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Living Dharma E-mail: Buddhism 101; Questions received from students

Selected E-mail:

Subject: How does Buddhism achieve meaning in life?
Hello,
I have long been wondering about the religion or way of life of Buddhism. Now in my senior years of high school I am given the chance to present a research assignment of my choice. I have chosen "Buddhism and how it achieves meaning of life." I would like to ask your views of this topic and if you have any relevant views you would like to share with me.
Thankyou,
Melissa Chu

Dear Melissa,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma website. As to your question, Buddhism is unique in that it is really not a "religion," though it is commonly referred to as one. It is actually a "teaching." The essence of the teaching that the historic Buddha left behind over 2,500 years ago is that the inevitable aging, illness and death — impermanence — of not only us, but also all our loved ones and all life is not really the "problem"; we are the problem in that we try to fight these changes by holding onto our youth, our wealth, etc. This humble "inward perspective" is common to all Buddhist sects. Thus Buddhism is beyond human (i.e. relative) judgements of "right and wrong," "good and bad," etc. It tells us that life is fleeting; not only our life, but everyone's life, and furthermore that we all share the same ultimate fate. Thus, to think that we are all separate, unique individuals is to be blind to the fundamental interdependence of all life. If we can fully and deeply gain insight into these truths — to "awaken" as a Buddha — we can discover a life full of joy, energy, creativity and compassion, just as the Buddha himself did. In essence, we discover our true reason for living.
Please check out the "What is Buddhism" and the "Common Misconceptions" pages on our website for more info. Thanks for a great question!
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Questions about Buddhism
Hello my name is Kristen. I am in 11th grade, and am doing a project for history about Buddhism. I located your e-mail address through Yahoo. I was wondering if you could answer some questions for me. Please just write your responses and mail them back to this account. Thank you very much.
Kristen
1. How important is the story of Buddha to the Buddhist community?
2. What is an important story in Buddhism?
3. In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of Buddhism?
4. Is Buddhism tolerant of other religions?
5. Is there a supreme god in Buddhism?
6. What happens when one achieves nirvana?
7. How does one know if they have achieved nirvana?
8. Is cremation allowed?
9. What are the main beliefs?
10. What are some daily rituals?
11. What is the Buddhist stance on violence, premarital sex, and divorcee?
12. What must one do to walk down the middle way?
13. What is the major book?
14. Do you feel you are close to achieving nirvana?

Dear Kristen,
Here are some answers to the questions you asked last week. They're from our Junior YBA (Young Buddhist Association) members, all of whom are in high school. Their adult advisor, Mrs. Claire Hansen, also helped. Hope you get an "A" in your history project!
Also, if you'd like to know more about Buddhism, please check out the "What is Buddhism" (http://www.livingdharma.org/WhatIsBuddhism.html) and the "Common Misconceptions" (http://www.livingdharma.org/Misconceptions.html) pages on our website.
Good Luck,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple
>1. How important is the story of Buddha to the Buddhist community?
His story is most important. The example of his life gives us a precedent for our lives and daily struggles.
>2. What is an important story in Buddhism?
Renunciation--the story of the "Four Gates"--is very important in Buddhism. When Siddhartha (the Buddha's name before his enlightenment) snuck out of his sheltered palace existence and for the first time (at age 29), saw sickness (when leaving the palace through the first gate), old age (through the second gate) and death (through the third), he was shocked to discover impermanence. When he saw an ascetic (through the fourth gate), who appeared to be at peace, he left the palace for good to seek the peace this monk had.
>3. In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of Buddhism?
The interdependence of all life, compassion for all life and the impermanent nature of all reality.
>4. Is Buddhism tolerant of other religions?
Yes, very.
>5. Is there a supreme god in Buddhism?
No. Buddhists don't worship an external creator god as in Christianity. Buddhists strive to awaken to the Dharma, which is not a god, but Truth, or Reality...the way things really are.
>6. What happens when one achieves nirvana?
One's human shortcomings, self-centered nature and blind passions will have been complely extinguished through certain Buddhist practices and meditation. After attaining this state, one is called a buddha (awakened being).
>7. How does one know if they have achieved nirvana?
Awakened, one no longer suffers the delusions of the self.
>8. Is cremation allowed?
Yes.
>9. What are the main beliefs?
The Four Noble Truths: 1) Life is suffering 2) The suffering is caused by our the delusions of our ego-self 3) The cure for the suffering is selflessness 4) The way to the cure is to practice the Eightfold Noble Path.
>10. What are some daily rituals?
None, except to recite nembutsu, Namu Amida Butsu, which is to say "I seek refuge in the Buddha-Dharma (teaching of the Buddha)."
>11. What is the Buddhist stance on violence, premarital sex, and divorcee?
Due to our teaching of the interdependence of all life, and compassion, we try to practice non-violence. But there isn't a list of dos and don'ts that we follow. Because of the teaching in the second of the Four Noble Truths--that the problem is really inside us, that we need to "fix ourselves first"--a true Buddhist will naturally "do the right thing."
>12. What must one do to walk down the middle way?
Be fully awake and aware in the present moment, and practice the Eightfold Noble Path.
>13. What is the major book?
None in particular. There are many, many "sutras," or the actual teachings of the Buddha, some of which have been passed down (first orally, then written) for 2500 years.
>14. Do you feel you are close to achieving nirvana?
No. That's why we must continue to attend our Sunday Services.

