So Buddhism is just a philosophy?
The word philosophy comes from two words
‘philo’ which means ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ which means ‘wisdom’.
So philosophy is the love of wisdom or love and wisdom, both
meanings describing Buddhism perfectly.
that we should try to develop our intellectual capacity to the
fullest so that we can understand clearly.
It also teaches us to
develop love and kindness so that we can be like a true friend
to all beings.
Thus Buddhism is a philosophy but not just a
It is the supreme philosophy.
Who was the Buddha?
In the year 563 B.C. a baby was born into a royal
family in northern India.
He grew up in wealth and luxury
but eventually found that worldly comfort and security do
not guarantee happiness.
He was deeply moved by the suffering
he saw all around and resolved to find the key to human
When he was 29 he left his wife and child and set
off to sit at the feet of the great religious teachers of the day
to learn from them.
They taught him much but none really
knew the cause of human suffering or how it could be
Eventually, after six years study and meditation he had
an experience in which all ignorance fell away and he suddenly
From that day onwards he was called the
Buddha, the Awakened One.
He lived for another 45 years
in which time he traveled all over northern India teaching
others what he had discovered.
His compassion and patience
were legendary and he made thousands of followers.
eightieth year, old and sick, but still happy and at peace, he
Wasn’t it irresponsible for the Buddha
to walk out on his wife and child?
It couldn’t have been an easy thing for the
Buddha to leave his family.
He must have worried and
hesitated for a long time before finally leaving.
But he had a
choice, dedicating himself to his family or dedicating himself
to the whole world.
In the end, his great compassion made
him give himself to the whole world.
And the whole world
still benefits from his sacrifice.
This was not irresponsible.
It was perhaps the most significant sacrifice ever made.
The Buddha is dead so how can he help us?
Faraday, who discovered electricity, is dead but
what he discovered still helps us.
Luis Pasteur who discovered
the cures for so many diseases is dead but his medical
discoveries still save lives.
The great artist Leonardo da
Vinci is dead but what he created can still uplift and give joy.
Noble men and heroes may have been dead for centuries but
when we read of their deeds and achievements we can still be
inspired to act as they did.
Yes, the Buddha is dead but 2500
years later his teachings still help people, his example still
inspires people, his words still change lives.
Only a Buddha
could have such power centuries after his death.
Was the Buddha a god?
No, he was not.
He did not claim that he was a
god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a god.
was a human being who perfected himself and taught that if
we followed his example, we could perfect ourselves also.
If the Buddha is not a god,
then why do
people worship him?
There are different types of worship.
someone worships a god, they praise and honor him or her,
make offerings and ask for favors, believing that the god will
hear their praise, receive their offerings and answer their
Buddhists do not indulge in this kind of worship.
The other kind of worship is when we show respect to some
one or something we admire.
When a teacher walks into the
room we stand up, when we meet a dignitary we shake their
hand, when the national anthem is played we salute.
all gestures of respect and worship and indicate our admiration
for certain persons or things.
This is the type of worship
A statue of the Buddha with its hands
rested gently in its lap and its compassionate smile reminds
us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves.
perfume of incense reminds us of the pervading influence of
virtue, the lamp reminds us of the light of knowledge and the
flowers which soon fade and die, remind us of impermanence.
When we bow, we express outwardly what we feel inwardly;
our gratitude to the Buddha for what his teachings have given
This is the nature of Buddhist worship.
But I have heard people say that
Buddhists worship idols.
Such statements only reflect the misunderstanding
of the persons who make them.
The dictionary defines
an idol as “an image or statue worshipped as a god”.
have seen, Buddhists do not believe that the Buddha was a
god, so how could they possibly believe that a piece of wood
or metal is a god?
All religions use symbols to express various
In Taoism, the ying-yang is used to symbolize
the harmony between opposites.
In Sikhism, the sword
is used to symbolize spiritual struggle.
In Christianity, the
fish is used to symbolize Christ’s presence while the cross is
used to symbolize his sacrifice.
And in Buddhism, the statue
of the Buddha is used to symbolize human perfection.
statue of the Buddha also reminds us of the human dimension
in Buddhist teaching, the fact that Buddhism is human-centered,
rather than god-centered, that we must look within not
without to find perfection and understanding.
