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    Modern version of the Eternal Knot by Charles Huttner
A View on Buddhism
Teksty w jezyku polskim     Deutsche Seiten

Frequently Asked Questions

PAGE CONTENTS

General beginner questions
I am a beginner and want to find out more on Buddhism?
What is a Buddha?
Where and when to find a guru?
How do we bring spirituality through all disciplines of life?
Do the thoughts ever stop?

Buddhist behavior
Why shave your hair, be celibate to become a monk or nun?
Why Silence?
Do Buddhists eat meat, are they vegetarians?
Buddhist marriage?
Buddhism and sex?
Tantra and sex?
How to be Compassionate to Enemies?
How to educate our children?
What to do when people criticise Buddhism?
How do Buddhist prayers work,, who do they pray to?
No Time to Practice?
Sharing Buddhism
What to do when someone is very sick, dying or even dead?
Monks and nuns robes

Society, social engagement
Buddhism, Society & Politics?
Social engagement in Buddhism?
Buddhism and the Indian caste system
How to protect the earth?
How do we address the widening gap between rich and poor?
Women in Buddhism?
How to help Tibet and other oppressed peoples of the world?
Free Tibet, what is the problem?
How to fight terrorists?

  

Buddhist philosophy
Karma versus free will?
Can Anger be justified?
More on Meditation?
Miraculous Powers?
What is the meaning of life?
Buddhism and Science?
If we are all reborn, how can the world population increase?
Is emptiness the same as nothing?
Who is Enlightened in the World Today?
What is Buddhism - philosophy, religion or psychology?
God in Buddhism?
What about creation?
Heaven and hell?

Other religions
Buddhism a different type of Hinduism?
Is Buddhist tantra derived from Shivaism?
Christianity and Buddhism?
Can there be one World Religion?
Buddhism and Other Religions

Buddhist traditions and problematic groups
Controversial 'Buddhist' Teachers, Traditions and Centers
What is Zen?
Some notes on Pure Land Buddhism.


More Questions and Answers on the web

There is no such thing as a stupid question,
Only stupid answers; my a
pologies in advance...

Note: words in italics can be found in the Glossary.

I AM A BEGINNER AND WANT TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT BUDDHISM - WHAT TO DO?

Supposing you are a Westerner, and you know little about Buddhism:
- If for whatever reason Buddhism appeals to you, obviously a bit of reading cannot do any harm. You could try a few introductory books from any tradition to get a closer idea of what Buddhism can mean for you (see for example the recommended booklist).
- The ultimate introduction I have always found to be a week-long introductory course of sorts; ideally in a center where you would live in for the duration of the course. Buddhism is quite focussed around our own experience in meditation, and such a focussed environment for a week or so, combined with teachings and discussions can really get you 'into it'. (I have been director of Tushita meditation center in Dharamsala, India, where we concentrated on presenting 10-day intensive meditation courses, and I can guarantee you that the vast majority of people who attended got much more out of it than they ever expected.) It is highly likely that some kind of Buddhist center is not very far away from your home - you could try the very good Buddhist directory of BuddhaNet.
- Try not to get confused with the various traditions: just go for what feels right and ideally do a course. Amazingly, it seems to me that at least 90% of the people stick to the tradition they started in - somehow karma seems to be at work there... Anyway, the biggest differences between the Buddhist traditions are usually more on the surface than in the ideas behind the appearances. Although for example in Zen you will find very little ritual etc., and in Tibetan Buddhism you may be overwhelmed by it, at the core of the practice are the same ideas, just different methods.
- Once you decide to get involved with a specific tradition, make sure you are not dealing with a controversial/dubious teacher or school; although someone may wear Buddhist robes or calls him/herself a lama, guru or even Acharya, that does not make him or her a saint.... There are unfortunately a fair amount of questionable 'Buddhist' teachers and centers around the world; I have tried to list as many as possible teachers and centers on the Controversy page. This is not to say that these necessarily lead you on a completely wrong path, but avoiding trouble is usually easier than fixing it!
- Try to be critical at everything you see and hear, but do not be afraid to open yourself up, and give new ideas the chance to settle in; in other words, avoid accepting things before you have taken time to 'sit on it' (meditate), and also avoid rejecting things before you 'sat on them'. Especially if we grew up in a different religious tradition, our prejudices often go deeper than we think - be aware of your own mind.
- It is very important to not expect instant miracles from practices like meditation - remember you did not learn to read and write in a few hours time - but it is very good to try and habituate yourself to some kind of daily session (if only 5 minutes) of meditation for maybe a month or so, and then decide if you want to continue. Of course, it is by far the best if you can start meditating after proper instruction from a qualified teacher, but the continuity of even a short daily meditation session is much more effective than once a week trying to sit for two hours.

WHAT IS A BUDDHA?

A Buddha is a person who has developed all positive qualities and has eliminated all negative qualities. A Buddha has been an "ordinary" living being, like you and me before he became enlightened or awakened. Enlightenment is compared to waking up, as a person makes a complete transformation in body and especially mind. A Buddha is said to be all-knowing. One could say that a Buddha represents the very peak of evolution. A Buddha is not omnipotent or all-powerful; otherwise the Buddha would have ended all suffering in the universe....

The historical Buddha, Shakyamuni or Gautama Buddha, lived about 2,500 years ago in India. However, he was not the first Buddha, and will not be the last either. The next Buddha who will (re-) start the Buddhist religion be called Maitreya and is expected in millions of years (many people proclaim to be Maitreya....). In the different Buddhist traditions, people can strive towards becoming a Buddha (Mahayana tradition) or stopping the cycle of uncontrolled rebirths by becoming an Arhat (see the page on Three Vehicles).

See more details on the Buddha page.

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IS BUDDHISM A DIFFERENT TYPE OF HINDUISM?

Few scholars would disagree that at the time of the Buddha, a very heterogeneous and actively developing religious culture flourished in India. This generally accepted historical reality proves that Buddhism was neither real a protest against, or an offshoot of Hinduism (this view is even expressed for example in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica). Buddhism simply proved to be one of the more successful new schools of thought within a large variety of philosophies.
As debate is a very old traditional means of testing (spiritual) teachers in Indian culture, of course one can trace many philosophical works (especially in the Mahayana tradition), that could be interpreted as protesting against, or arguing with other traditions. Western philosophers may have misinterpreted these works as "protest", as such a thing is unthinkable within Western religious systems. The Buddha himself actually refused to argue on spiritual matters, he explained that he only presented what he had realised as the truth. On the other hand, Buddhism arose from an existing culture, and inevitably many elements of other contemporary traditions are found in Buddhism. In the same sense one could argue that Christianity would be an offshoot of (or protest to) Judaism and Islam is an offshoot of (or protest to) Christianity... However, the Buddhist teachings do have one clear political/social aspect in traditional Hindu India, and that is that in Buddhism people are all considered equal, which means that the Hindu caste-system is completely rejected.

It appears that Buddhism draws most of its inspiration from the religious culture of the Indus Valley civilisation; like the elements of renunciation, meditation, rebirth, karma, and liberation. Also, many symbols of the Indus Valley civilisation have religious significance and are also sacred to Buddhism. They include the pipal tree (later known as the bodhi tree, or ficus religiosa), and animals such as the elephant and deer. On the other hand, aspects similar to the Aryan tradition can be clearly traced, especially in the rituals of tantric Buddhism. This in contrast to Hinduism, where many of the Aryan principles dominate, but also contains various elements of the Indus Valley Culture.

