Common Q & A

Note that the answers below are the impressions of one person on the Buddhist path, and may differ from views held by other practising Buddhists. If you seek with love and compassion, it is always within your own heart that the truth will be found.

Q1: Could you recommend some books about Buddhism, and where I might learn more?

A1: There are many good books available, three that I would recommend for beginners are:

Most local libraries have information on Buddhism and a range of Buddhist books - or have look at the books listed in our Shop.

Q2: Where can I find out more about Buddhism on the interet?

A2. Some of the websites that I find most useful are:

Q3: I understand there are two main schools of Buddhism, Mahayana and Theravada. So, is it possible for you to tell me the characteristics of the two ways, and in your opinion, the pros and cons of both, too. However, I have found out that Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are actually quite different, so I do not know which one to follow currently.

A3: Your questions show that you are deeply seeking the right path to follow. In terms of the Theravada way or Mahayana way, perhaps the following thoughts will be of use to you.

Originally, the teaching of the Buddha was done by the monks, and some hundreds of years after the death of the Buddha, a split occurred when several groups wanted to open more of the teaching up to the lay people. Out of this, a new group called Mahayana was formed, and the original way became known as Theravada. At a later point, Vajrayana Buddhism also developed; it is based on much study and deep insight.

As I see it, Theravada, in its strict sense, is the "protector" of the dhamma, of the original teaching and, as such, resists all efforts to change anything. This may result in a reasonably accurate transmission of the dhamma, but also to a rigidity to change. The Mahayana way is more of a "seeking" way and allows flexibility, but perhaps can also lead to some answers which are have been adapted to meet the need of a particular place and time. There is an evolving new way and many in the West, who are exposed to both ways, are struggling with a more fundamental Buddhism, which embraces the original texts but also allows for adaptation to a more modern way of Buddhist practice. There are authors you may want to read, such as Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs" , and Lama Surya Das' "Awakening the Buddha Within" , and a few others. This movement also had a lot of input from the Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has written many books translating the ideas of Buddhism into the modern world.

Until recently, it would have only been possible to learn one way, depending on where you lived. Today, we are able to find details on all the different styles, at times resulting in an overload of information. Ultimately, it will be a combination of access to a good teacher and others who practice with you, and how comfortable you feel with that group, and on your practice of meditation. No one way is better than another, as the Buddha said, "the ways to enlightenment are as many as the peoples on earth".

Q4: What do Buddhists think of euthanasia

A4: While I can not speak for all Buddhists, my understanding is that the Dharma (the teaching of the Buddha) encourages us to protect and respect all life forms, and particularly, all sentient beings. There are no absolute rules; each must make their own decision. Most following the dharma would not harm life, at its beginning or its end, but would seek to assist the person with compassion and with all the resources of the medical world. Some passages into and out of life are more difficult, but are part of the karma for that person, perhaps a significant part of their path to reach enlightenment.

The dharma teaches also that everyone walks their own path, so no-one can make a decision for another, and that decision must be respected, whether that is for or against euthanasia. Each situation is unique and a "right" answer is always the one which is there, and must be found.

Q5: I am working on a school paper and need to know Buddha's theory on detachment.

A5: In terms of detachment, it really is a fundamental concepts of Buddhism, and is part of the Four Noble Truths, where the Second Noble Truth tells us that our attachment to desire causes great suffering. The Third Noble Truth says that if we reduce attachment (i.e. become more detached) from our desires, then we will become happier. The point being that we constantly strive for what we "believe" is our right: money, relationships, power, prestige, material gain. If we see these differently, become detached from our need to have them, then our lives take on new meaning. At the same time, we still can live a normal life and have material possessions, but not be owned by those possessions or by the desire to have them.

Q6:I am a 14yr old with an assignment. The following are the questions that I need to cover.

Q6: The teachings of both Christianity and Buddhism encourage compassion, wisdom and respect for others. Christians and Buddhists alike strive for peace and seek for truth and meaning in everyday life. Both Buddhists and Christians support charitable actions and condemn theft and murder. However, in my understanding, there are differences in the way to reach salvation / enlightenment and some of these are:

Christianity Teaches Buddhism Teaches
There is a personal God There is no personal god
Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God The Buddha never claimed divinity
Salvation may be attained through Christ You must seek your own salvation with diligence
Through Christ, sins may be forgiven Our past and current actions determine the future
Pray to God for salvation Meditate to reach enlightenment

Q7 : I'm working on a school paper and would like to understand how the cycle of rebirth (samsara) can exist when there is no soul (anita).  I have discovered that there is the belief that existence is based on the five aggregates but, in that case, what is it that continues in samsara (besides karma - moral energy)?

A7: It should first be noted that the Buddha observed that involvement in this life is much more important than speculation about the future. Nevertheless, your question is very perceptive; it does seem to be a paradox. If the five aggregates, which is what we are made up of, do not continue, what is it that continues in the cycle of lives? Certainly, this is one question that has been discussed by deep thinkers over the past 2,500 years, and my answer is my view only and not representative of the different schools of thought.

Let’s imagine that all life is part of a web of energy and that by living we put impressions on that energy, in the same way that a river flows and makes some impact on the surrounding land, or the wind changes the land; in the same way, life, as it moves, makes an impact on energy. In rebirth, we do not again have the same five aggregates but there may be some connection to the life energy of previous existence and certainly also to our karma. Good actions can energise the next existence and also provide some of the strong impressions which sometimes give us the feelings that we have encountered situations or people before. So the "soul" does not move from us to a new us, we make an imprint on the life energy, and can sometimes access that previous imprint, just like we might see a photo in an album of us when we were younger.

This is my way of understanding, perhaps it will help in finding your own understanding of this intriguing idea. Be Happy in that search.

(photo by Mary Hendriks)