Do children practice the faith?
Certainly children can be included in most activities but 'having faith'
implies some understanding and I wonder at what age children are capable of understanding?
Without some basic understanding of whatever it is you practice then faith is 'blind'.
Much of the Buddhist teaching is pointing to direct experience where no faith is needed
and sometimes children do have an intuitive sense of their spiritual dimension. A
Buddhist's faith is primarily in the enlightenment of the Buddha, and, until it is
actually realised, one can only have faith that it is possible and follow the teachings
through that faith.
What is a child's role in Buddhism in Britain?
At the moment, as Buddhism is not a major religion in Britain, children generally only
participate in relation to their parent's involvement. This is probably also the case for
Christianity. Parents want what is good for their children, so if Buddhism is seen as
'good', then parents will make sure their children have contact with it.
How are children introduced to Buddhism?
Much of children's religious education is indoctrination - how can they be expected to
understand when life is still unexplored? Indoctrination may sound oppressive, but how do
we learn anything? We are conditioned from birth, but as long as free questioning is part
of the process, then freedom is possible. Children are introduced to Buddhism by being
exposed to things Buddhist. Whether they choose to practice it or not is, ideally, up to
Are lay Buddhists generous?
Having lived dependant on alms food for several years it is my experience that they are
- I have never had to go hungry. I don't have any money, but, because the needs of a monk
are relatively few, I have never had to go without much at all because of the generosity
of the people that have faith in this tradition. There is one way of summarising Buddhist
practice - generosity, morality and mental development. When considering the second noble
truth about craving (desire, greed. etc.) it is not difficult to see that generosity can
be an effective antidote for this. If we are able to practice giving away material things
then this makes it easier to let go of things like wrong views or perceptions, especially
in relation to ourselves. Attaching (holding, grasping, etc.) to any view about yourself
will lead to suffering. Practising generosity to balance selfishness is a good thing to
Christian's use the Bible, Islam the Koran, what
do Buddhists use?
The Buddhist scriptures are known as 'The Tipitaka'. 'Pitaka' is Pali for basket and
'ti' is the same as 'tri' as in triangle. So we have The Three Baskets. They are called
baskets because they contain or hold the teachings. The three are: The Vinaya Pitaka -
which lists all the rules for the monks and nuns, and various stories and teachings as to
how they were formed. The Sutta Pitaka - is a huge collection of teachings on various
subjects; most of these were given by the Buddha. The Abhidhamma Pitaka - a very
systematic summary of the Sutta Pitaka along philosophical and psychological lines. This
was compiled quite some time after the Buddha died. Because the Buddha taught for forty
five years the collection of his teaching is enormous - about thirty large volumes.
Can anyone become a Buddhist?
Sure, no problem. There are no restrictions on age, gender, nationality,
body weight, A-levels or anything. Buddhism is a very tolerant religion. People can find
their own level of practice, and there is no kind of excommunication if you do anything
naughty. There are certain standards of behaviour expected in a monastery or temple but
nobody is refused entry because of anything they may have done.
How do you become a Buddhist?
Becoming a Buddhist is actually quite simple. You make a commitment to living your life
by the principles embodied in the 'Three Refuges' and the 'Five Precepts'. You can study
the refuges and precepts and can 'take them' on your own and feel that you are a Buddhist.
However it is nice to have a monk or a nun formally 'give them' to you in a ceremony.
Making a public statement also helps you to remember when you feel like you want to go
'outside' the precepts - when you want to be heedless or stupid; when you go against
nature; when you want to be immoral.
To take refuge generally is to take shelter in a place where one feels safe. In this
context refuge is an 'environment', a set of lifestyle principles that you can trust, a
refuge for the heart and mind. First you need to learn what they are; so that their
meaning is clear and you understand what a commitment to following them means.
What are the basic principles of being a Buddhist?
Not taking what is not given (not
stealing). This is being honest.
The perception of 'being a Buddhist' will vary between different cultures, but in the
Theravada tradition the common standard is taking the 'Three Refuges' and the 'Five
Precepts'. It is important to get some understanding of what these mean before making a
The Buddha - is traditionally thought of as a person but 'Buddha' is
actually a title. It means 'awakened or enlightened one'. It refers to a quality or way of
being that we are all able to realise. Taking refuge in Buddha is saying 'I trust that
this enlightenment is possible and that I will make an effort to be 'awake' (not
daydreaming or heedless) as I live my life.
The Dhamma - is the teaching of the Buddha. These teachings are really
just expressions of natural laws which the Buddha came to understand - particularly the
laws of human nature. When we take refuge in Dhamma, we take refuge in the teachings of
the Buddha - which is refuge in the truth and purity of our own true nature.
