A Simple Guide for Beginners
Let me be perfectly clear that I am NOT a Buddhist nor I will endorse Buddhism. I know I posted that I will not publish any religious items on my site. However, certain parts of Buddhism has leaked in to our Western societies to the point that even at University of Calgary, if you request help for stress or exam/test anxiety, the doctors will first direct you to Buddhist meditation over pharmaceuticals. While the professionals in Canada do their best to remove the word “Buddhism” or erase any reference to Buddhism, often they prescribe mindfulness meditations, which is the core Buddhist mediation for lay practitioners. In recent years, Buddhist mediation classes are offered to school children in the Western world from the elementary school to college level at the expense of government tax funds. (e.g.; Canada, Germany, California(US), Australia, UK and New Zealand)
I hope this guide will help those who are discovering Buddhism specially in the West.
Buddhism was founded in approximately 460 B.C. in India by a man named Siddhartha Guthama (Buddha). He was not a god nor he ever claim to be one. While most followers in Buddhism in Asia take Buddhism as a religion, it has been debated whether or not Buddhism falls in the traditional definition of religion. To make this issues more complex, Buddha never ever said that Buddhism is a religion, but rather he was using it to promote equal rights in caste driven and anti-feminist Indian society. Today, most scholars would agree that Buddhism is one of the most complex philosophical systems that reach beyond traditional faith based religions.
What is Buddhism?
Concept of God: Concept of god or gods is irrelevant to Buddhism. Buddhism is a monotheistic religion/philosophy and the concepts associated with supernatural extremist ideologies such as almighty god is nothing of value. Buddhists do not believe in a Creator or an Almighty God who is responsible for all our actions. Buddhists are not second to Gods, Buddhas nor they never become servants of them. You are free to make our own decisions on what we want.
Purpose (goal): Buddhism attempts to overcome suffering, although not eliminating it as this is impossible. Overcoming suffering is achieved through Buddhist practice of controlling once own mind in order to attain relative happiness(2) or enlightenment.
World religion: It is not a world religion, but rather a personal philosophy/religion. Buddhism do not encourage conversion or mass popularization. While most of you are familiar with religious that seek globalization, the core of Buddhism is against the very idea of global religion.
Basic principles: Impermanence of conditional things, suffering associated with materialism, the Five Precepts, Eight-Fold Path, Four Noble Truths, etc, etc. (Google it)
Practical theory: it has almost no dogmas and theologies that cannot be proved.
Buddhists do not have any boundaries on what they do. But they have ethics to help them out along the way. Buddhists live their lives not by rule but by ethics. (entirely different from religions) You are free to take what you want from Buddhism and leave out what you don’t want. There are no sinners in Buddhism just because you don’t agree with what Buddha said.
Buddhist logic play a large role in explaining and understanding higher levels of Buddhism. However, it is a great tool to train your mind think logically during difficult times.
Conflict with your religion? Buddhism is more likely to be a personal philosophy rather than a world religion. Therefore certain areas of Buddhism should not conflict with your own religious beliefs. For example, Catholics practicing Buddhist meditations
Karma is based in Cause and Effect or action and reaction and not in myth. According to Buddhism, if you plant a seed of bad deeds you will get a bad deed. If you plant a lemon seed you cannot expect a mango tree. Your present is caused by your past and your present mind shape your future.
The following steps are the fundamental stages that Buddhist students should follow to understand Buddhism:
1. Reasonable believes.
3. Doing and practically experiencing.
4. Proving concepts using evidence.
1. Believing: Once a person decides to become a Buddhist, she/he must have already acquired some knowledge of Buddhism and has developed a certain amount of belief and understand in the philosophy. He will now be able to thoroughly study, investigate, analyze and understand the principles of Buddhism to gain the benefits because the principles are so complex and voluminous. If you do not believe Buddhist teachings you could not even think about learning Buddhism nor understand concepts. Believe is very important and one must have certain amount of faith before even understand the concepts. Doubts that you may have on Buddhism must be reasonable and if not you should think about Buddhism anyway. The other thing is you have freedom to question and ague Buddhist concepts as long as you doing it the right way.
