Answers to Questions from Natalie Hall by Alan Weller
1. Could you give me the date of origin of the Buddhist faith?
The date of origin of the Buddhist faith is about 500 b.c.
2. Could you give me the name of the founder or key figure?
The name of the founder or key figure is Siddhatta Gotama. Gotama is his family name. When he attained enlightenment under the bodhi tree as a young man he became known as The Buddha (awakened).
3. Could you give me the approximate number of followers in the world and the countries they live in?
There are approximately 500 million Buddhists worldwide. They live in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Tibet and Mongolia.
4. Could you give me the names and times of the main festivals and what they commemorate?
The Buddhist festivals observe the lunar calendar and occur on the full moon day of the month. The main ones are
Vesak: April-May. Commemorates the birth, death and enlightenment of the Buddha.
Asala: June-July. Commemorates the conception of Siddhatta Gotama and his Great Renunciation. The Buddha's first sermon at Isipathana in Benares. His teaching of the Abhidhamma to his mother. Beginning of the first Council.
Vap: September-October. Commemorates the renunciation of the lay life by Maitri Bodhisatta (the Buddha to come). Offering of robes to monks who have observed the Retreat (Kathina ceremony).
5. Could you give me the name of the teachings or scriptures?
The name of the teachings or scriptures is The Tipitaka (meaning three baskets i.e. Vinaya, Suttanta and Abhidhamma). The teachings are sometimes referred to as the dhamma.
6. Could you give the name of places of worship and the way in which you worship?
Places of worship are called viharas. Worship can also take place at thupas which are monuments erected in memory of buddhism.
The main aspects of Buddhist worship are:
Paying homage to the Buddha.
Expressing confidence in the Triple Gem i.e. The Buddha, The Sangha (the community of enlightened disciples), The Dhamma (the teachings).
Undertaking to train in the five precepts (abstaining from: killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, taking drugs or alcohol).
Offerings of requisites for the monks (food, robes, etc).
Listening to sermons.
7. Could you briefly describe the attitude to the scriptures and outline the key beliefs of the religion?
The purpose of the scriptures is to help us to understand the true nature of the realities of our daily lives. This in turn will lead to less unhappiness for ourselves and others.
We are in the cycle of birth and death. We are reborn according to the deeds we have done. A good deed can bring about a rebirth in a pleasant situation and vice versa. Life however is inherently unsatisfactory. The purpose of the teachings is to reach Nibbana which is the end of rebirth. Life is conditioned by attachment. If there is no attachment to anything there will be no more rebirth. Attachment is ended by understanding the true nature of realities.
8. What are the beliefs about God, life after death and what makes a committed believer?
Buddhists do not believe in God. They believe in life after death either as a human, an animal or some other lifeform according to previous deeds that have been done. Someone becomes a committed believer when he or she understands the teachings and sees the value of applying that understanding in daily life.
9. Can the religion be separated into different groups e.g. denominations and if so what are the main groups and what are the main differences between them?
The religion is separated into different groups. However I do not think that it can be separated into such groups without distortion of some aspects of the teachings.
The main groups are : Theravada buddhism from south east Asia, Zen from Japan, Tantric buddhism from Tibet. Theravada can be characterised as practical and straightforward whereas Tibetan and Zen are elaborate, speculative, poetic and mystical.
10. What interested you about the Buddhist religion and what made you decide to join? How has it changed your life and is there anything you have had to give up to follow the religion? What made the religion right for you and anything else you think may help?
I became interested in buddhism because it does not depend on belief but on the development of understanding of the reality of the present moment such as seeing, hearing, anger, attachment.
The understanding I have is a condition for calm in my life and I am no longer troubled by not knowing what I am here for. I have had to give up the belief in a self or soul in order to develop the buddhist path.
The religion is right for me because I think that the Buddha correctly diagnosed the cause of suffering and gave the right pathway for complete deliverance from suffering.
Answers to Questions from Eleanor Reavey by Alan Weller.
1. Does the Buddha's life and teachings have any relevance to modern living?
His life and teachings do have relevance to modern day living, indeed they are very beneficial to modern daily life.
As a young man the future Buddha was not content to live blindly in the world. He wanted to know the truth of life. He wanted answers to such questions as: why we are born, why we get old, why we suffer, why we die. He wanted to search the truth in order to help others have less suffering and to help people live in peace and harmony together.
At the age of 26 he renounced the luxuries of home life and devoted himself solely to the pursuit of the truth. Six years later he became fully enlightened, a Buddha. He had come to know the true nature of the physical phenomena and mental phenomena as well as discovering their cause and conditions. He had discovered the path to enlightenment and for the next 45 years he taught others this path in order for them (and you and I) to realize this same truth.
The Buddha's Teachings can help us to understand our daily life in a way which has not been understood before. This understanding will help us to know ourselves enabling us to understand our own mind and the different causes for our different mental states. We will come to know more about our unwholesome, unskilful states of mind and our wholesome, skilful, states of mind. This in turn will lead to the gradual cultivation of good states of mind. Finally when wisdom is highly developed it will eliminate bad states of mind forever at the moment of becoming enlightened.
Greed, hatred, delusion cause great distress in modern day life. Kindness, compassion, generosity, wisdom cause great happiness in modern day life. To have less of the former and more of the latter is why Buddhism is relevant and beneficial in modern living.