Guest Post: Common Questions about Buddhism

Dhammakaya Pagoda, Budha, Gold, Buddhism, Wat

Recently a friend of mine, a Tibetan Buddhist, was surveyed about his religion by a Christian. He wrote a mini-essay in response to the questions he received, and kindly offered to publish it as a guest post on this blog.

His answers here reflect a deeper level of practice not commonly found in encyclopedia and bite-sized articles about Tibetan Buddhism. I have reproduced them here, along with commentary.

Question 1: How do you define God?

Question 2: What does a Buddhist God look like? (more personality traits)

Answer:

Gods in Buddhism live in realms. There isn’t the one god but there are god realms, much like humans. They definitely have higher spiritual powers than humans but they are not singular in form, function and culture. Look in the section on this article at realms of rebirth and you’d get a brief but comprehensive description. Also, some gods have forms and some are formless. Like humans, not all have similar general intentions.

Commentary:

Unlike the Christian God, gods in Buddhism are not perfect, omniscient or omnipotent. They are simply a class of beings who enjoy an existence of beauty and bliss, but are doomed to reincarnation in lower realms when the wholesome karma of their previous lives expires.

Answer (con’d):

Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. We do not believe in a singular omni-potent being. We believe that multiple Buddhas exist. To quote the ‘King of Aspiration Prayers: The Noble Aspiration for Excellent Conduct’ by Nagajurna, in one of the lines translated into English, it states that ‘in a single atom, there are as many realms as there are atoms in the universe, and in each realm, there are innumerable Buddhas.’ Other translations simply state that ‘there are as many Buddhas in each atom as there are atoms in the universe’.

The Buddha that all of us are most familiar with is the teaching Buddha, Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha Shakyamuni is the Buddha of our time in a way that His teachings have survived till now and we are still able to read, hear, and understand His teachings. He came and gave us the teachings, but He is by no means the only Buddha. He taught of the Buddha Amitabha which for which Pure Land Buddhism is based on primarily, the 5 Dhyani Buddhas, the Buddhas of the previous era and current era, 3 previous and 4 current and of others. Buddha Shayamuni also taught that there will be 1000 in total in this period of time on earth before the period ends. Buddha Shakyamuni also mentions of other Buddhas in various sutras that He has Himself encountered on His own journey to enlightenment.

Commentary:

Shakyamuni is also known as Gautama Buddha. He is the being referred to in common speech as ‘The Buddha’, but Buddhism holds that there are innumerable Buddhas.

Answer (con’d):

So a Buddha is basically a being that has transcended all worldly needs and desires. Not swayed this nor that way, has no need for the elements to sustain them and above all, always existing in an emotional state that is peaceful not swayed by intense emotions that euphoria or depths of despair; as state of mind a practicing Buddhist strives to achieve, amongst others. A Buddha is also the culmination of merit (power) and wisdom, with the view to help beings in a way that will alleviate their suffering.

Buddhas, there are many. As all beings can be Buddhas, there isn’t really a stereotypical and singular personality of a Buddha. Based on their experiences and affinities as they were on their journey to enlightenment, they will have developed different strengths and capabilities based on their wish to help. Basically, from reading the text, all Buddhas have the capability to do everything. It is very much like a doctor. They all, regardless of specialisation, they have the basic medical knowledge and they can assist in all areas. But you would not ask a skin doctor to be looking at a kidney problem for example. They can help and alleviate, but better for a specialist to do their thing. For that reason, we request, for example the help of Medicine Buddha for help in a health crisis and pray to Amitabha to assist around and after death.

That being said, the Buddhist generally see the universe as an interdependent web. A pull on one side will result in movement all round. For example, the Queensland Government generally has, from our perspective, an unlimited funding for child safety services. The reason for this is because righting a wrong in a child’s life has far reaching consequences in the future. The outcomes are unknown, but we try and inject as much positivity into existence as possible because you do not know what that positivity will bring and when you will need it. In Buddhism we call this generating merit, or perhaps for you to better understand, it is to create the foundation for positive karma.

Commentary:

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Dalai Lama recommended the practice of Green Tara to alleviate the disease.

While the Medicine Buddha is venerated as a healer of illness and purification of negative karma, his practice is highly focused on the individual.

Conversely, Green Tara acts across the great web of connections between the individual and the world. In the famous prayer 21 Praises to Tara, she is ascribed the power to end deadly and wide-ranging plague — an apt description for the pandemic.

This idea of interconnectedness underscores Buddhist practices. Practitioners are advised to act for the good of all beings, not just themselves. Prayers likewise are also directed for the good of all, addressing the weals and woes of everyone within the web.

For example, a pandemic is not the time, for example to start investing in medical a services, nor is war a time to invest in the military. If you do not invest for those eventualities, the capacities will not be there in the time of need (no merit). This can be taken personally, like none of us were born to read, write, type, speak, drive et cetra. It was through some effort that we have these capacities, through the assistance of those who have come before us that we have the capacities that we do. What happens from that could never have been predicted at the time when the skill and knowledge was passed down.

So Buddhas generally have a strong, calm and peaceful feel and demeanour. The main adjective here is love, and love is defined as to give what support that is needed. A way to look at is like the relationship between you and your teachers in grade school and current professors and tutors. The content you have here is difficult and insurmountable at the beginning. With the love and support, you’ll overcome the pains of learning and make it through. The reason why the strength, calm and peacefulness is important is because with it, you can see reality as it really is and make sound and appropriate judgement and act accordingly. The opposite of that is to take actions that are clouded by emotions, like teaching while angry and frustrated; the student would be afraid and the learning experience will be tainted, along with possibly lasting emotional issues.

Question 3: How do you connect with God?

Answer:

Connection is through prayer. The objective of prayer is much like tuning in on a radio.

As Buddhist, we believe that we are all enlightened; that means to say we have what we need to be in the state of happiness and know what to do to get there. We are merely obscured by our mind poisons (emotions like greed, ignorance, anger, lust and jealousy, also known as kleshas) and afflictions. This idea of knowing quite similar to the philosophy Carl Rogers and the humanistic school of psychology that he founded.

So the function of prayer here is to connect to the Buddha or Boddhisattva (a being that is committed to the path of enlightenment. Prominent ones include Manjusri and Avalokiteshvara) and then for the practitioner (skipping many steps here) to identify the aspect of the entity you are praying to within you for a 2 fold reason: 1) to know that the capacities and attributes of the being you are identifying with is within you and 2) for you, should you choose and wish to, to make manifest of those attributes. Just know that this whole paragraph contains very basic understanding and is a gross oversimplification of what it really is.

Commentary:

The object of meditation within many branches of Buddhism, including Chan / Zen Buddhism, is to remove the mental obscurants preventing you from achieving enlightenment.

The goal is to achieve a mind like still water. When a pool of water becomes still, the silt and impurities settle to the bottom. The water naturally becomes clear. This is known as mizu no kokoro, a heart-mind like still water.

Prayer helps you manifest the qualities that conquer these mental afflictions, which helps you settle your mind. These include compassion, patience, decisiveness, and equanimity.

As with meditation, it is a method of achieving emotional liberation, but it is not, by itself, the end goal of practice.

Buddhism holds that there are 84000 doors to Enlightenment. The correct door is the one that works for the practitioner.

It doesn’t have to be your path.

Closing thoughts from the author:

When I started this, I had not anticipated to write this much, but I feel it would give you a basic understand of Buddhism and perhaps frame your questions and mind set that the conversation would be meaningful. My intent was to inform you of Buddhism, and definitely not to convert, Buddhist never do that. Hope this short expose helped you somehow.

Guest Post: Common Questions about Buddhism
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