Q: Who was the Buddha?
A: The Buddha was a man who lived some 2,600 years ago and who
revolutionised religious thought in India. This way of thought spread
throughout the Eastern world and has now found its way to the West.
Q: What does the word 'Buddha' mean?
A: The word 'Buddha' stands for the Awakened State
(literally it means awakened), so it is used in relation to waking up to truth,
to becoming enlightened.
Q: What did the Buddha teach?
A: His teaching was extensive. However, it is commonly agreed among
all traditions throughout the Buddhist world, that fundamentally the teaching
of the Buddha is contained in just four truths - the Four Noble Truths.
Q: What are these truths?
A: They are: the truth of suffering; the truth of regarding the cause of
suffering; the truth regarding the cessation of suffering; and the path, the
way leading to the cessation of that suffering.
We suffer when life does not go our way, when our hopes are dashed, and when
disappointment or tragedy strikes. We also suffered when life does go our way.
Why? Becausewe fear loss - loss of pleasure, wealth, family or friends. This is
the truth of suffering.
Wishing, wanting, and desiring are the cause of suffering. We produce our
own suffering by the way we think and act.
Because we produce our own suffering, it is within our power not to produce
it, and not to suffer. This is the truth regarding the cessation of suffering.
The way of life which does not cause suffering is the path; it is the way of
harmlessness, wishlessness, selflessness.
Q: Is there a God in Buddhism as in Christianity?
A: It is very difficult to compare Buddhism with Christianity. One would
have to say, however, there is no God in Buddhism in the way that God in
Christianity is commonly understood.
Q: What do Buddhists believe?
A: Different Buddhists believe different things, but the nature of belief
is itself an important issue in Buddhism. Belief is to be seen as belief, not
as fact. When we see our beliefs as facts, then we are deluding ourselves. When
we see our beliefs as beliefs, then we are not. Seeing things in their true
light is the most important thing in Buddhism. Deluding ourselves is the cause
of much suffering. So Buddhists try to see beliefs as beliefs. They may still
believe in certain things - that is their prerogative - but they do not cling
to those beliefs; they do not mind or worry about whether their beliefs are
true or not, nor do they try to prove that which they know cannot be proved.
Ideally though, a Buddhist does not indulge in any kind of belief.
Q: Does Buddhism teach reincarnation?
A: Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the teaching
is of rebirth, not of reincarnation.
Q: What is the difference between reincarnation and rebirth?
A: The reincarnation idea is to believe in a soul or a being, separate from
the body. At the death of the physical body, this soul is said to move into
another state and then enter a womb to be born again.
Rebirth is different and can be explained in this way. Take away the notion
of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all ideas of self
existing either inside or outside the body. Also take away notions of past,
present and future; in fact take away all notions of time. Now, without
reference to time and self, there can be no before or after, no beginning or
ending, no birth or death, no coming or going. Yet there is life! Rebirth is
the experience of life in the moment, without birth, without death; it is the
experience of life which is neither eternal nor subject to annihilation.
Q: Does that mean there is no such thing as birth and death?
A: That which is born, dies. Forms come and go. All that comes into
existence is impermanent; it is born and it dies. But the very essence of what
"I" am -- the Buddha-nature -- is unborn and undying.
Q: Is this just a Buddhist belief?
A: Buddhists are people and people do believe things, but Buddhism is
concerned with truth, not with belief, and the teaching is to see things as
they are. If we believe anything which has not been experienced, we should know
what we are doing. When we do not understand something, then to maintain an
open mind is the healthiest and wisest practice.
Q: But what happens when we die?
A: If we understand what the word "I" really represents, we
can realise the answer to this question. Buddhism does not offer intellectual
answers; it only gives directions for the experiencing of truth.
Q: How is it possible to experience truth?
A: By understanding that "I" and birth and death are notions,
concepts, ideas, beliefs. It is the idea of a self living life through time,
which produces the idea of birth and death. We have been conditioned into
believing that we have come into existence and in due course will cease to
exist. If we see through these ideas and realise that this moment neither
begins nor ends, we shall realise deathlessness.
Q: But how can getting rid of ideas enables us to see deathlessness?
A: The deathless is here all the while, but ideas block it out. It is
like the sun because of the clouds. But as soon as the clouds are cleared away,
there is the sun. Likewise, as soon as ideas are cleared away from the mind,
there is the true state of birthlessness and deathlessness.
Q: How does one clear away ideas?
A: By seeing ideas as ideas and not as truths; by being aware of mental
formations through meditation.
Q: Are there various kinds of Buddhist meditation?
A: There are different exercises taught by teachers of different
Buddhist traditions and schools. The main differences, however, are superficial
ones, related to psychological or emotional problems. Many of these exercises
can only be administered by experienced meditation teachers. For the average
person, however, whose sole aim is to realise the deep clear teachings of the
Buddha, meditation is a simple process of awareness and investigation.
Q: How does one practise this kind of meditation?
A: By being fully aware, as one thinks, speaks and acts.
Q: But what about sitting meditation?
A: Sitting meditation is the same. It is just a question of being aware.
Sitting meditation is an excellent thing to do, but some people are not able to
find a quiet spot to sit in every day. If this is the case, one is not
automatically debarred from the insights of meditation. To meditate properly is
to do one's duty and to live without wishing life were different, or somehow
The opportunity for seeing truth is ever present, because truth is ever
present. Just because the sun is covered by clouds does not mean the sun is not
there. Conditions are always just right for being aware of the true situation.
All one has to do is be conscious of what is taking place within one and around
one, without making any judgements. If we "see" by being aware, then
we shall see very deeply into everything.
Q: How does one practise sitting meditation?
A: Sitting meditation is the shutting down of all sense stimuli in order
to realise that awareness is not a function of the senses or of the thinking
process. It is practised by sitting quite still with the eyes closed (or not
focusing on anything), by letting life be, by breathing in and out (not
changing the breath, not trying to breath deeply), by just breathing the way
one always breathes, and by noticing the subtle changes in the mind and in the
body. It is neither difficult nor complicated.
Q: Does one need to have a meditation teacher?
A: The Buddha's teaching can be the teacher and awareness can be the
practice which will lead straight to liberation.
Q: What is karma?
A: It is cause and effect. When someone commits a crime, he suffers the
consequences. That is karma. When someone does good, he enjoys the consequences.
That is karma. But karma runs deep; its affects our hearts and minds. From the
beginning, mind is absolutely pure. If we are unkind, deceitful, greedy or
cruel, we defile that purity. Imagine a plain white cloth, beautiful, bright
and clean. And then imagine someone splattering it with black ink. The cloth is
then spoilt. The mind is like the white cloth. Like and dislike, greed and
hatred, are like the ink splattered across it. When the mind is unmarked and
unspoilt, suffering and enjoyment do not exist. This is happiness beyond
pleasure, beyond karma. All karma is impermanent and runs out in due course. A
Buddhist will learn how to get off the karmic see-saw of pleasure and pain.
Q: Can anyone see the Truth?
A: The Buddha was compassionate. He did not teach an impossible teaching
that ordinary people could not understand. On the contrary, his teaching was
clear and simple. Anyone who makes the effort to be aware will realise his or
her Buddha-nature and be freed from suffering.
Before you go off
in search of enlightenment,
see the Buddha
of your own mind.
Compiled by: Yew Han Hee
Computer Science 2nd year, University
of Western Australia, Perth, Western
(minor typo correction by Binh Anson, 8-Sept-96)