Monday, September 21, 2009

How to reduce suffering?

Question:(Unedited) How does one let go to reduce his/her suffering as a layperson other than meditation?

My comment:


Thank you for asking me.

There is no guarantee that meditation can help one to let go and reduce suffering. The most important criterion is to understand the Buddha's teachings and then to put them into practice.

Under normal circumstances, we react to external stimuli. We are happy when we get what we want. The more we have, the more we want.....greed. We are unhappy when we get what we don't want. The more we get those things that we don't want, the more miserable we become......resentment, aversion, hatred. Throughout our lives, we succumb to these external temptations and bombardments. So long as we fall victims to our desires and aversions, we will always be miserable. This is because we cannot be fully satisfied with our desires; and we cannot fully control undesirable events from hurting us. "To let go" in this Buddhist context is to understand the real nature of this life and this world; and then to skilfully surf through the waves of life while maintaining a balance in our lives. In this way, we can reduce our "suffering".

To be contented with what we already have. Not to crave for things that we cannot yet obtain. To live for this day, and not for tomorrow. Living in the present. This will set the mind free from unnecessary worry and unsolicited desire. When the mind is contented, we will be contented. The more practical approach is to reduce our desire for the yet unattainable, and to reduce our aversion of the undesirable which we cannot control. However, this does not prevent us from working towards our goals, and from taking preventive measures to avoid disasters.

Learn from yesterday,
Live for today,
Let go of tomorrow.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Little Bit Of Wine

Question: (Unedited)
I have been interested in Buddhism for about 5 years now, reading and researching and trying to gain deeper understanding. I have one thing that keeps me from becoming a complete lay buddhist, and struggle with the interpretation. I know that alchol is not allowed, but, I like a glass of wine with my dinner or sometimes with a friend etc, I do not think that this leads my mind to wrongful behaviour or words??? Is it quite literal that no alchol is allowed?? or just getting falling over drunk? I lead I belive a good life, and both my husband and I are in caring professions, a doctor and a nurse, and wonder if this will always prevent me from becoming a lay buddhist??

I have no one here in NZ to study with here in my home twon of Rotorua and so have no guide or anyone else to gain insight and wisom from and guidance on this journey. Can you help?? How do I become a practising lay buddhist?? How do I teach my children in the buddhist ways?? Thank you.

My comment:
Hi ,

Thank you for asking me.

The Buddha encouraged us to use our common sense and human intelligence to analyze and practise his teachings. Refraining from taking intoxicating substances is the fifth of the five precepts which a lay Buddhist practises. The reason for keeping this precept is to prevent us from falling prey to intoxication which will lead to many problems such as drunken driving, wife bashing, unwholesome behaviour, and what have you. The danger of intoxication as you know, is that the mind takes over the person, and this person will not be in full control of himself, leading to unwholesome and dangerous conduct. The Buddha advised us to refrain from intoxication so that we can avoid such problems.

However, if the person is responsible enough to know what he is doing and can control his consumption of alcohol within limits, then this person is not exposing himself to impending dangers. I don't see any harm in allowing some harmless sensual indulgence, as a lay Buddhist. The stricter advice is that if one does not want to be contaminated with pollution, it is better for one to live away from the polluted area. Just like the advice "Keep Away From Drugs".

The Buddha never imposed commandments upon his followers. There is no such thing in Buddhism that one CANNOT do. The Buddha merely advised his followers to live a dignified and harmless live. The more conducive way to live as such is to keep the 5 precepts, thereby avoiding a lot of problems. Should we choose to live otherwise with all the unwholesome activities, then be prepared to face imminent problems and dangers.

The rendition of the 5 precepts is "to refrain from" and not "cannot". The Buddha gave us the complete freedom to choose the manner we want to lead our lives. The choice is ours. In the final anaylsis, a good Buddhist is one who conducts one's live in a harmless, dignified, and peaceful manner, free from hatred, greed and delusion; and most important of all, free from fear and restriction.

As for teaching your children Buddhism, you can always start from the idea of freedom in practice. It is this freedom in practice that Buddhism stands aloft. Then you can encourage them to ask questions and provide them Buddhist answers. If you have difficulty in the answers, please visit this site and I will be too happy to help out.

In the meantime please surf through
to identify a suitable temple near you. This site will also provide suitable links to Buddhism worldwide.

