FAQ

Who founded Buddhism?

Buddhism originated approximately 2,500 years ago in northern India (now Nepal) with the supreme enlightenment of and subsequent teachings by Sakyamuni Buddha. Born around 600 B.C. to King Suddodhana, ruler of the Sakya clan, Saykyamuni Buddha was originally named Prince Siddhartha Gautama. In childhood he led a pampered life of royal wealth sheltered from the world’s miseries. But, when as a young man he was at last allowed to venture from the palace, he saw four sights: A decrepit old man,  a person wracked with disease, a corpse, and a monk. He thus learned of life’s inevitable sufferings (old age, sickness, and death) and the transience of all worldly pleasure. He also saw that the wise monastic had found peace in spite of life’s ills.

Determined to find a way to be free from these troubles, Prince Siddhartha renounced his crown and family, and embarked on his journey to seek the truth. After years of cultivation, he attained supreme enlightenment and was thence known as Sakyamuni (meaning “sage of the Sakya clan”) Buddha. Out of endless compassion, Sakyamuni Buddha shared his teachings so that others could also discover the Middle Path to end all suffering.

Who and/or what do Buddhists worship?

Buddhists believes in:

  1. The Buddha as a great teacher and exemplar;
  2. The Dharma, i.e. the Buddha’s teachings as a guide to enlightenment and essential truth; and
  3. The Sangha, i.e. the Buddhist community, particularly monastics who teach the Dharma and guide one along the path to enlightenment. Veneration of this “Triple Gem” is central to Buddhist life.

Who is a Buddha?

A Buddha is not a god, but rather one who, through complete wisdom and compassion, has attained full enlightenment and is thus beyond the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. A Buddha exemplifies the highest form of morality and is the supreme teacher showing people the way to relieve suffering. The word “Buddha” is derived from the root budh meaning “to awaken and be aware or completely conscious of.” Buddhists believe that all beings have the Buddha nature, i.e. the potential to become a Buddha.

Cultivating and awakening this potential is what Buddhism is all about. According to the Mahayana thoughts, there are many Buddhas. When Buddhists speak of “the” Buddha, however, they are usually referring to Saykyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

Who is a Bodhisattva?

“Bodhi” means “enlightenment”; “sattva” means “sentient being.” A Bodhisattva is one who is following the path to enlightenment. In so doing, a Bodhisattva altruistically chooses to put off his/her own final stage of enlightenment in order to completely alleviate the suffering of others. He/She practices the virtues of generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and even-mindedness to perfection and without self-interest. There are said to be an infinite number of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists place particular emphasis on the importance of the Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva Path as the way to realise one’s Buddha nature.

How does one initially become a Buddhist?

Any person can be a Buddhist. One does not have to be “born” into Buddhism, nor do one’s parents have to be Buddhists. One can be of any race, country, socio-economic background, gender, etc. People wishing to identify themselves as Buddhists typically participate in a ceremony known as taking refuge in the Triple Gem. This is the simple act of reciting the refuge verse three times before a monastic. The refuge verse expresses an individual’s confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha as a means to alleviating suffering and attaining enlightenment. In accepting the path of the Triple Gem, one also agrees to observe the Five Precepts or rules which engender good conduct.

Do Buddhists believe in a god?

If by “god” one means a creator of the universe or a being guiding ultimate human fate, then Buddhists do not believe in such. Buddhism emphasises the concept of conditional causation where everything in this world comes into being according to different sets of causes and conditions. Plants and flowers grow; spring, summer, autumn and winter constitute the yearly cycle of the four seasons; human beings go through the process of birth, old age, illness and death.

All of these demonstrate the changes brought by conditional causation. Thus all phenomena in this world cannot exist without their corresponding causes and the conditions required. Furthermore, one of the central Buddhist tenets is essentially that each person is his own master.

If by “god”, however, one means one of a number of heavenly beings, then Buddhists do believe in these. In Buddhist cosmology there are six general realms of existence: devas, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. (Buddhas have transcended these six realms.) Of the six, devas and asuras are most like deities. While their respective realms may be described as “heavens,” however they do not exist beyond time and space. The primary difference between devas and asuras is that devas are peaceful while asuras are competitive and jealous.

Do Buddhists believe in heaven and hell?

Buddhists cosmology includes a variety of heavens and hells into which a being may be born. Existence in any of them, however long, is not forever. Thus, one can “fall” from a heaven or “rise” from a hell. Buddhist texts contain vivid descriptions of different heavens and hells which, from one perspective, make them appear as actual locations. On another level, because heavens and hells arise due to the relative presence or absence of the Three Poisons (ignorance, anger, and greed), they are also part of the human world.

Heavens should not be confused with what Buddhists call Nirvana. While heavens may be enjoyable, they are not complete liberation from ignorance, anger, and greed, and are thus still part of the life-death cycle. Nirvana, however, is perfectly free from the Three Poisons, and is therefore outside of the realms of existence. It is often said that Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhists.

What is the Buddhist concept of rebirth?

