Date: 1/6/2012 5:05:56 PM
Subject: [CASonline] What Buddhists Believe.
Dearest Frens @ CAS,
We have had the great happiness to engage in much dialogue with many young people, some Buddhists, many not, on Buddhism throughout the years.
This, of course, thanks to the huge portrait of the beautifully smiling Dalai Lama hanging in Camden Education Center, CAS's edu centre ( www.camden.edu.sg ) in Singapore.
Over the years, too, we have had the supreme fortune to have Garchen Rinpoche, Drikung Ontrul, Loseling Khensur and so many of the holiest Masters visit and bless our education centre.
Understandably, students gawk, then they ask.
As the exchanges are deeply engaging and very interesting, we thought it a terrible waste not to share it with you.
So, we present, "What Buddhist Believe".
ENJOY .... with BODHICITTA !!
bb & other teachers @ Camden Education Center ( CAS )
The Dalai Lama, "My religion is kindness."
What is Buddhism ??
Buddhism is founded by the Buddha. The word Buddha literally means "The Enlighten One". His teachings are known as "The Dharma" which literally means "things-as-they-are". The genuine followers of the Dharma are collectively known as "The Sangha". These 3 constitute the "Three Precious Jewels". The "Three Precious Jewels" can be said to be, essentially, Buddhism.
How are the "Three Precious Jewels" essentially Buddhism ??
The Buddha is our Teacher, example and model. His teachings are what bring us to Enlightenment. The Sangha are our companions on the path to Enlightenment.
I still don't understand very well what Buddhists really believe in ??
Buddhists believe that there is suffering in the world but we can overcome it. The cause of suffering is our false belief in a "real" I and the world. This causes Self-Cherishing Attitude which in turns give rise to Anger, Greed-Attachment and Ignorance. The way to end this is through internalising the 3 main Buddhist principles of (1) Ethics, (2) Calm Abiding and (3) Wisdom. The 3 main principles, traditionally, termed as the "Three 3 Higher Trainings", are excellently applied through the Noble Eightfold Path.
The above constitutes what Buddhists call the Four Noble Truths.
What is this Four Noble Truths ??
(1) There is Suffering
(2) The Cause of Suffering is known
(3) There is end to Suffering
(4) The way to the end of Suffering is through the Noble Eightfold Path
What is Enlightenment and why do Buddhists want it ??
Enlightenment is a state free from all defilements.
It is state where sufferings have totally ended.
An Enlighten Being has total and complete LOVE and WISDOM. An Enlighten Being no longer takes rebirth again and again in the world uncontrollably, to live then die, reborn and the cycles continue eternally.
Could you tell me more about who the Buddha is ??
The Buddha was an Indian prince who lived about 2,500 years ago. He saw that there is much suffering in the world. At least, there are unending undercurrents of suffering in the world even with frilly joys dancing above. To be even more stark about it, there will be the inevitable old age, sicknesses and death for humans, or even for most if not all creatures on earth. The Buddha wants to find a way out of all these sufferings.
So has He found a way out ??
Yes. He feels that the way out is to cultivate "The Dharma". The Dharma is essentially (1) Ethics; (2) Calm Abiding and (3) Wisdom.
How do we know that He has succeeded or that these methods work ??
The Buddhist way is actually extremely rational or logical.
Well, the Buddha first identified that there IS suffering. This constitutes the First Noble Truth.
Next, He explores the Cause of this Suffering. It is slightly complicated to go into details through what Buddhists call the "Twelve Links", to trace the cause of all our problems. But, in short, the Cause of this Suffering is due to our gasping at a false impression of a "real" I and a "real" world. From grasping tightly at this supposed "real" I, arises Self-Cherishing Attitude. From this Self-Cherishing Attitude, the so-called 3 Poisons of Greed-Attachment, Anger and Ignorance amongst many other defilements arise. From these 3 Poisons, wars happen, family conflicts come, people clobber each other and cats fight. (1) Ethics essentially fight against Self-Cherishing.
(2) Calm Abiding do more than just giving us a good night's sleep. It allows for the murky sediments to settle and the clear mind to see that I and the world are "false". Seeing that I and the world are "false" is (3) Wisdom.
When 1, 2, 3 are achieved, one is Enlighten and one no longer takes rebirth helplessly in the world forever and ever. One now has only Total LOVE and WISDOM and only wants to help others gain the same state as oneself.
