- Who founded Buddhism?
- Who and/or what do Buddhists worship?
- Who is a Buddha?
- Who is a Bodhisattva ?
- The Fundamental Concepts of Humanistic Buddhism
- Do Buddhists believe in a god?
- Do Buddhists believe in heaven or hell?
- What is the Buddhist concept of rebirth?
- Is there a Buddhist holy book?
- What is the significance of prayer to Buddhists?
- Why do Buddhists meditate?
- Why do Buddhists chant?
- What offerings do Buddhists make and why?
- What gestures of reverence do Buddhists use?
- What is the importance of being vegetarian?
- Is one day in the week considered holy?
- How does one initially become a Buddhist?
- Who is Master Hsing Yun?
- What is Humanistic Buddhism?
Buddhism originated approximately 2,500 years ago in northern India (now Nepal) with the supreme enlightenment of and subsequent teachings by Sakyamuni Buddha. Born around 600 BC to King Suddodhana, ruler of the Sakya clan, Sakyamuni Buddha was originally named Prince Siddharta Gautama. In childhood he led a pampered life of royal wealth sheltered from the world’s miseries. But, when as a young man he was at last allowed to venture from the palace, he saw four sights: A decrepit old man, a person wracked with disease, a corpse, and a monk. He thus learned of life’s inevitable sufferings (old age, sickness, and death) and the transience of all worldly pleasure. He also saw that the wise monastic had found peace in spite of life’s ills.
Determined to find a way to be free from these troubles, Prince Siddharta renounced his crown and family, and embarked on his journey to seek the truth. After years of cultivation, he attained supreme enlightenment and was thence known as Sakyamuni (meaning “sage of the Sakya clan”) Buddha. Out of endless compassion, Sakyamuni shared his teachings so that others could also discover the Middle Path to end all suffering.
- The Buddha as a great teacher and exemplar;
- The Dharma, i.e. the Buddha’s teachings as a guide to enlightenment and essential truth.
- The Sangha, i.e. the Buddhist community, particularly monastics who teach the Dharma and guide one along the path to enlightenment. Veneration of this “Triple Gem” is central to Buddhist life.
3 WHO IS A BUDDHA?
A Buddha is no a god, but rather one who, through complete wisdom and compassion, has attained full enlightenment and is thus beyond the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. A Buddha exemplifies the highest form of morality and is the supreme teacher showing people the way to relieve suffering. The word “Buddha” is derived from the root budh meaning “to awaken and be aware of completely conscious of”. Buddhists believe that all beings have the Buddha nature, i.e. the potential to become a Buddha. Cultivating and awakening this potential is what Buddhism is all about. According to the Mahayana thoughts, there are many Buddha’s. When Buddhists speak of “the” Buddha, however, they are usually referring to Sakyamuni Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
4 WHO IS A BODHISATTVA ?
“Bodhi” means “enlightenment”, “sattva” means “sentient being”. A Bodhisattva is one who is following the path to enlightenment. In so doing, a Bodhisattva altruistically chooses to put off his/her own final stage of enlightenment in order to completely alleviate the suffering of others. He/she practices the virtues of generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and even-mindedness to perfection and without self-interest. There are said to be an infinite number of Bodhisattvas. Mahayana Buddhists place particular emphasis on the importance of the Bodhisattva and the Bodhisattva Path as the way to realize one’s Buddha nature.
5 THE FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPTS OF HUMANISTIC BUDDHISM
Humanistic Buddhism is the integration of our spiritual practice into all aspects of our daily lives. Humanistic Buddhism has the following five characteristics:
- Emphasis on daily life as spiritual practice
- Universality of wanting to save all beings.
It is difficult for people to see the relevance of Buddhism in their modern daily lives and how it adapts to the trends of the present age rather than merely following traditions blindly. Though Buddhism speaks of the past, present & future, it particularly highlights the universal welfare of the beings of this world; and although Buddhism speaks of all beings of the ten-Dharma worlds, it reserves the most emphasis for humans. Though training and cultivating ourselves in this human world enlightenment can be achieved.
Therefor, we should cherish our lives, and integrate the Buddhist practice in our daily lives. Some people perceive Buddhism as a religion removed from humanity. This perception of Buddhism is characterized by isolation, retreat to forests, self-concern and individualism; it has lost its humanistic quality. It has reached the point that many who are interested in entering the gate dare not do so; they hesitate as they peer in and wander about outside.
