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Any Westerners Looking to Learn About Buddhism
At Wat Dallas we have a Buddhist Discussion Group for Western Students in English Every Wednesday at 7:00 PM in the Main Building after Chanting and Meditation. If you are interested in Buddhism or are a practicing Buddhist.Please join us on for an open discussion on Dhamma. Please question everything and come with all your questions. If you are needing assistance in becoming a monk and wish to learn more please contact Jack Boling. Kent and Jack Boling will be leading the discussion on Buddhism. If you need personal instruction you can contact Jack Boling at 940-594-7794 or Kent at 214-690-7797

Buddhist Questions and Answers

By National Identity Office - Office of the Prime Minister's Secretariat



1. What is Buddhism?

Buddhism may be defined and explained from various standpoints as follows:

1. Buddhism, the teaching of the Buddha (the Enlightened One), proposes to develop humankind through purity (by means of morality), calmness (by means of concentration) and clarity (by means of wisdom).

2. Buddhism is a religion founded by the Buddha for the welfare of many, for happiness of many and for helping the world. People from al walks of life can apply the teaching to practice in accordance with their ability and free will.

3. Buddhism is a religion of reason and practice for self-help and self-reliance and for extending a helping hand to others out of living-kindness and compassion.

4. Buddhism is both philosophy and practice. Though it accepts the existence of divine beings, it did not put belief in a supreme being as a significant part of the religion. Instead it teaches the followers to have qualifications such as moral shame and moral fear, making one divine in the Dhamma in this life; to be endowed with right faith, morality, learning, generosity, and wisdom. Furthermore, Buddhism teaches that one who is free from defilements of greed, hatred and delusion is reckoned as superior.

5. General information about Buddhism is as follows:

Country of Origin: India

Date of Origin: Sixth Century BC (Buddhist Century)

The Founder: The Buddha (The Enlightened One) previously Prince Siddhattha of Gotama clan within the Sakya lineage.

Doctrinal Tenets: To avoid all evil, to do good and to purify the mind.

Type of Religion: Universal, spreading out to many countries of the world; Atheistic, regarding no divine being as the center of the teaching.

Main Divisions : Theravada and Mahayana.

2. What are the purposes of the Buddha's preaching?

In the First Sermon, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (the Discourse of the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma or Truth), the Buddha pointed out the Middle Way which gives vision, which gives knowledge, which is conducive to calmness, insight, enlightenment and Nibbana (the state of being free from all defilements and suffering).In one of His discourses, the Buddha summarized His teaching with the words "Vimutti or Spiritual Freedom from all defilements and sufferings is the Ultimate.” When sending His first sixty disciples on their preaching tour, the Buddha said: " I, now, monks, am free from all bonds of gods and men. And you too, monks, are free from all bonds of gods and men. Travel, monks, for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, for helping the world, for the good, welfare and happiness of gods and men." From the Buddha's words, above mentioned, we can say that Nibbana or Vimutti is the main purpose of the preaching of the Buddha. He encouraged His disciples to walk the Middle Way in order to eradicate all defilements and sufferings and then, out of compassion for all, lend a helping hand to others. In brief, the Buddha taught people how to be happy and prosperous both in a worldly as well as a spiritual sense. Those who follow His teaching can select their way of life practicable for themselves.

3. What is the status of Buddhism among world living religions?

World living religions can be classified according to their doctrinal tenets into various types such as:

1. Theistic religions: believing in the supremacy of a divine being or beings.

2. Atheistic religions: not believing in the supremacy of any divine being. Buddhism belongs to the latter. It lays stress on virtuous qualities which every human being can develop. According to Buddhism, good knowledge and conduct (Vijja-carana) make a person excellent among divine and human beings. Good knowledge and release from all defilements and suffering (Vijja-vimutti) are Buddhistic ideals.

4. What are the differences between the two major Schools of Buddhism, i.e. Theravada and Mahayana?

Theravada means the School which maintains the original teaching of the Buddha. Its root can be traced back to the First Council which was held soon after the Buddha's passing away; hence it is considered the oldest School. Mahayana came much later, roughly speaking, about 600 years after the Buddha's time. Vajarayana of Tantrayana developed from the Mahayana approximately 400 years after the beginning of the Mahayana.Geographically, Theravada is more prevalent in Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos while Mahayana is prevalent in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Nepal and Tibet. Theoretically both Schools share the fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths, etc. but Mahayana developed many more Sutras as elaboration of the original teaching. Among the important Mahayana Sutras are Saddhamapundarika-Sutra, Vimalakirtinirdesa-Sutta, Bhaisajyaguru-Sutra, etc. However, the Vinaya (Monastic Disciplines) of both Schools remain very similar. The difference in practices are primarily due to different sociological and geographical contexts.