What are these Buddhist Ethics ??
The bottomline for the lay Buddhists is to honour the 5 Precepts. NO to killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, unskilful speech and intoxicants. For the monks and nuns, they have more "Ethics" or Precepts to honour.
So Buddhist Ethics are essentially to tame the Self-Cherishing Attitude ??
Yes, my friend. Then, Buddhists also do the "Opposites" to these "NO" "NOs" too !!
Instead of killing, we protect lives although some Buddhists seem not to have the perfect sense to consider keeping the eco-balance healthy. The bad press for this includes news of Buddhists, full of loving hearts, releasing African pigeons in Singapore, hence, killing off our local birds, releasing monster Asian catfishes into Florida which then ate up most of the local endangered species !!
Sorry to side-track, the other "Opposites" are to be generous, to practise ethical sex, to speak kindly and wisely and for the benefit of others and to take good care of oneself.
Thank you for the elaboration. However, is it a Commandment for Buddhists to do all the above ?? Is it compulsory ??
No and yes ... Yes and no. My Teacher always says to do one's best but it is not a MUST if one cannot do it.
There is never a teaching on divine punishment or eternal damnation in Buddhism.... if you do or do not do something !!
The 5 Precepts are not a divine commandment from the Buddha, declaring that ALL Buddhists who wish to call themselves Buddhists MUST honour the 5 Precepts !!
The Buddha teaches that these 5 Precepts keep one out of trouble and is the REAL and ACTUAL Protector for this and all future lives.
Whatever one does, the corresponding effect simply, naturally, spontaneously arises when all conditions fall in place. This is "Karma".
So, the discerning Buddhists will consider very carefully. If he or she keeps the precepts, he or she keeps himself or herself out of trouble. But if he or she cannot keep the precepts, then he or she must be ready to face the undesirable consequences himself or herself.
Then, if one cannot keep all the 5 Precepts, then one simply keeps whatever one can, fully knowing though that one could be vulnerable.
You mentioned about "Karma". I am always fascinated with "Karma" and how logical or sometimes illogical the principle of "Karma" appears to me !! Could you tell me more about "Karma" ??
Yes. A general explanation of "Karma" is, "For every action, there is an equal and corresponding reaction". In simple terms, if one is nice, people will know or may get to know and they will very possibly then love you for it. If a student is diligent, he will tend to do better.
Just now, you mentioned something about "real" I and "real" world. Could you tell us more about these ?? Do you mean that there is a "false" I or world ??
Yes ... at least for Buddhists !!
We call phenomena "false" because they lack innate, permanent, independent nature.
The distance between Singapore and Johor Bahru is considered far if compared and related to the distance between my room and the Indian grocery shop downstairs. The distance between Singapore and Johor Bahru becomes dreadfully near if compared and related to the distance between my room and the moon !! Distance or space becomes simply, another mere, relative concept.
Time, too, is relative and lacks "real", absolute nature. Baking a cake takes longer than the 3 minute cup noodle but baking a cake is miserably short when compared to watching a kitten grow.
An object is not a "full" object when broken up into its component parts. Is a car its tyres, dashboard, steering wheels or seats ?? One is tempted to say it is not any of its parts when broken up. But it is a sum of all its parts when they are put together. If it is the total sum of all its parts, why then could we not see it as a car even though all these parts are laid neatly in a line on the floor on the car assembly plant ?? Afterall, all the parts ARE there !! Is a car one, some or all of its parts ??
A Tang Dynasty beauty will need to be quite heavy besides being luxuriantly painted in ways only the Chinese opera does it nowadays. As far as I can recall, not exactly have we had a Miss World of this description for perhaps the last 20 years ?? Doubtless, the concept of beauty depends on one's assumed position and context.
What then does it leave us ??
The concept of beauty is DEPENDENT upon externally applied conditions, the concept of distance is DEPENDENT upon externally applied conditions. Even time is relative.
If all are relative and arise only IN DEPENDENCE upon other assumed contexts and standards, all are "empty" and "false" if we grasp on them as "real".
Then upon these "real" world, we project all our fantasies, hopes, fears and desires and give rise to Self-Cherishing, the 3 Poisons then endless pain and rebirth.
What about the "false" I ?? How is it "false" ??
For Buddhists, we see "I" as simply a creation of the famous 5 Aggregates.
