
the yidams are the source of accomplishment in practice
the protectors (also called 'dharmapala') enable compassionate activity to succeed
What is an unsuitable source of Refuge?
The Buddhist path enables a person to leave samsara (the illusions, confusion and suffering in the mind) and to attain nirvana (perfect liberation, peace and unconditioned happiness). It is obvious that one needs guidance from a source which has already conquered samsara and attained nirvana. Otherwise it would be like hiring a guide who has never performed the journey.
On this 'journey', there are many dangers, posed by one's inner pride, jealousy, anger and selfish desires, inside oneself, and the general trend to negativity in the world around us. These are like robbers hiding by the wayside or dangerous wild animals. One needs protection and the bodyguard needs the strength and experience to be able to overcome all these various hazards.
In normal life, we turn to friends, family, the rich and the powerful for help. For worldly things these can sometimes provide the material or emotional support we need temporarily. But when it comes to working skilfully on one's mind, for a lasting liberation, they are quite useless. In fact, their guidance can take one completely in the wrong direction.
It is the most natural thing in the world to turn to an expert when one wants to learn something well. The 'experts' - on the spiritual path to freedom - are the Refuges.
Some differences between basic Refuge and mahayana Refuge
DURATION ... basic Refuge is taken from the time of the ceremony until death, whereas mahayana Refuge is taken from the ceremony until total enlightenment is reached, in whichever future life that may be.
MOTIVATION ... the main motivation behind basic Refuge is a longing to free one's own mind from samsara and to attain nirvana. The mahayana motivation seeks Refuge in order to be able to help all beings become free from samsara and find nirvana.
OBJECT ... Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are known in a much more profound light than above:
The Buddha, besides being a historical person, is known as the three kaya and as sugatagarbha. These are deep, extensive topics too advanced to describe here.
The Dharma, besides being the body of written and oral teachings of the Buddha, is known as direct realisation of the path and its result and in particular as realisation of the voidness of personality and all things.
The Sangha, besides being the monastic community which perpetuates the Buddha's teaching, is known as those who have attained direct realisation of voidness.
The reference work on the above is Maitreya's mahayana uttara tanra. It has been translated, with commentary, as Maitreya on Buddha Nature by Ken Holmes.
Does taking refuge bind one to any commitments?
Yes. Taking Refuge is a commitment to the Buddhist path and so it is natural to at least remain on that path and, preferably, to progress as best possible along it. The main commitment is maintain faith and confidence in the Three Refuges. To help one do this, there are three particular sets of three commitments:
Having taken Refuge in the Buddha, the most enblightened of all beings, one should keep the Buddha as one's main teacher and not drop Buddhism for some other faith. Having taken Refuge in the Dharma, the essence of which is peace, one should never do anything which harms any living being. Having taken Refuge in the Sangha, the finest companions, one should be careful not to be swayed into negativity by worldly friends.
As training, one should always make a point of respecting the representations of the Refuges: Buddha images, dharma texts and the sangha's robes. Images and texts should be kept in high, clean, peaceful places.
As helps for remembering the Refuges, one should recite the Refuge prayer daily, make offerings to them and in particular offer every first mouthful of food.
Does taking refuge commit me to a specific lama or tradition?
No. Taking Refuge is one thing, choosing one's personal mentor is another. As the first step of any journey is the most important one, the moment of Refuge is a truning point in one's life. The bond between oneself and the teacher who gives Refuge is something wonderful to be grateful for. But all the scriptures say that one should consider very thoroughly - even for some years - before choosing one's personal guru. That comes later in the light on knowledge and experience. Refuge is common to all Buddhist traditions and one is not obliged to continue in the tradition one first discovers.
How to find out more about the ceremony?
We could put more here but it would be much better to make human contact with an authentic Buddhist lama and the monastic community and discuss Refuge in person.
The following questions and answers have been especially formulated with
the newcomer to Buddhism in mind.
Q: Who was the Buddha?
A: The Buddha was a man who lived some 2,600 years ago and who
revolutionised religious thought in India. This way of thought spread
throughout the Eastern world and has now found its way to the west.
Q: What does the word 'Buddha' mean?
A: The word 'Buddha' stands for the Awakened State (literally it means
awakened), so it is used in relation to waking up to truth, to
Q: What did the Buddha teach?
A: His teaching was extensive. However, it is commonly agreed among all
traditions throughout the Buddhist world, that fundamentally the
teaching of the Buddha is contained in just four truths - the Four Noble Truths.
Q: What are these truths?
A: They are: the truth of suffering; the truth of regarding the cause of suffering; the truth regarding the cessation of suffering; and the
path, the way we suffer when life does not go our way, when our hopes
are dashed, and when disappointment or tragedy strikes. We also
suffered when life does go our way. Why? Because we fear loss - loss
of pleasure, wealth, family or friends. This is the truth of suffering.
Wishing, wanting, and desiring are the cause of suffering. We produce
our own suffering by the way we think and act.
Because we produce our own suffering, it is within our power not to
produce it, and not to suffer. This is the truth regarding the
cessation of suffering.
The way of life which does not cause suffering is the path; it is the
way of harmlessness, wishlessness, selflessness.
Q: Is there a God in Buddhism as in Christianity?
A: It is very difficult to compare Buddhism with Christianity. One would
have to say, however, there is no God in Buddhism in the way that God
in Christianity is commonly understood.
Q: What do Buddhists believe?
A: Different Buddhists believe different things, but the nature of
belief is itself an important issue in Buddhism. Belief is to be seen
as belief, not as fact. When we see our beliefs as facts, then we are
deluding ourselves. When we see our beliefs as beliefs, then we are
not. Seeing things in their true light is the most important thing in
Buddhism. Deluding ourselves is the cause of much suffering. So
Buddhists try to see beliefs as beliefs. They may still believe in
certain things - that is their prerogative - but they do not cling to
those beliefs; they do not mind or worry about whether their beliefs
are true or not, nor do they try to prove that which they know cannot
be proved. Ideally though, a Buddhist does not indulge in any kind of
Q: Does Buddhism teach reincarnation?
A: Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the
teaching is of rebirth, not of reincarnation.
Q: What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth?
A: The reincarnation idea is to believe in a soul or a being, separate
from the body. At the death of the physical body, this soul is said
to move into another state and then enter a womb to be born again.
Rebirth is different and can be explained in this way. Take away the
notion of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all
ideas of self existing either inside or outside the body. Also take
away notions of past, present and future; in fact take away all
notions of time. Now, without reference to time and self, there can
be no before or after, no beginning and ending, no birth or death, no
coming or going. Yet there is life! Rebirth is the experience of life
in the moment, without birth, without death; it is the experience of
life which is neither eternal nor subject to annihilation.
Q: Does that mean there is no such thing as birth and death?
A: That which is born, dies. Forms come and go. All that comes into
existence is impermanent; it is born and it dies. But the very
essence of what 'I' am -- Buddha-nature -- is unborn and undying.
Q: Is this just a Buddhist belief?
A: Buddhists are people and people do believe things, but Buddhism is
concerned with truth, not with belief, and the teaching is to see
things as they are. If we believe anything which has not been
experience, we should know what we are doing. When we do not
understand something, then to maintain an open mind is the healthiest
and wisest practice.
Q: But what happens when we die?
A: If we understand what the word 'I' really represents, we can realise
the answer to this question. Buddhism does not offer intellectual
answers; it only gives directions for the experiencing of truth.
Q: How is it possible to experience truth?
A: By understanding that 'I' and birth and death are notions, concepts,
ideas, beliefs. It is the idea of a self living life through time,
which produces the idea of birth and death. We have been conditioned
into believing that we have come into existence and in due course
will cease to exist. If we see through these ideas and realise that
this moment neither begins nor ends, we shall realise deathlessness.
Questions And Answers On Buddhism ( Part 2 )
Q: But how can getting rid of ideas enables us to see deathlessness?
A: The deathless is here all the while, but ideas block it out. It is
like the sun because of the clouds. But as soon as the clouds are
cleared away, there is the sun. Likewise, as soon as ideas are
cleared away from the mind, there is the true state: birthless,
Q: How does one clear away ideas?
A: By seeing ideas as ideas and not as truths; by being aware of mental
Q: Are there various kinds of Buddhist meditation?
A: There are different exercises taught by teachers of different
Buddhist traditions and Schools. The main differences, however, are
superficial ones, related to psychological or emotional problems.
Many of these exercises can only be administered by experienced
meditation teachers. For the average person, however, whose sole aim
is to realise the deep clear teachings of the Buddha, meditation is a
simple process of awareness and investigation.
Q: How does one practise this kind of meditation?
A: By being fully aware, as one thinks, speaks and acts.
Q: But what about sitting meditation?
A: Sitting meditation is the same. It is just a question of being aware.
Sitting meditation is an excellent thing to do, but some people are
not able to find a quiet spot to sit in every day. If this is the
case, one is not automatically debarred from the insights of
meditation. To meditate properly is to do one's duty and to live
without wishing life were different, or somehow better.
The opportunity for seeing truth is ever present, because truth is
ever present. Just because the sun is covered by clouds does not mean
the sun is not there. Conditions are always just right for being
aware of the true situation. All one has to do is be conscious of
what is taking place within one and around one, without making any
judgements. If we 'see' by being aware, then we shall see very deeply
Q: How does one practise sitting meditation?
A: Sitting meditation is the shutting down of all sense stimuli in order
to realise that awareness is not a function of the senses or of the
thinking process. It is practised by sitting quite still with the
eyes closed (or not focusing on anything), by letting life be, by
breathing in and out (not changing the breath, not trying to breath
deeply), by just breathing the way one always breathes, and by
noticing the subtle changes in the mind and in the body. It is not
difficult or complicated.
Q: Does one need to have a meditation teacher?
A: The Buddha's teaching can be the teacher and awareness can be the
practice which will lead straight to liberation.
Q: What is karma?
A: It is cause and effect. When someone commits a crime, he suffers the
consequences. That is karma. When someone does good, he enjoys the
consequences. That is karma. But karma runs deep; its affects our
hearts and minds. From the beginning mind is absolutely pure. If we
are unkind, deceitful, greedy or cruel, we defile that purity.
Imagine a plain white cloth, beautiful, bright and clean. And then
imagine someone splattering it with black ink. The cloth is then
spoilt. The mind is like the white cloth. Like and dislike, greed and
hatred, are like the ink splattered across it. When the mind is
unmarked and unspoilt, suffering and enjoyment do not exist. This is
happiness beyond pleasure, beyond karma. All karma is impermanent and
runs out in due course. A Buddhist will learn how to get off the
karmic see-saw of pleasure and pain.
Q: Can anyone see the Truth?
A: The Buddha was compassionate. He did not teach an impossible teaching
that ordinary people could not understand. On the contrary, his
teaching was clear and simple. Anyone who makes the effort to be
aware will realise his or her Buddha-nature and be freed from
What does Buddhism say about Abortion?
Buddhism doesn't say anything in particular about abortion. There are Buddhists who no doubt stand on the "Pro Choice" side of the fence and others who take the "Pro Life" stance.
The important questions to keep in mind are: who is suffering and what can be done to reduce suffering. The intention here is important. There are some circumstances, no doubt, where an abortion, especially at the very early stages of pregnancy, may be the wise thing to do. If the child's life would be fraught with suffering, for some reason; or if the parents would suffer greatly as a consequence of having a child.
My personal view is this: bringing a human life into being is a large responsibility and needs to be done with consideration and intent. If a woman becomes pregnant and does not want the child, there is, it seems to me, a period of time before which she can chose to terminate the pregnancy without harming any sentient being (other than herself). A human embryo, at the early stages of development is hardly much more than a group of quickly differentiating cells in the woman's body.
However, there is a certain stage, between 8 and 12 weeks when the embryo becomes a fetus and beyond which the harm done to both the fetus and the mother as a consequence of abortion is very great indeed and should be avoided for all but medical (i.e. life threatening) reasons.
What is the Buddhist stance on Environmental issues
One of the central tenets of Buddhism is the inter-dependence of all things (the doctrine of interdependent origination). Therefore, Buddhism is at heart an ecological religion. Our very lives, the air we breathe, the water we drink the food we eat are all dependent on the environment and to harm the environment is to harm ourselves.
One of the principle Buddhist precepts is the reverence for life and the intent to prevent all suffering. This precept entails a regard for our environment: plants, animals and minerals. If we destroy the environment, we destroy ourselves. If we take care of the environment, we take care of ourselves.
How do people become Buddhist, what is the process?
There is no "process". But you need to adhere to the 5 precepts and "take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha" (the "triple gem" as it is called). These are typically things you do with the assistance of a Buddhist monk or nun in a monastery or in a monastic setting but mostly this is an undertaking or a commitment you make with yourself to take a certain outlook on life. You are not called upon to account to anyone but yourself for this undertaking except if you become monastic or live in a monastery.
If people's souls are reborn into another womb when they die, then what happens to the body at death if there are not enough births at the time of their death? What if there's more births than deaths (as there actually is)? How do these extra births get souls?
Personally, I don't believe in reincarnation so I don't worry about the logical inconsistencies that there might be in this doctrine.
However, if you want to get into details, you should remember that incarnation and re-incarnation don't necessarily happen from one human life to another but can happen from any animal life to another and from animal life to a human life. So to do your arithmetic precisely you would have to count every living being.
Furthermore, as evidenced by the movie "Little Buddha" it is possible for a being to be reincarnated into different bodies simultaneously, so I'm afraid that there is no law of conservation of souls or anything like that.
Finally, reincarnation is not a Buddhist idea but a Hindu one, which the Buddhists reinvented in the context of the other teachings of the Buddha.
Buddhism is converting many people all over the world. Why are so many western people converting?
I'm not sure I have a good answer to this question. But here's my guess.
There is a lot of wisdom in Buddhism and not a lot of theology. Buddhism doesn't require any belief in God or angels or anything you can't observe for yourself. In the words of a monk I know "it's a do-it-yourself religion". <> There's a very good book by Stephen Batchelor called "A History of Western Buddhism" which may be of use here.
I'm looking for information on Judaism and Buddhism
There are two books I know about: "A Jew in the Lotus" by a man whose name escapes me and and "Funny you don't look Buddhist" by Sylvia Boorstein.
I don't understand 'No Self' in Buddhism?
When a thought arises it arises in this mind-body system and it has a cause (might be stimulated by a sight or a sound or something). Now this thought is observable. The question is what is doing the observing?, A "me" that I can call self?
I think the Buddhist answer is "no". The knowing of the experience or the thought or what have you is not personal; it doesn't have an identity. It is a faculty: the faculty of awareness.
It's like sight. You are able to see the video screen you are looking at in just the same way as anyone who has the ability of sight is able to see it. This ability may get clouded with age (cataracts, lens deformation, accidents etc.) but it isn't imbued with anything like an identity--"my sight". Your ability to see and my ability to see are in essence the same and indistinguishable (not *indexed* to any particular experience).
Similarly, awareness is not indexed to any particular thought or experience--in that sense it is impersonal.
This character of awareness is very hard to understand, sometimes, because much of the time, what we are aware of is labeled by thought "I hear... 'a train'"..."I see 'a computer'". Thoughts of "I" and "a train" and "a computer" keep populating this field of awareness with such frequency and regularity that we end up believing in the permanence and solidity of these indexes and labels.
But the reality is quite otherwise. Try awareness of hearing unfamiliar sounds, for example. If you go camping in some strange place somewhere in the wilderness, whose sounds are unfamiliar, you may be able to listen to the sounds -- as SOUNDS -- without the thoughts of "this is a so-and-so sound...." On the other hand, you might not be able to do this well at all. You might start worrying "this is a bear coming to get me" or you might start experiencing fear about the unknown (in that case the thought of "me", "my life", "my health" will take centre stage). On the other hand, if you are able to focus single-pointedly (and this is one of the virtues of meditation--that it trains the mind to do this one-pointed concentration) on the texture of the sound, on it's beginning and ending, on its pitch, on how it changes over time etc.) then all you will have is "awareness" and its object "the sound".
In reality that's all there is: awareness now of this experience (feeling, thought, sensation etc.) now. Some of these thought- experiences are highly dominant "I worry" "I need to do this" "my house might be burning down" etc. have "self" as centre stage. This *is* a reality--the mind constructs the self as a real, enduring thing. But in fact these are Images. Images of self ("I am the great computer scientist" or "I am the unworthy husband" or "I am the Buddhist meditation teacher" or whatever) which are easily destroyed into (for example) their opposites ("I'll never be a great computer scientist" or "I am super-husband" or "I'm not a Buddhist"). This just goes to prove how illusory these thoughts are. They don't really correspond to anything at all, let alone something fixed and unchanging as they parade themselves as. (Angry feelings are that way too: when you're angry with someone it's very hard to remember that you are not always going to feel that way towards that person, that indeed you have felt and will again feel tenderness and love for that person--what you think and feel at that moment when you're angry is: "this may not have always been like that, but by golly, it's going to stay like that now,... I'm not going to forgive so and so for this.... they're going to get it as soon as I get my hands on them...." as thought this were the most important and most real thing in the world).
Once you taste some no-thought awareness, 'bare' awareness, you see the impermanence of experience-phenomena and the impermanent nature of "I"-thoughts. It becomes very clear.
What is Buddhism?
The best explanation of the Buddha's teachings comes from the Buddha himself. In Sanskrit the teachings are called the Dharma and in Tibetan Chö. Both mean "the way things are". So Buddhism can be seen as a set of tools that enable us to see things as they really are here and now. Buddhism has no dogmas and allows question marks to be placed everywhere. Buddha's teachings aim at the full development and freedom of body, speech and mind.
Who was Buddha?
Buddha was born in India about 2560 years ago into the royal family of a highly developed culture. The young prince enjoyed extremely privileged circumstances and up until the age of twenty-nine he had known only pleasure. Leaving his palace for the first time, his world was turned upside down. Over three consecutive days he saw a very sick person, somebody old and someone who had died. Upon his recognition of the inevitability of old age, sickness, death and the impermanence of everything, he became deeply troubled. The next morning, he passed a Yogi in deep meditation and their minds met. Inspired by this, the prince then left his home and family and wandered the country in search of teachings that could overcome death and suffering. He studied with various teachers, but none of them could lead him to his ultimate goal.
At the age of 35, after six years of deep meditation, he realized the true nature of mind and was enlightened. He became awakened to the essence of all things: the all-knowing space that makes everything possible, its radiant clarity that playfully expresses mind's richness and its limitless love that obstructs nothing. For the next 45 years the Buddha taught the methods to reach the goal of enlightenment to thousands of gifted students.
Is Buddhism a philosophy, a psychology or a religion?
Buddhism can be regarded as a philosophy insofar as its teachings represent a complete and logical view, but it is not just a philosophy. Philosophy can explain things on the formal level of words and ideas, whereas the Buddha's teachings work with one's totality. While both philosophy and Buddhist practice lead to clarity of thought, only the latter can lead to permanent transformations because it gives the practical key to inner and outer events experienced everyday.
Because of the ability of its teachings to transform those who practice them, some people consider Buddhism to be a kind of psychology. The varying schools of psychology all try to help people neither to be a burden on society nor to have too many personal difficulties. While both psychology and Buddhism can change people, the latter is for the already healthy. It can be said that Buddhism starts where psychology stops. Diamond Way Buddhism becomes relevant from the point where people are already stable, where they experience space as blissful and not threatening. From this level the teachings develop the limitless courage, joy and love, which are mind's inherent wealth.
Applying the teachings to one's life will raise a deep confidence in their skilfulness giving all situations the taste of meaning and growth. Once the awareness of the conditioned nature of all things grows, fixed concepts will fall away and the perfect qualities of body, speech and mind will naturally appear. The end result of practice - full enlightenment or Buddhahood - surpasses the intellectual or therapeutic goals of both philosophy and psychology, it is a state of perfection beyond concepts.
Combining the logical view and the transformative power with methods to obtain lasting and beyond personal mental states, Buddhism is over all a 2500 year old religion of experience.
What are the basic points in Buddhism?
There are four basic thoughts that give a lasting meaning to our life. The first thing that we appreciate is our very rare and marvelous chance to be able to meet with enlightened teachings, and to be able to work with and learn from them. All beings want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Even an ant will crawl very far to avoid being killed, and human beings will go to all lengths in order to feel good. So, meeting with teachings that bring lasting happiness is very important.
After this, we understand we will not always have this chance. Whatever was born, will die, whatever came together will fall apart, and whatever appeared will disappear. Our time is limited. It is certain that our lives will end, but we do not know when. So recognizing that we have this chance now and actually wanting to use it is also something extremely valuable.
The third thing we understand is that the world is really a matrix of causes and effects and that our present actions, words and thoughts will become our future. Whether we realise it or not, everything we do, say or think leaves impressions both inside ourselves and outside in the world. These impressions will later return to us. Negative impressions especially will manifest as suffering or unpleasant situations in the future unless we use meditations that dissolve them.
Finally, we recognise the fact that there is no alternative to using the teachings. Enlightenment is highest joy. There is nothing more fulfilling and total than this state of oneness with all things, all times, all beings, and all directions. Also, how will we benefit others if confused and suffering ourselves?
So considering these four factors gives the basis for buddhist practice and meditation. In contrast, however, if we cling to our ordinary values we cannot avoid suffering. If we keep thinking "I am my body" and "These things are mine", old age, sickness, death and loss will be exceedingly unpleasant. Nobody can avoid pain by saying: "This stuff with enlightenment is too difficult for me", because if we were born, we'll surely die. There is no greater purpose in life than to find values which permanently overcome suffering and death. The benefits of enlightenment are therefore immeasurable for both oneself and all other beings.
Are there different types of Buddhism?
Buddha gave instructions to three main types of people. Those who wanted to avoid suffering received information about cause and effect. Those who wanted to do more for others were given instructions on compassion and wisdom. Where people had a strong trust in their own and other's Buddha-nature, he shared the direct view of mind called the Great Seal (tib. Chagchen, Skt. Mahamudra). The first one of these levels is called the "Small Way" or "Theravada", the second one the "Great Way" or "Mahayana" and the third the "Diamond Way" or "Vajrayana".
What is the Vajrayana or Diamond Way?
The Diamond Way (tib. Dorje Thekpa) is often described as the crown Jewel of Buddha's teaching. Its goal is obtaining the beyond-dualistic state of the Great Seal, where every event is authentic because it expresses mind's unlimited potential. Working from the level of consequence and inspired insight to transform all experience into self-liberating and natural purity, it employs methods of total identification with enlightenment for the quickest results. When students saw the Buddha not as a god, person, or an outer force, but trusted him as a mirror of their own mind, Buddha could then impart the Diamond Way. Awakening being's qualities through his power and insight, he employed countless skilful means to fully develop them. In essence, this ultimate or `third' level consists of three approaches: They are called "Way of methods", "Way of Insight" and "Guru Yoga". Using these, mind may recognise itself either through its energy, its awareness or its power of identification.
Guru Yoga, the most practised method in the West today, contains the broadest approach to enlightenment, if one's teacher is reliable. This also may happen through the ways of method and insight. Although not everybody finds this way suitable, mind is best recognised in daily life through identification with a compassionate Lama who is beyond fear. If one can rest in such a teacher's mind-space until one develops all one's inherent qualities, there will be an amazing growth.
What is enlightenment?
If we look at what the Buddha discovered about mind 2550 years ago, we find that he realized that mind is clear light. The mind hasn't been born, and it cannot die. Even though bodies, thoughts and feelings appear, change and disappear again, mind itself, being open clear limitless space, can in no way be hurt or harmed. So when the Buddha obtained liberation, he found that he was not the target anymore. He wasn't that body which could be in trouble, nor was he those thoughts and feelings which could change and disappear - instead he was radiant awareness. This led to enlightenment, the realization that there is no separation between space and energy at any time or place. He knew and was aware of all things. He felt the great joy and expressed the great love which is the meaning of all things; which makes every atom stick together and vibrate and which makes all things happen in the world.
What is the meaning of the teacher?
The popular Western concept of going to enlightenment`alone' rates poorly against the quick success of a full practice with a teacher or group. Though it sounds so attractive to a modern person who feels in control of his or her life to become enlightened by oneself, there are just too many pitfalls. Learning about mind is much more intricate than studying outer phenomena, and there are always the lurking enemies of pride and dislike that may derail one's growth.
The highest level of teaching cannot be properly understood or maintained without a teacher. If the communication is missing which neutralises pride, sentimentality and superficiality, one may become lonely or useless in daily life. The lama employs methods for developing his or her students potential, allowing them to push through layers of habitual behaviour. It is the Lama's job to make students independent, compassionate and strong. On the highest level, the lama lets the students enter the fearless mirror cabinet of his or her mind. When they discover that they are of that same nature, nothing more remains to be found.
