Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is Buddhism--a religion or a philosophy?

  2. Is it a form of Hinduism?

  3. Who was the Buddha?

  4. Was the Buddha a god?

  5. What is Enlightenment?

  6. What is Meditation?

  7. What is that strange language that Buddhists chant?
    Do I have to learn another language to practice Buddhism?

  8. Does Buddhism have scriptures or sacred books?

  9. What is Theravāda? Is it the same as "Hinayāna" Buddhism?

  10. What is the significance of the wheel symbol?

  11. What are the basic practices of Buddhism?

  12. What is karma (kamma)?

  13. Are Buddhists vegetarians?

  14. Why do Buddhists offer incense, flowers and other items
    before images of the Buddha?

  15. Why do Buddhists bow before images of the Buddha?
    Is everyone required to bow?

  16. Do Buddhists practice ancestor worship?

  17. What did the Buddha teach about the afterlife?

  18. What is Nirvāna (Nibbāna)?

  19. Is it selfish to want to attain Nirvana?

  20. It sounds like the Path which the Buddha taught could be
    beneficial for anyone who follows it. Is it necessary for me
    to give up my religion and convert to Buddhism?


  Answers

  1. Buddhism is the name conventionally given to the various traditions
    based upon the teachings of the historical teacher known as the Buddha.
    Buddhism, technically speaking, is more than a religion or a philosophy -
    though it includes aspects of both - it is a way of life.   (Return to Top)

  2. During the lifetime of the historical Buddha, there was no Hindu religion,
    per se. The proto-Hindu religion of his era might best be called 'Vedic
    Brahmanism.' The Buddha's teachings, while indeed having some
    features in common with it, clearly exclude many important beliefs and
    practices of the Vedas (pre-Buddhist, proto-Hindu scriptures). In some
    ways, the Buddha's position regarding the Vedic religion is comparable to
    that of Jesus towards the Judaic religion of the Pharisees and Saducees.
    (Return to Top)

  3. The Buddha was a human being, born as Prince Siddhattha Gotama
    (Siddhartha Gautama) around 563 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), in
    Lumbini Park (in what is today the country of Nepal). He lived most of
    his life in what is now called northern India. At the age of 29, the prince
    decided to renounce the life of royalty, wealth, and power, and left home
    to seek a solution to the problem of human suffering. After six years of
    dwelling in the forests, living a pure life dedicated to morality, meditation,
    and wisdom, he experienced what he called Enlightenment - a spiritual
    Awakening. The word 'Buddha' literally means 'Enlightened One' or
    'Awakened One,' and is not a name, but a title.   (Return to Top)

  4. No, the Buddha wasn't a god. He also wasn't an incarnation of a god;
    nor was he a divine manifestation, messenger or prophet. The Buddha
    flatly denied being a god, and the teachings which he gave the world
    were never described (either by him or his disciples) as being divinely
    inspired or of divine origin.   (Return to Top)

  5. Enlightenment (Bodhi) is a transformative experience through which
    the mind is enabled to see and understand the eternal Truth, known
    as Dhamma (Dharma). Metaphorically speaking, before Enlighten-
    ment, one is sleepwalking through life; after Enlightenment, one is
    Awake, and then can see things as they truly are.

    One who has Awakened (a Buddha) doesn't have omniscience in the
    sense of knowing all things simultaneously, but they will be able to fully
    know and understand whatever they focus their mind on.   (Return to Top)

  6. One term that the Buddha frequently used when speaking of meditation
    was bhāvanā. This word literally means 'cultivation' or 'development,' and
    the meditation practices taught by the Buddha are for the purpose of mental
    and spiritual development.

    There are two general categories of meditation in Buddhism: Tranquility
    (samatha) and Insight (vipassanā). In the former method, one's mind is
    directed to one subject - a word, phrase, or sentence, a color, a symbol, or
    the breath - to the exclusion of all else. In samatha meditation, the emphasis
    is on the faculty of concentration, and one maintains the mind in a state of
    single-pointed focus called samādhi.

    In vipassanā meditation, the emphasis is on the faculty of mindfulness -
    present-moment awareness - and one maintains the mind in a state of open-
    ness, observing the body, feelings, consciousness, and mental states from
    moment to moment.   (Return to Top)

  7. The language used in Theravāda Buddhism (see question #9) is Pāli,
    an ancient language from India. It is related to Sanskrit, but the latter
    would have been best understood by Brahmin priests and others from
    the elite classes of society. The Buddha intended for his teachings to be
    available for all people, so he taught in the common language of his day;
    the literary form of that language is Pāli.

