Have questions on Buddhism?
Here are answers to some of our most commonly asked questions.
Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born over 2,500 years ago as Prince Siddhartha Gautama of the Shakya clan. After witnessing the sufferings caused by the vicissitudes of life, he relinquished his worldly riches in pursuit of the true nature and meaning of existence.
The prince embarked on a spiritual quest and lived as a wandering ascetic until he achieved spiritual awakening while in deep meditation under the Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, India. Thereafter, he was known as Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddha means the “Awakened One” and Shakyamuni means “Sage of the Shakyas”. His profound teachings remain as relevant as they were two and a half millennia ago.
Buddha essentially taught a universal message of compassion combined with the wisdom that understands the true nature of reality. In a nutshell:
- Buddha looked into the nature of life and existence. He saw that many things we do create a lot of grief, unhappiness and sadness, yet we continue doing the same things. Unknowingly, we keep bringing more grief, sadness and unhappiness onto ourselves.
- Buddha taught that karma (the universal law of cause and effect) and the happiness or unhappiness we feel, is a consequence of our own actions. As such, it is something within our control.
- Buddha showed us a different way of viewing and reacting to our environment and the people around us. By changing our actions, we change the end result. In this way, we create less grief for others and ourselves.
Buddhism divulges the honest reality that the key to your happiness is in your own hands. It also reveals the liberating truth that you have this amazing power to make yourself truly happy just by changing the way you think.
When you realise that your mind colours and shapes your experiences, you’ll be in a position to take stock of your thoughts and reactions. This allows you to make better life choices that lead to happiness and a better quality of life.
In addition, when you understand the reason for your unhappiness and negativities, you can apply the methods revealed by Buddha to free yourself from them so that you can achieve lasting happiness and ultimate liberation.
A Buddhist follows the spiritual path that leads towards genuine lasting happiness, coupled with the development of wisdom and great compassion. In essence, being a Buddhist denotes:
- accepting certain fundamental principles that are at the core of what Buddha taught; and
- engaging in spiritual practices that are in line with Buddhist thought. This can range from adopting simple 20-minute daily meditation sessions to embracing the monastic life.
All of the above! Buddhism can be viewed as a philosophy or a religion because it teaches a way of life. If you take Buddhism as a philosophy, it can help you develop good qualities, find acceptance, and achieve temporary happiness.
If you take Buddhism as a religion and embrace the methods revealed by Buddha, it can help you purify negative karma, transform your mind, and propel you out of samsara to the state of ultimate happiness.
You can call yourself a Buddhist when you accept Buddha’s teachings and start to integrate them into your life. Buddhists learn and contemplate on Buddha’s teachings to fully know what should be known which in turn enables us to ascertain what should be abandoned and what should be developed in our quest for ultimate happiness.
- develop these qualities ourselves; and
- fulfil our temporal and ultimate wishes
The difference between a Buddha and a Bodhisattva lies in their state of enlightenment. A Buddha is fully enlightened whilst a Bodhisattva is either almost reaching enlightenment or has delayed enlightenment out of compassion for sentient beings. A famous example of the latter is Ksitigarbha who has vowed not to become a Buddha until all of Hell is empty.
Buddha is not a god. A Buddha has achieved enlightenment and is free from samsara and the effects of karma. In contrast, within Buddhist cosmology, gods exist within one of the six realms of samsara and therefore are subject to karma and suffering.
A Buddhist altar is a portal for us to connect with the energies of the enlightened beings. It’s a focal point for Buddhist practices that purify negative karma and generate spiritual merit, such as making offerings and prostrations. It’s also a visual cue, especially for people engaging in complex visualisations and meditations found in higher tantric practices.
You don’t have to be vegetarian in order to be Buddhist. However, vegetarianism is encouraged because of its spiritual benefits. A vegetarian diet helps reduce the negative karma of indirect killing and helps cultivate great compassion, which is one of the keys to enlightenment.
During his lifetime, Buddha gave 84,000 different teachings to accommodate the varied needs, dispositions and interests of sentient beings. After Buddha’s passing, a succession of great masters interpreted these teachings to suit later generations of Buddhist practitioners. Over time, different Buddhist traditions were naturally formed as people from different backgrounds and cultures gravitated towards the interpretation that resonated most with them.
Buddhism is typically categorised into two major traditions – Theravada and Mahayana. Both traditions aim at enlightenment, with Theravadans prioritising self-enlightenment while Mahayanists focus on achieving enlightenment in order to bring others towards enlightenment.
Vajrayana is a subset of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. It places great emphasis on the use of tantra to achieve enlightenment as quickly as possible. These profound tantric practices enable us to access the awakened nature that is innate in all of us. Thus, it is often considered a “swift path” to enlightenment.
Because of its popularity in the Himalayas, Vajrayana is commonly referred to as Tibetan Buddhism and can be further subdivided into the major traditions of Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug.
