FAQ

Frequently asked questions on Buddhism

 

Burmese Buddha. Photo, © John Aske

Burmese Buddha

Who was the Buddha?

What does the word ‘Buddha’ Mean?

What did the Buddha teach?

Is there a God in Buddhism as in Christianity?

What do Buddhists believe?

Does Buddhism teach reincarnation?

What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth?

Does that mean there is no such thing as birth and death?

Is this just a Buddhist belief?

What happens when we die?

How is it possible to experience truth?

How can getting rid of ideas enable us to see deathlessness?

How does one clear away ideas?

Are there various kinds of Buddhist meditation?

Does one need to have a teacher?

What is karma?

Can anyone see truth?

Who was the Buddha

A man who lived some 2,600 years ago and who revolutionised religious thought in India. This way of thought spread throughout the Eastern world and has now found its way to the West.

What does the word ‘buddha’ mean?

It stands for the awakened state (literally it means ‘awakened’), so it is used in relation to waking up to truth, to becoming enlightened.

What did the buddha teach?

Buddhist Monk, Burma. Photo, © John Aske

His teaching was extensive. However, it is commonly agreed among all traditions throughout the Buddhist world that fundamentally the teaching is contained in just four truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the path, the way to be free of suffering.
We suffer when life does not go our way, when our hopes are dashed, and when disappointment or tragedy strikes. We also suffer when life does go our way. Why? Because we fear loss — loss of pleasure, wealth, family and friends. This is the truth of suffering.

Wishing, wanting, and desiring are the cause of suffering. We produce our own suffering by the way we think and act.

Because we produce our own suffering, it is within our power not to produce it, and not to suffer. This is the truth regarding the cessation of suffering.

The way of life which does not cause suffering is the path; it is the way of harmlessness, wishlessness, selflessness

Is there a God in Buddhism as in Christianity?

It is very difficult to compare Buddhism with Christianity. One would have to say, however, there is no God in Buddhism in the way that Christianity understands it.

What do Buddhists believe

Different Buddhists believe different things, but the nature of belief is itself an important issue in Buddhism. Belief is to be seen as belief, not as fact. When we see our beliefs as facts, then we are deluding ourselves. When we see our beliefs as beliefs, then we are not. Seeing things in their true light is the most important thing in Buddhism. Deluding ourselves is the cause of much suffering. So Buddhists try to see beliefs as beliefs. They may still believe in certain things — that is their prerogative — but they do not cling to those beliefs; they do not mind or worry about whether their beliefs are true or not, nor do they try to prove that which they know cannot be proved. Ideally, though, a Buddhist does not indulge in any kind of belief.

Does Buddhism teach reincarnation?

Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the teaching is of rebirth, not of reincarnation.

What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth?

The reincarnation idea is to believe in a soul or a being, separate from the body. At the death of the physical body, this soul is said to move into another state and then enter a womb to be born again.

Rebirth is different and can be explained in this way. Take away the notion of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all ideas of self existing either inside or outside the body. Also take away notions of past, present and future; in fact take away all notions of time. Now, without reference to time and self, there can be no before or after, no beginning or ending, no birth or death, no coming or going. Yet there is life! Rebirth is the experience of life in the moment, without birth, without death; it is the experience of life which is neither eternal nor subject to annihilation.

Does that mean there is no such thing as birth and death?

That which is born, dies. Forms come and go. All that comes into existence is impermanent. The physical body is impermanent; it is born and it dies. But the very essence of what ‘I’ am — buddha-nature — is unborn and undying.

Is this just a Buddhist belief?

Buddhists are people and people do believe things, but Buddhism is concerned with truth, not with belief, and the teaching is to see things as they are. If we believe anything which has not been experienced, we should know what we are doing. When we do not understand something, then to maintain an open mind is the healthiest and wisest practice.

What happens when we die?

If we understand what the word ‘I’ really represents, we can realise the answer to this question. Buddhism does not offer intellectual answers; it gives directions only for the experiencing of truth.

How is it possible to experience truth?