Like how we analysed a car earlier, is "I" one part of, some parts of or all of the 5 Aggregates ?? If we cannot say that "I" is either one separated part of or some separated parts of the 5 Aggregates, it is surely fallacious to call it a REAL "I" when we assemble these separated parts of the 5 Aggregates together.
What are these 5 Aggregates ??
The 5 Aggregates or simply explained, the component parts making up a conventionally existent "I" are:
1) Physical Form
3) Discriminative perceptions
4) Creative Actions
This is amazing. We never knew that Buddhism teaches so deeply into things !! We usually see Buddhists pray to statues and burn paper money, especially during the 7th Lunar Month.
Well, one needs to make a distinction between folk belief and what is the core, actual teachings of the Buddha.
Then, again, could high philosophy console the grieving heart ??
Why do Buddhists pray to statues which are carved from human hands and made of wood and stones ??
For the same reason that we keep family albums and when the world sings and salues in front of flags made of cloth with colourful designs at the Olympics !!
Ideally, a Buddhist don't pray to statues of Enlighten Beings like the Buddha Himself or other Bodhisatvas like the Holy Mother Tara. Ideally, a Buddhist keeps these representations to remind themselves of the qualities of these Enlighten Beings and to work hard, fast and furious, to slot in a nice phrase, to become like them !!
However, it will be a very difficult job to try to disprove to the sick Buddhist who claimed to have received a miraculous healing through the powerful intervention of the Medicine Buddha or the bankrupt-Buddhist-turned-millionaire who swears by the saving divine grace of Holy Tara.
In fact, these cases appear still without respite and rampant amidst the gleaming towers and flying machines however "joss stick" and superstitious they may make Buddhism look. Actually, I, myself, am the fortunate recipient of quite a few of these "miracles". Probably, I am one of the much despised, misunderstood and unloved "joss stick" Buddhist !!
If there is nothing, and all are "false" or "empty", then there is also no suffering or even the Buddha. What then do we make of this world, or even of Dharma cultivation ??
A man who awakens does not dream, but a man who sleeps, dreams still forever until the day he awakens.
The dreams are like images, mirage, reflections and illusions and the dreamers are imprisoned ever so tightly by them. He is seduced, punished and manipulated by the actually "false" though apparently "real" drama in his dreams.
Conventionally, the Buddha is, for Buddhists, THE perfect and total paragon of LOVE and WISDOM. Inconceivable merit and good could be begotten from merely thinking of the Buddha, not discounting offerings, prostrations or praises offered with pure faith.
Ultimately speaking, however, the Buddha is indeed but a pretty though "false" picture in our long, long dreams.
The world is "false" but the suffering is conventionally "real". The starving millions in Africa, upon analysis, are indeed relative concepts, but take a plane there and we would see mothers weep and babies die.
Our job, therefore, is to wake up, then wake others up !!
So, Enlightenment means to know that I and the world are "false" ??
Yes. To realise or merely knowing makes a big difference though.
Once we realise that the I or the world are "false", we no longer grasp at them. With no grasping at these, there will be no Self-Cherishing Attitude. No Self-Cherishing Attitude translates to NO 3 Poisons and other defilements. What we are left with is total compassion and empathy for all others who have not realised what we have.
So, a Buddha, or an Enlighten Being only has total and complete LOVE for the world since the world still dreams and so suffers. Simultaneously, at the same time, a Buddha or an Enlighten Being only acts in the best possible way through His total and complete OMNISCIENCE as He no longer dreams and so sees the world in a totally clear and transparent, bird's eye perspective, if you like the expression.
We do not pretend that the Buddha is omnipotent though. He is not.
To summarise, if we understand correctly what you said, a Buddhist wants to become enlighten through realising that the world is "false". How do we do it ??
We need the Dharma. The gist of the Dharma is the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path covers 3 main principles. (1) Ethics, we have talked about this. (2) Calm Abiding. (3) Wisdom.
We need Ethics to possess the Strength or Moral Courage or Spiritual Merit as our spiritual resources.
Then, we need a focused and calm mind to have the necessary concentration to contemplate on how the world and I are "false".
A simile, (1) Ethics is the strength to hold and shoot. (2) Calm Abiding allows us to aim. (3) Wisdom arises when the arrow hits the target of Ignorance. Ignorance is the "false" belief in I and the world.
What are these Eightfold Paths ??