In some types of Hinduism, the Buddha is depicted as an Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu. Buddhists consider this to be without any base at all. But how to react to these kind of misrepresentations? As John Fleming stated in a recent discussion group: ".It would seem to me that any 'Buddhist' who would skirmish over Hindus claiming Buddha as a Hindu God has sadly completely missed the point of Buddha's message to humanity. In fact, how much more respect can Hindus show for Buddha (and still remain Hindus) then to give him the identity of their Vishnu?"

For more details, see the page on pre-Buddhist history.
See also: Vedanta and Buddhism from the Access to Insight website

BUDDHISM: IS IT A PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION OR PSYCHOLOGY?

The word 'religion' is defined in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as:

1: the service and worship of God or the supernatural
2: commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
3: a personal set or institutionalised system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
4 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
5: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardour and faith

Within above definitions, Buddhism can be called a religion. Often however, "service and worship of God" is mentioned, and Buddhism does not include belief in a creator-God.
Buddhism can be called a philosophy in a practical sense of the word. However, the Buddha repeatedly emphasised that his teachings were not intended as a doctrine, but should be considered as guidelines along the path of spiritual development, based on his own experience.
One could even call Buddhism a system of psychology as well. The main object of interest in Buddhism is how we can observe, analyse and change our own mind.

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GOD IN BUDDHISM?

We first need to distinguish two types of "god".
The first type is God as creator of the universe etc. This kind of God does not exist in Buddhism.
The second type is a divine or supernatural being, and of these one could simply say there are two kinds of gods in Buddhism:
Not all living beings live on planet earth, or would even be visible to us. One could say that these creatures live in different dimensions from us. See also 'Heaven and Hell' below. Some of these creatures experience because of their karma (past actions) almost exclusively happiness, and these are called Devas (Skt.) or gods. However, these gods are still within the cycles of uncontrolled rebirth and can be reborn in the 'lower realms' once their positive store of karma is exhausted.
If one defines a god as a supernatural being, one could say that a Buddha or an Arya being are "supernatural" in the sense that they are not bound to the same realms of cyclic existence as we are, and they are said to possess supernatural powers (siddhis).

A Buddha is said to know everything, but not omnipotent (all-powerful). The logical reasoning behind this last is that if a Buddha would be omnipotent, He/She would instantly remove suffering from the universe, because compassion for all sentient beings (wishing to free alll from suffering) is the main motivation to become a Buddha.

See also the article by Bikkhu Dhammapiyo.

WHAT ABOUT CREATION?

So where does the world come from, if not from a creator-God? According to Buddhism, the cycle of life, death and rebirth does not have a beginning. The universe itself goes through cycles of birth and destruction, and matter/energy has no beginning.
The closest phenomena that comes to creation is the concept of karma in the consciousness of sentient beings: whatever we experience - be it happiness or suffering - is ultimately caused by ourselves in the past. This leads to the simple conclusion that nothing what we experience is ultimately caused by someone or something else; only we ourselves have created the causes for what happens to us now, and we are now creating the causes for what will happen in the future. The "others" or "physical circumstances" which appear to cause us happiness and suffering can be seen as merely circumstances which enable our own potentials to ripen. In that sense, we are the creators of our "own universe".

Better explained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from Consciousness at the Crossroads:

" ...when we ask, what is the substantial cause of the material universe way back in the early history of the universe, we trace it back to the space particles which transform into the elements of this manifest universe. And then we can ask whether those space particles have an ultimate beginning. The answer is no. They are beginningless. Where other philosophical systems maintain that the original cause was God, Buddha suggested the alternative that there aren't any ultimate causes. The world is beginningless. Then the question would be: Why is it beginningless? And the answer is, it is just nature. There is no reason. Matter is just matter.

Now we have a problem: What accounts for the evolution of the universe as we know it? What accounts for the loose particles in space forming into the universe that is apparent to us? Why did it go through orderly processes of change? Buddhists would say there is a condition which makes it possible, and we speak of that condition as the awareness of sentient beings."

See also this article by Bikkhu Dhammapiyo.

HEAVEN AND HELL?

It may come as a surprise, but heavens and hells exist in Buddhism, although they are different from the Christian descriptions. One could say that heaven and hell are different realms (dimensions), where beings live under respectively extremely happy and extremely suffering conditions. It is a logical consequence of the laws of karma. When one creates vast amounts of negative actions to others, one will harvest lots of suffering in the future - such a life could be in one of the hell realms. Similarly, many good actions can cause one to be reborn in a heavenly realm of happiness.
Life in heaven and hell, like all other realms (human, animal and preta) is a temporary situation, as they are are within the realm of uncontrolled cyclic existence. This means that a life in hell is not eternal (although it may feel like it), and neither is heaven.
The aim of a Buddhist should be to become at least free from death and rebirth, which is called Nirvana (Skt.) or Nibbana (Pali). A life in heaven is regarded a pleasant interval, but always with the fear of a future rebirth in a much less pleasant realm. The ultimate aim is to become a Buddha oneself in order to relieve all sentient beings from suffereing.

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CHRISTIANITY AND BUDDHISM

Thich Nhat Hanh puts it this way:

"We don't want to say that Buddhism is a kind of Christianity and Christianity is a kind of Buddhism. A mango can not be an orange. I cannot accept the fact that a mango is an orange. They are two different things. Vive la difference. But when you look deeply into the mango and into the orange, you see that although they are different, they are both fruits."

So Buddhism and Christianity by definition are different religions, and one should be careful when trying to "mix" them. For example, Buddhism does not believe in a "creator-God" who controls the world and similarly, Christianity does not believe in karma or rebirth. If one tries to mix the two into one personal religion, it is easy to get confused, as both philosophies do not really match. Sogyal Rinpoche puts it quite strongly in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

"The modern faddish idea that we can always keep all our options open and so never need commit ourselves to anything is one of the greatest and most delusions of our culture, and one of ego's most effective ways of sabotaging our spiritual search."

On the other hand, it may not be a bad idea to look at what we can learn from each other: the beautiful Christian practice of helping others in need is just as useful to Buddhists, as Buddhist meditation techniques can help Christians. Apart from the differences, one should recognise the many similarities as well. Ethics are defined quite similarly in both systems and the need for love and compassion are emphasised in both.

More in other pages:
"Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings" edited by Marcus Borg
"Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers" by Thich Nhat Hanh

"Silent Mind, Holy Mind" by Lama Yeshe

CAN THERE BE ONE WORLD RELIGION?

From Kindness, Clarity & Insight, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

"Q: Can there be a synthesis of Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and all religions, gathering the best in all, forming a world religion?

A: Forming a new world religion is difficult and not particularly desirable. However, in that love is essential to all religions, one could speak of the universal language of love. As for the techniques and methods for developing love as well as for achieving salvation or permanent liberation, there are many differences between religions. Thus, I do not think we could make one philosophy or one religion. Furthermore, I think that differences in faith are useful. There is a richness in the fact that there are so many different presentations of the [spiritual] way. Given that there are many different types of people with various predispositions and inclinitions, this is helpful.

At the same time, the motivation of all religious practice is similar - love, sincerity, honesty. The way of life of practically all religious persons is contentment. The teachings of tolerance, love and compassion are the same. A basic goal is the benefit of humankind - each type of system seeking its own unique ways to improve human beings. If we put too much emphasis on our own philosopy, religion, or theory, are too attached to it, and try to impose it on other people, it makes trouble. Basically all the great teachers, such as Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, or Mohammed, founded their new teachings with a motivation of helping their fellow humans. They did not mean to gain anything for themselves nor to create more trouble or unrest in the world. Most importantly is that we respect each other and learn from each other those things that will enrich our own practice. Even if all the systems are separate, since they each have the same goal, the study of each other is helpful."

WHY SHAVE YOUR HAIR, BE CELIBATE AND PUT ON ROBES?