So to say that
Buddhists worship idols is not correct.
Why do people do all kinds of
things in Buddhist temples?
Many things seem strange to us when we don’t
Rather than dismiss such things as strange,
we should try to find out what they mean.
However, it is
true that Buddhist practices sometimes have their origins in
popular superstition and misunderstanding rather than the
teachings of the Buddha.
And such misunderstandings are
not found in Buddhism alone but arise in all religions from
time to time.
The Buddha taught with clarity and in detail
and if some fail to understand fully, the Buddha cannot be
There is a saying;
If a person suffering from a disease does not seek treatment
even when there is a physician at hand, it is not the fault of
In the same way, if a person is oppressed and
tormented by the disease of the defilements but does not seek
the help of the Buddha, that is not the Buddha’s fault.
Nor should Buddhism or any religion be judged by those who
don’t practice it properly.
If you wish to know the true teachings
of Buddhism, read the Buddha’s words or speak to those
who understand them properly.
If Buddhism is so good
why are some
Buddhist countries poor?
If by poor you mean economically poor, then it
is true that some Buddhist countries are poor.
But if by poor
you mean a poor quality of life, then perhaps some Buddhist
countries are quite rich.
America for example, is an economically
rich and powerful country but the crime rate is one of
the highest in the world, millions of old people are neglected
by their children and die of loneliness in old people’s homes,
domestic violence and child abuse are major problems.
in three marriages end in divorce and pornography is a
Rich in terms of money but perhaps poor in
terms of the quality of life.
Now take traditional Buddhist
Some are economically backward but parents are
honored and respected by their children, their crime rates
are relatively low, divorce and suicide are almost unheard of,
domestic violence and child abuse, pornography and sexual
license are not common.
Economically backward but perhaps
a higher quality of life than in a country like America.
even if we judge Buddhist countries in terms of economics
alone, one of the wealthiest and most economically dynamic
countries in the world today is Japan where a large percentage
of the population call themselves Buddhists.
Why is it that you don’t often hear of
charitable work being done by Buddhists?
Perhaps it is because Buddhists don’t feel the
need to advertise about the good they do.
Several years ago
the Japanese Buddhist leader Nikkho Niwano received the
Templeton Prize for his work in promoting inter-religious harmony.
Likewise a Thai Buddhist monk was recently awarded
the prestigious Magsaysay Prize for his excellent work among
In 1987 another Thai monk, Ven. Kantayapiwat
was awarded the Norwegian Children’s Peace Prize for his
many years of work helping homeless children in rural areas.
And what about the large scale social work being done among
the poor in India by the Western Buddhist Order?
built schools, child minding centres, dispensaries and small
scale industries for selfsufficiency.
Buddhists see help given
to others as an expression of their religious practice just as
other religions do but they believe that it should be done quietly
and without self-promotion.
Thus you don’t hear so much
about their charitable work.
Why are there so many
different types of
There are many different types of sugar: brown
sugar, white sugar, granulated sugar, rock sugar, syrup and
icing sugar but it is all sugar and it all tastes sweet.
It is produced
in different forms so that it can be used in different
Buddhism is the same.
There is Theravada Buddhism,
Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism
and Vajrayana but they are all Buddhism and they all has the
same taste — the state of freedom.
Buddhism has evolved
into different forms so that it can be relevant to the different
cultures in which it exists.
It has been reinterpreted over
the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation.
Outwardly, the types of Buddhism may seem very
different but at the center of all of them is the Four Noble
Truths and the Eightfold Path.
All major religions, Buddhism
included, have split into schools and sects.
But the different
sects of Buddhism have never gone to war with each other,
they have never been towards each other and to this day, they
go to each other’s temples and worship together.
and understanding are certainly rare.
Buddhism started in India
eventually died out there. Why?
The Buddha’s teachings grew to become one of
India’s major religions but gradually it went into decline and
finally disappeared just as Christianity started in Palestine
but eventually died out there.
No one really knows why this
Perhaps a combination of political and social
changes combined with wars and invasions made it difficult
for such a gentle and peaceful religion to survive.
before it disappeared in India is spread from there to the furthermost
corner of Asia.
