INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM
(Through commonly asked questions)
Part One


What do we mean by Buddha Dharma?

From the  Mahayana Buddhist point of view when we refer to the term Buddha it does not only mean Buddha as a person or personality for example the historical Buddha Shakyamuni but rather the term Buddha refers to the state of mind which is fully awakened. Buddha or Sangye in Tibetan language combines two aspects. One the aspect of complete purification from all obscurations (Sangs) and the second aspect which is accumulation of all goodness (rgyas).
The Sanskrit word Dharma refers to instructions that hold us back from suffering. These instructions are designed to train the mind, to bring about positive states of the mind so that we can be happy and peaceful irrespective of the external conditions. Basically the very practice of Buddhism is meant to bring about a transformation of the mind.
Following the Buddha Dharma does not mean that the adverse conditions or difficulties will not arrive in our lives but rather we will posses skilful means to see and understand them truly and to deal with them without getting troubled.

Why does Buddhism emphasize on Suffering?

If we do not know we are ill, there would be no reason to look for a doctor. In the same way if we do not know of our sufferings and their causes, there would be no reason to find a remedy for them. Take the example of a pig that is ignorantly happy indulging in his unquenchable desire for food .He goes on eating happily getting fatter. The pig’s owner keep giving the pig more food, pleased how his pig is getting fatter perfectly suiting his idea of slaughtering the pig to make a delicious meal. In the same way most of us are happily rather ignorantly indulging in our desires and habitual patterns which is facilitated by our deep ignorance and other negative states of mind( like the owner of the pig) and that very indulgence in our desires becomes the cause of all our sufferings be it mundane sufferings, sickness, and even death.
That is why the Buddha taught the four noble truths, the first two of which are suffering and the cause of suffering.

What kind of suffering does the Buddhist doctrine talk about?

The first kind of suffering that the Buddhist doctrine identifies is called the suffering of suffering. This is basically when we experience pain like when we are sick, of frustrated or suffering from too much heat and so on.
The second kind of suffering is called the suffering of change. Here the experience of the loss of something good, is the aspect of suffering. For example if we are healthy and suddenly we become sick, the change from good health to illness is the suffering of change.
Generally we are aware of these two types of sufferings. However Buddhism goes deeper revealing a kind of suffering which pervades or is the root of all kinds of sufferings. This is called the pervasive conditional suffering. Not knowing this suffering brings about a self grasping mind which leads to mistaken views of how things really exist and that is termed as ignorance. This pervasive conditional suffering is a clinging to the “I” and all phenomena as something permanent, something which exists from its own side and this forms the very basis of all negative states of mind which in turn cause all negative actions which lead to all types of sufferings.
It is said the difference between an ordinary person and a person on the spiritual path if that the first does not perceive while the second one perceives and is aware of this kind of subtle pervasive conditional suffering.

Does not the knowledge of all these sufferings lead to depression?

The good part of all these sufferings is that they are not permanent and not existing from their own sides. They are a result of respective causes and conditions which are changeable or impermanent and so there is the possibility of the cessation of suffering. If that were not the case then if we were suffering that suffering would continue forever and we would never be able to be happy and there would be no reason to study the path because cessation would not be possible. That is why the Buddha having taught the first two noble truths suffering and its cause taught the third and fourth noble truth which is the cessation and the path leading to cessation.

Does Buddhism negate the existence of God?

Buddhism does not negate the existence of God. It speaks about the realm of god as the highest of the 6 realms of samsara or the cycle of existence. It also speaks of God in the form and formless realms. However Buddhism negates the idea of an unchanging, permanent god, a creator and controller of all. It emphasizes individual responsibility, how each and every one of us are our own creators, we are responsible for all the good that comes our way and as well as for all the bad. In order to understand this we then look inwards towards our mind which is the cause of all creation. Someone who has a genuine understanding of the concept of dependent origination and emptiness as taught by the Buddha for that person it is impossible to have faith in the concept of God as a creator but that does not mean that the existence of God is negated.

Can we say all religions are the same?

If we talk of the sameness of religions, all religions teach of bringing forth good qualities- love, tolerance, helping each other and certain techniques like the practice in concentration. These similarities can be the base on which one can develop tolerance towards other religions. From the point of differences in addition to these positive qualities the Buddha spoke very profoundly on a very subtle concept of law of causality and emptiness, this then definitely distinguishes it from other religions. When we investigate each path and what is aimed to be achieved then we do find other subtle differences. For example does the religion aim at achieving a state of moksha, a heaven, or a state of full awakening for the sake of all sentient beings as aimed at in Buddhism.
However these differences does not mean that one should fight over which religion is supreme. Since each of us has different predispositions or natures we should find the path most suited to us. Having found the religion most suited to us it is more beneficial to go into its depth rather than practicing all religions and methods at the same time, which only leads to chaos.

What kind of transformation does the Buddha Dharma bring about in relation to oneself and others?

