Buddhism FAQ

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In Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language in which many Buddhist teachings were recorded, Buddha means "Awakened One". When awakened, a person sees things as they really are, and is free from all of life’s sufferings. Everyone has the potential to become a Buddha through self-awareness, wisdom, and compassion.

The founder of Buddhism is Sakyamuni Buddha. He was born around 600 B.C. as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, in what is now Nepal. Although he led a comfortable life within the palace walls, Siddhartha grew increasingly restless and curious about the world beyond. He left his home one day and was shocked to encounter the sick, elderly, and dying, in the streets of his kingdom. The experience drew his attention to the sufferings of aging and death, and he wished to find a way to liberate all sentient beings from the vicious cycle of suffering. At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace as heir to his father’s throne, and renounced all worldly pleasures. He travelled far and wide in order to understand the true meaning of the suffering all around him. With concentration and perseverance, Siddhartha conquered the demons that tempted and distracted him, and finally succeeded in his search for liberation. After six years of arduous training and strict self-discipline, he found the answer to the question of suffering, its causes, and the way to stop it. In doing so, Siddhartha attained Enlightenment and became the Buddha (or Sakyamuni Buddha) under the Bodhi tree. For the next 45 years, the Buddha journeyed throughout northeast India, teaching and aiding all those who listened to His philosophy of life.

Yes. The Buddha was never a god who had supernatural powers over people’s lives and futures. The Buddha was a human being, albeit an extraordinary one, who taught humankind that we have Buddha nature inside each of us and that we need to find it. All of us have the potential to achieve what He achieved, for Buddhahood is not reserved for supernatural beings or select individuals. We can all become Buddhas and free ourselves from the sufferings of life and the cycle of birth and death.

There are two major schools of Buddhist thought: Mahayana and Theravada (or Hinayana). The Mahayana school rose to prominence in India around the 1st century A.D., after splitting from the Theravada. Theravada Buddhism emphasizes strict personal meditation and the monastic path to Enlightenment. The Mahayana sect, in contrast, promises spiritual liberation to both monks and laity, while encouraging the Bodhisattva ideal of saving all sentient beings from life’s sufferings. Although we at the International Buddhist Temple primarily practice Mahayana Buddhism, we very much respect the teachings of the Theravada school and other Buddhist sects.

The word Dharma means "teaching and protecting". By practicing the Buddha's teachings, we can shield ourselves from life’s conflicts and sufferings.

Karma is often referred to as the law of cause and effect, or the principle of moral causation. Karma can be described as that which governs the direct relation between all actions and their consequences in the universe. Although the law of causation also exists in modern science, the concept of Karma in Buddhism is not limited to what humans can perceive or measure at a particular point in time.

The word Karma is the Sanskrit term for “action”. These actions can be verbal, mental, or physical. All actions have consequences, and whether an action is good or bad depends on the underlying intentions. Good actions come from good intentions, and bad actions come from bad intentions. Good actions result in positive consequences, and are the main cause of rebirth into higher realms of peace and happiness. Bad actions lead to negative outcomes and cause one to be reborn into the lower realms and be trapped within the samsara world of life and death. Not all the consequences of our actions occur immediately. They may follow us through any of the stages of our lives. Thus, all sentient beings could experience results of actions that were performed many years or even many lives ago.

In Buddhist philosophy, Karma is not meant to make us feel helpless or hopeless. Instead, Karma reminds us that we ourselves have full autonomy in the shaping of destiny.

The first three realms are the human realm, the demi-god realm, and the god realm. The other three are the animal realm, the hungry ghost realm, and the hell realm. Although there are no souls or eternal selves to be reborn, we are changing states of being, and our actions constantly create new individuals that are considered to be “us”. For example, a 40-year-old is not the same person as he was at the age of 20, but he is the product of his past actions, and is still experiencing their consequences. By the same process, the people we are in the following lives are the result of this process governed by Karma.

Some believe that the realms should be understood as metaphors, rather than actual worlds into which one may be reincarnated. The realms then exist in our minds, and which realm we each belong to depends on our actions in this human world.

The swastika is the ancient religious symbol of an equilateral cross, with the arms bent at right angles in a clockwise or a counterclockwise direction. Although this symbol is widely known to the Western world as the symbol of the German Nazi party, it stems from many ancient Eastern civilizations, and embodies a completely different meaning.

Until the 20th century, the swastika was the symbol of good fortune, prosperity, and longevity in many Far Eastern countries. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit svasti, which means good fortune, luck, and well-being. In Buddhism, the swastika represents the turning of the “Dharma wheel”, and thereby promotes goodwill, compassion, and generosity to all sentient beings.

Regrettably, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist German Workers Party borrowed the swastika in the early 1900s, reversed it, and used it as their party emblem during World War II. Not only do the Nazi swastika and the ancient swastika used in Buddhism and Eastern cultures differ in meaning, the Nazi swastika is also slanted, resting on a point, and has right angles bent in a clockwise direction. The traditional swastika lays flat and is counterclockwise.

A Buddha is an individual who has achieved Enlightenment and is free from the six realms of reincarnation, such as the Sakyamuni Buddha or the Amitabha Buddha. A Bodhisattva is a person who has achieved Enlightenment or Buddhahood, but has vowed to return to the samsara world to aid all sentient beings on their paths to Buddhahood. The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is the quintessential Bodhisattva.

At the temple, visitors can admire celebrated paintings and spectacular sculptures of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. In fact, the official Chinese name of the International Buddhist Temple, 觀音寺 (Guan-Yin temple), was chosen in honour of the Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Guan-Yin).

A lotus is a water lily that grows in murky ponds and takes its roots in the black soil. Just as the beautiful lotus blossom grows from the mud, human beings can also detach themselves from suffering, to rise above the earthly and blossom as Buddhas. Remember, we are all born with the seed of Buddhahood inside.