b. "Out worldly" (Supra mundane)

The teaching of Buddha tells us that there is this world and the world
beyond this. Many people think that this world refers to the world that
we are living in and the world beyond this is some place outside this
world. This is wrong. We are living in this world and we remain here
even if we become monks or nuns. The Arahats, Bodhisattva and Buddha
are saints who have realisations beyond this world but they are still
living in this world and giving assistance to us. Thus, "out-worldly"
does not mean that one has to go away from this world and go to another

What does "worldly" and "out-worldly" mean in Buddhism? According to
the Chinese understanding "worldly" has the implication of time. For
example, the Chinese regard thirty years as an "age" and in the West, a
hundred years make up a century. Anything that exists within the time
frame, from the past to the present and from the present to the future,
is the "world".

The teaching of the Buddha is also as such. That which is changeable is
called "worldly". Within this time frame, from the past to the present,
from the present to the future, from existence to non-existence, from
good to bad, everything is changing continuously. Anything that is
changing is called "worldly". Besides, the word "worldly" also has the
meaning of concealment. Normal people do not understand the cause and
effect of the past, present and future. They do not know where they
come from, how to behave as a human being, where to go after death, the
meaning of life and the nature of the universe. They live ignorantly
under the influence of the karma of the three births. This is called

What does "out-worldly" (supra mundane) mean? "Out" has the meaning of
beyond or superior. One who practices the teaching of the Buddha, has
wisdom and is able to understand the truth of the life and universe;
has no defilements and is pure in one's mind; and experiences the
permanent Truth is called the "out-worldly" one. All the Buddhas and
Bodhisattvas are living in this world. They have great wisdom in seeing
the Truth and their minds are pure. They are not like the normal
"worldly" people.

Thus, the term "out-worldly" encourages all of us who are practising
the Buddha's teaching to progress further and become the man above the
men, to improve ourselves from a worldly person to an out-worldly
saint. It is not asking us to go to another world. Misunderstanding
"out-worldly", some think that the principle of Buddhism is to run away
from reality.

c. Emptiness

The Buddha says that everything is "empty". Some think that this is
empty, that is empty, or everything is empty. Since everything is
empty, and meaningless, one does not need to do either evil or good.
These people understand the concept vaguely, and lead an aimless life.
In fact, "emptiness" in Buddhism is the most profound philosophy. The
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are the people who have realised the truth of
emptiness. "Emptiness" does not mean nothing at all, in contrast, it
includes everything. The world is world, life is life, suffering is
suffering, happiness is happiness, everything does exist.

In Buddhism, there is clear teaching as to what is right or wrong, good
or evil, or cause and effect. One should turn away from the wrong one
and redirect to the right one, refrain from evil and do more good.
Those who do good will gain good effect, and if one practices one may
attain Buddhahood. This is the cause and effect. If we say that
everything is empty, then why are we practising the teaching of the
Buddha? If there exist the karma, good and evil, worldly people and
saint, then, why does the Buddha say that everything is empty? What is
the meaning of emptiness?

Things exist due to causes and conditions and do not have a real and
unchangeable identity of itself. Thus, they are "empty". The right and
wrong, good and evil, and the life are not permanent and unchangeable.
They exist due to causes and conditions. Since their existence is
dependent on causes and conditions, they continue to change with the
changes of the causes and conditions. They do not have a permanent
form, and therefore they are "empty".

For example, when one is facing a mirror, there will be an image in the
mirror. The image is produced by various conditions. It is not a real
thing. Although it is not real, it is very clear when we see it. We
cannot say that it does not exist. The concept of "emptiness" relies on
this truth that things arise due to causes and conditions. Thus, when
the Buddha says that everything is empty, he is implying that
everything arises due to causes and conditions. A practising Buddhist
must realise and experience emptiness and understand the existence of
the Law of cause and effect, good and evil. The perfect realisation of
the two truths is that emptiness and existence are equivalent.

2. Misunderstanding that arises from the system

Buddhism originated from India. Its custom were different from the
traditional customs of China. For example, the understanding of the
aspects of renunciation and vegetarianism were different.

a) To renounce (To take the vows of a monk or nun)

To renounce is a custom in Indian Buddhism. In Chinese society,
especially for the Confucianists, there are a lot of misunderstandings
about this.

In China, we always hear that, if everyone practised the teaching of
the Buddha, then this world would become extinct. Why is it so? Because
everyone would become monks or nuns (celibate). There would be no
husband and wife, nor son and daughter. How then could society survive?