How does rebirth work?
To understand this it is important to know that mind is not produced by the impermanent brain, but is transformed by it. Its stream of information is hold together by the illusion of a "self" and moves from one conditioned existence to the next, picking up the experiences which mature as one's next life. The space-like nature of mind cannot die or be born. What is actually reborn is this constantly changing flow like a river. Being in a permanent self is a basic misconception, which carries on after death and will result in our next conditioned rebirth.
One's body and mind experiences a series of constantly changing sensory and subconscious impressions, one superseded by the next, where nothing permanent in our body, feelings or thoughts can be found. At death, this stream is cut off from the sensory experiences of the body. Mind's strongest tendencies will then mature and connect one with one's next body, physical or mental.
Why are Buddhists working with their mind?
Because mind experiences everything and remains very subjective up until liberation. It is possible to become able to benefit beings and experience timeless happiness. People decide through their actions whether they will be seeing the world through rosy or black glasses. This explains why there are so many different stories when witnesses describe incidences. Buddhist students free themselves so they can pick their mood. Just like a man with many ties who decides in the morning which tie will enspire others.
Ultimately, it becomes clear that the fact that mind can be aware is more important than what it is aware of. One realises that the pictures in the mirror are less important than the mirror's radiance.
What is Karma?
From a Buddhist point of view Karma does not mean "fate" or "destiny", but may be translated as "action" or "cause and effect". Roughly speaking, Karma works like this: Every activity - positive or negative - leaves imprints on mind. As mind's content determines how the world is experienced, negative impressions will inevitably lead to future pain. This means that our thoughts, speech and actions sow the seeds for our future experience. It is thus in our hands to change our lives by understanding this.
Used in the right way the understanding of Karma therefore means freedom. In every situation it gives beings the freedom to decide their future. The Diamond Way offers especially effective methods for removing the impressions of negative, harmful actions from mind. By this we can get rid of what would ripen as difficult states and situations in the future. Through Buddhist meditation, we can overcome the whole process of cause and effect. However, if we don't choose to work with our mind, we will have no control at all and simply be the victim of our own actions.
What is the symbolic meaning of male and female principle in Diamond Way Buddhism?
On the level of concepts, women are associated with wisdom. Men are associated with compassion, and if wisdom and compassion come together, inner growth arises. The female aspect expresses the five kinds of wisdom of a Buddha to different degrees, namely the mirror-like wisdom, the wisdom of equality, the discriminating wisdom, the all-accomplishing wisdom and the Dharmadhatu wisdom. The male side , on the other hand, expresses varying combinations of the four Buddha-activities: pacifying, increasing, fascinating and the powerfully protecting activity.
In the Tantras of immediate experience, women and men are essentially space and joy. Space and joy are regarded as inseparable. This is why the highest levels of buddhist tantra are represented by unified Buddha forms. Our goal is the perfection of all inner and secret possibilities of the mind. Therefore, women and men should use their relationship to learn from each other. Then, women will soon accomplish also the male qualities like joy and energy, and among men, intuitive wisdom and much space will develop.
What is Meditation?
Meditation turns accepted information into experience. On the first level, its purpose is to calm mind and keep it in one place. It creates space between the experiencer and his experiences, permitting the wise to choose roles in the comedies of life and avoid its tragedies. This protective distance is most frequently achieved through awareness of one's breath or the concentration onto a Buddha form, a meditation called 'Shamatha' in Sanskrit and 'Shine' in Tibetan. Whoever can hold this state of mind in the lab situation of one's meditation, will gradually accomplish the same in daily life. This is a first step in one's development and a necessary foundation for both penetrating insight and more elaborate practices.
The second level of meditation is called 'Vipassana' in Sanskrit and 'Lhaktong' in Tibetan.
Here, the meditation is formless and aims at the nature of the mind itself. By being aware without an object to be aware of, insight and understanding arise spontaneously.
So meditation is the concentrating of the mind onto something and the clarity which arises from this.
Is meditation good for everybody?
Diamond Way meditations are for people who aim at enlightenment. If someone only wants to relax, other means are better suited for this purpose.
Generally, meditation is for people who have enough positive impressions in their store consciousness, enough insight and joy, so that they can stand to meet with their own subconsciousness. For psychotic people e.g. it can be dangerous to meditate, since they tend to take their feelings and inner conditions for too real and may experience many inconvenient projections. In this case, saying Mantras and trying to act in a positive way is better than to start with concentrative meditation too early. Only when one feels good without taking pills and is able to work, live on one's own and maintain relationships, it is time to start meditating.
Then, there are meditations which shouldn't be practiced without the so called Buddhist Refuge. It gives protection and creates a connection to the own Buddha nature, a connection to the teachings, to friends which are on the same way and to the Lama who gives the Refuge.
Moreover, meditation can only bring positive results to people who have the right foundations for the kind of meditation they practice. If difficult meditations are tried too early and outside of the well-tested gradual system, it may result in a so called "white wall" state: One feels calm but rather sleepy. This state can reduce intelligence and energy.
What we strive for is an awareness as sharp and clear as a diamond.
How to calm a busy mind during meditation?
Treat impractical or disturbing thoughts like a thief in an empty house. Give him nothing, let him look here and there, but not find anything. If you have a busy mind and do not attach to the thoughts which come up, there can be no harm. Don't give your thoughts any energy and you will not be bothered by them.
What meditation can be recommend to non-Buddhist friends?
A good suggestion is to try the "Meditation on Light and Breath". A booklet giving differenct practices is used around the Buddhist centers of the Karma Kagyu Lineage. Also see the topic "Meditations" on this server.
What can Buddha's Teachings offer Western Societies?
"Effective methods that lead to a direct experience of mind," answers Lopon Tsechu Rinpoche, one of the most experienced teachers of Tibetan Buddhism. Buddha's teachings are like a diamond - unchangeable in its nature, yet reflecting the color of the ground upon which it is laid. In this way, without losing their essence, the teachings have adapted to the cultural conditions of different societies. First the teachings were transmitted in India for 1500 years and after that, for another 1000 years, in Tibet. Today, the limitlessness of the Diamond Way (Vajrayana) Buddhist view and its methods are more and more appealing to the well educated and independent people of the West.
What is the nature of dreams?
All conditioned experience can be compared to a dream. The outer world, experienced through one's senses seems so real and solid and consists of minute particles which can be split until they disappear. It is continually shared with others and involves body, speech and mind. What we experience at night is a private dream involving mainly one's mind.
Buddha likened the outer and inner worlds to dreams because nothing in them lasts. All mental and physical phenomena appear, change and then disappear. Mood, education, upbringing and background colour one's view. Furthermore we only experience the vibrations our senses can pick up and therefore do not perceive things as they are. For example, if we feel happy, everything seems beautiful and nice, and during unhappy states, everything turns terrible and difficult. Our perception is therefore both determined by outer conditions and by changing states of mind.
There is a certain wisdom in the dream state, because in it we are more aware of the unreal nature of things. The ease with which we gain or loose a million dollars in a dream, or are able to travel anywhere, actually shows a deep wisdom in the understanding of the nature of our mind.
If during a dream the awareness arises that one is actually dreaming, it is possible to spread the radiant clarity into the past and the future, thus becoming enlightened. Usually, this experience can't be held and upon waking up, it is forgotten. It is important, however, that if we become able to control our dreams, we may also be able to control our death. Resting in mind's clear essence during the process of dying offers the best chance for enlightenment. The Buddhist meditations aim directly at this. They produce the power to remain in mind's essence as naked awareness.
Why is it so important to establish Western Buddhism?
Buddhism originated in India 2500 years ago and always changed in expression to fit peoples needs when inspiring new countries. Indians and Tibetans are very different and also in our western world today nothing exotic or foreign will really grow. As the highest teachings on the nature of mind are like a diamond, transparent and indestructible, they also reflect the colour of which ever society they are introduced into. Today Buddhism is also taking a style more appropriate to the educated and independent minds of the West. This does not mean that anything new is invented or added to the teachings. With 84,000 teachings to choose from that isn't necessary.
The monastic way of renunciation is less attractive to modern people, who tend to view Western attempts at this as a means of avoiding life's fullness and as a sign of weakness. This view, however, is not applied to visiting Tibetan monks. People see these robes and rituals as ways of preserving their heritage. Buddha gave countless methods to benefit beings and in the west today the most united frame is that of lay practitioners and yogis.
Europeans are very conscious of the superficiality that can arise from mixing different cultures and traditions. Those who trust only what they can analyse logically and who are embarrassed by exotic lifestyles can identify with the transparency and effectiveness of the Buddhist practices, when they are presented without cultural trappings. It is always a pity when people end up with Nihilism, political correctness or drugs because they cannot find a spiritual way they can trust.
Do we need monasteries in the West today?
Yes, to preserve teachings, which have no immediate appeal, from dissappearing. In Tibet, there were three possible ways of following the Buddhist path: one could become a monk, practice as a lay person, or be a yogi. Monks and nuns lived separately in monasteries and nunneries and had strict rules of conduct. The lay people had families and normal occupations and tried to use the teachings in their everyday lives. The yogis lived unrestricted by social norms, often in caves with various partners and focused their entire lives on spiritual development.
Since people in modern, developed countries have the means to decide the number of their offspring, there will be no need for large Buddhist monasteries.
The reason for men and women to live separately in earlier times was not that Buddha was prudish, or that his teachings were hostile to the body. Nor did he have the fear that future heirs would contest accumulated wealth like the Catholic Church apparently does. People simply could not make love without having children, which would restrict the amount of time available for study and meditation. The vows of monks and nuns originated from Buddha's advice, and though they may seem strange in a modern setting, they cannot be changed to fit new situations.
In the West, however, the originally separate groups of yogis and lay people have come closer together. Today, it is not necessary for yogis to compete with the red-robed monks and nuns in obtaining the support of the productive population. Therefore there is no need for the outer props such as flowing white robes and wild hair styles which formerly distinguished them from the monks.
Also with the social system of today, lay people no longer need to establish vast families to look after them in old age. The distance between the two groups has thus been reduced and many are lay when they work and yogi during their holidays and in their view.
Why are there much more male lineage holders and lamas than female?
Concerning the lineage holders, the reason is, that in former times the organization, which was needed to preserve and pass on the teachings, was monastic. Almost all of the Karmapas were monks, and their traditional seats were monk monasteries, so it would have been hard for a female incarnation to be accepted in this climate. However, there are also many female lineage holders. Just to give a few examples from Tibet, there were: Machig Labdrön, who founded the transmission lineage of the "Chöd of Mahamudra", Machig Dropa Gyalmo, who initiated the practice of the longevity Buddha Amitayus. Gelongma Pamo, who introduced the Njungne fasting ritual. Niguma, who started a special female transmission lineage of six doctrines, different from those of her brother Naropa. Sukhasiddhi, a student of Virupa, is known for the "six doctrines of Sukhasiddhi". And the famous Yeshe Tsogyal, the main disciple of Guru Rinpoche, is a lineage holder of our Phowa transmission lineage. Also, there are several secret transmission lineages with union practices, where women are dominant.
And concerning the female lamas, there are hints that there were many more spiritually advanced women in earlier times than we know nowadays by name. Padma Norbu Rinpoche, a lama from the Nyingma tradition said e.g., that it was much harder to discover the rebirth of a woman for the following reason: Although Tibetan yoginis would reach the highest states of consciousness just like their male colleagues, they were of independent nature and would love to meditate alone in caves. So maybe on the one hand, advanced female practitioners didn't gather as many students around them as men on a similar spiritual level. On the other hand, it seems plausible that women are also underrepresented in the historical recordings, since they lived outside of the official institutions.
Are there more female Lamas today?
Lama Ole Nydahl says that under his students which he sends out to teach and to run the centers, there are as many women as men. In principle there is no difference in the Diamond Way. Women have exactly the same possibilities to make good progress. The reason, why men are still dominant in some western buddhist institutions lies partially in relicts from Tibet's monastical culture, which have nothing to do with Diamond Way Buddhism itself.
Another reason are hierarchical structures. In Tibetan Buddhism in general, one has to divide between the three older schools (Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakya), which are not so hierarchically structured and which work more in circles of friends, and here, women are very important. However, the Gelugpa lineage, the "virtuous" one, which also runs the government, is very hierarchically organized, and there are almost only men. Although men seemingly like to build up these hierarchical systems, to women it does no good to live in such a climate. They work better in open round meetings than from the top to the bottom.
And women can also be strong without having to be stronger. If their circles of men and children function, they will be peaceful. But if a men gets to hear that in the next valley someone claims to be stronger than him, he will even cross a very high mountain to check that out.So men put a lot more energy into competition for an absolute leading position than women.
Moreover, it seems that women are less willing to leave their personal life behind and dedicate everything to something overpersonal. Most of them want a man and a family, something for themselves. And motherhood itself is definitely a win for the personal development. Fortunately, there are intelligent and competent women which can manage both the Dharma and their private life and family.
Do buddhist teachers give advice concerning relationships?
Yes, especially the lay and yogic ones who have practical experience. Whether the main reason for a relationship is physical attraction, an inner feeling that one shares the same interests or a deep identification, there is much to learn. If one works intelligently with what is there, ever more complete human growth will materialise. As this is only possible in a relaxed atmosphere, it is important to avoid expectation and competition in relationships. Supporting one another when working in the world is very meaningful, and this happens best when thinking "we" or "us", not "me" and "her" or "him".
Though both partners will usually share some ups and downs, happiness and suffering will always depend on each one's view. Thus, if one partner has a special quality, one can decide to make it a shared richness.
To avoid losing this openness, it is important to be aware that men tend to separate survival and fun, while women see life as a totality. Men may be rough during work, and often don`t remember to change their tone when women are around. At night however, all this is forgotten. Then their mind is on love and fun. If the woman was not treated nicely during the day, however, she simply will not "yield much warm water" at night. As both parties can be very thin skinned in this field, this is something to be mindful of.
Women who have had few or no children should avoid the impulse to educate their men instead, and also the men who think of their women as investments should be glad to have growing ones. In both cases, trying to control others is a painful waste of time. Both should know that each moment may be the last one and be aware that a partner who loves from a state of surplus and confidence is much more exciting than one who does so out of fear and loneliness or to avoid trouble.
How to deal with jealousy?
Wish others the best of happiness. They want it as deeply as everybody does. And whatever good you don't do, say or think today, you may never have a chance to repeat.
Do Buddhists have to be vegetarians?
It's really the question of your motivation. You can not live in a physical body without harming others. Even to make a cup of tea, the earth first had to be ploughed and many small animals would have died. If you really think that less beings will be killed if you stop eating meat, that's wonderful.
What the Buddha said about eating meat is very interesting. He said to eat what you can afford, without making a problem of it, but not to allow animals to be killed directly for your sake. From the Buddhist point of view, the main reason for the killing is the bad karmic connection between the animal and the butcher. This karma would have ripened sooner or later even if you weren't there and didn't eat the steaks resulting from this bad encounter. The karma rotates between the butcher and the calf: the butcher in one life, the calf in the next. The point is that you shouldn't involve yourself with this.
What you can do is to say a mantra such as "OM MANI PEME HUNG" and blow on the meat. If it's more than seven weaks old (eg. in cold-storage), then there's no longer any connection between the mind and the body of the animal. Within seven weeks after the animal's death, however, its consciousness may still be present and sense that you are saying Mantras and have friendly feelings for it. This can be very helpful for the animal's rebirth.
Is a business career compatible with being a Buddhist?
Buddhist teachings and meditations will help you to think more clearly which of course is very beneficial in all fields. Your concentration will also improve. You will be able to deal more effectively with human beings, whether they are colleagues, business partners, or clients. There is no problem with competition as a Buddhist as long as you are fair. When you win you can share your success with all beings by letting them take part in your achievements.
How to deal with difficult people?
Everybody has the Buddha nature and Buddha qualities from which you can learn. So try to find something interesting in everybody you meet. If this is difficult, think of something you like about them. If this does not work, be grateful to them for teaching you patience. If this is not possible, think that you have to spend only a couple of minutes or hours with them, while they have to be with themselves for 24 hours each day. If you still have difficulties dealing with them, try to avoid them and wish them all the best of luck very far away from you.
Are good Buddhists always there for others?
There are three analogies for how a Bodhisattva may relate to others. The king who strengthens himself and then is able to benefit lots of beings, the boatsman who arrives together with his passengers on the other shore, and the shepherd who takes care of everybody else before thinking of himself. While the king's scope of influence is the biggest, the shepherd will develop the quickest since he only concentrates on others and forgets about himself.
How to control anger?
Anger is the only luxury one cannot afford. Good impressions gathered over lifetimes are mind's capital and the only source of lasting happiness. These may be burnt away in no time through fits of hot or cold rage. Buddha said that avoiding anger is the most difficult and most beautiful robe one can wear, and he gave many means to obtain this goal.
One very useful method is to be aware of the impermanent and conditioned nature of every experience, knowing that the difficult situation will change, and our anger will pass. Another beneficial approach is to remember cause and effect. If an enemy provokes us, we should know that they are creating bad Karma for themselves, which will surely return to them. Instead of getting involved and creating even more negativity, we can feel empathy towards them. One may also use mantras, which allow unwanted emotions to pass without letting them reinforce any bad habits. By simply being aware of the feeling without acting upon it, the unwanted emotion is not given any energy. It will come less frequently and eventually stay away.
A good antidote to anger is patience, a quality one definitely requires to effectively work with the mind. Without enemies or difficult situations, there would be no chance to develop patience, and without patience, there would be no enlightenment. Therefore, we should try to be thankful for these opportunities. Reacting without anger to whatever appears will set free the timeless wisdom of body, speech, and mind.
What Is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of life. Buddhist practices such as meditation are means of changing oneself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The experience developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years has created an incomparable resource for all those who wish to follow a path - a path which ultimately culminates in Enlightenment or Buddhahood.
Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator God, some people do not see it as a religion in the normal, Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. Thus Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, or gender. It teaches practical methods (such as meditation) which enable people to realize and utilize its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives and to develop the qualities of Wisdom and Compassion.
There are around 350 million Buddhists and a growing number of them are Westerners. They follow many different forms of Buddhism, but all traditions are characterized by non-violence, lack of dogma, tolerance of differences, and, usually, by the practice of meditation .
Buddhism explains the reality of life and the universe: that all beings are equal by nature and that all teachings are equal. The Buddha said many times that the wisdom to understand the true reality of life and the universe, and the virtuous abilities to cultivate are all already within our true nature. Buddhism teaches us to have a broad mind, one that overflows with sincerity, purity, equality, proper understanding, and compassion. Everyday, we must strive to awaken to this reality. Being contented with all conditions and settings is a good example for all, and striving for attainment of freedom of mind and spirit will help to awaken. From this, we can see that the Buddha is a compassionate multicultural educator who is worthy of emulation.
How do people become Buddhist, what is the process?
There is no "process". But you need to adhere to the 5 precepts and "take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha" (the "triple gem" as it is called). These are typically things you do with the assistance of a Buddhist monk or nun in a monastery or in a monastic setting but mostly this is an undertaking or a commitment you make with yourself to take a certain outlook on life. You are not called upon to account to anyone but yourself for this undertaking except if you become monastic or live in a monastery.
What is Insight Meditation?
Insight meditation, or vipassana, is a practice of cultivating awareness by giving careful attention to everyday life. Insight meditation is based on the teachings of the Buddha and has flourished as a living practice for 2500 years. The discipline of insight meditation fosters the development of clarity and non-judgmental mindfulness, which many find to be highly effective in promoting serenity, relaxation, and equanimity. According to the Buddhist tradition, insight meditation can also lead to greater wisdom and compassion and, ultimately, to the end of suffering. The techniques of insight meditation are simple to learn, yet require practice and discipline to master. These techniques offer not new experiences but new ways of relating to our experiences.
Do You Have to be a Buddhist to Meditate?
Although insight meditation draws on the teachings of the Buddha, it is not necessary to be a Buddhist--or even religious--to practice. Persons of many different faiths and beliefs have found vipassana--and other kinds of meditation practice--to be of great benefit to their lives.
How Do I Learn Meditation? Surely the best way to learn meditation is through one-on-one instruction or a course taught by an experienced teacher. Books and other resources can also be helpful, but they are not of equal value to actual, live instruction.
Are all Buddhists vegetarians?
No. The First Precept admonishes us to refrain from killing, but meat eating is not regarded as an instance of killing, and it is not forbidden in the scriptures. (We are speaking here mainly of the Pali scriptures. Some of the Mahayana scriptures, notably the Lankavatara Sutra, take a strong position in favor of vegetarianism.
As recorded in the Pali scriptures, the Buddha did not prohibit consumption of meat, even by monks. In fact, he explicitly rejected a suggestion from Devadatta to do so. In modern Theravada societies, a
bhikkhu who adheres to vegetarianism to impress others with his superior spirituality may be committing an infringement of the monastic rules.
On the other hand, the Buddha categorically prohibited consumption of the flesh of any animal that was "seen, heard or suspected" to have been killed specifically for the benefit of monks (Jivaka Sutta,
Majjhima Nikaya 55). This rule technically applies only to monastics, but it can be used as a reasonable guide by devout lay people.
To understand this "middle path" approach to meat-eating, we have to remember that there were no "Buddhists" in Shakyamuni's time. There were only mendicants of various kinds (including the Buddha's
disciples), plus lay people who gave them alms out of respect without necessarily worrying about the brand name of the teachings.
If meat was what a householder chose to offer, it was to be accepted without discrimination or aversion. To reject such an offering would be an offense against hospitality and would deprive the householder of
an opportunity to gain merit -- and it could not benefit the animal, because it was already dead. Even the Jains may have had a similar outlook during the same period of history, despite the strict doctrine
Vegetarianism could not become a source of serious controversy in the bhikkhu sangha until the rise of fixed-abode monastic communities in which the monks did not practice daily alms-round. Any meat provided to such a community by lay people would almost certainly have been killed specifically for the monks. That may be one reason for the difference in Mahayana and Theravada views on meat eating -- the
development of monastic communities of this type occurred principally within Mahayana.
The issue of meat eating raises difficult ethical questions. Isn't the meat in a supermarket or restaurant killed "for" us? Doesn't meat eating entail killing by proxy?
Few of us are in a position to judge meat eaters or anyone else for "killing by proxy." Being part of the world economy entails "killing by proxy" in every act of consumption. The electricity that runs our
computers comes from facilities that harm the environment. Books of Buddhist scriptures are printed on paper produced by an industry that destroys wildlife habitat. Worms, insects, rodents and other animals
are routinely killed en masse in the course of producing the staples of a vegetarian diet. Welcome to samsara. It is impossible for most of us to free ourselves from this web; we can only strive to be
mindful of entanglement in it. One way to do so is to reflect on how the suffering and death of sentient beings contributes to our comfort. This may help us to be less inclined to consume out of mere greed.
All of that having been said, it cannot be denied that the economic machine which produces meat also creates fear and suffering for a large number of animals. It is useful to bear this in mind even if one consumes meat, to resist developing a habit of callousness. Many Buddhists (especially Mahayanists) practice vegetarianism as a means of cultivating compassion. The Jivaka Sutta hints that one could also make a good case for vegetarianism starting from any of the other brahmaviharas. Interestingly, it is loving-kindness rather than compassion that is mentioned first in the Jivaka Sutta.
If you are considering trying out vegetarianism for the first time, we suggest discussing it with someone who has experience. There are a few issues that ought to be considered regarding balanced diet, etc.
Who is the Buddha?
There are many ways to describe who the Buddha is, according to different ways of understanding . These various interpretations have their sources in the Buddha's teachings.
One way is to see the historical Buddha who lived 2,500 years ago as a human being who cleansed his mind of all defilements and developed all his potential. Any being who does likewise is also considered a Buddha, for there are many Buddhas, not just one.
Another way is to understand a particular Buddha or Buddhist deity as omniscient mind manifesting in a certain physical aspect in order to communicate with us.
Yet another way is to see the Buddha -- or any of the enlightened Buddhist deities -- as the appearance of the future Buddha that we will become once we properly and completely have engaged in the path to cleanse our mind of defilements and develop all our potentials.
What are the Three Jewels?
The Three Jewels are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Buddha is one who has purified all the defilements of the mind the afflictive emotions, the imprints of the actions motivated by them, and the stains of these afflictive emotions and who has developed all good qualities, such as impartial love and compassion, wisdom knowing all existence, and skillful means of guiding others.