Buddhists views death as exiting one realm of existence and entering another. The cycle of rebirth into countless lives continues until final enlightenment and Nirvana occur. Rebirth is not the same as reincarnation, as Buddhists do not perceive an eternal soul which migrates to a new physical form. Rather, the body and mind are continually changing; death is merely another change. While body and mind are impermanent, they are also interrelated throughout time and space. Every voluntary action produced by one’s body, speech, and mind will have consequences, either in the current life or a future one. This is the principle of karma and it incorporates what Buddhists know as the Law of Cause and Effect. Karma is thus a system of ethics which maintains that good deeds result in positive effects, while bad deeds produce negative results. If a voluntary action is said to be a seed, then the outcome is the fruit.

Why do Buddhists chant?

Chanting gives the opportunity to learn, reinforce, and reflect upon various Buddhist teachings, as well as venerate Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and the virtues they embody. There are many different chants, the texts of which are usually either entire sutras (teachings of the Buddha), Dharanis (essences of sutras), mantras (short symbolic phrases), or the names of particular Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Times for chanting vary, but monastics generally chant each morning and evening. Chanting is often an integral part of Buddhist ceremonies. Special chanting services provide participants with an extended period of spiritual cultivation through chanting.

What is the importance of being vegetarian?

Out of sincere respect for all life and the First Precept to refrain from killing, many Chinese Buddhists are vegetarian. In other words, being a vegetarian is a way to practice compassion. Vegetarianism is also consistent with the Buddhist concepts of universal interrelationship and rebirth. With the concept of rebirth, humans may be other forms of life in their past and/or future lives, thus it follows that an animal could be seen as synonymous with destroying one’s own relatives. While the traditional Buddhist scriptures do no mandate vegetarianism, Fo Guang monastics must take a vow to not eat meat. Lay followers, however, are not required to do so. If not daily vegetarians, however, many Buddhists observe a vegetarian diet during retreats, Dharma functions, and holidays.

-From the book, Entry Into the Profound: a first step to understanding Buddhism published by International Buddhist Association of Australia Incorporated.

What Buddhist festivals are celebrated? When and how?

There are a number of Buddhist festivals celebrated throughout the year, of which the most important is the commemoration of Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. There are two days to be honored and the dates are based on the Chinese Lunar calendar:

Sakyamuni Buddha’s Birthday – 8 April

Sakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment Day – 8 December

Sakyamuni Buddha’s Birthday is also called the Bathing Buddha Festival. According to legend, there were many auspicious signs on the day he was born. One of the miraculous phenomena was he walked seven steps forward and at each step, a lotus flower sprang up from the ground. With one arm raised upward and one finger pointed downward, he then declared: ‘Above heaven and on earth, I’m the supreme; and unique.?Two dragons appeared in the sky, gently spurting two streams of purified water down, one warm and one cool, to bathe the prince. Thereafter, when people celebrate the Buddha’s birthday, they use fragrant water to bathe the Buddha statue. This ritual symbolises the purification of our mind, signifying that it is easy to wash away our external impurities, however it is difficult to remove which is in our mind.

Sakyamuni Buddha’s Enlightenment Day is commemorated in a Dharma function and is usually celebrated by participating in the “December 8th Congee,” which is prepared with eight vegetarian ingredients. Before his enlightenment, prince Siddhartha practiced a variety of asceticism, and reduced his diet until he was eating nothing at all, but still he could not succeed. He then realised neither self mortification nor self-indulgence was the way; the only way to enlightenment should be the “Middle path” between the two extremes. Finally, he accepted the milk offered by a shepherdess to regain his energy.

At the age of 35, while sitting under a bodhi tree in deep contemplation, he became enlightened. In celebrating this day, the eating of the congee is to symbolise the nourishing of the physical body which is important in our practice of cultivation on the path to awakening.

What is Buddhism’s view on death?

Death is the beginning of life; life is a preparation for death. Life is a gathering of right conditions, and death is the dissolution of these conditions. If there is no life there will be no death. If there is no death there will be no life. Life and death is a natural process. There is rebirth after death, so there is no need to fear death. Death is like a flowing river; like matches burning out one after one. However, the spark of fire (life) is still there, so death does not mean total extinction. When faced with death, one should feel the joy of going home after a long journey; facing death, one should feel the freedom of a prisoner released from jail; facing death, one should feel as natural as the autumn leaves returning to the earth; facing death, one should be as calm and serene as the bright moon hanging in the sky.

What is Ch’an?

Ch’an is living, Ch’an is art, Ch’an is humour, and Ch’an is about being natural. Ch’an is our nature.

Everyone possesses a true mind and nature. The ‘nature’ we are talking about is a kind of ‘capability’ the capability of Ch’an. Even though we all possess an equal nature, we become different from one another according to our different ways of using that nature. Those who practice well are able to attain the capability to cope with all kinds of situations: for example one can cope with busy or leisure time, be able to have possessions or nothing, can move forward or retreat, and can be great or small. These are all called capabilities. Therefore if we are able to bring out our nature through Ch’an, we will feel at ease under any circumstances and nothing will be impossible for us.