By understanding that ‘I’ and birth and death are notions, concepts, ideas, beliefs. It is the idea of a self living life through time which produces the idea of birth and death. We have been conditioned into believing that we have come into existence and in due course will cease to exist. If we see through these ideas and realise that this moment neither begins nor ends, we shall realise deathlessness.

How can getting rid of ideas enable us to see deathlessness?

The deathless is here all the while, but ideas block it out. It is like the sun on a cloudy day. We do not see the sun because of the clouds, but as soon as the clouds are cleared away, there is the sun. Likewise, as
soon as ideas are cleared away from the mind, there is the true state: birthless, deathless.

How does one clear away ideas?

By seeing ideas as ideas and not as truths; by being aware of mental and physical actions and reactions exactly as they occur. This awareness is meditation.

Are there various kinds of Buddhist meditation?

Zazen, art © Marcelle Hanselaar

Zazen

There are different exercises taught by teachers of different Buddhist traditions and schools. Many of these exercises can only be administered by experienced meditation teachers. For the average person, however, whose aim is to realise the teachings of the Buddha, meditation is a simple process of awareness and investigation.

How does one practise this kind of meditation?
By being fully aware as one thinks, speaks and acts.

Sitting meditation is the same. It is a question of being aware moment by moment. The opportunity for seeing truth is ever present, because truth is ever present. Conditions are always just right for being aware
of the true situation. One has to be conscious of what is taking place within one and around one without making any judgements. If one ‘sees’ by being aware, then one will see very deeply into everything.

How does one practise sitting meditation?

Sitting meditation is the shutting down of all sense stimuli in order to realise that the essence of one’s being is not a function of the senses or of the thinking process. It is practised by sitting quite still with the eyes closed (or not focusing on anything), by letting life be, by being conscious that the body is breathing (without altering the breath in any way), and by noticing subtle changes in the mind and body. It is not difficult or complicated.

Does one need to have a teacher?

The Buddha’s teaching can be the teacher and awareness can be the practice which will lead straight to liberation.

What is karma?

It is cause and effect. When someone commits a crime, that person suffers the consequences. That is karma. When someone does good that person enjoys the consequences. That is karma. But karma runs deep; it affects our hearts and minds. From the beginning mind is absolutely pure. If we are unkind, deceitful, greedy or cruel, we defile that purity. Imagine a plain white cloth, beautiful, bright and clean. And then imagine someone splattering it with black ink. The cloth is then spoilt. The mind is like the white cloth. Like and dislike, greed and hatred, are like the ink splattered across it. When the mind is unmarked and unspoilt, suffering and enjoyment do not exist. This is happiness beyond pleasure, beyond karma. All karma is impermanent and runs out in due course. A Buddhist will learn how to get off the karmic see-saw of pleasure and pain.

Can anyone see truth?

Truth is truth for everyone. Of course anyone can see it. And the Buddha’s teaching was clear and simple. Anyone who makes the effort to be aware will realise his or her buddha-nature and be freed from suffering.

Before you go off in search of enlightenment,

See the buddha of your own mind.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buddhist Blog

38 replies

  1. Can I ask what the view is of different traditions in relation to drinking alcohol
    thanks
    Barry

    • It is thought of as unskillful. Buddhists who meditate find that drugs and alcohol are disruptive.

      • I thought Zen Buddhists didn’t think this about alcohol and that there was no prescriptive view on it? Same also for some Tibetan schools? I know from the fifth precept in Theravada that alcohol is seen as a block to mindfulness and is regarded as unskilled but I have also discovered this is not the case in other traditions.

      • Buddhism doesn’t hold views and opinions. It is for each of us to see for ourselves whether what we do leads to wholesome results or unwholesome results. The point is to be incredibly honest with ourselves, as the Buddha said, and be aware of the result of our actions.

  2. Wonderful resource. Metta

  3. Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great resource. Excellent post. This organized everything for me.

  5. Thank you for this post! So helpful for all of us who are trying to learn about Buddhism!

  6. to buddhism now, thank you, you are fulfilling my inner needs.

    and thank you for helping peoples in many societies.

    i believe buddhism will become the future harbour for every one who really looking for answers in life…

  7. Great page! But exactly where you lft off there springs another question to life: you say (last answer): ‘Truth is truth for everyone.’ This corresponds with my humble understanding of ‘the truth’. Right after that you say: ‘Of course anyone can see it.’ Why the use of the words ‘of course’? Is thruth being there the same as being able to be consciously aware of it? ‘Anyone who makes the effort […]’ but: _can_ anyone make the effort? For example a person with down syndrome? Or a person in a deep coma? Or a 2-year-old child?