The Dharma embodies the preventive measures which keep us from problems and suffering. This includes the teachings of the Buddha, as well as the realizations of those teachings the cessations of problems and their causes, and the realizations or paths which lead to those cessations.
The Sangha are those beings who have direct non-conceptual perception of emptiness or ultimate truth. On a relative level, Sangha also refers to the ordained people who put the Buddha's teachings into practice.
The Dharma is our real refuge, the medicine we take which cures our problems and their causes. The Buddha is like the doctor, who correctly diagnoses the cause of our problems and prescribes the appropriate medicine. By assisting us in the practice, the Sangha is similar to the nurse who helps us take the medicine.
Taking refuge means that we rely wholeheartedly on the Three Jewels to inspire and guide us towards a constructive and beneficial direction to take in our life. Taking refuge does not mean passively hiding under the protection of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Rather, it is an active process of taking the direction they show and improving the quality of our life.
What is the essence of the Buddha's teachings?
Simply speaking, this is to avoid harming others and to help them as much as possible. Another way of expressing this is, Abandon negative action; create perfect virtue; subdue your own mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha. By abandoning negative actions (killing, etc.) and destructive motivations (anger, attachment, close-mindedness, etc.), we stop harming ourselves and others. By creating perfect virtue, we develop beneficial attitudes, like impartial love and compassion, and do actions motivated by these thoughts. By subduing our mind, we cut away all false projections, thus making ourselves calm and peaceful by understanding reality.
The essence of Buddha's teachings is also contained in the three principles of the path: definite emergence, the dedicated heart and wisdom realizing emptiness. Initially, we seek definitely to emerge from the confusion of our problems and their causes. Then, we see that other people also have problems, and with love and compassion, we dedicate our heart to becoming a Buddha so that we are capable of helping others extensively. In order to do this, we develop the wisdom understanding the real nature of ourselves and other phenomena.
Why are there many Buddhist traditions?
The Buddha gave a wide variety of teachings because sentient beings (any being with mind who is not a Buddha, including those in other realms of existence) have different dispositions, inclinations and interests. The Buddha never expected us all to fit into the same mould. Thus, he gave many teachings and described various ways of practicing so each of us could find something that suits our level of mind and our personality.
With skill and compassion in guiding others, the Buddha turned the wheel of Dharma three times, each time setting forth a slightly different philosophical system in order to suit the various dispositions of sentient beings. The essence of all the teachings is the same: the wish definitely to emerge from the cycle of constantly recurring problems (samsara), compassion for others and the wisdom realizing selflessness.
Not everyone likes the same kind of food. When a huge buffet is spread before us, we choose the dishes that we like. There is no obligation to like everything. Although we may have a taste for sweets, that does not mean that the salty dishes are not good and should be thrown away!
Similarly, we may prefer a certain approach to the teachings: Theravada, Pure Land, Zen, Vajrayana, and so on. We are free to choose the approach that suits us best and with which we feel the most comfortable. Yet we still maintain an open mind and respect for other traditions. As our mind develops, we may come to understand elements in other traditions that we failed to comprehend previously.
In short, whatever is useful and helps us live a better life, we practice, and whatever we do not yet understand, we leave aside without rejecting it.
While we may find one particular tradition best suited for our personality, do not identify with it in a concrete way: "I am a Mahayanist, you are a Theravadin," or "I am a Buddhist, you are a Christian." It is important to remember that we are all human beings seeking happiness and wanting to realize the truth, and we each must find a method suitable for our disposition.
However, keeping an open mind to different approaches does not mean to mix everything together at random, making our practice like chop suey.
Do not mix meditation techniques from different traditions together in one meditation session. In one session, it is better to do one technique. If we take a little of this technique and a little from that, and without understanding either one very well mix them together, we may end up confused.
However, a teaching emphasized in one tradition may enrich our understanding and practice of another.
Also, it is advisable to do the same meditations daily. If we do breathing meditation one day, chanting the Buddha's name the next, and analytical meditation the third, we will not make progress in any of them for there is no continuity in the practice.
What are the various Buddhist traditions?
Generally, there are two divisions: Theravada and Mahayana.
The Theravada lineage (Tradition of the Elders), which relies on sutras recorded in the Pali language, spread from India to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, etc. It emphasizes meditation on the breath to develop concentration and meditation on mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind and phenomena in order to develop wisdom.
The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) tradition, based on the scriptures recorded in Sanskrit, spread to China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Although in the Theravadin practice love and compassion are essential and important factors, in the Mahayana they are emphasized to an even greater extent.
Within Mahayana, there are several branches: Pure Land emphasizes chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha in order to be reborn in His Pure Land; Zen emphasizes meditation to eliminate the noisy, conceptual mind; Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) employs meditation on a deity in order to transform our contaminated body and mind into the body and mind of a Buddha.
What does the imagery in tantric art mean?
Vajrayana deals a lot with transformation, and therefore, symbolism is widely used. There are representations of some deities, which are manifestations of the Buddha, that are expressing desire or wrath.
The sexual imagery is not to be taken literally, according to worldly appearances. In Vajrayana, deities in sexual union represent the union of method and wisdom, the two aspects of the path that need to be developed in order to attain enlightenment.
Wrathful deities are not monsters threatening us. Their wrath is directed toward ignorance and selfishness, which are our real enemies. This imagery, when properly understood, shows how desire and anger can be transformed and thereby subdued. It has deep meaning, far beyond ordinary lust and anger. We should not misinterpret it.
What is the purpose of reciting mantras?
Mantras are prescribed syllables to protect the mind. What we want to protect our mind from are attachment, anger, ignorance, and so on. When combined with the four opponent powers, mantra recitation is very powerful in purifying negative karmic imprints on our mindstream. While we recite mantras, we should also be thinking and visualizing in a beneficial way so that we are building up constructive habits in the mind.
In the Vajrayana practice, mantras are recited in Sanskrit, rather than being translated into other languages. The reason for this is that there is a special beneficial energy or vibration that is induced by the sound of the syllables. While doing recitation, we can concentrate on the sound of the mantra, on its meaning, or on the accompanying visualizations that the master has taught.
About Shakyamuni Buddha
He could no longer repress the resolve he felt to go out in search of a solution to the four sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death.
Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born in India approximately 2500 years ago. Shakyamuni Buddha was the son of Shuddhodana, the king of the Shakyas, a small tribe whose kingdom was located in the foothills of the Himalayas south of what is now central Nepal fifteen miles from Kapilavastu. Shakya of Shakyamuni is taken from the name of this tribe and muni means sage or saint. His family name was Gautama (Best Cow) and his given name was Siddhartha (Goal Achieved).
Seven days after his birth, his mother, Maya, died and he was raised by his mother's younger sister Mahaprajapati. His mother's death may have been a great influence upon the delicate youth who later became very perplexed by the question of mortality. His father took good care of his introspective, quiet-mannered son, and gave him special training in literature and the martial arts.
As a boy, Shakyamuni was deliberately shielded from the many realities of life, having been brought up amid the pleasures of the royal palace. It was natural for his family to expect that he would take over as the leader of his tribe and succeed his father.
Although his family had such expectations for him, Shakyamuni was extremely introspective and quiet as a youth, possessing a sharp sense of justice, seeking the answers to life's perplexing questions. It is said that he ventured out of the palace compounds on a number of occasions as a youth and each time was confronted with the sufferings of life. On one such occasion he came upon a very old man. On another venture he met a sick man, frail and burning with fever. On yet another journey, he was impressed when he met a wandering monk (bhikshu) who had renounced the world to lead an austere life in search of spiritual enlightenment. And again on another occasion he saw a person dead in the street. These events are recounted in the Buddhist scriptures as the four meetings. He was said to have been deeply moved by these confrontations with human suffering.
Knowing his son's tendency toward deep introspection and his desire to seek a spiritual path, his father sought to tie him down to life within the confines of the palace and their land. Marriage seemed a way to dissuade the young prince from pursuing the life of an ascetic, so at the age of sixteen, the young prince married the beautiful Yashodhara who bore him a son, Rahula.
Following the birth of his son, Shakyamuni could no longer repress the resolve he felt to abandon the secular world and go out in search of a solution to the four inescapable sufferings of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
Siddhartha renounced secular life and his princely status around the age of nineteen and began living a religious life. Having left the palace of the Shakyas at Kapilavastu he traveled to Rajagriha, the capital of the kingdom of Magadha, where he studied with various ascetics, however, after following their disciplines, he still could not find the answers to his questions. He then left Rajagriha and proceeded to the bank of the Nairanjana River near the village of Uruvilva, where he began to practice various austerities in the company of other ascetics. He subjected himself to disciplines of extreme severity, surpassing the efforts of his companions, trying to reach emancipation through self-mortification, but after six years he rejected these practices as well. To restore his strength from having fasted for such a long time he accepted milk curd offered to him by Sujata, a girl of the village. Then, near the town of Gaya, he sat under a pipal tree and entered meditation. There he attained enlightenment at the age of thirty. The pipal tree was later called the bodhi tree because Shakyamuni gained bodhi or enlightenment under this tree, and the site itself came to be called Bodhgaya.
After his awakening, Shakyamuni remained for a while beneath the Bodhi tree rejoicing in his emancipation. Shakyamuni contemplated how he should communicate his realization to others. It is said he questioned whether or not he should attempt to teach others what he had achieved. He finally resolved to strive to do so, so that the way to liberation from the sufferings of birth and death would be open to all people.
First he made his way to the Deer Park in Varanasi, where he preached the Four Noble Truths to five ascetics who had once been his companions. Over the next fifty years from the time of his awakening until his death, Shakyamuni continued to travel through many parts of India disseminating his teachings. During his lifetime his teachings spread not only to central India but also to more remote areas and people of all social classes converted to Buddhism.
At the age of eighty, Shakyamuni passed away. The year before his death he stayed at Gridhrakuta (Eagle Peak) in Rajagriha. He set out on his last journey from Gridhrakuta proceeding northward across the Ganges River to Vaishali. He spent the rainy season in Beluva, a village near Vaishali. There he became seriously ill, but recovered and continued to preach in many villages. Eventually he came to a place called Pava in Malla. There he again became ill after eating a meal. Despite his pain, he continued his journey until reaching Kushinagara. There in a grove of sal trees he calmly lay down and spoke his last words. He admonished his disciples, saying, "You must not think that your teacher's words are no more, or that you are left without a teacher. The teachings and precepts I have expounded to you shall be your teacher" It is said that his final words were, "Decay is inherent in all composite things. Work out your salvation with diligence."
ZEN (Ch'an) FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
By Mark Vetanen and Ardent Hollingsworth
1. What is Zen? (The historical question)
2. What is Zen? (The spiritual question)
3. Why do Zen writings seem like nonsense?
4. What is meditation?
5. How should a beginner begin their study of Zen Buddhism?
6. Introductory reading list List of study books every Zennist should have.
7. About this FAQ
(We suggest you save this FAQ to disk or print it out for future reference)
What is Zen? (The historical question)
Historically, Buddhism originates in the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Around 500 B.C. he was born a Sakyan prince (Indo-Scythian) north of Benares at Kapliavastu. At the age of 29, deeply troubled by the suffering he saw around him, he renounced his privileged life, his wife and child, and went out among the Shramana (shaman) acetics to seek understanding. After 6 years of struggle he finally understood the meaning of enlightenment under the legendary Bo-tree. After this he was recognized as a Buddha (meaning "The Awakened One"). He taught for some forty years then died at Kusinagara in Oudh, India. According to the Mahayana tradition the Buddha did not actually die, because the Buddha is a spiritual entity called the Dharmakaya. Only the corpse of Siddhartha Gautama remained behind where it was given the burial of a Chakravartin (Wheel King).
The very first sermon was delivered by the Buddha in Benares on the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path. He taught that proper religious practice consists in the avoidance of sensualism and physical austerities, called the Middle Way. In the Four Noble Truths, he declared the truth of suffering; its nature or cause; its ending, and the correct means to accomplish the end of suffering.
The school of Zen Buddhism begins with a Central Asian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma arriving in Southern China (470-475 C.E.) who belonged to the Lanka School which later became known as Zen (C. Ch'an). Based on the _Lankavatara Sutra_, the doctrine of the Lanka School mainly concerned itself with the study of Mind, both its absolute nature, and its evolved nature. It is believed by scholars that Bodhidharma lived and taught in Northern China for about fifty years. The original practitioners of the Lanka School were noted for the ascetic (C. t'ou-t'o) life, living faraway from human dwelling places.
Not until the ninth century did the name Ch'an (J. Zen) become adopted. Early Zen became associated with enlightenment rather than physical seated meditation. During the Sung period of China Zen was synonymous with Buddha Mind (C. fo-hsin), not seated meditation as it is commonly believed by present day Japanese Zen teachers and their followers. Around 1200 A.D. Ch'an Buddhism spread from China to Japan where it is called (at least in translation) Zen Buddhism and known primarily in its Japanese form.
What is Zen? (The spiritual question)
This question basically asks "What is the fundamental nature of Mind?" It appears in various guises throughout Zen literature, from "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?" to "The One hand clapping sound." The question penetrates into the heart of the matter and can only be answered in a flash of intimate intuition in which the truth of Mind is seen to be the substratum of existence. As to the role of practice, or what the Chinese Zennists call "cultivation", Zen is paradoxically the cultivation of non-cultivation, recognizing that we need only remove the illusion of non-enlightenment to become enlightened.
Why do Zen writings seem like nonsense?
One of the central points of Zen is intuitive comprehension. When we come to realize the fundamental nature of Mind, Zen becomes super-logical. On the other hand, when we attempt to examine the nature of Mind through emotions, ego-pain, mental pictures, and discursive ideas based on sense perception, Zen seems like nonsense. Because all things arises from Mind, Mind cannot be measured through its creations because the latter are not as perfect as Mind itself. On the other hand, in directly coalescing with Mind everything makes perfect sense just as they are, as they arise from Mind. All things thus reveal the pure function of Buddha Mind. Just so, we see the natural world as a manifestation of the cosmic Buddha. When the Zen master Joshu wipes crumbs off his robe he is demonstrating the primordial power of Mind to move his body perfectly--although he is no longer attached to his body, now being Mind.
What is meditation?
Meditation refers to contemplation, generally, the contemplation of both the body within and the living principle of Buddhism. The Buddhist Sanskrit term for meditation is BHAVANA which literally means the action of promoting, or the same, attending. Because we are potentially pure Mind, mentally attending to the body calms it down and makes it peaceful and less violent. In this meditation, we neither cling to thought forms and emotions, nor reject them. This is called Shamatha (C. chih) meditation. In Vipashyana (C. kuan), or insight meditation, Mind is directed to recollecting itself because it suffers from spiritual amnesia, having in the past followed its generations, forgetting its native whereabouts. Through Vipashyana meditation we come to uncover the nature of Mind itself. As a result, we observe that all phenomena are changing, momentary, and finite; that in fact they arise from the pure source of Mind itself and return to it moment to moment. Thus we begin to see that all things are like a dream, a sudden flash of lightning, or bubbles in a body of water. In seeing this way, we reside in the fixed immovable source of things, this being Mind. Both forms of meditation are vital in Zen Buddhism. But Shamatha meditation alone cannot restore the nature of Mind which we are unable to remember. The Zen adept also needs to meditate on just what the nature of Mind exactly is. Insight meditation as well, becomes impossible if the body is not relaxed and calmed. If we are attached to violent thoughts and emotions, unable to control our desires, Vipashyana meditation becomes difficult to maintain.
How should a beginner begin their study of Zen Buddhism?
First, it is always necessary to become familiar with the language of Buddhism. If you are not familiar with the language of Buddhism how can your friends help you and teach you about the mysterious nature of Mind? If you, for example, don't know what gold looks like, how can you begin your search? You need, for instance, to learn the Four Noble Truths, understanding what they mean. You need to know that the Four Noble Truths pertain to the nature of Mind, that when Mind blindly clings to its manifestations it comes to experience suffering, or the same, disharmony (dukkha).
Beginners should be familiar with the canonical works of Buddhism called the Tripitakas. In addition they should read Mahayana scriptures of the Mahaprajnaparamita class, most important the _Heart Sutra_ and the _Diamond Cutter of Doubts_. In addition, students should read the foundational Sutra of Zen Buddhism which is the Lankavatara Sutra. Other Sutras such as the Shurangama, the Vimalakirit Nirdesha, and the Shrimaladevi Sutra, are also extremely important to read.
As for Zen texts in particular, it is important to read orthodox material such as the _The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma_; _The Platform Scripture_ by Hui Neng the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism; _The Zen Teaching of Huang Po_ and _The Zen Teaching of Hui Hai_. Beginners should avoid modern books on Zen if they do not teach Mind doctrine. Beginners should first ground themselves in orthodox Zen classics and traditional Buddhist literature avoiding non-Mind doctrine publications. In so doing they will be able to reach the fruit of the path sooner and come to know the joy of breaking the bonds of rebirth. In reading proper and accepted books on Zen Buddhism there will be no karmic error created either, and thus no future cause for regret. Historically, in China, Zen literature was by far the most widely published and read. Traditional Zen masters studied all the major Sutras and were very skilled in commenting on the arcane principles contained in the various Sutras. Beginners should understand that Zen Buddhism is the most direct teaching in Buddhism, and to become a members one must be want to be a member. Just like an University, Zen is only looking for a good people whom are intelligent, free from religious pride, non-hating, and compassionate, and above all are willing to learn the sublime doctrine of the Buddhas.
Buddhism and Vegetarianism
1. From John Kahila (talk.religion.buddhism newsgroup):
Are all Buddhists vegetarians?
No. The First Precept admonishes us to refrain from killing, but meat eating is not regarded as an instance of killing, and it is not forbidden in the scriptures. (We are speaking here mainly of the Pali scriptures. Some of the Mahayana scriptures, notably the Lankavatara Sutra, take a strong position in favor of vegetarianism. Also see Note below)
As recorded in the Pali scriptures, the Buddha did not prohibit consumption of meat, even by monks. In fact, he explicitly rejected a suggestion from Devadatta to do so. In modern Theravada societies, a bhikkhu who adheres to vegetarianism to impress others with his superior spirituality may be committing an infringement of the monastic rules.
On the other hand, the Buddha categorically prohibited consumption of the flesh of any animal that was "seen, heard or suspected" to have been killed specifically for the benefit of monks (Jivaka Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 55). This rule technically applies only to monastics, but it can be used as a reasonable guide by devout lay people.
To understand this "middle path" approach to meat-eating, we have to remember that there were no "Buddhists" in Shakyamuni's time. There were only mendicants of various kinds (including the Buddha's disciples), plus lay people who gave them alms out of respect without necessarily worrying about the brand name of the teachings.
If meat was what a householder chose to offer, it was to be accepted without discrimination or aversion. To reject such an offering would be an offense against hospitality and would deprive the householder of an opportunity to gain merit -- and it could not benefit the animal, because it was already dead. Even the Jains may have had a similar outlook during the same period of history, despite the strict doctrine of ahimsa.
Vegetarianism could not become a source of serious controversy in the bhikkhu sangha until the rise of fixed-abode monastic communities in which the monks did not practice daily alms-round. Any meat provided to such a community by lay people would almost certainly have been killed specifically for the monks. That may be one reason for the difference in Mahayana and Theravada views on meat eating -- the development of monastic communities of this type occurred principally within Mahayana.
The issue of meat eating raises difficult ethical questions. Isn't the meat in a supermarket or restaurant killed "for" us? Doesn't meat eating entail killing by proxy?
Few of us are in a position to judge meat eaters or anyone else for "killing by proxy." Being part of the world economy entails "killing by proxy" in every act of consumption. The electricity that runs our computers comes from facilities that harm the environment. Books of Buddhist scriptures are printed on paper produced by an industry that destroys wildlife habitat. Worms, insects, rodents and other animals are routinely killed en masse in the course of producing the staples of a vegetarian diet. Welcome to samsara. It is impossible for most of us to free ourselves from this web; we can only strive to be mindful of entanglement in it. One way to do so is to reflect on how the suffering and death of sentient beings contributes to our comfort. This may help us to be less inclined to consume out of mere greed.
All of that having been said, it cannot be denied that the economic machine which produces meat also creates fear and suffering for a large number of animals. It is useful to bear this in mind even if one consumes meat, to resist developing a habit of callousness. Many Buddhists (especially Mahayanists) practice vegetarianism as a means of cultivating compassion.
The Jivaka Sutta hints that one could also make a good case for vegetarianism starting from any of the other brahmaviharas (loving-kindness, sympathetic joy, equanimity). Interestingly, it is loving-kindness rather than compassion that is mentioned first in the Jivaka Sutta.
If you are considering trying out vegetarianism for the first time, we suggest discussing it with someone who has experience. There are a few issues that ought to be considered regarding balanced diet, etc.
Note (by Binh Anson): The Lankavatara Sutra, although recorded the Buddha's teaching in Lanka (Sri Lanka), is essentially a product of later Mahayana development. According to H. Nakamura (Indian Buddhism, 1987), there are several versions of this sutra, one fairly different in content from the other. Most scholars concluded that this sutra was likely compiled in 350-400 CE. In addition, according the the popular Zen master D.T. Suzuki (The Lankavatara Sutra - A Mahayana Text, 1931), the chapter dealing with meat eating was indeed added much later in subsequent versions. He also agreed that this sutra was not the authentic words by the Buddha, but was compiled much later by unknown authors following Mahayana's philosophy.
2. From Ven. S. Dhammika (Australian BuddhaNet):
There are differences of opinion between Buddhists on this issue so we will attempt to present the arguments of those who believe that vegetarianism is necessary for Buddhists and those who do not.
Vegetarianism was not a part of the early Buddhist tradition and the Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. The Buddha got his food either by going on alms rounds or by being invited to the houses of his supporters and in both cases he ate what he was given. Before his enlightenment he had experimented with various diets including a meatless diet, but he eventually abandoned them believing that they did not contribute to spiritual development.
The Nipata Sutta underlines this point when it says that it is immorality that makes one impure (morally and spiritually), not the eating of meat. The Buddha is often described as eating meat, he recommended meat broth as a cure for certain types of illness and advised monks for practical reasons, to avoid certain types of meat, implying that other types were quite acceptable.
However, Buddhists gradually came to feel uncomfortable about meat eating. In 257 BC King Asoka said that in contrast to before, only two peacocks and a deer were killed to provide food in the royal kitchens and that in time even this would be stopped. By the beginning of the Christian era meat eating had become unacceptable, particularly amongst the followers of the Mahayana although the polemics against it in works like the Lankavatara Sutra indicates that it was still widespread or a least a point of controversy (see footnote in the previous section). Tantric text dating from the 7th and 8th centuries onward, frequently recommend both drinking alcohol and eating meat and both are considered fit to offer to gods. This was probably as much an expression of the freedom from convention which Tantra taught as it was a protest against Mahayanists to whom practices like abstaining from drink and meat had become a substitute for genuine spiritual change.
Today it is often said that Mahayanists are vegetarian and Theravadins are not. However the situation is a little more complex than that. Generally Theravadins have no dietary restrictions although it is not uncommon to find monks and lay people in Sri Lanka who are strict vegetarians. Others abstain from meat while eating fish. Chinese and Vietnamese monks and nuns are strictly vegetarian and the lay community try to follow their example although many do not. Amongst Tibetans and Japanese Buddhists, vegetarianism is rare.
Buddhists who insist on vegetarianism have a simple and compelling argument to support their case. Eating meat encourages an industry that causes cruelty and death to millions of animals and a truly compassionate person would wish to mitigate all this suffering. By refusing to eat meat one can do just that.
Those who believe that vegetarianism is not necessary for Buddhists have equally compelling although more complex arguments to support their view: (1) If the Buddha had felt that a meatless diet was in accordance with the Precepts he would have said so and in the Pali Tipitaka at least, he did not. (2) Unless one actually kills an animal oneself (which seldom happens today) by eating meat one is not directly responsible for the animal's death and in this sense the non- vegetarian is no different from the vegetarian. The latter can only eat his vegetables because the farmer has ploughed his fields (thus killing many creatures) and sprayed the crop (again killing many creatures). (3) While the vegetarian will not eat meat he does use numerous other products that lead to animals being killed (soap, leather, serum, silk etc.) Why abstain from one while using the others? (4) Good qualities like understanding, patience, generosity and honesty and bad qualities like ignorance, pride, hypocrisy, jealousy and indifference do not depend on what one eats and therefore diet is not a significant factor in spiritual development.
Some will accept one point of view and some another. Each person has to make up his or her own mind.