MonksIn other words, why becoming a monk or nun? Well, it is not to make your life easy and comfortable, but it is intended to stay focused on spiritual progress.
Traditionally, one will live in a monastery or nunnery after ordination, and one is surrounded by others trying to do the same, which can help your own practice and understanding quite dramatically.
For many Westerners it proves quite a difficult step: there may be a language and cultural barriers to the tradition you have chosen. Also, walking around in robes in the West can prove quite a challenge.
Why shave your hair? It is a good antidote to pride and focus on one's outer appearance.
Why be celibate? Nothing wrong with sex - where else do people come from - but focus on sex and relationships does prove to be a major distraction to most of us.
Why put on robes? The robes are intended like a kind of uniform, by which people can easily recognise that you are a monk or nun; see also below on monks and nuns robes.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche made these comments to a monk:

"Your being a Gelong [fully ordained monk] brings many extra benefits. I am saying this in a general way. There is much more benefit, visually. It says in the texts: 'The merit that a lay person can collect in one hundred years, an ordained person can collect in one day.' These are the benefits of living in ordination. Every day is like that."

For more on ordination, see the page on Sangha and this page (note that this is clearly following the Tibetan tradition), more on precepts and vows on the resource page.

WHY SILENCE?

There are several reasons why Buddhists tend to be fond of silence.
- One refrains from lying or misleading others by speech.
- One becomes more aware of the inner state of mind.
- It is easier to control one's mind when not talking.
- It's nice and quiet (sorry, just joking).

It is quite common that one remains silent during a retreat. In many practices, a vow of silence is advised so as to focus one's full attention to the state of mind.
From my own experience, if one keeps silent one somehow builds up a lot of extra awareness and clarity of mind during a retreat. As soon as you start talking, quite a bit of focus can be lost in just minutes.

"Do not speak- unless it improves on silence."
Buddhist Saying

Do have a look at this article from Bhante Henepola Gunaratana.

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DO BUDDHISTS EAT MEAT?

Simple question, not necessarily a simple answer. Below I just tried to list a few notes.

1. The Buddha himself never forbade eating meat.
The Buddha even explained that monks and nuns should never refuse the food that is offered to them, including meat. He did not say one should kill any animal for food. Killing is one of the five main precepts, and killing animals is considered not too much different from killing humans.

2. The main precept of a Buddhist is not to harm others, including animals.
Not harming others is essential in Buddhism, so one should never kill "sentient beings" (humans and animals). Eating meat from an animal which died a natural death is not by definition bad, but these days, we would not even want to eat that meat anyway for fear of disease...

3. Asking people to harm others is very negative karma.
Just like a general is responsible for the killing that his soldiers perform under his orders, so do we create very large negative karma when we instruct others to kill. So, for example going into a fish restaurant and selecting a live fish from a tank to be killed is even more negative karma than killing the yourself, as we are not just responsible for the death of the fish, but also create negative karma by asking someone else to kill.

4. Different traditions vary in their reasoning.
For example, the high altitude of Tibet causes that not many crops will grow, and in order to survive, people had to eat meat. Currently, many Tibetans are enthusiastic meat eaters even when they live in India. Therefore His Holiness the Dalai Lama now encourages them to eat less meat and eggs.
In the Chinese tradition, when people take the Bodhisattva precepts, it is automatically assumed that one will abstain from meat eating.

5. Conclusion
Killing of an animal is certainly not 'allowed'. Meat eating is not explicitly forbidden, but ill-advised unless really necessary for survival.

I must admit not being a vegetarian; I do have lots of weaknesses. What I did is to at least reduce my meat intake drastically and try to realise how hypocrite I still am by eating meat.

"Devadatta was the main pioneer for practice of Vegetarianism. ..., he strove for imposition of five extreme rules to the members of the Sangha, one of which was the rule to abstain absolutely from any food made of fish or meat. In response to this demand, the Gotama Buddha stated that the monks who felt comfortable, agreeable, and suitable to the rule may practice it. However, He rejected to validate and to apply the rule to all the monks compulsory."
Jan Sanjivaputta

"You should lose your involvement with yourself and then eat and drink naturally, according to the needs of your body. Attachment to your appetites--whether you deprive or indulge them--can lead to slavery, but satisfying the needs of daily life is not wrong. Indeed, to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear."
The Buddha in Discourses II

"Killing and eating meat are interrelated, so do we have to give up eating animal products? I myself once tried to give it up, but health problems arose and two years later my doctors advised me to again use meat in my diet. If there are people who can give up eating meat, we can only rejoice in their noble efforts. In any case, at least we should try to lessen our intake of meat and not eat it anywhere where it is in scarce supply and our consumption of it would cause added slaughter."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama from The Path to Enlightenment

"For hundreds of thousands of years
the stew in the pot has brewed hatred and resentment that is difficult to stop.
If you wish to know why there are disasters of armies and weapons in the world,
listen to the piteous cries from the slaughterhouse at midnight."
Ancient Chinese Verse at Gold Mountain Monastery

But, despite many Tibetans defending meat-eating, besides the Dalai Lama, other Tibetan teachers are also beginning to warn about the dangers of meat-eating. As a very informative example of this, please see the pdf-booklet The Udamwara lotus flower protecting the life of helpless beings - Statements from sutra relating to meat eating by Geshe Thubten Soepa.

"You might not be attached to what you eat,
but they are attached to not being eaten."
Stonepeace

Or a good statement from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity."

A good article is found at the Vegetarian Society.

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SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT

Most of the Buddhist practice focuses on one's own inner development. Engagement with others is mainly seen important in if one can help others. The best way of helping others is to help them on their path of spiritual progress. The second best way is helping them in daily life. However, if others do not improve their behaviour and way of thinking, helping people in difficult situations is like a hopeless uphill struggle. Without changing, people will continue to create causes for future suffering (karma) for themselves, and we cannot avoid all their suffering.
Therefore, building a hospital is a very good thing to reduce immediate suffering, but only spiritual progress can bring a definitive end to cyclic existence and all suffering of an individual, whereas the hospital can at best relieve temporary problems.
So the overall attitude is: it is best to help others in their spiritual progress, if that is not possible or appropriate try and help them with their current problems.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on non-violence from An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life:

"Nonviolence does not mean that we remain indifferent to a problem. On the contrary, it is important to be fully engaged. However, we must behave in a way that does not benefit us alone. We must not harm the interests of others. Nonviolence therefore is not merely the absence of violence. It involves a sense of compassion and caring. It is almost a manifestation of compassion. I strongly believe that we must promote such a concept of nonviolence at the level of the family as well as at the national and international levels. Each individual has the ability to contribute to such compassionate nonviolence.

How should we go about this? We can start with ourselves. We must try to develop greater perspective, looking at situations from all angles. Usually when we face problems, we look at them from our own point of view. We even sometimes deliberately ignore other aspects of a situation. This often leads to negative consequences. However, it is very important for us to have a broader perspective.

We must come to realize that others are also part of our society. We can think of our society as a body, with arms and legs as parts of it. Of course, the arm is different from the leg; however, if something happens to the foot, the hand should reach down to help. Similarly, when something is wrong within our society, we must help."

Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has extremely valuable ideas on socially engaged Buddhism: see for example his Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism.

WOMEN IN BUDDHISM

A hot topic. I am afraid that Buddhism also comes from, and lives in, a patriarchal society. It is my personal opinion as a man, that an attitude is prevalent of "all humans are equal, but women are a bit less equal than men". The reason I say this is that the Buddha clearly stated that all living beings (let alone humans) are equal but not the same. Women can just as well become liberated from cyclic existence (Arhat) or fully enlightened (Buddha). However, the Buddha himself was initially reluctant to ordain women, and with several ordination rules they can be said to be discriminated against. All of the main disciples of the Buddha were men, and so are almost all Buddhist saints and well-known teachers throughout history.