Humanistic Buddhism encompasses all of the Buddhist teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present – whether they are derived from the three traditions. The goal of Humanistic Buddhism is the Bodhisattva way; to be an energetic, enlightened and endearing person who strives to help all sentient beings liberate themselves. Also, well as transforming our planet into a Pure Land of peace and bliss. Instead of committing all our energies in pursuing something in the future, why don’t we direct our efforts towards purifying our minds and bodies, right here and now in the present moment.
Humanistic Buddhism must focus more on issues of the world rather than on how to leave the world behind; on caring for the living rather than for the dead; on benefiting others rather than benefiting oneself; and on universal salvation rather than cultivation for oneself only.
There are five points that help us in applying Humanistic Buddhism in our everyday living. Humanistic Buddhism is:
- The practice of the five basic moral ethics (five precepts) and ten virtues.
- To develop the four boundless vows of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity
- Applying the six paramithas and the four great Bodhisattva virtues -generosity; amiable speech; conduct beneficial to others; cooperation
- The understanding of cause, condition, effect and consequence
- Encompasses the teachings of Ch’an; Pureland; and the middle path.
6 DO BUDDHISTS BELIEVE IN A GOD?
If by “god” one means a creator of universe or a being guiding ultimate human fate, then Buddhists do not believe in such. Buddhism emphasizes the concept of conditional causation where everything in this world comes into being according to different sets of causes and conditions. Plants and flowers grow; spring, summer, autumn and winter constitute the yearly cycle of the four seasons; human beings go through the process of birth, old age, illness and death.
All of these demonstrate the changes brought about by conditional causation. Thus all phenomena in this world cannot exist without their corresponding causes and the conditions required. Furthermore, one of the central Buddhist tenets is essentially that each person is his own master.
If by “god”, however, one means of a number of heavenly beings, the Buddhists do believe in these. In Buddhist cosmology there are six general realms of existence: devas, asuras, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hell-beings. (Buddha’s have transcended these six realms) Of the six, devas and asuras are most like deities. While their respective realms may be described as “heavens”, however, they do not exist beyond time and space. The primary difference between devas and asuras is that devas are peaceful while asuras are competitive and jealous.
7 DO BUDDHISTS BELIEVE IN HEAVEN AND HELL?
Buddhist cosmology includes a variety of heavens and hells into which a being may be born. Existence in any of them, however long, is not forever. Thus, one can “fall” from a heaven or “rise” from a hell. Buddhist texts contain vivid descriptions of different heavens and hells which, from one perspective, make them appear as actual locations. On another level, because heavens and hells arise due to the relative presence or absence of the Three Poisons (ignorance, anger and greed), they are also part of the human world.
Heavens should not be confused with what Buddhists call Nirvana. While heavens may be enjoyable, they are not complete liberation from ignorance, anger and greed, and are thus still part of the life-death cycle. Nirvana, however, is perfectly free from the Three Poisons, and is therefor outside the realms of existence. It is often said that Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhists.
One school of Mahayana Buddhism looks to the Western Pure Land of Amitabha Buddha as the best possible realm in which to be reborn. Being purified of imperfections, the Western Paradise is also called the Pure Land. More generally, the Pure Land refers to a place conductive to self-cultivation. Master Hsing Yun was once asked, “When are we in the Pure Land?” He replied: “When inside everybody there exists a pure heart and a clear mind full of kind thoughts, then we are in a Pure Land.”
8 WHAT IS THE BUDDHIST CONCEPT OF REBIRTH?
Buddhists view death as exiting one realm of existence and entering another. The cycle of rebirth into countless lives continues until final enlightenment and Nirvana occur. Rebirth is not the same as reincarnation, as Buddhists do not perceive an eternal soul which migrates to a new physical form. Rather, the body and mind are continually changing; death is merely another change. While body and mind are impermanent, they are also interrelated throughout time and space. Every voluntary action produced by one’s body, speech, and mind will have consequences, either in the current life or a future one. This is the principle of karma and it incorporates what Buddhists know as the Law of Cause and Effect. Karma is thus a system of ethics which maintains that good deeds result in positive effects, while bad deeds produce negative results. If a voluntary action is said to be a seed then the outcome is the fruit.
9 IS THERE A BUDDHIST HOLY BOOK?
There are numerous Buddhist scriptures. They are traditionally divided into three “baskets” or categories called the Tripitaka: the Sutras (teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha), the Vinaya (rules for monastic life), and the Abhidharma (Buddhist philosophy and psychology). Monasteries usually have a sutra library available for self-study. The traditional scriptures were originally written in Pali or Sanskrit a few hundred years after Sakyamuni Buddha entered Nirvana.