(1) Ruegg, D.S. "Ahimsa and Vegetarianism in the History of Buddhism" in Buddhist Studies in Honour of Walpola Rahula. S. Balasooriya,(et.al) London, 1980;
(2) P. Kapleau, To Cherish All Life, London, 1982.
3. From Samanera Kumara Liew ( email@example.com, 06 June 1999)
Is there something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian?
I'm aware there are some people whom are vegetarians here. Being somewhat health conscious myself, I'm almost one too. However, I can see that there are some seem to hold a view that I think they might like to reconsider -- i.e. the view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
As the suttas (discourses) clearly shows, the Buddha himself -- with his great wisdom -- did not ask his disciples, renunciate or lay, to be vegetarians. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
The Buddha himself was not a vegetarian. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
Some may argue that somewhere along the line someone might have modified the suttas. It would seem quite unlikely, as the Suttas (of the Theravada tradition at least) are brought to the present by a very large group of monks, not individuals. As such they can check each other for deviations. One person can't change anything without the agreement from others. For about 500 years the purity of the suttas was maintained by the oral tradition by large groups of chanting monks. When it eventually had to be put into writing in the first century due to wars, the monks who have such faith and respect for the Buddha would certainly have made much effort to ensure accuracy.
Assuming that despite all that, some people did attempt to modify the suttas, it wound have been quite impossible as there's *not* even a *single* trace in the voluminous Tipitika (the Vinaya, Sutta, and Abhidhamma Pitakas) which even suggests that the Buddha advised on being vegetarians. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
Even if the above cannot convince you, try asking yourself this: "Why do I consider being a vegetarian to be spiritually wholesome?" You may say that "If I eat meat, I would be indirectly encouraging killing of animals"; or that, "If I eat meat, I would be indirectly a killer"; or that "If I'm a vegetarian, it would mean that less animals will be killed."
Noble considerations, I must admit. But let's examine this further to gain a better perspective. Try asking yourself this: "Where do my vegetables come from?" "From farms," you might say. To prepare the soil for cultivation, wouldn't it have to be tilled? And when the plants are grown, wouldn't pesticides have to be sprayed? Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
Some may still continue to argue that one should get one's vegetables from hydroponic farms. A good argument, I must admit. But let's examine this further to gain a better perspective. Such farms use much water -- for the sake of the plants, for the sake of washing things, for the sake of keeping the place clean, and others. Wouldn't such use of water kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
And let's consider the boxes and pipes in which such farming is so dependent upon, and also the materials to built the green houses. They need to be manufactured. And so indirectly factories are needed; and so lands need to be cleared. Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
The machines and equipment needed by the factories too needs to be manufactured. And so indirectly more factories are needed; and so more lands need to be cleared. Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
Let's also further consider the supply of electricity, water, telecommunication services, and other infrastructures. Just consider all that needs to be done to supply those things. Wouldn't all that kill lots of animals too, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
And consider all those transporting this and that here and there that goes about to set up the factories and the factories for the factories, the infrastructures for all those factories, so that materials can be supplied to them, so that the boxes and pipes and the material to build the green houses can be made for the hydroponic farms, and that they may be sent to the farms, so that hydroponic vegetables can be cultivated, so that you may buy and eat them. Wouldn't all that kill even lots more animals, though they may be smaller and seem insignificant to humans? Don't they suffer too?
Wouldn't it then be proper to consider that "If I eat only vegetables I too would be indirectly encouraging killing of animals;" or that, "If I don't eat meat, I would be indirectly a killer too;" or that "If don't eat meat, it wouldn't mean that less animals will be killed. And in fact perhaps more are killed."
I could go on and on, but I should assume that you should get the message by now. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian. We must understand: We live in 'samsara'; and it's not called 'samsara' for no reason. In this world, there IS suffering. That the Buddha has declared. Its cause too has been declared. So has its end. And so has the way to the end of sufferings.
Having drawn such reasonable arguments, some may *still* insist on arguing further that eating meat may reduce our craving (tanha), and so there must be something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian. I'd ask: "Who says meat tastes better than vegetables?" Have you tasted meat without any additives before? A raw carrot would taste much better. I myself can easily have more craving for chocolates than meat. I'd say durian (a local fruit) tastes much better. So it would not be proper to say that eating meat may reduce our craving. Besides, having aversion over a neutral thing such as meat seems quite unnecessary and even obstructive to one's spiritual progress. And so, you might like to reconsider that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian.
Consider what the Buddha said: "Action (kamma) is intention (cetana)." When we eat meat we do not think: "Oh, may they kill more animals so that I may have more meat to eat. Never mind if being have to suffer and die." When we eat vegetables, fruits and other non-meat food, we do not think: "Oh, may they plant more of such food. Never mind if beings have to suffer and die." When we eat, our intention is to eat.
However, we may try practicing a few things:
- We may be moderate with our intake. Not indulge more than what we really need. That's what the Buddha advised, and there is something spiritually wholesome about this; and not simply not eat meat.
- We may choose to eat only "at the right time" (dawn to noon). This is encouraged even for lay people on certain days. That's what the Buddha advised, and there is something spiritually wholesome about this; and not simply not eat meat.
- When we eat we may eat mindfully, chew mindfully, taste mindfully and swallow mindfully. This would then help us eat without craving and strengthen our mindfulness. That's what the Buddha advised, and there is something spiritually wholesome about this; and not simply not eat meat.
If you choose to be a vegetarian, well go ahead. Do check with other knowledgeable vegetarians about having a balanced vegetarian diet. You need to make sure that you have adequate protein, B12, and zinc.
But for your own sake, do not hold to that view that there is something spiritually wholesome about being a vegetarian. Also, it would certainly not be wise to think oneself superior due to one's choice of food. Check yourself whenever you see others eat meat. Furthermore, it would be definitely improper to impose such wrong view upon others.
This message has been written to inform, and not criticize or offend. Hope it has been regarded in proper light.
Samanera Kumara Liew
06 June 1999
Compiled by Binh Anson Ph.D. ... Web-Site - BuddhaSasana
1. Can a Buddhist believe in Jesus?
Many Buddhists do believe in Jesus. Nestorian Christians have assimilated much of Buddhism into their religion. However Indian and Tibetan Buddhists consider Jesus a great Guru and Bodhisattva (a redeemer).
2. Can Buddhist eat meat?
A Buddhist should refrain from harming all sentient beings as much as possible but not to the point of starvation. In Tibet and Mongolia there are many Buddhists who must eat meat, as there is very little agricultural land. Monks in these countries eat mostly ' tsampa', a nutritious grain meal made of dried meat, barley flour and whatever. It is mixed up, rolled into balls and baked or fried into cakes or boiled on top of soup. Most Buddhists are vegetarian. Buddhists who eat meat honor the being they must eat, ask its forgiveness and offer a prayer before eating. Much as American Indian hunters would do to bring the meat home free from the violence of the necessary act ( the Karma of killing).
3. I'm a "Catholic" (Baptist, Protestant, Anglican, Christian Orthodox, Moslem, Mormon, Jew), and I know of the Bible, but what is the book of Buddha, and where can I find it in English?
The Four Noble Truths; 1- Life and Happiness are impermanent and our attachment to this causes us great suffering; 2- It is possible to end the suffering in this lifetime. 3- The Buddha brought us the ways and means to end the suffering 4- It is possible for all beings to achieve Nirvana, and the Vows of Refuge; 1-I take Refuge in the Buddha, 2-I take Refuge in the Dharma, 3-I take Refuge in the Sangha-(all monks, nuns and other Buddhists) are the only unconditionals I know of in Buddhism although this vow is taken with these 5 precepts in mind;
1. I undertake the precept of abstaining from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking anything not freely given.
3. I undertake the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept of abstaining from false speech.
5. I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking intoxicants, which lead to carelessness.
Another group of Precepts called 'The Eightfold Path' further codifies the Buddhist point of view. These are the original and most basic teachings (see the link at bottom for more on the basic texts). There is no Bible as there is no Dogma and no absolute truths. There is however a TON of commentary. There is something called The Discourses or the Dhammapahada. It is a question and answer session between the Buddha Sakyamuni and his number one disciple Annanda. This is considered the bedrock document. The Pali Cannon, the main text on Buddhism for the Theravadian Buddhists is the oldest surviving text on Buddhism .
And there are several styles of Buddhism that has grown out of the many cultures that Buddhism has found a home in. The best thing is to find a style that appeals to you (a starting point) and start reading and practicing the meditation techniques. There is Zen-and a classic in book in English called 'Zen Flesh, Zen Bones' by D.T. Suzuki or anything by Allen Watts. Shambala Press, in Boulder, Colorodo, is associated with Naropa Buddhist University, also in Boulder, now has some books on Chinese Buddhism. Also there is the Poetry of Wu Wei. For Tibetan-Mongol style I recommend 'The Dharma' by Kalu Rinpoche and 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' by Sogyal Rinpoche. It is NOW AVAILABLE IN SPANISH! Cool eh? The Tibetans have preserved Indian Buddhism but Northern Hinduism remains 70% of India's earlier Buddhist tradition. I highly recommend a new book called the 'Accidental Buddhist' by Dinty W. Moore, it is only 7 years old. He is a westerner who explored these different styles and writes about it, and it is well worth reading for a new explorer.
4. Is there any superior God (like in Catholicism), in Buddhism, and if yes, how is it called?
Strictly speaking the Buddha said there is no God. Or not in the way the west or even the Hindu's think about God. Over time this is a distillation of the Buddhists attitude about God: Everything that exists is the body of God and the only consciousness that actually exists is Buddha consciousness or the consciousness of God. There is nothing else. We are like the cells of this being, most of us ignorant that we are actually God and we have this huge consciousness that is everything. We live the life of a cell but we don't have to. We can be God and claim our true consciousness if we want to. You are God. God is named -YOUR NAME- and the best person you know and the worst person you know as well as your cat, a worm everything.
5. Where can I find a Buddhist temple near my town?
If there is a temple in your area it is probably south Asian and you will feel like a fish out of water there. You may ultimately prefer this branch of Buddhism but first get familiar with Buddhism generally and with the culture of the temple community before going there. The best thing for a westerner is to join a Buddhist meditation group and find out if there is a local group of monks or nuns who perform Puja (a weekly or twice monthly chanting/meditation with a ceremony) for a drop in community. This is becoming very popular and common in western cities.
6. How many times a day a does a Buddhist have to pray and at what time of the day?
Pray any time you want to in anyway you want to. One does not pray TO anyone or thing. One prays for balance, clear consciousness, compassion and empathy. The Buddha or another spiritual model may be invoked for the qualities one intends to strengthen through prayer. Buddhists use chanting but it isn't a hard rule. Whatever works. Getting a mantra from a teacher you have spent some time with (quality of time matters more than length of time) is a VERY strong prayer.
7. Is it necessary for a Buddhist to have an image of Buddha in their home?
No image at all is needed. The importance of the statues of the meditating Buddha is to remind us that He did it, we can do it and that meditation and liberation is the whole and entire point. Humans are rather artistic and like to express themselves especially about what we feel deeply. Therefore religious art is a good form of expression.
8. Can Buddhist drink beer and alcohol?
According to the Buddha Sakyamuni, it is better not to alter your consciousness in anyway except through meditation. That is the simplest answer. Also according to the Buddha one must not become enslaved to attraction or aversion. If you can drink coffee in moderation without negative effects, go ahead. That goes for beer or anything else. JUST DON'T GET ENSLAVED. Many prominent Buddhists have and do drink beer. Tibetans make a delicious barley beer. The monks of Sera Monastery in Lhasa are known to be quite fond of it.
9. What should rich Buddhists do with their money? Is giving to charity an obligation, or a personal act?
All good deeds are personal. Give to those that you can but do not make people who depend on you suffer for it. Should someone with an alcohol problem want money from you, even just to borrow, it is more compassionate to say no. But offer to make them dinner. There is no concept of impersonal charity. One's good deeds improve your Karma, your community's Karma and the other persons Karma, and heck the other person is really you anyway. It's very personal.
10. How does one officially become a Buddhist?
To become an official Buddhist you 'Take Refuge'. This probably happens once a year or so in the largest city near you. That is where the local Buddhist ashram or community (of Buddhists also called the Sangha) can schedule it for the most amount of people to take advantage of it. No one who asks can be denied this ceremony. However, if you can, it is proper to bring a donation or a valuable to donate that can be used in fundraising. The ceremony is nice but it is not necessary. It is a solemn vow but you can do it by yourself or with other Buddhist friends. Create your own ceremony and dedicate it to your present or future Guru (your eternal spiritual big brother or sister) and commit oneself to this;
I take Refuge in the Buddha (messenger of freedom/liberation).
I take Refuge in the Dharma (the teachings).
I take Refuge in the Sangha (the community of all Buddhists).
Think about what this means as you say each vow. Although with time the meanings you find will continue to open up, this is basically all that is needed to become an official, committed Buddhist.
11. What is the perfect physical pose for meditation?
Sit down in a comfortable position, one that you can maintain for a while. If you need to move or stretch a little, go ahead. Allow the body to move without moving the mind. Pay no attention. Once you get comfortable with this try the 1/2 Lotus posture and then the Full Lotus posture, hands resting lightly on your knees. It greatly benefits a Buddhist to learn Hatha Yoga. It is a perfect compliment to meditation.
12. What Ceremonies should be practiced without exception, when and where?
Ceremonies are not important but people enjoy them and they can have psychological value. Buddhism is so focused on meditation that the Buddhist community likes to have spiritual things people can do together. So there are ceremonies and some theatrical and musical religious ceremonies but they are not important to practice.
13. Can you get married to a non Buddhist?
A Buddhist can marry anyone they like. But it is recommended that you don't marry someone who cannot respect your world view or religion and visa versa.
14. If there's no Buddhist temple near my hometown, what should I do?
I've been a Buddhist 30 years and never been to a temple. A temple is a quiet space and the local community probably uses it for ceremonies and weddings etc. Your backyard can be your temple.
15. Who are the persons that can help me follow, or even with time teach Buddhism?
This is wide open. Buddhism is spreading in the West and going through a phase that has probably occurred before when it spread across Asia. We are teaching each other. Also many very experienced teachers are traveling and teaching. There is no definitive Buddhism. There are teachings that WILL NOT WORK for everyone. Your job is to sift what you learn and exercise it. Then make up your own mind.
16. Can you tell me one prayer to recognize the Buddha?
There are many common prayers. Most are in Hindi, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese.
Tibetan- Om Mani Padme Hum
Chinese- Namo Amita Fo. Namo Kuan Shih Yin Pusa. Namo Ta Shih Chih Pusa.
Japanese- Na mo kring go kyo.
But you can create your own, in Spanish or whatever your preferred language if you like. Repetition of a simple statement seems to be the most common principal. 'Shine lotus jewel.' 'Release all beings from suffering.' 'Perfection is the mirror.' That's the idea. I regularly use my personal mantra and Om Mani Padme Hum (the Jewel of consciousness is in the Lotus (existence). I find just chanting Om makes me sleepy.
Good and Evil in Buddhism
Bhikkhu P.A. Payutto
The problem of good and evil
Because kamma is directly concerned with good and evil, any discussion of kamma must also include a discussion of good and evil. Standards for defining good and evil are, however, not without their problems. What is "good," and how is it so? What is it that we call "evil," and how is that so? These problems are in fact a matter of language. In the Buddha's teaching, which is based on the Pali language, the meaning becomes much clearer, as will presently be demonstrated.
The English words "good" and "evil" have very broad meanings, particularly the word "good," which is much more widely used than "evil." A virtuous and moral person is said to be good; delicious food might be called "good" food; a block of wood which happens to be useful might be called a "good" block of wood. Moreover, something which is good to one person might not be good to many others. Looked at from one angle, a certain thing may be good, but not from another. Behavior which is considered good in one area, district or society might be considered bad in another.
It seems from these examples that there is some disparity. It might be necessary to consider the word "good" from different viewpoints, such as good in a hedonistic sense, good in an artistic sense, good in an economic sense, and so on. The reason for this disparity is a matter of values. The words "good" and "evil" can be used in many different value systems in English, which makes their meanings very broad.
In our study of good and evil the following points should be borne in mind:
(a) Our study will be from the perspective of the law of kamma, thus we will be using the specialized terms kusala and akusala or skillful and unskillful, which have very precise meanings.
(b) Kusala and akusala, in terms of Buddhist ethics, are qualities of the law of kamma, thus our study of them is keyed to this context, not as a set of social values as is commonly used for the words "good" and "evil."
(c) As discussed in Chapter One, the operation of the law of kamma is related to other laws. Specifically, insofar as the inner life of the individual is concerned, kammaniyama interacts with psychological laws (cittaniyama), while externally it is related to Social Preference.
The meaning of kusala and akusala
Although kusala and akusala are sometimes translated as "good" and "evil," this may be misleading. Things which are kusala may not always be considered good, while some things may be akusala and yet not generally considered to be evil. Depression, melancholy, sloth and distraction, for example, although akusala, are not usually considered to be "evil" as we know it in English. In the same vein, some forms of kusala, such as calmness of body and mind, may not readily come into the general understanding of the English word "good."
Kusala and akusala are conditions which arise in the mind, producing results initially in the mind, and from there to external actions and physical features. The meanings of kusala and akusala therefore stress the state, the contents and the events of mind as their basis.
Kusala can be rendered generally as "intelligent, skillful, contented, beneficial, good," or "that which removes affliction." Akusala is defined in the opposite way, as in "unintelligent," "unskillful" and so on.
The following are four connotations of kusala derived from the Commentaries:
1. Arogya: free of illness, a mind that is healthy; mental states which contain those conditions or factors which support mental health and produce an untroubled and stable mind.
2. Anavajja: unstained; factors which render the mind clean and clear, not stained or murky.
3. Kosalasambhuta: based on wisdom or intelligence; mental states which are based on knowledge and understanding of truth. This is supported by the teaching which states that kusala conditions have yoniso-manasikara, clear thinking, as forerunner.
4. Sukhavipaka: rewarded by well-being. Kusala is a condition which produces contentment. When kusala conditions arise in the mind, there is naturally a sense of well-being, without the need for any external influence. Just as when one is strong and healthy (aroga), freshly bathed (anavajja), and in a safe and comfortable place (kosalasambhuta), a sense of well-being naturally follows.
The meaning of akusala should be understood in just the opposite way from above: as the mind that is unhealthy, harmful, based on ignorance, and resulting in suffering. In brief, it refers to those conditions which cause the mind to degenerate both in quality and efficiency, unlike kusala, which promotes the quality and efficiency of the mind.
In order to further clarify these concepts, it might be useful to look at the descriptions of the attributes of a good mind, one that is healthy and trouble-free, found in the Commentaries, and then to consider whether kusala conditions do indeed induce the mind to be this way, and if so, how. We could then consider whether akusala conditions deprive the mind of such states, and how they do this.
For easy reference, the various characteristics of kusala found in the Commentaries can be compiled into groups, as follows:
1. Firm: resolute, stable, unmoving, undistracted.
2. Pure and clean: unstained, immaculate, bright.
3. Clear and free: unrestricted, free, exalted, boundless.
4. Fit for work: pliant, light, fluent, patient.
5. Calm and content: relaxed, serene, satisfied.
Having looked at the qualities of a healthy mind, we can now consider the qualities which are known as kusala and akusala, assessing to see how they affect the quality of the mind.
Some examples of kusala conditions are: sati, mindfulness or recollection, the ability to maintain the attention with whatever object or duty the mind is engaged; metta, goodwill; non-greed, absence of desire and attachment (including altruistic thoughts); wisdom, clear understanding of the way things are; calm, relaxation and peace; kusalachanda, zeal or contentment with the good; a desire to know and act in accordance with the truth; and gladness at the good fortune of others.
When there is goodwill, the mind is naturally happy, cheerful, and clear. This is a condition which is beneficial to the psyche, supporting the quality and efficiency of the mind. Goodwill is therefore kusala. Sati enables the attention to be with whatever the mind is involved or engaged, recollecting the proper course of action, helping to prevent akusala conditions from arising, and thus enabling the mind to work more effectively. Sati is therefore kusala.
Examples of akusala conditions are: sexual desire; ill will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and anxiety; doubt[a], anger, jealousy, and avarice.
Jealousy makes the mind spiteful and oppressive, clearly damaging the quality and health of the mind. Therefore it is akusala. Anger stirs up the mind in such a way that rapidly affects even the health of the body, and thus is clearly akusala. Sensual desire confuses and obsesses the mind. This is also akusala.
Having established an understanding of the words kusala and akusala, we are now ready to understand good and bad kamma, or kusala kamma and akusala kamma. As has been already mentioned, intention is the heart of kamma. Thus, an intention which contains kusala conditions is skillful, and an intention which contains akusala conditions is unskillful. When those skillful or unskillful intentions are acted on through the body, speech or mind, they are known as skillful and unskillful kamma through body, speech and mind respectively, or, alternatively, bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which are skillful and unskillful as the case may be.
Kusala and akusala as catalysts for each other
An act of faith or generosity, moral purity, or even an experience of insight during meditation, which are all kusala conditions, can precipitate the arising of conceit, pride and arrogance. Conceit and pride are akusala conditions. This situation is known as "kusala acting as an agent for akusala." Meditation practice can lead to highly concentrated states of mind (kusala), which in turn can lead to attachment (akusala). The development of thoughts of goodwill and benevolence to others (kusala), can, in the presence of a desirable object, precipitate the arising of lust (akusala). These are examples of kusala acting as an agent for akusala.
Sometimes moral or meditation practice (kusala) can be based on a desire to be reborn in heaven (akusala). A child's good behavior (kusala) can be based on a desire to show off to its elders (akusala); a student's zeal in learning (kusala) can stem from ambition (akusala); anger (akusala), seen in the light of its harmful effects, can lead to wise reflection and forgiveness (kusala); the fear of death (akusala) can encourage introspection (kusala): these are all examples of akusala as an agent for kusala.
An example: the parents of a teenage boy warn their son that his friends are a bad influence on him, but he takes no notice and is lured into drug addiction. On realizing his situation, he is at first angered and depressed, then, remembering his parents' warnings, he is moved by their compassion (akusala as an agent for kusala), but this in turn merely aggravates his own self-hatred (kusala as an agent for akusala).
These changes from kusala to akusala, or akusala to kusala, occur so rapidly that the untrained mind is rarely able to see them.
Gauging good and bad kamma
It has been mentioned that the law of kamma has a very intimate relationship with both psychological laws and Social Preference. This very similarity can easily create misunderstandings. The law of kamma is so closely related to psychological laws that they seem to be one and the same thing, but there is a clear dividing line between the two, and that is intention. This is the essence and motivating force of the law of kamma and is that which gives the law of kamma its distinct niche among the other niyama or laws. Cittaniyama, on the other hand, governs all mental activity, including the unintentional.
Human intention, through the law of kamma, has its own role distinct from the other niyama, giving rise to the illusion that human beings are independent of the natural world. Intention must rely on the mechanics of cittaniyama in order to function, and the process of creating kamma must operate within the parameters of cittaniyama.
Using an analogy of a man driving a motor boat, the "driver" is intention, which is the domain of the law of kamma, whereas the whole of the boat engine is comparable to the mental factors, which are functions of cittaniyama. The driver must depend on the boat engine. However, for the "boat engine" to lead the "boat," that is, for the mind to lead life and the body, in any direction, is entirely at the discretion of the "driver," intention. The driver depends on and makes use of the boat, but also takes responsibility for the welfare of both boat and engine. In the same way, the law of kamma depends on and makes use of cittaniyama, and also accepts responsibility for the welfare of life, including both the body and the mind.
There is not much confusion about this relationship between the law of kamma and cittaniyama, mainly because these are not things in which the average person takes much interest. The issue that creates the most confusion is the relationship between the law of kamma and Social Preference, and this confusion creates ambiguity in regard to the nature of good and evil.
We often hear people say that good and evil are human or social inventions. An action in one society, time or place, may be regarded as good, but in another time and place regarded as bad. Some actions may be acceptable to one society, but not to another. For example, some religions teach that to kill animals for food is not bad, while others teach that to harm beings of any kind is never good. Some societies hold that a child should show respect to its elders, and that to argue with them is bad manners, while others hold that respect is not dependent on age, and that all people should have the right to express their opinions.
To say that good and evil are matters of human preference and social decree is true to some extent. Even so, the good and evil of Social Preference do not affect or upset the workings of the law of kamma in any way, and should not be confused with it. "Good" and "evil" as social conventions should be recognized as Social Preference. As for "good" and "evil," or more correctly, kusala and akusala, as qualities of the law of kamma, these should be recognized as attributes of the law of kamma. Even though the two are related they are in fact separate, and have very clear distinctions.