    In some modern-day Buddhist congregations, chanting is done in the
    native language of the participants (Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.).

    While many people enjoy chanting in Pāli, it isn't required that one
    learn it. At Lien Hoa Temple, services for English-speakers are in both
    Pāli and English. Collections of the Buddha's teachings are readily
    available in English translations (see the Buddhist Resources page
    for more information).   (Return to Top)

  8. The oldest written record of teachings attributed to the historical
    founder of Buddhism is a collection of texts in the Pāli language,
    known as the Tipitaka. This term literally means 'three baskets,'
    because the teachings are divided into three categories, and at
    one time were written on palm leaves and stored in baskets. The
    three sections of the Tipitaka are Vinaya, which is a group of
    teachings concerned with monastic life; Abhidhamma or 'higher
    teachings,' which are dry, scholarly, re-tellings of the Buddha-
    Dhamma; and the Suttas (Sanskrit: Sutras), the discourses
    which are for all people, both ordained and laity.  
    (Return to Top)

  9. The word Theravāda means 'the word of the Elders' or 'the way
    of the Elders.' Theravāda is the oldest form of Buddhism still in
    existence. Sometimes it's called the 'Southern School,' but the
    adherents of Theravāda don't refer to it as 'Hinayāna.' The latter
    term is derogatory, meaning 'smaller, lesser, or inferior vehicle.'
    Religious reformers of the Mahâyāna schools coined the word to
    condemn the earlier teachings and those who followed them.

    At the time that the Mahāyāna movement began, there were
    approximately 18 schools of Buddhism already in existence, and
    all of them were referred to by the Mahāyānists as 'Hinayāna.' Of
    those 18 schools, only one remains today: Theravāda.

    The nations in which most Theravāda Buddhism is most common
    are Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma (also
    known as Myanmar). But you can find Theravādins in many other
    countries, including Britain, Australia, South Africa, France, Germany,
    Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, and the United States.  
    (Return to Top)

  10. This symbol is called the Dhammacakka or 'Wheel of Dhamma' (Dharma).
    It represents the Buddha's teachings, and the eight spokes of the wheel
    symbolize the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha likened his teachings to
    a wheel that once set in motion, could not be stopped. The Dhammacakka
    rolls throughout the world, carrying the teachings to all whose hearts and
    minds are open to receive them.  
    (Return to Top)

  11. The basic practices of Buddhism were described by the Buddha as
    "morality, meditation, and wisdom." They include - but are not limited to -
    the Noble Eightfold Path and the Five Precepts (see relevant sections
    in the "Buddhism 101" section of this website).

    Traditional practices, such as chanting, bowing, and burning of incense,
    are also commonplace, but these nonessentials arose some time after the
    Buddha's passing. We consider the teachings as a gift; rituals, ceremonies,
    etc. are like giftwrapping, ribbons, and bows decorating the outside of the
    package. We must remember that what is inside is what's most important.
    (Return to Top)

  12. Kamma (karma) literally means 'action' or 'that which is done.' Kamma is
    volitional activity, and may be mental, verbal, or physical action. Whatever
    intentions that we have, and whatever intentional actions that we take, may
    be considered kamma. The consequences of our kamma are called phala,
    which literally means 'fruit.' We plant seeds of kamma - either good or evil--
    and reap the fruits of our actions - either pleasant or unpleasant. The Abhi-
    dhamma
    (see question #8 above), teaches that we experience the fruits of
    kamma as mental states.

    It's important to understand that not everything which happens to us is due
    to kamma. According to the Buddha, there are five types of natural law, and
    kamma is only one of them. For more info on this subject, see the Buddhist
    Resources page on this website.  
    (Return to Top)

  13. Some Buddhists are vegetarians; others aren't. The Buddha never required
    that his disciples - ordained or laity - be vegetarians. Regarding monks and
    nuns, they are required to be certain that any meat consumed by them fulfills
    three conditions: they must not hear, see, or suspect that an animal was killed
    specifically for their use. Furthermore, monks and nuns are forbidden from eat-
    ing the flesh of human beings, dogs, horses, elephants, snakes, lions, tigers,
    panthers, bears, wolves, or hyenas. Raw flesh (meat or fish) is also prohibited.