    Many thanks for your caring in advance,
    Roger

    • .. down syndrome? Or a person in a deep coma? Or a 2-year-old child?

      Truth is Truth, it has no characteristics or restrictions.

      R

      • Thank you for your answer.

        R

      • Yes, but Roger did ask about the possibility of an Effort, not about relativity of Truth. I’d say that all above mentioned cases are the one of main reasons we have bodhisattvas on all levels. Om Pra Ma Ni Da Ni So Ha

  8. The desire for answers is a desire that drives me away from inner peace. Is it not an attachment to know and thus I eat eat of the tree of knowledge and find myself out of the Garden of Eden.

  9. May all beings realize these teachings.

  10. Thank you for a very nice Dhamma.

  11. Many thanks for creating posts like these to help keep awareness.
    Be sure to look over my blog site and follow it, too!

  12. I live in a small town in M.N. there aren’t anyother Buddhists around for a100 miles that I know of. Im doing my best to learn,but it is very hard when you don’t have anyone to communicate and learn from,I am limited to books and the internet. Does anyone have any sugestions as to how I can learn more and possibly create a Sanga in my local area,without being burned as a witch? I appreciate it,thank you,love and peace to you all.

  13. Hi I have a few questions regarding abortion from Buddhist perspective:
    How do Buddhist ethics encourage adherents to live an ethical life?
    2.. What is the Buddhist view on abortion?
    3. What is the Buddhist view on birth control?
    4. Do denominations of Buddhism have different opinions on abortion?
    5. What is the Buddhist perspective on killing/destroying life before birth?

    • There is no stand to take in Buddhism on specific issues. The onus is on the individual. Ideally, one follows one’s own conscience and does whatever seems appropriate at the time.

      The debate on abortion is a classic example. People may try to decide which camp to join — the anti-abortionists or the pro-abortionists. A Buddhist may join either of these camps and campaign one way or the other, or may not take a stand at all. From the point of view of Buddhism, this is treading the course of a living truth which acts according to conditions and a person’s own sensitivities towards it. Answers to issues like abortion are not to be found in the Buddhist scriptures.

      Hope this helps you Har.

      R

  14. Did the Buddha ever talk about suicide? What was his stance / his teachings on that subject?

    Many thanks for your caring in advance,
    Roger

    • I’ve never come across any teachings of the Buddha about suicide. The Buddha taught awareness as the natural way to be free from suffering. One of his other major teaching is dependent origination or rebirth, the two are linked.

      Read more about dependent origination here and about Awareness/Buddhist meditation here.

      Hope this helps Roger.

      R

  15. Forgive me, but I have another question that nags me deeply right now. There is the concept of rebirth in buddhism as you explain with a delightful clarity in one of your answer texts on this very page. Now, my question are following:

    a) Do I understand it correctly that someone who finds enlightenment exits from the circle of death and rebirth, exits from Samsara into Nirvana, meaning that his “definition” of “I” seizes or is experienced suddenly completely different, transpersonal, in a way that “I am that (stream of consciousness here and now)” / “I am this (perfect universe which was never born and therefore will never die)”? So, if someone enlightened does not consciously choose to be reborn (which seems possible in that state, right?), there will be no rebirth?

    b) You also explained in the same text that there is no separate self or soul that is reborn. Yet the Tibetan buddhists seem to believe that there is something (what exactly?) that IS reborn in a new body. Something that belonged to person / personality once that died. How else could they “recognize” a rebirth of a Dalai Lama for example by showing belongings to a child of the former Dalai Lama?

    c) Concerning the question above: when the number of people changes on this planet, how does this work together with the notion of rebirth that I gave in question b)?

    Thanx for your caring in advance,
    Gassho, Roger

    • We have two descriptions Samsara and Nirvana. Nirvana exists in the minds of those suffering in samsara, those who awake are free from both. It’s a bit like those pictures with lots of colour dots, when we look closely at them, images of houses or animals or trees manifest, but it’s the same painting.