In Buddhism, tantra is a faster but more challenging method to achieve enlightenment. It encompasses advanced Buddhist rituals and meditations that use our negative mental factors such as desire, hatred, greed and pride as a transformative tool on the path to liberation.
A spiritual teacher is essential for tantric practice. Without the guru’s empowerment, blessings and guidance, genuine progress in tantra is regarded to be nearly impossible and, in fact, possibly dangerous.
The variety of Buddhas in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is a testament to the great compassion of enlightened beings. Each Buddha manifests in a different form and aspect, to help us in specific ways according to our individual karmas and situations.
For example, Manjushri is the wisdom aspect of all Buddhas while Chenrezig is the embodiment of the Buddhas’ compassion. Therefore Manjushri’s practice can help us develop great wisdom while Chenrezig supports our development of Bodhicitta.
In Buddhist iconography, ferocity or wrath is an aspect of a Buddha’s extreme compassion. A common analogy is that of a mother angry at her child for doing something that can harm themselves.
Wrath also represents the speed with which a Buddha can come to our aid. This can be observed in our own behaviour. For example, when we’re angry, we naturally move and react much quicker than usual.
Buddhists take vows as a conscious step to abandon negative habits and train in virtuous behaviour. Vows have the added benefit of helping us accumulate good karma and merits just by refraining from misdeeds. Buddhist practitioners typically take different vows at different periods of their spiritual journey.
- Five Lay Precepts (Upasaka Vows)
These 5 basic vows help guide and train practitioners in ethical behaviour.
- Refrain from killing, directly and indirectly
- Refrain from stealing and taking what is not given
- Refrain from sexual misconduct
- Refrain from lying and deceptive speech
- Refrain from using intoxicants i.e. substances that loosen our control
- Eight Mahayana Precepts
These 8 vows are usually taken for 24 hours on auspicious and holy days to enhance the accumulation of merit.
- Refrain from killing, directly and indirectly
- Refrain from stealing and taking what is not given
- Refrain from sexual activity
- Refrain from lying and deceptive speech
- Refrain from using intoxicants
- Refrain from eating after noon
- Refrain from entertainment and wearing cosmetics, perfume, and jewellery
- Refrain from using luxurious beds and seats with pride
- Refuge Vows
These 10 vows are taken during a formal refuge ceremony. They train practitioners in self-discipline and to refrain from the 10 non-virtuous actions.
Three of the Body
- Sexual Misconduct
Four of the Speech
- Divisive Speech
- Harsh Words
- Idle Chatter
Three of the Mind
- Hatred and malice
- Wrong views
- Bodhisattva Vows
These 18 root vows and 46 auxiliary vows help guide and train practitioners in the development of bodhicitta.
- Tantric Vows
These vows facilitate the development of spiritual attainments through tantric practice and are given in conjunction with highest yoga tantra initiations.
- Pratimoksha Vows
These vows encompass the basic rules of monastic discipline. Novice monks and nuns hold 36 vows while fully ordained monks and nuns hold 227 to 354 vows, depending on the tradition.
“Tulku” is a Tibetan word that means “emanation body”. It’s a spiritual title given to the reincarnations of highly attained practitioners who take rebirth under full control to continue their spiritual work and responsibilities from one life to the next. Some high tulkus have long incarnation lines that can be traced back hundreds or even thousands of years. Some examples of tulkus are His Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche and His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche.
Guru devotion essentially refers to a student’s trust in the guidance, teachings and integrity of their guru or spiritual teacher. In Tibetan Buddhism, guru devotion is often regarded as the foundation of the spiritual path. This is because only a qualified guru can lead you to your own ‘inner guru’ and help you develop the qualities of wisdom and compassion.
In this sense, the guru is like a spiritual parent. At the beginning of the spiritual path, you’re pretty helpless and need a lot of assistance and guidance; but at the end, you can stand on your own feet and be self-sufficient.
Because this spiritual relationship is so fundamental to Tibetan Buddhism, it’s extremely important to check a potential spiritual teacher before you decide to follow them. Do your own due diligence instead of relying on hearsay or being blinded by big titles and names. Once you’ve chosen a spiritual teacher, have full trust and faith and never look back.
Generally speaking, meditation is a mental exercise which helps you to relax and take stock of the thoughts that occupy your mind. Hence, it’s often considered a form of mind training to increase mindfulness, concentration and resilience.
In Buddhism, meditation serves a higher purpose. Apart from increasing awareness, it’s a potent way to enhance your understanding of yourself, your mind and your existence. This in turn helps you to focus your efforts on developing your inherent potential.
In other words, Buddhist meditation is a logical process of positively reconditioning your mind towards a higher state of consciousness through repeated contemplation and concentration on virtuous qualities.