When I was in Auckland (1988-1992) I used to go to
Auckland Theravada Buddhist Association
29 Harris Road, Mt Wellington, Auckland NZ
Tel: (09) 579 5443
Contact: Dr. Benita Ameratunga (President)
Tradition: Theravada

This temple is affiliated with
Buddhist Society of Western Australia
18-20 Nanson Way, Nollamara, Perth, WA 6061
Tel: (08) 9345 1711, Fax: (08) 9344 4220
Web site:
Tradition: Theravada
Spiritual Director: Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso
Teachers: Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso and Ajahn Sister Vayama

Ajahn Brahmavamso is an English monk and is a very popular Dhamma speaker from the Ajahn Chah lineage of Thailand.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Do we need funeral rituals?

Question: (Unedited)
I have just begun studing Buddhism and am unclear on the practical aspects for how Buddhists treat death. When someone has died, how do Buddhists treat the body? Are there common rituals among the different Buddhist traditions? Are the dead buried or cremated. Do Buddhists have funereal ceremonies? Are there common meditations for the dead?

Answer: Hi J,

Thank you for asking me.

The pristine teachings of the Buddha is about realizing the true nature of existence and how to live a peaceful and happy life. Even before the Buddha's time more than 2500 years ago, Indian civilization was already very well established. It had its own culture and tradition, catering for all sorts of social and community events. The Buddha did not introduce any new rites and rituals. The communities then still carried on with their traditions and customs, while following the teachings of the Buddha. This was because the Buddha taught universal truths which transcend tradition, culture, race, nationality, belief, and even time and space. This means that his teachings could be practised by all peoples without having to change their traditions, customs, and what have you, while maintaining their traditional beliefs. That is why we have Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, and even Western Buddhism. The difference is essentially in the manner of practice, incorporating the different cultures and traditions of the particular nationalities.

Having explained this, you will now be able to understand that there are diverse practices in respect of rites and rituals performed in the name of Buddhism. So, the Thais will have their perculiar rites; the Burmese, the Sri Lankans, the Tibetans, etc will have different versions of their own. In general terms, the Theravada tradition of the Thais, Burmese, and Sri Lankans will recite similar suttas during wakes and burials. Whereas the Mahayana tradition will have different chanting. The Chinese Buddhists and the Tibetans will have different rites and rituals; so would be the Japanese Buddhists. The beauty of the Buddha's teachings is that followers are free to adopt their respective customs and traditions for their social and community events, while still be able to practise his teachings. Generally, cremation is the norm.

The Buddha's teachings are for the living. Meditation is also for the living. It is while we are alive that we can benefit from his teachings, by practising throughout our lives, to reduce our greed, hatred and delusion. It is the wholesome conduct of our lives while we are still living that is important. When we experience inner peace and happiness while still alive, that we really benefit from the Buddha's teachings. Rites and rituals for the dead are actually just to console the feelings of the living relatives. If we fully understand the teachings of the Buddha, we will take heart to lead a harmless and peaceful life, without being a nuisance to people around us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Do you have a brain to think?

Question: (Unedited)
I have a few questions about Buddhism and its place in modern society. Does Buddhism seem to have more or less appeal to people now as opposed to previous decades? What factors about Buddhism seem to be most appealing to people? How does Buddhism fit in with other major religious and philosophical beliefs? Thank you for any help you can give me.

My comment:
Hi S,

Thank you for asking me.

As people become more educated and more informed, and as the world becomes more accessible, they have the opportunities to gather new information. As educated people, they are now able to think rationally and make logical decisions. Societies are also becoming more tolerant and more opened to new ideas. Social values change. The so-called "powerful" religions have lost ground in their control over peoples thoughts and lives, especially in the west.

The most appealing aspect of Buddhism is the freedom it gives to its followers to lead their lives with dignity. The Buddha advised his followers to use their common sense and human intelligence to analyze his teachings before accepting them. All his teachings are based on universal truths which transcend race, culture, nationality, belief, tradition, and even time and space. The Buddha did not impose dogmas and commandments forcing people to accept without questioning. He merely advised people to consider his teachings and only to accept and to follow them if the teachings are beneficial to them and society.

Buddhism stands aloft amongst other religions. The reason is that the Buddha's teachings are very different from theirs. The main emphasis is on compassion and non-violence. Buddhism does not condemn other's beliefs. There is no bloodshed in the name of the Buddha. When the Talibans in Afghanistan blew up the 2 huge Buddha statues, Buddhists did not declare war. Buddhists have the wisdom to follow the advice of the Buddha never to succumb to the twin evils of hatred and revenge which never resolve conflict, but create more problems. Although Buddhists had been rudely insulted, they did not resort to violence. Buddhism can fit in any society, because it does not demand anything from anyone.

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