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Frequently Asked Questions Basic Buddhism

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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How do I practice self-improvement?

We talk about it a lot, but how do we do it. There are four guidelines:

    Improve Your actions, speech, and Buddha mind: First you must improve your actions don't kill, steal, or commit sexual misconduct, physical violence, or harmful deeds. Then you need to improve your speech: by not lying, flatter, exaggerate, or deliberately harm or wound others with your words. Finally, you have to improve your mind. Model it after the Buddha's spirit of compassion, brotherhood, and wisdom.
    Improve oneself and the relationship with others: First, you have to make sure that yours are exemplary in every way. Then others will follow your example and improve themselves. You must act like parents and teachers when guiding others. When others follow your examples, you can then improve relationships among people and lead them to peace and harmony. All these depend on your practice.
    Self-practicing at anytime, anywhere: You can practice Buddhism anytime. A minute of kindness, five minutes of meditation, or ten minutes of praying and chanting. You do not need to be in altar or in public, at home or in your room. With pure mind, no matter where or when, you are practicing Buddhism. When you do a good deed, don't insist that everyone knows about it. Keep your practice to yourself
    Earn Merit, wisdom, and peace: Helping the humanities and helping others will earn you merits. Keep your mind active and clear, and learn to practice the teachings that will earn you wisdom. Practice both merit and wisdom as the foundation for studying Ch'an or Pure Land School of Buddhism.

How should I cope with worries?

You can do the following:

    Talk it over with a good counselor. Don't bother someone who already has too many worries.
    Acknowledge your own weakness and correct the situation.
    Go out and see people. Be friendly, smile, and talk to people who will give you helpful advice.
    Face the problem and talk it over with the person who causes you the misery.
    Be disciplined and patient.
    Be tolerant and forgiving. Think of the other person and empathize with him or her.
    The most courageous person is the one who admits mistakes and corrects them.
    Vow to yourself: "I will treat others with kindness, and I will see others through the eyes of kindness."
    Tell yourself: "I am practicing Buddhism to overcome worries."
    Ask yourself: "Why not let it go? Why torture myself with it?"
    Tell yourself: "I will focus on praising and respecting others."
    Write down your thoughts. Read a book. Repeat to yourself: "I shouldn't blame others. And, I should learn to forgive others."
    Paint or draw pictures, preferably of Buddha's or Bodhisattvas.
    Recite the Buddha's name. Pray to Buddha. Copy verses of repentance and vows of Bodhisattvas.
    Recite sutras or dharma words.
    Study sutras and explain one section of the sutra to yourself.
    Meditate on your problems.
    Stay busy, and focus on your work.
    Listen to Buddhist chanting and sing Buddhist songs.
    Look up to the Buddha's face. Can you stay angry when you look at his face?

How do I gain self-realization?

We count on others to teach us, guide us, and help us to learn worldly knowledge even obtain Buddha hood. Ch'an Buddhism teaches us, it's better to be self reliant than to rely on others. The bottom line is we can count on no one except ourselves. Someone once asked a Ch'an Master how to attain enlightenment. The Master answered," I don't have time to explain it to you now. I have to go have lunch." Can you eat lunch for him? Can he achieve enlightenment for you? We each must do these things by ourselves. But how?

    Look within yourself: Are you focused on the present moment? Can you have an insight into your stream of consciousness? Can you govern yourself? Look over yourself, but treat others with kindness.
    Renew Yourself: We need to renew our heart and purify our mind. We have so many daily worries, but they will all be resolved eventually.
    Be Effort to Yourself: Keep your faith, keep up your schedule and keep your promises. You have to be effort in your own practice.
    Don't attach on yourself: Don't get too hung up on appearances. People are too attached on the impressions they make and haggle over details. If we constantly argue over minor wrongs and hurts, we will be mired in the maelstrom of gains and losses. We will never find peace. We have to leave all our clinging on self, others, longevity and forms of beings. Don¡¦t get trapped. Don't be too calculating. Let it go and find peace of mind instead.