Subject: Current Events in Buddhism
Hi! My name is Tiffany Tse. My class is doing a very big project about religion, and I chose to work on Buddhism, because I find it especially interesting and because many of my relatives are devout Buddhists. However, while I am having no trouble finding out about the customs and practices of Buddhists, I am having a difficult time trying to find out about the current events concerning Buddhism today. My teacher has assigned us to find out the major events about Buddhism that have occurred only recently.
Do you think you could help me find some information and give me an idea of where to look? Thank you very much!
Yours truly,
Tiffany Tse

Dear Tiffany,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma Website, and for your question. As to your question, here's some info that should help you. Basically, I think you need to reflect on two things: 1) What is Buddhism?, and 2) What is its appeal to the contemporary world? (Please note that this reply is a little long, because you asked a rather involved question...use as much or little of it as you like.)
First, to understand Buddhism, you must know the meaning of the word "Dharma," which is a term that is central to Buddhism. However, it is not that easy to explain because it has several meanings. The simplest explanation is that it refers to the teachings of the Buddha, who lived some 2500 years ago. The essence of these teachings are:
1) All life is constantly changing, moving and flowing. This is the teaching of impermanence. Every living thing must eventually perish.
2) We humans however, tend not to accept this truth. We try to "stay young," try to avoid thinking about mortality through various diversions and develop attachments to our possessions, to our set ways of thinking, etc. The Buddha taught that all of these human tendencies cause us to suffer because, by not facing the truth of impermanence, we make ourselves "stiff" and unbending. Thus the "problem" in Buddhism is not impermanence, but rather, it is us, or specifically, our ego. To illustrate this, imagine the truth of impermanence to be like a fast moving, strong river; we "travel" on this river of life while we are alive. To follow the Buddha's teaching means to "float" downstream" with the flow of the river itself. We, on the other hand, tend to fight the "flow." Essentially, this is like trying to row upstream.
3) There is a cure for the suffering, which is to awaken to the teachings of the Buddha, to the truth or reality of life. There are many "ways" or paths to accomplish this, which correspond to the various sects or traditions of Buddhism such as Theravada, Tibetan or Zen. In our particular Shin sect of Buddhism--because the problem is our own ego-self--we are taught that we cannot awaken ourselves but that we need a teacher. The ego cannot correct itself. The teacher could be a "sensei" (i.e., minister) or a book on Buddhism. But it could also be those events in our life that cause us to "get" the truth of impermanence. For example, when we sadly lose members of our family or close friends. Or, it could be simply when things don't go our way and we realize that, rather than it being due to "someone else's fault," it is really our responsibility. Thus, another meaning of "Dharma" could be "that which awakens us" (which also explains why we call our site "The Living Dharma"). When we receive these truths, we ouselves can become "buddhas"; the word "buddha" means "awakened one." Remembering that our own ego is the problem, it's easy to understand why another term for awakening is "selflessness."
4) Finally, there is another meaning of "Dharma," perhaps the utimate one. It is that when we receive this awakening, we understand that its true benefit is not only for us. It is to pass the teachings on and help awaken others, help ease their suffering. This is because, simultaneously with selflessness, we receive a realization of the fundamental oneness of all life. That is why the deepest meaning of the word Dharma is perhaps "compassion."
For more info on the Dharma, please read our "What is Buddhism Page" (http://www.livingdharma.org/WhatIsBuddhism.html).
