bsmiley96 wrote:1- What do you think the most fundamental aspect(s) of your religion is ?
Practice. To me, Buddhism is primarily a mental and moral training that's designed to lessen suffering and lead to long-term welfare and happiness. So the most fundamental aspect for me is the noble eightfold path
, which encompasses the entire path of practice of virtue (morality), concentration (meditation), and discernment (seeing things as they are).
2- what do you want other to know about your religion
Never really thought about it, to tell you the truth. Buddhism, being more a way of life, isn't really about evangelism, so I don't really discuss it with people who aren't already interested in it. One thing I suppose I'd like other people to know about it is that the Buddhist practice itself has a lot of practical benefits, being akin to a spiritual or philosophical form of psychology and psychotherapy, and having the potential to help make one a more stable and happier individual.
3-what do you think is the most unique aspect of your religion is?
The teachings on dependent co-arising
, the psychological chain of mental causation/interaction that gives rise to suffering. In The Place of Buddhism in Indian Thought
, for example, Ananda Guruge writes:
Lastly, the contributions to Indian thought made by the Buddha should be carefully borne in mind. It was no doubt the Buddha's admirable sense of humility, which led to his statement that he was not an original thinker. His theory of Dependent Causation or Origination was the most remarkable contribution to Indian thought. It is unique in the history of philosophy.
4- what makes you a strong believer in your faith?
My faith or conviction in Buddhism initially stemmed from the profound simplicity of the teachings, as well as the compelling anecdotes of monks and practitioners like Ajahn Chah. My conviction in their efficacy continued to grow after observing the beneficial changes in my own life after studying the teachings and adopting the practice of the noble eightfold path.
5-what are some of your religious traditions, rituals? and which do you favor most?
Buddhism is critical of the idea that rituals in and of themselves can purify one's mind and deeds of unskillfulness, and clinging to rites and rituals (or rituals and observances) as being salvific in and of themselves is something we're advised to let go off (MN 9
). Instead, we're pointed towards focusing on our actions and the intentions underlying them because that's where the real work of moral and spiritual purification takes place (MN 61
That said, there are a lot of practices, traditions, and cultural aspects to be found in Buddhism, and one of my favourites is morning and evening chanting (the chants are essentially teachings, as ancient Indians generally didn't write down things of this nature but memorized them). At monasteries, monks and nuns chant every morning and evening. They also tend to mediate in the middle or after the chanting. The chanting itself is quite lovely, and I find that chanting and meditating like that helps to brighten and relax the mind.
Other than that, meditation and the development of mindfulness is something that one is supposed to continually practice, and meditation can be quite enjoyable at times.
6- what are some symbols of your religion, and what do they symbolize?
The Buddha is a symbol of what we're trying to achieve. Buddha is more of a title than a name; it means 'awake' or 'awakened one.' The statues of the Buddha that one often finds in homes and temples represents the potential for awakening, and show the peace and serenity of one who's removed the defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion from their minds. The Buddha isn't meant to be worshiped so much as looked up to as a model or teacher.
The other most recognizable is the already-mentioned Dhamma wheel, with the eight spokes representing the eight factors of the aforementioned eightfold path.
7- Does your religion provide a guide for your future path?
I suppose one could say that it does. The Buddha often described the path as a gradual training, for example (e.g., MN 107
, Ud 5.5
8- what do you believe about diety/ies?
Buddhism generally doesn't posit an omnipotent, omniscient, creator god analogous to the Judeo-Christian God, and it seems to me that there are three main reasons why the question of God is basically a non-issue in Buddhism.
Reason #1: According to the texts, a beginning point to samsara
(literally 'wandering on') isn't evident (SN 15.3
). This can be interpreted two ways — that a beginning point to the continual cycle of death and rebirth of beings isn't evident, or that a beginning point to the continual cycle of death and rebirth of the conceit 'I am,' the self-identification that designates a being (satta
), isn't evident — and they're not mutually exclusive. Either way, the point is the same: all that really matters in the here and now is whether suffering is present, and if so, how it can be overcome.
Reason #2: The idea of a creator God is incompatible with certain aspects and teachings that, if taken to their logical conclusion, seem to reject the idea of, or a need for, a creator God. For one thing, the logic of dependent co-arising, while primarily concerned with the psychological process by which suffering arises in the mind, negates the idea of a creator God in that it precludes a first cause or a causeless cause when applied to cosmology (think of oscillating universe theory
Then there's this famous problem of evil passage from the Bhuridatta Jataka
(although, to be fair, this is most likely a later addition that some date to the 13th century):
We see those rules enforced before our eyes,
None but the Brahmans offer sacrifice,
None but the Khattiya exercises sway,
The Vessas plough, the Suddas must obey.
