Frequently Asked Questions on Buddhist Culture
(Compiled at BuddhaNet, 1998)
Here are some additional FAQ's ( frequently asked questions) we regularly get asked about on BuddhaNet. If you have any more questions around Buddhist culture in all traditions, please feel free to e-mail them to: [email protected]
Do Buddhists pray?
Buddhist 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 discussion on the nature of Buddhist devotion and faith, see DEVOTION.ZIP in BuddhaNets file library - General section
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 Buddhist?
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).
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 Buddha.
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 holy places?
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 "In Search of the Buddha" on BuddhaNet.
What about Buddhist festivals?
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.
What about Buddhist marriage ceremonies?
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 funeral like?
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.
Source: BuddhaNet, Sydney, Australia, https://www.buddhanet.net/
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