This is a very serious misunderstanding. There is an example: The
teachers teach the students. Will they encourage everyone to be a
teacher, and therefore develop a world of teachers? In the Philippines,
there is not much misunderstanding about this because there are Fathers
and Sisters everywhere. They have also taken vows, but they are only
the minority among the Catholics. Not all Catholics must be a Father or

For the Buddhists, there are the renounced ones and the lay people. One
can practise Buddhism by renouncing, or as a lay person. One can
practise in order to end the cycle of life and death by renouncing, and
can also achieve the same aim by practising at home. It is not
necessary for Buddhists renounce themselves. It is also not true that
if everyone became a Buddhist, the world of the humans would become
extinct. The question now will be, if one can attain the aim of ending
the cycle of life and death by either practising as a lay person or as
renounced follower, then why must one to renounce? This is because, in
order to promote and encourage the spread of Buddhism, someone has to
take the responsibility. The best person to take charge of this
responsibility will be the renounced monks or nuns, as they do not have
family responsibilities and are not involved in other work duties.
Hence, they can concentrate more on their practice and the spreading of
Buddhism. In order to prolong the existence of Buddhism in this world,
we need these type of people to take responsibility. This is also the
reason for the formation of the Sangha, the community of renounced

How great is the merit of renouncing? The merit of renunciation is very
great. However, those who cannot renounce should not force themselves
to do so. If one cannot practise in line with the teaching of the
Buddha after renouncing, it is worse then a lay follower. The higher
one climbs, the worse will one fall. The merit of renouncing oneself is
great, but if one is careless, one will deteriorate even more. One
should develop one's mind sincerely, practise diligently and sacrifice
oneself for Buddhism. Then renunciation will be worthwhile. The Sangha
(the renounced monks or nuns) are the centre members of Buddhism, they
are the main force in the motivation of Buddhism.

The practice of not getting married can also be found in the Western
religions. A lot of scientists and philosophers also remain single so
that they will not be disturbed by the matters in the family, and hence
they can concentrate more on their studies and contribute more to the
development of science and philosophy.

The practice of renunciation in Buddhism is to get rid of one's worldly
attachment, and hence concentrate more on Buddhism. To renounce is an
act of a great person, thus, one must put in extra effort. If one
renounces without proper understanding, or without pure aims, one will
not gain any benefit but will obstruct the development of Buddhism.

Some people want to renounce just after they begin to practice. They
think that in order to practice the teaching of the Buddha, one must
renounce. This is not correct and may frighten away the others from
stepping into the practice of Buddhism. This kind of thought - that one
must renounce in order to practice the Buddha's teaching, is the
thought that all of us should avoid. One should recognise that it is
not easy to renounce. One should first practise to be a good lay
follower, practise for the sake of the Dharma, benefitting oneself and
others. If one can develop one's mind greatly and sincerely, practise
the renounced way, contribute to Buddhism first before one decides to
renounce, it will be better for oneself and at the same time will not
create any unpleasant influence to the society.

With regards to renunciation, there are two points to mention here:

a) Some people observe the spaciousness, majestic appearance, quietness
and beauty of the temples and monasteries, and this arouses their
admiration to be renounced. They think that the monks and nuns who live
inside there are just waiting for the offerings of the devotees and
enjoying themselves. They do not need to do any work. The idioms such
as "do not wake up even when the sun has risen up to three metre high",
or "cannot compare with even half-a-day's freedom of the monk or nun"
show the misunderstandings among the general people.

They do not know that the monks and nuns have their own
responsibilities, they need to strive hard. When they are practising
themselves, they have to "practice diligently before and after
midnight"; and in terms of their duty to the devotees, they should go
around to preach the teaching of the Buddha. They lead a simple and
hard life, striving for the benefit of Buddhism and all beings,
benefitting one and another. This is something very great. Thus, they
are called the Gem of Sangha. They are not just sitting there waiting
for the devotees offerings, waiting for things which are ready and
never do anything. May be it is because of too many monks or nuns who
are not fulfilling their responsibilities that leads to this

Some people who are against Buddhism say that the monks and nuns do
nothing, they are parasites of society and are useless. These people do
not know that it is not necessary for one to be engaged in the work
force of agriculture or business in order to be considered productive.
If it is so, then are people who choose to be teacher, reporter or
other occupations also considered as the consumers of society's output

It is not right to say that the monks or nuns have nothing to do. They
lead a simple and hard life and striving diligently everyday. The
things that they do, besides benefitting themselves, is to teach others
to do good, to emphasise moral values and practices, so that the
personality of the devotees can be improved, leading them to the end of
the cycle of life and death. They bring great benefit to the people in
the world. Thus, how can we say that they are the parasites that are
doing nothing?

The monks and nuns are religious teachers. They are profound and
respectful educators. Thus, the saying of those who have no
understanding on Buddhism, that the monks and nuns are doing nothing
and are the parasites wasting society's money are in fact wrong. A
person who really leads a renounced life is in fact not free, they are
not mere consumers but are busily repaying their gratitude to all
living beings whenever they can.

b) Chinese Buddhism emphasises a vegetarian diet. Thus, some people
thought that one who practises Buddhism must be a vegetarian. People
who cannot stop eating meat misunderstood that they are not ready to
start to learn about Buddhism. If we look around at the Buddhists in
Japan, Sri Lanka, Thailand or Tibet and Mongolia, not to mention the
lay followers, we find even the monks and nuns have meat in their diet.
Can you say that they are not practicing the Buddha's teaching? They
are not Buddhists?

Do not think that one must be a vegetarian in order to learn about the
teaching of the Buddha and that one cannot practise Buddhism if one
cannot be a vegetarian. To practice Buddhism and be a vegetarian are
not the same thing. Some people who become a Buddhist, do not learn
much about the teachings but only know how to be a vegetarian. This
causes unhappiness among the members of the family. They feel that it
is too troublesome to be a vegetarian.