The Sangha - which means congregation, is made up of those monks, nuns or
lay people who follow the Buddhist way of life. They aspire to practising kindness,
developing wisdom, morality and goodness through the guidance of the 'Noble Eightfold
Path' which was prescribed by the Buddha as the raft that will take us across the river of
life to Nibbana. The eight steps of the path are: right understanding, right aspiration,
right action, right speech, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right
Part of taking refuge in the Sangha, therefore, includes the exhortation to 'right action'
which is based on the Buddhist moral code of behaviour. In its basic form this is 'The
killing or harming living beings.
is being kind.
Not being unfaithful in relationships.
This is being
Not using wrong speech.
is being truthful.
Not taking intoxicating drink or drugs.
This is being clear minded.
What is the practice of setting birds free from cages about?
I remember having a discussion about some odd things in another religion and my friend
said 'Oh, there's nothing wrong with 'xxxx' religion it's just the people who practice
Have you ever set yourself up an exercise routine (or a diet?). You make a list of
exercises and how long you will spend on each one and on what days; it all looks so clear
and logical, and you are so inspired - but then . . . how does it work in reality? And
then you read about some wonderful exercise machine - only needs ten minutes a day; and
then some special formula muscle toner - no need for exercise at all!
Usually we like to find an easy way, the soft option; but there is no substitute for work.
Religion is not so different in this way. The idea behind the birds in cages is that you
buy the bird (off someone who has captured it with you in mind) and set it free.
Liberating a trapped animal is a wonderful thing to do - good Kamma, much merit. Hey, get
serious. Buddhism is about purifying one's heart. Purification always involves personal
sacrifice, going against our desires, doing things which are often difficult - this is not
What do lay Buddhists do as part of their daily religion?
Many Westerners are attracted to Buddhism because of meditation - rather than devotion
or faith - so practices will vary a lot depending on individuals. Families will usually
have a small shrine in their house and connect with it in some way at different times of
the day - perhaps lighting candles and incense; offering flowers; bowing. I know those
parents that meditate usually sit in front of the shrine and will invite their children to
join them for a bit. Many people enjoy doing the traditional chants - both in Pali and
English. If there is a monastery not too far away they may take offerings there for the
ordained community - weekends are very popular for this as people aren't at work and have
the time to travel a bit further. There are weekly observance days, festival days and
memorial days when people are always welcome to come to the monastery. In Asian Buddhist
countries there would be a monastery not far from most people and it would be the focus of
much attention from the local community.
Can lay people get enlightened or do you have to be a monk?
There are several references in the scriptures to lay people getting enlightened during
the time of the Buddha and, having been both a lay person and a monk, I can't think of any
reason why it shouldn't be possible. The big difference is the time and energy available
to work on it. As a monk my life isn't as complicated as it was as a layman so I have more
opportunity to figure out why I'm not free from suffering; why I say things I don't really
mean; why I can't be more (or even always) kind and compassionate. As a householder so
much time gets taken up just running one's life - study, rent, bills, money, bus
timetables, relationships, etc. But it is important to use what time you have wisely and,
in relation to the law of Kamma, you have to do the work eventually anyway - this lifetime
or the next - or the next - or the next. May as well start now.
Do Buddhists believe in marriage and what do they do?
The idea behind marriage is that two people make a 'contract'. The Christian form goes
something like: 'to love and cherish, to honour and obey, . . . in sickness and in health,
'til death do us part.' As there is no 'God' in Buddhism, monks or nuns aren't set up as
divine intermediaries with any kind of special power to negotiate such a contract so,
strictly speaking, there is no Buddhist marriage. In Buddhist countries there are legal
forms for marriage but the religious side is an affirmation of the couple's commitment to
live in accordance with the refuges and precepts. The couple and their families would go
to the monastery (not necessarily on the day of their wedding) and make offerings to the
Sangha and formally request the refuges and precepts. The Sangha would chant blessings (in
Pali), not saying 'we think it's good you are getting together', but giving hearty support
for their connection to Buddhism. What this connection expects of them in terms of
behaviour is: The first precept encourages kindness and caring; the second: generosity;
the third focuses on responsibility in relationships and encourages commitment and
trustworthiness (specifically sexually); the fourth promotes gentle, useful and wise
speech and the fifth, sobriety. The refuges are a commitment to wisdom (Buddha); truth
(Dhamma) and morality (Sangha). If couples could do that much they would indeed live
happily ever after.
What form do Buddhist funerals take?
