Frequently Asked Questions
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
Why shave your hair, be celibate to become a monk or nun?
Do Buddhists eat meat, are they vegetarians?
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?
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?
Karma versus free will?
Can Anger be justified?
More on Meditation?
What is the meaning of life?
Buddhism and Science?
If we are all reborn, how can the world population
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?
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 apologies 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
- 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
- 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
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
See more details on the Buddha
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IS BUDDHISM A DIFFERENT TYPE
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
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
See also: Vedanta
and Buddhism from the Access to Insight website
BUDDHISM: IS IT A PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
Mind, Holy Mind" by Lama Yeshe
CAN THERE BE ONE WORLD RELIGION?
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?
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
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
"Do not speak- unless it improves on silence."
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
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
Killing of an animal is certainly not 'allowed'. Meat eating is not
explicitly forbidden, but ill-advised unless really necessary for
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."
"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
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."
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
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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
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
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
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,
on feminism, see this
article of the FWBO. Also you may find "Inspiration
from Enlightened Nuns' inspiring.
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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
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.
^Top of Page
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
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
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
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
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
"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."
See also the page on A
IS EMPTINESS THE SAME AS NOTHING?
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
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
^Top of Page
IS BUDDHIST TANTRA DERIVED
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
See also: Vedanta
and Buddhism from the Access to Insight website
WHO IS ENLIGHTENED IN THE WORLD
The following answer is taken from Access
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
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."
thoughts on free will.
^Top of Page
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
A number of good articles on Psychotherapy
and Meditation on Buddhanet.
HOW TO BE COMPASSIONATE TO
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
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."
^Top of Page
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Big question, to which I can only give a simplistic
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)
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
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
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
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.
^Top of Page
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
Here are some thoughts
of Bhikkhu Shravasti Dhammika.
See also the Life and Mind
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
"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."
with Anger', by Venerable Thubten Chodron
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
 has anger, is unwilling to praise, perverted in views, deceitful
 kills sentient beings, lacks empathy
 overtakes and destroys homes as a notorious oppressor
 steals anywhere
 incurs, yet denies debts
 kills to covet
 lies for wealth when called as a witness
 consorts with others' spouses
 does not support aged parents despite being wealthy
 strikes and annoys with harsh speech
 speaks of the detrimental and evasive when asked about the good
 does and conceals evil
 does not repay generous offerings
 deceives spiritual practitioners
 speaks harshly to spiritual practitioners and does not offer them alms (as in the case of the brahmin)
 speaks harshly or falsely out of ignorance to gain
 takes pride in oneself and belittles others pridefully
 is angry, miserly, has base desires, is selfish, deceitful, shameless and fearless in doing evil
 reviles the Buddha, his disciples, recluses or householders
 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
A fool can answer more questions than a wise man can ask, but
who wants to hear their answers?
If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians
Thank God I'm a Buddhist.
December 11, 2016