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Frequently Asked Questions about Buddhism 3

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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 1. Are all buddhists vegetarian?
This depends on the development of your mind and compassion which generates from your practice. In practicing Zen meditation, your mind and body should be one. The purer the mind, the purer the body and the purer the body the purer the mind. As you might realize that the food you eat everyday has some effect to your body and which in turn affects your mind, and vice-versa. When you eat meat or fish, your stomach will be working harder than when you eat vegetable. Moreover, if your compassion develops at some degrees, you will not want to eat meat anymore, for example, because you know that an animal like cow or pig who has its own life as you do.

2. How Do I Begin Practicing Zen Meditation?
Check out the 'PRACTICE' section of the site and download the zazen guide. It's a good place to start.

3. How has it Zen played a role on Japanese culture?
Zen's influences on Japanese culture.
Zen has had a very strong influence on many ways of life of Japanese people, apparently in martial arts, painting, poetry, flower arrangement, tea-ceremony (cha-no-yu), archery, architecture, gardening, etc...

Basically, samurai and martial arts are just external kung-fu of physical body until when the people in those fields found that their strength in those fields were lacking something more than themselves which they did not know about it and they wanted to learn it form somewhere else. Then the Chinese martial arts went to Taoists to learn internal kung-fu which is the power generated when one's mind focusing attained at some measure inside his body. Especially, he trains his of "qi" or "prajna" i.e. breadth flowing in circulation from his nose through the field of elixir (under navel area), heart center to the top of the head. One who trains this kind of kung-fu will feel much better in his body and mind at first stage. At the next one, he could do something like a flying jump, lift a really heavy things which a ordinary man can not. More than that, his martial art improved a lot. He could help other people better with his capacity. He was called a "knight" in ancient China. But even so,if he feel it is not enough to him when he sees the suffering people endure around the world and then he'd like to see a Zen master for help. This time he learn Zen under the master. After training under a Zen master, when (if) he arrives at some state of no-mind, it is often that his well-versed styles of martial art now become non-styles, his steel sword is now dropped and his wisdom and compassion now is his new invisible sword, and if he'd like, he could use a blade of grass to help people in need. And when he help other people he wouldn't mind that he helps at all.

Samurai is a Japanese word for the class of warriors in Japan. They are somewhat similar to the Chinese knights. They often came to a Zen monastery or center to learn Zen, too. If anyone of them could reach the state of no-mind, he could help himself and other people in the similar way the Chinese knights did. Why did the people of samurai and martial arts liked to learn Zen? Because Zen would bring them back to their own original nature: wisdom and compassion which they did not realized it clearly before. Now they also realize that they already have both of them, they just use them in harmony in everyday activities. If one of them is absent that's not good enough, because if compassion is missing, wisdom may become cruelty; if wisdom is missing, compassion may become blindness. Other fields such as tea-ceremony (cha-no-yu), flower arrangement, archery, gardening, architecture... in Japan have been influenced by Zen. They have learned the way of Zen.


4. What Are the Differences Between Zen and Buddhism?
Questioner: I have a multi-question. I'm just beginning my journey into buddhism and I'm wondering if you could give me a couple of differences between zen and the other buddhist sects. I've looked into Tibetan buddhism and have read a couple of books by Thich Nhat Hanh whom I believe is from the zen school. I feel drawn towards zen but I feel that I don't really understand how it is different from the others.

Next question: I notice that zen is associated with certain warrior arts of Japan. How does this fit into the passive nature of buddhism? And lastly, after reading several books on buddhism it seems a vegetarian lifestyle is often hinted at, but I've found no definite ruling on the subject.