5. How and what should the Buddhists believe?

The Buddha is the Enlightened One who discovered the Supreme Truth. He did not force anyone to believe in His teaching with blind faith. The reasonableness of the Dhamma, the Buddha's teaching, lies in the fact that it welcomes any critical examination at all stages of the path to enlightenment. To understand the nature of all phenomena, insight wisdom must be operative throughout. Once the Buddha had instructed the Kalamas, who were inhabitants of Kesaputta, a town in the Kingdom of Kosala, on an appropriate attitude towards the religious beliefs. He said"Do not accept anything on mere hearsay, nor by mere tradition, nor on account of rumors, nor just because it accords with your scriptures, nor by mere suppositions, nor by mere inference, nor by merely considering the appearances, nor merely because it seems acceptable, nor thinking that the recluse is our teacher. "And then the Buddha had further instructed the Kalamas to consider everything by themselves carefully. He said "When you yourselves know that these things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill; abandon them. And in contradiction, when you yourselves know that these things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; these things, undertaken and observed, lead to benefit and happiness, enter on and abide in them." [Kalamasutta]

6. Could we live happily without believing in any religion?

Yes, we can. If happiness means physical well-being, then a person can be happy without believing in any particular religion but a human being consists of two major aspects: body and mind. To have a fully developed and happy life, one needs to nourish both body and mind. In this case religion can provide the guidance and the path to develop the mind and spirit along with the Body.

7. Is there any particular form of practice in Buddhism?

According to Buddhism, everyone is free to consider and investigate Buddhist teaching before acceptance. Even after acceptance one is free to select any particular part of the teaching to put into practice. The Buddha had given various practical formats suitable to the people of different tastes and tendencies. There are, however, some typical doctrines appropriate for Buddhists in general as follows:

1. Avoid all evils, fulfill good and purify one's own minds.

2. Generosity, morality and mind development. (Development of tranquility and insight.)

3. Morality, concentration and wisdom. (Brief form of the noble path leading to the cessation of suffering.)

8. How should one live the Buddhist way of life?.

To live the Buddhist way of life one should avoid doing evil, perform wholesome acts and purify one's own mind. The "don't and do" moral principles of the Buddhist way of life are as follows:

1. To abstain from killing, and develop loving-kindness and compassion to all living beings.

2. To abstain from stealing, and develop right means of livelihood.

3. To abstain from sexual misconduct, and develop restraint of the senses.

4. To abstain from lying, and develop truthful speech.

5. To abstain from intoxicants, and develop restraint and mindfulness.

The more one can observe the above Five Precepts and Five Virtues, the more happy and peaceful life one will achieve. Furthermore, trying to purify one's own mind from greed, hatred, and delusion step-by-step in daily life is the ideal way for all Buddhists.

9. Is it justified for a Buddhist to believe that he could be a real Buddhist only through meditation, and to discard all concerns about serving society?

To be a real Buddhist is just to take the Triple Gem as one's guide, that is to say, if anyone puts his or her faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, he or she is regarded as a Buddhist. This is according to the answer of the Buddha to Prince Mahanama's question about being a Buddhist.There is advice for the progress in practice called the Basis of Merit Making as taught by the Buddha as follows:

1. Charity or generosity (Dana)

2. Morality (Sila) and

3. Development of meditation which is of two kinds, namely: tranquility of the mind and spiritual insight (Bhavana).

From the above mentioned principle it is clear that charity and serving society in the way of giving a helping hand and other spiritual practices are regarded as the additional practices of being a Buddhist.

10. Why do monks wear patched robes? Does a darker brown robe signify strictness of the wearer?

Buddhist monks are homeless and do not have any valuable personal belongings. Originally they had to collect discarded pieces of cloth wherever they could be found, and wash and sew them together. Then the robe was dipped in natural dye from bark or the pith of a tree. The robes were mostly brownish in color. The different shades of the color did not signify the strictness of the wearers at the time of the Buddha, nor do they today.

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. In Thailand, usually the darker robed monks tend to be forest monks. However, there are some monks living in the city who also prefer wearing darker brown robes responsibilities. The reason why the Buddha accepted a patched robe was to distinguish monks' robes from lay people's clothing and to discourage thieves.