The current situation of Buddhist nuns in the world is quite sad. For example in Sri Lanka no nuns are ordained anymore as the lineage was lost and never restored, and in almost every tradition, nuns and nunneries are considered less important than monks and monasteries, sometimes to the point of neglect. In Tibet, the lineage for novice nuns is still intact, but the lineage for fully ordained nuns was lost and not restored. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is actively supporting the quest to re-establish the full nuns ordination.

Good starter pages on the web on women in Buddhism are women active in Buddhism, Buddhanet ; on feminism, see this article of the FWBO. Also you may find "Inspiration from Enlightened Nuns' inspiring.

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BUDDHIST MARRIAGE?

Sorry, no such thing as a 'Buddhist marriage', really. Originally, marriage is just a contract between people, more for legal than any other reasons. Interestingly enough though, to have a sexual relationship with a person already married to someone else is clearly considered a major sexual offence in Buddhism as it harms the other's partner.
When Buddhists marry, they often request a teacher to bless them or perform prayers, but strictly spoken, a marriage is a worldly agreement between two people, usually based on attachment and desire, so it has generally little to do with spiritual advancement.
In practice, people who marry usually like to receive some sort of blessing on their relationship, and for this, sometimes special ceremonies are conducted.

See also the article Buddhist Views on Marriage , a dedicated page on the Lama Yeshe Archives, suggested ceremony and prayers at this page of the FPMT website, or the page on Buddhanet.
For some more info and ideas, see the Khandro website under 'Buddhist wedding'.

BUDDHISM AND SEX

The search for a partner and sex tend to take up much of our energy. Our inborn urge for sex and a lasting relationship is very strong and can in that way be regarded as one of the major obstructions to a focus on spiritual progress.
Sexual misconduct is one of the five main precepts which one can take when becoming a Buddhist. The definition of what is misconduct and what is not is partly dependent on the culture where you live, but in general, non-harm to others is probably the best guideline.
In tantric Buddhism, there is much ado about sex, but often misunderstood. See the next query below.

Here you can find an interesting articles on Homosexuality and Theravada and Buddhist Sexual Ethics on Buddhanet.

TANTRA AND SEX?

Part of the exercises in tantric practice involve controlling and transforming bodily energies. Sexual energy happens to be one of the strongest forms of physical energy. Simply said, it is built-in by nature to ensure the survival of our species. Also these sexual energies need to be completely controlled and transformed in order to become a fully enlightened Buddha. What is usually overlooked is that sexual practices in tantra should be free from the ordinary desires and lust, and generally only very advanced practitioners should try these practices after permission from their teachers. Arousal of the sexual energy is preferably done by merely visualising/imagining a consort. The bottom-line is that it has very little to do with ordinary sex.

In case you happen to hear of activities like 'tantra wokshop for couples or singles' or something of the kind, where people have actual sex with each other, you can be sure it has little or nothing to do with the traditional Buddhist practices.

The union of male and female is usually symbolic for the union of method (or compassion) and wisdom, or more specific, the union of bliss (male) and (the wisdom of) emptiness (female).

See also Keith Dowman's website for a more elaborate explanation.

IF WE ARE ALL REBORN, HOW CAN THE WORLD POPULATION INCREASE?

According to Buddhism, unless we achieve Arhantship or Buddhahood, we will be reborn, but not necessarily as human being or even in this same world. A simplified example: if we behave "like an animal", we create all the potential to be reborn as an animal. So we will not automatically be human next life. In the same way, an animal can come back as human next life. Apart from the earth, life is widespread in the universe, according to some, one could even speak of more simultaneous universes. Although the vast number of sentient beings is just about constant, the numbers within a specific species can vary from zero to zillions.

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FREE TIBET, WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

Until the invasion of China into Tibet in 1959, Tibet has been a sovereign country for centuries. Being forcefully overrun by an other country is rarely pleasant, but for the Tibetans it turned into a real disaster in the years following the take-over. People died during the invasion, although few Tibetans (being Buddhist) fought. Later consequences of Mao's policies proved devastating to the country.
For example, the central Beijing government ordered that certain crops should be grown in Tibet. Many of these crops were simply not suitable for the high altitude climate, resulting in many Tibetans starving to death.
Possibly the best known disaster is the fact that in Tibet nearly all culture, philosophy and education was tightly related to Buddhism. As in Mao's China religion was considered a poison to the people, Tibetan Buddhism was almost literally wiped out. Of the estimated 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples only a handful were not fully destroyed. Monks and nuns were forced to break their vows and often killed if they were not prepared to break them. With the destruction of Buddhism, nearly all of Tibets cultural identity also vanished.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is probably the best known propagator to a peaceful solution for the preservation of Tibetan culture and religion, but the Chinese authorities have managed not only to ignore his efforts, but to virtually bully the rest of the world into silence on the subject. (Often along the lines of: "If you want to trade with us, shut up on human rights." This method even bullied the Americans into submission....)

A recent answer from the Tibetan government to one of the many absurd accusations by China:

"They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force - nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just a robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind - as is very proper for those who tackle darkness.
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

For more info see the page of the Tibetan Government in Exile and the Free Tibet page.
For a chilling example of repression, see the Drapchi 14 page by Amnesty International.

WHERE AND WHEN TO FIND A GURU?

This is not an easy to answer in general, as every individual is different. Especially, being unfamiliar with Eastern culture, many Westerners are confused with the issue of a guru or spiritual teacher.

Practically spoken, it is best to look for a Buddhist center not too far from where you live: the worldwide directory of Buddhanet is probably the best resource for that. Next, you may need to figure out which tradition appeals most to you: the peacefulness of the Theravada tradition, the strict discipline in Soto Zen, or the philosophy and ritual of Tibetan Buddhism, to name but a few? Often, people experience a feeling of 'coming home' with a certain tradition; just follow your intuition a bit, it usually helps a lot. The contact with older students is usually very important, you can informally ask questions, exchange views and hear others how they became interested etc. all this makes visiting a center really valuable.

To find your own personal teacher is usually a step that comes much later; after learning about the basics of Buddhism and meditation. Perhaps you feel a personal connection from the very first moment you enter a center, perhaps you need to wait for visitng teachers or go to other centers. It is often said that when a disciple is ready, the teacher will appear. If you cannot find a teacher, see if you fulfil the above requirements for a proper disciple, and work to improve your own attitude. Depending on your own karma, you may need to do quite a lot to find the right guru. Perhaps you are impatient and expect too much overnight, then doing self-study and questioning yourself what you really expect from a teacher may help.

"Don't worry. When the time is right, you'll meet your teacher. Buddhism doesn't believe that you can push other people: ' everybody should learn to meditate; everybody should become Buddhists.' That's stupid. Pushing people is unwise.
When you're ready, some kind of magnetic energy will bring you together with your teacher. About going to the East, it depends on your personal situation. Check up. The important thing is to search with wisdom and not blind faith. Sometimes, even if you go to the East, you still can't find a teacher. It takes time."
Lama Yeshe

"When we have prayed and aspired and hungered for the truth for a long time, for many, many lives, and when our karma has become sufficiently purified, a kind of miracle takes place. And this miracle, if we can understand and use it, can lead to the end of ignorance forever: The inner teacher, who has been with us always, manifests in the form of the "outer teacher," whom, almost as if by magic, we actually encounter..."
Sogyal Rinpoche

See also the page on A Teacher.

IS EMPTINESS THE SAME AS NOTHING?