These rules may seem simple, but practicing them are the true tests for everyone. Even though they are difficult to carry out in practice, there is no one else to do it for you. Until you attain self-realization, you will understand the world and the meanings of life.
How do I make a vow?

The practicing of Buddhism involves making vows. Making a vow is making up your mind to do good deeds. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas took a vow before they obtained enlightenment. There are the "Four Great Vows" also known as "The Universal Vow". There are the "Distinctive Vows," which include the twelve Vows of Aval Okitesvara or Kwan Yin Bodhisattva, the ten Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, the forty-eight Vows of Amitabha Buddha, and one great Vow of Kistigarabha Bodhisattva which I will not obtain Buddha hood unless all hells are empty". When making a vow, learn to follow these Buddha and Bodhisattvas examples. Place your emphasis on giving and self-sacrifice rather than on selfish motives.
Should a Buddhist tell a lie?

Killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and drunkenness are the basic Buddhist prohibitions. Lying includes boasting and exaggeration. For example, people claiming supernatural power when he or she doesn't have any, or claiming to be enlightened before achieving it, or calling themselves Living Buddha are usually lying. Some imposters lie and trick in order to convert people and gain their trust, this is another form of lying. However, if we were asked "Have you eaten?" to avoid causing the host the trouble of preparing food for us, even if we have not eaten, we may answer, "Yes, I have." This is not a serious lie because it's done out of kindness. A Buddhist practitioner is one who tells the truth by relaying the facts, without using exaggeration or omission.
What causes obstacles in our lives?

There are obstacles in our lives that we may enjoy: studying, making friends, working, buying a house, building a home, etc. Practicing Buddhism is no exception. Obstacle are caused because we:

    Are seeking Untrustworthy: We ourselves may be the obstacles. The pressure of external influence is limited, but the barrier on oneself is great. Just talking about something is not enough. We have to do it. Otherwise, people will no longer believe us and we will create a barrier for ourselves.
    Think Selfishly and Self-centered: If we only think about taking advantage of others, we are becoming selfish. People are not blind and not stupid. They will see through us and refuse to associate with us.
    Behave unlawful, corrupt and immoral: If we've done bad things and have broken promises, if we've been selfish and greedy, or if we've committed crimes, it's natural that people will avoid us. This will lead to obstacles in our life.
    Insisting on our own way always: When living, working, or conducting business with others, try not to be overly critical. When we become too calculating, others will stay away from us. This will cause a good beginning to become a miserable end. If we do not change our ways, the obstacles will stay with us forever.

In addition, if we keep our mind, views, courage, hearts, and thoughts closed and dishonest calculating. These are the obstacles in our lives.
What is the proper state of mind of learning the Dharma?

There are many ways to enter the world of Buddhism. You can do so through faith, through compassion, or through wisdom. It is essential to learn the Dharma, for it will help you gain confidence and stay dedicated to your practice. But, you must develop the proper state of mind in order to learn about Buddhism. As Buddha said, to hear the Dharma, you must be "like a vessel ready to receive water, like the earth ready to accept the seed, and you must seek to overcome the three obstacles." There are three obstacles are as follows: allowing preconceived ideas to hinder your learning, regarding the teachings with a negative and judgmental mind, and rejecting the teachings with arrogance. If a cup is covered, inverted, cracked, or dirty, you can't pour water into it and expect the water to remain clean or contained. If the earth is hard or full of weeds, the seed will not grow. One must be respectful and sincere, maintain a positive and humble attitude, and keep an open and pure mind in order to gain the full benefit of listening to the Dharma.
How do I establish a positive karma?

You treat others with kindness and generosity, always keeping the Dharma in your heart. Always think positively and practice being at ease in any circumstance. Make an effort to get along with everyone and bring joy to others. All of the above will establish a positive karma.
How do I gain respect and acceptance?