CT: After the Buddha passed away not too long, about a couple of centuries - I can not tell the number of years exactly - his teachings were interpreted in many different ways which depended on each individual understanding of his disciples. Then it formed in two greatest systems: Theravada or it's often called Hinayana: the Small Vehicle, i.e. the small car only can carries one person to nirvana, it's ideal person is an Arahat (a perfect saint) and Mahayana or the Great Vehicle i.e., the big car that can carries many people at the same time to enlightenment, the ideal person is a Bodhisattva, a person who is on the way to the Supreme Enlightenment of the Buddha. Then about the first century of A. D., Nagarjuna, one of the greatest Buddhist masters of all times, his position is just after the Buddha himself, founded the Madhyamika (Middle Path) School with his Doctrine of Sunyata (Emptiness) and almost the aftermath Buddhist shools' teachings based on his Doctrine, including Zen school. And after him about 200 years, another of the greatest schools was founded by Maitreya then established by Ansanga and Vasubandhu: Vijnanavada (Mind-only) School. These two greatest Indian Buddhist schools have been remained and developed in many other countries such as China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam... and now everywhere in the world, along with them is the Theravada system.

So far, there are at least ten great sects in Mahayana Buddhism such as Pureland school with its main practice is praying the name of the Amida (i.e. Infinite Light or Infinite Longevity) Buddha who lives in the Western Paradise. Another school is San-lun (Three Treatises) school, or the Madhyamika school in China, Japan , Korea, and Tibet. This school actually no longer exists in China... but still exists in the Tibetan Buddhists and now is spreading strongly in the West, especially in America through many Tibetan Buddhist masters. (The present Dalai Lama actually does not belong to this school, he belong to the Yogachara school, Gelupa in Tibetan. The third one is Tien-ts'ai (Tendai, in Japanese) school which was founded by Chi-i, one of the greatest Chinese Buddhist masters, its doctrine was based on the Lotus-sutra and its main is samatha and samadhi, one of the Buddhist meditation methods. The fourth one is Ch'an in Chinese (or Zen in Japanese) school. Its founder was Bohdidharma, an Indian Buddhist master, came to China about the latter half of the fifth century and the first half of the sixth century. The main message which Bodhidharma sent to us runs like this:

"Not relying on the words and letters,
Teachings are transmitted outside the Scriptures;
Pointing directly into one's mind,
One then can see into his own nature and attains Buddhahood."

To help people who like to do kensho (see into one's own nature), Zen masters have designed many different methods. The four main ones of them are: counting your breaths out and in, following your breaths with your mind's eye, shikantaza (or just sitting in your whole awareness), and koans. Actually, the practice of this school based on the Way of the Buddha: dhyana (or meditation) which the Buddha did at least for six years until he became the Enlightened One. Its teachings are based on the teachings of the Buddha in the Mahaprajnaparamita-sutra which the doctrine of emptiness of Nagarjuna based on and the teachings of the Buddha in the Lankavatara-sutra which the doctrine of Consciousness-only of Vasubandhu based on. And sometimes the teachings of the Buddha in the Avatamsaka-sutra can be seen in Zen, too. Therefore, it can be said that the teaching system of Zen Buddhism is an integrity of the whole Mahayana Buddhism. When the Yogachara school, the precedent of the Vijnanavada school, at first, was brought by Padmasambhava into Tibet, it adopted some features of the native cult had been there: the Bon of the Tibetan people and the mysticism was one of its characteristics. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a school called Dozgchen has some characteristics which are somewhat similar to Zen.

However, despite how different those schools seem to be, they all have the same ultimate goal: to help anyone who likes to learn and practice what the Buddha taught: to become enlightened, liberate oneself from his suffering caused by his greed, anger, and ignorance and then if he likes, he can help others do the same thing.

What I have just said above are some simple words on some main ideas and I won't go into the other sects of Buddhism because I think it is enough for this time. If you want to go further into them, you might need to read some books on them such as "The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy" by Junriro Takakusu.

