Frequently Asked Questions & Answers
 
       
 
     
 
Q.
What is Buddhism?    
 
A.
Buddhism is a religion to an estimated about 500 million people around the world. The word comes from 'budhi', 'to awaken'. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.    
         
 
Q.
Who was the Buddha?    
 
A.
Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he saw an old person, a sick person, a corpse, and a monk, and realized that his wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found 'the middle path' and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80.    
         
 
Q.
Was the Buddha a God?    
 
A.
He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience. When you see Buddhists bowing or prostrating to a statue of the Buddha, they are not worshiping him as a god, but instead are paying respect to him and his teachings.    
         
 
Q.
What is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings?    
 
A.
Simply speaking, this is to avoid harming others and to help them as much as possible. Another way of expressing this is,    
    “Avoid negative actions, create perfect virtue, and tame your mind. This is the teaching of the Buddha.”    
    By abandoning negative actions (killing, etc.) and destructive motivations (anger, attachment, close-mindedness, etc.), we stop harming ourselves and others. By creating perfect virtue, we develop beneficial attitudes, like impartial love and compassion, and our actions are motivated by these thoughts. By taming our mind, we cut away all false projections, thus making ourselves calm and peaceful by understanding reality.    
         
 
Q.
What did the Buddha teach?    
 
A.
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Two Truths, the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path.    
         
 
Q.
What are the two truths?    
 
A.
There are two truths in Buddhism: conventional (or relative) and ultimate.    
    Conventional truth involves our everyday experience and understanding of the way the phenomenal world appears and functions through our senses and mental faculties. Ultimate truth states that, in reality, all phenomena is “empty” of inherent existence. What appears to be solid, unchanging, and independent of causes and conditions, in fact, exists made up of parts, is constantly changing, and is subject to causes and conditions. It is important to understand that Buddhism does NOT say that nothing exists, just that phenomena does not exist the way we believe them to exist. (As solid, permanent, and not subject to causes and conditions)    
         
 
Q.
What is the First Noble Truth?    
 
A.
The first truth is that life is suffering, i.e., life includes physical pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustration, fear, worry, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. Instead Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.    
         
 
Q.
What is the Second Noble Truth?    
 
A.
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. Looking to create lasting happiness from satisfying craving or pacifying aversion is not possible given the ever-changing circumstances of life. Also, craving and aversion are born from an erroneous view of who we are and our relation to, and interdependence with others. If we do not gain insight and skills for addressing this rollercoaster, our suffering is guaranteed in this life and, as Buddhism contends, in subsequent births. This leads to the Third Noble Truth.    
         
 
Q.
What is the Third Noble Truth?    
 
A.
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf we gain insight into how craving and aversion do not provide lasting happiness, and learn to mindfully live each day(not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We also then have more time, energy, and natural compassion to help others. This is Nirvana.    
         
 
Q.
What is the Fourth Noble Truth?    
 
A.
The fourth truth is that the Noble Eight-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.    
         
 
Q.
What is the Noble Eight-fold Path?    
 
A.
In summary, the Noble Eight-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood), focusing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.    
         
 
Q.
What are the 5 Precepts?    
 
A.
The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are:
   
    1. Not to take the life of anything living;    
    2. Not to take anything not freely given;    
    3. To abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence;    
    4. To refrain from untrue speech;    
    5. To avoid intoxication.    
    The precepts are not “commandments” handed down by a Creator God, but instead are rules to live by that result in happiness for self and others.    
         
 
Q.
What is Karma?    
 
A.
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results.    
    Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions?    
    The answer is summed up by looking at:    
    (1) the intention behind the action;    
    (2) effects of the action on oneself;    
    (3) the effects on others.    
         
 
Q.
Is Buddhism a religion?    
 
A.
It probably depends on your definition of religion. To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. It is a philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
   
    1. To lead a moral life;    
    2. To be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions;    
    3. To develop wisdom and understanding.    
         
 
Q.
What are the various Buddhist traditions?    
 
A.
Generally, there are two divisions: Theravada and Mahayana.
The Theravada lineage (Tradition of the Elders), which relies on sutras recorded in the Pali language, spread from India to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, etc. It emphasizes meditation on the breath to develop concentration and meditation on mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind and phenomena in order to develop wisdom.
   
    The Mahayana (Great Vehicle) tradition, based on the scriptures recorded in Sanskrit, spread to China, Tibet, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. Although in the Theravadan practice love and compassion are essential and important factors, in the Mahayana they are emphasized to an even greater extent.    
    Within Mahayana, there are several branches: Pure Land emphasizes chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha in order to be reborn in His Pure Land; Zen emphasizes meditation to eliminate the noisy, conceptual mind; Vajrayana (Diamond Vehicle) employs meditation on a deity (which is a manifestation of an aspect of the Buddha, such as compassion, NOT the same as a God in the Western sense) in order to transform our contaminated body and mind into the body and mind of a Buddha. At Drepung Loseling we practice both Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.    
         
 
Q.
What is the essence of Buddha's teachings?    
 
A.
The entirety of Buddha's teachings boils down to the two: non-violence as the conduct and dependent origination as the outlook/view/perspective/philosophy (please choose the appropriate word) in life. Buddha teaches his followers to align their daily conduct with the principle of non-violence, i.e. to help others if you can, or at least to avoid doing harm if you can’t help, and to align their outlook / view / perspective / philosophy (same here) in life with seeing everything, including their sufferings and prospects of happiness, through the lens of interdependence and causation.