FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
These are FAQs about Buddhism. Below are listed a whole bunch of other FAQs about the seminary, ministry in general and a wide variety of religious beliefs. We also have a course on Buddhism available through the seminary.
1) Can a Buddhist believe in Jesus?Many Buddhists do believe in Jesus. Nestorian Christians have assimilated much of Buddhism into their religion. However Indian and Tibetan Buddhists consider Jesus a great Guru and Bodhisattva (a redeemer).
2) Can Buddhist eat meat?A Buddhist should refrain from harming all sentient beings as much as possible but not to the point of starvation. In Tibet and Mongolia there are many Buddhists who must eat meat, as there is very little agricultural land. Monks in these countries eat mostly ‘ tsampa', a nutritious grain meal made of dried meat, barley flour and whatever. It is mixed up, rolled into balls and baked or fried into cakes or boiled on top of soup. Most Buddhists are vegetarian. Buddhists, who eat meat, honor the being they must eat, ask its forgiveness and offer a prayer before eating. Much as American Indian hunters would do to bring the meat home free from the violence of the necessary act (the Karma of killing).
3) I'm a "Catholic" (Baptist, Protestant, Anglican, Christian Orthodox, Moslem, Mormon, Jew), and I know of the Bible, but what is the book of Buddha, and where can I find it in English?The Four Noble Truths;
1- Life and Happiness are impermanent and our attachment to this causes us great suffering;
2- It is possible to end the suffering in this lifetime.
3- The Buddha brought us the ways and means to end the suffering
4- It is possible for all beings to achieve Nirvana, and the Vows of Refuge;
1-I take Refuge in the Buddha,
2-I take Refuge in the Dharma,
3-I take Refuge in the Sangha-(all monks, nuns and other Buddhists) are the only unconditionals I know of in Buddhism although this vow is taken with these 5 precepts in mind;
1. I undertake the precept of abstaining from destroying living creatures.
2. I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking anything not freely given.
3. I undertake the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the precept of abstaining from false speech.
5. I undertake the precept of abstaining from taking intoxicants, which lead to carelessness.
Another group of Precepts called ‘The Eightfold Path’ further codifies the Buddhist point of view. These are the original and most basic teachings (see the link at bottom for more on the basic texts). There is no Bible as there is no Dogma and no absolute truths. There is however a TON of commentary. There is something called The Discourses or the Dhammapahada. It is a question and answer session between the Buddha Sakyamuni and his number one disciple Annanda. This is considered the bedrock document. The Pali Cannon, the main text on Buddhism for the Theravadian Buddhists is the oldest surviving text on Buddhism.
And there are several styles of Buddhism that has grown out of the many cultures that Buddhism has found a home in. The best thing is to find a style that appeals to you (a starting point) and start reading and practicing the meditation techniques. There is Zen-and a classic in book in English called 'Zen Flesh, Zen Bones' by D.T. Suzuki or anything by Allen Watts. Shambala Press, in Boulder, Colorodo, is associated with Naropa Buddhist University, also in Boulder, now has some books on Chinese Buddhism. Also there is the Poetry of Wu Wei. For Tibetan-Mongol style I recommend 'The Dharma' by Kalu Rinpoche and 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' by Sogyal Rinpoche. It is NOW AVAILABLE IN SPANISH! Cool eh? The Tibetans have preserved Indian Buddhism but Northern Hinduism remains 70% of India's earlier Buddhist tradition. I highly recommend a new book called the 'Accidental Buddhist' by Dinty W. Moore, it is only 2 years old. He is a westerner who explored these different styles and writes about it, and it is well worth reading for a new explorer.
4) Is there any superior God (like in Catholicism), in Buddhism, and if yes, how is it called?Strictly speaking the Buddha said there is no God. Or not in the way the west or even the Hindu's think about God. Over time this is a distillation of the Buddhists attitude about God: Everything that exists is the body of God and the only consciousness that actually exists is Buddha consciousness or the consciousness of God. There is nothing else. We are like the cells of this being, most of us ignorant that we are actually God and we have this huge consciousness that is everything. We live the life of a cell but we don't have to. We can be God and claim our true consciousness if we want to. You are God. God is named –YOUR NAME- and the best person you know and the worst person you know as well as your cat, a worm everything.
5) Where can I find a Buddhist temple near my town?