10 WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PRAYER TO BUDDHISTS?
Prayers allows one to repent past transgressions and vow not to repeat them. They are also a means of ritually communicating with Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas. While there are no prescribed times of prayer, Buddhists usually pray daily in the morning and/or evening, as well as before meals. Many Buddhists use prayer beads as a guide when reciting Buddha’s name. The 108 beads on a traditional rosary are often divided into four sections of 27 beads, with each section being marked by a smaller bead. The tied off ends of some rosaries have three little beads together signifying the Triple Gem. The cord stringing all the beads together can be said to represent the strength of the Buddha’s teachings. Prayer bracelets of fewer than 108 beads are also frequently used.
11 WHY DO BUDDHISTS MEDITATE?
Meditation is an effective means for cultivating a calm and focused mind. It is an important part of the mental development Buddhists believe is necessary to gaining wisdom and enlightenment. Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas are often portrayed in meditative states. There are various types of meditation, most of which essentially emphasize concentration on either an object or concept, as well as corrective posture and awareness of breathing. One meditative school of Buddhism is Ch’an (commonly known in Western society by its Japanese term “Zen”). It is based on intuitive insight and spontaneous enlightenment.
Fo Guang Shan Buddhists follow what is called mindfulness and insight meditation. Central to this practice is first observing the mind — how it works, what it thinks — and then learning to let go of its thoughts without being hindered by emotional baggage. This does not mean repressing thoughts and emotions, but rather observing, accepting, and moving on. It may be done sitting, standing, walking, or while doing chores.
To discount some misconceptions of Buddhist meditation: It is not a state of non-doing, dreaming or hypnosis, and it does not strive to make the mind blank.
Daily practice of meditation is most beneficial , even if only done for ten minutes at a time. Monastics usually meditate each morning and evening before meals.
12 WHY DO BUDDHISTS CHANT?
Chanting gives the opportunity to learn, reinforce, and reflect upon various Buddhist teachings, as well as venerate Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas and the virtues they embody. There are many different chants, the texts of which are usually either entire sutras (teachings of the Buddha), Dharanis (essences of sutras), mantras (short symbolic phrases), or the names of particular Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas. Times for chanting vary, but monastics generally chant each morning and evening. Chanting is often an integral part of Buddhist ceremonies. Special chanting services provide participants with an extended period of spiritual cultivation’s through chanting.
13 WHAT OFFERINGS DO BUDDHISTS MAKE AND WHY?
Most Buddhist altars display some sort of offering. Making offerings allows one to practice giving, express gratitude and respect and reflect upon the life sustaining law of interdependence. A Buddhist offering is not a sacrifice; it never involves killing and it is not given in order to please the Buddha’s and Bodhisattvas. Rather, it is an act of veneration for the Triple Gem. As such, making an offering develops wholesomeness and positive karma. While tangible objects may be given in abundance, the most perfect gift is an honest and sincere heart. Some common offerings and their symbolic import are:
- Flowers: Flowers are beautiful and fragrant. Yet, their splendor will not last forever, and as such they illustrate the impermanence of all things;
- Fruit: Fruit is nutritious, as well as pleasing to the taste. It also represents the result of our spiritual cultivation and helps us be mindful of the law of cause and effect;
- Grain: Grain is a basic dietary staple necessary to sustain life;
- Incense: Aromatic incense purifies the atmosphere as well as the mind. Just as its fragrance travels afar, so do good deeds extend to the benefit of all. Burning incense also embodies the transience and dissolution of phenomena;
- Light: Light extinguishes darkness in the same way that wisdom dispels ignorance;
- Water: Water signifies the force of life and washes away impurities.