    As for laypeople, the Buddha gave no specific guidelines for eating meat.
    (Return to Top)

  14. Just as a loving son or daughter will leave flowers at the grave of a beloved
    parent, Buddhists also offer flowers to the memory of their original Teacher,
    the Buddha. We do so out of respect and gratitude, but the flowers offered
    also symbolize the flowering of wisdom.

    When cut flowers are used, they act as reminders of impermanence: as they
    wither and fade, they remind us that we also wither and fade. Life is short, and
    we must consider each day as a precious opportunity for our spiritual practice.

    Offerings of candles, incense, and other items have symbolic meanings, too;
    for example, candles symbolize the light of Dhamma, and incense reminds us
    of the 'sweet fragrance' of moral virtue (sĪla).  
    (Return to Top)

  15. Bowing before an image of the Buddha is another way of showing reverence
    and gratitude. This practice isn't required, but is traditional; it may be seen
    not only as a ritual act, but also as an extra opportunity for being mindful.
    (Return to Top)

  16. Buddhism teaches us to honor our parents, and that we can never fully repay
    our parents for all that they do for us. Therefore, when parents or other loved
    ones pass away, many Buddhists light candles and incense at the temple, to
    symbolically pay their respects. Sometimes a small shrine is set up in the home,
    and various types of offerings are placed there, as well. Technically speaking,
    this is not worshipping our ancestors, but honoring their memories.

    Of course, the best way to honor our loved ones is to treat them with kindness,
    compassion, and respect while they are alive.  
    (Return to Top)

  17. The Buddha taught that there is life both before and after one's present life. We
    haved lived countless times in the past, and will likely be reborn many times in
    the future. Buddhism calls this process 'rebirth,' rather than 'reincarnation,' how-
    ever. In the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation, it is an unchanging, eternal soul that
    travels from one life to the next; in Buddhism, there is instead an ever-changing
    lifestream which flows from one life to another, even as it flows in this life.

    There are numerous heavens and hells into which one may be reborn; one also
    may be reborn here on earth, either as a human being or as an animal. The form
    into which one is reborn is dependent upon the way that one lives in this life. For
    more information on this topic, see the Buddhist Resources page on this site.
    (Return to Top)

  18. Nibbāna (Nirvāna) literally means 'to cool,' 'extinguish,' or 'to blow out.' The word
    describes the state of someone who has extinguished all suffering. One who has
    realized Nibbāna is free from all defilements - the causes of suffering, and of future
    rebirth - and thus is no longer subject to suffering. In addition, such a person doesn't
    intentionally cause suffering for others. Nibbāna is something to be experienced in
    this very life; when an Arahant (a person who attained Nibbāna) passes away, then
    it is called Parinibbāna or final Nibbāna.

    The Buddha referred to Nibbāna as 'the Supreme Refuge,' 'the Deathless State,'
    'the Highest Happiness,' 'the Unconditioned,' and 'the Unborn.' He also called
    Nibbāna 'Peace,' 'Liberation,' and 'Deliverance.'

    It must be understood that Nibbāna is not a heaven or paradise; in fact, Nibbāna
    is not a place at all. If we must define Nibbāna, then it would be more accurate to
    speak of Nibbāna as a state - specifically, the Deathless State, the Unconditioned
    State, or the State of Peace.  
    (Return to Top)

  19. In the realization of Nibbāna, all defilements are eradicated--including selfishness.
    While some people may believe that Nibbāna is a selfish goal, the implication of
    said belief is that it's selfish to eliminate selfishness--which makes no logical sense.
    (Return to Top)

  20. Buddhism is more of a way of life than a religion; so, if you wish to follow this Path,
    there is no necessity to formally become a Buddhist in the sense of converting from
    one religion to another. One who understands the Path, believes it is a good way of
    life, and tries to follow that Path, is a Buddhist--regardless of whether they convert
    or not. Practices which conflict with the practice of the Path should be given up (see
    the
    Noble Eightfold Path and Five Precepts pages on this website); but otherwise,
    there's no need to give up one's religion to become a Buddhist.

    Of course, if anyone wishes to formally commit their life to Buddhism, there is a
    ceremony called 'taking refuge' or 'going for refuge' which one can request. But
    to do so is entirely up to each individual - Buddhism is a religion of freedom.
    (Return to Top)

Dallas - Fort Worth Buddhist Association - Irving, Texas
Vipassana - Insight Meditation - Metta Bhavana - Theravada
Buddhism - Dhamma - Dharma - Lien Hoa Temple - Irving, TX