THE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON BUDDHISM
(Answers by Venerable U Weiponla)
269, Vicarage Farm Road, Heston, Middlesex, TW 5 ODR,
It is a truism to say that Buddhist monks, as the closest disciples of the Buddha, are playing a central role in spreading Buddhist teaching all over the world. By realising this I have always wanted to share my knowledge with as many people as I could.
According to Buddhism, everything in the world arises depending on condition. Whenever an effect arises, there is always a cause. Nothing arises without a cause. It is called Kamma in Buddhism. Sometimes, we can hardly believe it when we see unexpected things happen to us. The effects of Kamma are realised more and more as I see my dreams come true. At one time, I was an interpreter for foreigners who were practising intensive meditation at the Mahasi Meditation Centre in Myanmar (Burma). One day, I received a letter from our organization, saying that I have been chosen to go to England by the Minister of Religious Affairs to propagate the Buddha's teachings. I would be sponsored by a Burmese General Practitioner, Dr. Soe Lwin who has been in England for a long time. Actually, we didn't know each other before we met here. The purpose of his invitation was to support a monk who would be teaching. He would offer the four requisites - food, clothes, shelter and medicine during his stay in England. This is the reason why I have been staying in a Vihara upstairs in his house in England for four years now. Whenever I think over again about this situation my belief in Kamma is stronger and stronger than before because everything I needed in England has been donated by the doctor whom I even didn't know before.
By staying abroad for such a long time I certainly have had some experiences which are totally different from those found in my own country such as culture, religion, tradition, language and so on. Because of these differences I always have had many difficulties whenever I give teachings on Buddhism. As I am a young and inexperienced monk with a different culture and language, I am bound to face many kinds of obstacles. Whenever I am facing them, I just have to concentrate on continuing to teach as I have done in Myanmar and motivate myself to keep on going. The appreciation, understanding and realization of the Dhamma by meditators in Myanmar were really true happiness for me whenever I finish my teaching. When I get a lot of complicated questions here put by those who are of different religious backgrounds, whenever I finish my teachings I am really exhausted! Though I am really tired I always try my best to give the answers until they are satisfied as I have dedicated my life to Buddhism.
Anyhow, in this world of ours, we are more and more concerned about by material things but we cannot achieve peace of mind because of the lack of mental training. For this reason, human beings are looking for a way to gain peace and happiness. When they search for it they find that it is in the Buddha's teachings that can give the real inner-peace in their everyday life. I believe that it is a great privilege and pleasure for me as a Buddhist monk, to assist them when they are in need of my help.
In this article I give only some of the questions raised by and answers given to meditators on retreats as well as students at College. I hope that it may be useful for those who are interested in Buddhism as a beginner.
Ven. U Vepulla.
Do Buddhists believe in reincarnation?
Q: As far as I know, you Buddhists believe in reincarnation, please let me know how reincarnation will come to arise in the future.(a student, Collington College, London)
A: Reincarnation is believed in some Eastern religions. They believe that the soul of a being goes into another existence when somebody dies. According to Buddhism, we accept only rebirth which is the result of Kamma, actions and reactions.
Q : If so, do you mean that it is the same person who dies and is reborn or a different one?
A: Neither one person dies and the same person is reborn; nor does one person die and a different person is reborn. It is just cause and effect. It is like a mango seed and a tree which depend on each other. There are several kinds of causes for the growth of mango tree. Of these, the seed, the water and the earth are the primary causes. If a mango seed, associated with these three causes, is planted a big mango tree will grow bearing innumerable fruits. If you consider this example you will see a mango seed and a tree are not the same but they are not separate either. In the same way, based on good or bad deeds associated with ignorance, attachment and voltion, a being is reborn in new existenee. As long as we have these three causes we are sure to he reborn as a being in a new existence According to Buddhism, everything depending on condition is arising and passing away from moment to moment. Although our actions have already finished, the force in every action has been left behind it. Whenever an appropriate circumstance arises this force produces an effect. In this way, we are reborn again and again as the round of rebirth based on these three causes as the round of mango tree which comes from the seed. For this reason, there is no being who dies nor is being reborn but there is only cause and effect which are arising and passing away.