As you can see, the Dharma teaches us that it is our ego or false sense of selfhood that creates our suffering and also is responsible for conflicts between us (and between nations). But, is the Buddhist Dharma or teaching relevant to us as Americans? After all, we Americans (and most Western cultures, like the modern ones in Asia and Europe) are taught almost the exact opposite "truth," which is to be self-reliant, proud, strong, a "winner," wealthy, beautiful, young, sexy, etc., etc. We are taught to do everything we can to "build up" the self, not to look at it critically. Yet, interest in Buddhism is, in fact, increasing in America and in other Western cultures.
The key point, Tiffany, is to remember that Buddhism here in the West, in America for example, often differs in practice from the traditional Buddhism that the first generation immigrants brought with them from Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. The longer that Buddhism stays here, the more its practices change to reflect the cultural context. We may someday see a true "American Buddhism," which is a blend of several different traditions. Of course, the essential teaching or Dharma does not change, and is the same teaching that the historical Buddha taught 2500 years ago.
I hope the above info helps you to come to some interesting conclusions about current events or trends in Buddhism. If our website can be of any other help, please let us know.
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Why Buddhism?
Hello...My name is Steve Shimizu and I am a member of the Sr. YBA chapter from the Nishi Hongwanji Temple in downtown Los Angeles. We will be hosting a religious retreat this coming Saturday (September 13) at 10:00am. As usual, we have procrastinated and I am still looking for information on our theme, which is "What’s the point?". Any information you can help me out with would be much appreciated. Our theme, "What’s the point?" is our attempt to discuss and perhaps find an answer to some of the following questions: Why Buddhist religion? What does it do for me in my life? What should I be getting out of it? This theme came about because during our normal discussions with each other, we were unable to come up with a satisfactory answer ourselves. Sure, we go and help out at the Obons, and attend meetings, and (occasionally) :( attend services, but we were wondering really what impact that has on our lives... is it the moral guidance that is important? Is it the community activities? It is an "inner peace" thing that we don’t understand? You can see our confusion. At any rate, I have already taken up enough of your time. I truly appreciate any information/insight that you can give me. Thank you.
In gassho,
Steve Shimizu
P.S. You truly have an awesome web site. Ours is at:
http://members.aol.com/sodistybl/index.html

Dear Steve,
Thanks for visiting our site...and thanks for the compliments. As far as your questions about Buddhism, they require answers which are probably beyond the e-mail format. However, answers to most of your questions are already on the web and in particular at The Living Dharma website on the "What is Buddhism" and "Common Misconceptions" pages. Also, in the Library there are some fine sermons (one by your Rev. Gibbs) which go into detail about various aspects of Buddhism. Also in the Library is my 5-part "Future of Jodo Shinshu" series which is the result of my personal research into the same sorts of questions you have asked about the meaning of Buddhism.
If that isn’t enough, go to our Links Page; you’ll find ton’s of links to some great Buddhist websites, some of which are very, very "low" (in more ways than one).
Lastly, one thing you might consider is actually making your quest for information on Buddhism the theme or a theme for your conference. This itself is a central theme of Buddhism—becoming a true student, always searching for the truth, questioning, examining oneself honestly, etc. Just like the Buddha himself. If you can setup a computer with a web connection in a discussion group, you might find it very stimulating.
Hope this helps,
Peter Hata