11. Why do monks go on alms round in the morning?

In order to appreciate this act, one needs to have a background understanding of Buddhist society, Buddhist society consists of four groups of people: monks, nuns, laymen and lay women. Monks and nuns have left household life and have gone forth to spend time fully in the study and practice of Buddhist teaching. Once they are well fortified with study and practice, they are expected to teach the lay people and provide them with spiritual comfort and guidance.

Lay people, on the other hand, are householders who are still engaged in worldly activities. It is expected that able Buddhists should support the ordained ones by providing them with material requisites such as food, clothing etc. Buddhist societies are expected to work out this compromise division of responsibilities. When the monks go for alms round, from the monk's point of view, they are to make available the opportunity for the lay people to make offering to the ordained ones who are a "field of merit", worthy of offering. Also taking care of the material needs of the ordained ones is a way to reinsure the stability of Buddhism and its institution on the one hand and also to uplift the lay peoples' own practice on the other.

12. What is the Buddha's teaching about caste and colour?

There is no division of caste and color in Buddhism. In some country, the caste system is a very important social structure. However, Buddhism is free from caste, racial, and gender prejudices. Everyone is equal in spiritual potential.

The Buddha explained that a man's virtues or vices depend on his deeds, not his birth or wealth. One who comes to be ordained in Buddhism has equal rights such as the right to vote in meetings. The only difference is the order of seniority which goes according to the precedence in ordination. Buddhism lays stress on human equality by pointing to the importance of knowledge and good conduct. The Lord Buddha taught that one who is endowed with knowledge and good conduct is excellent among divine and human beings.

13. What is the Buddhist attitude towards ecological problems?

It is well known that more than 2,500 years ago the Buddha had laid down rules and regulations for His disciples to take care of the environment. Examples may be given as follows:

1. Not to throw the rising of the bowl mixed with lumps of boiled rice into the house compound.

2. Not to ease oneself or spit on grass and green.

3. Not to ease oneself or spit into water.

4. Not to cut any living plant.

5. Not to burn the forest.

6. Not to throw waste through the window.

7. Not to leave the toilet dirty without cleaning it or asking others to do so.

Buddhists are encouraged to maintain the balance of nature and material development. Recycling of used material was already mentioned in the Buddha's time. In Buddhist teaching, life is a part of nature. Everything is interdependent. So the concepts of natural conservation and ecological awareness can be found in the teaching of Buddhism in the early period. If we now take a trip to rural villages, we could visit the Buddhist monasteries and enjoy the feeling of serenity, fresh air, the beauty of flowers and trees, pets and tame animals living happily together with human beings.

14. Is it true that Buddhism is pessimistic?

The belief that Buddhism is pessimistic derives from the misunderstanding of the First Noble Truth which teaches that all sentient beings are subject to the suffering of birth, old age and death, etc. Only when one accepts the truth of this suffering will one begin to investigate the cause of suffering, the cessation of its cause and practice the path leading to its cessation.

In this sense we will see that Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic; it is rather realistic. The Buddha may be compared to a medical doctor who diagnoses that human beings do have a severe disease, but he did not stop there. He pointed out that it can be overcome and further prescribed medicine to remedy it. Buddhism seeks to overcome human suffering. Each individual needs to develop morality, concentration, and wisdom in order to solve the problems of life. Buddhists are taught to face the world in its reality and try to overcome its binding forces and ultimately arrive at spiritual freedom which is known as Nirvana or Nibbana.

15. What is the purpose of Buddhists in worshipping and making Buddha images?

Buddhists cast Buddha images and statues as reminders of the Buddha. People of various countries designed national flags to represent each of their own countries which are held as important, worth of respect. Such practice does not imply paying a respect to the cloth or its color but to the highest national institution. In the same manner, Buddha images and statues also are objects of respect .Our respect does not aim only at wood or metal which Buddha images are made of but mainly at the 3 qualities of the Buddha, namely: wisdom, purity, and compassion. A Buddhist paying respect to a Buddha image is away of reminding oneself that one needs to improve one's own wisdom, purity, and compassion in order to follow the Buddha's triple quality at the same time.

16. What is the real meaning of "merit making"?

Literally speaking, the word "merit" is translated from Pali Punna which means "purification: To make merit is to cleanse greed, hatred and delusion from one's mind. The Buddha taught His followers to make merit by means of charity (Dana), morality (Sila) and spiritual development (Bhavana). When we know the real meaning of "merit making" in Buddhism as described above we can decide for ourselves that there are many ways and means to make merit. At any moment in one's daily life, even while sitting comfortably on a chair, trying to cleanse greed, hatred, delusion or other mental defilements from one's mind is also reckoned as making merit.