Q: I agree to what you have said concerning cause and effect but if this mango seed were thrown into boiling water without being planted the mango tree would not grow from it.
A: Oh! you are quite right! There is no reason for that seed to grow. Likewise, we Buddhists are seriously practising meditation in order to get rid of the defilements which are the cause of rebirth.
Why are Buddhists trying to eradicate defilements?
Q: Why arets trying to cut off these causes?. What is the purpose behind it?(a student, Collington College, London)
A: We believe that when there is a life there is suffering such as disease, old age, sorrow, worry, lamentation and death. That is why, we try to get rid of defilements which are the cause of suffering.
Are Buddhists selfish?
Q: In that case, I think you Buddhists are selfish because you are trying to be free yourself but you do nothing for others.(a student, Collington College, London).
A: That is true to some extent because we have to strive to be pure ourselves first. It is like a rescuer who gains his skills first before he helps others. Let's say, when you want to save someone who is drowning you have to know how to swim first. In the same way, we are striving to be liberated ourselves first but at the same time we are helping others to benefit by means of charitable work, observing morality and so on. When you go to a Buddhist country, you can see the generosity of Buddhists has been shown. Here I would like to explain to you how we are helping others by observing morality. We Buddhists observe at least five precepts such as not to kill any living beings, not to steal, not to tell lies, not to commit adultery and not to take any intoxicant.
Let me clarify this. When we observe the first precept we not only refrain from killing living beings hut also cultivate our compassion and loving kindness towards beings by looking after them. In the same way when we observe the second precept we not only abstain from stealing but also we try to produce our loving kindness towards beings such as by giving to charity or giving help in person. When we are offering something to others, we want them to be happy, to he fulfilled and to be free from all kinds of danger in their everyday life and so on.
In this way, having observed precepts our mind can be purified from defilement ourselves such as attachment, greed, hatred, etc. and we are also taking care of others, i.e. we are cultivating loving kindness. This is only an example. There are many precepts we observe such as five precepts or eight precepts for the lay persons, ten precepts for the novices and 227 precepts for the monks. By observing these precepts we can purify our deeds and speech. Because of purification of our moral conduct a lot of benefits can be gained by those who are supporting us. Besides, as monks, we are sharing our knowledge with people and teach them the way to live peacefully and happily in their everyday life now as well as in the future. For this reason, you cannot say that we Buddhists are only selfish persons because we are doing a lot of good deeds for others. .
Is Buddhism leading backwards?
Q: I would like to ask you this question. If everybody in the world, as you said, would be following the way to liberation I think this world of ours wouldn't be going ahead instead, it would be going backwards.(a student, Collington Callege, London)
A: If people were following the Buddha's Teachings I believe that this world would be certainly full of happiness and peace. Let us take an example, when we were young we never heard of AIDS. Now this kind of disease appears in this world. There are also many other kinds of disease which cannot be cured. According to Buddhism, it is because of the lack of our moral conduct and the increase of greed, anger, delusion and so on. Please imagine, many powerful weapons are possessed by many countries based on greed, jealousy, conceit etc. Today, everybody is in fear when this world is being destroyed by these weapons. If we think it over we realise that worry, sorrow, lamentation are increasing more and more day by day because human beings are making an effort for their progress only by material means instead of cultivating mental training or mental development. That is why, I can say that only the practice of mental training is the way leading to peace and happiness.
What is the benefit of Buddhist meditation?
Q: What sort of benefit can be gained by practising meditation? (Elizabeth. East Sussex Retreat)
A: You can realise your mind and body processes as they really are through this mindfulness meditation.
Is it important to know the reality?