You certainly think highly of Buddhism.
I suppose you think your religion is right
and all the others are wrong.
No Buddhist who understands the Buddha’s
teaching thinks that other religions are wrong.
No one who,
has made a genuine effort to examine other religions with
an open mind could think like that either.
The first thing
you notice when you study the different religions is just how
much they have in common.
All religions acknowledge that
mankind’s present state is unsatisfactory.
All believe that
a change of attitude and behavior is needed if the human
situation is to improve.
All teach an ethics that includes
love, kindness, patience, generosity and social responsibility
and all accept the existence of some form of Absolute.
They use different languages, different names and different
symbols to describe and explain these things; and it is only
when they narrow-mindedly cling to their one way of seeing
things that religious intolerance, pride and self-righteousness
Imagine an Englishman, a Frenchman, a Chinese and
an Indonesian all looking at a cup.
The Englishman says,
“That’s a cup.” The Frenchman answers, “No it’s not. It’s a
tasse.” The Chinese comments, “You’re both wrong. It’s a
pet.” And the Indonesian laughs at the others and says “What
fools you are. It’s a cawan.”
The Englishman gets a dictionary
and shows it to the others saying, “I can prove that it is a
cup. My dictionary says so.”
“Then your dictionary is wrong,”
says the French- man “Because my dictionary clearly says
it is a tasse.”
The Chinese scoffs at them "My dictionary is thousands
of years older than yours, so my dictionary must
And besides, more people speak Chinese than any
other language, so it must be a pet.”
While they are squabbling and arguing with each other,
a Buddhist comes up and
drinks from the cup.
After he has drunk, he says to the others,
“Whether you call it a cup, a tasse, a pet or a cawan, a cup is
meant to be used.
Stop arguing and drink, stop squabbling
and refresh your thirst.” This is the Buddhist attitude to other
I have read that Buddhism is
just a type
of reformed Hinduism.
One sometimes hears uninformed people saying
But we read in the Buddhist scriptures that the Hindu
priests, the Brahmins, were strongly opposed to the Buddha.
This is because he criticized the Hindu caste system and
the practice animal sacrifice, he denied the existence of a
supreme god and he rejected the authority of the Hindu scriptures.
Buddhism and Hinduism have things in commons but
they also have enough important differences to make them
two distinct religions.
Is Buddhism scientific?
Before we answer that question it would be
best to define the word ‘science’.
Science, according to the
dictionary is “knowledge which can be made into a system,
which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating
general natural laws, a branch of such knowledge, anything
that can be studied exactly.”
There are aspects of Buddhism
that would not fit into this definition but the central teachings
of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, most certainly would.
Suffering, the First Noble Truth is an experience that can be
defined, experienced and measured.
The Second Noble Truth
states that suffering has a natural cause, craving, which likewise
can be defined, experienced and measured. No attempt
is made to explain suffering in terms of a metaphysical concept
Suffering is ended, according to the Third
Noble Truth, not by relying upon a Supreme Being, by faith
or by prayers but simply by removing its cause. This is axiomatic.
The Fourth Noble Truth, the way to end suffering,
once again, has nothing to do with metaphysics but depends
on behaving in specific ways. And once again behavior is
open to testing.
Buddhism dispenses with the concept of a
Supreme Being, as does science, and explains the origins
and workings of the universe in terms of natural laws. All
of this certainly exhibits a scientific spirit.
Once again, the
Buddha’s constant advice that we should not blindly believe
but rather question, examine, inquire and rely on our own
experience, has a definite scientific ring to it.
“Do not go by revelation or tradition, do not go by rumor, or
the sacred scriptures, do not go by hearsay or mere logic, do
not go by bias towards a notion or by another person’s seeming
ability and do not go by the idea ‘He is our teacher’.
you yourself know that a thing is good, that it is not blamable,
that it is praised by the wise and when practiced and observed
that it leads to happiness, then follow that thing.”
So we could say that although Buddhism is not entirely scientific,
it certainly has a strong scientific overtone and is certainly
more scientific then any other religion.
It is significant
that Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the twentieth
century said of Buddhism:
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should
transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology.
Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based
on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things,
natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity.
answers this description.
If there is any religion that would
cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”