17. What is the real meaning of "dana" (giving)?

Giving is an expression of generosity. It is one of the three means of merit which is of two kinds: development of tranquility (Samatha-bhavana) and that of insight (Vipassana-bhavana). There are three kinds of giving, as follows.1

. Giving to the needy, e.g. helping the poor, giving to orphans, etc.

2. Giving to equals, e.g. giving to our friends or neighbors to build up friendship.

3. Giving to people to whom we want to show our gratitude or respect, e.g. parents or monks. In the real sense, a Buddhist should give without expectation of return.

 In other words, to give is to lessen one's own selfishness. Hence giving is a way of decreasing craving and attachment.

18. What does it mean when a Buddhist takes refuge in the Triple Gem?

A basic requirement for a person to become a Buddhist is to take refuge in the Triple Gem, namely the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.There are levels of taking refuge in the Buddha. At one level the Buddha simply means the Buddha image which may be taken as a reminder or indicator of the historical Buddha who provides inspiration for all Buddhists to follow the path He had taken to enlightenment. The Buddha at a deeper level would mean Buddhahood, the highest spiritual quality which is available to all of us, if we follow the path the Buddha has shown. Dhamma also may be understood in different levels. It is often understood to mean the canonical body of the teachings of the Buddha. However, more profoundly, it means the highest truth realized by the Buddha, who said that "One who sees Dhamma sees me, and one who sees me sees Dhamma." That is to say, when one realizes Dhamma one become enlightened. The Sangha could again be understood in different levels, generally it means ordained Buddhists: monks and nuns. In a deeper sense, it means the enlightened persons, ordained or lay, who are spiritual guides for human beings. To take refuge in the Triple Gem is to accept the qualities embodied in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha and to try to develop such qualities within one's life.

19. What are the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha?

To be a Buddhist, one is expected primarily to take refuge in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Buddha means the Enlightened One. Dhamma means Truth realized and taught by the Buddha.Sangha means the Buddha's disciples who behave and practice righteously. The ideal Sangha means those who attain the Four States of Noblehood.The meaning of the Triple Gem or the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha may be understood in three different levels as follows:

(1) The First Level, The Buddha: the Enlightened One represented by His replica or Buddha image. Dhamma : Truth realized and taught by the Buddha, represented by Tripitaka or the Buddhist scripture Sangha : the Buddha's noble disciples represented by Buddhist bhikkhus (monks) and bhikkhunis (nuns) in general, who have not yet attained the Four States of Noblehood. The Sangha in this level is called Conventional Sangha or Sammati Sangha.

(2) The Second Level, The Buddha: The Enlightened One, who was formerly Prince Siddhattha of the Sakya clan. He renounced the worldly life in search of Truth and after His Enlightenment established Buddhism. Dhamma : Truth realized and taught by the Buddha, learned and put into practice by the Buddhists, both ordained and lay people. Sangha : the Buddha's noble disciples who have attained the Four States of Noblehood.

(3) The Third LevelThe Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha become one. The Buddha in this level is identical with Dhamma as it was stated by Him that "One who sees Dhamma sees me; one who seems me sees Dhamma." This shows that Buddhahood is Dhamma and Dhamma is Buddhahood. The ideal Sangha is the embodiment of the realized Dhamma.

20. In Buddhism, can women attain enlightenment?

The Buddha was the first religious leader to accept equal spiritual potentiality of men and women. The nature of enlightenment transcends gender difference, which otherwise tends to limit women in their social contexts. For this reason women were accepted into the Order (Sangha), and proved themselves worthy of the Buddha's recognition. Some of them were individually praised by the Buddha, such as Bhikkhuni Patacara who was foremost in Vinaya, and Bhikkhuni Khema who was foremost in wisdom. Among lay women, Visakha was foremost in offering dana and Samavati was foremost in loving-kindness. In brief, women showed equal capability in practicing and propagating Buddhism in early Buddhist history. Even now both men and women who practise the Buddhist teachings can undoubtedly attain enlightenment.

