What Is Buddhism?

Buddhism can be defined as the true state of the nature of the world, or as the Buddha’s teachings.

In the first definition, Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development to gain insight into the true nature of reality or Enlightenment. An enlightened being sees the nature of reality absolutely clearly, just as it is, and lives fully and naturally in accordance with that vision. This is the goal of the Buddhist spiritual life, representing the end of suffering for anyone who attains it. Buddhist practices like meditation are means of changing yourself to follow the path in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom leading to Enlightenment or Buddhahood.

In the second definition, Buddhism is the teachings of the Buddha. The teachings inspire us to take responsibility for our own lives by understanding cause and effect (karma). Buddha explained in great detail how we shape our future through our thoughts, words and actions. In Buddhism, compassion and wisdom go together. When we act from compassion, focusing on others rather than ourselves, the disturbing emotions that we all have, like anger, pride, attachment, and jealousy, loosen their grip, and wisdom has a chance to appear spontaneously. The teachings are beneficial in three achievement levels, depending on the particular practitioner:

1) Beneficial for this life and future lives,

2) Beneficial for liberation from cycles of rebirth which ends suffering (this is the highest aim of the Theravada tradition), and

3) Beneficial for the highest goal of Buddhahood (this is the highest goal of the Mahayana tradition).

Who was the Buddha?

Buddha is a Sanskrit word that means “awakened one.” Buddha is not a name, but a title of someone who has realized the enlightenment that ends the cycle of birth and death and which brings liberation from suffering.

According to Theravada Buddhists, there is only one Buddha, the man who lived about 25 centuries ago and whose teachings are the foundation of Buddhism. He is sometimes called Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni Buddha. We also often refer to him as ‘the historical Buddha.’ Enlightened women and men who are not Buddhas are called arhats or arahants.

According to Mahayana Buddhism, including Vajrayana Buddhism, there could be infinite numbers of Buddhas, and also is the fundamental nature of all beings. In a sense, all beings have a Buddha nature and can become a Buddha in the future.

In Mahayana literature, there are many Buddhas who correspond to each other and represent different aspects of the teachings, such as Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light and the principal Buddha of the Pure Land School, the Medicine Buddha, who represents the power of healing, and Maitreya, who is the future Buddha,

The most important thing to understand is that the countless Buddhas are, ultimately, one Buddha. A person who has intimately realized the truth of the teachings is called a Buddha.

Are there Buddhist holy places?

The pilgrimage is a concept that is developed by devotees and not prophets. According to his teachings, Buddha chose four spots for his followers to visit in future pilgrimages. These four spots are the locations of his birth, Enlightenment, first sermon and his death. Members of the Buddhist faith recognize these four holy places on earth and hold them dear to their hearts. Although it is not prescribed, many Buddhists make a pilgrimage to these four holy sites.

The four Buddhist holy sites are: Lumbini, Nepal, where the Buddha was born; Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi tree; Sarnath, India, where the Buddha gave his first teaching of the Dharma; and Kushinagar, India, where the Buddha passed away.

  • Holy site of Lumbini: Siddhartha Gautama, who was given the honorific title of Lord Buddha (literally meaning the awakened one) was born in 623 BCE in Lumbini in what is now southern Nepal. This is verified by an inscription on a pillar erected by the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, an early convert to Buddhism in the third century. The Lumbini monuments were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.
  • Holy site of Bodh Gaya: Bodh Gaya in the northeast Indian state of Bihar, is the center of the universe for Buddhists. It was here, under a spreading bodhi tree, that Siddhartha Gautama spent six years meditating on the nature of life and the path to Nirvana. When the young ascetic attained the higher state known as Enlightenment, he became known as Lord Buddha. The Bo Tree and adjacent Mahabodi Temple were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2002.
  • Holy site of Sarnath: The Dhamekh Stupa, built in 200 BCE, is located in Sarnath, 12 km from the Hindu city of Varanasi in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It marks the place where Buddha delivered his first discourse on the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment.
  • Holy site of Kushinagar: Buddha died c. 487-483 BCE. His final days are described in the Pali text called the Great Parinirvana Sutra. On reaching the village of Kushinagar in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, he instructed Ananda, his most faithful disciple, to prepare a bed for him with its head aligned towards the north. Above is the 61 meter-long reclining Buddha statue in the Mahaparinivana Temple in Kushinagar, depicting the Buddha on his deathbed in the paranirvana position, which all devout Buddhist hope to visit.
What is the goal of Buddhism?

Buddhism’s goal is liberation. The Buddha has said, “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.” Dukkha, roughly translated, can mean dissatisfaction, suffering, anxiety, stress, or discontentment. The Buddha pointed out that a lot of time we are suffering. Then he told us the source of suffering and how to reduce it. He gave us the tools to reduce and to end our own misery. This is what liberation is — freedom from suffering.

Is there an equivalence of a Bible in Buddhism?

There isn’t one single set of scriptures considered authoritative by all Buddhist groups. Each Buddhist tradition follows its own scriptural “canon” (collection of foundational texts) and has produced a lot of commentary and teachings based on those canons.

Theravada Buddhists based their practices in the Pali canon, which includes some of the earliest-dated Buddhist texts, recorded in an ancient Indian language called Pali. These scriptures are known as the Tipitaka (Three Baskets) because they include three major groups of texts. The “Sutta Pitaka” contains the suttas (sutras) or recorded discourses of the Buddha and some of his disciples; the “Vinaya Pitaka” contains the Buddha’s code of discipline for his monastic community; and the “Abhidhamma Pitaka” contains a detailed analysis of the nature, origin, and interaction of material and psychological phenomena. Scholars generally date this last group of texts to a few hundred years after the Buddha’s death, perhaps between the third and first century BCE.

The Chinese canon is a body of scriptures, likely recorded between the first century BCE and the fifth century CE that is considered authoritative Buddhist traditions in East Asian including Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. There is a lot of overlap between the Chinese and Pali canons. Some other schools of Buddhism base their practices and doctrines on specific sutras or treatises. Nichiren Buddhism, for instance, is founded on a scripture known as the Lotus Sutra, and chanting the sutra’s title is a principal part of the practice. Pure Land Buddhists, meanwhile, study three sutras that concentrate on a buddha known as Amitabha, or the Buddha of Infinite Light, who is said to reign over the “pure land,” a kind of Buddhist heaven where conditions for attaining enlightenment are favorable.

The Tibetan Buddhist canon is a list of sacred texts recognized by various sects of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to texts from Early Buddhist and Mahayana sources, the Tibetan canon includes tantric texts. The Tibetan Buddhist canon has two broad categories: 1) Kangyur or “Translated Words or Vacana”, consists of works supposed to have been said by the Buddha himself. All texts presumably have a Sanskrit original, although in many cases the Tibetan text was translated from Chinese or other languages; 2) Tengyur or “Translated Treatises or Shastras”, is the section to which were assigned commentaries, treatises and abhidharma works (both Mahayana and non-Mahayana).

What are the main traditions in Buddhism?

The Buddha died in the early 5th century B.C. His teachings, called the Dharma, developed into three basic traditions: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana.

Theravada tradition is older and the more conservative of the main divisions of Buddhism and is often referred to as the ‘traditions of the elders’. Heavily monastic in its emphasis, it claims the original teachings of the Buddha. Those teachings are contained in the Pali Canon, a three-part set of scriptures written down in 35-32 B.C. Pali. Many Theravada Buddhists follow the teachings of the Buddha exactly, and many of them are monks or nuns. Theravada Buddhists strive to be a perfected person who has gained true insight into the nature of reality called Arhat. This means they have followed the Noble Eightfold Path to ‘blow out’ the three fires of greed, hatred and ignorance and have become enlightened. In Buddhism, enlightenment leads to Nibbana (or Nirvana), which means freedom from the cycle of rebirth (samsara). Consequently, they will no longer be reborn through samsara.

Mahayana tradition was formed around 100 to 500 A.D. The Mahayana tradition generated new texts in Sanskrit, called sutras, especially on the nature of “emptiness,” and encouraged lay pursuit of enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists believe everyone can achieve enlightenment through following the teachings of the Buddha. The goal of a Mahayana Buddhist is to become a Bodhisattva and this is achieved through the Six Perfections. Compassion is very important in Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore, Bodhisattvas choose to stay in the cycle of samsara to help others to achieve enlightenment as well as themselves. This is a key difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhists. Whereas Theravada Buddhists strive to become Arhats and gain freedom from the cycle of samsara, Mahayana Buddhists may choose to stay in the cycle of samsara out of compassion for others.

Vajrayana tradition, the “diamond vehicle,” evolved out of the Indian Mahayana tradition between 300-700 A.D., moved north to Tibet around 800 A.D., and claims to be the quick path to enlightenment. It is better known here as Tibetan Buddhism. Tantric Buddhist practice involves the meditative transformation of emotional/bodily energies and is heavily dependent on guidance by a guru/lama. It is also practiced outside of Tibet in the wider Himalayan region, Mongolia and by a small sect in Japan.

In Tibetan Buddhism, it is generally held that one should practice common Mahayana first like the bodhisattva’s six perfections, before practicing Tantric, also known as “the practice of secret mantra”, and “tantric techniques”. Furthermore, one has to understand and practice compassionate, ethical conduct and meditative focus for intuiting emptiness before practicing Tantra. Because of these reasons, only exceptional individuals can successfully practice Tantra.

What school of Buddhism is right for me?

Since the death of the Buddha in the 5th B.C., Buddhism has spread around the world. It is not surprising that it has changed over time by coming into contact with all kinds of peoples and cultures. Although Buddhism has evolved into different forms, it remained relevant to the different cultures in which it exists. It is good to realize that even after all these centuries, there are a lot of similarities between these different Buddhist schools. You could say that the foundations of Buddhism (The Four Noble Truths; the Eightfold Path consisting of the trainings in morality, concentration and wisdom; the doctrine of Dependent Arising and karma; the pursuit of Nirvana and a deep respect for the Buddha) can always be found and have always remained the same. In fact, it has been reinterpreted over the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation.

People turn to Buddhism for a variety of reasons, but with the overwhelming variety of Buddhist schools, teachers, and centers, it is difficult to know where to start. This can be confusing and, in the beginning, it might seem all these schools are teaching entirely different things. Also, many people find themselves practicing alone because they live far away from a temple, teacher, and Dharma. If you find a center near you, it may be of a different school from the one you’ve read about that caught your interest. However, many of us find that as our understanding and experience grow, the differences seem less significant, and practicing with others is a much more valuable experience than reading about Buddhism from books.

It is perfectly fine to explore and learn, but eventually it’s better to choose one practice and stick to it. Otherwise you will not progress if you do not develop one technique long enough.  You will also not achieve any results if you did not focus on it for some time. So, for that one technique, you definitely need to learn and receive guidance from one particular teacher. You can refer sometimes to a group of teachers with the same technique, but you should have a teacher whom you are closest to whom you receive most of the guidance. You may find you need different techniques at a different spiritual level. To mature on the spiritual path you need to commit yourself in a systematic way. All forms of Buddhism have the same taste of freedom and all are based on practice and individual experience rather than on theology or dogma. Follow the practice that you love, that suits you, that is most important.