If you want to gain respect and acceptance, you need to give effort and be willing to make sacrifices. You need to generate good actions, speech, and thoughts, always keeping your temper under control and being careful not to hurt or embarrass others. When you bring others joy and make their lives easier, you will earn their trust and confidence. In this way, you will naturally, gain respect and acceptance.
Fo Guang Shan & Chung Mei Buddhist Temple
Objectives of Fo Guang Shan

    To propagate Buddhist teachings through cultural activities.
    To foster talent through education.
    To benefit society through charitable programs.
    To purify human hearts and minds through Buddhist practice.

What is the significance of the Temple?

The temple is not only a place of worship, but also embraces education and meditation through classes in various subjects from art to cooking. It also provides a place for people to gather; away from the pressures of their daily lives, no matter their daily lives, their race or creed.
Why was the Chung Mei Temple built?

The Chung Mei Temple was built primarily to serve those who are interested in learning about Buddhism and to serve as a bridge of cultural exchange between the East and West.
Who built the Chung Mei Temple?

Chung Mei is one of the many branches of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order throughout the world. "Fo Guang Shan" is Mandarin for "Buddha"(Fo), "Light" (Guang), and "Mountain"(Shan). Founded in 1965 by Grand Master Hsing Yun, the order's international headquarters is located in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Fo Guang Buddhism is rooted in the Mahayana tradition that emphasizes that Buddhahood is within everyone's reach. Fo Guang followers strive to bring Buddhism into daily life and aptly term their faith "Humanistic Buddhism."
Who is Grand Master Hsing Yun?

Born in 1927 in Chiangtu, Chiangxu Province of China, Grand Master Hsing Yun was ordained as a novice monk in the Chi Hsia Shan monastery at the age of twelve. In 1949, when Mainland China was immersed in civil war, he left his homeland for Taiwan.

Over the past five decades, the strength of his vow to revitalize Chinese Humanistic Buddhism and create a Pure Land on earth has greatly influenced Buddhist studies and practices. Recognized for his bold and innovative methods of propagating the ancient teachings to meet contemporary needs, Master Hsing Yun founded the Fo Guang Buddhist Order and its many branches. Master Hsing Yun also founded the Buddha's Light International Association as well as associated universities, Buddhist colleges, libraries, publishing houses, art galleries, and a free mobile health clinic.

He is a living example of the Fo Guang Shan motto: Offer others faith, offer others hope, offer others convenience.
What is the significance of the Chung Mei temple landscape?

Buddhist monasteries have historically been situated in mountain forests, providing monastic with a location well suited to spiritual cultivation. Chung Mei Temple gardens serve to carry on this tradition in an urban environment. Many o the plantings are native to Texas, with a notable exception being the two Bodhi trees thriving at the front door. They are easily recognizable by their heart shaped leaves, a shape that frequently appears in Buddhist are as a symbol of the Buddha's wisdom. The Bodhi tree is the type of tree under which Gautama Siddhartha attained supreme enlightenment and was henceforth known as Sakyamuni Buddha.

The Chung Mei Temple gardens reflect Ch'an landscaping principles. The interplay of various elements is designed to inspire meditation and reflect all beings harmony with nature. Statues of Kuan Yin and Arhats are situated along patterned waves of stone. These waves and their shades of black and white represent the ups and downs of human emotions. Stone pavilions symbolize the Buddha's light, which dispels ignorance. The water vessels are provided as a means to wash away impurities. The brilliantly sculpted rocks are natural formations from Taiwan.
Who founded Buddhism?

Buddhism originated approximately 2500 years ago in Northern India (now Nepal) with the supreme enlightenment and subsequent teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha. Born around 600 B.C. to King Suddodhana, ruler of the Sakya clan, Sakyamuni Buddha was originally named Prince Siddhartha Gautama. As a young child, he led a pampered life of royal wealth sheltered from the world's miseries. When he was at last allowed to venture from the palace, he saw four sights: a decrepit old man, a person wrecked with disease, a corpse, and a monk. Thus, he learned about life's inevitable sufferings (old age, sickness, and death) and the transience of all worldly pleasure. He also saw that the wise monk had found peace in spite of life's ills.

