Dharma FAQ: Understanding Buddhism

Please click on a question to read the corresponding answer.

Q1. What is the distinction among Hinayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana ? (click to expand)

A1. The main distinction should be between Hinayana and Mahayana. Mahayana is further divided into Sutrayana and Vajrayana. The system of teachings given by the Buddha meant for those who seek personal freedom from the fears of samsara is Hinayana. Whereas the system of teachings given by the Buddha meant to help those who seek Buddhahood for the benefit of all living beings is known as Mahayana.
Within Mahayana, there are two categories – the system where one who follows the Mahayana in general is known as Sutrayana. The particular system to expedite the achieving of Buddhahood through very special techniques meant for those with exceptionally bright caliber is known as Vajrayana. Vajrayana, Tantraya and Mantrayana are synonymous.

Q2. In Buddhism is Buddha worshiped as a Supreme Being, and if so why ? (click to expand)

A2. The goal of our life is to achieve a genuine lasting happiness for oneself and for all sentient beings. What deprives us of this genuine lasting happiness is the experience of pains and miseries. Unless the cause of the suffering is removed, the suffering can not be eliminated for good. The final cause of the suffering, as discovered by the Prince Sidhartha who later became Buddha Shakyamuni, is IGNORANCE. Just as the darkness can be eliminated only by the light, the darkness of ignorance can be eliminated only by introducing the light of wisdom. Here wisdom, by the very definition, is the mind whose apprehension of an object tallies with the reality. Thus to generate the wisdom we need to know what the reality is. The ultimate reality being so subtle, we need someone who herself or himself has experienced this reality to be able to teach us. The Buddha is one who has experienced this reality. Therefore, we consider Buddha as a Supreme Being who has already eliminated suffering through eliminating the subtlest ignorance by the wisdom of ultimate reality. The Buddha is worshiped as the BEST TEACHER OR the BEST GUIDE for being able to help us to be freed from suffering, but not as a CREATOR GOD.

Q3. In my understanding, Buddhism is the way to attain enlightenment, to become free from suffering, without blind admiration, without idolatry. But then, why are there still Pujas and Offerings ? (click to expand)

A3. You are perfectly right. Buddhism is to seek freedom from suffering. We need to know what experiences suffering. It is our mind which does it. We need to bring about transformation and changes in our mind if we truly seek genuine freedom from suffering. If we look at our own life experiences, our mind and the external world are so closely linked. The two can mutually affect one another. We have mental happiness when someone is there to physically support us. This is how the physical environment affects our mind. Likewise our mental optimism increases our (physical) immune system. This is how our physical condition is enhanced by our mental thinking. Therefore, those physical things which can positively affect our mind are adopted in Buddhism so that our mind can be positively transformed in the most efficient way possible. Some rituals or gestures, such as making offerings to the Buddha statues or images, help us reminded of the wonderful qualities of the Enlightened Beings. In this way, these rituals can be very powerful in enhancing our positive mental thoughts. However, the physical gestures or rituals alone, without putting in effort to bring about our mental transformation, are of least benefit and thus is not the ideal Buddhist way.

Q4. Is Buddha an incarnation of Vishnu, as believed by some people ? (click to expand)

A4. Buddha is not an incarnation of Vishnu. This is a wrong belief among many people. Vishnu believes in Soul, whereas Buddha believes in the non-existence of Soul. These are contradictory beliefs.

Q5. Is it possible for someone to become Buddha without worshiping Buddha ? (click to expand)

A5. It is through discovering the WISDOM OF ULTIMATE REALITY that one will become Buddha. Just as one learns the wisdom of science, but not worship the scientists, likewise we can learn about the ULTIMATE REALITY, but may not necessarily worship the Buddha. It’s OK even if you don’t worship the Buddha as long as your suffering is removed and you gain the maximum happiness. The Buddha will be more happy if you discover the WISDOM OF ULTIMATE REALITY and obtain the maximum happiness and not worship the Buddha, rather than worshiping the Buddha and still suffering due to not discovering the WISDOM OF ULTIMATE REALITY.

Q6. Do you personally worship Buddha as a Supreme Being ? (click to expand)

A6. I don’t know whether to call it worship. What I do is to always think of the three qualities of the Buddha which make him a perfect GUIDE to free us all sentient beings from the vicious cycle of suffering and pain. The three qualities are 1) Perfect Love 2) Perfect Knowledge and 3) Perfect Potential. I seek inspiration from the Buddha so that I will be inspired to bring about transformation in my own mind to gain the three perfections myself. And thus be of utmost benefit to all sentient beings the way the Buddha is doing. Just as I love my parents so much as they give me incredible care, I love and revere the Buddha so much as he went into the six years of hardship and austerity to achieve enlightenment for all sentient beings.