Some FAQ's (frequently
asked questions) we regularly get asked about on BuddhaNet.
Buddhists dont pray to a Creator God, but they do
have devotional meditation practices which could be compared
to praying. Radiating loving-kindness to all living beings
is a practice which is believed to benefit those beings.
The sharing of merit is a practice where one dedicates the
goodness of ones life to the benefit of all living
beings as well as praying for a particular person.
|For further information on
the nature of Buddhist devotion and faith:
in BuddhaNets File Library
In Tibet prayer is going on most of the time. Tibetans
pray in a special way. They believe that when certain sounds
and words, called mantras, are said many times, they arouse
good vibrations within the person. If a mantra is repeated
often enough it can open up the mind to a consciousness
which is beyond words and thoughts.
In Japan millions of Buddhists pray to Amida Buddha, the
Buddha of Infinite Light. They believe that Amida has created
a Pure Land in the west and that those who have faith and
repeat Amidas name in prayer will go there. Yet they
also believe that Amida is really within them
||How do you become a
In one way being a Buddhist means
belonging to a particular community of people and following
a path of life taught by the Buddhas (enlightened beings).
Members of the Buddhist community are formally joined by
taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (the teaching) and
the Sangha (the community of noble disciples).
||When visiting Centres
and Temples - what is expected?
Many people are shy of visiting centres
or temples because they think that:
They will be asked for money
- They will be harassed about converting
and followed up by
calls, spam email, and stuff like that.
First: the teaching of Buddhism is
always free. Going along to a temple is free and meditation
teaching is usually free. The Buddhist belief is that religion
should be free, open and truthful. It is a custom, if you
go to a temple, to take a small offering such as flowers
or food. If you talk to a master for long periods, you may
wish to leave a small donation.
For some activities - public talks,
meditation courses, retreats - a charge is made, because
the expenses involved in organising them can be substantial.
If you have a strong interest and are sincere but have a
financial problem, this can be discussed with the organisers.
The teaching is not supposed to be denied to people who
lack financial accumulation.
It is very, very rare for anyone
to have people try to convert them and almost unknown to
have any sort of mail or email solicitation (and I would
stay away from any such temple). New students who have only
just discovered Buddhism tend to want to tell all their
friends how wonderful it is. Older students know everyone
has their own path and their own pace.
Buddhists are human. There are a
few bad organisations. It is obligatory to answer truthfully
questions concerning one's teachers and lineage. The teachers
one finds in Buddhist temples, especially if they have been
trained traditionally, overseas, are incredibly qualified,
with decades of experience. If a temple is open and honest,
if it is connected to the mainstream of Buddhist tradition,
then it is almost certainly okay. Cults are closed and secretive.
Trust your own judgment.
||Why do Buddhists chant?
It reminds one of the Dharma so that
it is not forgotten; when meditation is not possible and
when bare mindfulness does not give much consolation, it
can be used to great advantage as an extension of meditation
into words to produce calm, some peace within; and certainly,
it expresses ones strong confidence in the Dharma.
Reciting the same chants day after day also has an advantage
- the making of wholesome repetitive karma which of course
will bear very good fruit.
||What about Buddhist
shrines and images?
The shrine found in Buddhist homes
or temples is a focal point of Buddhist observances. At
the centre of the shrine, there is usually an image of the
Buddha. This image may be made of a variety of materials
such as marble, gold, wood or even clay. The image is a
symbol that helps people to recall the qualities of the
The shrine may also have such objects
as a volume of Buddhist scriptures to represent the Dharma.
Some shrines may include other items such as images, pictures
or photographs of Buddhist monks and masters to represent
the Sangha. When a Buddhist stands before a shrine, the
objects he sees on it help him to recall the qualities that
are found in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. This inspires
him to work towards cultivating these qualities in himself.
||Why do Buddhists bow?
In Buddhism, the traditional gesture
of reverence to the Triple Gem is to place the palms of
both hands together and raise them high in front, usually
up to the level of the forehead. In order to express deep
veneration, a Buddhist may bow or prostrate before the image
of the Buddha, members of the Sangha and the masters of
the Teaching. When a Buddhist prostrates before an image,
he acknowledges the fact that the Buddha has attained the
perfect and supreme Enlightenment. Such an act helps the
Buddhist to overcome egoistic feelings and he becomes more
ready to listen to the Teaching of the Buddha.
||Are there Buddhist
The four holy sites as places of
pilgrimage for Buddhists are Lumbini, where the Buddha was
born, Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha was enlightened under
the Bodhi tree; Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first
teaching of the Dharma; and Kusinagara, where the Buddha
passed away. See BuddhaNet's "In
Search of the Buddha".
||What about Buddhist
Buddhist festivals are always joyful
occasions. Every May, on the night of the full moon, Buddhists
all over the world celebrate Vesak for the birth, enlightenment
and death of the Buddha such a long time ago.
In the Theravada tradition, practices
observed by laypeople at Vesak include the observance of
eight precepts (the regular five plus not taking food after
midday and celibacy and not over indulging in sleep). Also
the laypeople may participate in chanting and meditation
and listening to sermons.
In Thai villages people get ready
during the day. They clean their houses and hang up garlands
of flowers. The men take clean sand from the river bank
and spread it over the temple courtyard, where everyone
walks with bare feet. Statues of the Buddha are brought
out of the temple to be washed and polished and all the
books come out to be dusted. When it is dark, the villagers
gather with candles or small oil lamps. The biggest Buddha
statue is put on a platform outside the temple and lights
shine all round it. Scented water is thrown onto it. Holding
their lights, everyone starts to move round the Buddha statue
so that in the end it is encircled with light.
||Can a non-Buddhist
attend a Buddhist service?
Many, perhaps even most, Buddhist
temples welcome non-Buddhists. Larger, more well-established
temples often post announcements in local newspapers as
to their schedules of services. It is appropriate to call
ahead to ask whether visitors are welcome at a given religious
observance. Visitors are free to participate in communal
ritual as the wish. Major ritual activities include offering
incense, chanting texts from the Sutras or singing hymns,
and quiet meditation. Guests who choose not to participate
should observe in silence from the back or side of the temple.
||What about Buddhist
Monks are prohibited from being marriage
celebrants but they can "bless" the couple by
reciting the Dharma (chanting) after the secular ceremony.
||What is a Buddhist
A simple ceremony where the good
deeds of the departed are remembered, a Loving-kindness
meditation can be done and a sharing of merits.
||What is a Stupa?
When the person who has died is a
Buddha (enlightened one) or an Arhant (saint) or an especially
great teacher, relics are collected after the cremation.
These may be placed in a stupa or pagoda (burial mound)
or in a Buddha-rupa (image of the Buddha). Whenever the
Buddhist sees a stupa in the countryside or a Buddha-rupa
in a shrine room it is a reminder of the Dharma (teaching)
and it is honoured because of that.