There is no enforcement even in most South Asian society to believe in Buddhism.
2. Understanding: After one believes, he or she must understand the principles of Buddhism – Most important one is that we believe that this world is suffering due to desire. How can Buddhism remove sufferings? What are the answers to the universe and life? How can man achieve enlightenment? It is only after one has accurately and thoroughly understood the teachings of the Buddha that one can solidify his belief and confidence in Buddhism.
3. Doing and practically experiencing: This is actually doing what one has learned and experienced. As I mention before everything in Buddhism is practical and you will be able to understand and relate concepts into your day-to-day life. Some people recognize the superior knowledge contained in the Buddhist principles, however they only recognize but do not accept or believe in the philosophy. (Ex. Drinking alcohol and been a Buddhist. This is very negative.) Others study Buddhism as an academic subject; they understand the principles but do not follow these principles. (Ex. Most of the western mediators and researchers.)
To properly practice Buddhism, after understanding the principles, one must follow up with actual experience, to practice Buddhism according to what he has learned. One must maintain good conduct and behavior, and purify the mind. All must be practical not just theoretical.
This is the only way to change delusion to wisdom, and reap the full benefits of practicing Buddhism.
4. Proving concepts using evidence: The last but not least stage in practicing Buddhism is proving. Whenever one deals with a matter, one must have confidence, good understanding, and carry out the task with endurance and dedication. To realize the benefits of Buddhist teachings followers must use Dharma day-to-day life and it must be practical. This way you understand concepts properly and you can use these whenever it is necessary. We believe that a modeller who do things practically better than an adviser who cannot use the theories in practical way.
If one has great confidence, understand the Dharma well, and practice according to the Dharma with endurance and endeavor, one will remove sufferings, find true happiness and peace of mind, and eventually attain enlightenment. This will be the proof of what one has learned from the Dharma to be true.
Buddhists should use our teaching wherever they live, whet ever the society they associated with and under any kind of circumstance. For example, if you practice how to be patience from Buddhist perspectives, you should know how to apply the concept where it is needed; such as family, personal problems, problems in your office, school, etc, etc. However do not interfere with values of others around you.
At the same time, Buddhism can bring peace to a society; purify people’s minds, giving people hope and confidence for the future. It has incomparable power to stimulate and excite life. It helps people to live more reasonable and high quality lives with proper understand on the nature of human life.
In general terms, religion has a comforting effect for the pessimists; it has a cautioning effect for the criminals, and an encouraging effect for the kind people. The advantages of practicing Buddhism are very real and practical.
How to become a Buddhist?
The best answer I can give is is don’t be a Buddhist. Buddhism should not be a label that you use to get attention from the society. If you would like to receive maximum benefits of Buddhism, you can learn Four Noble Truths and live by Five Precepts and Eight World Fold Paths or become a monastic. The important concepts that you should be familiar with are the investigative mind (right beliefs), understand, practice and proofs.
But the most important teaching that influence all Buddhists is known as the Five Precepts. It is an important factor that determines whether an individual is a Buddhist or not. If one can practice the Five Precepts in daily bases (continuously), then he/she is a Buddhist.
If a person born in a Buddhist family and goes to temple everyday and do not follow the concepts, then he/she not a Buddhist. You cannot be a Buddhist by attending to temple or by believe in Buddha. You must practice right concepts in able to reach to the level of a Buddhist. “Rather a practitioner is a Buddhist than a believer.” -Buddha
Remember you don’t have to be a Buddhist to get benefits of Buddhism. You can just take what your want, for example, mediation, and leave what you don’t want, for example, traditional Buddhism.