21. Is it true that in some countries women can be ordained?

The Buddha allowed women full ordination in His time. They were called Bhikkhuni (Bhisuni in Sanskrit). The Bhikkhuni lineage in India lasted more than a thousand years and disappeared together with the Bhikkhu Sangha when India was invaded in C.11th.A group of Bhikkhunis from India led by Sanghamitta Their, King Asoka's daughter, were invited by King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka to establish the Bhikkhuni lineage in B.E. 236. This Bhikkhuni Sangha in Sri Lanka also lasted for more than a thousand years before they were uprooted by foreign invasion. However, a group of Sri Lanka Bhikkhunis were invited over to China in B.E. 976 where they established a Bhikkhuni lineage there. This lineage has been kept alive until today. Afterward, they spread to many neighboring countries, i.e. Japan, Korea, etc. Bhikkhuni strongholds can now be found in Taiwan monastery and Korea. In B.E. 2531 (1988) His Lai Temple, a Chinese monastery in Los Angeles, U.S.A., provided ordination for 200 women from various traditions and countries to strengthen the institution of fully ordained Buddhist women. In the last two decades, Buddhist women have expressed clearly their desire to participate at all levels in Buddhism. Considering that women from half of the world population, this trend should have a positive effect towards the development of Buddhism.

22. What is the concept of Anatta (non-self), how can our understanding of this concept direct us in our daily life?

Anatta or non-self is an essential tenet in Buddhism. It can be realized through insight. The concept of Anatta or non-self may be classified into two levels: At the lower level, Anatta or non-self can be understood through rational thinking and we can use such understanding in our moral development. If we remain mindful of non-self, it will help us to be free from craving, conceit, and the idea of self. In this way we can rid ourselves of attachments and become unselfish.

At the higher level, Anatta or non-self is the truth of all that is, of all that exists. The truth of all that is not what we perceive through our ordinary senses unless we have attained enlightenment. When one attains full enlightenment, one's attachment and craving absolutely stop. The following principles are essential to the application of the Anatta concept to our daily life:

1. Do nothing only for one's own benefit or to satisfy only one's own needs and wants.

2. Do everything to decrease one's self-importance.

3. Do not hold one's own ideas above the views of others.

In our interactions with others we should be open-minded and perceive things according to the principle of cause and effect rather than according to our own desire. However, attachment to non-attachment is still a kind of attachment which is also to be avoided. Along the middle path, detachment needs to be accompanied by wisdom.

23. How can one be a divine being in this life?

To be a divine being in this life is to be with one of the following categories of appropriate qualifications:

1. To be accompanied by moral shame (Hiri) and moral fear (Ottappa) for doing wrong or immoral acts, or

2. To be accompanied byReasonable faith (Saddha)Morality (Sila)Learning (Suta)Sacrifice or generosity (Caga) andWisdom (Panna)

3. To be endowed with these Four Divine States of Mind:Loving-kindness (Metta), wishing happiness to others as opposed to ill-will,Compassion (Karuna), wishing others to be free from suffering as opposed to violence,Sympathetic Joy over others' achievement (Mudita), as opposed to jealousy,Equanimity (Upekkah), being impartial as opposed to prejudice.

24. What are the advantages or benefits concerning which the Buddha taught the practice ways and means to achieve?

There are three levels of advantages including ways and means to achieve them as told by the Buddha:

1. The Present Benefit (Economic and social profit) or Ditthadhammikattha.

(1) An effort in earning livelihood

(2) Protection of what one had acquired

(3) Having good companions(4) Moderate way of living

2. The Future Benefit (The profit based on morality and virtues) or Samparayikattha.

(1) Faith

(2) Morality

(3) Generosity

(4) Wisdom

3. The Absolute Benefit (The highest profit through freedom from defilement and suffering) or Paramattha.

(1) Morality

(2) Concentration

(3) Wisdom

In detail these three practical method for the Absolute Benefit are explained as the Noble Eightfold Path:

[1] Right View

[2] Right Motives

[3] Right Speech

[4] Right Action

[5] Right Means of Livelihood

[6] Right Effort

[7] Right Mindfulness

[8] Right Concentration.

25. What are the main doctrinal tenets of Buddhism?

The main doctrinal tenets of Buddhism can be summarized as follows:

(1) To refrain from evil, To do good, To purify the mind

(2) Suffering The cause of suffering The cessation of suffering The way leading to the cessation of suffering

(3) Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom leading to Deliverance

(4) Nothing is appropriate to cling to

(5) Nibbana or Extinction of all defilement and suffering

26. Is Nibbana or Nirvana attainable in this lifetime?

Certainly, there are many passages in the Tripitaka, the Buddhist Scripture, some of which mentioning Nibbana in this lifetime that Dhamma which can be seen in this life is timeless, inviting one to come and see, appropriate to be brought into practice and realizable for themselves by the wise. Anyone who can free oneself from clinging to egotism is sure to attain Nibbana or Nirvana here and now