Determined to find a way to be free from these troubles, Prince Siddhartha renounced his crown and family, and embarked on his journey to seek truth. After years of cultivation, he attained supreme enlightenment and was hence know as Sakyamuni (meaning sage of the Sakya clan) Buddha. Out of endless compassion, Sakyamuni shared his teachings so that others could also discover the Middle Path to end all suffering.
Who and or what do Buddhists worship?

Buddhists trust in:

    The Buddha as a great teacher and exemplar;
    The Dharma which is the Buddha's teachings as a guide to enlightenment and essential truth; and
    The Sangha, which is the Buddhist community, particularly the monastics who teach the Dharma and guide one along the path to enlightenment. Veneration of this "Triple Gem" is central to Buddhist life.

Who is a Buddha?

A Buddha is not a god, but rather one who, through complete wisdom and compassion, has attained full enlightenment and is thus beyond the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. A Buddha exemplifies the highest form of morality and is the supreme teacher, showing people the way to relieve suffering. The word "Buddha" is derived from the root budh meaning "to awaken and be aware or completely conscious". Buddhists believe that all beings have the Buddha nature and therefore the potential to become a Buddha.

Cultivating and awakening this potential is what Buddhism is all about. According to the Mahayana thoughts, there are many Buddhas. When Buddhists speak of "the" Buddha they are usually referring to Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
Who is a Bodhisattva?

Bodhi means enlightenment. Sattva means sentient being. A Bodhisattva is one who is following the path to enlightenment. A Bodhisattva altruistically chooses to put off his or her enlightenment in order to alleviate other's suffering. The Bodhisattva practices the virtues of generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, and loving-kindness with no desire for self-gratification. There are an infinite number of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists regard Bodhisattvas and the Bodhisattva Path as the way to realize one's Buddha nature.
What is the sign found on the chest of many Buddha statues?

This is called a Sauvastika. This ancient symbol is infused with a variety of meanings including lightning, the sun, the power to overcome evil, and universality. The arms of a Buddhist sauvastika point in a counterclockwise direction and the sign is always in an upright + position.

The Buddhist sauvastika is NOT related to the nazi swastika. The nazi swastika has arms pointing clockwise and is tilted in an x position.

Nor does the Buddhist Sauvastika carry any implication of hatred or destruction.
What is the dot on the forehead of many figures?

This is one of the thirty- two special characteristics of a Buddha or one on the immediate threshold of becoming a Buddha.

The dot is considered a cosmic eye that emanates the light of wisdom or a third eye that signifies supreme insight. It may also be depicted as a curl of white hair in the center of the brow.

Long earlobes are another prominent trait. They originate in the ancient custom of Indian royalty wearing lobe stretching earrings. Sakyamuni Buddha was originally a royal prince so he most likely wore these adornments. In both Chinese and Buddhist cultures, long earlobes symbolize longevity.

Other Buddha characteristics include a sauvastika on the chest, three folds on the neck, long arms, curly hair forming a topknot, and a Dharma wheel on the palms of the hand or the soles of the feet.
What are the fundamental concepts of Buddhism?

Humanistic Buddhism is the integration of our spiritual practice into all aspects of our daily lives. Humanistic Buddhism has the following six characteristics:

    Emphasis on daily life as spiritual practice
    Universality of wanting to save all beings

It is difficult for people to see the relevance of Buddhism in their modern daily lives and how it adapts to the trends of the present age. Most merely follow traditions blindly. Though Buddhism speaks of the past, present and future, it particularly highlights the universal welfare of the beings of this world and although Buddhism speaks of all beings of the ten Dharma worlds, it reserves the most emphasis for humans. Through training and cultivating ourselves in this human world, enlightenment can be achieved. Therefore, we should cherish our lives and integrate the Buddhist practices in our daily lives.