Remember the important thing is to be able to reduce your greed, hatred and ignorance, because that is the fundamental goal of every Buddhist path and tradition. If you can achieve that, it does not matter which path you have been walking on. Putting it another way, so long as your illness can be cured, does it matter that you know what medicine was it that you have been taking.

What is a Bodhisattva?

Bodhisattva (bodhisattava) is a combination of enlightenment (bodhi) and a being (sattva). In Mahayana Buddhism, which includes Zen, Chan, and Tibetan Buddhism, Bodhisattva is anyone who vows to become enlightened in order to relieve the suffering of all sentient (conscious) beings. There are many kinds of Bodhisattvas included in this definition, ranging from ordinary people to what’s called a Celestial Bodhisattva, which comprises a pantheon of deity-type figures in Mahayana traditions.

One such celestial Bodhisattva is the Bodhisattva of Compassion (named Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit, Chenrezig in Tibetan, and Kwan Yin in Chinese), who is revered in many Mahayana schools and featured in countless Buddhist statues and images. The Bodhisattva of Compassion takes both male and female forms and kindles inspiration and devotion in many Buddhists around the world. The Dalai Lama himself is viewed by his followers as the embodiment of Chenrezig.

In Mahayana Buddhism, one can become a bodhisattva by taking the “Bodhisattva Vows” and giving rise to bodhicitta in a ceremonial setting. Any sincere follower of a Mahayana school can take or recite the “Bodhisattva Vows” In taking the vows, Buddhists commit to liberating all sentient conscious beings; to abandon the “three poisons” of greed, hatred, and ignorance; and to keep those vows for this and all future lifetimes. In particular, bodhisattvas promise to practice the six perfections in order to fulfill their bodhicitta aim of attaining buddhahood for the sake of all beings. Whereas the pratimoksa vows cease at death, the bodhisattva vow extends into future lives. The Six Perfections are:

  1. Be generous and give to others.
  2. Live a life in which you do the right thing.
  3. Have patience with all people.
  4. Sustain your energy so that you keep going through difficult times.
  5. Work on concentration by meditating.
  6. Gain wisdom
Are there saints in Buddhism?

There are a lot of saints in Buddhism. Because Buddhism is not centrally organized, there is no official sanctioning body to designate sainthood in the various schools of Buddhism. Basically, people who are considered saints in Buddhism are sages who became fully enlightened and are renowned for their holiness and compassion. What they all have shared are the universal spiritual virtues of extraordinary humanity–including love, compassion, morality, generosity, and selflessness, and extraordinary otherness that is wisdom and access to a transcendental, non-dual perspective. In Buddhist terms, they are often referred to as Bodhisattvas or “selfless spiritual awakeners.”

What are some Buddhist gods?

In Buddhism, Gods are a living being like us, but with living happier than humans. They are born as appearing and die as vanishing. When they are born, according to their karma, some kind of gardens or mansions (Vimana) will appear for them. Their body is made up of very soft material which we can’t see. The gods are not immortal, but they live longer than the earthly beings. Like us, they are also subjected to change, decay, and the process of becoming. The intensity and the manner in which these processes take place however may be different and involve longer periods of time. But like any other beings, they are with a beginning and an end. Neither their position in the heavens is permanent. Gods are just the same as humans like there are gods who believe in Buddhism, some gods believe in another religion or nothing.

If Buddhists don't worship Buddha, why are there so many Buddha statues? And why are offerings made to them?

Although the Buddha originally requested that no idol be created in his image, over time some schools of Buddhism modified this view, and Buddha statues and paintings are now prevalent. In fact, within some schools of Tibetan Buddhism, creating mandalas and other sacred art that incorporate images of Buddha is itself considered a form of Buddhist practice. However, bows or offering made to these statues are not considered forms of worship, since the Buddha is not considered a God. They are instead a way of paying respect, and a form of spiritual practice designed to generate humility and appreciation.

Incidentally, the laughing, big-bellied Buddha statue often seen in the West is Budai, a semi-historical Chinese monk who is often identified with and venerated as Maitreya Buddha in Chan Buddhism. With the spread of Chan Buddhism, he also came to be venerated in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.

The shrine found in Buddhist homes or temples is a focal point of Buddhist observances. At the center of the shrine, there is usually an image of the Buddha. This image may be made of a variety of materials such as marble, gold, wood or even clay. The image is a symbol that helps people to recall the qualities of the Buddha. Inside the shrine may also have objects like a volume of Buddhist scriptures to represent the Dharma. Some shrines may include other items such as images, pictures or photographs of Buddhist monks and masters to represent the Sangha. These objects represent the qualities that are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

If Buddhists don't worship like other religions, why do they have temples, scriptures, and monks?

Some Buddhist branches do have temples, and monks, while others don’t. For those that do, monks often give teachings and perform rituals associated with Buddhist holidays, festivals and ritual functions such as funerals that are associated with priesthood in other religions. But these rituals evolved within different Buddhist cultures over time, and are not part of the broader core teachings of Buddhism.

However, much more universal to Buddhism is the idea of the Three Jewels of Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teachings), and Sangha (spiritual community). Buddhism is still primarily an oral tradition, meant to be passed from teacher to student. Depending on the branch of Buddhism, a teacher might be a monk, nun, or a lay person.

As for scripture, there is thousands of Buddhist texts considered being canonical by Buddhists, but branches differ on which texts they consider primary, and many also have texts specific to their tradition. The most universal are the sutras – teachings originally given orally by the Buddha, and later written down.

When the person who has died is a Buddha, an enlightened one, or an Arhant or an especially great teacher, relics are collected after the cremation. These may be placed in a stupa or pagoda. Whenever a Buddhist sees a stupa, it is a reminder of the Dharma (teaching) and it is honored because of that.

What is a Buddhist service like?

Buddhist service includes Buddhist temples, centers, services, and rituals vary widely, depending on the tradition, location, community, and whether the place is run by monastics or laypeople.

Many people are shy of visiting centers or temples because they think they may be asked for money, or be harassed about converting and followed up by calls, spam email, and stuff like that. Actually, in common, nearly all centers and temples have an open-door policy that welcomes people of all faith traditions and backgrounds to visit and take part. First, the teaching of Buddhism is always free. Going to a temple is free and meditation teaching is usually free. The Buddhist belief is that religion should be free, open and truthful. However, it is a custom, if you go to a temple, to take a small donation or offering such as flowers or food. If you talk to a master for long periods, you may wish to leave a donation. For some activities – public talks, meditation courses, and retreats – a charge is made, because the expenses involved in organizing them can be substantial. If you have a strong interest and are sincere but have a financial problem, this can be discussed with the organizers. The teaching is not supposed to be denied to people who lack financial accumulation. Buddhists believe that what is given is not lost, but is actually multiplied and returned to the giver in the form of karmic rewards, most notably, wealth. It is very, very rare for anyone to have people try to convert them and almost unknown to have any sort of mail or email solicitation.

If you would like to attend a Buddhist service, the best thing to do is visit the website or calls ahead, or goes with a friend or acquaintance who attends the temple or center. Many places offer weekend meditation sessions or services to accommodate working people, but plenty of temples hold services every day and sometimes even multiple times a day. For those not accustomed to sitting in meditation on a cushion on the floor or who have physical constraints, chairs are almost always provided. After meditation, a teacher may offer a dharma talk, a sort of sermon that addresses some aspect of the Buddha’s teaching.

Usually there is no dress code to attend a Buddhist service. However, to minimize distraction of the meditative efforts of others, consider dress modestly, with clothing that covers your shoulders, midriff, and legs, and remove your shoes before entering the main meditation hall or shrine room.

Are all Buddhists vegetarians?

Not always. Vegetarianism is encouraged in most traditions but has not been a requirement. The early monks and nuns were allowed one meal a day, before noon, of what people could spare, and if what people could spare was meat, they were allowed to eat it. However, the Buddha instructed monks and nuns not to eat animals slaughtered specifically for them. As Buddhism spread into other countries, monasteries grew or purchased food, and vegetarian meals became the norm. Laypeople were not required to eat a vegetarian diet, but many chose to do so. In Tibet, with its limited arable land and challenging climate, a year-round vegetarian diet was not always possible, and Tibetan medicine suggested that eating meat had a beneficial and life-prolonging effect on the body. Even so, over the centuries a small number of Tibetan lamas avoided meat and encouraged their students to avoid it also.

Today, it is generally the case that vegetarianism is considered a personal choice in Theravada and Tibetan Buddhism. Vegetarianism is more common in the Mahayana school, and particularly in the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese traditions.

Can anyone become enlightened?

Buddhism teaches that everyone has the capacity for awakening. By following the path of practice the Buddha laid out, we can all eventually free ourselves from suffering, no matter who we are.

That said, most schools of Buddhism also teach that we each achieve Enlightenment according to our karma—the consequences of our thoughts and actions—and we may have a pile of negative karma that will take a lot of work to clean up. The more skillfully we work at following the path, the better. It may take a long time, but we will get there.

It is true that some scriptures—and teachers in some traditions—posit that being born with a female body is the result of negative karma. A number of sutras contain stories and passages that suggest a male body is required in order to become fully enlightened. The Buddha’s own body reportedly bore “the 32 marks of the great man,” at least one of which pertains specifically to male physiognomy. But most scholars and teachers agree that these marks are not meant to be taken literally.

The teachings in which the Buddha says that both men and women can attain enlightenment far outweigh the contradicting ones. Female members of the Buddha’s own family who joined his monastic community became enlightened beings. The Buddha’s example shows that it is the mind that awakens, not the body—and the mind is beyond gender.

Can a non-Buddhist practice the Buddhist teachings?

Buddhism is about realization and experience, not institutions or divine authority. This makes it especially suited to those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. Everyone, Buddhist or non-Buddhist, can practice the noble Dharma taught by the Buddha equally. Certainly, those who follow the way of practicing Dharma precisely and sincerely will be able to change and transform their karmic life of defilements. Dharma is about the law of nature that already exists whether Buddha finds it out or not. The law applies to everyone even if you don’t believe in Buddha. There isn’t one natural law for Buddhists and another natural law for non-Buddhists.

For those who are non-Buddhists, their practice needs to be guided by a monk, nun, or any layperson with experience in spiritual training. As such, you are encouraged to study and examine the Buddhist teachings under the guidance of a Master. The practice of Dharma should have a positive effect in cooling down your mental current of greed, hatred, self-attachment, and self-pride. If you just study the Dharma or even have a great knowledge of Dharma, but those mental afflictions do not decrease or weaken, you have not practiced the Dharma and practically never exercised any mental improvement.

Especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism, all sentient beings have Buddha Nature. One can become a Buddha (a supreme enlightened being) in due course if one practices diligently and attains purity of mind (i.e. absolutely no delusions or afflictions).

Do I have to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist?

Many Western Buddhist teachers will tell you that there is no problem if you do not believe in rebirth. For the majority of Westerners, it is very difficult to imagine that there was a life before this one and that there could be a life after this one. But, a teacher might add, if you can keep an open mind about it, and conduct your life according to the Buddhist teachings in a way that will prepare you just in case you are reborn, well—you’ve got nothing to lose, except bad habits!

Most people can appreciate the many ways we “die” and are “reborn” from moment to moment. We change our minds, our emotions shift and our views and perspectives morph all the time. Each time we buy into a train of thought or a line of thinking or a notion, we are reborn in the world of that notion, in the world of that thought. And we eventually pass away out of the realm of that thought into another one.

By extrapolating from those “rebirths,” some people may begin to see how consciousness is a constant arising and falling away, a continuum of births and deaths. It becomes a lot easier to consider the Buddha’s teachings on karmic conditioning when you can see how everything arises and passes away.

So even if it is hard to buy into the notion of rebirth in the macrocosmic sense, we may be able to fathom it in the microcosmic world of our day-to-day lives. Many Buddhists also find that simply considering their lives in the context of rebirth, without necessarily believing in it, is a meaningful way to see their individual selves as embedded in a larger narrative.

How can a person become a Buddhist?

There is no universally accepted process or ceremony for becoming a Buddhist. If you wish to adopt Buddhist practices, you can, and most Buddhists would agree that being one is mostly about your inner choices. However, two main commitments are associated with living as a Buddhist by most Buddhist branches: 1) Taking refuge in the Triple Gems (Three Jewels) of the Dharma (teachings), Buddha (teacher), and Sangha (spiritual community), and, 2) adopting the five precepts of ethical living.

Taking refuge in The Triple Gems does not mean self-surrender or total reliance on an external force or third party for help or salvation. If you do not have a sincere desire to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, it means that your decision and devotion are not strong enough for you to plant the Bodhi seed (seed of enlightenment) in your own mind. Once you have taken refuge in the Triple Gems, you have planted a seed of Bodhi in your field of mind. If you always take good care of your own Bodhi tree by practicing the Dharma, you are creating for yourself an invisible current of protective energy and bearing that current of energy with you throughout life. Thus, even when the mental storm of greed, hatred, and ill will emerges in your life and disturbs your inner peace, this invisible energy of protection provides the very spiritual shelter for you. Even if after taking refuge in the Triple Gems you neglectfully care for or completely ignore your Bodhi seed, that enlightened seed still sleeps in your mind soundly; it may be awakened at any time in the right conditions, like an old friend coming back with earnestness and love. Now, in the light and love of that spiritual regeneration, you are able to continue to nurture the enlightened source of your own Bodhi tree that was once forgotten. This is why a Buddhist needs to take refuge in the Triple Jewels.

Being a Buddhist, you must undertake at least one of the following five precepts (vows). The Five Precepts (translations vary) are the Buddhist version of a code of conduct or rules to help people behave in a moral and ethical way. Buddhists should follow the Five Precepts to ensure they are living a morally good life. This helps them to get rid of suffering and achieve enlightenment.

  1. Abstain from taking life.
  2. Abstain from taking what is not given.
  3. Abstain from sexual misconduct.
  4. Abstain from false speech.
  5. Abstain from drinks and drugs that cause heedlessness.

The more fully you practice the precept, the higher your ethical virtues develop, and the greater dignity you will seek to achieve. Those entering monastic orders take additional vows that vary from tradition to tradition as well. Even though some branches emphasize the importance of monastic life more than others, enlightenment is a possibility for everyone, monk or lay person, within them all.

According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, “The minute we take the vows, day and night we collect merit all the time by living according to those vows. It is a cause to receive a good rebirth in your next life. If it is performed with renunciation, it becomes a cause to achieve liberation from samsara. If it is performed with bodhicitta, it becomes a cause for enlightenment.

Then, day and night become a cause for enlightenment and to enlighten sentient beings.

If a person is locked in a house alone and there are no insects in the house, he or she cannot kill anything. The person doesn’t commit the action, but that doesn’t mean the person creates the cause of a higher rebirth. However, if this person had taken the vow not to kill, then day and night he or she would create merit and progress on the spiritual path. By living according to vows, you have the freedom to practice the vows.

Worms and insects do not steal but they are not collecting merit. It is like a person in a coma or hibernating animals… But if the person in the coma has taken pratimoksha (lay), Bodhisattva, or tantric vows, then in every second they are making their life meaningful…

People who live according to vows collect merit all the time.”

What about Buddhist festivals?

Every May, on the night of the full moon, Buddhists all over the world celebrate Vesak for the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha such a long time ago. In the Theravada tradition, practices observed by laypeople at Vesak include the observance of eight precepts (the regular five plus not taking food after midday and celibacy and not over indulging in sleep). Also the laypeople may participate in chanting and meditation and listening to sermons.

The Le Vu Lan festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar and can be considered the most prominent celebration within Mahayana Buddhism. It is a time of remembrance for lost parents and grandparents, as well as a reminder to honor one’s parents and live righteously in response to all that parents have done for their children.

Why do Buddhists eat vegetarian foods?

Buddhist practices include the development of loving kindness (Maitri) and compassion (Metta) to all living beings including animals. Buddhism strictly forbids animal sacrifice for whatever reason. Vegetarianism is recommended but not mandatory. Eating vegetarian foods means not eating the meat of any animal. The aim of eating vegetarian foods in Buddhism is to purify your three karmas, particularly the karma of killing sentient beings either directly or indirectly. Refraining from meat is also one way to develop your compassion. As a lay Buddhist, you are not prohibited from eating meat, but you are encouraged not to do so either periodically or permanently.

What is the true career of a Buddhist?

This is an interesting question. A Buddhist is simply understood as a child of the Buddha. However, Buddhists include two classes of people: monastic persons (both male and female, like monks and nuns) and lay Buddhists (both male and female). Monastic persons do not get married or have a private family life; their main profession focuses on spiritual training. Meanwhile, lay Buddhists—like any ordinary person—get married and have children; thus, their primary concern concentrates on building a family life of happiness in the most practical sense. However, when speaking of the true career of a Buddhist, whether monastic or lay persons, we need to deal with or think about the real foundation of not just a flashing happiness, but a prolonged or lifelong happiness—the sort of happiness that significantly impacts both this life and future lives. Within this sense, the true career of a Buddhist is indeed nothing other than compassion and wisdom. Only with compassion can you nurture the existence of life; only with wisdom will you know how to build for yourself a life of true happiness that is secure and long-lasting. In any circumstance, compassion and wisdom will always be the strong foundation for happiness; lacking these two crucial factors, you will be unable to have a true career as such. Moreover, what you try to do in order to obtain happiness would be like building a castle out of sand. Compassion and wisdom are the true career of not only a Buddhist, but also of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva.

What are Buddhist Funeral and Cremation Practices?

Buddhism is closely associated with cremation as a funeral practice. Because the Buddha was himself cremated, it follows that many Buddhist practitioners choose to follow in his footsteps. However, Buddhism in general is not very particular about the exact funeral practices that Buddhists are to follow. Although cremation is the most common choice among Buddhists, burial is also permissible.

Buddhists do, however, believe in rebirth and reincarnation – rebirth occurs to ordinary people that all people are reborn after dying; reincarnation is for extraordinary awakened Masters who can choose to reincarnate at will, at the time and place of their choosing. Buddhists see death as part of a process of continual cycle of rebirth until one has achieved the highest state of consciousness. When highest consciousness is achieved the Buddhist reaches Nirvana, a state in which there is no pain or suffering, no desire or selfishness, all karmic debts are repaid, and the cycle of death and rebirth ends.

Individual traditions or sects do have specific funeral practices that practitioners usually follow but none of these would have any impact on the destiny of the practitioner. Buddhism holds that after death, there is no connection between the consciousness of the departed person and the body or remains left behind. This isn’t to say that Buddhists don’t care about funeral practices – indeed they do, but Buddhists don’t believe that anything like salvation is at stake. Buddhist funeral rites are typically solemn, meaningful, and dignified, but they exist primarily as a means of paying homage to the dead and making their transition easier, not to ensure entry into heaven.

Buddhism encompasses a wide range of funeral practices and beliefs. Immediately prior to and at the time of death, Buddhist monks or teachers will lead the family in saying prayers to help ease the transition of the consciousness out of the body. This is the beginning of the funeral period. In the Tibetan tradition, a waiting period of four days after death is usually observed prior to the funeral or cremation as many Buddhists believe that the consciousness is still “in transition” for a period of time after death.

The first week following death is usually the most important as the body is prepared for cremation; prayers will continuously be said at this time by monks or by the family. Cremation is typically held any time after the first week. In some traditions it may not be held for up to a month. Often the deceased will be cremated along with a few items that they liked or that had meaning to them. Family members will often attend the cremation, and when it is over, they place the cremains into an urn. Once cremated, the remains are often buried in a small family plot. Prayers will continue to be said during the mourning period, which can last from a month up to 49 and 100 days.

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What are the basic beliefs and practices of Buddhism?

There are different traditions in Buddhism. However, all traditions share a common set of fundamental beliefs. The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are The Three Universal Truths, The Four Noble Truths, and The Noble Eightfold Path.

The Three Universal Truths are:

  • Nothing is lost in the universe
  • Everything changes
  • The Law of Cause and Effect

The Four Noble Truths and The Noble Eightfold Path are covered in the Fundamental of Buddhist Teachings and Practice Paths section (Fundamental of Buddhist teachings and practice paths).

Buddhists believe that all matters in the universe, including earth, mountain, oceans, rivers, lives, sin, happiness, poverty, sorrow were not created nor controlled by any supernatural power, but are the results of karma of the beings – the sum of one’s own intentional actions in this and previous states of existence. This karma decides their future existences. The law of karma explains the problem of sufferings and the apparent inequality of mankind.

Other religions are based on the permanence. Buddhism is based on the philosophy of impermanence that means there is no permanent God that can save you, clean your sin or help you to get to Heaven. The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism. Also, sin should not be viewed as suffering. There are spirits and super natural beings in the text of Buddhism, but those beings are not the center or base of the Buddhism.

The central Buddhist teaching of non-self (anatman) asserts that experience of a being is made up of Five Aggregates (skandhas). The first, Form (rupa), refers to material existence; the following four, Sensations (vedana), Perceptions (samjna), Mental Formation (samskara), and Consciousness (vijnana), refer to mental processes. In the Five Aggregates, there is no independently existent, immutable self, or soul, can be found. All things around us are built on a set of interdependent relations which will give rise to the arising, continuity and cessation of existence. This is known as The Law of Cause and Effect that all phenomena arise in interrelation and in dependence on causes and conditions, and thus are subject to inevitable decay and cessation. With this distinctive view of Cause and Effect, all living beings are trapped in a continual cycle of birth and death, with the momentum to rebirth provided by one’s previous karma – physical and mental intentional actions. The release from this cycle of rebirth and suffering is the total transcendence called Nirvana.