That which is at once the relationship, and the point of distinction, between this natural law and the Social Preference is intention, or will. As to how this is so, let us now consider.
In terms of the law of kamma, the conventions of society may be divided into two types:
1. Those which have no direct relationship to kusala and akusala.
2. Those which are related to kusala and akusala.
Those conventions which have no direct relationship to kusala and akusala are the accepted values or agreements which are established by society for a specific social function, such as to enable people to live together harmoniously. They may indeed be instruments for creating social harmony, or they may not. They may indeed be useful to society or they may in fact be harmful. All this depends on whether or not those conventions are established with sufficient understanding and wisdom, and whether or not the authority who established them is acting with pure intention.
These kinds of conventions may take many forms, such as traditions, customs or laws. "Good" and "evil" in this respect are strictly matters of Social Preference. They may change in many ways, but their changes are not functions of the law of kamma, and must not be confused with it. If a person disobeys these conventions and is punished by society, that is also a matter of Social Preference, not the law of kamma.[b]
Now, let us consider an area in which these social conventions may overlap with the law of kamma, such as when a member of a society refuses to conform to one of its conventions, or infringes on it.[c] In so doing, that person will be acting on a certain intention. This intention is the first step in, and is therefore a concern of, the law of kamma. In many societies there will be an attempt to search out this intention for ascertaining the quality of the action. That is again a concern of Social Preference, indicating that that particular society knows how to utilize the law of kamma. This consideration of intention by society is not, however, in itself a function of the law of kamma. (That is, it is not a foregone conclusion -- illegal behavior is not always punished. However, whether actions are punished or not they are kamma in the sense that they are volitional actions and will bring results.)
As for the particular role of the law of kamma, regardless of whether society investigates the intention or not, or even whether society is aware of the infringement, the law of kamma functions immediately the action occurs, and the process of fruition has already been set in motion.
Simply speaking, the deciding factor in the law of kamma is whether the intention is kusala or akusala. In most cases, not to conform with any Social Preference can only be said to constitute no intentional infringement when society agrees to abandon or to reform that convention. Only then will there be no violation of the public agreement.
This can be illustrated by a simple example. Suppose two people decide to live together. In order to render their lives together as smooth and as convenient as possible, they agree to establish a set of regulations: although working in different places and returning from work at different times, they decide to have the evening meal together. As it would be impractical to wait for each other indefinitely, they agree that each of them should not eat before seven pm. Of those two people, one likes cats and doesn't like dogs, while the other likes dogs and doesn't like cats. For mutual well-being, they agree not to bring any pets at all into the house.
Having agreed on these regulations, if either of those two people acts in contradiction to them, there is a case of intentional infringement, and kamma arises, good or bad according to the intention that instigated it, even though eating food before seven pm., or bringing pets into a house, are not in themselves good or evil. Another couple might even establish regulations which are directly opposite to these. And in the event that one of those people eventually considers their regulations to be no longer beneficial, they should discuss the matter together and come to an agreement. Only then would any intentional nonconformity on that person's part be free of kammic result. This is the distinction between "good" and "evil," and "right" and "wrong," as changing social conventions, as opposed to the unchanging properties of the law of kamma, kusala and akusala.
The conventions which are related to kusala and akusala in the law of kamma are those conventions which are either skillful or unskillful. Society may or may not make these regulations with a clear understanding of kusala and akusala, but the process of the law of kamma continues along its natural course regardless. It does not change along with those social conventions.
For example, a society might consider it acceptable to take intoxicants and addictive drugs. Extreme emotions may be encouraged, and the citizens may be incited to compete aggressively in order to spur economic growth. Or it might be generally believed that to kill people of other societies, or, on a lesser scale, to kill animals, is not blameworthy.
These are examples where the good and evil of Social Preference and kusala and akusala are at odds with each other: unskillful conditions are socially preferred and "good" from a social perspective is "bad" from a moral one. Looked at from a social perspective, those conventions or attitudes may cause both positive and negative results. For example, although a life of tension and high competitiveness may cause a high suicide rate, an unusually large amount of mental and social problems, heart disease and so on, that society may experience rapid material progress. Thus, social problems can often be traced down to the law of kamma, in the values condoned and encouraged by society.
Social Preference and the law of kamma are separate and distinct. The fruits of kamma proceed according to their own law, independent of any social conventions which are at odds with it as mentioned above. However, because the convention and the law are related, correct practice in regard to the law of kamma, that is, actions that are kusala, might still give rise to problems on the social level. For example, an abstainer living in a society which favors intoxicating drugs receives the fruits of kamma dictated by the law of kamma -- he doesn't experience the loss of health and mental clarity due to intoxicating drugs -- but in the context of Social Preference, as opposed to the law of kamma, he may be ridiculed and scorned. And even within the law of kamma there may arise problems from his intentional opposition to this Social Preference, in the form of mental stress, more or less depending on his wisdom and ability to let go of social reactions.
A progressive society with wise administrators uses the experience accumulated from previous generations in laying down the conventions and laws of society. These become the good and evil of Social Preference, and ideally they should correlate with the kusala and akusala of kammaniyama. The ability to establish conventions in conformity with the law of kamma would seem to be a sound gauge for determining the true extent of a society's progress or civilization.
In this context, when it is necessary to appraise any convention as good or evil, it would best be considered from two levels. Firstly, in terms of Social Preference, by determining whether or not it has a beneficial result to society. Secondly, in terms of the law of kamma, by determining whether or not it is kusala, beneficial to mental well-being.
Some conventions, even though maintained by societies for long periods of time, are in fact not at all useful to them, even from the point of view of Social Preference, let alone from the point of view of the law of kamma. Such conventions should be abandoned, and it may be necessary for an exceptional being with pure heart to point out their fault.
In the case of a convention which is seen to be helpful to society and to human progress, but which is not in conformity with the kusala of the law of kamma, such as one which enhances material progress at the expense of the quality of life, it might be worth considering whether the people of that society have not gone astray and mistaken that which is harmful as being beneficial. A truly beneficial custom should conform with both Social Preference and the law of kamma. In other words, it should be beneficial to both the individual and society as a whole, and beneficial on both the material and psychic levels.
In this regard we can take a lesson from the situation of society in the present time. Human beings, holding the view that wealth of material possessions is the path to true happiness, have proceeded to throw their energies into material development. The harmful effects of many of our attempts at material progress are only now becoming apparent. Even though society appears to be prosperous, we have created many new physical dangers, and social and environmental problems threaten us on a global scale. Just as material progress should not be destructive to the physical body, social progress should not be destructive to the clarity of the mind.
The Buddha gave a set of reflections on kusala and akusala for assessing the nature of good and evil on a practical level, encouraging reflection on both the good and evil within (conscience), and the teachings of wise beings (these two being the foundation of conscience and modesty).[d] Thirdly, he recommended pondering the fruits of actions, both individually and on a social basis. Because the nature of kusala and akusala may not always be clear, the Buddha advised adhering to religious and ethical teachings, and, if such teachings are not clear enough, to look at the results of actions, even if only from a social basis.
For most people, these three bases for reflection (i.e., individually, socially, and from the accepted teachings of wise beings) can be used to assess behavior on a number of different levels, ensuring that their actions are as circumspect as possible.
Thus, the criteria for assessing good and evil are: in the context of whether an action is kamma or not, to take intention as the deciding factor; and in the context of whether that kamma is good or evil, to consider the matter against the following principles:
Inquiring into the roots of actions, whether the intentions for them arose from one of the skillful roots of non-greed, non-aversion or non-delusion, or from one of the unskillful roots of greed, aversion or delusion.
Inquiring into the effects on the psyche, or mental well-being, of actions: whether they render the mind clear, calm and healthy; whether they promote or inhibit the quality of the mind; whether they encourage the arising of skillful conditions and the decrease of unskillful conditions, or vice versa.
1. Considering whether one's actions are censurable to oneself or not (conscience).
2. Considering the quality of one's actions in terms of wise teachings.
3. Considering the results of those actions:
a. towards oneself
b. towards others.
It is possible to classify these standards in a different way, if we first clarify two points. Firstly, looking at actions either in terms of their roots, or as skillful and unskillful in themselves, are essentially the same thing. Secondly, in regard to approval or censure by the wise, we can say that such wise opinions are generally preserved in religions, conventions and laws. Even though these conventions are not always wise, and thus any practice which conflicts with them is not necessarily unskillful, still it can be said that such cases are the exception rather than the rule.
We are now ready to summarize our standards for good and evil, or good and bad kamma, both strictly according to the law of kamma and also in relation to Social Preference, both on an intrinsically moral level and on a socially prescribed one.
1. In terms of direct benefit or harm: are these actions in themselves beneficial? Do they contribute to the quality of life? Do they cause kusala and akusala conditions to increase or wane?
2. In terms of beneficial or harmful consequences: are the effects of these actions harmful or beneficial to oneself?
3. In terms of benefit or harm to society: are they harmful to others, or helpful to them?
4. In terms of conscience, the natural human reflexive capacity: will those actions be censurable to oneself or not?
5. In terms of social standards: what is the position of actions in relation to those religious conventions, traditions, social institutions and laws which are based on wise reflection (as opposed to those which are simply superstitious or mistaken beliefs)?
Prior to addressing the question of the results of kamma in the next chapter, it would be pertinent to consider some of the points described above in the light of the Pali Canon.
"What are skillful (kusala) conditions? They are the three roots of skillfulness -- non-greed, non-aversion and non-delusion; feelings, perceptions, proliferations and consciousness which contain those roots of skillfulness; bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which have those roots as their base: these are skillful conditions.
"What are unskillful (akusala) conditions? They are the three roots of unskillfulness -- greed, aversion and delusion -- and all the defilements which arise from them; feelings, perceptions, proliferations and consciousness which contain those roots of unskillfulness; bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which have those roots of unskillfulness as a foundation: these are unskillful conditions."
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"There are two kinds of danger, the overt danger and the covert danger.
"What are the 'overt dangers'? These are such things as lions, tigers, panthers, bears, leopards, wolves ... bandits ... eye diseases, ear diseases, nose diseases ... cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defecation, urination, contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and crawling animals: these are called 'overt dangers.'
"What are the 'covert dangers'? They are bad bodily actions, bad verbal actions, bad mental actions; the hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and doubt; greed, aversion and delusion; anger, vengeance, spite, arrogance, jealousy, meanness, deception, boastfulness, stubbornness, contention, pride, scornfulness, delusion, heedlessness; the defilements, the bad habits; the confusion; the lust; the agitation; all thoughts that are unskillful: these are the 'covert dangers.'
"They are called 'dangers' for what reason? They are called dangers in that they overwhelm, in that they cause decline, in that they are a shelter.
"Why are they called dangers in that they overwhelm? Because those dangers suppress, constrict, overcome, oppress, harass and crush ...
"Why are they called dangers in that they cause decline? Because those dangers bring about the decline of skillful conditions ...
"Why are they called dangers in that they are a shelter? Because base, unskillful conditions are born from those things and take shelter within them, just as an animal which lives in a hole takes shelter in a hole, a water animal takes shelter in water, or a tree-dwelling animal takes shelter in trees .. "
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"Monks, there are these three roots of unskillfulness. What are the three? They are the greed-root, the aversion-root and the delusion-root of unskillfulness ...
"Greed itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of greed, through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of greed, sunk in greed, whose mind is distorted by greed, causes trouble for others by striking them, imprisoning them, crushing them, decrying them, and banishing them, thinking, 'I am powerful, I am mighty.' That is also unskillful. These many kinds of coarse, unskillful conditions, arising from greed, having greed as their cause, having greed as their source, having greed as condition, persecute the evil doer.
"Hatred itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of hatred, through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of hatred ... causes trouble for others ... that is also unskillful. These many kinds of coarse, unskillful conditions persecute the evil doer ...
"Delusion itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of delusion, through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of delusion causes trouble for others ... that is also unskillful. These many kinds of unskillful conditions persecute the evil doer in this way.
"One who is thus caught up, whose mind is thus infected, in the coarse, unskillful conditions born of greed, hatred and delusion, experiences suffering, stress, agitation and anxiety in this present time. At death, at the breaking up of the body, he can expect a woeful bourn, just like a tree which is completely entwined with a banyan creeper comes to ruin, to destruction, to decline, to dissolution ...
"Monks! There are these three roots of skillfulness. What are the three? They are the non-greed root, the non-aversion root and the non-delusion root ..."
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"Monks! There are three root causes of kamma. What are the three? They are greed ... hatred ... delusion ...
"Whatever kamma is performed out of greed ... hatred ... delusion, is born from greed ... hatred ... delusion, has greed ... hatred ... delusion as its root and as its cause, that kamma is unskillful, that kamma is harmful, that kamma has suffering as a result, that kamma brings about the creation of more kamma, not the cessation of kamma.
"Monks! There are these three root causes of kamma. What are the three? They are non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion ...
"Whatever kamma is performed out of non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion, is born of non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion, has non-greed ... non-hatred ... non-delusion as its root and its cause, that kamma is skillful, that kamma is not harmful, that kamma has happiness as a result, that kamma brings about the cessation of kamma, not the creation of more kamma ..."
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"Listen, Kalamas. When you know for yourselves that these things are unskillful, these things are harmful, these things are censured by the wise, these things, if acted upon, will bring about what is neither beneficial nor conducive to welfare, but will cause suffering, then you should abandon them."
"Kalamas, how do you consider this matter? Do greed ... hatred ... delusion in a person, bring about benefit or non-benefit?"
(Answer: Non-benefit, Venerable Sir.)
"One who is desirous ... is angry ... is deluded; who is overwhelmed by greed ... hatred ... delusion, whose mind is thus distorted, as a result resorts to murder, to theft, to adultery, to lying, and encourages others to do so. This is for their non-benefit and non-welfare for a long time to come."
(Answer: That is true, Venerable Sir.)
"Kalamas, how say you, are those things skillful or unskillful?"
(Answer: They are unskillful, Venerable Sir.)
"Are they harmful or not harmful?"
(Answer: Harmful, Venerable Sir.)
"Praised by the wise, or censured?"
(Answer: Censured by the wise, Venerable Sir.)
"If these things are acted upon, will they bring about harm and suffering, or not? What do you think?"
(Answer: When put into practice, these things bring about harm and suffering, this is our view on this matter.)
"In that case, Kalamas, when I said, 'Come, Kalamas, do not believe simply because a belief has been adhered to for generations ... nor simply because this man is your teacher, or is revered by you, but when you know for yourselves that these things are unskillful, then you should abandon those things,' it is on account of this that I thus spoke."
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The following passage is from an exchange between King Pasenadi of Kosala and the Venerable Ananda. It is a series of questions and answers relating to the nature of good and evil, from which it can be seen that Venerable Ananda makes use of all the standards mentioned above.
King: Venerable Sir, when foolish, unintelligent people, not carefully considering, speak in praise or blame of others, I do not take their words seriously. As for pundits, the wise and astute, who carefully consider before praising or criticizing, I give weight to their words. Venerable Ananda, which kinds of bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions would, on reflection, be censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are unskillful, Your Majesty.
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are unskillful?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are harmful.
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are harmful?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are oppressive.
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind that are oppressive?
Ananda: They are those actions of body ... speech ... mind which result in suffering.
King: What are those actions of body ... speech ... mind which result in suffering?
Ananda: Those actions of body ... speech ... mind which serve to torment oneself, to torment others, or to torment both; which bring about an increase in unskillful conditions and a decrease of skillful conditions; Your Majesty, just these kinds of actions of body ... speech ... mind are censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins.
Following that, Venerable Ananda answered the King's questions about skillful conditions in the same way, summarizing with:
"Those actions of body ... speech ... mind which result in happiness, that is, those actions which do not serve to torment oneself, to torment others, nor to torment both; which bring about a decrease in unskillful conditions and an increase in skillful conditions; Your Majesty, just these kinds of actions of body ... speech ... mind are not censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins."
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"One in the power of greed and desire ... hatred and resentment ... delusion ... with mind thus distorted ... does not know as it is what is useful to oneself ... what is useful to others ... what is useful to both sides. Having abandoned desire ... aversion ... delusion, one knows clearly what is useful to oneself ... useful to others ... useful to both."
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"Ananda! For those bad actions through body, speech and mind, which are discouraged by me, the following consequences can be expected: one is blameworthy to oneself; the wise, on careful consideration, find one censurable; a bad reputation spreads; one dies confused; and at death, on the breaking up of the body, one goes to the woeful states, the nether realms, hell ...
"Ananda! For those good actions through body, speech and mind recommended by me, the following rewards can be expected: one is not blameworthy to oneself; the wise, after careful consideration, find one praiseworthy; a good reputation spreads; one dies unconfused; and at death, on the breaking up of the body, one attains to a pleasant realm, to heaven ..."
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"Monks, abandon unskillful conditions. Unskillful conditions can be abandoned. If it were impossible to abandon unskillful conditions, I would not tell you to do so ... but because unskillful conditions can be abandoned, thus do I tell you ... Moreover, if the abandoning of those unskillful conditions was not conducive to welfare, but to suffering, I would not say, 'Monks, abandon unskillful conditions,' but because the abandoning of these unskillful conditions is conducive to benefit and happiness, so I say, 'Monks, abandon unskillful conditions.'
"Monks, cultivate skillful conditions. Skillful conditions can be cultivated. If it were impossible to cultivate skillful conditions, I would not tell you to do so ... but because skillful conditions can be cultivated, thus do I tell you ... Moreover, if the cultivation of those skillful conditions was not conducive to welfare, but to suffering, I would not tell you to cultivate skillful conditions, but because the cultivation of skillful conditions is conducive to welfare and to happiness, thus do I say, 'Monks, cultivate skillful conditions.'"
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"Monks, there are those things which should be abandoned with the body, not the speech; there are those things which should be abandoned with the speech, not the body; there are those things which should be abandoned neither with the body, nor speech, but must be clearly seen with wisdom (in the mind) and then abandoned.
"What are those things which should be abandoned with the body, not through speech? Herein, a monk in this Dhamma-Vinaya incurs transgressions through the body. His wise companions in the Dhamma, having considered the matter, say to him: 'Venerable Friend, you have incurred these offenses. It would be well if you were to abandon this wrong bodily behavior and cultivate good bodily behavior.' Having been so instructed by those wise companions, he abandons those wrong bodily actions and cultivates good ones. This is a condition which should be abandoned by body, not by speech.
"What are the things which should be abandoned through speech, not through the body? Herein, a monk in this Dhamma-Vinaya incurs some transgressions through speech. His wise companions in the Dhamma, having considered the matter, say to him: 'Venerable Friend, you have incurred these offenses of speech. It would be well if you were to relinquish this wrong speech and cultivate good speech.' Having been so instructed by those wise companions, he abandons that wrong speech and cultivates good speech. This is a condition which should be abandoned by speech, not by body.
"What are the things which should be abandoned neither by body nor speech, but which should be clearly understood with wisdom and then abandoned? They are greed ... hatred ... delusion ... anger ... vindictiveness ... spite ... arrogance ... meanness. These things should be abandoned neither by the body or speech, but should be clearly understood with wisdom and then abandoned."
a. These first five qualities are called the Five Hindrances (nivarana), so named because they are obstacles to the successful development of meditation or a clear mind.
b. Examples of such conventions are social codes of dress: before entering a Buddhist temple in Thailand, for example, it is appropriate to remove shoes and hat, whereas to enter a Christian church it is often required to wear both.
c. -- such as by refusing to remove one's shoes in a Buddhist temple or to wear a hat in a Christian church.
d. Hiri: sense of shame; ottappa: fear of wrong doing.
Source : www.buddhismtoday.com
Buddhism - the FAQs
Challenges to and Criticism of Buddhism
" Buddhists seem to think there is something non-material about the mind. But surely the mind is just the brain, or maybe a program running on the brain?
The philosophical view known as Materialism states that humans are machines - biological computers or automata. The universe does not require our existence - we are accidents of evolution. Our minds are programs running on the brain. Our minds cease to exist when the brain ceases to function. The human mind has no spiritual dimension.
Buddhist philosophers disagree with these criticisms and can produce rational arguments against materialism and in support of a spiritual dimension to human existence.
" Aren't all religions just memes - cultural viruses that take over gullible minds?
The belief that all religions are parasites of the mind is known as the 'meme theory' of religion, and has recently been gaining ground among anthropologists and other critics of belief systems. The theory states that memes perform two types of actions:
(1) Take control of their victims' minds.
(2) Encourage their victims to spread the meme to others.
Though meme theory accurately predicts and explains the behavior of the more intolerant and aggressive cults, Buddhism does not seem to possess any of the properties we would expect from a meme.
Hasn't Science made religion obsolete?
There is a common belief that the need for God as an explanation of the unknown has been eliminated by science. This may well be so, but not all religions believe in a 'God of the gaps'. Buddhsim can get along quite happily without needing to speculate on the existence or non-existence of a First Cause. The real threat to all religions comes not from the closing of the gaps which God used to occupy (such as origin of the species), but from the doctrine of mechanistic materialism or physicalism, which teaches that there is no spiritual dimension to human life. Buddhism at present seems to be one of very few coherent philosophical systems which are capable of resisting materialism and emphasising human spiritual potential.
" Don't religions cause terrorism and war?
With stories of religious terrorism seldom out of the news nowadays, there is a tendency in the West to regard Asian religions as dangerous fanatical cults. Non-Western religions are often lumped together as being barbaric, primitive, intolerant and aggressive.
This is discriminatory, Eurocentric, and very unfair to Buddhism. Buddhism is peaceful, promotes the arts and sciences, forbids wars of conquest, and has been associated with some very advanced civilisations, such as that of King Ashoka in the third century BC.
Any religion which propagates by intimidation rather than reasoned argument, or needs to silence its opponents by the bomb and bullet, is obviously deeply insecure. Fanatical aggression demonstrates that a religion's memoids know consciously or subconsciously that their beliefs are based on questionable foundations, which cannot withstand rational examination.
" Haven't all religions got a hidden political agenda?
Marxism regarded all religions as the opium of the masses, and believed that they were deliberately designed by the ruling classes to keep the workers in their place. With the collapse of Marxism, attention has moved from the politics of class to the politics of gender and of sexual orientation. Very few religions treat men and women equally. But to recall the old Marxist phrase, 'some are more equal than others'.
" Is the aim of Buddhism to become completely detached from everyone and everything?
No, the idea that Buddhists seek total detachment or indifference to others is disinformation originated in the book 'Crossing the Threshold of Hope'. The truth is that Buddhists are motivated by compassion to work towards being reborn into situations where they can reduce the suffering of sentient beings, and ultimately lead them all to enlightenment.
" What is samsara?
Samsara is the state of uncontrolled rebirth where the mind is continually reborn in environments of greater or lesser suffering, with no control over its destiny.
" Why are there so many different schools of Buddhism? Which is the best?
One reason there are so many different schools is that Buddhists accept and respect diversity. It is said that there are 84,000 gateways to the Dharma (buddha's teachings). Buddha presented the same underlying philosophy with different 'user-interfaces' according to the predispositions of the students.
When you think about it, people are so different in character, temperament and experience that it would be surprising if one size did fit all.
Another reason for the great diversity is that, in general, the various schools of Buddhsim don't persecute one another. There have been a few local exceptions, but nothing on the scale of the fratricidal sectarian wars which have waged for hundreds of years within Christendom.
So the answer to the question 'which form of Buddhism is right?' - It's the one that's right for you!
" Does Buddhism claim to have all the answers?
Buddhism is the only major religion which acknowledges a large area of ignorance about external matters. Unlike other religions, it does not even attempt to answer questions like 'What is the purpose of life, the universe and everything?' . Buddhsim regards such questions as at best unanswerable and probably intrinsically meaningless. The only purpose of life is what we personally give to our own lives. Buddha suggested that the most meaningful use of life was to seek liberation from ignorance, suffering and the cycle of samsaric rebirth, both for one's self and others. But this 'meaning' does not reside 'in the sky' or in any way outside of the individual, and it cannot be imposed, but must be freely chosen.
Most other religions go further than Buddhsim, and if asked 'What is the purpose of life, the universe and everything?' will usually come up with an answer along the lines of 'To fulfil the will of God.'
This invites the further question of 'What is the will of God', which usually brings forth an answer to the effect that 'God's will is to create life, the universe and everything'.
" Do Buddhists reject evolution?
No. Unlike some other religions, which require their believers to accept creationism, Buddhism is quite happy with the theory of evolution. Buddhist philosophy actually requires evolution to take place - all things are seen as being transient, constantly becoming, existing for a while and then fading. The idea of unchanging species would not be compatible with Buddhist thought.