Buddhism views death as a boundary between the end of one life and the beginning of the next. When we die, we generally take rebirth in one of the six realms of samsara. There are three higher realms (god, demi-god and human) and three lower realms (animal, hungry ghost and hell). The human form is considered the optimum rebirth.
The Buddhist belief in cyclic rebirth is based on the laws of karma. However, we can break free from this never-ending cycle of rebirths by achieving enlightenment through Buddha’s teachings. This is one of the goals of Buddhist practice.
Karma is the natural law of how things and events come into being. Every action that we do creates a mental imprint in our mind, which will eventually come to fruition. If we’re motivated by negative emotions such as jealousy or anger, we’re planting the seeds of suffering. In contrast, if our actions are motivated by positive states such as generosity, love, or wisdom, we create the karmic conditions for abundance and happiness.
The law of karma transcends a single lifetime. Many of the karmic results that we experience in this life are the results of our actions in past lives, and many of the actions we do in this life will only ripen in future lives. Therefore, karma logically explains the disparity that exists in the world.
Merit can be described as a type of “positive potential” or “positive force”. The force of these merits fuels our spiritual journey and helps us progress along the path that culminates in ultimate happiness.
Merits are generated when actions are performed with a virtuous intention. These acts of merit can be performed with your body, speech or mind. The most important factor in the generation of merit is motivation. Any act that is performed sincerely with the motivation to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings will generate merit.
Purification is a powerful Buddhist method to overcome your negative karma and its effects. You can lessen or eliminate negative karma by engaging in specific purification practices such as prostrations. For maximum benefit, purification practices should be done with the Four Opponent Powers. The stronger you apply the Four Opponent Powers, the more powerful the purification.
The Four Opponent Powers are crucial factors for purifying negative karma. They can also help alleviate feelings of guilt, remorse and unworthiness that keep you from moving forward with your life.
- Regret: Sincere remorse for the harm you’ve caused due to your actions. The power of regret is activated when you genuinely see the error of your ways and realise that they are harmful.
- Reliance: The heartfelt belief that taking refuge in Buddha and making prayers, prostrations and offerings to him will purify your negative karma and generate merit.
- Restraint: A strong resolve not to repeat your negative actions again. If you find it difficult to uproot a negative habit immediately, make an effort to lessen it over time.
- Remedy: The application of suitable practices to purify the negative karma you have created, combined with an understanding of the law of cause and effect.
The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Buddha is the enlightened teacher who has shown the path to absolute liberation and happiness; the Dharma is Buddha’s holy teachings; and the Sangha is the spiritual community that upholds the Dharma.
Taking refuge is to develop faith in the Buddha, practise the Dharma and respect the Sangha. When you take refuge in the Three Jewels, you come under their protection. The closest analogy is baptism in Christianity, which means to be reborn. When you take Buddhist refuge, you’re reborn in the sense of turning over a new leaf.
In the words of Tsem Rinpoche, “When you take refuge, from then on you realise that what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been thinking and operating are wrong, and that they create suffering for others and yourself. Therefore, you seek methods that are correct and you seek solace and refuge; you surrender your negative activities and take on wholesome activities. Also, from that day on, you actively decrease your negativities and increase your positive qualities. That is refuge.”
Formally, taking refuge involves taking the refuge vows and upholding the refuge commitments.
The Three Principal Aspects of the Path are renunciation, bodhicitta, and wisdom. These constitute the essence of the Buddhist path.
- Renunciation is the determination to be free of unsatisfactory conditions which cause pain and suffering.
- Bodhicitta focuses on the altruistic goal of attaining enlightenment so as to benefit all beings.
- Wisdom of realising emptiness is the truth that nothing exists in the way it appears, and nothing has inherent existence.
Lama Tsongkhapa is the 14th-century Buddhist scholar and saint who founded the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. He mastered all Buddhist traditions and combined the best of each to form the Gelugpa lineage. For this reason, he is commonly known as the “Second Buddha”.
Lama Tsongkhapa is also recognised as an enlightened being who is the embodiment of the Buddhas of Wisdom (Manjushri), Compassion (Chenrezig) and Spiritual Power (Vajrapani). Hence, his Guru Yoga practice brings great benefits including stabilisation of wealth, healing of depression and sickness, protection from negative energies, increased intelligence, clarity of mind, deep joy and peace.
Dorje Shugden is a fully enlightened Dharma protector who helps us overcome problems and fulfils wishes. He’s an emanation of the Wisdom Buddha Manjushri, who specifically arose in the form of a Dharma protector to swiftly aid us in times of need. He’s also the principal Dharma protector of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings.
Dorje Shugden can create positive conditions for wealth and success, protect from negative beings and harm, facilitate healing and recovery, and grant conducive conditions for spiritual progress. You can think of Dorje Shugden as a compassionate divine friend or guardian angel who safeguards both your physical and spiritual well-being in the short and long term.
Have questions about us?
Check out our general FAQs.