Conditioned Arising (Paticcasamuppada) or Dependent Origination is a key doctrine in Buddhism. It explains that all psychological and physical phenomena constituting individual existence are interdependent and mutually condition each other that defined in a 12-membered chain links: Ignorance, Predisposition, Consciousness, Name-form, the Senses, Contact, Craving, Grasping, Becoming, Birth, Old Age, and Death, whence again Ignorance.

Meditation and observance of moral precepts are the foundation of Buddhist practice. While our fundamental state of being is selfless and unconditionally open and changing, the Buddha encouraged us to discover this open state of being in meditation. When practicing meditation we rejoice in the possibility of developing a clear view of the facts of life, an unconditionally loving heart, and the wisdom to know the right thing to do always. Our human potential is to realize this truth and consciously root our activities in it. Centering ourselves within this state of contentment we feel wholesome, balanced, confident, and at ease. The mind is more robust. Now we can meditate on qualities like love and compassion, deep aspects of being human that represent the genuine health of the mind. The stronger and more stable the mind, the more compassion and kindness we can generate.

The five basic moral precepts, undertaken by members of monastic orders and the laity, are to refrain from taking life, stealing, acting unchastely, speaking falsely, and drinking intoxicants. Members of monastic orders also take five additional precepts: to refrain from eating at improper times, from viewing secular entertainments, from using garlands, perfumes, and other bodily adornments, from sleeping in high and wide beds, and from receiving money. Their lives are further regulated by a large number of rules known as the Pratimoksa governing the behavior of Buddhist monastics.

The tradition and practice of meditation in Buddhism are relatively important and strong. While all religions teach some forms or variations of single-pointedness meditation, only Buddhism emphasizes Vipassana or Insight meditation as a powerful tool to assist one in seeking liberation/enlightenment.

Buddhism is nothing and everything depending on how you look at it. If you are using your own religion or knowledge or experience to define the Buddhism, you will never get a true answer.

Do Buddhists believe that life is suffering?

No. This is a misunderstanding. As we all know, the Buddha did not speak English. He taught in the First Noble Truth that life is “dukkha.” There is no single English word that contains the same range of meaning as the Pali word “dukkha,” so what Buddha said was incorrectly translated as “life is suffering.” Since our temporary satisfaction is mainly based on clinging and desire in this life, perhaps a more literal and accurate translation of the First Noble Truth might be “life does not satisfy.” 

In the First Noble Truth, the Buddha taught there are three kinds of dukkha. The first kind is physical and mental dissatisfaction and pain from the inevitable stresses of life, such as old age, sickness and death. The second is the dissatisfaction and distress we feel as a result of impermanence and change, such as the pain of failing to get what we want and of losing what we hold dear. The third kind of dukkha is a kind of existential suffering, the angst of being human, of living a conditioned existence and unpredictably being subject to the other two types of dukkha and to a rebirth.

The Second Noble Truth tells us that this very grasping, clinging or avoidance is the source of dukkha. The grasping or clinging actually provides only momentary relief or temporary satisfaction. What we desire is never enough and never lasts. The Third Noble Truth is about the end of dukkha. The Fourth Noble Truth assures us the Noble Eightfold Path is a way to end dukkha. As we practice, we develop a happiness that is not dependent on external objects or life events but results from a cultivated state of mind that does not come and go as circumstances change. Even physical pain becomes less stressful with the awareness of a cultivated mind.

So, the teaching of the Four Noble Truths is not “life is suffering,” but instead means we are never satisfied with our clinging and desire in this life, and a way of liberation is always available to us.

Is it true that Buddhists believe that there is no such thing as “self”?

For Buddhists, the concept of no-self is critical for understanding how we cause ourselves suffering and, by extension, how to find release from it. When we find ourselves clinging to certain things, we remind ourselves that it too is “no-self,” and learn to let go. The Buddha himself refused to answer the question whether or not there is a self, saying that getting caught up in such quagmires leads us into endless confusion and distracts us from the path that leads to release from suffering.

Many Buddhists interpret the doctrine of no-self to mean that we have no fixed inherent, unchanging self. We construct our conception of self from physical and mental sensations, feelings, perceptions, interpretations, consciousness, and reactions that are actually processes, ever forming and changing. Our attachment to the idea of a fixed self causes great suffering and dissatisfaction.

The Buddha encouraged his disciples to test out his teachings for themselves. Through this process, a self-tested realization of the Buddhist teachings, you can call it what you want: religion, no-self, emptiness, spirituality, philosophy. The labels are not what matters; it’s your actions, and the fruits of your actions, that count.

If Buddhism does not believe in an immortal soul, then what and who will be reborn?

Buddhists believe that when someone dies, they will be reborn. What they are reborn as depends on their intentional actions in their previous life (kamma). The cycle of rebirth is called samsara and it is an ongoing cycle of life, death and rebirth. Humans go through an unknown number of cycles of rebirth over uncountable number of lifetimes. Skillful actions lead to a good rebirth and unskillful actions lead to a bad rebirth. Based on the actions a person has done in their previous lives, a person can be reborn into one of the six realms (the realms of the gods, angry gods, animals, tormented beings, hungry ghosts, of humans)

Buddhists believe that the human realm is the best one to be in if they want to reach enlightenment. If they follow the teachings of the Buddha and create good kamma, they will be reborn into a more preferable realm.

Buddhism does not accept the belief that there is an immortal and perpetual soul. When you look into a being/person, you see the Five Aggregates (skandhas) or elements: Form, Feelings, Perceptions, Mental Formations, and Consciousness and there is no soul, no self, outside of these Five Aggregates. When a person dies, the Five Aggregates or all elements go to dissolution, and the karma that represented all the intentional actions that this person has performed in his former lifetimes is his continuation. What he has done and thought is still there as energy, and with this energy he doesn’t need a soul, or a self, in order to continue. When a practitioner attains sainted fruits such as Arhat, Buddha, or Bodhisattva in the eighth stage, he or she will break the cycle of samsara.

In Buddhism, the ultimate objective of followers/practitioners is enlightenment and/or liberation from samsara rather than to go to a Heaven or a deva realm in the context of Buddhist cosmology.

What do Buddhists believe happens after death?

Most Buddhists believe that death marks the end of this life and the passage into the next. According to the Buddha, beings go through countless births and deaths until they gain Enlightenment. The Buddha taught that human beings are each born an infinite number of times, unless they achieve Nirvana. The Buddha taught his disciples not to fear death. This has been interpreted by Buddhists as suggesting that if they live well, their rebirth will be good. After his enlightenment, the Buddha could remember his previous lives.

We are reborn, according to Buddhist scripture, because of the clinging and desire in this life. This clinging and desire engine of the ego is so powerful that even when the body dies, the mind continues its clinging, desire and searching for a new life. In this way, according to Buddhism, it builds a bridge to another body and takes birth again.

The Buddha taught that the where, when, and how of rebirth is entirely determined by our accumulated karma. This means our actions in this and previous lives shape the outcome for the next life. Even at the point of death and thereafter, we can make choices that will have a positive or negative effect on our next life. Buddhists believe the attitude and intention of the mind at death is very important. The less fear and aversion we experience at death, and the more focus, calm, and equanimity we have, the more likely we will be reborn in good circumstances. Which is why preparing the mind for death through meditation is a core element of Buddhist practice.

Ideas about the details of what happens at death—for instance, what beings experience between death and the next birth—vary from tradition to tradition. Many Buddhist traditions teach that sending goodwill or chanting certain scriptures or prayers at the time of and following death can help the deceased on their journey to the next life. Buddhist scriptures also identify various heaven- and hell-like realms—sometimes considered to be states created by the mind—where we may take rebirth.

Why do Buddhists pray?

Buddhists don’t pray to a Creator God, but they do have devotional meditation practices which could be compared to praying. Radiating loving-kindness to all living beings is a practice which is believed to benefit those beings. The sharing of merit is a practice where one dedicates the goodness of one’s life to the benefit of all living beings as well as praying for a particular person.

In Tibet, prayer is going on most of the time. Tibetans pray in a special way. The use of mantras is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism. They are short prayers that are thought to subtly alter one’s mind and make a connection with a particular enlightened being and the final goal of the practice is to be enlightened. If a mantra is repeated often enough it can open up the mind to a consciousness which is beyond words and thoughts.

In Japan, China, Vietnam and other countries, millions of Buddhists pray to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. They believe that Amida has created a Pure Land in the west and that those who have faith and repeat Amida’s name in prayer will go there. Yet they also believe that Amida is really within them

Do Buddhists believe in sin?

The dictionary defines sin as a violation of religious or moral law. Since the Buddha is not God and he didn’t hand down any commandments, the first part of the definition doesn’t apply. More broadly, good versus evil is not the central issue in Buddhism. It is ignorance versus wisdom. Because we do not understand our own nature and the reality we inhabit, we create suffering for ourselves and others. This is the Buddha’s second noble truth—that the real cause of suffering is the ignorance that solidifies ourselves and our world and creates the three poisons of attachment, aggression, and ignorance. The ultimate antidote to suffering is wisdom. When we understand our true nature which is open, interdependent, ever-changing, we can relax the harmful struggle to maintain the fictitious sense of self created by ignorance.

Do Buddhists believe in God?

While Buddhism is a tradition focused on spiritual liberation, but it is the one world religion that has no God. There is no divine creator god or Supreme Being in the Buddhist teachings, so Buddhism is often called a nontheistic religion. The historical Buddha began as an ordinary person, who gained awakening by training his own mind and apprehending the true nature of reality. His enlightenment was not bestowed through communion with a superior, external force but through his own efforts. And that is a major point of the Buddhist story. From the Buddhist point of view, a personal god is not necessary: we each have the raw material to achieve our own liberation.

Buddhism focuses on personal spiritual development and the attainment of a deep insight into the true nature of life. There is no belief in a personal god. Buddhists believe that nothing is fixed or permanent and that change is always possible. It is impermanent because no state, good or bad, lasts forever. Our mistaken belief that things can last is a chief cause of suffering. The path to Enlightenment is through the practice and development of morality, meditation and wisdom.

In practice, most Buddhist traditions have deities and other supernatural beings. Most Buddhist traditions have a cosmology populated with deities and other supernatural beings. Even the earliest Buddhist texts refer to the Indian gods and metaphysical creatures that made up the spiritual milieu of the time. Also, according to legend, the gods watched over the Buddha’s path – from past lives to Enlightenment – and rejoiced on the night of his awakening. But it is important to understand that in all these stories, the celestial beings themselves are still within the cycle of death and rebirth. They may have extraordinary powers, but they have not reached the Buddha’s level of attainment

Still, in many traditions, deities and other metaphysical beings offer significant help to practitioners. In some branches of Buddhism, such as Japanese Pure Land Buddhism (Shin or Jodo Shinshu), the devotion to the “other power” of the Amitabha Buddha forms the heart of the practice. Tibetan Buddhism features elaborate deities that appear in scripture and iconography. Many of these are considered Buddhas, and they are used for visualization practice, in which meditators imagine themselves to be these deities in order to realize their qualities.