Humanistic Buddhism encompasses all the Buddhist teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present whether or not they are derived from the three traditions. The goal of humanist Buddhism is the Bodhisattva way; to be energetic, enlightened, and an endearing person who strives to help all sentient beings liberate themselves. Transforming our planet into a pure land of peace and bliss is also an objective. Instead of committing all our energies in pursuing something in the future, we direct our efforts toward purifying our minds and bodies in the present moment.

Humanistic Buddhism must focus more on issues of the world rather than on how to leave the world behind; on caring for the living rather than for the dead; on benefiting others rather than benefiting ourselves; and on universal salvation rather than cultivation for oneself only.

There are five points that help us to apply Humanistic Buddhism:

    The practice of the five basic moral ethics (five precepts) and ten virtues
    To develop the four boundless vows of kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
    Applying the six paramitas and the four great bodhisattva virtues-generosity, amiable speech, conduct beneficial to others and cooperation.
    The understanding of cause, condition, effect, and consequence; and
    Encompass the teachings of Ch'an, Pure land, and the middle path.

Do Buddhists believe in a god?

If by god ones means a creator of the universe or a being guiding ultimate human fate, then Buddhists do not believe in that. Buddhism emphasizes the concept of conditional causation where everything in this world comes into being according to different sets of causes and conditions. Plants and flowers grow; spring, summer, autumn, and winter constituting the yearly cycle of the four seasons. Likewise, humans go through the processes of birth, old age, illness, and death.

All of these demonstrate the changes brought about by conditional causation. Thus, all phenomena in this world cannot exist without their corresponding causes and conditions required. Furthermore, one of the central Buddhist tenets is essentially, that each person is his own master.

If by "god" one means any number of heavenly beings, then Buddhists do believe. In Buddhist cosmology there are six general realms of existence: devas, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell beings. Buddhas have transcended those six realms. Of the six, devas and asuras are most like deities. While their respective realms may be described as heavens, they do not exist beyond time and space. The primary difference between devas and asuras is that devas are peaceful while asuras are competitive and jealous.
Is there a Buddhist Holy Book?

There are numerous Buddhist scriptures. They are traditionally divided into tree categories called the Tripitaka: the Sutras, also know as the teachings of the Sakyamuni Buddha, the Vinaya or rules for monastic life, and Abidharma or philosophy and psychology. Monasteries usually have a sutra library available for self-study. The traditional scriptures were originally written in Pali or Sanskrit a few hundred years after Sakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana.
Is one day in the week considered holy?

Every day is considered sacred to Buddhists. Congregational services are conducted as are new and full Moon chantings. There are other special occasions and gatherings for group repentance at the temple.
What are some of the Chinese Buddhist holidays and celebrations?

    April 8 - Sakyamuni Buddha's Birthday, Wesak Day
    February 19 - Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva's birthday
    June 19 - Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva enlightenment day
    July 19 - Ullambana Festival, the Buddha's joyful day
    July 30 - Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva birthday
    September 30 - Medicine Buddha's birthday
    November 17 - Amitabha Buddha's birthday
    December 8 - Sakyamuni Buddha's Enlightenment day

The days listed above are according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
How does one become a Buddhist?

Anyone can be a Buddhist. People who wish to become a Buddhist participate in a ceremony known as taking refuge in the Triple Gem. This consists of reciting the refuge verse three times before a monastic. The refuge verse expresses an individual's confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha as a way of eliminating suffering and achieving enlightenment. One also agrees to observe the Five Precepts that engender good conduct.

    Refrain from killing
    Refrain from taking what is not given
    Refrain from sexual misconduct
    Refrain from telling lies
    Refrain from taking intoxicants

How do lay people address a monk or nun?