In fact one who is practising the teaching of the Buddha should: -
after becoming a Buddhist - first understand the teaching of the Buddha
and behave according to the teaching in both the family and the
society. Purifying one's conduct and mind, so that the members of the
family feel that one has changed for the better should be the goal. If
before becoming a Buddhist, one was greedy, has strong hatred and
lacked of a sense of responsibility and loving kindness; and after
practising the Buddha's teaching, one becomes less greedy, less
paranoid and shows more care to the others with a stronger sense of
responsibility, then the members of the family would see the benefit of
practising the Buddha's teaching. At that time, if one wants to be a
vegetarian, the family members would not object to it. In fact, they
may also be encouraged to have sympathy towards other living beings and
follow one to be a vegetarian. If one only knows to be a vegetarian
after becoming a Buddhist and does not learn about others, one will
surely encounter obstacles and cause misunderstanding.

Although it is not necessary for a Buddhist to be vegetarian, it is a
good moral conduct in the Chinese Buddhism and is something that should
be promoted. The teaching of the Buddha says that becoming a vegetarian
will cultivate one's loving kindness and compassion. By not harming the
life of other living beings, not eating the meat of the other animals
one will reduce one's karma of killing and strengthen one's sympathy
towards the sufferings of Mankind. Mahayana Buddhism advocates the
practice of vegetarianism, and says that to be a vegetarian has great
merits in cultivating one's mind of loving kindness and compassion. If
one becomes a vegetarian but does not cultivate the mind of loving
kindness and compassion, it is only a practice of no killing in a
pessimistic way. It resembles the practice of the Hinayanist.

From the view point of the worldly Dharma, the benefit of becoming a
vegetarian is very great. It is more economical, highly nutritious and
may reduce illness. In the world at present, there are international
vegetarian organisations. Everyone who likes to be a vegetarian may
join them. Thus, it can be seen that it is good to be a vegetarian. And
as Buddhist who emphasises compassion, we should advocate the practice
more to others. However, one thing to note is that, do not claim that a
Buddhist must be a vegetarian. Whenever meeting with a Buddhist, some
will ask: have you become a vegetarian? Why are you still not a
vegetarian after practising the Buddha's teaching for so long? This
will frighten some people away. To regard practising Buddhism and
becoming a vegetarian as the same will in fact obstruct the spreading
of Buddhism.

3. The misunderstanding that arises due to the observances

When non-Buddhists visit the monastery and see observances such as
paying respect to the Buddha, intoning the sutras, repenting and the
morning and evening chanting, they cannot understand the meaning behind
them and comment that these are superstitious acts. There are many
misunderstanding within this category. Now, lets briefly mention some
of them:

a) To pay respects to the Buddha

To pay respects to the Buddha when entering the monastery, to offer
incense, flowers, candle and light to the Buddha are the observances of
the Buddhist. The Theistic followers say that we are idol worshippers
and superstitious In reality, the Buddha is the master of our religion,
he is the saint who has attained the perfect and ultimate stage by
practising from the stage of a worldly being. The great Bodhisattvas
are the Buddhas to be. They are our guides and indicators of refuge. We
should be polite in showing respect to the Buddha and Bodhisattva just
as when we show respect to our parents. When the Buddha was still in
this world, there was no problem. One could show one's respect to him
directly. However, now that the Sakyamuni Buddha has already entered
final Nirvana; and the Buddha and Bodhisattva of the other worlds are
not in our world, we have no way to pay respects. Thus, we have to use
paper to draw, ceramic, wood or stone to carve their images, to be the
object of our worship. It is because of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas,
merits and images that we are paying our respect to them, and not
because of they are the paper, earth wood or stone.

It is similar to the way we respect and love our country. We use
coloured cloth and make it into a flag. When the flag is flying, we pay
respects to the flag. Can we say that this is also a superstitious act?
The Catholics also have images in their church. The Christians, have no
image of the God, but use the "cross" as the image for them to pay
respect to. Some even kneel down and say their prayer. What is the
difference between these acts and the paying of respects to the Buddha?
To say that the paying of respects in Buddhism is idol worshipping, is
just the intentional defamation of some people.

What about the offerings of fragrance flowers, light and candle? During
the Buddha time, the Indians offered these to the Buddha. Light and
candle represent brightness, flowers represent fragrance and
cleanliness. We believe in the Buddha and pay respect to the Buddha.
The offering of these things to the Buddha is to show our respect and
faith. On the other hand, it means the gaining of brightness and purity
from the Buddha. We do not offer flowers and incense so that the Buddha
smells the fragrance; or offer light and candle so that the Buddha can
see everything.

Some religions, for example the Catholics, also use these things in
their offerings. These are in fact the common observances among the
religions. When we are paying respect to the Buddha, we should be
respectful and sincere and contemplate on the merits of the real
Buddha. If one thinks of other things or talks while paying respect to
the Buddha, it is not respectful and loses the meaning of the act of
paying respect.