Is Buddhism a religion or philosophy?

The answer is really about how you define religion. On one hand, Buddhism is a religion that does not have a personal God, but incorporates all the functions of a religion—as characterized by the modern view of religious studies—including conceptions, canonical languages, doctrines, symbols, rituals, spiritual practices, and social relationships. On the other hand, Buddhism can be considered as “a philosophy of life”. This is just a personal choice.

In the view of many practitioners and scholars, Buddhism is a religion with strong philosophical aspects. Buddhism asks us to investigate the nature of our minds and how we construct our own reality, and it promotes critical thinking and reasoning, in a way most schools of philosophy do as well. The Buddhism philosophy and religious end-goal is to transcend life and death – liberation from suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara). It also offers a path for reaching that goal by a system of practice and ethics. Buddhists practice to freedom in a wholly transformative way, not an intellectual one. Many other elements of Buddhism can be considered religious and each school of Buddhism has its own particular rites and liturgy, expresses faith in the Buddha’s teachings in its own way, and honors a set of scriptures and holds certain objects to be sacred.

All that said, there are many characteristics of Buddhism that do not align with typical notions of religion, including a lack of divine revelation, any requirements to regularly attend service, or scripture considered to be the absolute truth. It also doesn’t ask you to make a leap of faith or take the teachings at face value. Rather, you’re encouraged to put the teachings into practice, test them out, and see if they do what they’re meant to do – free you from ignorance and suffering.

What is emptiness?

The English term “emptiness,” a translation of the Sanskrit word sunyata (sunnata in Pali), is one of the most misunderstood—and even off-putting—words used in Buddhism (right up there with rebirth!). It is misunderstood because it is not easy to grasp intellectually, and different schools of Buddhism interpret it differently. And it is off-putting because “emptiness” sounds so negative.

But “emptiness” does not refer to a grim void or a kind of nihilism. In the Pali canon, which comprises some of the earliest Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha uses the term to describe how emptiness pertains to our conception of the self. In one famous story, the Buddha pointed to a chariot and asked, “Where is the essence of the chariot? Is it in the wheels? The seat? The axle? The cart?” Of course, none of the constituent parts contains the essence of the chariot, and each part broken down into smaller parts is devoid of that singular essence. Like the chariot, this “self” we cherish so devotedly is nothing more than a temporary coming together of various aggregates—empty.

Many people, including Buddhists, think the concept of emptiness is fascinating but confusing and difficult to explain. Our ordinary perception of reality is that all living beings and objects around us are existing by themselves and unrelated to each other. This is considered in Buddhism as a worldly viewpoint, which is not in accordance with reality.

Nirvana is a Sanskrit word for the goal of the Buddhist path: Enlightenment or awakening. In Pali, the language of some of the earliest Buddhist texts, the word is nibbana; in both languages it means literally “extinction” (like a lamp or flame) or “cessation.” It refers to the extinction of greed, ill will, and delusion in the mind, the three poisons that perpetuate suffering. Nirvana is what the Buddha achieved on the night of his Enlightenment: he became completely free from the three poisons. Everything he taught for the rest of his life was aimed at helping others to arrive at that same freedom.

In the Mahayana school, emphasis is often placed on the notions of emptiness, perfected spiritual insight, and Buddha-nature.

What emptiness actually meant is “everything is empty of inherent existence.” In other words, everything does not exist in accordance with our ordinary perception of reality. The Heart Sutra, in Mahayana scripture, explains the concept of emptiness to mean that everything, including all phenomena, in the world depends on something else; nothing exists in any autonomous, enduring manner. This is closely related to the expression ‘selflessness’ or ‘no-self,’ which refers to the point that we do not possess a permanent, unchanging self.

The realization of insight into the true nature of reality is the way in which we can achieve enlightenment and escape suffering, so the idea of emptiness or selflessness forms the basis of Buddhist philosophy.

Why emptiness is important in Buddhist teachings?

“Emptiness” ” is a cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy and a central teaching of all Buddhism, but its true meaning is often misunderstood. The doctrine of Sunyata or Emptiness is unique to Buddhism and its many aspects are well expounded in advanced Buddhist teachings. However, on its own, the term “emptiness” cannot denote the true sense of the meaning intended behind its use in Buddhist sutras. Briefly, this doctrine asserts the transcendental nature of Ultimate Reality. It declares the phenomenal world to be void of all limitations of particularization and that all concepts of dualism are abolished.

The Buddhist cosmology (or universe) is distinctly different from that of other religions which usually recognize only this solar system (Earth) as the center of the Universe and the only planet with living beings. The Buddhist viewpoint of a Buddha world (also known as Three Thousand-Fold World System) is that of one billion solar systems. Besides, the Mahayana Buddhist doctrines expound that there are other contemporary Buddha worlds like Amitabha’s Pure Land and Bhaisajyaguru’s world system.

The term “emptiness” itself is “empty of own-nature“. The translation “own-nature” comes from the Sanskrit term “svabhava” which can be divided into the prefix “sva”, meaning “own” or a sense of self-possession and the word “bhava”, which can literally be translated as “being”, “existence” or “nature”. Therefore “emptiness” means a lack of “own-nature”, i.e. a lack of anything which may indicate an independent existence, separate from causes and conditions. Therefore “Emptiness” is an expression used in Buddhist thought primarily to mark a distinction between the way things appear to be and the way they actually are, together with attendant attitudes which are held to be spiritually beneficial. The Heart Sutra says, “all phenomena in their own-being are empty.” It doesn’t say “all phenomena are empty.” This distinction is vital. “Own-being” means separate independent existence. The passage means that nothing we see or hear stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape.  So no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity. The Heart Sutra also says, “When there is no obscuration of mind”—when we are no longer confused by our external projections and experience the wisdom of emptiness—“there is no fear.” That is why emptiness is so important – it is the antidote to suffering.

What is the cycle of rebirth?

Rebirth is the Buddhist belief in the continuity of one’s karma – which is one’s motivations and intentions – to a new fresh life at rebirth (Buddhism does not accept the immortality of soul or the idea that the body is a vessel for the soul, and that after death, the soul departs from the body, and moves to another body). Human consciousness persists during the initial stages of the rebirth transition through the life review, but one’s identity is gradually merging with that of the new life. This intermediate state of the rebirth process normally lasts approximately seven weeks.

Karma plays out in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth. There are six separate realms into which any living being can be reborn in Samsara:

  1. Naraka beings (Hells): those that live in one of many Narakas.
  2. Animals: sharing space with humans, but considered another type of life.
  3. Preta: Sometimes sharing space with humans, but invisible to most people; an important variety is the hungry ghost.
  4. Human beings: one of the realms of rebirth where attaining Nirvana is possible
  5. Asuras: variously translated as lowly deities, demons, antigods.
  6. Devas including Brahmas: Gods, deities, spirits, angels.

Samsara ends if a person attains Nirvana, the absence of desires and the gaining of true insight into impermanence and non-self reality. The realm of human is considered the highest realm of rebirth because it offers an opportunity to achieve Enlightenment (Nirvana) that is not an aspect in the other five realms. Given a great number of living things, to be born human is to Buddhists a precious chance at spiritual bliss, a rarity that one should not forsake.

What is the Wheel of Life?

The Buddha described all worldly phenomena as having three characteristics: impermanence, suffering and non-self. We suffer because we imagine what is not self to be self, what is impermanent to be permanent, and what, from an ultimate viewpoint, is pain to be pleasure. Existence with these three characteristics is called samsara, which means we are continually flowing, moving on, from one moment to the next moment and from one life to the next life.

The Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra) is one of the most common subjects of Buddhist art. The detailed symbolism of the Wheel can be interpreted on many levels. The Buddha discovered the whole causal process of samsara, the complete cycle of the stages of cause and effect. According to tradition, he once described this process in a series of images, so that it could be sent in pictorial form to the king of a neighboring country who had inquired about his teaching. An artist drew the images according to the Buddha’s instructions, illustrating the whole realm of samsaric existence from which we seek liberation. This picture is known as the wheel of life and is familiar throughout the Buddhist world. It springs from the same tradition of imagery that flowers so dramatically in vajrayana, but goes back to the beginnings of Buddhism.

The creature holding the Wheel of Life in his hooves is Yama, the wrathful Dharmapala who is Lord of the Hell Realm. The terrible face of Yama represents impermanence, peers over the top of the Wheel. In spite of his appearance, Yama is not evil. He is a wrathful Dharmapala, a creature devoted to protecting Buddhism and Buddhists.

The Wheel of Life has elements represents the cycle of birth and rebirth and existence in samsara.

  • The inner hub of the Wheel of Life is a cock, a snake and a pig that represent greed, anger, and ignorance. These represent the forces that keep the Wheel of Life turning, according to the Buddha’s teaching of the Second Noble Truth.
  • The second layer called the sidpa bardo represents kamma or intermediate state. It is also sometimes called the White Path and the Dark Path. On one side, Bodhisattvas guide beings to rebirths in the higher realms of Devas, Gods and Humans. On the other, demons lead beings to the lower realms of Hungry Ghosts, Hell Beings and Animals.
  • The third layer represents the six realms of samsara: 1) The Realm of the Gods (Devas) is the highest realm of the Wheel of Life and is always depicted at the top of the Wheel; 2) The Asura (Angry/Jealous God) Realm is marked by paranoia; 3) The Realm of Hungry Ghosts; 4) The Hell Realm is marked by anger, terror and claustrophobia; 5) The Animal Realm; 6) The Human Realm – Liberation from the Wheel is possible only from the Human Realm.
  • The fourth layer represents the 12 links of dependent arising (or paticca-samuppada). The outer wheel depicts a blind man or woman (representing ignorance); potters (formation); a monkey (consciousness); two men in a boat (mind and body); a house with six windows (the senses); an embracing couple (contact); an eye pierced by an arrow (sensation); a person drinking (thirst); a man gathering fruit (grasping); a couple making love (becoming); a woman giving birth (birth); and a man carrying a corpse (death).


What are the Five Aggregates?

Theravada Buddhists are taught that the human personality is made up of five parts or elements, called the Five Aggregates. The Buddha taught that all people are made up of the following five elements.

  1. Form/body (rupa) – This is matter that is tangible (i.e., can be touched). This element is linked to our five senses (smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing).
  2. Sensation/feelings (vedana) – These are feelings experienced from using the five senses. They can be physical or emotional.
  3. Perception/recognizing (samjna) – This allows people to recognize things in the world because they have seen or experienced those things before.
  4. Mental formations/thoughts (samskara) – This is about the different opinions and feelings that people may have.
  5. Consciousness/awareness (vijnana) – This is the awareness a person has of the other elements and things around them.