Q: What will happen to me by understanding these mind - body processes? (Elizabeth, East Sussex Retreat)
A: As a result, you can get rid of wrong view or false view of a soul, a self, a person or an individuality etc. Because of this wrong view, we are attached to ourselves, our family, our relatives, our properties. As long as we have attachment to ourselves we are sure to experience many kinds of suffering such as sorrow, worry, mental and physical diseases when we come across the loss of something in our life. Those who practise this mindfulness meditation can be free from such suffering because they have already realised the nature of mind-body process. When our concentration and mindfulness gain momentum the ignorance, wrong view, and attachment can be got rid of through our insight knowledge which can give rise to peace and happiness. For this reason, it is really important to know our mind-body process in its true nature by means of meditation.
Do Buddhists believe in a soul?
Q: If there is no soul or no self, who is it that is thinking something and who is it that is moving? Please let me know? (Jonathan, East Sussex Retreat)
A: There is no soul or self who is thinking and moving. The consciousness arises depending on condition. Because of that consciousness your body moves.
The law of cause and effect?
Q: How shall we know the law of cause and effect of mind-body processes? (Jonathan, East Sussex Retreat)
A: Now you are holding a blue ball-pen which can be seen by everyone here. We all have eye-base that can contact with the ball-pen which is beautiful and attracts our attention.
There is also a light helping us to see the ball pen. When these four things come together there arises eye consciousness. It is clear that eye consciousness arises based on these four causes: (1)object called ball-pen (2) eye-base (3) light and (4) attention. If you put your ball-pen in your pocket nobody could see it. Though it has been placed in front of you. we cannot exactly know what it is, if there were no light or we were blind, or we do not notice it. So it is necessary to have the four causes for the arising of eye consciousness, on the contrary, nobody can stop eye consciousness arising when these four causes come together. In the end, what we come to know is that the arising of consciousness has nothing to do with any creator God, Deities or Almighty Being. It is clear that physical processes arise depending on consciousness. Your body cannot be moved without intention. You know yourself that you had the idea, the intention, to come to this retreat when you were at home. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here without any intention. Similarly, every movement of eating, walking, standing and sitting, consists first of intention. Those who have practised mindfulness meditation can realise the process of mentality and physicality which are arising and passing away in every moment and every second quickly through their insight knowledge during just one step of walking. According to their own experience they accept the realistic teaching of the Buddha that millions and millions of mind - body phenomena are arising and passing away from moment to moment which cannot be controlled by any one. With practice, I believe that you too can understand how mental and physical processes are related to each other as cause and effect.
Are there many souls of mine?
Q: As far as I am concerned, consciousness is just my soul but I become confused now, you said there are a lot of mind-body processes which are arising and passing away in every moment. Can you explain to me more about it? (Jhavana, East Sussex Retreat)
A: It is not possible to say that there is only one consciousness because it arises depending on an object. Pleasant feeling arises depending on a pleasant object. Unpleasant feeling arises depending on an unpleasant object. In the same way, the consciousness of happiness, sorrow, worry, enjoyment, fear is different from each other based on the object. However, the characteristic of consciousness is always the same, just awareness of an object. It has many kinds of different names because it arises from different causal relationships. It is like a river which is seen from far away. When we go closer to the river we see only the process of water which is flowing. Though we are saying it is a river, actually there is no river at all apart from only the changing process of water which is swiftly flowing and supporting each other by means of force. So the process of water is quite similar to this example mentioned above.
What is a Buddhist monk's role?
Q: Please let me know the task and purpose of a Buddhist monk? (a student, Collington College, London)
A: The task of a Buddhist monk is (1) to study the Buddha's teaching and (2) to put into practice what he has learned.
The purpose is to be free from all kinds of suffering such as old age, disease, sorrow, worry, lamentation, death and the round of rebirth etc. through the attainment of enlightenment; and to help others to do the same.
Let me clarify this more so that you can understand it clearly.
Buddhist monks in a Buddhist country can be seen as three groups: (1) the monks who study the Buddha's teaching for a period of time and continue to stay in the learning centre in order to educate their students, either monks and novices; or lay people. By doing this, the Buddha's teaching is handed down from generation to generation. In this way, they can purify their minds and be free from defilements.:
(2) the monks who spend their time studying the Buddha's teachings at a monastery, at an early age, until they are satisfied then they will go into the forest for the meditation. Their purpose is to get rid of all kinds of defilements such as greed, hatred, delusion and so on, so that they can be free from all kinds of sufferings associated with old age, diseases, death, sorrow, worry, lamentation, etc. and: (3) the monks who spend their time studying the Buddha's teaching and practise meditation at both learning and meditation centres, impart their knowledge to all people according to their own experience, that is, theoretically and practically. The meaning of their effort is to develop their concentration for peace and happiness or deliverance and they want other people to follow their example so that they too, can attain the eternal peace.