If there is a temple in your area it is probably south Asian and you will feel like a fish out of water there. You may ultimately prefer this branch of Buddhism but first get familiar with Buddhism generally and with the culture of the temple community before going there. The best thing for a westerner is to join a Buddhist meditation group and find out if there is a local group of monks or nuns who perform Puja (a weekly or twice monthly chanting/meditation with a ceremony) for a drop in community. This is becoming very popular and common in western cities.
6) How many times a day a does a Buddhist have to pray and at what time of the day?Pray any time you want to in any way you want to. One does not pray TO anyone or thing. One prays for balance, clear consciousness, compassion and empathy. The Buddha or another spiritual model may be invoked for the qualities one intends to strengthen through prayer. Buddhists use chanting but it isn't a hard rule. Whatever works. Getting a mantra from a teacher you have spent some time with (quality of time matters more than length of time) is a VERY strong prayer.
7) Is it necessary for a Buddhist to have an image of Buddha in their home?No image at all is needed. The importance of the statues of the meditating Buddha is to remind us that He did it, we can do it and that meditation and liberation is the whole and entire point. Humans are rather artistic and like to express themselves especially about what we feel deeply. Therefore religious art is a good form of expression.
8) Can Buddhist drink beer and alcohol?According to the Buddha Sakyamuni, it is better not to alter your consciousness in anyway except through meditation. That is the simplest answer. Also according to the Buddha one must not become enslaved to attraction or aversion. If you can drink coffee in moderation without negative effects, go ahead. That goes for beer or anything else. JUST DON'T GET ENSLAVED. Many prominent Buddhists have and do drink beer. Tibetans make a delicious barley beer. The monks of Sera seminary in Lhasa are known to be quite fond of it.
9) What should rich Buddhists do with their money? Is giving to charity an obligation, or a personal act?All good deeds are personal. Give to those that you can but do not make people who depend on you suffer for it. Should someone with an alcohol problem want money from you, even just to borrow, it is more compassionate to say no. But offer to make them dinner. There is no concept of impersonal charity. One's good deeds improve your Karma, your community's Karma and the other persons Karma, and heck the other person is really you anyway. It's very personal.
10) How does one officially become a Buddhist?To become an official Buddhist you 'Take Refuge'. This probably happens once a year or so in the largest city near you. That is where the local Buddhist ashram or community (of Buddhists also called the Sangha) can schedule it for the most number of people to take advantage of it. No one who asks can be denied this ceremony. However, if you can, it is proper to bring a donation or a valuable to donate that can be used in fundraising. The ceremony is nice but it is not necessary. It is a solemn vow but you can do it by yourself or with other Buddhist friends. Create your own ceremony and dedicate it to your present or future Guru (your eternal spiritual big brother or sister) and commit oneself to this; I take Refuge in the Buddha (messenger of freedom/liberation). I take Refuge in the Dharma (the teachings). I take Refuge in the Sangha (the community of all Buddhists). Think about what this means as you say each vow. Although with time the meanings you find will continue to open up, this is basically all that is needed to become an official, committed Buddhist.
11) What is the perfect physical pose for meditation?Sit down in a comfortable position, one that you can maintain for a while. If you need to move or stretch a little, go ahead. Allow the body to move without moving the mind. Pay no attention. Once you get comfortable with this try the 1/2 Lotus posture and then the Full Lotus posture, hands resting lightly on your knees. It greatly benefits a Buddhist to learn Hatha Yoga. It is a perfect compliment to meditation.
12) What Ceremonies should be practiced without exception, when and where?Ceremonies are not important but people enjoy them and they can have psychological value. Buddhism is so focused on meditation that the Buddhist community likes to have spiritual things people can do together. So there are ceremonies and some theatrical and musical religious ceremonies but they are not important to practice.
13) Can you get married to a non-Buddhist?A Buddhist can marry anyone they like. But it is recommended that you don't marry someone who cannot respect your world view or religion and visa versa.
14) If there's no Buddhist temple near my hometown, what should I do?
I've been a Buddhist 30 years and never been to a temple. A temple is a quiet space and the local community probably uses it for ceremonies and weddings etc. Your backyard can be your temple.
15) Who are the persons that can help me follow, or even with time teach Buddhism?
This is wide open. Buddhism is spreading in the West and going through a phase that has probably occurred before when it spread across Asia. We are teaching each other. Also many very experienced teachers are traveling and teaching. There is no definitive Buddhism. There are teachings that WILL NOT WORK for everyone. Your job is to sift what you learn and exercise it. Then make up your own mind.