Death is seen as an important time in Buddhism. It is a time of grief for those close
to the deceased and a time for love and caring, for kindness and compassion for all -
these are basic human values. From a spiritual perspective it is a time to contemplate
your own mortality, your attachment to material things (especially your body) and to
consider where true happiness and freedom are to be found. Being in the presence of a
corpse encourages such deep thought, so the deceased is usually kept in the home so people
can come and visit to pay their last respects and ask for forgiveness.
Monks would be invited to the home - ideally every day for seven days - and they would
offer reflections on the naturalness of death and the importance of making effort to live
according to spiritual values. There are several traditional funeral chants which examine
the conditioned nature of the human body. Water is often poured over the body - a little
by each person - before the coffin is closed for the last time. Families will often make
offerings at the monastery to mark the anniversary of the death. This would be after one
month, three months and then annually.
What are the Buddhist views on
sex and relationships?
This is pretty much covered by the third precept - on fidelity. The emphasis is on
consideration of others and it acknowledges the pain the second party in a relationship
feels when their partner has a sexual affair. There is nothing in the teachings about
same-sex relationships, but the principle is the same. Ideally we are all free from
attachment and it doesn't matter, but the reality is that strong bonds do form in
relationships. These are very much based on trust and when that trust is broken it is
almost always a source of suffering; this is especially so when children are involved.
Do Buddhists pray to the Buddha?
Praying is asking someone for something. I pray (to God) for rain. There is an
assumption that the 'one' prayed to is omnipotent and has the full power to grant your
wish. In Buddhism there are various gods and beings of greater and lesser powers that can
be appealed to but, although they supposedly live an incredibly long time, they are still
mortal just like you and I and are certainly not omnipotent.
The Buddha, the historical figure, died well over 2000 years ago and because he was
enlightened, nothing more remains. Buddha as a title - that which is enlightened, awake,
truly wise - exists in some way as a possibility for all to realise but not as a separate,
decision-making entity as in: 'OK. Venerable Kusalo has been a good monk, I'll answer his
prayer for more sultanas in the muesli'.
Certainly Kamma is stored or registered somewhere and the forces or energies of greed,
hatred and delusion are about in various guises. Inviting or praying to the forces of
goodness is a part of Buddhism - not in the sense that they will sort it out for me but
that they will be allies or a support in my efforts.
What are the main Buddhist festivals and celebrations?
There are several small ones which may vary between cultures and others which might be
exclusive to one culture. However there are two main events which are celebrated
universally; Vesak and Kathina.
Vesak falls on the full moon of May and celebrates the birth, enlightenment and final
passing of the Buddha, so it is a time when the life of the Buddha is reflected on. The
local temple would be decorated with flowers and lights. Often the lights are paper
lanterns made by various families and brought to the monastery to be lit in the evening.
Lay people would come to the monastery for the day - often wearing white clothes - and
take the eight precepts. They would help with the meal offering in the morning and in the
afternoon there would be group meditation. In the evening there would be a gathering in
the temple with auspicious chanting by the Sangha and a talk, reflecting on the life of
the Buddha, given by the senior monk. The lamps would be lit and everyone would
circumambulate either the temple or more often a separate shrine or stupa. They would go
round three times - reflecting on the three refuges - in a sun-wise (clockwise) direction
(with the right shoulder to the stupa) carrying flowers and incense which would be placed
at the base of the stupa at the end of the third round. A mantra or gatha might be chanted
during the circumambulation.
Kathina covers a period of a month, and one day would be chosen to celebrate it within
that time. It marks the end of the three-month Asian monsoon season during which the monks
and nuns would have stayed in one monastery. At the end of the monsoon the Sangha would
often prepare to go wandering. In Britain, because the seasons are reversed, we are
preparing for winter. In either case the celebration focuses around the offering of cloth
for making robes. It is also a time for the lay people to make general offerings to the
monastery to ensure it is well provided for in the coming season. The Kathina cloth is
offered in a very formal ceremony and the monks then take the cloth and use part of it to
sew one robe. It has to be finished before the following dawn and every monk must take
some part in the making of this robe. When it is finished it is given to one of the senior
monks. It is an honour to be chosen to receive this robe.
Do Buddhists celebrate Christmas?
In the West most of the monastery residents have come from a basically Christian
culture, so Christmas has some meaning for us. We don't have Christian rituals, but the
spirit of Christmas - giving gifts, kindness, love, peace to all mankind - is something we
enjoy and is a reason to celebrate. We send and receive a lot of cards. This year we
decorated the temple with holly and evergreens, lit a lot of candles, did some special
chanting in the temple, listened to a tape of some Christian monastic chanting and held a
late night meditation vigil. When you look at different religions it is not difficult to
find similarities so at this time we focus on those.