The Buddha teaches that these different elements are changing all the time. Therefore, the ‘self’ is also changing all the time. This means everything is in a state of change and there is no permanent self called anatta.

What is samsara?

In Sanskrit, “samsara” means being born, dying, and being reborn in accordance with the continuous karmic circulation and transformation of energy, like a wheel turning endlessly. The Buddha described all worldly phenomena as having three characteristics: impermanence, suffering and non-self. We suffer because we imagine what is not self to be self, what is impermanent to be permanent, and what, from an ultimate viewpoint, is pain to be pleasure. Existence with these three characteristics is called samsara, which means we are continually flowing, moving on, from one moment to the next moment and from one life to the next life. Although samsara seems to be all-powerful and all-pervading, it is created by our own state of mind, like the world of a dream, and it can be dissolved into nothingness just like awakening from a dream. When someone awakens to reality, even for a moment, the world does not disappear but is experienced in its true nature: pure, brilliant, sacred and indestructible.

The concept of samsara in Buddhism describes a sentient being in the three realms (Senses-Sphere Realm, Fine Form Realm, and Formless Realm) and six destinations (the realms of the gods, angry gods, animals, tormented beings, hungry ghosts, humans). According to primitive Buddhism, only an enlightened one such as the Buddha or an Arhat can truly be liberated from the cycle of samsara. Meanwhile, in Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattvas always vow to return to the world of samsara to save all sentient beings. Therefore, there are two ways to enter the world of samsara: one is vow to be reborn, as a Bodhisattva does voluntarily, and two is be forced to enter a certain realm, like a human, hell, or hungry ghost, by the karmas of each individual. All other religions preach one heaven, one earth and one hell, but this perspective is very limited compared with Buddhist samsara where heaven is just one of the six realms of existence and it has 28 levels.

The concept of Hell(s) in Buddhism is very different from that of other religions. It is not a place for eternal damnation. In Buddhism, it is just one of the six realms in samsara and it is the worst of three undesirable realms. Also, there is virtually unlimited number of hells in the Buddhist cosmology as there is infinite number of Buddha worlds.

What is Karma?

In Buddhism, karma refers to those actions that spring from mental intent and bring about a consequence or result. Each time a person acts, there is an intention at the base of the mind that determines its effect. Karma also is the energy that drives Saṃsara, which is the cycle of suffering and rebirth for each being. Karma is a result of the good or bad actions a person takes during his/her lifetime. Good actions, which involve either the absence of bad actions, or positive acts, such as righteousness, generosity and meditation create good karmas. The immediate results of good karmas bring about happiness to our life in the long run. Bad actions, such as lying, stealing or killing create bad karmas. The immediate results of bad karmas bring about unhappiness in the long run. The weight of karma that an action creates is determined by conditions like determined/intentional action, frequent/repetitive action, action performed without regret, action against extraordinary persons, and action toward those who have helped one in the past.

The Buddha taught that while we each have accumulated karma from previous lives as well as from the present one, karma is mutable. What he really referred to as karma appears to us as an intention which is the cause of action. This intention leads to action and determines what happens to you and how you move through space and time. This means you do not have to always follow your intention; therefore, every moment in your life is an opportunity for you to take positive action to change the results of karma. In other words, you can work with your karma to ensure a better future. Teachings about karma explain that our past actions affect us, either positively or negatively, and that our present actions will affect us in the future. For Buddhists, karma has implications beyond this life. For example, bad actions in a previous life can follow a person into their next life and cause bad effects, and usually is viewed by many people as ‘bad luck.’ On a larger scale, karma determines where a person will be reborn and their status in their next life. Good karma can result in being born in one of the heavenly realms. Bad karma can cause rebirth as an animal or torment in a hell realm.

Karma is not an external force and is not a system of punishment or reward. It is a natural law similar to gravity. Buddhists believe we are in control of our destiny. Buddhists try to cultivate good karma and avoid bad karma. However, the aim of Buddhism is to escape the cycle of rebirth altogether, not simply to acquire good karma and so to be born into a more pleasant state. These states, while preferable to human life, are impermanent.

What is the difference between rebirth and of reincarnation?

One central belief of Buddhism is often referred to as rebirth. Rebirth occurs to ordinary people — the concept that people are reborn after dying. In fact, most individuals go through many cycles of birth, living, death and rebirth. We are reborn according to the effect of our karma. We do not pick our parents, our friends, and the place we are born in, etc. Rebirth is an unconscious process, because our consciousness is asleep. In rebirth, a person does not necessarily return to Earth as the same entity ever again.

Reincarnation is what is done by extraordinary awakened masters who can choose to reincarnate at will, at the time and place of their choosing. In reincarnation, the individual may recur repeatedly; they are viewed as bodhisattvas to render service to humanity out of wisdom, compassion and love.

According to The Law of Cause and Effect, is everything in this life predetermined by the previous causes?

Actually, every effect has a cause and a condition. A cause and a condition combine to make an effect. Due to this relationship, the Law of Cause and Effect can more clearly be known as the Law of Cause, Condition and Effect, whether you believe in any particular religion. This means everything in this life potentially is predetermined by previous causes, but this life also depends on the conditions and your current actions.

Spiritual practice includes choice. Therefore, you should not view karma as ideas about past lives or a law of predetermination. If you have this strict an idea of karma, there is no room for choice! You should understand karmas or your habits have an influence on your intention at the current moment. In other words, the teaching of karma is about the intentional choices you make in the present. The present moment is partly the result of our choices in the past and partly the result of our choices unfolding in the present. Intended acts of body, speech and mind have consequences; taking these consequences into account offers important guidance in our choices for action.

In meditation, we cease responding to the world habitually. Instead we watch the momentum of the mind: our desires, feelings, thoughts and intentions. Instead of acting on or reacting to them, we give them careful attention. When we do not reinforce them, they quiet down and no longer direct our lives. Also, if you are generating good actions, behaviors and thoughts like practicing Vipassana (Insight Meditation) this may prevent conditions for karmic fruits to ripen into experience. Also, you will create a lot merit or positive potential to generate good actions, behaviors and thoughts that will counteract and reduce the mental effect of the results of bad karma.

How can I help someone with the results of his own actions in the past?

You cannot change the karma of others, but you can have a positive influence on those around you. For example, you can provide an opportunity for someone to learn and practice Vipassana to create good karma (merit or positive potential) by generating good actions, behaviors and thoughts that will counteract and reduce the mental effect of the results of bad karma. Also, by practicing Vipassana, you can have a positive helpful effect on those around you.

What does repentance mean in Buddhism?

In Buddhism, repentance (Ksamayati) can be considered as a continual process of sincere self-reflection and diligent self-discipline through upholding the precepts with the goal of purification and the unveiling of our innate and pristine Buddha Nature. Ksamayati includes two parts: 1) repentance—to feel regret or contrition for a guiltiness—and 2) remorse—to be gnawed at, be distressed by, or suffer from a sense of guilt for past wrongs for which you promise yourself not to commit again. There is an element of wisdom in recognizing our misdeeds. Whatever the consequences of our actions, wholesome or unwholesome, good or bad, in Buddhism, we own them. They are ours and we have to recognize it.

When we perform repentance rituals, or chant the repentance verse, the point is not to ask forgiveness from someone for what we have done, but there is an element of repentance that encourages us to try not to create harmful consequences again. With your true great respect, after repentance, your own body, speech, and mind will become pure. The level of purification depends on your sincerity; the more profound your sincerity is the more ease you will feel, regardless of whether you repent in front of the Triple Jewels or face your own conscience. The Buddha taught that two classes of noble persons can be found in the world: the first one is the person who lives nobly and never creates suffering for ourselves and others; the second one is the person who has the awareness of suffering for ourselves and others and is always ready to repent whenever he commits one.

Can a person’s unwholesome karmas be eradicated through repentance?

In Buddhism, the law of karma teaches that the responsibility for unskillful actions is borne by the person who commits them. What you have sown (created or done) in the past shall definitely come to fruition when its time of maturation (the right conditions) arrives. When you honestly repent for your sins properly, you may transform your own karmic force through two aspects: 1) not creating more sin and cultivating good deeds, and 2) with the mind of purity, tranquility, control, and renunciation (the liberated mind), the mature effect from past deeds—whether painful or pleasant—is not powerful enough and no longer governs the life of your inner peace and tranquility. When your mind is absolutely pure as snow, no effect from past deeds remains; even the notion of remorse is removed. At this point of purification, you actually go beyond the dualistic realm of birth and death. In such a state, the problem of causes and effects is no longer discussed.

What is Bodhi-mind (bodhicitta)?

The Bodhi-mind (bodhicitta) in Sanskrit is the mind (citta) of awakening (bodhi), also named the enlightened mind, the mind orientating toward enlightenment, or the mind that tranquilly resides in the state of awakening. Mahayana Buddhism teaches that everyone can achieve enlightenment. Mahayana Buddhists believe that all humans have the nature of the Buddha within them already. It is a seed within all of them that has the potential to grow. This is referred to as Buddha-nature and essentially means that people have the ability to become enlightened like the Buddha. The Bodhi-mind, in Buddhist thought, is understood through two basic aspects: 1) The conventional namely the daily practice of ethics, virtues, and merits in order to achieve the noble happiness and peace in practical life, and 2) the absolute namely the full awakening of the perfect wisdom, becoming a Holy one, a Bodhisattva, or a Buddha. Thus, the Bodhi mind is the heart of Buddhism, the foundation for the whole process of spiritual training of Buddhist practitioners. Accordingly, if a person does not nurture and take good care of the Bodhi mind, his own Buddhahood will be buried by karmic defilements. You should absolutely keep in mind that the Bodhi mind is the Buddha nature within each person, which is the very seed (potentiality) of true happiness and enlightenment. Traditional Buddhism includes practices to help you develop the Bodhi mind, including 37 Qualities Contributing to Enlightenment (bodhipakkhiyadhamma): four foundations of mindfulness, four right efforts, four steps towards supernatural powers, five spiritual faculties and their five powers, seven branches of enlightenment, and the eightfold noble path. (Fundamental of Buddhist teachings and practice paths)

What are the deeds of Paramita (transcendental perfection)?

The Paramita deeds include six factors: giving, practicing ethical disciplines, patience, right efforts, meditation, and wisdom. Paramita is the characteristic of transcendental perfection that goes beyond the world of dualism, such as attachment to the self and others. This transcendental perfection is also known as the spirit of non-distinction and non-attachment. For instance, you give a donation to someone; however, at the back of your mind, you are still entangled in the thought of that donation, identifying the giver and the receiver. Donations to others in such a manner result in attachment to the performance of giving namely, giving in the bondage of the self and others; it is absolutely not giving from your true heart of compassion without any strings attached. Until you give a gift to someone without any attachment to the notion of the giver, the receiver, or the gift, you cannot truly reach the state of non-attachment to the act of giving. That is, the true giving free from the three-wheeled condition of giver, receiver, and gift. Therefore, practicing the deeds of Paramita is a training of renunciations of self-attachment and distinction.