From: sshimizu
To: dharma@livingdharma.org
Subject: Re: Nishi Sr. YBA retreat
Mr. Hata:
Thank you very much for your prompt reply. I like your idea about perhaps incorporating the actual search for knowledge in as one of the reasons for spending time on religion. I will peruse your web-site some more (especially the library section) and I’m sure it will come in handy in what I am trying to accomplish. By the way, if you ever wondered whether or not your web site was a good idea, I personally think I have learned more about Buddhism just by reading a few pages of your site than by attending Sunday School for my entire childhood. The information is straight forward, while Sunday School seemed to try and obscure any real information in stories and songs, leaving me confused and uneducated about Buddhism as an adult. I have found that me and most of my peers really don’t know what Buddhism is about, even though we have all grown up at Nishi. I think some of it has to do with accessibility to clear information in English, which I think your site provides. Thanks again.
In Gassho,
Steve Shimizu

Subject: Is Buddhism a Way of Life?
Organization: Southern Regional High School
I am doing a research page on Buddhism, and I was wondering if you could help me on some things. I read you're page and I was wondering is Buddhism a way of life, something more than just a faith? Also since there are a lot of different kinds of Buddhism I was wondering if they all are basically the same, like they are branches off a tree? If you would reply I would be very grateful thank you for you're time. Bye, K. Tarikani

Dear ktaricani,
Thanks for visiting our website. Buddhism is indeed a way of life, as you guessed. Buddhism really isn't a religion or "faith," because Buddhists don't "worship" a universal creator like most religions do. Buddhism is really a "teaching." Buddhists try to "awaken" to the truth of this teaching...for all Buddhists, the essential truth is the impermanent and interdependent nature of all life. This truth is all around us, everyday. When a person "awakens" to this truth, as did the Buddha 2500 years ago, he or she can be positively "transformed" by it. But this is not hocus-pocus; it is simply a part of being human. Popular movies like Disney's "The Beauty and the Beast," Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day" and even the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart, all demonstrate this human transformation.
For the second question, you guessed right again. All Buddhists and branches (sects) of Buddhism believe in the same basic truth outlined above. They only differ in the method or path used to attain the awakening. Some stress following the Buddha's example and living like a monk or priest (documented in the movie Little Buddha, with Keanu Reeves), others like Zen stress meditation. Our particular sect, Shin Buddhism, is more of a "come as you are" kind of sect that believes common, ordinary people can awaken to the truth without being a monk or priest. Of course, we all need a "sensei" (teacher) and the help of our "Sangha" (fellow seekers); we can't do it alone.
Thanks again for your question and please visit again!
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Pure Land Buddhism
Hi,
My name is Tommy Chung.I'm a 16 year boy who is very interested in the teaching of the buddha. I have read many articles and books on "Pure land buddhism". I feel that pure land teachings can definitely help us find purity in ourselves and save sentient beings in this defiled and dark world. I constantly recite Amita buddha's name yet i have not seen any significant results. Maybe I just don't see it or I'm just too deluded. Anyway I was hoping your organization can give me some advice or teachings regarding to Pure Land buddhism. It would be very helpful towards my progression in cultivation. I'm very glad that a organization like yours exist in which the teachings of the buddha can be promoted and spreaded. May your work continue with success! It would be highly appreciated if you take the time to respond.
Thankyou!
Tommy Chung

Dear Tommy,
Congratulations on being so young, yet so interested in the Buddha's teachings. You are lucky to be asking such questions at such an early age!
As far as advice, I would just like to clarify one point for you regarding Pure Land Buddhism, which might help. We don't really talk about "finding purity" within ourselves. It may seem paradoxical, but we actually talk about the opposite, in other words, our basic human tendencies to be egocentric, self-centered, judgemental, etc.
You probably already know the Four Noble Truths, which are the basic teachings of the Buddha which all Buddhist sects are built upon. I think what the Buddha is saying to us in the Four Noble Truths is that "life" (i.e., especially our inevitable illness, old age and death) is not the problem; impermance is simply reality. Instead, we are the problem, we cause our own suffering because we resist accepting these truths and try to "stay young," try to escape from reality by taking drugs, and in general don't appreciate the wonderful life we've been given. What Pure Land Buddhism is saying is that out of our awakening to the truth of impermance or Dharma, to the self-inflicted suffering caused by our egos, and especially to the reality that this truth affects ALL living things...can come the true gift of Buddhism, which is compassion. When one receives this gift, one is reborn in the Pure Land.
If you are interested, I recommend reading "Faces Brightly Shining,"by Rev. Patti Nakai, which is an article in our Library on the one of the greatest Pure Land teachers, Rev. Akegarasu, and the true meaning of the Pure Land.
Thanks very, very much for your question, Tommy.
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Buddhism and the Environment
Sorry to trouble you but I would very much like you to explain a few things about Buddhist beliefs. Firstly, what do Buddhists believe as far as the environment, its destruction and what you believe regarding environmental issues generally.
Yours,
Andrew Sharratt