Certainly not!
Buddhist philosophy presents a middle way between the two extremes of Nihilism and Materialism/eternity.
The statement "everything is empty" is often (mis-) used, leading to the impression that Buddhists are nihilists, as if they think that nothing exists at all. What is actually meant with the statement is "everything is empty of inherent existence"; in other words, everything does not exist in accordance with our "normal" perception of reality. Very closely related is the expression 'selflessness' or 'no-self', which refers to the point that we do not possess a permanent, unchanging self.
Our "normal" perception of reality is that living beings and phenomena are existing in and of themselves, as if they are unrelated to each other. This is considered in Buddhism as a materialistic/worldly viewpoint, which not in accordance with reality.
The realisation of insight into the true nature of reality is the way in which we can achieve enlightenment and escape suffering, so the idea of selflessness or emptiness forms the basis of Buddhist philosophy.
If you think these words are confusing but fascinating, great! It is a very difficult subject to explain, and I sincerely hope you will want to get to the bottom of it!

Please refer to the Wisdom page and put some effort in understanding the concepts, as this realisation can end all your problems!
Also see my essay Mount Emptiness.

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IS BUDDHIST TANTRA DERIVED FROM SHIVAISM?

It is often claimed that Buddhist tantra is a derivative from the tantric practices in Shivaism, but in fact, the reverse may also be true.
As Benoytosh Bhattacharyya notes in his 'Buddhist Esoterism':

"it is possible to declare, without fear of contradiction, that the Buddhists were the first to introduce the tantras into their religion, and that the Hindus borrowed them from the Buddhists in later times, and that it is idle to say that later Buddhism is an outcome of Saivaism. .. The literature, which goes by the name of the Hindu Tantras, arose almost immediately after the Buddhist ideas had established themselves."

Although there are striking external resemblances, the differences in methods and aims between the Buddhist and Hindu tantras are quite significant. They are certainly related, but the origin of both is probably impossible to trace, not in the least because of the .

For more details, see the page on pre-Buddhist history.
See also: Vedanta and Buddhism from the Access to Insight website

WHO IS ENLIGHTENED IN THE WORLD TODAY?

The following answer is taken from Access to Insight.

Since I'm not enlightened, I'm not sure how valuable any of the following remarks are, but I offer them here nonetheless. First of all, I wouldn't be a Buddhist if I didn't think enlightenment were possible. In the suttas, the Buddha speaks again and again of the many rewards awaiting those who follow the Path, long before they reach nibbana: the happiness that comes from developing generosity; the happiness that comes from living according to principles of virtue; the happiness that comes from developing loving-kindness (metta); the happiness that comes from practising meditation and discovering the exquisite bliss of a quiet mind; the happiness that comes from abandoning painful states of mind; and so on. These can be tasted for yourself, to varying degrees, with practice. Once you've personally verified a few of the Buddha's teachings, it becomes easier to accept the possibility that the rest of his teachings are plausible -- including his extraordinary claim that enlightenment is real.

I honestly don't know how to recognise an enlightened person. After all, how can I see past my own delusion and defilements with enough clarity to judge the purity of another person's heart, that most secret corner of the psyche? I don't believe an enlightened person looks, walks, or talks a certain way. The Hollywood stereotype - a radiant complexion, an ever-present Buddha-smile, wise words (perhaps cloaked in cryptic koan-like phrases and mystical jargon, sprinkled with the occasional impish giggle), unusual clothing (probably imported from India), a charismatic character - I sincerely doubt that any of this has anything whatsoever to do with enlightenment. So it's probably best not to spend much time speculating on someone else's degree of enlightenment.

Your time would be far better spent looking into your own heart, asking yourself, "Am I enlightened? Have I made an end of suffering and stress?" If the answer is negative, then you have more work to do. When deciding whether to accept someone as your meditation teacher, instead of speculating on his or her degree of enlightenment, it's much more fruitful to ask yourself, "Does this person seem to be truly happy? Does he or she live in line with the precepts? Does he or she communicate the Dhamma in ways that I can understand? Is his or her interpretation of Dhamma a valid one?"
It may take a long time of close association with someone before you can begin to answer these questions with any confidence. But once you do find someone possessing this rare constellation of qualities, stay with him or her: he or she probably has something of genuine value to teach you.

Finally, one rule of thumb that I've found helpful: someone who goes around claiming to be enlightened probably isn't - at least not in the sense the Buddha had in mind.

KARMA VERSUS FREE WILL?

From Francis Story in 'Dimensions of Buddhist thought':

"If everything down to the minutest detail, were preconditioned either by Kamma or by the physical laws of the universe, there would be no room in the pattern of strict causality for the functioning of free-will. It would therefore be impossible for us to free ourselves from the mechanism of cause and effect; it would be impossible to achieve Nibbana. .the situation itself is the product of past Kamma, but the individual's reaction to it is a free play of will and intention."

In a slightly different way from Sogyal Rinpoche:

"We may idealise freedom, but when it comes to our habits, we are completely enslaved."

Some interesting thoughts on free will.

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CAN ANGER BE JUSTIFIED?

Allan Wallace writes in 'Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground up':

"Righteous hatred" is in the same category as "righteous cancer" or "righteous tuberculosis". All of them are absurd concepts.

This does not mean that one should never take action against aggression or injustice! Instead, one should try to develop an inner calmness and insight to deal with these situations in an appropriate way. We all know that anger and aggression give rise to anger and aggression. One could say that there are three ways to get rid of anger: kill the opponent, kill yourself or kill the anger - which one makes most sense to you?

MORE ON MEDITATION?

Meditation is a large and important subject; have a look at the theoretical meditation page, the practical meditation page.
A number of good articles on Psychotherapy and Meditation on Buddhanet.

HOW TO BE COMPASSIONATE TO ENEMIES?

Someone asked the following question to His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

How does a person or group of people compassionately and yet straightforwardly confront another person or group of people who have committed crimes of genocide against them?

His Holiness: "When talking about compassion and compassionately dealing with such situations one must bear in mind what is meant by compassionately dealing with such cases. Being compassionate towards such people or such a person does not mean that you allow the other person to do whatever the other person or group of people wishes to do, inflicting suffering upon you and so on. Rather, compassionately dealing with such a situation has a different meaning.
When a person or group of people deals with such a situation and tries to prevent such crimes there is generally speaking two ways in which you could do that, or one could say, two motivations. One is out of confrontation, out of hatred that confronts such a situation. There is another case in which, although in action it may be of the same force and strength, but the motivation would not be out of hatred and anger but rather out of compassion towards the perpetrators of these crimes.
Realising that if you allow the other person, the perpetrator of the crime, to indulge his or her own negative habits then in the long run the other person or group is going to suffer the consequences of that negative action. Therefore, out of the consideration of the potential suffering for the perpetrator of such crimes, then you confront the situation and apply equally forceful and strong measures.
I think this is quite relevant and important in modern society, especially in a competitive society. When someone genuinely practices compassion, forgiveness and humility then sometimes some people will take advantage of such a situation. Sometimes it is necessary to take a countermeasure, then with that kind of reasoning and compassion, the countermeasure is taken with reasoning and compassion rather than out of negative emotion. That is actually more effective and appropriate. This is important. For example my own case with Tibet in a national struggle against injustice we take action without using negative emotion. It sometimes seems more effective."

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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

Big question, to which I can only give a simplistic answer here.
According to Buddhism, the universe has no beginning, neither has our individual mindstream a beginning or end. We are propelled through an endless number of rebirths (each containing problems of its' own) by the results of our own actions (karma). The actions which cause suffering and rebirth are based on ignorance; our not-knowing of how to end our problems. The main causes of rebirth are our attachment and other delusions by which we fix ourselves to the cycles of life and death. Once we developed the right kind of wisdom, we will be able to escape this cycle and enter Nirvana (no suffering) or Buddhahood.