What role do ethics play in Buddhism?

Living ethically is a foundation of Buddhism for mind training and freeing ourselves from suffering. That is why the Noble Eightfold Path includes myriad guidelines and strategies for behaving ethically. A basic set of guidelines taken on by many new practitioners is known as the Five Precepts. Buddhists generally undertake to live by the Five Precepts, which are common to all Buddhist schools. The Five Precepts are training rules in order to live a better life in which one is happy and without worries. The Five Precepts are:

  1. To refrain from taking life.
  2. To refrain from taking that which is not given.
  3. To refrain from sensual (including sexual) misconduct.
  4. To refrain from lying.
  5. To refrain from intoxicants.

The Buddha teaches us to examine constantly whether or not what we think, do, and say causes harm to ourselves and others. Buddhism promotes ethical conduct to such an extent because acting virtuously directly causes the freeing of the mind. The precepts are not formulated as imperatives, but as training rules that laypeople undertake voluntarily to facilitate practice. Living ethically the mind becomes freer and lighter, and it is easier to concentrate and see clearly. And as the Buddha taught, even if we do not become enlightened in this lifetime, only good can come from cultivating virtue.

Is the moral discipline of Buddhism similar to or different from that of other religions?

Buddhist ethics and other religions have some common features and some differences. The common features belong to the human base of morality and ethics relating directly to the life of humanity. Meanwhile, the differences between the Buddhist moral disciplines and that of other religions relate to the path of enlightenment and spiritual liberation. Thus, we should be concerned about two aspects:

1) Human base of morality and ethics: Buddhist ethics are based on the five precepts (not killing or doing harm to the life of humans and sentient beings, not stealing or taking things that are not given, not conducting sexual immorality, not lying in order to do harm to one’s self or others, and not using intoxicants that weaken the mind). This human base of morality and ethics is similar to other religious.

2) Buddhist ethics—the path leading to enlightenment and spiritual liberation: The five precepts (ethical disciplines) in Buddhism fully associated with the three personal karmas: Physical karmas (killing, stealing, and conducting sexual immorality), verbal karmas (false speech, a double tongue, hateful speech, and slanderous speech), and mental karmas (craving, hatred, and ignorance or false view). Therefore, if you are able to keep your three karmas completely pure, you yourself will enter Nirvana, truly experiencing the life of true liberation and enlightenment. However, the mental karma—the third one—is here the most fundamental element that governs and drives the other two karmas, the physical and verbal. Thus, building an actual right view for your own life is the key that opens the door to spiritual liberation. In Buddhist ethical disciplines, as previously discussed, no precept requires a practitioner to honor or worship a personal God; rather, all that is focused on is the spiritual training of personal purification of the three karmas. This is the very difference between the Buddhist precepts and the creeds of other religions. In addition to these five basic precepts, Buddhism also has a special system of moral code that is more rigorous for monastic persons (the moral disciplines for Holy ones such as Sravakas and Bodhisattvas. However, for lay Buddhists, in addition to taking the five basic precepts, you need to practice four acts called all-embracing virtues and the six deeds of Paramita in order to develop wholesome roots (wholesome karmas) and nurture your Bodhi mind for your own spiritual life.

Does a Buddhist break the precept of not killing when he eats meat?

By eating meat, you may break the first precept (not killing) in three specific cases: 1) you yourself kill an animal to make food; 2) you order other people to kill an animal to make food for you; and/or 3) you are satisfied by seeing other people kill an animal to make food for you. In these three cases, the first one directly commits killing while the last two are considered indirectly breaking the precept.

What is the concept of “merit” in Buddhism?

The original Pali term for merit is punna, which means “purification”. Thus, to cultivate merit is basically to purify the three karmas of the bodily, verbal, and mental aspects specifically by cleaning up craving, hatred, and ill will in the mental flux. Therefore, to cultivate merit is to control and transform craving, hatred, and ill will of the mind into the state of purity. In reality, in order to control and transform these basic defilements, the Buddha taught us skillful means such as dealing with craving or greed by offering donations and charity, developing compassion to eradicate hatred, and training in wisdom to eliminate ill will. Based on this radical meaning, you may cultivate merit in various ways, such as giving to others, offering to the Triple Jewels, practicing ethical disciplines, diligently doing charity work, meditating, chanting sutras, or reciting the Buddha’s names and fostering the Bodhi mind. Most importantly, a Buddhist should cultivate for the pure merit of spiritual liberation.

What is the characteristic of “pure merit” and “impure merit”?

There are two kinds of merit: impurity and purity. Impure-merit (Asrava) is governed by the operation of Causes and Effects in the stream of samsara while pure-merit (Anasrava) is that which goes beyond the karmic stream of causes and effects and leads to the state of Nirvana – ultimate freedom. For instance, when you conduct a merit with the mind of strings attached and self-attached (meaning that, when doing a good thing, you expect a good response and consider that good response to be the end goal of your action) you clearly do it with an impure mind in which you still cling too much to the desire of the ‘I’, ‘mine’, and ‘myself.’ Therefore, if you sow the seed of impurity, you will correspondingly receive the effect of impurity. Essentially, if you conduct a good deed, but the energetic flux of giving and paying still exists in your mind and governs your action, you will be absorbed into the passion stream of samsara, for the Causes and Effects mental energy of giving and paying contributing to which you will be born and reborn in the samsara cycle. Meanwhile, when conducting merit with a true mind of altruism, compassion, loving kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, you are sowing the seed of pure merit, which leads to renunciation and liberation. The three pure studies (ethical discipline, meditation, and wisdom) are the foundation for cultivating the merit of purity.

How does the Buddhist concept of happiness differ from the mundane concept of happiness?

The concept of happiness is a broad topic. However, the basic difference between happiness in the Buddhist view and that of the mundane world is defined in two terms: attachment or non-attachment. Being free from all attachments, Buddhists live happily and freely in the world no matter what circumstances they encounter or how reality affects them. On the contrary, happiness of the mundane world is strictly connected to the notion of ‘I,’ ‘mine,’ and ‘myself,’ which is indeed the conflict of craving and attachment that is always silently destroying the potentiality of true happiness and pulling you into the realm of bitter regret over gain and loss, pleasure and pain. Thus, non-attachment in the Buddhist view is true happiness.

What is the Buddhist view on the issue of “good and evil”?

In general, the word evil stands for what is associated with the three immoral roots of (1) attachment (lobha) (2) ill will (dosa), and delusion (moha). What is associated with the three moral or good roots of are generosity (alobha), goodwill or loving kindness (adosa), and wisdom (amoha). The three immoral roots and the three moral roots are basically thoughts generated by us in our mind one after the other. This means any thought produced in our mind can be categorized under one of these six types. It is the thought that translates itself into word or deed. So the Buddha advises us to give priority to the process of purifying our mind by introspection.

More specifically, the Buddhist view on the wholesome (good) and unwholesome (not good) is clearly defined in the teaching of karma, in which three karmas belonging to the physical, verbal, and mental aspects are divided into two categories: ten wholesome (kusala) karmas and ten unwholesome (akusala) karmas.

Among the ten in the two sets, three are bodily, four are verbal, and three are mental. The ten courses of unwholesome kamma may be defined as follows, divided by way of their doors of expression:

Three of Body

  1. Destroying life
  2. Stealing
  3. Sexual Misconduct

Four of Speech

  1. False Speech
  2. Divisive Speech
  3. Offensive Speech
  4. Senseless Speech

Three of Mind

  1. Covetousness
  2. Malice
  3. Wrong view

The ten courses of wholesome kamma are the opposites of these: abstaining from the first seven courses of unwholesome kamma, being free from covetousness and malice, and holding right view.

There are two important aspects regarding the Buddhist concept of wholesomeness should be noted: the human ground of ethics and the spiritual ground of enlightenment and liberation. Ethically, wholesomeness involves practicing the Dharma and the ten wholesome karmas; spiritually, in the noble path of enlightenment and liberation, wholesomeness is itself nirvana and the Dharmas that lead to nirvana, including all pure and non-dualistic Dharmas. Thus, the Buddhist concept of wholesomeness has two levels; one carries the meaning of human ethics while the other refers to the spiritual state of supra-mundane, nirvana.

ABOUT PRACTICES (please refer to “FAQs ABOUT MEDITATION AND RETREATS” for more information)

What is the primary core of spiritual practice in Buddhism?

The teachings of the Buddha is summarized in this Pali verse “Sabbapapassa akaranam, kusalassa upasampada Sachittapariodapanam etam Buddhana sasanam. Verse 183. Chapter 14 (Buddha Vagga), The Dhammapada”. This means not to do any evil, to cultivate good, to purify one’s mind – this is the teaching of the Buddhas.

The primary core of spiritual practice in Buddhism, regardless of any school, whether traditional or modern, falls into three categories. In Sanskrit, they are called sila (discipline or ethical living), samadhi (concentration), and prajna (insight or wisdom). Together, they summarize the Buddha’s fourth noble truth, the full path to enlightenment.

  • Sila – Translated as discipline, ethics, good conduct, virtue, or morality. Sila encompasses three aspects of the eightfold path: Right speech (samma vaca), Right Action (samma kammanta), Right Livelihood (samma ajiva). Living ethically and purely is both the ground of the Buddhist path and its result.
  • Samadhi – Translated as concentration, calm abiding, or mindfulness. Samadhi encompasses three aspects of the eightfold path: Right Effort (samma-vayama), Right Mindfulness (samma-sati), and Right Concentration (samma-samadhi). Samadhi is the foundation of Buddhist meditation. By settling and calming the mind through dedicated meditation practice, we achieve peace and are no longer controlled by our delusions and conflicting emotions (kleshas). Unlike the levels of concentration developed in other mundane situations in life, Right Concentration has to be wholesome and accompanied by the suppression of the Mental Hindrances. With proper development and progress, Right Concentration will lead to deep meditative absorption states, or Jhana, and attainment of insight and wisdom.
  • Prajna – Translated as wisdom, insight, and discriminating mind, mental development. Prajna encompasses two aspects of the eightfold path: Right View or Understanding (samma-ditthi) Right Intention or Resolve (samma-sankappa). Prajna is Buddhism’s unique, defining principle and the key to enlightenment. Using the powerful, concentrated mind of Samadhi, we penetrate the true nature of reality and free ourselves from the fundamental ignorance that causes suffering. This is the essential technique of Buddhist meditation.

Right view is divided into two types: mundane right view and supra-mundane right view. Mundane right view is having a correct understanding of the mechanism of volitional actions, or kamma, in which wholesome actions will lead to good results and unwholesome actions, will lead to bad results. Supra-mundane right view is the correct understanding of the Four Noble Truths of suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering (samudaya), cessation of suffering (nirodha) and the path leading to the cessation of suffering (magga). Right Intention or Resolve (samma-sankappa) – evolves as a result of right view and leads to the development of morality (sila). It has three aspects: The intention of renunciation, the intention of good will and the intention of harmlessness, loving-kindness.