14 WHAT GESTURES OF REVERENCE DO BUDDHISTS USE?
Buddhists show their respect and veneration in a variety of ways. Particular gestures vary throughout the world depending upon cultural context and local custom. The symbolic means of reverence most frequently used by Fo Guang Shan Buddhists are:
- Palms pressed together at chest level;
- Greeting and thanking others with the phrase “omitofo” which is the Chinese pronunciation for Amitabha Buddha’s name;
- Waving hello and good-bye with the lotus mudra (thumb and middle finger together to form the lotus bud with other fingers raised as petals and leaves). This is, in effect, a way of giving a lotus to others in recognition of their potential to become a Buddha;
- Removing shoes and/or hats before entering shrines;
- Only entering shrines through the side door openings; the central opening is formally reserved for the master and monastics. (Chinese temples are frequently constructed with triple-opening entrances to various halls);
- Bowing to the Buddha and Bodhisattva images, monastics, and others. This action helps remove self-centeredness and symbolizes one’s humility and respect. It is also a means to open within oneself the state of mind which an image or person represents. Doing so facilitates the development of those virtuous, qualities in one’s life. Bowing is usually done either once or three times in succession; three is a particular auspicious number;
- Prostrating before an image has the same significance as bowing, only more so. When a prostration is made, one is also prostrating to the Buddha nature that lies deeply within himself.
15 WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING VEGETARIAN?
Out of sincere respect for all life and the First Precept to refrain from killing, many Chinese Buddhists are vegetarian. Vegetarianism is consistent with the Buddhist concepts of universal interrelationship and rebirth. With the concept of rebirth humans may be other forms of life in their past and/or future lives, thus it follows that an animal could be a past and/or future next-of-kin. Thus killing an animal could be seen as synonymous with destroying one’s own relatives. While the traditional Buddhist scriptures do not mandate vegetarianism, Fo Guang Shan monastics must take a vow to not eat meat. Lay followers, however, are not required to do so. If not daily vegetarians, however, many Buddhists observe a vegetarian diet during retreats, Dharma functions and holidays. A vegetarian lunch buffet is available for all participants of the Dharma sessions at the He Hwa dining hall.
16 IS ONE DAY IN THE WEEK CONSIDERED HOLY?
Every day is sacred to Buddhists. While regular weekly congregation “services” are usually conducted, new and full moons are occasions for gathering and group repentance at the temple.
17 HOW DOES ONE INITIALLY BECOME A BUDDHIST?
Any person can be a Buddhist. One does not have to be “born” into Buddhism, nor do one’s parents have to be Buddhists. One can be of any race, country, socio-economic background, gender etc. People wishing to identify themselves as Buddhists typically participate in a ceremony known as taking refuge in the Triple Gem. This is the simple act of reciting the refuge verse three times before a monastic. The refuge verse expresses an individual’s confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha as a means to alleviating suffering and attaining enlightenment. In accepting the path of the Triple Gem, one also agrees to observe the Five Precepts or rules which engender good conduct:
- To refrain from killing;
- To refrain from taking what is not given;
- To refrain from sexual misconduct;
- To refrain from telling lies; and
- To refrain from taking intoxicants.
18 WHO IS MASTER HSING YUN?
Born in 1927 in Chiangtu, Chiangxu Province of China, Venerable Hsing Yun was ordained as a novice monk at Chi Hsia Shan monastery at the age of twelve. In 1949, when Mainland China was immersed in civil war, he left his homeland for Taiwan.
Over the past five decades, the strength of his vow to revitalize Chinese Humanistic Buddhism and create a Pure Land here on earth has greatly influenced Buddhist studies and practices. Recognized for his bold and innovative methods of propagating the ancient teachings to meet contemporary needs, Master Hsing Yun founded the Fo Guang Buddhist Order and its many branches, the Buddha’s Light International Association, as well as associated universities, Buddhist colleges, libraries, publishing houses, art galleries, and a free mobile health clinic.
He is a living example of the Fo Guang Shan motto: Offer others faith, offer others joy, offer others hope, offer others convenience.
19 WHAT IS HUMANISTIC BUDDHISM?
We know that the founder of Buddhism, Sakyamuni Buddha was born into this world; he cultivated his spiritual development, attained enlightenment, and shared with others in this world the profound truth he had realized. The human world was emphasized in everything the did. Why did the Buddha not achieve Buddhahood in one of the other five realms?
Why did he not attain enlightenment in one of the other ten Dharma worlds? Why did he, instead, attain complete enlightenment as a human? There can only be one reason: the Buddha wanted the teachings of Buddhism to be relevant to the human world. The Buddha’s very life as a human being has give us all an inspiration and a model for the spiritual path and for making our own lives a spiritual practice.
Humanistic Buddhism promoted by the Fo Guang Shan International Buddhist Order can be seen in its objectives established by Master Hsing Yun: “Give others faith, give others joy, give others hope, and give others convenience.” Fo Guang Shan aims to make Buddhism relevant in the world, in hour lives, an in each one of our hearts.