" What do Buddhists believe happens to non-Buddhists when they die. Are they doomed to everlasting hell-fire, or does Buddha send them back as worms?
Some religions teach that they are the one true path to salvation and all those people who chose (or were brought up in) the wrong paths will be judged by the True Religion's Founder and thrown into hell. This doctrine is known as exclusivism or judgementalism. Buddhism is not exclusivist. To a Buddhist any person guided in their activities by compassion is regarded as following a beneficial spiritual path.
Unfortunately, in Christianity exclusivism went to extreme lengths with many denominations (at one time) claiming that they were the one true faith and the other denominations of Christianity were corrupt, or even in league with anti-Christ. This situation has improved during the past 50 - 100 years, but 'Extra ecclesiam nulla salus' - No salvation outside the Church - is still the official policy of the Catholic Church ( though how many Catholics still believe in it is open to question).
However, this does raise an interesting theoretical scenario which demonstrates the absurdities of exclusivism:
Presumably a Salvation Army officer who devoted her life to rescuing drug addicts and alcoholics would, nevertheless, have to be regarded as damned for all eternity by traditional Catholic theologians. A Buddhist, on the other hand, would look upon such a person as an advanced spiritual practitioner - a Bodhisattva or possibly even a manifestation of Buddha Tara . (One of the more surprising teachings of Mahayana Buddhism is that Buddhas can appear in whatever form is beneficial to sentient beings, and Buddhas needn't necessarily be Buddhist!) . So, taken to its logical conclustion, Christian exclusivism would require one Christian to regard a fellow Christian as damned, while a Buddhist would recognise her as a saint! (Fortunately the ecumenical movement it attempting to remedy this sorry state of affairs.)
" What do Buddhists think about Jesus?
Most Buddhists have a great respect for Jesus Christ and His teachings (though this may not always extend to some activities of certain Christian churches).
However, one of the main problems that Buddhists find with Christianity is that its philosophical basis is weak. Many of its tenets, which have their origins in the Old Testament, are at variance with scientific evidence. Christianity is thus unable to mount a convincing defense against materialism.
In contrast Buddhism is a consistent philosophical system which doesn't suffer from internal logical contradictions. Nor does Buddhism make claims which are at variance with biological, geological and cosmological reality.
" Why do Buddhists believe it's wrong to be cruel to animals?
Some schools of philosophy, such as dualism, believe that animals are automata and have no feelings, so it doesn't matter what you do to them. Buddhists believe that animals are capable of qualitative experience, including suffering and happiness.
" I keep hearing that ancient Buddhists predicted the findings of modern physics. Is there any truth in this?
Yes, the ancient teachings on sunyata anticipated recent discoveries in quantum physics by over 2000 years.
" Do Buddhists believe in God?
It depends what you mean by God. Within the various schools of Buddhism there is a great deal of variation in the belief in a Supreme Being. Beliefs range from atheism, through agnosticism, monotheism ('ground of being') up to multifaceted aspects of Enlightened Mind..
One of the preponderant deities of Tibet is actually a Goddess - Tara, the compassionate rescuer and Holy Mother. She is often seen as being equivalent to the Virgin Mary in the Christian pantheon.
At a more philosophical rather than devotional level, there are certain difficulties with accepting the Judeo-Christian idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, logically necessary being or First Cause. Within Buddhist philosophy this view of God would be regarded as suffering from a number of internal logical contradictions, and possibly a rather dubious politically motivated history.
" What's the point of meditation?
The practices of meditation fufill the following purposes
(1) In the short term, meditation produces physical and mental calming effects.
(2) In the medium term, meditation make us less irritable, less likely to go to extremes, and pleasanter to live and work with.
(3) In the long term, meditation enables us to take spiritual realisations from 'tomb to womb' across the death/rebirth barrier and protects us against unfortunate rebirths.
(Adapted from the Dallas KTC)
What is Buddhism?
What is Tibetan Buddhism?
What is the basic practice?
What is the Kagyu Lineage?
How did the Kagyu Lineage come to the West?
Is Buddhism for everyone?
Is this a cult?
To visit the center is there a dress code?
What is Buddhism?
Buddhism is a system of meditation, self-examination and self-awareness whose goal is understanding the nature of the mind, and using that knowledge to free oneself and others from the sufferings of the world.
While all beings thirst for happiness, few can find true peace of mind. In fact, many of the ways in which people seek happiness only causes more suffering. This is because ego-centered attachment, aversion and indifference create a mental atmosphere of confusion that makes it difficult for us to relate openly and honestly with ourselves and with the world around us. This confusion can be dissolved through the practice of meditation and the development of compassion, which enables us to unravel our negative ego-centered patterns so we may approach the world and its sufferings with a sense of gentleness and inner strength. Buddhism stresses the basic sanity and goodness of individuals, called "Buddha nature" and teaches that this sanity and goodness, if freed from the clouds of extreme emotions and confusion, can develop into enlightened awareness.
Buddhism was first expounded in our historical era (in the 6th century B.C.) by Prince Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Shakyamuni Buddha. After the death of the Buddha, Buddhism spread to many different countries. In each country it developed differently, based on cultural diversity and the needs of different people. The Buddhism that came to Tibet, called Vajrayana Buddhism, was derived from the Indian Buddhist tradition of Tantra - a practice that uses everyday experiences, even negative ones, to uncover the basic sanity and goodness of the enlightened mind. In the high and isolated land of Tibet, Vajrayana Buddhism flourished.
What is Tibetan Buddhism?
Tibetan Buddhism is not a monolith- rather, it is an extremely complex mixture of beliefs, practices, and philosophies that made their way to Tibet from India and Central Asia over a period of 1000 years.
In fact, there are schools of Tibetan Buddhism that have more in common with Zen/Ch'an than they do with other schools of Tibetan Buddhism. (Ch'an or Zen is like Mahamudra in that it is direct and immediate. Therefore, Zen has always stressed meditation over study and theory, and has been known as "the transmission that does not depend on teaching" or in Japanese: kyoge betsuden.)
One of the strengths of Tibetan Buddhism is its preservation of so many methods, so many paths all of them reflections of the course the Buddha outlined.
What is the basic practice?
Meditation is the basic practice of all Buddhist traditions throughout the world. Several methods of meditation exist, based on the three types or vehicles of practice. Buddhist doctrine maintains that a stable and sane mind is attainable through the use of three methods:
1) Developing a relationship with a spiritual guide or friend;
2) Realizing how our potential can be developed; and
3) Turning inward with meditation.
What is the Kagyu Lineage?
There are four major lineages (teaching traditions) of Tibetan Buddhism. Our center represents one of these, the Kagyu lineage, which traces its history back to 1000 A.D. The Kagyu lineage is called the "practice lineage" because of its emphasis on meditation practice. It is also known as the "whispering lineage" because its highest teachings are passed orally from teacher to student in an unbroken line. His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa is recognized as the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage. He is a highly realized meditation master who represents the lineage and embodies its accumulated spiritual energy.
How did the Kagyu Lineage come to the West?
The Chinese invasion of 1959 forced Tibetan Buddhist Lamas to leave their country as refugees. His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa established his main monastery in Rumtek, Sikkim, as the international headquarters for the Kagyu lineage. Kagyu Lamas spread the teachings throughout the world, establishing centers in North and South America, Europe and Southeast Asia. In 1978, H.H. Karmapa founded Karma Triyana Dharmachakra (KTD), located on a 20-acre site of richly forested land in the Catskill Mountains above Woodstock, New York (3 hour drive from New York City).
Study and meditation programs are conducted year-round by the Venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and the Venerable Bardor Tulku Rinpoche. You can learn about the scheduled activities at KTD by contacting KTD through their website:www.kagyu.org.
Is Buddhism for everyone, or do I have to take a special vow and become a monk or nun?
The Buddha's teachings and instructions are available to any being with the means and fortunate opportunity to access them. In general, the aim of a Buddhist practitioner is to benefit all sentient beings in the universe(s), seen or unseen. To restrict the teachings to a select few who are able to dedicate their lives in a monastic setting would be contrary to the essence of Buddhism.
Basically, we are all in this together and wherever you are right now is a good place to start ending your suffering, and the suffering of others. To benefit from spiritual practice, from a Buddhist perspective, there are no racial, gender, educational, financial, or age prerequisites!
There is a helpful metaphor which states that the Buddha is a doctor, all sentient beings are the sick patients (sick in that we are confused and suffering), and his teaching, known as the Dharma, is the medicine. In this sense, each being must take the remedy and "dosage" that is appropriate for them and their life. As a practitioner progresses through the Dharma, there are opportunities to take vows as a way of deepening his commitment and accountability-increasing his dosage, so to speak.
In short, to explore the Buddhist path you need to be no one other than who you are right now. It is said that the Buddha's compassion is like the sun, giving warmth and shining light to all things on earth indiscriminately. Based on this principle of equanimity, there is no bias in the heart of the Buddha. All beings are equally deserving of the liberation from suffering that the Buddha teaches.
Is this a cult?
In many ways, Buddhism is quite the opposite of a cult. While a cult situation often involves the complete surrender of material, emotional, and spiritual assets to a charismatic leader, Buddhism stresses complete personal responsibility and accountability for one's life. While in some stages of Buddhist practice extreme devotion and dedication to the teacher are necessary, this shouldn't be mistaken as a "blind faith" that requires you to somehow betray your better judgment.
Buddhism has existed for over 2,600 years. KTC's & KKSG's represent a lineage of Buddhism that developed in Tibet, called Vajrayana Buddhism. Even more specifically, Vajrayana Buddhism has 4 primary "schools" or lineages. KTC's & KKSG's represent the Karma Kagyu school of Vajrayana Buddhism and are official centers under the guidance of the lineage's most respected and realized teachers.
To visit the center is there a dress code or particular form of clothing that would be best to wear?
The short answer is "No"-there are no special dress codes or regulations for the center. However, there are a couple of basic concepts to keep in mind when deciding how to dress:
- When meditating or receiving a teaching in the shrine room you will be sitting on the ground in a cross-legged position. Wear something that allows your body to get into this position. NOTE: Participants who are unable to sit on the floor due to physical conditions can arrange to sit in a chair.
- You will be removing your shoes to enter the shrine room, so footwear that slips on and off easily is not a bad idea. However, this is just an idea and any pair of shoes that get you to the center is fine!
2) Mutual Respect:
- People at the center are there to focus their minds on mediation and spiritual practice, so clothing that might distract them is not recommended. For example, low-cut or extra revealing clothing might be discouraged. There are no fashion police-just use your best judgment!
- Coming to the center to deepen and develop your spiritual experience is a big step that takes a lot of guts. You are entering an environment in which you don't know what to expect, so wear something in which you feel good about yourself.
- Basic hygiene- remember that odors can be a distraction as well. No manicure/pedicure necessary, but use basic judgment in considering your impact on those around you. Strong perfumes can be a distraction as well. Dress in Buddhist practice is a very individual choice.
The bottom line is to feel comfortable and consider the context. You may want to imagine that you'll be in the presence of a Buddha- how do you want to present yourself? The answer to that will be very individual.
Basic Questions about Karma and Rebirth
Singapore, August 10, 1988
Revised excerpt from
Berzin, Alexander and Chodron, Thubten. Glimpse of Reality.
Singapore: Amitabha Buddhist Centre, 1999.
Question: Is the theory of karma empirical and scientific, or is it accepted on faith?
The idea of karma makes sense in many ways, but there is some misunderstanding about what karma is. Some people think that karma means fate or predestination. If somebody is hit by a car or loses a lot of money in business, they say, "Well, tough luck, that is their karma." That is not the Buddhist idea of karma. In fact, that is more the idea of God's will - something that we do not understand or have any control over.
In Buddhism, karma refers to impulses. Based on previous actions we have done, impulses arise in us to act in certain ways now. Karma refers to the impulse that comes into someone's mind to invest in a stock the day before it crashes or before it rises in value. Or, someone may have the impulse to cross the street at just the moment when he or she will be hit by a car, not five minutes earlier or five minutes later. The arising of the impulse at just that moment is the result of some previous action or actions the person did. In a previous life, for example, the person might have tortured or killed someone. Such destructive behavior results in the perpetrator experiencing a shortened lifespan as well, usually in another lifetime. Thus, the impulse to cross the street arose at just the moment to be hit by a car.
A person may have the impulse to shout at or hurt someone else. The impulse comes from habits built up by previous similar behavior. Yelling or hurting others builds up a potential, tendency and habit for this type of behavio r, so that in the future, we easily do it again. Shouting with anger builds up even more of a potential, tendency and habit to make an angry scene again.
Smoking a cigarette is another example. Smoking one cigarette acts as a potential for smoking another. It also builds up a tendency and habit to smoke. Consequently, when the circumstances are right - either in this life when someone offers us a cigarette or in a future lifetime when, as a child, we see people smoking - the impulse comes to our minds to smoke and we do it. Karma explains where that impulse to smoke comes from. Smoking creates not only the mental impulse to repeat the action, but also influences the physical impulses within the body, for example, to get cancer from smoking. The idea of karma makes a lot of sense, for it explains where our impulses come from.
Question: Can someone's receptivity and understanding of Buddhism be predetermined by karma?
Answer: There is a great difference between something being predetermined and something being explainable. Our receptivity and understanding of Buddhism can be explained by karma. That is, as a result of our study and practice in previous lives, we are more receptive to the teachings now. If we had a good understanding of the teachings in the past then, instinctively, we will have a good understanding again in this lifetime. Or, if we had much confusion in previous lives, that confusion would carry over to this life.
However, according to Buddhism, things are not predetermined. There is no fate or destiny. When karma is explained as impulses, it implies that impulses are things that we can choose to act on or not. Based on actions we have done in this and previous lives, we can explain or predict what might occur in the future. We know that constructive actions bring happy results and destructive ones bring undesired consequences. Still, how a specific karmic action ripens will depend on many factors, and thus, many things can influence it. An analogy would be: if we throw a ball up in the air, we can predict that it will come down. Similarly, based on previous actions, we can predict what will happen in the future. If, however, we catch the ball, it will not come down. Likewise, while we can predict from previous actions what will come in the future, it is not absolute, fated, and carved in stone that only that outcome will happen. Other tendencies, actions, circumstances and so on can influence the ripening of karma.
When an impulse comes in our minds to do an action, we have a choice. We are not like little children who act out whatever impulses come to their heads. After all, we did learn to be toilet trained; we do not immediately act out whatever impulses arise. The same is true for the impulse to say something that would hurt someone, or to do something cruel. When such an impulse comes in our minds, we can choose, "Shall I act it out or refrain from acting upon it?" This ability to reflect and discriminate between constructive and destructive actions is what distinguishes human beings from animals. This is the great advantage of being a human being.
Thus, we can choose what we are going to do based on having enough space in our minds to be mindful that impulses are arising. A lot of Buddhist training is involved with developing mindfulness. As we slow down, we become more aware of what we are thinking and what we are about to say or do. Meditation on the breath, in which we observe the in and out-breaths, gives us the space to be able to notice impulses when they arise. We begin to observe, "I have this impulse to say something that will hurt someone. If I say it, it will cause difficulties. So, I will not say it." We can choose. If we are not mindful, we have such a rush of thoughts and impulses that we do not take the opportunity to choose wisely. We just act out the impulses and this often brings troubles to our lives.
Thus, we cannot say that everything - like our understanding or receptivity to the Dharma - is predetermined. We can predict it, but we also have the open space to be able to change.
Question: Do people of other religious beliefs also experience karma?
Answer: Yes. Someone does not have to believe in karma in order to experience it. If we bang our foot, we do not have to believe in cause and effect to experience the pain. Even if we think that poison is a delicious beverage, when we drink it, we get sick. Likewise, if we act in a certain way, the result of that action will come, whether or not we believe in cause and effect.
Question: Am I the continuation of someone else who lived before? Is the Buddhist theory of rebirth a metaphysical one or a scientific one? You said that Buddhism is rational and scientific. Does this apply to rebirth as well?
Answer: There are several points here. One is: how do we prove something scientifically? This brings up the subject: how do we validly know things? According to the Buddhist teachings, things can validly be known in two ways: by direct, straightforward perception, and by inference. By doing an experiment in a laboratory, we can validate the existence of something through straightforward perception; we know it directly through our senses. Some things, however, cannot be known by us now through straightforward perception. We must rely on logic, reason and inference. Rebirth is very hard to prove by means of straightforward sense perception, although there is a story about one Buddhist teacher long ago in India who died, was reborn and then said, "Here I am again," in order to demonstrate to the king that rebirth exists. There are many examples of people who remember their past lives and who can identify either their personal belongings or people they knew before.
Leaving aside those stories, there is also the sheer logic of rebirth. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that if certain points do not correspond to reality, he is willing for them to be eliminated from Buddhism. This applies to rebirth as well. In fact, he made this statement originally in that context. If scientists can prove that rebirth does not exist, then we must give up believing it to be true. However, if scientists cannot prove it false, then because they follow logic and the scientific method, which is open to understanding new things, they must investigate whether it does exist. To prove that rebirth does not exist, they would have to find its nonexistence. Just saying, "Rebirth does not exist because I do not see it with my eyes" is not finding the nonexistence of rebirth. Many things exist that we cannot see with our eyes.
If the scientists cannot prove the nonexistence of rebirth, it then behooves them to investigate if rebirth does in fact exist. The scientific method is to postulate a theory based on certain data and then check if it can be validated. Therefore, we look at the data. For example, we notice that infants are not born like blank cassettes. They have certain habits and personality characteristics observable even when they are very young. Where do these come from?
It makes no sense to say that they come from just the previous continuities of the physical substances of the parents, from the sperm and egg. Not every sperm and egg that come together implant in the womb to grow into a fetus. What makes the difference between when they do become a baby and when they do not? What is actually causing the various habits and instincts in the child? We can say it is the DNA and the genes. This is the physical side. Nobody is denying that this is the physical aspect of how a baby comes into being. Nevertheless, what about the experiential side? How do we account for mind?
The English word "mind" does not have the same meaning as do the Sanskrit and Tibetan terms that it is supposed to translate. In the original languages, "mind" refers to mental activity or mental events, rather than to something that is doing that activity. The activity or event is the cognitive arising of certain things - thoughts, sights, sounds, emotions, feelings and so on - and a cognitive involvement with them - seeing them, hearing them, understanding them, and even not understanding them. These two characteristic features of mind are usually translated as 'clarity' and "awareness," but those English words are also misleading.
Where does this mental activity of the arising and involvement with cognitive objects in an individual being come from? Here, we are not talking about where the body comes from, for that is obviously from the parents. We are not talking about intelligence and so on, because we can also give the argument that there is a genetic base for that. However, to say that someone's preference for chocolate ice cream comes from the person's genes is stretching it too far.
We can say that some of our interests may be influenced by our families or by the economic or social situations we are in. These factors definitely have an influence, but it is difficult to explain absolutely everything we do in that way. For example, why did I become interested in yoga as a child? Nobody in my family or in the society around me was. There were some books available in the area that I lived in, so you could say there was some influence from the society, but why was I interested in that specific book on hatha yoga? Why did I pick it up? That is another question.
Putting all these things aside, let us return to the major question: where does the activity of the arising of cognitive objects and a cognitive involvement in them come from? Where does this ability to perceive come from? Where does the spark of life come from? What makes this combination of a sperm and an egg actually have life? What makes it become a human being? What is it that allows the arising of things like thoughts and sights and what causes cognitive involvement with them, which is the experiential side of the chemical and electrical activity of the brain?
It is difficult to say that the mental activity of an infant comes from the parents because if it did, how does it come from the parents? There has to be some mechanism involved. Does that spark of life - characterized by awareness of things - come from the parents in the same way a sperm and egg do? Does it come with ? With ovulation? Is it the sperm? The egg? If we cannot come up with a logical, scientific indication of when it comes from the parents, then we have to seek another solution.
Looking with sheer logic, we see that functioning phenomena all come from their own continuities, from previous moments of something in the same category of phenomenon. For example, a physical phenomenon, be it matter or energy, comes from the previous moment of that matter or energy. It is a continuum.
Take anger as an example. We can talk of the physical energy we feel when we are angry, that is one thing. However, consider the mental activity of experiencing anger - experiencing the arising of the emotion and the conscious or unconscious awareness of it. An individual's experiencing of anger has its own prior moments of continuity within this lifetime, but where did it come from before that? Either it has to come from the parents, and there seems to be no mechanism to describe how that happens, or it has to come from a creator God. This also has many logical inconsistencies. Alternatively, we have to say it comes from its own prior moment of continuity. The theory of rebirth explains just this.
We may try to understand rebirth with the analogy of a movie. Just as a movie is a continuity of the frames of film, our mental continuums or mind-streams are continuities of everchanging moments of awareness of phenomena within a lifetime and from one life to the next. There is not a solid, findable, entity, such as "me" or "my mind," that gets reborn. Rebirth is not like the analogy of a little statue sitting on a conveyor belt, going from one life to the next. Rather, it is like a movie, something that is constantly changing. Each frame is different but there is continuity in it. One frame is related to the next. Similarly, there is a constantly changing continuity of moments of awareness of phenomena, even if some of those moments are unconscious. Further, just as all movies are not the same movie, although they are all movies, likewise all mental continuums or "minds" are not one mind. There are a countless number of individual streams of continuity of awareness of phenomena.
These are the arguments that we start to investigate from a scientific and rational point of view. If a theory makes sense logically, then we can look more seriously at the fact that there are people who remember their previous lives. In this way, we examine the existence of rebirth from a scientific approach.
Question: Buddhism says that there is no soul or self. What then takes rebirth?
Answer: Again, the analogy of rebirth is not that of some soul, like a concrete little statue or person, traveling on a conveyor belt from one lifetime to another. The conveyor belt represents time and the image it implies is of some solid thing, a fixed personality or soul called "me" passing through time: "Now I am young, now I am old; now I am in this life, now I am in that life." This is not the Buddhist concept of rebirth. Rather, the analogy is like that of a movie. There is a continuity with a movie; the frames form a continuity.
Neither does Buddhism say that I become you, or that we are all one. If we were all one, and I am you, then if we are both hungry, you can wait in the car white I go to eat. It is not like that. We each have our own individual streams of continuity. The sequence in my movie is not going to turn into your movie, but our lives proceed like movies in the sense that they are not concrete and fixed. Life goes on from one frame to another. It follows a sequence, according to karma, and thus forms a continuity.
Question: How are the various impulses stored in the mind and how do they arise?
Answer: It is a bit complex. We act in a certain way, for example, we smoke a cigarette. Because there is some energy involved in smoking a cigarette, that action acts as a potential or force to smoke another one. There is a gross energy, which ends when an action ends, but there is also a subtle energy, which is the potential energy to repeat the action. That subtle energy of the potential to smoke is carried along with the very subtlest energy that accompanies the very subtlest mind that goes from life to life. In the simplest terms, the subtlest mind refers to the subtlest level of the activity of clarity and awareness, while the subtlest energy refers to the very subtle life-supporting energy that supports this activity. Together, they constitute what we may call "the spark of life." They are what go from one lifetime to the next. Karmic potentials are carried together with the spark of life.
Tendencies and habits are carried along also, but they are not physical. What is a habit? For example, we have the habit of drinking tea. We drank tea this morning and yesterday morning and the days before that. The habit is not a physical cup of tea; it is not our minds saying, "Drink tea." It is merely a sequence of similar events - drinking tea many times. Based on that sequence, as a manner of speaking, we say or "impute" that there is a habit of drinking tea. We label the sequence "the habit of drinking tea." A habit is not something physical, but rather an abstraction constructed from a manner of speaking about a sequence of similar events. Based of that, we can predict that something similar will happen in the future.
It is similar when we speak of habits, instincts or tendencies being carried on to the future. Nothing physical is being carried on. However, on the basis of moments of a mental continuum, we can say there are similar instances at this time and that time, and therefore there will be similar instances in the future.
Question: If life involves the transference of consciousness, is there any beginning?
Answer: Buddhism teaches that there is no beginning. A beginning is illogical. The continuity of matter, energy, and individual minds are beginningless. If they had a beginning, where did this beginning come from? What was before the beginning?
Some people say, "We need a beginning. Therefore, God created everything." They assert a creator God, who is given various names in different religions. The question that a Buddhist would ask is, "Where does God come from? Does God have a beginning?" Either they would have to answer that God is beginningless, at which point the Buddhist debater would say, "Ah ha, there is beginninglessness," or they would have to point to something or someone that created God, which contradicts their own philosophy.