Dear Andrew,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma website. As to your question, if you haven't already, please read the "What is Buddhism" Page on our website (http://www.livingdharma.org). It explains the basics of Buddhism. By the way, Buddhists don't generally use the word "beliefs" as much as the word "teachings"; this is because Buddhism is essentially a teaching, not like religions that believe in a god or gods.
Buddhists don't generally take sides in issues that have a political element (like the environment) because the essential teaching of Buddhism is to "fix ourself first" since "we are the problem." However, if you read the aforementioned page, I'm sure you'll see that Buddhism is extremely "environment-friendly," since one of its basic teachings is the interdependence of all life. Andrew, this is a teaching that goes back 2,500 years (to the historical Buddha) and predates the environmental movement by more than a couple of millenia. Therefore, you might say Buddha was the first environmentalist.
Thanks again for a great question!
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Suffering
What do Buddhists mean by "suffering" (duhka;dukka)? What are the ramifications of the term and why does it play such an important role in the religious doctrine of Buddhism?
Julian H., Rutgers University

Dear Julian,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma website. As to your question, the short answer is that the truth of suffering (that to be human means to suffer) was one of the Four Noble Truths that the Buddha awakened to 2500 years ago. The Buddha also saw that we create our own suffering by not accepting the truth of the impermanence of all living things (the law of constant change). Buddhism is a way of living, a teaching or attitude that helps us to accept and live with this truth, and thus to relive our suffering.
For more info, please read the short "What is Buddhism" and "Common Misconceptions" pages on our website (http://www.livingdharma.org). Thanks for a great question!
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Dear Friends,
I am a college student in the United States studying world religions.  I am particularly interested in Buddhism and I have been working on an extended study of how Buddhism deals with and explains suffering.  I have read and studied a lot so far and I believe I am beginning to understand. However, I believe that thoughts from someone who is Buddhist would be quite valuable to me in understanding a Buddhist's view on suffering.  I would greatly appreciate anything you could tell me about the subject.  Your thoughts, experiences, and wisdom would be of great value to my quest.  Thank you for your time.   Sincerely, Heather M. Culton

Dear Heather,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma website. As to your question, the essence of Buddhism is the "Dharma," or teaching of the Buddha. The Dharma teaches us the truth of impermanence, which is the truth that the Buddha himself awakened to 2500 years ago. In a sense, impermanence--the truth that all life is in constant change and that every living thing eventually will perish--could be said to be the ultimate "suffering." We and all our loved ones must eventually die.
To me personally, Buddhism is a meaningful teaching because, like life itself, it has a "bittersweet" quality. Buddhism teaches us that we must accept the "bitter" truth of impermanence, that all living things must eventually perish. The "sweet" part is more difficult to explain. The "bitter" and "sweet" are like the negative and positive aspects of the Buddhist awakening itself. In other words, there is the awakening to the aforementioned negative aspects of impermanence, but also simultaneously an awakening in us of compassion towards all life when we realize that we are all interconnected and part of this same life. This awakening of compassion can have a deep and transforming effect on how we relate to other life and how we live our own lives. The word "Buddha" actually means "awakened one." Therefore, as one of my teachers once said, "the true gift of Buddhism is compassion."
Life is precious and should be treasured. Not only should we treasure our loved ones, but also every living thing. And, when we treasure our own lives, we can live life to its fullest.
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Buddhism and God
My name is Esteban Martinez and I'm studying Buddhism. I just have a question that I think is important to me. Does a Buddhist believe in God, that supreme being who created the Universe and created men?
Thank you
Esteban Martinez