The Noble Eightfold Path are: (1) Right View, (2) Right Intentions, (3) Right Speech, (4) Right Actions, (5) Right Occupation, (6) Right Effort, (7) Right Concentration and (8) Right Mindfulness or Wisdom.
The Noble Eightfold Path covers the Three Higher Trainings of Ethics, Calm Abiding and Wisdom.
Do Buddhists believe in re-birth ??
Buddhists believe that so long as one does not realise that one's grasping of a "real" I and a "real" world is actually inter-dependently arisen phenomena ( what is generally translated as "Emptiness" ), one is quite doomed to endless, terrible rebirth again and again in any realms of the world.
So, Buddhists believe that we can be reborn as pigs or cockroaches ??
Any pet owner will tell you how "human" their Bobby or their Lucky is !!
The mother tigress fights to the death to protect her cubs, the patriarch elephant gores other bull elephants to death to protect his family. How "human" !!
They look for food, many times in the most ingenious way, just like how humans make money in every possible way, they look for mate, have sex, give birth, feed their young, train them to hunt or search for food, then they die. How "human" !!
Animals get depressed, have moods. How "human" !!
For Buddhists or what I think, anyone, with bright, discerning eyes can see, we are not that much different from our fellow creatures.
How do rebirth take place ??
In simple terms again, when we die, our consciousness move on, driven by habitual grasping at a "false" I to look for a supposedly "real" physical form to take birth.
Most ancient civilisations of the world believed in rebirth. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians all believe or used to believe in rebirth. The early bible in fact teaches too about rebirth until some church fathers decide to remove all traces of this during some monumental conferences as they were worried that Christians may become lazy and think that they have more than one birth's chance to accept Jesus Christ as their saviour !!
At least, this is what i read somewhere !!
I heard there are the Hungry Ghost realm, the Hell realm and even the Heavenly realm !!
Yes, indeed, again !! The Hungry Ghost realm is traditionally believed to be somewhere truly existent. The Hell and Heavenly realm too is described in spectacular detail in the Buddhist classics.
For myself, I also see the final stage stomach cancer patients passing through these realms, the sesame oil Hainanese chopped chickens and the juicy, succulent fried meat in burgers as tactile, undeniable demonstrations of these texts !!
Do Buddhists believe in God ??
Buddhists don't believe in a Creator God like as in Christianity or Islam. But Buddhists believe there are heavenly beings who achieved their divine states through cultivation mainly of (1) Ethics and / or (2) Calm Abiding.
If they have had continued with (3) Wisdom, liberation from even their divine state will have been possible !!
What do you mean ??
For Buddhists, we do not look to rebirth in a heavenly paradise as our aim. The bottomline, for Buddhists, is to be free from all states of existence, to attain Enlightenment, where one is no longer deceived by "false" I or "false" world and where one has total LOVE and WISDOM.
For Buddhists, rebirth into any states of existence, be it in the heavens as a frolicking god, a cockroach dodging the flinging slippers, an executive in a MNC or a factory girl sweating it out in a Nike sweat shop in Vietnam, are all undesirable and to be transcended.
The common thread running through is that all are subject to Birth, Old Age, Sickness and Death. All are under "false" impressions of an "I" through thinking! that the 5 Aggregates made up a "real" I, all have defilements ( in varying degrees ), all are born then die then are born again and so on !!
So, Buddhists do not believe in a God and do not want to go to heaven after death ??
If there is no God, what are those statues we see Buddhists pray to in the temples ??
They are representations of the Buddha or other Enlighten Beings.
Most Buddhists, I think, pray to them much like they are gods, seeking helping, protection and a hundred other favours !!
However, doctrinally speaking, they are not gods, but Enlighten Beings. They are supposed to have transcended all states in existence. These wordly existence, Buddhists call "samsara".
Now, though, we have brands of Parisian perfumes also called "Samsara" !!
All Gods or beings, so long as they are still not Enlightened and so still circling around in Samsara, will be under the sway of Ignorance, which is a "false" understanding of I and the world. Because of this, they will have Self-Cherishing Attitudes and from here, the 3 Poisons. Gods in Samsara will reward their devotees but punish non-believers.
Enlighten Beings, because they are no longer under the sway of Ignorance of "false" I or the world, have no Self-Cherishing Attitudes and so no 3 Poisons. They will instead love all beings and do whatever possible to bring samsaric beings to their own Enlighten state.
If Buddhists don't believe in God, how do Buddhists explain the beginning of the world ??