THE MEANING OF LIFE
By H.H. the Dalai Lama:

"First, let me talk to the Buddhist practitioners in the audience about the proper motivation for listening to lectures on religion. A good motivation is important. The reason why we are discussing these matters is certainly not money, fame, or any other aspect of our livelihood during this life. There are plenty of activities that can bring these. The main reason why we have come here stems from a long-term concern.

It is a fact that everybody wants happiness and does not want suffering; there is no argument about this. But there is disagreement about how to achieve happiness and how to overcome problems. There are many types of happiness and many ways to achieve them, and there are also many types of sufferings and ways to overcome them. As Buddhists, however, we aim not merely for temporary relief and temporary benefit but for long-term results. Buddhists are concerned not only for this life but for life after life, on and on. We count not weeks or months or even years, but lives and eons.

Money has its uses, but it is limited. Among worldly powers and possessions, there are, doubtless, good things, but they are limited. However, from a Buddhist viewpoint, mental development will continue from life to life, because the nature of mind is such that if certain mental qualities are developed on a sound basis, they always remain and, not only that, can increase. In fact, once properly developed, good qualities of mind eventually increase infinitely. Therefore spiritual practice brings both long-term happiness and more inner strength day by day.
So keep your mind on the topics being discussed; listen with a pure motivation--without sleep! My main motivation is a sincere feeling for others, and concern for others' welfare.

Behavior and View

Meditation is needed in developing mental qualities. The mind is definitely something that can be transformed, and meditation is a means to transform it. Meditation is the activity of familiarizing your mind with something new. Basically, it means getting used to the object on which you are meditating.

Meditation is of two types--analytical and stabilizing. First, an object is analyzed, after which the mind is set one-pointedly on the same object in stabilizing meditation. Within analytical meditation, there are also two types:
1. Something, such as impermanence, is taken as the object of the mind and is meditated upon;
2. A mental attitude is cultivated through meditation, as in cultivating love, in which case the mind becomes of the nature of that mental attitude.
To understand the purpose of meditation, it is helpful to divide spiritual practices into view and behavior. The main factor is behavior, for this is what decides both one's own and others' happiness in the future. In order for behavior to be pure and complete, it is necessary to have a proper view. Behavior must be well-founded in reason, and thus a proper philosophical view is necessary.
What is the main goal of Buddhist practices concerning behavior? It is to tame one's mental continuum--to become nonviolent. In Buddhism, the vehicles, or modes of practice, are generally divided into the Great Vehicle and the Hearer Vehicle. The Great Vehicle is primarily concerned with the altruistic compassion of helping others, and the Hearer Vehicle is primarily concerned with the non-harming of others.
Thus, the root of all of the Buddhist teaching is compassion. The excellent doctrine of the Buddha has its root in compassion, and the Buddha who teaches these doctrines is even said to be born from compassion. The chief quality of a buddha is great compassion; this attitude of nurturing and helping others is the reason why it is appropriate to take refuge in a buddha.

The Sangha, or virtuous community, consists of those who, practicing the doctrine properly, assist others to gain refuge. People in the Sangha have four special qualities: if someone harms them, they do not respond with harm; if someone displays anger to them, they do not react with anger; if someone insults them, they do not answer with insult; and if someone accuses them, they do not retaliate. This is the behavior of a monk or nun, the root of which is compassion; thus, the main qualities of the spiritual community also stem from compassion.
In this way, the three refuges for a Buddhist--Buddha, doctrine, and spiritual community--all have their root in compassion. All religions are the same in having powerful systems of good advice with respect to the practice of compassion. The basic behavior of nonviolence, motivated by compassion, is needed not only in our daily lives but also nation to nation, throughout the world.

The other technique for developing altruism is called equalizing and switching self and other. Here, one should investigate which side is important, oneself or others. Choose. There is no other choice -- only these two. Who is more important, you or others? Others are greater in number than you, who are just one; others are infinite. It is clear that neither wants suffering and both want happiness, and that both have every right to achieve happiness and to overcome suffering because both are sentient beings.

If we ask, "Why do I have the right to be happy?" the ultimate reason is, "Because I want happiness." There is no further reason. We have a natural and valid feeling of I, on the basis of which we want happiness. This alone is the valid foundation of our right to strive for happiness; it is a human right, and a right of all sentient beings.
Now, if one has such a right to overcome suffering, then other sentient beings naturally have the same right. In addition, all sentient beings are basically endowed with the capacity to overcome suffering. The only difference is that oneself is single, whereas others are in the majority. Hence, the conclusion is clear; if even a small problem, a small suffering, befalls others, its range is infinite, whereas when something happens to oneself, it is limited to just one single person. When we view others as sentient beings, too, in this way, oneself seems not so important.

Let me describe how this is practiced in meditation. This is my own practice, and I frequently speak about it to others. Imagine that in front of you on one side is your old, selfish I and that on the other side is a group of poor, needy people. And you yourself are in the middle as a neutral person, a third party. Then, judge which is more important -- whether you should join this selfish, self-centered, stupid person or these poor, needy, helpless people. If you have a human heart, naturally you will be drawn to the side of the needy beings.

This type of reflective contemplation will help in developing an altruistic attitude; you gradually will realize how bad selfish behavior is. You yourself, up to now, have been behaving this way, but now you realize how bad you were. Nobody wants to be a bad person; if someone says, "You are a bad person," we feel very angry. Why? The main reason is simply that we do not want to be bad. If we really do not want to be a bad person, then the means to avoid it is in our own hands. If we train in the behavior of a good person, we will become good. Nobody else has the right to put a person in the categories of good or bad; noone has that kind of power.

The ultimate source of peace in the family, the country, and the world is altruism -- compassion and love. Contemplation of this fact also helps tremendously to develop altruism. Meditating on these techniques as much as possible engenders conviction, desire, and determination. When with such determination you try, try, try, day by day, month by month, year by year, we can improve ourselves. With altruistic motivation every action accumulates good virtues -- the limitless power of salutary merit."

A nice (non-Buddhist) view on the meaning of life by Robert Taylor.

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BUDDHISM AND SCIENCE?

Some scholars have noticed in the last few decades that there are various similarities between modern science (especially physics) and Buddhism. Fritjof Capra started a virtual cult movement with his 'Tao of Physics' in that direction. Buddhism is not a very dogmatic religion, and the relativity of many of its ideas are not unlike many scientific developments since the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein. However, physics (by nature) leaves out the mind, and is therefore of low importance in Buddhism. Albert Einstein said of Buddhism:
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism."
Some interesting similarities:
- We cannot observe matter on the smallest scale without influencing the results: 'objectivity' in its strictest sense is not possible.
- The universe has no beginning or end, no creator-god.
- All results have a similar cause (similar to karma).
- The universe is infinite, and houses many more living creatures than we can see on earth.
- Buddhist psychology is not incompatible with Western psychology; but has a clearly different emphasis though.
"Buddhist thinking relies more on investigation than on faith. Therefore, scientific findings are very helpful to Buddhist thinking. In my experience, Buddhist views may also give scientists a new way to look at their own field, as well as new interest and enthusiasm."
His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama

A very interesting article by Ajahn Brahmavamso.
Here are some thoughts of Bhikkhu Shravasti Dhammika.
See also the Life and Mind Institute

BUDDHISM, SOCIETY AND POLITICS

Some thoughts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

"Politicians need religion even more than a hermit in retreat. If a hermit acts out of bad motivation, he harms no one but himself. But if someone who can directly influence the whole of society acts with bad motivation, then a great number of people will be adversely affected.