Dear Esteban,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma website. As to your question, it's one that is neither important nor unimportant to Buddhists. Let me explain. Rather than worshipping a creator God as Christians do, the goal of the Buddhist is to "awaken" to what we call the Dharma (hence the title of our website, "The Living Dharma"). The Dharma, Esteban, is not a god at all. It is the universal truth, or reality which the historical Buddha awakened to 2,500 years ago. The essence of this truth is the impermanent, and also interdependent nature of all life. When we can fully and deeply appreciate this truth, "good" things like compassion for all living things, can arise within us.
So in one sense, although Buddhists, don't share the same beliefs as Christians, it might be said that we share the same goals, that of becoming happier, more caring people.
Read the "What is Buddhism" page for more info.
(http://www.livingdharma.org/WhatIsBuddhism.html)
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Buddhism and Drugs
Hello, I have a project due tomorrow and I need to answer this question: Why don't Buddhists drink alcohol or take drugs? Could you please answer my question tonight? Thanks....Laura

Hello Laura,
As to your question, I would have to answer that first of all, while it is true that some Buddhist traditions or sects absolutely prohibit such substances, not all do, or they at least tolerate perhaps a little alchohol in moderation. For that matter, we are told almost everyday in the media that a glass or two of red wine can lower our risk of heart attack. In any case, there are different views on this subject amongst the different Buddhist sects. By the way, our organization is Shin-sect, Mahayana-based Buddhism.
In general however, I think all Buddhist sects probably would at least recommend we try to remain sober at all times. The reason is because of what the essential teachings of Buddhism, which are the Four Noble Truths, tell us. These teachings are also known as the Dharma. What these truths tell us is that it is not really the constant change all around us (impermanence) or our own aging, illness and inevitable death that is the problem. We, or specifically, our ego-selves, are the problem. We suffer in life because we are under the delusion that our self is real, when it is actually only an illusion. The conflict between the world of constant change around us and our illusory self, which tries its best to stay the same and hold onto its youth, loved ones, wealth, etc., creates our suffering. That is why another term for the goal in Buddhism--"awakening"--is “selflessness.” It is this unique “inward perspective” which distinguishes Buddhism as a teaching, and which unites Buddhists the world over. When we are able to attain this awakened state, we lead happier, more peaceful, harmonious and meaningful lives.
However, the task of attaining this state is not easy, since it requires the ego-self to recognize its very own negative qualities, such as selfishness, desires for material wealth, resistance to aging, etc. Most traditions in Buddhism try to help us along the path to awakening through some sort of meditative practice. Buddhists try to focus deeply on the meaning of the Dharma or teachings and what they tell us about our true self. This implies the need for a focused and concentrated mind, hence the advice to abstain from any kind of mind-altering substance. Such a substance only increases our delusion.
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Karma and Rebirth
I have a question about Buddhism concerning karma and rebirth. I have fumbled with this question for several years and my reading really hasn't been helpful(or I have not been skillful enough).
Any help would be appreciated.
Thanks!,
Terry

Dear Terry,
I'd like to say upfront that I'm not a minister or Buddhist scholar, and also that explanations of the concepts of karma and rebirth might differ somewhat depending on which Buddhist tradition you asked. Given that qualifier, my understanding of karma is that it is simply the "results of our acts"; so-called "good acts" or acts of compassion produce good karmic results and "bad acts", or acts of self-centeredness, produce bad karmic results or increased suffering in our life. Several of the "paths" of the famous "Eightfold Noble Path," such as right acts, right speech, etc. are centered on the idea of avoiding bad karma.
My understanding of the concept of rebirth is that it means two things, depending on the context you use it in. In the context of karma, rebirth is a negative thing. I think it means the same thing as "samsara" in Buddhism, which is the endless cycle of birth and death. This is very different from the "everlasting life" promised in Christian faith. The cycle of birth and death in Buddhism, which in our particular Shin tradition is understood more as a metaphor, happens because of the basic problem of human attachment. We try to hold on to our youth, our "identity," our wealth, loved ones, etc., but this goes against the fundamental truth of impermanence, thus causing more difficulty and suffering in our lives. The truth of impermanence (known as the Dharma in Buddhism) is that everything is constantly changing, flowing, moving. A person who lives life with attachment is said in Buddhism to be unawakened. The basic delusion of such a person is that there is some reason to hold on to things (or that they can be held on to at all), that there is something permanent. Then, such a person, when facing their own death, because of all their attachments, may be reluctant to die, may try to "hold on" to life. This person karmically is said to "need" another life. Metaphorically, they "need another life" because they didn't live their real life fully and in the moment, without attachments.
On the other hand, when a person gains deep insight into the truth of impermanence, the person is said to be awakened, as the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, was. Such a person has seen there is no permanent ego-identity and that all life ultimately must perish. This is of course a negative, humbling truth. In a sense, it is like a spiritual death. But, such a person also is now "liberated" from the tremendous weight of attachment and is free to live their life dynamically and creatively, moment-to-moment. In our tradition, which is also known as Pure Land Buddhism, this person is said to be "reborn in the Pure Land." This is a spiritual rebirth, a new life. In a sense, this person can now experience life with the joy of a newborn baby, possessing an insatiable curiousity and seeing wonder and fascination in everything. These two aspects, one negative and one positive, are at the heart of the teaching of Buddhism.
Thanks for a great question, Terry. I hope I've shed some light on these concepts for you.
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: Becoming a Buddha
I really want to become a buddha but I don't know how. I'm only 12 and all the things I've researched I don't understand. I need someones advice who is a buddha so I can understand the teachings and the way of life. I have not been brought up in any religion so I don't really know what you have to do.
Please help me,
Heather