The Mon or nun is addressed using the term "master", "venerable", or "reverend" followed by their Dharma name. The Dharma name is the name given when a monk or nun becomes ordained. In Chinese the Dharma name is followed by the term "fa shih" which means teacher (shih) of the Dharma (fa). Chinese frequently call monks and nuns "shih fu" to show respect for their reverent status as teachers.
Why do monks and nuns shave their heads?

Shaving the head signifies renunciation and detachment from worldly pleasures. Hair, from the traditional Buddhist viewpoint, represents impurity. Removing its is symbolic of getting rid of defilement.
What are the three circular marks on the heads of monks and nuns?

During monastic ordination three pieces of burning incense are placed on their heads and that produces three circular scars. The marks represent:

    the Triple Gem - the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha
    the three vows of ridding oneself of bad habits and thoughts, cultivation of good and having the wisdom to help release others from suffering
    discipline, meditation, and wisdom

What is the style of clothing Fo Guang monks and nuns wear?

Fo Guang monastics wear identical robes of a style common to the Tang Dynasty period (618 - 906). Long sleeves covering the hands are part of the traditional design. Fully ordained monks or nuns usually wear yellow ochre colored robes. This earth tone hue is derived from the Buddha's directive that they wear clothing assembled from clean, but discarded rags. It also represents the mud of ignorance. The gray tunic and pants are worn separately when doing chores.

For special occasions, daily chanting, and other prescribed occasions a ceremonial robe is draped over the left shoulder. Depending upon rank and occasion, the ceremonial dress may be brown draped over a black robe, orange over a black, orange over brown, or vermilion over orange.

The draped robe is often sewn in a patchwork manner which is also harkens back to the rag origins of monastic attire. Fo Guang monastic feet, ankles, and calves are completely covered, reflecting Master Hsing Yun's interest in going beyond he stereotypical image of a barefooted monk from the woods.

The open sided shoes are called luo han hsieh. This means shoes of the Arhat in Chinese. An Arhat is one who is perfected through the teaching of the Buddha. Items of personal adornment are prohibited, but monastics are allowed to wear prayer beads, wristwatches, and eyeglasses.
What gestures of reverence do Buddhists use?

The symbolic gestures of reverence most commonly used by Fo Guang Buddhists are:

Palms pressed together at chest level;

Greeting and thanking others with the phrase "omitofo" which is the Chinese pronunciation for Amitabha Buddha's name;

Waving hello and goodbye with the lotus mudra. The lotus mudra consists of the thumb and middle finger together to form the lotus bud. The other fingers are raised as petals and leaves. This is symbolic of giving a lotus to others in recognition of their potential to become a Buddha.

Removing shoes and hat before entering a shrine.

Entering shrines through the side door openings only; the central opening is formally reserved for the Master, monks, and nuns. Chinese temples are frequently built with triple entrances to the various halls.

Bowing to the Buddha and Bodhisattva images, monks, and nuns and others. This action helps remove self-centeredness and symbolizes one's humility and respect. It is also a means by which one becomes open to the state of mind which an image or person represents. Doing so facilitates the development of those virtuous qualities in one's own life. Bowing is usually done once or three times in succession. Three is a particularly auspicious number.

Prostrating before an image has the similar significance as bowing only more so.
What is the meaning of the Yellow Vests that some Temple Devotees wear?

The yellow vests are worn by members of the Buddha's Light International Association (BLIA), an organization founded by Venerable Master Hsing Yun, dedicated to the enlightenment and enrichment of Buddhist values.

These members dedicate their time and energies for the benefit of the Temple.
When visiting the Temple are there any special rules to be obeyed?


Wear correct attire. Do not wear revealing clothes.

Do not take photographs or videos inside the building. This is so that others are not disturbed while contemplating in the Temple.

Do not smoke or drink alcohol inside the Temple or on the grounds.

Do not bring meat or seafood into the Temple.

Children must be kept under parental supervision at all times.