Many ancient Indian masters have preached nonviolence as a philosophy. That was a more spiritual understanding of it. Mahatma Gandhi, in this twentieth century, produced a very sophisticated approach because he implemented that very noble philosophy of nonviolence in modern politics, and he succeeded. That is a very great thing. It has represented an evolutionary leap in political consciousness, his experimentation with truth.

Responsibility does not only lie with the leaders of our countries or with those who have been appointed or elected to do a particular job. It lies with each of us individually. Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighboring communities, and so on.

Sometimes we look down on politics, criticizing it as dirty. However, if you look at it properly, politics in itself is not wrong. It is an instrument to serve human society. With good motivation--sincerity and honesty--politics becomes an instrument in the service of society. But when motivated by selfishness with hatred, anger, or jealousy, it becomes dirty.

In cooperation, working together, the key thing is the sense of responsibility. But this cannot be developed by force as has been attempted in eastern Europe and in China. There a tremendous effort has to be made to develop in the mind of every individual human being a sense of responsibility, a concern for the common interest rather than the individual interest. They aim their education, their ideology, their efforts to brainwash, at this. But their means are abstract, and the sense of responsibility cannot develop. The genuine sense of responsibility will develop only through compassion and altruism.

Sometimes we feel that one individual's action is very insignificant. Then we think, of course, that effects should come from channeling or from a unifying movement. But the movement of the society, community or group of people means joining individuals. Society means a collection of individuals, so that initiative must come from individuals. Unless each individual develops a sense of responsibility, the whole community cannot move. So therefore, it is very essential that we should not feel that individual effort is meaningless- you should not feel that way. We should make an effort."

WHAT TO DO WHEN PEOPLE CRITICISE BUDDHISM?

"That's their opinion. They're entitled to have it. Of course, we don't need to agree with it. Sometimes we may succeed in correcting another's misconceptions, but sometimes people are very closed-minded and don't want to change their views. That's their business. Just leave it.
We don't need others' approval to practice the Dharma. But we do need to be convinced in our hearts that what we do is right. If we are, then others' opinions aren't important.
Others' criticisms don't hurt the Dharma or the Buddha. The path to enlightenment exists whether others recognise it as such or not. We don't need to be defensive. In fact, if we become agitated when others criticise Buddhism, it indicates we're attached to our beliefs - that our ego is involved and so we feel compelled to prove our beliefs are right.
When we're secure in what we believe, others' criticisms don't disturb our peace of mind. Why should it? Criticism doesn't mean we are stupid or bad. It's simply another's opinion, that's all."
From: 'Working with Anger', by Venerable Thubten Chodron

BUDDHISM AND OTHER RELIGIONS

"When I was in Tibet I had little information, through books or from personal contact, about the nature and value of other traditions. Since I've become a refugee, I have had more opportunity to have closer contact with other traditions, mainly through individuals, and I have gained a much deeper understanding of their value. As a result, my attitude now is that each one is a valid religion. Of course, even from the philosophical viewpoint, I still believe that Buddhist philosophy is more sophisticated, that it has more variety or is more vast, but all other religions still have tremendous benefits or great potential. So on both bases, I think my attitude towards other religions is greatly changed. Today, wherever I go and whenever I meet someone who follows a different religion, I deeply admire their practice and I very sincerely respect their tradition."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama

SHARING BUDDHISM

The Buddha never intended Buddhism to be a 'missionary' religion, in the sense that others 'must' be converted to Buddhism. Instead, he advised to only teach Buddhism when one is asked for it. So randomly trying to convert people to Buddhism is not a good idea, instead it can be a good practice of patience to wait until others show some interest, and even then share with modesty unless they show genuine interest. Of course, being able to offer others some teachings is considered very positive, as we all want to reduce our suffering and anything that can help others on their path is more then welcome.
When you first meet Buddhism and become fascinated with it, it may be very tempting to tell everyone you know about it, but before you know it, your enthousiasm may be interpreted in a very negative way; people may think, 'he/she really lost it now'. So it is much better to teach by example, so people start asking you questions as they see positive changes in you. Once you take up a regular meditation practice, it is likely that your attitude changes; a bit less angry, more helpful to others etc., and people who are open to it will begin to ask questions for sure.
It is good to consider beforehand how you would explain Buddhism to others in a very simple way, without much typical Buddhist terminology (don't start off with using Pali and Sanskrit words, unless you are talking to a scholar). That may also be a good test for yourself to see if you can really explain the essence of Buddhism in a couple of minutes - it may not be as easy as it looks. Obviously, you do not want to confuse others with your own vague ideas of what Busddhism may be, so make sure that what you explain is correct. And if you don't know the answer to a question, say so! That's much better then coming up with a 'fantasy' answer...

MONKS AND NUNS ROBES

Venerable Ananda, the Buddha’s cousin and personal attendant, designed the robe at the request of the Buddha. The pattern of the robe was taken from the pattern of the paddy fields in the Magadha Kingdom. It was accepted by the Buddha and had become standardized since then.
Traditionally, monks and nuns robes were saffron colored, however, over time the various different styles and colors of the robes developed in various countries; a great collection of images is found on Buddhanet. Normally the right shoulder is kept bare. See also the page on the monks robes.

Why don't monks wear ordinary clothes?
There are nine listed disadvantages of ordinary clothes; they relate to expense, maintenance, keeping clean, durability, restrictions of size and style, unsuitability for a life of simplicity, social implications, motivations of attractiveness and finally clarity of duties relating to dress.
There are also twelve qualities of the robes listed; these relate to cheapness; simplicity of making, of wearing, of mending and of fitting; suitability for a monk's lifestyle; ease of wearing and packing; not breaking any precept in their manufacture; causing very little envy; low temptation to thieves; low satisfaction to personal vanity and, finally, that there is less sense of personal possession.

The Tibetan robes explained briefly:

1. The shamtab, or lower robe (similar to a skirt), symbolises moral discipline. The four folds of the cloth symbolise the four noble truths. Two folds frontwards symbolise True Paths and True Cessations - which are to achieved - and two folds backwards symbolise true sufferings and true origins - to be abandoned.
The shamtab also has two additional strips of material, one around the top and one around the bottom to symbolise conscientiousness, which protects our moral discipline.

2. The donka, or upper garment (like a shirt) has a number of segments. The collar segments that form a 'V' around the neck symbolise the jaws of the lord of death, and should remind us that we could die at any moment and so must make every moment of our life meaningful.
The two sleeves are said to resemble the trunks of elephants, and the arm holes the elephants eyes. In Buddhism the elephant sometimes symbolises ignorance. Since there are two main types of ignorance the two sleeves and their holes teach us that we should mainly strive to overcome the two types of ignorance.
The donka has a thin blue thread on both sleeves, this symbolises Buddha's secret teachings and reminds us to practice them.

3. The zen is a red robe worn over the donka which symbolises concentration.

4. The chogyu, or yellow robe, symbolises wisdom. It is made from a complicated pattern of many different pieces of saffron-coloured cloth. The many different pieces stitched together represents Buddha's teachings on dependent-relationship. It is normally only worn by fully ordained monks and nuns, especially during teachings.

The typical maroon color of the Tibetan robes differs from the traditional saffron color in India simply because the yellow colorant was very hard to get and expensive in Tibet. A very direct quote from Lama Yeshe:

"When Buddhism went from India to Tibet, the monks' robes changed completely; there’s nothing Indian left. The same thing happened when Buddhism went to China and Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Of course, there are some similarities, but basically they are different. Why are they different? You cannot say their Dharma is bad Dharma. You cannot say that Tibetan Dharma is better, that it is better to wear Tibetan robes. That would just be an ego trip. Because climates and cultures vary, people compromise and come up with something that suits their environment."