Dear Heather,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma website. As to your question, I'm glad you want to become a buddha. That is a very noble aspiration, especially on the part of someone so young as yourself. I'm not a buddha myself, so please take any advice I give you with a lot of skepticism. What I would like to point out to you is that becoming a buddha is very difficult.
You probably already know some of the qualities a buddha possesses, right? Let's take the example of the historical buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived about 2500 years ago in India. The word "buddha" actually means, "awakened being." Because he was awakened, Shakyamuni Buddha was an extremely wise and generous person. From the time he became awakened, at the age of 35, until his death at the age of 80, he ceaselessly travelled all around India and shared his teachings with anyone who would listen. He wanted everyone to be awakened and enjoy the same sense of happiness and peace that he had.
If you'd like to learn more about how Shakyamuni Buddha became awakened, you can read a little about his life at Tricyle.com's website:
http://www.tricycle.com/buddhistbasics/buddhaslife.html
One other thing, Heather. Don't worry too much right now about how long it takes to become a buddha, or how difficult it is. Keep in mind that Shakyamuni did not become the Buddha until the age of 35. The founder of our Jodo Shinshu tradition, Shinran Shonin, did not attain awakening until the age of 29. At the age you are at, becoming a buddha is wonderful goal, but because that goal usually requires a certain amount of "growing up," try not to be in a hurry to "grow up." Just enjoy being a teenage kid right now. And, please continue your study of Buddhism. I hope that it ultimately helps you to lead a wonderful and fullfilling life!
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

Subject: The Turning Point in Buddhism
What is theTurning point in Buddhism?
Danielle

Dear Danielle,
Thanks for visiting our Living Dharma Website. As to your question, the essence of the Buddhist teaching (known as the Dharma) that the historic Buddha left behind some 2,500 years ago is that the inevitable aging, illness and death--impermanence--of not only us, but also all our loved ones and all of life is not the real cause of our suffering, though we all think it is. The real problem is actually us, or specifically it is our "ego-self" (illusion of a self-identity), which tries to resist the inevitable by holding onto our youthfulness, our wealth, etc. It is this "attachment" that is the real cause of our suffering. This humble, "self-questioning" or "inward perspective" is common to all Buddhist traditions.
The "turning point" in Buddhism is therefore "awakening" to this truth, to the problem of the ego-self. As one of my teachers once put it, the object of the Buddhist student is to develop "the eyes that look inward." In terms of the metaphor of the "turning point," we might say this occurs when our focus changes from being outwardly focused on "the problems everyone else is causing me to experience" to being inwardly focused on "the problems I am causing myself to experience."
If we can fully and deeply gain insight into this truth--to "awaken" as a Buddha to the limitations of the self--we can discover a life full of joy, energy, creativity and compassion, just as the Buddha himself did. In essence, we discover our true reason for living.
Best Wishes,
Peter Hata
The Living Dharma Website
West Covina Buddhist Temple

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