There are three aspects of spiritual practice. First, to practice ethics or moral disciplines is to prevent and avoid unwholesome deeds as well as cultivate human dignity, especially to restrain the ability of performing evil deeds potentially hidden in the mind. In other words, developing morality (sila) is training oneself for a life of ethics, dignity, and noble virtues. Second, practicing meditation is the way by which one can purify all affections and afflictions in the mind and make it pure, peaceful, and bright. Finally, practicing wisdom means developing the right view, recognizing truths, understanding the nature of life, and attaining enlightenment. These three aspects of the path of practice to enlightenment always supplement one another. For example, the one who lives a life of high ethical discipline and noble virtues will have a peaceful mind, self-confidence, and fearlessness. The one who develops meditation will have a quiet, calm, and blissful mind. The one who develops wisdom will have a bright, smart, and tranquil mind, always and everywhere. You may gain various results of your mental training, according to the various degrees of practice. Buddhism calls these three aspects of practice the pure studies (anasrava) of deliverance from the passion stream; in other words, you no longer fall into the stream of samsara, truly liberating yourself from all impurities of the mundane world.

What are the basic differences in the practicing of Buddhism compared to other religions?

In Buddhism, the mind is the theme. We seek for help from ourselves not the external power. In other religions, one feels oneself inferior, and seeks for help from spiritual power. Buddhists worship the statues because they respect the Buddha’s great characters of both compassion and wisdom. It is like a respect to teacher and his teachings, not praying for something. At the same time, worshipping Buddha is a method to concentrate one’s mind and eliminate all trivial and false thoughts. It is a method of cultivation. This is perhaps the greatest difference in concepts between Buddhism and other religions.

It leans on a profound philosophical theory and scientific experiment. The method of cultivation in Buddhism is to eradicate all illusions to understand the mind, see the nature, and certify the fruition of Buddha. Buddhist practice focuses on developing (Bhavana) ethical disciplines, meditation, and wisdom while most other religions focus on prayers as a way of connecting to the Holy existence. The term Bhavana in Buddhism has a special meaning that includes two parts: 1) renunciation of unwholesome deeds and 2) development of noble virtues such as loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity, and performances. When a practitioner focuses on the first part, the renunciation of unwholesome deeds, he only stops doing evil, but actually not undertaken any spiritual training. For example, an addict who drinks alcohol for many years becomes seriously sick; being aware of his illness, he stops drinking. Such an action means he is just giving up his habit of alcoholic addiction. The remaining matter he has to deal with is healing the illness in his body, simultaneously developing his health as well as his wholesome life both physically and mentally. Similarly, in Buddhist practice, you have to do both: quit all evil deeds you have done and cultivate the good deeds you have not yet done. In brief, the fundamental Buddhist practice is not to do evil, to do good deeds, and to purify one’s mind through the noble path of ethical disciplines, meditation, and wisdom. The importance of non-attachment to purify one’s mind in Buddhism goes beyond doing good and being good. One must not be attached to good deeds or the idea of doing good; otherwise it is just another form of craving.

What is the purpose of meditation?

While meditation is not unique to Buddhism, meditation is something that holds very deep importance in Buddhist teachings. Passages that advise on meditation practice can be found easily in the Buddhist scriptures. Indeed, the Buddha himself attained Enlightenment via meditation. Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with transforming the mind and exploring other phenomena. According to Theravada Buddhism, there are two types of meditation: samatha meditation and vipassana meditation.

Meditation also plays a crucial role in the Noble Eightfold Path, which the Buddha described as the path to end suffering. Samma Samadhi, or right meditation (also translated as right concentration or right focus), is one component of the Noble Eightfold Path, but to fully understand its significance requires an analysis of the path in its entirety.

Under the meditation umbrella, we find the techniques that the Buddha taught directly, as well as others that have been developed and transmitted by his wisest, most experienced followers. When Buddhism spreads to different lands, it takes on different flavors, and so does meditation. What Buddhist meditation techniques have in common is their purpose: to help us focus and increase our awareness and mental clarity. Right meditation actually helps our view become more right. As our view becomes more right, our intention becomes more right. As our intention becomes more right, our speech, action, and livelihood become more right, etc., creating a feedback loop of continuous improvement. Since our circumstances are always changing, meditation reinforces our ability to work with the present moment and gives us space to explore our minds. This has a positive impact on our relationships and our own well-being: we find that meditation helps us encounter life with an open and confident heart.

Why should you be aware about future life if you practices being in the present?

You should carefully discriminate between the concepts of awareness in meditation and awareness in the intellectual field used in this context. The awareness of the karmic law of cause and effect flowing through the cycle of time (past, present, and future) is the intellectual basis for spiritual practice. For example, a person who does not believe in or is not aware of the cycle of samsara or the karmic law of cause and effect is absolutely regarded as a non-Buddhist. Meanwhile, when practicing being in the present, if you are not aware of what you are doing but you are just concerned with or focused on the future life, you shall fall into the crazy world of illusion and imagination. Therefore, to be aware of the karmic law of cause and effect of both this life and the future life belongs to intellectual ground, which will help reinforce your will in spiritual training. Meanwhile, practicing being in the present means living in the state of full awareness of every single movement of reality. Being in the present does not mean that you need not be conscious of the karmic law of cause and effect. Therefore, you should not confuse these meanings.

What is the purpose of chanting sutra and mantra?

Sutras are the “words of the Buddha” and were originally chanted or recited as a means of remembering the spoken teachings of the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. A mantra is a sacred word, syllable, or phrase used as an invocation or as object of meditation. However, mantra is also a way to focus the mind and transform it from an ordinary state to an extraordinary one. In the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, certain mantras or dharanis (long mantras) may invoke enlightened energies or call on the help of buddhas and bodhisattvas for protection. In Theravada Buddhism, mantra-like practices are used simply to develop concentration in meditation.

Chanting involves a great deal of conscious effort for the beginner who is trying to memorize a chant, learn the right tone and tempo, and blend with the others in a group. But as we deepen in our practice, there is gradually less conscious effort and a greater sense of letting go into the flow of chanting. This is often accompanied by a shift in the physical center of chanting, as we feel it move from the throat to the heart to deep in the abdomen and, ultimately, into Buddha nature, the deep flow of the oneness of reality.

At the Thousand Buddha Temple, we start each day by chanting the Shurangama Mantra (Unsurpassed Spiritual Mantra), and the heart of the mantra one hundred eight times to pray for world peace, prosperity and happiness in the midst of tragedy and violence, and for those who are suffering through oppression or natural disaster throughout the world.

The Shurangama Mantra is the longest and most important mantra in the Chinese Tripitaka. According to Venerable Master Hsuan Hua, a monk of Chan Buddhism and a contributing figure in bringing Chinese Buddhism to the United States, Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed the Shurangama Mantra in order to protect of all of us who have brought forth the initial resolve to study the Way, to aid us in attaining Samadhi, to help us be at peace in body and mind, and to keep us out of trouble. Therefore we should never forget this Dharma.

When you memorize and recite this mantra daily, you can attain the mantra-recitation samadhi. Those who recite the Shurangama Mantra must be proper in their behavior, proper in their intent; must not have defiled thoughts, and must not do impure deeds. They should be very attentive to cultivating purity.

We also chant the Great Compassion mantra of Avalokitesvara twenty-one times at noon and dedicate the merit from the meditation to the benefit of all sentient beings. Meditating on or visualizing Avalokitesvara can bring compassion into your life—compassion for others, as well as compassion for you from others. The immediate benefits are purification of negative karmas, protection and healing.

Avalokitesvara (pronounced Av-ah-low-key-tesh-vah-ra) is also known as Guan Yin (Kuan Shi Yin) in China, Kanon in Japan, Chenrezig in Tibet, Natha in Sri Lanka, Lokanat in Burma, Lokesvara in Thailand, Quan Am in Viet Nam, and by many other names.

Reciting sutras or mantras daily can help us relieve daily stress, focus on the teachings, and plant the seeds of Enlightenment in our subconscious. Moreover, we recite mantras to educate our subconscious since our conscious mind is influenced by our subconscious; indeed, our subconscious exercises absolute control over our character.

How important is generosity in Buddhism?

Giving or Dana is the basic foundation of Buddhist practice and is of both great importance and significance in the spiritual development of its followers. Dana is a word in the Pali language meaning giving or generosity and refers to the act of intentionally giving something to another person. Dana is the first of the Four Principles of Service (sangahavatthu), and as the first of the Ten Perfections (paramita) which are the sublime virtues to be cultivated by all aspirants to enlightenment.

Generosity is the most exalted degree by those who follow the way of the Bodhisattva aimed at the supreme Enlightenment of perfect Buddhahood. It is a powerful and active spiritual practice of purifying and transforming the mind of the giver. Generosity developed through giving leads to experience of material wealth and being reborn in happy states.

The amount of merit gained varies according to three factors: the motive of the donor, the spiritual purity of the recipient, and the kind and size of the gift. Generosity associated with wisdom before, during and after the act is the highest type of giving. Giving helps to cultivate generosity and directly debilitates greed and hate, while facilitating the eradication of delusion. In accordance with the karmic law of cause and effect taught by the Buddha, an act of giving will yield benefits in the present life and in lives to come whether or not we are aware of this fact.

The gift of the noble teachings (dhamma-dana) is said by the Buddha to excel above all other gifts. If we are not qualified to teach the Dhamma, we can give the gift of the Dhamma in other ways, such as by donating Dhamma books, encouraging others to keep precepts, or giving money or labor to a meditation center or helping support a meditation teacher. This act is considered the gift of the Dhamma since the purpose of the center and the teacher is the transmission of the Buddha’s teaching.

Why do Buddhists bow?

In western religions, usually bowing to an altar is an act of worship or supplication. This generally is not true of Buddhism.

In Buddhism, bowing is a physical expression of gratitude of the Buddha’s teaching. It is also a practice of dropping away the ego and whatever we are clinging to. When bowing to an image of the Buddha or another iconic figure, one is not bowing to a god. The figure may represent the teachings or Enlightenment. It may also represent our own Buddha nature. In that sense, when you bow to a Buddha figure you are bowing to yourself.

In Buddhism, the traditional gesture of reverence to the Triple Gem is to place the palms of both hands together and raise them high in front, usually up to the level of the forehead. In order to express deep veneration, a Buddhist may bow or prostrate before the image of the Buddha, members of the Sangha and the masters of the Teaching. When a Buddhist prostrates before an image, he acknowledges the fact that the Buddha has attained the perfect and supreme Enlightenment. Such an act helps the Buddhist to overcome egoistic feelings and he becomes more ready to listen to the Teaching of the Buddha.


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