An atheist says. "There is no God. Everything came from nothing. The universe evolved out of nothing. Our mental continuums came from nothing." Then, we ask, "Where does that nothing come from?" They say, "That nothing is always around. There was always nothing. This nothing had no beginning." So again, we come back to beginninglessness. Regardless of what answer is given we come back to beginninglessness.
If beginninglessness is the only logical conclusion we can come to, then we examine: "Is it possible for something that functions to come from nothing? How can nothing produce something?" That does not make any sense; things need to have causes. Does the other explanation, that of there being a creator, make sense? That assertion has many logical contradictions too. For exa mple, if an omnipotent being or even if a purely physical Big Bang created everything, then did creation happen at a certain point because of the influence of a motivation, aim, or circumstance? If it did, then what influenced the creation of everything existed before the creation of everything, and that makes no sense.
The third alternative to consider is do things continue with no beginning? This is a more scientific approach that accords with the idea that matter is neither created nor destroyed, only transformed. It is the same with individual mental continuums. There is no beginning, and everything transforms dependently, because of causes and circumstances.
Question: Buddha told his followers that he is not God. If that is the case, then what is the role of prayer in Buddhism?
Answer: The main issue concerning prayer is the question, 'Is it possible for someone else to eliminate our sufferings and problems?' Buddha said that nobody can eliminate all of our problems in the same way that one can take a rabbit by the ears and pull it out of a difficult situation. That is impossible. We have to take responsibility ourselves for what happens to us. Therefore, if we wish to create the causes for happiness and to avoid the causes for problems, we need to follow pure morality and ethics. If we want our lives to improve, it is up to us to change our behavior and attitudes in order to affect what will occur in the future.
When we pray in Buddhism, we do not request: "Buddha, please may I have a Mercedes!" No one in the sky can grant it to us. Rather, by praying, we are setting up a strong wish for something to happen. Our attitudes and actions make it happen; but, nevertheless, Buddhas and bodhisattvas can inspire us.
Sometimes, the term for "inspire" is translated as "bless," but this is a very poor translation. Buddhas and bodhisattvas can inspire us by their examples. They can teach or show us the way, but we have to do it ourselves. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot drink for the horse." The horse has to drink by itself. Likewise, we need to follow the path ourselves and gain the realizations ourselves that stop our problems. We cannot pass that responsibility onto an external omnipotent being, thinking, "You are all-powerful, you do it for me. I surrender myself into your hands." Rather, in Buddhism, we look to Buddhas for inspiration to uplift us by their examples. Through their inspiration and their teachings, they help us and guide us. However, we need to develop the potential from our sides to receive their inspiration. The basic work we have to do ourselves.
Much of the misunderstanding about Buddhism arises because of poor translation of Buddhist terms and concepts into English and other foreign languages. For example, many of the translation terms used to translate Buddhism into English were coined by the compilers of the Buddhist dictionaries in the last century, or even earlier. These early scholars often came from missionary or Victorian backgrounds and they chose vocabulary terms that came from their own upbringings. Many of the words they selected, however, do not accurately convey the meanings intended in Buddhism. When we read these words, we think they mean the same as they do in a Christian or Victorian setting when, in fact, they do not.
Examples are the words "bless," "sin," "virtuous," "nonvirtuous," "confession," and so on. In Christianity, they have the implication of some sort of moral judgment, reward and punishment. However, the Buddhist concept is not this at all. It is similar with the word "blessing." These words come from a different cultural background. Therefore, in the study of Buddhism, it is very important to clear away as much as possible the cultural overlay from the words that the earlier translators used. They were the great pioneers of Buddhist Studies and we need to be grateful for their tremendous efforts. Now, however, we need to return once more to the original languages of the texts and understand the Buddhist concepts by their definitions in those languages and put them into English words or phrases that correspond to the meanings.
Question: What does Buddhism say about Darwin's theory of evolution?
Answer: Darwin's theory addresses the evolution of possible bodies into which mental continuums can take rebirth over several periods in the history of the earth. It does not describe the evolution of bodies that an individual mental continuum will take in subsequent lives. There is a great difference between the actual physical life forms on this planet and the continuity of the mind-streams that are reborn in them.
Some explanations about evolution in the Buddhist texts may seem a bit strange to us. They speak about beings that were in a better situation than us in the past and then deteriorated. Whether or not this is true needs investigation. Not everything Buddha and his followers taught can be corroborated by science, and those that cannot, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is willing to leave aside. The masters may have given seemingly odd explanations for specific reasons and did not intend for them to be taken literally. They may indicate various social or psychological truths.
Nevertheless, within the context of evolution itself, there once were dinosaurs and now they are extinct. There is no more karma or impulses left for beings to be reborn as dinosaurs on this planet now. There are different physical bases that are available for mind-streams to take as a body now. It is not contradictory with Buddhist explanations for the physical bases available for rebirth to change over time.
During a discussion that His Holiness Dalai Lama had with scientists, he was asked whether computers could become sentient beings: Could computers one day have minds? He answered in an interesting way, saying that if a computer or a robot reaches the point at which it was sophisticated enough to serve as the basis for a mental continuum, there is no reason why a mind-stream could not connect with a purely inorganic machine as the physical basis for one of its lives. This is even more far-out than Darwin!
This is not saying that a computer is a mind. It is not saying that we can create a mind artificially in a computer. However, if a computer is sophisticated enough, a mind-stream could connect with it and take it as its physical basis.
Such far-reaching thought makes modern-age people excited and interested in Buddhism. Buddhists are brave and willing to enter into these discussions with scientists and to face the various popular issues in the modern world. Buddhism is alive and vibrant in this way. Not only does Buddhism have the ancient wisdom from unbroken lineages going back to Buddha, but also it is alive and deals with issues of the present and future.
Question: What happens to the mind-stream when a person becomes a Buddha?
Answer: Before answering this question, I must explain that Buddha taught many people. Not everyone is the same. We have different dispositions and capacities. Buddha was extremely skillful and gave a variety of teachings so that each person would find an approach suitable to his or her character and disposition. Thus, the major traditions of the Buddhist teachings are Hinayana for modest- minded practitioners and Mahayana for vast- minded practitioners. Of the eighteen Hinayana schools that existed in ancient times, Theravada is the only one left in existence now.
If Buddha were to say to somebody who is modest in his or her aspiration and goal that everyone's mind-stream lasts forever, the person might become discouraged. Some people are overwhelmed with their own problems and therefore, to them, Buddha said, "You can get out of your problems, become a liberated being - an arhat ? and achieve nirvana. When you die, you attain parinirvana. At that time, your mind-stream ends, just as a candle goes out when the wax is exhausted." For that person, such an explanation will be very encouraging, for he or she wishes to escape from the cycle of constantly recurring problems and rebirth, and not have to bother anymore. Thus, it is effective for that type of person. Please note, however, that Buddha did not teach that in the end, all mind-streams become one like streams of water merging in the ocean. That is the explanation of Hinduism.
To a more vast- minded person, Buddha would say, "I gave the previous explanation to benefit those who are modest. However, I did not mean what I explained literally because, in fact, the mind-stream goes on forever. After you have eliminated your problems and attained nirvana, the quality of your mind changes. Your mind does not continue in the same troubling manner as it did before." Thus, to people who have a vast-minded aim to attain enlightenment, Buddha explained that in fact the mind-stream lasts forever - no beginning, no end. When enlightened beings leave their present bodies, their mind-streams still go on.
There is a difference between arhats, liberated beings who have achieved nirvana, and Buddhas, who are fully enlightened. While arhats are free from their problems, suffering and its causes, Buddhas have overcome all their limitations and realized all their potentials in order to benefit everyone in the most effective ways.
Question: Is the state of nirvana permanent? When we achieve enlightenment, we attain a state of equanimity, which is neither happy nor sad. Isn't that rather dull?
Answer: We need to be careful about how we use the word "permanent." Sometimes it has the meaning of being static and never changing. The other meaning of "permanent" is lasting forever. When we achieve nirvana, we have rid ourselves of all of our problems. That state lasts forever - once the problems are gone, they are gone and do not return. The situation in which all limitations are gone also does not change; it will always be the case. However, we must not get the idea that because nirvana is permanent, it is therefore solid and concrete and we do not do anything in it. That is not so. When we have attained nirvana, we can continue to help others and to do things. Nirvana is not permanent in the sense of all activity stopping and nothing happening. We have to be a bit more precise about the use of the word "permanent" and be aware of its connotations. The state of nirvana itself does not change; the accomplishment of having removed our limitations does not change; it lasts forever. The person who achieves such a state, however, continues to act.
"Equanimity" also has several connotations. It can mean a neutral feeling of being neither happy nor unhappy, but that is not what Buddhas experience. Some of the higher gods absorb themselves in deep meditative trances that are beyond the feelings of happiness and sadness; they experience a totally neutral feeling in these trances. Buddhas rid themselves of such neutral feelings as well, since they are associated with confusion. When we rid ourselves of all problems and limitations, we release a tremendous amount of energy that was previously tied up with neuroses, anxiety and worries. We experience the release of all that energy unassociated with any confusion as extremely blissful. This is completely different from ordinary happiness associated with confusion, and it is not at all neutral or dull.
Another usage of the word "equanimity" refers to Buddhas having equanimity toward everyone. Here "equanimity" does not mean indifference, but having an equal attitude of care and concern for all. Buddhas do not favor some and ignore or dislike others.
Buddhist Beliefs on Death and the Afterlife
From Michele Baskin-Jones
What Do Buddhists Believe?
Buddhism differs from other mainstream world religions in that it may be thought of as a religious, philosophical, and ethical belief system. Followed by more than 360 million people, most who live in Asia, the Buddhist tradition is both rich and compelling to those who choose to follow its guidelines. Based upon the teachings of Sidartha Gutama, otherwise known as the Buddha, Buddhism entails 'right thought' and 'right living' in order to transcend the pain and suffering of daily existence.
Siddhartha Gautama was born into a life of luxury and affluence. Being a prince in a land where there was much pain and suffering, his father kept Siddhartha enclosed within the palace gates to shield him from the anguish that afflicted the average person. During his late 20's, Gautama, could no longer bear to live falsely and left his wife and child in order to seek the true nature of reality.
What Buddha learned during meditation was that the cause of one's seemingly endless pain is suffering and desire. Since the cause of suffering is rooted in the mind's attachments and desires, and because desire and attachment are caused by mistaken observations by an ego-centered self which neglects causality, peace can only be achieved by careful observations and patient mind control, sometimes referred to as mindfulness. When one leaves desire behind they are able to transcend from the world of illusion, to the state of ultimate truth -- Nirvana. The path to enlightenment is learned on an individual level through the teachings of the 4 noble truths and the eight-fold path. Some examples of these truths include to 'avoid any evil, to seek the good, and to keep the mind pure.' (The Teaching of Buddha by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, 1996 Kosaido Printing Co. Tokyo, Japan)
What Happens to Us After Death?
According to Buddhist tradition, reincarnation is a process in which the spirit is continually reborn after death until ultimate enlightenment is reached. This differs greatly from the Christian tradition where the soul is sent to judgment and, according to whether or not the soul was saved, will either be granted into heaven or damned in hell. In addition, when one passes from one stage of life to another, one must be mindful of thoughts and emotions. This also means surrounding oneself with loved ones and encouragement. In the Buddhist religion one can be born into other realms outside of humanity. These six realms include the hells, animal kingdom, the human world, the world of jealous gods, and the heavens. What determines the next life is termed Karma. Karma can be thought of as the tally sheet of good and bad deeds and it follows us throughout our existence.
If one lives his or her life without right thought and right action, the consequences may lead to a lesser existence. "Impure acts defile a person; stinginess defiles an offering; so evil acts defile not only this life but also the following lives." (The Teaching of Buddha by Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai, 1996 Kosaido Printing Co. Tokyo, Japan) However, unlike Western religion, one is able to shed their bad Karma and move out of the lesser states of existence. To the Buddhist, hell is not a place of eternal suffering, but a temporary place that one can transcend. An important distinction is that life, death, and rebirth are more of a continuum in the Buddhist faith, rather than a soul that has one life and one existence.
Ultimately, Buddhist beliefs in death reflect how one leads life in the now. The goal is to seek the good, reject evil, and above all shed ignorance. If one follows this path and continuously keeps truth in mind then one can be reborn into a higher existence. In his last words to his disciples, the Buddha said:
"Make yourself a light. Rely upon yourself: do not depend on anyone else. Make my teachings your light… My disciples, my last moment has come, but do not forget that death is only the end of the physical body. The body was born from parents and was nourished by food; just as inevitable are sickness and death. But the true Buddha is not a human body: -it is Enlightenment. A human body must die, but the Wisdom of Enlightenment will exist forever in truth and in practice…."
Common Buddhist Misunderstandings
It is very easy to misunderstand Buddhism if one knows nothing about its origins. Some followers may practice the cultural rituals without ever knowing Buddha teachings.
As a consequence, those who believe in "Buddhism" may not really be following the Buddha teachings, and those who criticise Buddhism may not actually be criticising what the Buddha taught. So I hope this talk may help everyone gain a better understanding!
Misunderstanding that arises from the teachings.
The theory of the Buddha teaching is very profound. Some people do not understand its meanings and may only know it superficially. After listening to a few phrases, they may start to explain to the others in their own way. As a result, some explanations people tell, may not be accurate teachings of the Buddha. The most common misunderstandings are about the teachings: "life is suffering", "out-worldly" and "emptiness". So now lets discuss these terminologies separately:
Life is suffering
The Buddha told us that "Life is Suffering". One who does not understand the Truth of this may think that life is meaningless and become negative and pessimistic. Actually, this theory is commonly misunderstood. People in society and even some Buddhists are trapped in this wrong and gloomy view.
When we encounter phenomena, and have a feeling of dislike, worry or pain, we say that there is "suffering". This should not be generalised to "all life is suffering", because there is also a lot of happiness in life! Noises are disturbing but nice melodies bring happiness. When one is sick, poor, separated from loved ones, one has suffering. But when one is healthy, wealthy, together with one family, one is very happy.
Suffering and happiness exist in all phenomena. Actually where there is happiness, there will be suffering. They are in contrast with each other. If we only say that life is suffering when things do not go according to our wish we are rather foolish.
The Buddha says, "Life is suffering". What does "suffering" mean?
The sutras say: "Impermanence therefore suffering". Everything is impermanent and changeable.
The Buddha says that life is suffering because it is impermanent and ever-changing. For example, a healthy body cannot last forever. It will gradually become weak, old. sick and die. One who is wealthy cannot maintain one wealth forever. Sometimes one may become poor. Power and status do not last as well, one will lose them finally. From this condition of changing and instability, although there is happiness and joy, they are not ever lasting and ultimate. When changes come, suffering arises.
Thus, the Buddha says life is suffering. Suffering means dissatisfaction, impermanence and imperfection. If a practising Buddhist does not understand the real meaning of "suffering" and thinks that life is not perfect and ultimate, they become negative and pessimistic in their view of life. Those who really understand the teaching of the Buddha will have a totally different view.
We should know that the theory of "Life is suffering" taught by the Buddha is to remind us that life is not ultimate and lasting, and hence we should strive towards Buddhahood's permanent and perfect life.
This is similar to one who is sick. One must know that one is sick before wanting to seek the doctor treatment. Only then can the sickness be cured. Why is life not ultimate and permanent and full of suffering?
There must be a cause for the suffering. Once one knows the cause of suffering, one will try ones best to be rid of the causes, and hence end the suffering and attain ultimate peacefulness and happiness.
A practising Buddhist should practice according to the Buddha instruction, and change this imperfect and non-ultimate life to a ultimate and perfect one. Then would come a state of permanent joy, personality, and purity.
Permanent means ever-lasting, joy means peacefulness and happiness, personality means freedom and non-attachment, purity means cleanliness.
This highest aim of Buddhism is not only to break through the suffering of life but to transform this suffering life into a life that has permanent peacefulness, joy, freedom and purity. The Buddha told us the cause of suffering and instructed us to strive towards the goal. The stage of permanent, joy, personality and purity is an ultimate ideal phenomena. It is full of brightness and hope. It is a stage that is attainable by all of us.
How can we say that Buddhism is negative and pessimistic? Although not all practising Buddhists are able to attain this highest point of practice, there is still boundless benefit in knowing this theory. Most people know that they have to strive to do good when they are poor, but once they become rich, they forget about everything, and only think about their own enjoyment and hence walk towards the wrong path foolishly.
A practising Buddhist should remember to strive not only when one is poor and in difficulties, but should also be mindful when one is enjoying, because happiness is not permanent. If one does not strive towards the good, they will degenerate and fall very quickly. The teaching of "Life is suffering" reminds us not to look forward for enjoyment only and go the wrong way. This is the important implication in the teaching of "Life is suffering", taught by the Buddha.
The teaching of Buddha tells us that there is this world and the world beyond this. Many people think that this world refers to the world that we are living in and the world beyond this is some place outside this world. This is wrong. We are living in this world and we remain here even if we become monks or nuns. The Arahats, Bodhisattva and Buddha are saints who have realisations beyond this world but they are still living in this world and giving assistance to us. Thus, "out-worldly" does not mean that one has to go away from this world and go to another place.
What does "worldly" and "out-worldly" mean in Buddhism? According to the Chinese understanding "worldly" has the implication of time. For example, the Chinese regard thirty years as an "age" and in the West, a hundred years make up a century. Anything that exists within the time frame, from the past to the present and from the present to the future, is the "world".
The teaching of the Buddha is also as such. That which is changeable is called "worldly". Within this time frame, from the past to the present, from the present to the future, from existence to non-existence, from good to bad, everything is changing continuously. Anything that is changing is called "worldly".
Besides, the word "worldly" also has the meaning of concealment. Normal people do not understand the cause and effect of the past, present and future. They do not know where they come from, how to behave as a human being, where to go after death, the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. They live ignorantly under the influence of the karma of the three births. This is called "worldly".
What does "out-worldly" (supra mundane) mean? "Out" has the meaning of beyond or superior. One who practices the teaching of the Buddha, has wisdom and is able to understand the truth of the life and universe; has no defilements and is pure in one mind; and experiences the permanent Truth is called the "out-worldly" one.
All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are living in this world. They have great wisdom in seeing the Truth and their minds are pure. They are not like the normal "worldly" people. Thus, the term "out-worldly" encourages all of us who are practising the Buddha's teaching to progress further and become the man above the men, to improve ourselves from a worldly person to an out-worldly saint.
It is not asking us to go to another world. Misunderstanding "out-worldly", some think that the principle of Buddhism is to run away from reality.
The Buddha says that everything is "empty". Some think that this is empty, that is empty, or everything is empty. Since everything is empty, and meaningless, one does not need to do either evil or good. These people understand the concept vaguely, and lead an aimless life. In fact, "emptiness" in Buddhism is the most profound philosophy.
The Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are the people who have realised the truth of emptiness. "Emptiness" does not mean nothing at all, in contrast, it includes everything. The world is world, life is life, suffering is suffering, happiness is happiness, everything does exist.
In Buddhism, there is clear teaching as to what is right or wrong, good or evil, or cause and effect. One should turn away from the wrong one and redirect to the right one, refrain from evil and do more good. Those who do good will gain good effect, and if one practices one may attain Buddhahood. This is the cause and effect. If we say that everything is empty, then why are we practising the teaching of the Buddha?
If there exist the karma, good and evil, worldly people and saint, then, why does the Buddha say that everything is empty? What is the meaning of emptiness?
Things exist due to causes and conditions and do not have a real and unchangeable identity of itself. Thus, they are "empty".
The right and wrong, good and evil, and this life are not permanent and unchangeable. They exist due to causes and conditions. Since their existence is dependent on causes and conditions, they continue to change with the changes of the causes and conditions. They do not have a permanent form, and therefore they are "empty".
For example, when one is facing a mirror, there will be an image in the mirror. The image is produced by various conditions. It is not a real thing. Although it is not real, it is very clear when we see it. We cannot say that it does not exist. The concept of "emptiness" relies on this truth that things arise due to causes and conditions. Thus, when the Buddha says that everything is empty, he is implying that everything arises due to causes and conditions. A practising Buddhist must realise and experience emptiness and understand the existence of the Law of cause and effect, good and evil. The perfect realisation of the two truths is that emptiness and existence are equivalent.
Misunderstanding that arises from the system of Buddhism originated from India. Its customs were different from the traditional customs of China. For example, the understanding of the aspects of renunciation and vegetarianism were different.
To renounce (To take the vows of a monk or nun) To renounce is a custom in Indian Buddhism.
In Chinese society, especially for the Confucianists, there are a lot of misunderstandings about this. In China, we always hear that, if everyone practised the teaching of the Buddha, then this world would become extinct. Why is it so?
Because everyone would become monks or nuns (celibate). There would be no husband and wife, nor son and daughter. How then could society survive?
This is a very serious misunderstanding. There is an example: The teachers teach the students. Will they encourage everyone to be a teacher, and therefore develop a world of teachers?
In the Philippines, there is not much misunderstanding about this because there are Fathers and Sisters everywhere. They have also taken vows, but they are only the minority among the Catholics. Not all Catholics must be a Father or Sister.
For the Buddhists, there are the renounced ones and the lay people. One can practise Buddhism by renouncing, or as a lay person. One can practise in order to end the cycle of life and death by renouncing, and can also achieve the same aim by practising at home. It is not necessary for Buddhists renounce themselves.
It is also not true that if everyone became a Buddhist, the world of the humans would become extinct. The question now will be, if one can attain the aim of ending the cycle of life and death by either practising as a lay person or as renounced follower, then why must one to renounce?
This is because, in order to promote and encourage the spread of Buddhism, someone has to take the responsibility. The best person to take charge of this responsibility will be the renounced monks or nuns, as they do not have family responsibilities and are not involved in other work duties. Hence, they can concentrate more on their practice and the spreading of Buddhism.
In order to prolong the existence of Buddhism in this world, we need these type of people to take responsibility. This is also the reason for the formation of the Sangha, the community of renounced ones.
How great is the merit of renouncing? The merit of renunciation is very great. However, those who cannot renounce should not force themselves to do so. If one cannot practise in line with the teaching of the Buddha after renouncing, it is worse then a lay follower. The higher one climbs, the worse will one fall. The merit of renouncing oneself is great, but if one is careless, one will deteriorate even more.
One should develop one mind sincerely, practise diligently and sacrifice oneself for Buddhism. Then renunciation will be worthwhile.
The Sangha (the renounced monks or nuns) are the centre members of Buddhism, they are the main force in the motivation of Buddhism.
The practice of not getting married can also be found in the Western religions. A lot of scientists and philosophers also remain single so that they will not be disturbed by the matters in the family, and hence they can concentrate more on their studies and contribute more to the development of science and philosophy. The practice of renunciation in Buddhism is to get rid of ones worldly attachment, and hence concentrate more on Buddhism. To renounce is an act of a great person, thus, one must put in extra effort. If one renounces without proper understanding, or without pure aims, one will not gain any benefit but will obstruct the development of Buddhism.
Some people want to renounce just after they begin to practice. They think that in order to practice the teaching of the Buddha, one must renounce. This is not correct and may frighten away the others from stepping into the practice of Buddhism. This kind of thought that one must renounce in order to practice the Buddha's teaching, is the thought that all of us should avoid.
One should recognise that it is not easy to renounce. One should first practise to be a good lay follower, practise for the sake of the Dharma, benefitting oneself and others. If one can develop ones mind greatly and sincerely, practise the renounced way, contribute to Buddhism first before one decides to renounce, it will be better for oneself and at the same time will not create any unpleasant influence to the society.
With regards to renunciation, there are two points to mention here:
Some people observe the spaciousness, majestic appearance, quietness and beauty of the temples and monasteries, and this arouses their admiration to be renounced. They think that the monks and nuns who live inside there are just waiting for the offerings of the devotees and enjoying themselves. They do not need to do any work. The idioms such as "do not wake up even when the sun has risen up to three metre high", or "cannot compare with even half-a-days freedom of the monk or nun" show the misunderstandings among the general people. They do not know that the monks and nuns have their own responsibilities, they need to strive hard. When they are practising themselves, they have to "practice diligently before and after midnight"; and in terms of their duty to the devotees, they should go around to preach the teaching of the Buddha. They lead a simple and hard life, striving for the benefit of Buddhism and all beings, benefitting one and another.
This is something very great. Thus, they are called the Gem of Sangha. They are not just sitting there waiting for the devotees offerings, waiting for things which are ready and never do anything.