Buddha Dharma teaches us how to transform the neurotic states of mind to its very pure state which is in fact a part of us and engulfs everything. Just as the eye cannot see itself, we cannot see our own pure mind due to it being clouded by our ignorance or confusion of how things really are. Unfolding of this pure nature of the mind is the biggest miracle of all as it brings forth limitless good qualities far beyond what we can perceive with our ordinary mind. From point of oneself it brings about a permanent peace, a state beyond suffering even birth, old age, sickness and death and from point of others an ability to genuinely help others effortlessly in limitless ways. So although liberated the Buddha continues to benefit others. This is what the Buddha manifests.
In the very beginning of studying the doctrine we start to appreciate others through the idea of how all of us are interconnected. For anything we depend on others whether its dependence on our parents, teachers, friends, spouse, waiters, tram drivers, petrol stations, electric departments, shopkeepers and so on. We simple do not and cannot exist by ourselves. We also learn that although everyone has the primordial pure nature of mind, all of us continue to suffer due to deep rooted ignorance or a state of confusion which clouds this primordial pure nature. These understandings bring about qualities of love and compassion and with the understanding of the concepts of emptiness or selflessness wisdom arises.
To bring about these transformations requires us to study, contemplate and meditate. If we genuinely want or like something even as small as drinking a coffee in the coffee bar we make effort in that direction, find the time and conditions for it. Likewise if one really wants and likes to follow the path one needs to make effort and conditions for that.

While following the Buddhist path or joining the Buddhist center do we need to be scared of a cult like behavior or a brain wash of some kind?

If you feel your positive qualities grow and negative behaviors decrease what need is there to be scared. If you join a group where you have like minded people moreover people who  practice and have learned the path from some authentic source this can act as a vital support and guide on the way. However if you try on your very own just through reading books or the inter net, it is more difficult and you have no one to rely on, no one to guide whether your understanding is correct or not, specially if you go into the depths of the Buddha’s profound teachings. For example in order to pass a class examination you have to depend on your teacher for the right instructions and you enjoy studying and discussing with your friends in the same class and then you have to put the effort to understand the texts, in the same way a teacher in a Buddhist center gives the right instruction, friends in the group encourage you on the path and then from your side is required the effort to study, contemplate and meditate.

There are so many teachers in today’s times who talk about positive things, why should one follow the teachings of a Buddha Shakyamuni who taught a long time ago?

Unlike the present day teachers the Buddha taught the Dharma only after having realized the full state of awakening. All the qualities of this realization were demonstrated clearly by him.
It was not just speaking wonderful words or ideas. For example if you need to travel to Canada, you can take advice from a person who has read about and has some idea of Canada, or you can take advice from a person who has been to Canada. Into which of the two advices will you have more confidence? Naturally you will have more confidence in the advice of the person who has been to Canada and experienced things directly. Based on such direct information you will know what to expect on the way and the nature of experience to be acquired and your preparation and planning will be more firm. That is the difference in the teachings of those who have mere beautiful words and the Buddha’s teachings which can from a state of profound realization.
From point of the period passed since Buddha gave the teaching, the teachings are equally valid today as they were more than 2500 years ago. Coming from an enlightened mind which is beyond any concept, which is omnipotent and omnipresent, the Buddha’s teaching is universal much beyond any restriction of concepts such as time. Buddha taught the universal truth that everything is produced by its respective cause. Buddha taught of suffering which people felt before and feel now. Buddha taught about the causes of suffering which existed before and exist now. Buddha taught about the desire for happiness which is common for all people in all times. Buddha taught about the cessation and the path to cessation which could be practiced before and can be practiced now and all these will also be equally applicable in the future.
More over the Buddha manifested among us in the form of Shakyamuni Buddha to show how every ordinary person can achieve the state of Buddhahood by transforming the neurotic mind to its pure state which is our primordial basic nature. What more could we be desirous of in a teacher.
Through the Buddha’s teachings we go beyond the ordinary causes of suffering like the external environment to the real cause of suffering based on our ignorance or confusion of the way things really are. We are shown how to go beyond temporary happiness to a state of permanent peace which transcends all sufferings from negative states of mind, beyond birth, sickness, old age and death.

How long do we need to study the Dharma?

From life after life we have trained ourselves in all neurotic and contaminated ways of behavior. In order to change these habitual behaviors we need a lot of understanding and practice. In front of all the wasted lifetimes and all the wasted years in this life where we have behaved as we liked due to ignorance, any time spent from now, on the path to transformation would be valuable and rather little in comparison.
The main aim in Buddhism is not studying but to apply the learning on oneself. For example if we talk of love. Immediately we feel it’s simple of course I am a loving person. I love my friends, relations and so on. Then you study in the Buddhist doctrine that love means a wish may all beings have happiness and the doctrine shows how to develop it. These words are not difficult to understand or repeat. However even with this knowledge if someone hurts you its very hard to even say may he or she have happiness let alone genuinely wishing it from the heart. Effort, patience and time are needed for mental transformations. The more time spent in study and contemplation the stronger is the foundation and the transformation of the mind will be much easier.
Also the time spent in the Dharma activities whether study or practice much depends on ones motivation. A limited time can be spent if ones aim is to gather information, genuine practice needs more time and then if the motivation is of the highest kind which is to attain the state of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings then the time spent is not relevant. Such a person with this noble motivation also understands that the time itself is not something with a nature of its own, it is also a mere dependent appearance which arises due to the coming together of causes and conditions.
The time spent in study and practice can also vary from person to person in terms of the familiarity from the past lifetimes, the karmic imprints.

 

To be continued in the following month

Those interested in the deeper study and practice of Buddha Dharma, please contact our Buddhist center “Padmasana” in Zagreb on phone number 4663028, or mob 098 175 38 59 (Drago)

Written by:
Reena Šmalcelj
Vice president of Croatian Buddhist Society - 'Padmasana'

 

All rights reserved by the author and the Croatian Buddhist Society - “Padmasana”