There are a couple of things here I like to make it clear: There are many and many different methods of meditation which are used in the different Buddhist schools, for example, the methods are used in the Tibetan Buddhist schools can be called "the methods of visualization", this means when a practitioner does one of these he needs something to rely on, usually an image. In Zen Buddhism, the methods are different. This means they do not need any image to rely on, especially in shikantaza. When someone, a Westerner in particular, who reads the teachings of the Buddha, for the first round, on the Four Noble Truth, usually sees that Buddhism shows us everything in this world is full of suffering, temporary, unreliable, deceitful ... oh! too passive and pessimistic... Yes, he is correct but this is just one step or the First Truth of the Four Noble Truth. If he stops right here, he already miss the three more steps that he needs to go and see the whole thing.

Furthermore, all the teachings of the Buddha and Zen masters are for practicing and not only reading. If you like experience something for yourself you might want to practice one of them. Yes, the Buddha-Dharma which Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers are now practicing , I think, it is closer to the teachings of Indian Buddhism than Chinese Buddhism. He goes back to the original teachings of the Buddha, for example, he emphasizes the practice on breathing, on awareness to whatever we do in our everyday life. Another feature in Thich Nhat Hanh's Buddhism is his trend to get closer to Christianity. This is shown in some of his books.

5. What is Karma and what is the Buddha-nature?
Questioner: Whatever passed is over ----- cannot be changed any more * Whatever in the future is yet to come ------- no one knows what the hell it would be. * even the momentarily present seems so difficult to grasp ---- this is what meditation is all about ---- get hold of the present, forget the passed and don't expect the future. Karma theory is one of the truth of living thing and non living thing, it explain how things happens in every corner of the universe ----- that’s all about Karma.

If you'd like to know what you would reap in next life,
Just look at whatever you have done in your daily life.
If you'd like to know what you had done in your past life,
Just look at what you have reaped it in your everyday life.

And if you'd like to change your karma or your personality, try to practice what is said in the following verse:

Do not do anything bad to yourself and anyone else;
Do anything good to yourself and everyone;
Keep you mind clear and pure day and night.
This is what the Buddha teaches.

CT: Hello, there: (I do not know what your name is).
Unlike you, the d.o.m. does not have any concepts of time or past, present, and future at all. The Buddha-nature is really empty, open, vast, immense, and limitless. There is not a thing in there. How can there be a past, a present, or a future. These are only concepts created by mind thinking, therefore, they are not real things.

Unfortunately, in these days, there are several persons created a theory of the "present moment" and then invoked people try to cling to it. This looks like they put a pole in the space and call people watch it, grasp it as possible as they can. For me, it seems that their followers look like some kind of cows tied to the pole with the invisible ropes, and just see the pole only. How pity they are!

The Buddha-nature is really empty, open, vast, immense, and limitless. Why did they do that? Why they try to grasp the thing which is not real? I never try to grasp or release any thing, because there is not a thing in there.

Furthermore, apart from living beings in this world there is no Buddha dharmas. That's why I tried to say something to help anyone who are suffered by their own greed, anger, and ignorance. If the d.o.m.'s words work for them, he is really happy for them. If not, it will be fine, too. The two verses the d.o.m. gave to some lady in discussion (above) are not the d.o.m.'s. They are the teachings of the Buddha.

The Buddha, for living beings' sake, teaches them about karma in that way. This does not mean some thing can not be changed like you thought. For example, if you committed some crime in 5 years ago and now you got caught and found yourself in jail. This would be your karma. You could avoid it, if you did not do it at that time. If you wanted to avoid it, you got to stop your own greed, anger, and ignorance when they newly arose in you mind. Moreover, when your sentence was done you would be free again. This means a part of your karma was diminished. And after that, if you'd like to practice what the Buddha teaches in the two verse, you will see how it work for you. This is the way to change your karma or personality.

Otherwise, if, as you said, anything happened in the past can not be changed, it follows that there would be no one can attain Buddha-hood at all. I call this anti-Buddhism.

6. Where can I find information on Zen organizations near me?
Visit the organizations section of this web site for a directory of organizations near you.