May be it is because of too many monks or nuns who are not fulfilling their responsibilities that leads to this misunderstanding. Some people who are against Buddhism say that the monks and nuns do nothing, they are parasites of society and are useless. These people do not know that it is not necessary for one to be engaged in the work force of agriculture or business in order to be considered productive. If it is so, then are people who choose to be teacher, reporter or other occupations also considered as the consumers of societys output too?
It is not right to say that the monks or nuns have nothing to do. They lead a simple and hard life and striving diligently everyday. The things that they do, besides benefitting themselves, is to teach others to do good, to emphasise moral values and practices, so that the personality of the devotees can be improved, leading them to the end of the cycle of life and death. They bring great benefit to the people in the world. Thus, how can we say that they are the parasites that are doing nothing?
The monks and nuns are religious teachers. They are profound and respectful educators. Thus, the saying of those who have no understanding on Buddhism, that the monks and nuns are doing nothing and are the parasites wasting societys money are in fact wrong.
A person who really leads a renounced life is in fact not free, they are not mere consumers but are busily repaying their gratitude to all living beings whenever they can.
Chinese Buddhism emphasises a vegetarian diet. Thus, some people thought that one who practises Buddhism must be a vegetarian. People who cannot stop eating meat misunderstood that they are not ready to start to learn about Buddhism. If we look around at the Buddhists in Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand or Tibet and Mongolia, not to mention the lay followers, we find even the monks and nuns have meat in their diet. Can you say that they are not practicing the Buddha's teaching? They are not Buddhists?
Do not think that one must be a vegetarian in order to learn about the teaching of the Buddha and that one cannot practise Buddhism if one cannot be a vegetarian. To practice Buddhism and be a vegetarian are not the same thing.
Some people who become a Buddhist, do not learn much about the teachings but only know how to be a vegetarian. This causes unhappiness among the members of the family. They feel that it is too troublesome to be a vegetarian. In fact one who is practising the teaching of the Buddha should: - after becoming a Buddhist - first understand the teaching of the Buddha and behave according to the teaching in both the family and the society.
Purifying ones conduct and mind, so that the members of the family feel that one has changed for the better should be the goal.
If before becoming a Buddhist, one was greedy, has strong hatred and lacked of a sense of responsibility and loving kindness; and after practising the Buddhas teachings, one becomes less greedy, less paranoid and shows more care to the others with a stronger sense of responsibility, then the members of the family would see the benefit of practising the Buddha's teachings.
At that time, if one wants to be a vegetarian, the family members would not object to it. In fact, they may also be encouraged to have sympathy towards other living beings and follow one to be a vegetarian. If one only knows to be a vegetarian after becoming a Buddhist and does not learn about others, one will surely encounter obstacles and cause misunderstanding.
Although it is not necessary for a Buddhist to be vegetarian, it is a good moral conduct in the Chinese Buddhism and is something that should be promoted. The teaching of the Buddha says that becoming a vegetarian will cultivate one's loving kindness and compassion. By not harming the life of other living beings, not eating the meat of the other animals one will reduce one's karma of killing and strengthen one's sympathy towards the sufferings of Mankind.
Mahayana Buddhism advocates the practice of vegetarianism, and says that to be a vegetarian has great merits in cultivating one's mind of loving kindness and compassion. If one becomes a vegetarian but does not cultivate the mind of loving kindness and compassion, it is only a practice of no killing in a pessimistic way. It resembles the practice of the Hinayanist.
From the view point of the worldly Dharma, the benefit of becoming a vegetarian is very great. It is more economical, highly nutritious and may reduce illness. In the world at present, there are international vegetarian organisations. Everyone who likes to be a vegetarian may join them. Thus, it can be seen that it is good to be a vegetarian. And as Buddhist who emphasises compassion, we should advocate the practice more to others.
However, one thing to note is that, do not claim that a Buddhist must be a vegetarian. Whenever meeting with a Buddhist, some will ask: have you become a vegetarian? Why are you still not a vegetarian after practising the Buddha's teaching for so long? This will frighten some people away. To regard practising Buddhism and becoming a vegetarian as the same will in fact obstruct the spreading of Buddhism.
The misunderstanding that arises due to the observances When non-Buddhists visit the monastery and see observances such as paying respect to the Buddha, intoning the sutras, repenting and the morning and evening chanting, they cannot understand the meaning behind them and comment that these are superstitious acts. There are many misunderstanding within this category. Now, lets briefly mention some of them:
To pay respects to the Buddha
To pay respects to the Buddha when entering the monastery, to offer incense, flowers, candle and light to the Buddha are the observances of the Buddhist.
The Theistic followers say that we are idol worshippers and superstitious. In reality, the Buddha is the master of our religion, he is the saint who has attained the perfect and ultimate stage by practising from the stage of a worldly being. The great Bodhisattvas are the Buddhas to be. They are our guides and indicators of refuge.
We should be polite in showing respect to the Buddha and Bodhisattva just as when we show respect to our parents. When the Buddha was still in this world, there was no problem. One could show one's respect to him directly.
However, now that the Sakyamuni Buddha has already entered final Nirvana; and the Buddha and Bodhisattva of the other worlds are not in our world, we have no way to pay respects. Thus, we have to use paper to draw, ceramic, wood or stone to carve their images, to be the object of our worship.
It is because of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, merits and images that we are paying our respect to them, and not because of they are the paper, earth wood or stone.
It is similar to the way we respect and love our country. We use coloured cloth and make it into a flag. When the flag is flying, we pay respects to the flag. Can we say that this is also a superstitious act?
The Catholics also have images in their church. The Christians, have no image of the God, but use the "cross" as the image for them to pay respect to. Some even kneel down and say their prayer. What is the difference between these acts and the paying of respects to the Buddha?
To say that the paying of respects in Buddhism is idol worshipping, is just the intentional defamation of some people.
What about the offerings of fragrance flowers, light and candle?
During the Buddhic times, the Indians offered these to the Buddha. Light and candle represent brightness, flowers represent fragrance and cleanliness. We believe in the Buddha and pay respect to the Buddha. The offering of these things to the Buddha is to show our respect and faith.
On the other hand, it means the gaining of brightness and purity from the Buddha. We do not offer flowers and incense so that the Buddha smells the fragrance; or offer light and candle so that the Buddha can see everything.
Some religions, for example the Catholics, also use these things in their offerings. These are in fact the common observances among the religions. When we are paying respect to the Buddha, we should be respectful and sincere and contemplate on the merits of the real Buddha.
If one thinks of other things or talks while paying respect to the Buddha, it is not respectful and loses the meaning of the act of paying respect.
To repent The non-Buddhist or free thinkers always feel that it is an act of superstition when they see Buddhists repent or chant.
To repent is to admit one's mistake. Everyone of us, from the past until the present, have committed countless wrong and evil deeds. We have left behind the karma that brings us sufferings and obstructs our progress towards enlightenment and freedom. In order to reduce and get rid of this karma that is obstructing and bringing suffering to us, we should repent in front of the Buddha or the Sangha and admit our mistakes, so that the past evil karma can be reduced. There are methods of repentance in Buddhism and these are equivalent to the confession' in Christianity.
This practice is very important for us to progress further along the path of Buddhahood. One must repent for oneself with great sincerity. Then this repentance can be beneficial and comply with the teaching of the Buddha. People generally do not know how to repent. So, what should we do?
The great masters in the past thus compiled some procedures and observances that one could follow if one wants to repent. They taught us to chant word by word, contemplate and understand the teaching behind it. The services of repentance teaches us how to pay respect to the Buddha, seeking for the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas, loving kindness and compassionate protection. We should admit our own mistakes, knowing that killing, stealing and adultery are evil deeds, sincerely repenting our past evil deeds and be determined to practice for a better future.
These are the procedures of repentance taught by the great masters in the past. However, the most important aim of these services is to develop one's mind to correcting oneself and repent sincerely for one's past evil deeds.
Some people cannot even read the readily written procedures, hence, they invite the monks or nuns to lead them during the repentance. As time passes, it gradually turns out to be that these people do not even know that they should repent, and only employ the monks and nuns to repent for them.
Some, when their parents or family members pass away, in order to release the past evil karma of the parents and the other family members, invite the monks or nuns to do a repentance service for them. They hope that relying on the merits of the Triple Gem, the death may be relieved from the realms of suffering.
However, sometimes they do not understand the real purpose of the teaching and only emphasise on how big the ceremony should be; or do it for the sake of tradition, and spend money to employ the monks or nuns to do the services for them. They do not have faith in Buddhism, and do not show any sincerity in repenting themselves. In this case the purpose of these repentance services will not be achieved.
Gradually, the purpose of the services for repentance becomes vague. The Buddhist devotees do not repent and request the monks or nuns to do everything for them, As a result, the monks and nuns are busy with all these services all day; to do the service for this family today, and the next family tomorrow. And these services become the only activity in some of the monasteries, with the main task of the monks and nuns being neglected. This is one of the causes of lack of faith in Buddhism nowadays.
Repentance has to come from within. If one repents sincerely, even for just an hour, it has better merits than inviting a lot of people and conducting a few days services but not repenting oneself. If one understands this theory, and would like to show one's filial piety to the one's parents, the best merit will be to do the repentance oneself. It is not right to regard the services of repentance or other services as the occupation of the monks or nuns, as this will not bring any good to the society, but creates more misunderstanding and defamation for Buddhism.
Some people who practice the teachings of the Buddha, recite the name of the Buddha and chant the sutras every morning and evening as their daily homework. This is what we call daily chanting (prayer) in Buddhism.
In Christianity, they have morning and evening, and meal time prayer. The Catholic also chants in the morning and evening. There is nothing wrong with these religious ceremonies, but some Buddhists were concerned about these matters and asked: "Maybe it is better not to practice Buddhism. Once one practices Buddhism, problems come. My mother spends at least one to two hours each morning and evening to do her chanting. If all practicing Buddhists are like this, then who is going to do the work at home?"
Among some of the lay people, this is the real situation. They create the misunderstanding that Buddhism is only suitable for the old people and those who are free, it is not suitable for the general people to practice. In fact, it is not necessary that one must chant a specific sutra, or recite a certain Buddha's name or to intone for a long time. One can practise according to one's wish.
The duration of the practice should depend on the circumstances and the time that one has. The important thing in the daily practices is to recite the verse of taking refuge in the Triple Gem. The "Ten Vows of the Pu Xian Bodhisattva" is also important.
The Buddhism sect in Japan, such as the Pure Land sect, the Tien Tai sect and the Secret sect, which originated from China, have the daily practices of their own sect. They are simple and do not require too much time. This was the situation of Buddhism during the Tang and Song Dynasties. The daily practice in China over the last few centuries varied:
In the forest monastery where there were hundreds of people, it took a long time to gather everyone together. In order to adapt to this special environment, the daily practices became longer. Since the Yuen and Ming dynasties, the different sects in Buddhism merged. Thus, in compiling the procedure of the daily practice, it included the practices of the various sects in order to suit the needs of followers. It is not necessary for a lay person now to follow all these procedures. In the older days, the Indians who practiced the Mahayana teachings practiced the Five Repentances six times per day. It does not matter if the time is shorter. The frequency of the practice may be increased.
In short, to practice the teaching of the Buddha is not to chant only; and for one who is practising at home, one should not neglect one's responsibilities at home because of long daily practices.
To burn paper money after a death, the Chinese in the olden days have the tradition of burning white silk when praying to the ancestors. They burn the silk so that the ancestors may use it. They were then replaced by paper; as it is more economical. Later, they used paper to make money, ingots, notes, and even houses and cars, and burn them for their ancestors. These are generated from the traditional customs of the olden days. They are not the teachings of the Buddha.
However, there are also some good points about this. It allows the children to show appreciation to their parents. When they are drinking or eating, they think of their parents and ancestors. When they are living in good houses and wearing nice clothes, they remember their ancestors, and do not forget the help of their ancestors. This practice has the implication of remembrance.
When Buddhism spread to China, in order to adapt to the Chinese culture, and for convenience sake, this practice was merged into the practice of chanting and paying respect to the Buddha. It arouses the criticism of others, and thoughts that Buddhism is superstitious and wasteful. Buddhists should understand this and should not burn paper money as this is not the teaching of the Buddha.
If one still wants to keep the tradition and want to show one's remembrance towards the ancestors, then one may burn a little at home. But do not burn them in the temple or monastery as this will create misunderstanding of Buddhism.
To draw lots, to ask for fortune, to divine in some Buddhist monasteries and temple, there is misbehaviour such as drawing lots, asking for fortune, divining etc. This arouses the criticism and ire of the society, and people say that Buddhism is superstitious.
In fact, true Buddhists do not allow this behaviour (whether they are effective or not is another matter). One who is really practising the teaching of the Buddha, should believe in the Law of Cause and Effect. If one has committed evil karma in the past or present lives, one will not be able to avoid the effect of it through any methods. One who practises good acts will gain good fruit.
One who does evil deeds will not be able to run away from the evil effects. In order to gain good effects, one must do more merits. A practicing Buddhist should try to do more good deeds, according to the teaching of the Buddha, and should not try to find short cuts and behave in a bad way.
Misunderstanding that arises from the current development of Buddhism.
Many Chinese do not understand Buddhism and its development in the international level. They criticise Buddhism on their own accord and opinion, based on the current situation of Buddhism in China. The following are two commonly heard criticisms:
The country will weaken and end if the people believe in Buddhism. They think that the end of India is due to its people's belief in Buddhism. They want China too strong and hence subjectively conclude that the people should not believe in Buddhism. In fact this is totally wrong.
Those who have studied the history of Buddhism will know that the time when India was strongest was during the time when Buddhism was most popular. At the time of Emperor Asoka, he unified the whole India and spread the teaching of the Buddha to the whole world.
Later, with the revival of the Brahmana practice, Buddhism was destroyed and India became more restless each day. When India was conquered by the Muslims and the British, Buddhism has already deteriorated to the stage of near to non-existence.
Buddhism in the Chinese history also has a similar path. Now that we call the overseas Chinese the "People of the Tang", and to call China as the "Mountain of Tang", shows that the Tang dynasty was the strongest dynasty in the history of China. And, that is in fact the time when Buddhism was at its high peak:
After the destruction of Buddhism by Emperor Tang Wu Zhong, the Tang dynasty began to deteriorate. After the Tang dynasty, the Song Emperors, Song Tai Chu, Tai Zhong, Zhen Zhong and Ren Zhong were all faithful followers of Buddhism. That was also the peak period of the Song dynasty. For the Ming Emperor, the Ming Tai Chu had had the experience of leading a renounced life, the Tai Zhong was also very faithful to Buddhism.
Weren't these the times when the country was in good order, peaceful and strong? Although Japan is facing failure at the moment, they became one of the stronger countries in the world sometime after the Ming Zhi Revolution. Then, they were mostly Buddhist. Thus, who says that Buddhism will weaken a country?
From the facts in the history, the time when a nation was strong was also the time when Buddhism was at its peak. Why are people wishing that the Chinese nation can become stronger but at the same time condemn the propagation of Buddhism?
The Chinese this century, see the Catholic and Christians' contribution in setting up schools and hospitals, but little is being seen to be done by the Buddhists. Hence they feel that Buddhism is pessimistic and does not contribute to the social welfare of the society. This is a wrong concept. The most that one can say is that Chinese Buddhists this century were not hard working and responsible. This is not the attitude that the Buddha taught us to have.
The Chinese Buddhist in the past also participated in the social welfare activities in the society. In Japan, Buddhists are at present setting up a lot of universities and high schools. The monks and nuns are the principals or lecturers of the universities or high schools. The charitable work of the society is also conducted and organised by the Sangha of the monastery or temple. This is especially so in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand. The Buddhists in these countries maintain a very close relationship with the development of education and other charitable work in the society.
Thus, one cannot say that Buddhism is not bringing benefit to the society, one can only say that the Chinese Buddhists have not fulfilled their responsibilities or acted as true followers of the Buddha. One should put more effort into these areas of charity in order to fulfil the basic teaching of the Buddha in relieving the sufferings of the world, and hence increase the popularity of Buddhism. Unfortunately many Chinese do not understand Buddhism well.
Today we have discussed some of the common criticisms. I hope this has enabled you to understand better the wisdom of the Buddha's teachings. I hope too, that you may practise according to the Buddha's example, rather than allowing yourself to blindly follow meaningless and perhaps, unhelpful rituals.
Translated by Neng Rong
Distinguishing Good and Evil
The problems of good and evil, right and wrong, have been dealt with in the discussion on karma. Here it may suffice to give a brief summary on the subject.
To determine whether an action is good or evil, right or wrong, Buddhist ethics takes into account three components involved in a karmic action. The first is the intention that motivates the action, the second is the effect the doer experiences consequent to the action, and the third is the effect that others experience as a result of that action. If the intention is good, rooted in positive mental qualities such as love, compassion, and wisdom, if the result to the doer is wholesome (for instance, it helps him or her to become more compassionate and unselfish), and if those to whom the action is directed also experience a positive result
thereof, then that action is good, wholesome, or skillful (kusala). If, on the other hand, the action is rooted in negative mental qualities such as hatred and selfishness, if the outcome experienced by the doer is negative and unpleasant, and if the recipients of the action also experience undesirable effects from the action or become more hateful and selfish, then that action is unwholesome or unskillful (akusala).
It is quite probable that on the empirical level an action may appear to be a mixture of good and bad elements, in spite of the intention and the way it is performed. Thus, an action committed with the best of intentions may not bring the desired result for either the doer or the recipient. Sometimes an action based on negative intentions may produce seemingly positive results (as stealing can produce wealth). Due to lack of knowledge and understanding, people may confuse one set of actions with an unrelated set of results and make wrong conclusions, or simply misjudge them on account of social values and conventions. This can lead to misconceptions about the law of karma and loss of moral consciousness. This is why precepts are necessary in the practice of moral discipline: they provide definite guidelines and help to avoid some of the confusion that empirical observation and social conventions may entail.
Buddhist moral precepts are based on the Dharma, and they reflect such eternal values as compassion, respect, self-restraint, honesty, and wisdom. These are values that are cherished by all civilizations, and their significance is universally recognized. Moral precepts that are based on such values or directed toward their realization will always be relevant to human society, no matter to what extent it has developed. Moreover, their validity can be empirically tested on the basis of one's own sensitivity and conscience, which are beyond factors of time and place. Killing, for instance, is objectionable when considered from the perspective of oneself being the victim of the action (although when other lives are subjected to the same act, its undesirability may not be felt as strongly). The same is true with regard to stealing, lying, and sexual misconduct. Because Buddhist moral
precepts are grounded on these factors, their practicality remains intact even today, and their usefulness is beyond question.
Buddhist Views on Marriage
In Buddhism, marriage is regarded as entirely a personal, individual concern and not as a religious duty.
Marriage is a social convention, an institution created by man for the well-being and happiness of man, to differentiate human society from animal life and to maintain order and harmony in the process of procreation. Even though the Buddhist texts are silent on the subject of monogamy or polygamy, the Buddhist laity is advised to limit themselves to one wife. The Buddha did not lay rules on married life but gave necessary advice on how to live a happy married life. There are ample inferences in His sermons that it is wise and advisable to be faithful to one wife and not to be sensual and to run after other women. The Buddha realised that one of the main causes of man's downfall is his involvement with other women (Parabhava Sutta). Man must realise the difficulties, the trials and tribulations that he has to undergo just to maintain a wife and a family. These would be magnified many times when faced with calamities. Knowing the frailties of human nature, the Buddha did, in one of His precepts, advise His followers of refrain from committing adultery or sexual misconduct.
The Buddhist views on marriage are very liberal: in Buddhism, marriage is regarded entirely as personal and individual concern, and not as a religious duty. There are no religious laws in Buddhism compelling a person to be married, to remain as a bachelor or to lead a life of total chastity. It is not laid down anywhere that Buddhists must produce children or regulate the number of children that they produce. Buddhism allows each individual the freedom to decide for himself all the issues pertaining to marriage. It might be asked why Buddhist monks do not marry, since there are no laws for or against marriage. The reason is obviously that to be of service to mankind, the monks have chosen a way of life which includes celibacy. Those who renounce the worldly life keep away from married life voluntarily to avoid various worldly commitments in order to maintain peace of mind and to dedicate their lives solely to serve others in the attainment of spiritual emancipation.
Separation or divorce is not prohibited in Buddhism though the necessity would scarcely arise if the Buddha's injunctions were strictly followed. Men and women must have the liberty to separate if they really cannot agree with each other. Separation is preferable to avoid miserable family life for a long period of time. The Buddha further advises old men not to have young wives as the old and young are unlikely to be compatible, which can create undue problems, disharmony and downfall (Parabhava Sutta).
A society grows through a network of relationships which are mutually inter-twined and inter-dependent. Every relationship is a whole hearted commitment to support and to protect others in a group or community. Marriage plays a very important part in this strong web of relationships of giving support and protection. A good marriage should grow and develop gradually from understanding and not impulse, from true loyalty and not just sheer indulgence. The institution of marriage provides a fine basis for the development of culture, a delightful association of two individuals to be nurtured, and to be free from loneliness, deprivation and fear. In marriage, each partner develops a complementary role, giving strength and moral courage to one another, each manifesting a supportive and appreciative recognition of the other's skills. There must be no thought of either man or woman being superior, each is complementary to the other, a partnership of equality, exuding gentleness, generosity, calm and dedication.
Birth Control and Abortion
Although man has freedom to plan his family according to his own convenience, abortion is not justifiable.
There is no reason for Buddhists to oppose birth control. They are at liberty to use any of the old or modern measures to prevent conception. Those who object to birth control by saying that it is against God's law to practise it, must realise that their concept regarding this issue is not reasonable. In birth control what is done is to prevent the coming into being of an existence. There is no killing involved and there is no akusala (bad) karma. But if they take any action to have an abortion, this action is wrong because it involves taking away or destroying a visible or invisible life. Therefore, abortion is not justifiable.
According to the Teachings of the Buddha, five conditions must be present to constitute the evil act of killing. They are:
1) a living being
2) knowledge or awareness it is a living being
3) intention of killing
4) effort to kill, and
5) consequent death
When a female conceives, there is a being in her womb and this fulfils the first condition. After a couple of months, she knows that there is a new life within her and this satisfies the second condition. Then for some reason or other, she wants to do away with this being in her. So she begins to search for an abortionist to do the job and in this way, the third condition is fulfilled. When the abortionist does his job, the fourth condition is provided for and finally, the being is killed because of that action. So all the conditions are present. In this way, there is a violation of the First Precept - not to kill, and this is tantamount to killing a human being. According to Buddhism, there is no ground to say that we have the right to take away the life of another.
Under certain circumstances, people feel compelled to do that for their own convenience. But they should not justify this act of abortion as somehow or other they will have to face some sort of bad karmic results. In certain countries abortion is legalised, but this is to overcome some problems. Religious principles should never be surrendered for the pleasure of man. They stand for the welfare of the whole mankind.
Taking one's own life under any circumstances is morally and spiritually wrong. Taking one's own life owing to frustration or disappointment only causes greater suffering. Suicide is a cowardly way to end one's problems of life. A person cannot commit suicide if his mind is pure and tranquil. If one leaves this world with a confused and frustrated mind, it is most unlikely that he would be born again in a better condition. Suicide is an unwholesome or unskilful act since it is encouraged by a mind filled with greed, hatred and delusion. Those who commit suicide have not learnt how to face their problems, how to face the facts of life, and how to use their mind in a proper manner. Such people have not been able to understand the nature of life and worldly conditions.
Some people sacrifice their own lives for what they deem as a good and noble cause. They take their own life by such methods as self-immolation, bullet-fire, or starvation. Such actions may be classified as brave and courageous. However, from the Buddhist point of view, such acts are not to be condoned. The Buddha has clearly pointed out that the suicidal states of mind lead to further suffering.
Why Does the World Population Increase?
There is really no ground to think that this is the only period in which the population of the world has increased.
If Buddhists do not believe in the soul created by god, how are they going to account for the increase of population in the world today? This is a very common question that is asked by many people today. People who ask this question usually assume that there is only one world where living beings exist. One must consider that it is quite natural for the population to increase in such places where good climatic conditions, medical facilities, food and precautions are available to produce and to protect living beings.
One must also consider that there is really no ground to think that this is the only period in which the population in the world has increased. There are no means of comparison with any period of ancient history. Vast civilisations existed and have disappeared in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Ancient America. No census figures on these civilisations are even remotely available. Population, as everything else in the universe, is subject to cycles of rise and fall. In cycles of alarming increases of birth rate, one might be consequently tempted to argue against rebirth in this or other worlds. For the last few thousand years, there has been no evidence to prove that there were more people in some parts of the world than