Is there any proof of life after death?
Q: You Buddhists believe in life after death, how can you prove that? (a student, Collington College London)
A: The easiest way to know of previous and future lives is to attain the penetrated knowledge through your own practice of meditation.
Q: Do all the Buddhists have that sort of knowledge? (a student, Collington College London)
A: No! But I am sure that those who have strenuously strived in their practice have achieved that kind of stage. However, it might be difficult for you to know such a kind of person as they never express their attainment to - anyone. As a Buddhist monk, especially they are not allowed to tell anyone about their attainment even in an indirect way according to the rules of their discipline laid down by the Buddha. Though all Buddhists do not have the insight knowledge they all have the inferential knowledge by seeing cause and effect such as the difference among human beings lived short and long, had poor health and good heath, being ugly and beautiful, being friendless and having many friends, being poor and rich, being reborn in high class and low class and being ignorant and intelligent. We believe that beings are different from each other according to their activities done in their previous life. Their deeds differentiate the being into low or high states. They are going to suffer or enjoy differently in the future too because their deeds in this present life are different from each other. In this way we Buddhist realise the law of cause and effect regarding past and future life.
What is the beginning for human beings?
Q: What is the beginning for human beings? Did they start with Adam and Eve? (Ula, East Sussex Retreat)
A: I have already expected such a kind of question from you because I have been asked this question many times since I have been in England. I will try my best to answer your question but I can understand you won't accept all my answer as you are a beginner on Buddhism. Our Lord Buddha knows all universe without exception and doesn't want to waste his precious time dealing with an unimportant things in the short time he had. He said we should just know each being starts with ignorance. It is like a person whom cannot know where he starts to run from in the round of circle. Actually, there is no benefit for beings to know their origin. We should concentrate on the situation we find ourselves it now, and work out what is best for us now.
The most important thing is to be free from all kinds of suffering such as old age, disease, sorrow, worry, and death in the present situation. For example, if your hair is on fire accidentally, what would you do first? Are you going to put out the fire on your hair or are you going to look for the cause of the fire?
(I have to put out the fire first)
Why don't you look for the reason first?
(It is more important to put out the fire on my hair)
Yes, that is true we have to do the important things first. In the same way, our human life is already on fire with greed, anger, ill-will, delusion everyday. Though we can forget such a kind of suffering because of very little enjoyment of sensual pleasure we are really exhausted when we cannot avoid the disasters such as fatal diseases, domestic problems, economic problems, dissatisfaction, enmity, enemy, war, death etc. The suffering we have, as a human being, is more prominent when we experience these kind of things in our life. Our Lord Buddha has already overcome all these forms of suffering. He fully realised the beginning of the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the way to be free from the suffering after his attainment. Not only does He expound the truth of what He Himself knows but also He solidly promises in his teaching: "I have already overcome all kinds of suffering by following the noble path. Having trodden this noble path, I clearly see the beginning and end of the Universe without exception. the past and future lives of all beings and the beginning and the end of suffering of all beings. If you follow the noble path that I have walked you are sure to attain enlightenment and be free from all kinds of suffering. When you gain the enlightenment you will see the beginning and end of the Universe".
By realising the Buddha's teaching we fully understand that it is not important for us to find out the beginning or end of beings in such a short time. What we need to do is to develop our insight knowledge during our precious time so that we can eradicate all kinds of impurities of mind which are the cause of all kinds of suffering associated with disease, old age, sorrow, lamentation and death and so on.
May the readers of this booklet be inspired to walk on the path of liberation and attain real peace forever.
with metta (loving kindness)
Ven. U Vepulla