How Buddhism Helps
Although some people call it is as a religion, Buddhism is also a way of life in that it teaches the employment of basic ethics in one’s daily life, such as controlling oneself, serving others without discrimination, and endeavoring towards one’s perfection. If practiced with devotion and firmness, it can lead one to liberating wisdom – the so-called enlightenment. But if you just take what you want with no devotion, but rather a commitment to a better life, it will not only help yourself, but also help others around you. For that reason, I like Buddhism as a philosophy rather than as a religion. But it is also up to you to decide the best way for your self.
For those of us who live in the modern world and are subject to stress and strain, confusion and material distractions, the teachings of Buddhism can help us improve our livelihood, make better use of our personal resources. Especially if you are living in a “developed country” or in a nation that undergoing rapid development.
Some people who know little about teachings of the Buddha criticize Buddhism to be impractical and ‘escape from reality’ because it deals with superabundance (beyond this world) matters. Actual truth is that Buddhism is always dealing with our current world not the past, not the future, but just the truth and reality.
These comments are based on the fact that Buddhism deals with human life and its liberation; it is necessary to thoroughly understand human nature through experience.
Practicing Buddhism is very much mundane (within this world) dealing with our worldly matters, and such practice brings about many advantages.
1. Buddhism helps people to obtain the correct perspective on life.
2. Buddhism encourages man to lead life with endeavor.
3. Buddhism can purify the society.
4. Buddhism can help develop self-respect, self-confidence and independent character.
Further more specific points
- Buddhist meditation and psychology has been successfully used in several clinical therapies for anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) and suicide prevention.
- Marriage counselling services in Asia to Europe have used Buddhism to help fix failing relationships
- Several studies found that generally, people like to associated with others who have high ethical standards. Buddhism helps develop strong work habits for school, workplace, places of volunteer, etc.
- Most people who are Buddhist mediation practitioners (specially mindfulness meditation) are relaxed and clam under high pressure situations (some government use this for their army officers). If you are a student, you will find this is helpful during exams.
- Buddhism has been integrated to modern Western therapies without the use of the word “Buddhism” and proven to work well on people of all religions and cultures across the Europe and North America. Removing the word, “Buddhism” and “Buddhist” have helped the oppositions from far extremist religious groups in America for example.
Special note: Keep in mind that Dharma is the set of instructions and guideline for Buddhist precipitant and it is not a set of rules or religious teachings. It is a universal theory and recent studies and research indicate that it apply to everybody regardless of ones background, culture, believes (religion) or ethnicity. For example, Buddhist contemplation and concentration meditation is universally apply to everybody regardless of ones background. Please note that the above article dose not have anything related to Dharma nor concepts of Buddhism. For further information please check my other pages relate to Philosophy and life.
Buddhism is not…
- Buddhism is not an ethnic religion.
- Buddhism is not a conservative religion.
- Buddhism is not based on blind faith.
- Buddhism does not support anyone to escape from reality.
- Buddhism is not a religion that relies on a “Savoir” to save us all from the mass of suffering.
- Buddhists do not believe in evangelism.
- Buddhism dose not support the view of One God or one person.
- Buddhists do not worship Buddha.
- Buddhists are not slaves of Gods or Buddha.
- Buddhism dose not promote material gains and support material views.
- Buddhism is not an organized religion that assigns chief authority to a single person or group (e.g. Head of X-religion.).
- Buddhists do not condemns non-believers or non-followers.
- Buddhism is not a religion that believes chanting mantras (sacred words), performing ceremonial rites, practising self-mortification (such as walking on fire, going naked, fasting, etc.)
1. philosophy: Subject to arguments. If the definition of philosophy is study of one’s own life, then Buddhism is a philosophy.
2. relative happiness: Happiness is a relative state of mind. Once happiness can be defined according to his/her own beliefs.
An article written by Yat-Biu Ching. Most of the information is mine and I used the reference as a guideline.
Initial publish: 2004; republish: 01-June-2012