      Samsara and Nirvana are inseparable. As Urgyen Rinpoche says,’Right now the difference between samsara and nirvana lies in recognising or not recognising mind essence’.

      It’s the same with the idea of self. Most people think that there is a self. Some Buddhists thing that there is no self. Both are views. Zen master Iida Toin said, ‘When there is no self there is nothing that is not self’.

      The problem in Buddhist meditation is views and opinions. Opinions about ‘former Dalai Lamas’ or ‘number of people changes on this planet’ are sideroads. Entertaining but pointless from a Buddhist point of view. The Buddha called them ‘Unfit questions’ as they don’t lead to liberation.

      Questions are innumerable. Wake up and Samsara and Nirvana, views and opinions, will evaporate like the morning dew.

      Some reading on Samsara and Nirvana. Enjoy!

      R

  16. Many thanks for your time.
    Roger

  17. Hello
    I am a lay person and I have some question which I would prefer to be answered by a teacher:

    I read that the Buddha said that consciousness is also not a permanent phenomenon. First what do we mean by “consciousness” in Buddhist context ? Secondly, if neither mind not body nor the non-thinkning mind are permanent phenomenon, what are we cultivating through meditation ? Is the Buddha nature permanent in that case ? Zen and Adviata talk of observational mind without the thoughts and living in here and now.
    Any help would be appreciated
    Thanks
    Sambuddho

    • Consciousness Sambuddho is described in Buddhism in many ways.

      At one level the Buddha talks of sense consciousness, eye, ear, nose, taste, tactile, and mental consciousness. But he tells us to guard our senses, and to do this by not grasping.

      As the jumping around of the senses are brought under control we get an insight into the function of consciousness. In Zen this practice is called tracing back the radiance. The Tibetans talk about the awakening the luminous mind. Another way of seeing this is to turn the awareness on to itself. These descriptions all sound so very dualistic but are not in practice.

      The Buddha described consciousness from this point of view as Vinnanam anidassanam anantam sabbato pabham consciousness, signless, timeless and everywhere brightly shining. Here notions of permanent and impermanent drop away.

      R

      Further reading.

      The End of the Story, by John Aske

      Recognising the Thinker, by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche

      You Are Not A Permanent Person, by Ajahn Sumedho

      No Beginning, no End, by Dalai Lama

      • What is the best step to practice when emptiness notion is clearer to mind??????

      • Emptiness is a synonym for the insight and experience of anattā. Anatta is literally not-self. Bad translation is no Soul no Ego.

        We have belief of self so deep it’s thought of as real. So all notions even deep or clever ones aren’t the experience of emptiness.

        The best practice is unselfishness, which will help towards a better appreciation and the final realization of emptiness.

        Read Harada Roshi, ‘Emptiness is not something where things that exist disappear by means of practice’. ‘The Heart Sutra’ here.

        Hope this helps.

        R

  18. I was wondering, what is the Buddhist stance on pest control? I know it is deemed unskillful to kill _any_ living creature, and also someone said that even killing a mosquito in anger generates bad karma (for the _intent_behind_action_).

    On the other hand, pests like cockroaches, mice and mosquitoes can transfer diseases, pollute the food supplies etc., so that cannot quite be allowed; they must be got rid of. However, since they cannot be reasoned with and be told to go away, the only way is to exterminate them!

    So the actual dilemma here is which evil is lesser, killing some living beings, or letting them bring harm to the household members… It confuses me somewhat…

    Thank you.

  19. “Take away the notion of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all ideas of self existing either inside or outside the body. Also take away notions of past, present and future; in fact take away all notions of time.”
    how does that tie into the concept of karma, if you rid yourself the notion of self and time? I am a new student of Buddhism, any input you provide will be greatly appreciated!

  20. I am finding it difficult to feel compassion for a work supervisor who dislikes and bullies people, me especially. I want to feel compassion and sometimes I manage it, but I also feel hatred and I don’t want this emotion in my heart. How can I go about oovercoming this problem?

  21. Good place for me to practice.

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