What is the largest or smallest number ?? Chickens first or eggs first ?? Tree first or their seeds first ??
Buddhists, like the mainstream scientific community, do not think there is A or THE beginning to the world. We believe that all arise due to complex inter-dependently arising causes and conditions. Furthermore, we believe that it is futile to search for a beginning which does not exist as doing so feeds no hungry children and lessens no Self-Cherishing Attitudes !!
Why don't Buddhists believe in God ?? With all due respect, I find it awfully arrogant for us to be sitting here disowning God !!
Well, Buddhists have our own business to take care of, Christians, Muslim and Hindus have theirs.
"God" in theistic religions is generally considered to be Omniscient, All-Benevolent and Omniptent. Buddhists claim the first 2 qualities too for the Buddha, but not the third.
Well, as the Father of Modern Philosophy and a Nobel Prize winner, Betrand Russell brilliantly pointed out, "Could God create an object so heavy He Himself could not lift up ??"
If He could create that thing, He is not omnipotent; if He could not, he is also not omnipotent. Hence, the logical conclusion is that no being can be rationally omnipotent, not the Buddha, not God, if there is one.
But God sent His son to die for our sins so we could live and have eternal life !!
Mm .... that's what Christians believe in and what Christians believe in is nobody else's business except for Christians !!
Similarly, what Buddhists believe in is nobody else's business except for Buddhists !!
And Buddhists do not believe in God or that He has arranged for His son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins.
For Buddhists, we could not accept that Jesus's crucifixion and supposed subsequent resurrection from death could atone us for our misdeeds and wickedness. We also could not accept that His claimed resurrection from death means that He has transcended death and will bestow on His followers, eternal life.
Buddhists have their respective reasons for not accepting the above. For myself, it seems to be logically inconsistent: why don't God simply forgive the sins of the world and just grant them eternal life instead of arranging for His son's very painful death through crucifixion before He decides to forgive ??
Also, is it just or even possible to be saved simply through believing that someone, in this case, Jesus Christ, is our saviour ?? On the other hand, how logical or fair is it that anyone is condemned to eternal damnation in hell where there are unending fire and "gnashings of teeth" simply because one does not or could not, for whatever reasons, accpet Jesus Christ as one's saviour and lord ??
Of course, as I said earlier on, what Christians believe in is their business alone and is not for Buddhists or other non-Christians to judge.
Actually, the Dalai Lama is a good friend to probably millions to Christians worldwide and His Holiness acknowledges that Christians are extremely committed and did great good in social services for the betterment of mankind. He chides and exhorts Buddhists to walk-the-talk more than simply to talk-the-talk !!
So, however strange Christians' belief appear to be for Buddhists, we have been scolded to be more like you, at least for commitment and social work and you have been placed on the pedestal, at least here, to be our model !!
Didn't the Buddha die ?? Why do you Buddhists believe in someone who died ??
The Buddha is simply showing what He has taught: all phenomena arises and falls apart due to complex causes and conditions. He is but one part of that phenomena !!
Buddhists accepts death as it is - an inevitable fact of worldly existence.
The main point for Buddhists is not to work for supposed eternal happiness in lovely heavens, spending time there glorifying one's supposed creator !! Buddhists see the world as having issues, knows there is an end to it, then work to end it through the Noble Eightfold Path.
We don't believe that just by believing in the Buddha or any other divine beings could bring us to heaven. In fact, Buddhists see heaven as a samsaric state and renounce it.
Well, again, the stuff of waking up from death then flying off into the heavens is not exactly the most convincing of tales for the modern sceptic to digest !!
Could you tell me what a Buddhist believe in, in the shortest way possible ??
We believe that the Buddha is our Teacher. He is an Enlighten Being who arises solely out of compassion for the world to teach us to be like Him.
He has taught the Dharma or Teachings which is to train in the 3 Higher Trainings of Ethics, Calm Abiding and Wisdom. Through this, as clearly demonstrated in the Noble Eightfold Path, we can gain Enlightenment.
Meanwhile and especially after Enlightenment, we shall work hard to help beings walk the path and be free !!
Thank you dear mr bb @ CAS .... we are very happy and glad to have a frank and direct exchange with you on Buddhism. It has opened much to us the very rich world of Buddhism ..... we look forward to discussing Buddhism over coffee or other nice snacks with you again in the near future !!
DHARMA; SHARE DHARMA !!"
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