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Questions about Buddhism

"Work out your own salvation. Do not depend on others."

The Buddha 

What Does the Word Buddha Mean?

What is Theravada Buddhism?

Do Buddhists worship statues?

How can someone become a Buddhist?

What is the Trancendence of Suffering?

What do Buddhist think of themselves?

What is the Middle Way?

Unhelpful Questions

The Sun is Always Out

Two Sides of the Same Coin 

What does the word  Buddha mean ?

The word 'Buddha' is not a proper name; it is a Pali word meaning 'awakened'. Siddhattha became the Buddha, the Awakened One, the Fully Enlightened One, in the same way that Jesus became Christ. 

The word Buddha  then, is a generic term and can refer to any being or state of being which is awakened, but references to 'the Buddha' usually imply Siddhattha, the man who became the Buddha. He was also called Gotama Buddha, Gotama being his family name. 

When referring to himself, the Buddha used the term 'Tathagata' which means 'thus come', 'just being here and now, spontaneously, without a personal identity'. 

What is Theravada Buddhism ?

Theravada is the Buddhism of Sri Lanka, Thailand, countries. Myanmar (Burma), Laos and other Southeast Asian It is the oldest school of Buddhism that exists today, and the texts which have been preserved, known as the Pali Canon, are believed to contain some of the original teachings of the Buddha. Theravada means Way of the Elders. It is also known as the Southern School of Buddhism. In general, Theravada is a devotional, gentle form of Buddhism, with emphasis on generosity. Its teachings are based upon tolerance, mindfulness, morality and insight which lead to wisdom, compassion, and liberation from suffering. Its form is centred upon the monastic system, a system which interacts closely with the lay community. 

The interest that Theravada has stimulated in the West is twofold - (i) in the cultural and monastic traditions which have evolved over the centuries and are being practised to this day, and (ii) discovering the wisdom which lies within its teachings and attempting to apply them in a modern, Western context.

Do Buddhists worship statues?

The answer is no as Buddhists don’t believe that Buddha statues are the Buddha or those statues have some inherent mystical powers. Buddhists do not worship statues of the Buddha when they turn towards them as they pray. The Buddha statue represents a potent symbol which is helpful in creating devotion, uplifting and focusing the mind on the teachings of the Buddha.

How can someone become a Buddhist?

A Buddhist is really a member of a community and following the path to enlightenment taught by the Buddha. The three precepts are taking refuge in the Buddha, the teaching or Dhamma and that of the Sangha (which is the community of noble followers).

Anyone can be a Buddhist; it is not conditional upon one's birth into a particular family, culture, or tradition, nor is it dependent upon signing on the dotted line. The only prerequisite to regarding oneself a Buddhist is the wish to turn towards awakening as a refuge rather than towards ignorance, the wish to turn towards truth as a refuge, the wish to keep company with others who have similar aspirations as a refuge, and of keeping five precepts. These are called The Three Refuges. The five precepts, the panca-sila, are considered to be the minimum standard needed to form the basis of a decent life for oneself and others. It is traditionally chanted three times and, together with a commitment to awakening, can be used as a way of formally declaring oneself a Buddhist. Buddhist temples ring out daily with the sound of these commitments.

What is the Transcendence of Suffering ?

The aim of Buddhism is to awaken to truth, to tread the path of enlightenment, instead of the path of delusion. One does not become enlightened; one lives in freedom from delusion and in harmony with wisdom and compassion. This is a living truth, not something that one attains as an attribute. There may seem to be an emphasis in Buddhism on suffering, and it is sometimes criticized as being a pessimistic religion. The emphasis, however, is really upon the truth of suffering and its cessation. The idea is to own up to one's own fears, anxieties, irritations and disappointments in life - which can be quite daunting - and then to transcend and find deliverance from them. Recognition is, in itself, the way of transcendence. Sometimes this can be a single act - the recognition of suffering and the transcending of it may occur simultaneously. 

What do Buddhists Think of Themselves ?

Many, especially in the East, regard their spiritual roles as supporters of the sarigha, the order of monks, believing that there is nothing more important in life than to provide for monks to live and practise (the feeling is not the same towards nuns who are of a lower status). The belief is that generosity towards monks bring good fortune in the future, or in future lives. In consequence, monks are sometimes incredibly well catered for.

It is unfortunate that prejudice against women is still prevalent in Eastern countries where it is often said that women cannot become enlightened in this life, that the best they can do is live decently and hope to be born a man next time. This, of course, was not the teaching of the Buddha who regarded men and women equally.

Women in the West are ignoring these old prejudices, as they are also beginning to do so more and more in the East. Many Buddhists think of themselves purely as followers of the Buddha's teaching, as meditators trying to adhere to particular practices during their normal, everyday lives. This is true of Buddhists around the globe. Others think of themselves as simple wayfarers, rather than as practitioners of a religion - seekers who do not label themselves as anything. The Buddha taught, in fact, that the teaching is to be used as a tool, a device, not something to be carried around on one's back as a burden. This is a point he puts across most graphically in his simile of the Raft. 

What is the Middle Way?

The Buddha lived the first part of his life in extreme comfort and luxury. His every whim was catered for, and yet he found that way of life cloying and nauseating; he felt like a prisoner. As a reaction to that, when he left home in search of truth, he swung to the other extreme and became an ascetic of the first order. He denied the body of what was unnecessary for survival, but also of what was needed by way of sleep and food, and he suffered the most wretched existence.

When, finally, at the point of death, he recognized the futility of what he was doing, he
realized that both extremes were detrimental, and that a middle course had to be found, otherwise he would never reach the goal. It was from these experiences of the two extremes of pleasure and pain that the Buddha taught ‘the middle way'.

Unhelpful Questions 

On various occasions the Buddha was asked whether the world was eternal or not, or whether there was life after death or not. At one time a wanderer by the name of Vacchagotta inquired, 'Are you of the view that the world is eternal?' 'No,' said the Buddha, 'I am not of that view.' 'Are you of the view that the world is not eternal?' continued Vacchagotta. 'No, I am not.' 'Are you of the view that the world is finite?' 'Not so.' 'That the world is infinite?' 'No.' 

'Are you of the view that the life-principle and the body are the same?' 'No, I am not of that view.' 'That the life-principle is one thing and the body another?' 'No.' 'That the Tathagata (a name the Buddha used to refer to himself) exists after dying?' 'No.' 'That the Tathagata does not exist after dying? 'No.' 'That the Tathagata both exists and does not exist after dying?' 'No.' 'That the Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after dying?' 'No, I am not of that view.' 

The Sun is Always Out 

Happiness is a natural condition that prevails when suffering in all its forms is cleared away, a bit like the sun which comes out when the clouds are gone. The sun does not really come out at those times; the sun is always there; it is just that the clouds obscure it. This is like samsara (the eternal cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth). in relation to nirvana (the ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion). Happiness is always there, but sorrow obscures it. We do not have to find happiness; we just have to see past the unhappiness. 

Two Sides of the Same Coin 

Samsara and nirvana are two sides of the same coin; they should not be thought of as different places. They are both the same world, the same life, but lived from different perspectives. Two people can experience similar things in life, and yet one can be in nirvana (feeling free, joyful, and at ease) and the other can be in samsara (feeling worried, upset and distressed). It is all to do with how life is lived, rather than what life presents to us. 

More Questions about Buddhism

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