Frequently asked questions on Buddhism
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.
It stands for the awakened state (literally it means ‘awakened’), so it is used in relation to waking up to truth, to becoming enlightened.
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
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.
Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the teaching is of rebirth, not of reincarnation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Buddha’s teaching can be the teacher and awareness can be the practice which will lead straight to liberation.
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.
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.