CONTROVERSIAL 'BUDDHIST' TEACHERS, TRADITIONS AND CENTERS

Unfortunately, there are teachers, traditions and centers which are questionable in the Buddhist world. There used to be a website listing most of the controversial traditions, but the webmaster was put under pressure to close it - very unfortunate indeed... It is always recommended to ask around a bit before seriously getting involved with a group or teacher. Simply said, if you discover a 'fundamentalist' kind of approach, and attitude of 'only we have the correct understanding of Buddhism' and strong aversion to other traditions, you would be well advised to double or triple check if there is no controversy around that group or teacher.

Most controversial groups may be fairly innocent for members, but excesses can happen when people do not show a healthy critical mind, just imagine how tempting it can be for a teacher to abuse the power he has among students when they accept absolutely everything that is said mindlessly. Please remember that when a teacher abuses power, on the other side are the students who have often all too willingly handed over that power and control. See also the pages on Spiritual Teachers and Controversy.

SOME NOTES ON PURE LAND BUDDHISM

Pure Land Buddhism is a popular sub-school in South-East Asia of the Mahayana tradition, in which practice is focused to being reborn in a so-called Pure Land. Simply said, a Pure Land is the world of a Buddha, still belonging to the realms within cyclic existence (samsara), but where one can practice to become a Buddha under virtually ideal circumstances. The Pure Land school is called Jodo in Japan. Usually, the practice focuses on Amitabha Buddha, and consists to a large extent on reciting the name of Amitabha Buddha, and little emphasis is put on study and meditation.

Personally, I have no experience of this school, but perhaps you can find more information at the following links:
Young men's Buddhist Association of America
or this links page

CAN I DO ANYTHING WHEN SOMEONE IS VERY SICK, DYING OR EVEN DEAD?

Yes, you can always dedicate positive energy of your actions towards people in need, even after they died. In tantric Buddhism as practices in Tibet, usually the practice of Medicine Buddha is strongly advised. This can be a meditation, like you can find at Thubten Chodron's website, you can recite mantras or do the Medicine Buddha sadhana with visualisations etc. as described in these pages of Kopan Monastery. You can also check out the Dharma Haven website for resources.

HOW TO FIGHT TERRORISTS?

Compassion and understanding are the best weapons against terrorism.

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Terror is in the human heart. We must remove this terror from the heart. Destroying the human heart, both physically and psychologically, is what we should avoid. The root of terrorism should be identified so that it can be removed. The root of terrorism is misunderstanding, hatred, and violence. This root cannot be located by the military. Bombs and missiles cannot reach it, let alone destroy it. Only with the practice of calming and looking deeply can our insight reveal and identify this root. Only with the practice of deep listening and compassion can it be transformed
and removed.

Darkness cannot be dissipated with more darkness. More darkness will make darkness thicker. Only light can dissipate darkness. Violence and hatred cannot be removed with violence and hatred. Rather, this will make violence and hatred grow a thousand fold. Only understanding and compassion can dissolve violence and hatred. "Strike against terror" is a misleading expression. What we are striking against is not the real cause or the root of terror. The object of our strike is still human life. We are sowing seeds of violence as we strike. Striking in this way we will only bring about more hatred and violence into the world. This is exactly what we do not want to do.

Hatred and violence are in the hearts of human beings. A terrorist is a human being with hatred, violence, and misunderstanding in his or her heart. Acting without understanding, acting out of hatred, violence, and fear, we help sow more terror, bringing terror to the homes of others and bringing terror back to our own homes. Whole societies are living constantly in fear with our nerves being attacked day and night. This is the greatest casualty we may suffer from as a result of our wrong thinking and action. Such a state of confusion, fear and anxiety is extremely dangerous. It can bring about another world war, this time extremely destructive.

We must learn to speak out so that the voice of the Buddha can be heard in this dangerous and pivotal moment of history. Those of us who have the light should display the light and offer it so that the world will not sink into total darkness. Everyone has the seed of awakening and insight within his or her heart. Let us help each other touch these seeds in ourselves so that everyone could have the courage to speak out. We must ensure that the way we live our daily lives (with or without mindful consumption, with or without discrimination, with or without participating in injustic ...) does not create more terrorism in the world. We need a collective awakening to stop this course of self-destruction.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk in the Zen tradition, who worked for peace during the Vietnam War, rebuilding villages destroyed by the hostilities. In 1967, he was nominated by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., for the Nobel Peace Prize.

BUDDHISM AND THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM

In the Vasala Sutra, the Buddha encountered a brahmin priest on his alms round, who was preparing a religious offering. Upon sight of his shaved head, the brahmin yelled at the Buddha to stay away, calling him a wretched monk and an outcast.
In response, the Buddha asked if he knew who an outcast is and what conditions one to be so. Probably taken aback by this response and recognising him, he asked to be 'enlightened' accordingly.
The Buddha then defined a true outcast in 20 ways – One who:

[1] has anger, is unwilling to praise, perverted in views, deceitful
[2] kills sentient beings, lacks empathy
[3] overtakes and destroys homes as a notorious oppressor
[4] steals anywhere
[5] incurs, yet denies debts
[6] kills to covet
[7] lies for wealth when called as a witness
[8] consorts with others' spouses
[9] does not support aged parents despite being wealthy
[10] strikes and annoys with harsh speech
[11] speaks of the detrimental and evasive when asked about the good
[12] does and conceals evil
[13] does not repay generous offerings
[14] deceives spiritual practitioners
[15] speaks harshly to spiritual practitioners and does not offer them alms (as in the case of the brahmin)
[16] speaks harshly or falsely out of ignorance to gain
[17] takes pride in oneself and belittles others pridefully
[18] is angry, miserly, has base desires, is selfish, deceitful, shameless and fearless in doing evil
[19] reviles the Buddha, his disciples, recluses or householders
[20] pretends to be enlightened (e.g. an Arhat), who then 'steals' offerings from all, this is the lowliest outcast.

The Buddha added that, 'Not by birth is one an outcast; not by birth is one a brahmin (noble one). By deed one becomes an outcast, by deed one becomes a brahmin.'
Slightly edited from TheDailyEnlightenment.com weekly (15 june 2011)

This made the Buddha a bit of a social revolutionary, as the caste system was commonly accepted in his time.

HOW DO BUDDHIST PRAY, THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD,
WHO DO THEY PRAY TO?

The idea of prayers is generally somewhat different then e.g. the Christian idea of a plea to God for help. In Buddhism we know we actually need to do everything ourselves, so we pray for inspiration and the ability we can walk the path without hindrances. Many different prayers exist, but often these are recitations to reconfirm one's dedication to the spiritual path and the vows one has taken, or simply to give a positive direction to our thoughts by reflecting on compassion and love.

Then there are other practices like recitation of texts. These common in probably all traditions of Buddhism. One can say they have several effects. Firstly, by reading a text, you will gradually understand the teachings in it, so that's pretty simple. Recitation makes reading a text somehow more intense, and not only yourself, but also animals around you can hear the texts, which can be like a blessing to them, or a kind of mental preparation for a later understanding of these texts. This extra effort of reciting to help others as well, creates positive karma for ourselves as well, so that we will be able to hear the teachings in the future for example.

In the Vajrayana (tantra) tradition, one can also recite mantras. That practice is difficult to explain simply, but one could say that one occupieds the mind with the very positive energy of these sacred lines.

You can find some examples of Buddhist prayers on this index page.

The various traditions in Buddhism also have a somewhat different approach to prayer, so the above is surely not the last word on the subject.

MORE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS PAGES ON THE WEB

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Just for fun:

A fool can answer more questions than a wise man can ask, but who wants to hear their answers?
Rudy Harderwijk

If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

Thank God I'm a Buddhist.
Ivan

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Last updated: August 15, 2013