Some Questions and Answers

1. Buddhists are often, seen praying to the Buddha, offering flowers and covering Bud¬dha Statues with gold leaves. Is this a way of acquiring good Kamma?

There are no prayers as such in Buddhism since, by definition, Buddhism cannot be classed as a religion (i.e., there is no ‘creator god’). The Buddha, having attained Nibbana, and after his death, is beyond the call of prayer. Certain rituals and practices are later additions to Buddhism and satisfy people’s need for expression and worship. Buddhists kneel before an image of the Buddha or a Bodhi tree and reflect on the virtues of the Buddha and may recite the five precepts. When performed with good intentions, these can be considered as beneficial kamma.

2. If there is no ‘creator god’ in Buddhism, how is the origin of the universe to be accounted for?

A belief that every result has a cause leaves no room for the belief that the universe was created out of nothing. The universe and its components are also subject to the cyclic law of birth, death and rebirth and therefore an absolute beginning is inconceivable.

The Buddha was more concerned with a solution to the immediate problem of how to release us all from the cycle of death and rebirth than expounding theories on the possible origins of the universe. The question of the origin of the world was one which the Buddha refused to answer.

Buddha realised that any answer would create much controversy and argument. He said that it was not necessary to know it in order to achieve the goal of Buddhist practice and made an analogy with a man shot in the arm by a poisoned arrow. He would not allow anyone to pull the arrow out of his arm until he had received the answer to various questions, such as: who shot the arrow? who made the feathers? etc.

The Buddha said that before he could obtain an answer to such questions, the poison would enter his bloodstream and kill him. Similarly, we have an urgent problem - we have to endure the unsatisfactoriness of existence. We should apply ourselves exclusively to eradicating dukkha.

3. Is there a purpose in life?

There is no specific purpose or scheme of things to which life has to conform, except that it is operative within certain laws (eg kamma) governing the universe. Certain individuals have been described by the Buddha as ‘Wanderers in the samsara’ (cycle of life), perpetuating their continued existence by their own actions. There is, however, a very definite goal to life, namely the extinction of dukkha and release from conditioned existence.

4. How is Nibbana different from the ever¬lasting heaven, as taught in some reli¬gions; is it the total annihilation of the human personality?

Nibbana is not a realm of existence. Nibbana literally means ‘blowing out’- blowing out the causes that produce results in the cycle of life - hence there will be no rebirth. Nibbana cannot be described in terms of our normal experience, which is so limited. Nibbana is not subject to the law of cause and effect, therefore it is permanent.

5. Can Nibbana be attained in this life or the hereafter?

Nibbana is to be attained in this life, not after death. The Buddha and many of his followers have attained this state during their own life¬times. After death, there is no more rebirth.

6. If the present life is the result of past actions, is a person’s life already predeter¬mined?

The present life is very much conditioned by past kamma, not only in the immediate past but in the preceding lives as well, depending on the intensity of the particular kamma. However, life is in a state of flux and the results of past kamma can undergo change due to subsequent actions. Hence, to that extent, everything is not predetermined. On the question of freewill, the whole existence is relative, conditioned and interdependent, hence there cannot be an absolute freewill. It is important to understand that, how we act today conditions the life we will have in the future.

7. Is kamma carried by the soul during rein¬carnation from one life to another?

The non-existence of a permanent soul or spirit that reincarnates from one life to another is fundamental to the Buddha’s teachings. A permanent soul cannot exist in an ever-changing interdependent process of mind and matter which constitutes a living being. However, the momentum of accumulated kamma results in a new existence. The individual so born is neither the same nor different. Buddhism, therefore, describes this process as ‘rebecoming’ or ‘rebirth’ in preference to reincarnation which implies a resurrection of the same entity.

8. Are animals subject to rebirth and can humans be reborn as animals?

Buddhism teaches that human existence is just one of many realms or planes of existence in the universe and that an individual may be born into a particular plane depending on the results of his or her kamma. Hence, a being who has acquired unfavourable kamma may be born into the animal plane which is considered to be below the human plane.

According to the Buddha, there are sub-human planes, which can be miserable, and many higher planes where the existence is blissful and the life spans are exceedingly long. This is what a Buddhist means by the terms ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’. The Buddha said that human existence is unique in that it provides the best opportunity for further development to higher levels and for the attainment of Nibbana.

9. What proof is there of past life?

The ability to recall past lives can be acquired through meditative practice. There have also been a number of authenticated cases of spontaneous recall among very young children. The Buddhist explanation for ‘gifted’ children is that they are only experiencing memories from a previous existence. Differing kammic inheritance, brought from previous lives, may also explain the differences between identical twins.

10. Buddhism teaches that life is suffering - why such a pessimistic view?

Buddhism looks at life in an objective and realistic way - with neither optimism nor pessimism. It needs only a little reflection to realise that life for the majority is a continuous struggle for survival. The word dukkha means much more than the English word ‘suffering’. It also includes such concepts as unsatisfactoriness, incompleteness, uncontrollability, imperfection, and emptiness. By following the ‘Noble Eight-fold Path’, the mind is gradually cleared of illusions and, with the development of clear sight, it becomes possible to see intuitively the true nature of existence.

11. Should Buddhists abstain from eating meat and taking alcohol even in moderation?

The Buddha did not advise his followers to abstain from eating meat. He was aware that prohibition would make it difficult for people in certain cultures to survive as Buddhists. On such matters, Buddha left the choice up to the individual. One should be aware that killing an animal, even for food, has its kammic consequences. Alcohol taken even in moderate quantities affects the mind. Those who are following the path of purification should avoid it altogether.

A Note on Meditation
The aim of Buddhist meditation is to cleanse the mind of defilement and disturbances, to gain Insight (Vipassana) which leads to the understand¬ing of the true nature of things. The essential features are mindfulness and awareness.

There are many methods of meditation described in the ancient texts. A very effective type of meditation recommended by the Buddha himself is the ‘mindfulness of breathing’. Here the awareness is focused and sustained at the point where the breath enters and leaves the body - the tip of the nose.

When meditating, a quiet place should be chosen when there is no rush. Sit comfortably, with the spine erect, without leaning - leaning may cause drowsiness. Relax and let the breath flow naturally without being forced. The mind may wander off, which is quite natural in the initial stages. Be aware that the mind has wandered, and bring back awareness gently but firmly to the tip of the nose. Note that the breath itself is not important, and no effort should be made to follow the passage of it in and out of the body: it is the sensation produced at the nostrils, which should be the object of meditation.

Begin with 20 minutes or so and with regular practice a state of calmness will be experienced. Daily practice of this simple technique is highly recommended.

Source:    Jun 12, 2006