These greedy liars propagate deceit,
And fools believe the fictions they repeat;
He who has eyes can see the sickening sight;
Why does not Brahma set his creatures right?
If his wide power no limits can restrain,
Why is his hand so rarely spread to bless?
Why are his creatures all condemned to pain?
Why does he not to all give happiness?
Why do fraud, lies, and ignorance prevail?
Why triumphs falsehood, truth and justice fail?
I count your Brahma one of the unjust among,
Who made a world in which to shelter wrong.
Those men are counted pure who only kill
Frogs, worms, bees, snakes or insects as they will,
These are your savage customs which I hate,
Such as Kamboja hordes might emulate.
If he who kills is counted innocent
And if the victim safe to heaven is sent,
Let Brahmans Brahmans kill so all were well
And those who listen to the words they tell.
Nevertheless, even in the earliest parts of the Pali Canon, there are references to devas
(literally 'radiant ones') or what we might call 'heavenly beings.' Early Buddhism seems to have incorporated the Brahmnanic/proto-Hindu pantheon and myths, but gives them a unique spin, transforming immortal gods into non-human beings who are more powerful and long-lived than ordinary humans, but by no means eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc. (e.g., see DN 1
), and creation myths into Dhamma lessons (e.g., DN 27
). But more importantly, they can also be viewed metaphorically as the indulgent and hedonistic aspects of our psychology (i.e., the parts that are addicted to sensual pleasures
Personally, I'm skeptical about the existence of such beings; although I suppose it's possible they could exist, especially if string theory
is correct and extra dimensions do exist, which could account for the various 'realms of existence' in Buddhist cosmology. But I tend to view them metaphorically, and as such, they don't really play much of a role in my practice besides being illustrative.
8- do you pray? if so how do you pray?
9- what are your thoughts on Christianity, specifically Catholicism
The short version is, while I don't believe in a creator God, nor, as a consequence, that Jesus is the son of God/God in the flesh, I do have a soft spot for him as a spiritual teacher, and I think some of the things he's reported as saying in the New Testament are pretty cool. I especially like, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" (John 8:7
), the Sermon on the Mount
, and his many teachings on forgiveness. I don't know much about Catholicism, but I've found certain aspects of Orthodox Christianity appealing. In addition, you can find some of my thoughts about Christianity here
, if you're interested.
10- what is your favorite concept in your religion?
That our actions have effects, and that happiness is something we can achieve through our own efforts.
11- in the area that you live in, how large is the buddhist community?
Fairly large. There's a large community of Tibetans, for example. There's also a variety of temples and meditation sitting groups in my area. The meditation group I usually sit with has at least 15-30 that people show up, more if visiting monks are in town.
12 - According to your religion, what is the problem for humans (our dilema or flaw, etc) and what is the cause of this problem?
. The cause of suffering is craving
, and the cause of craving is ignorance
, specifically ignorance of the four noble truths
The way I see it, craving (tahna
, literally 'thirst') is a very subtle but powerful aspect of our psychology that's directly tied to suffering. It's there, latent in the mind, waiting to exert its influence through mental fabrications by directing or at the very least encouraging the mind to feed upon sensory experiences via the five clinging-aggregates
in an unhealthy way. When we're hungry, for example, our mind has a tendency to attach itself to the desire for food and create an identity around it, which can then create suffering in a number of ways, e.g., if we don't get what we want; if it doesn't live up to our expectations that we create around the attainment of our goal; if, in our greed, we eat too much and feel sick and lament our physical discomfort; etc. Craving, then, isn't simply our desire to or for X; it's the beginning of a mental chain of events that turns our desires for things into the potential for suffering.
That's part of the reason I think the Buddha basically approached the problem of mental stress and suffering like a doctor, formulating the four noble truths in the same way that ancient Indian physicians formulated medical diagnoses, i.e., disease (stress
), cause (craving
), prognosis (a cure/cessation of craving
is possible), and treatment (the noble eightfold path
A true and lasting happiness
13- According to your religion what is the ideal state, goal or "ultimacy" for individuals?
that's not dependent on causes or conditions, i.e., the complete cessation of human mental suffering (which I think is analogous to the absence of the mental dart in SN 36.6
- What are the methods or means by which this ideal is achieved?
See my answer to question #1.