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Frequently Asked Questions at The Living Dharma Website

Can I visit your temple?
This question is among the most frequently asked at our website. Some people apparently have the misunderstanding that "only Buddhists can attend services," or worse, that "only Japanese or Asians can be Buddhists." Let us state categorically that, if a temple in fact existed with such "restrictions," it is not a true Buddhist temple. There are no such restrictions in Buddhism. Buddhism respects all life—even plant and animal life—equally. In this spirit, we warmly welcome visitors to our temple. Just make sure before you come to check our Temple Calendar for the dates and times of our services.

Can you help me find a Buddhist temple in my area?
Please check out our Links Page. It has links to many other temples, as well as to websites which have links to virtually all known temples, independent sanghas, Buddhist discussion groups, etc.

I'm a student doing a paper on Buddhism. Can you help me?
In the past, we have provided many students with information on Buddhism, and some have even written back telling us they got an "A" on their project! However, due to our current schedules, we may not be able to respond in a timely manner. Thus, we advise students to first check out our Buddhism 101 page. This page has actual questions from many students (and our replies), so there's a good chance you will find helpful information there. If you still have a question, e-mail us, and we'll do our best to respond.

What about coming to Buddhism from another faith?
We often receive e-mails from people of other faiths, and they express everything from a simple curiosity about Buddhism to an outright dislike of their previous religion. Some people have already "converted" to Buddhism, while others are still in the "research phase," or are asking about being simultaneously a Buddhist and "something else." If you'd like to read more, check out our Coming to Buddhism From Other Faiths page, which has some of the e-mail we've received on this topic.

How can Buddhism help me deal with illness or death?
In many ways, this is perhaps the single most frequently asked question; in any case, it is definitely the most important question. The short answer to this question is that 2500 years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha discovered the astounding truth that, although life is definitely full of suffering—specifically, that we all get old, get sick, and eventually die—the real cause of our suffering is not this impermanence of life. Yes, life around us is constantly changing and flowing, being born and dying, but does an insect or flower suffer the kind of mental anguish we humans do upon facing our mortality? Probably not. The Buddha awakened to the truth that our suffering is actually due to our mistaken idea of an "ego-self," to our attachment to an "ego-identity." After his awakening at the age of 35, Shakyamuni spent the remaining 45 years of his life compassionately sharing the content of his awakening with others, and trying to help alleviate their suffering. To read more, read our Buddhism and Death page, which has actual e-mail questions on this topic from our visitors.

Why is there a general lack of material on women in Buddhism?
Historically, there has been various kinds of discrimination against women in Buddhist Sanghas, and perhaps particularly so in those traditions which come from cultures which historically have exhibited forms of gender discrimination. However, one of our ministers, Rev. Patti Nakai, has written the landmark Women in Buddhism series in our Library. Rev. Nakai emphatically states that Buddhism does not support any gender discrimination towards women, and has done some extensive research into the ancient Buddhist sutras to back up her conclusion. In addition, Rev. Patti Usuki has contributed Thanks to All Women in our Library, which draws parallels between the contributions of early Buddhist women and the growing contributions of Buddhist women today.

Why is having a "teacher" important in Buddhism?
In our Jodo Shinshu tradition, Buddhist teachers often say it is impossible to really understand Buddhism without a teacher. The reason is, in order to seriously seek the difficult goal of attaining awakening, we must be inspired and motivated by experiencing the positive, dynamic power of the Dharma as it manifests itself in a real, human being. This is exactly why "Buddhism" exists today. Originally, Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha, who lived 2500 years ago) attained awakening. After attaining awakening, he decided to try to share his awakened understanding with other people. Starting from just his original handful of disciples, his Sangha (fellow seekers of awakening) gradually grew to include many, many followers. The teaching we call Buddhism spread because when people encountered the Buddha in person, they saw a person who was at peace and who was compassionately trying to help others attain the same peace and happiness. They were inspired to follow in his footsteps.
But there is also another reason why we need a teacher. The core teaching of Buddhism is that, in order to attain awakening, the ego-self must be transcended (or negated, as we might say in Jodo Shinshu). However, our ego-self cannot transcend or negate itself. We all need a true teacher, through whom the power of the Dharma is working, to point out to us how our mistaken view is getting in our way.

Can you recommend a particular Buddhist tradition to me?
It can be challenging to decide on a particular Buddhist tradition, especially in some urban areas like Southern California, where it seems that virtually all the known Buddhist traditions have established temples (or meditation centers, etc.). However, we cannot recommend one tradition over another. Our advice would be to perhaps first narrow down your choices through your own research. Try to learn more about the history of Buddhism and its traditions. Buddhism spread, like branches of a tree, from its origination in what is now Nepal, through southeast Asia (generally Theravada Buddhism) and northern Asia (Mahayana Buddhism), and eventually to America. When you consider a particular tradition today, try to find out which of the major branches of Buddhism it belongs to. Gradually, you'll start to get a feeling of which direction you feel drawn to. As for our tradition, we are Shin Buddhists. Shin Buddhism, or Jodo Shinshu, is a tradition which belongs to the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. If you'd like to get started on learning about the history of Buddhism, especially about the basic differences between the two largest branches--Mahayana and Theravada--we recommend Dr. Haneda's article, "What is Amida Buddha." Also, a good general intro to Buddhism is his "What is a Buddhist?"
The next step would then be finding a local temple (or meditation group, etc.) to visit (check our Links Page). All temples/sanghas welcome visitors. If you find one where you feel especially "at home," that temple might be a good place to start. When you feel ready, you might then want to become a member of their "sangha" (a fellow seeker of the truth). Keep in mind that, all Buddhists, regardless of tradition, are seeking the same "goal," which is to become a buddha themselves--an awakened person--just as the historical Shakyamuni Buddha. What varies is the particular "path" or practice of each Buddhist tradition. Once awakened, we can each discover a dynamic life full of joy and meaning.

How do I become a Buddhist? (Or, how do I live as a Buddhist?)
While the specific ceremonies or rituals involved in becoming a Buddhist differ greatly depending on the particular Buddhist sect or tradition, all share certain practices. One common practice, and one which is shared by our Shin Tradition, is to "receive" what are known as the "Three Treasures." Basically, a Buddhist stands before the Buddhist altar and, bowing their head with hands together, pledges to "take refuge" in the Three Treasures, which are the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. In Shin Buddhism, the "Buddha" is the symbolic "Amida Buddha," which represents the infinite wisdom and compassion the historic Buddha awakened to. "The Dharma" is the teaching of the (historic) Buddha. It is not a god, but "truth" or "reality." "The Sangha" is the community of fellow students or seekers of the truth. In our temple, it simply refers to all of our members. We need each of these three "treasures" in order to attain awakening.
"Taking refuge" signifies the crucial change from living a "self-centered" life to living a "Dharma-centered" life; i.e., living a life which is sincerely and humbly centered on the teachings of the Buddha. Furthermore, the act of bowing before the altar is also very significant. It indicates our awareness of a reality greater than our ego-self.
Regarding living life as a Buddhist, this happens naturally when we see the connection between the teachings and our own daily lives. Certainly, the passing of a loved one, the often troubling events in the news, or of course, our own impending mortality, can sensitize us to the Buddha Dharma, to the teachings of the Buddha. This is why we call our site "The Living Dharma": when we see the connection between the Dharma and our everyday lives, the teachings can truly come alive. When the teachings come alive for us, we are living life as true Buddhists.

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