Meditation & Buddhism Q & A





1Q:  How can we start simple meditation?
  A:   One of the simplest meditation techniques is to sit still quietly and focus on the breath. You are mindful and you do not think about the past or future, just observe the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. The best position is to sit is the lotus position.

2Q:  During breath meditation, how do I stop myself from falling asleep?
  A:   If breath meditation does not suit you, there are many other kinds of meditation. Contemplative meditation, chanting, prostration, and walking are all forms of meditation. Essentially meditation is mindfulness and being mindful of what you are doing.

3Q:  You mentioned that the ultimate goal is to reach purity. What is purity?
  A:   Purity of mind is known as the Buddha nature in Zen Buddhism. Purity is something beyond what is pure or impure. For example, take energy. Is energy pure or impure?  It is neither. When we live in this world of duality we make judgments all the time. A person is beautiful, a person is ugly; a person is good or bad. But ultimately, at the very basis of each person, one is neither pure nor impure and neither good nor bad. If we become in tune with the bodhi mind, the awakened mind, then we discover that our minds are covered with layers of concepts, delusions, ignorance, and biases. If we uncover that, then the pure mind can be manifested and that is liberation.


4Q:  Do you see a difference between feeling of joy and feeling of excitement?
  A:  Ordinary people associate pleasure with sensory excitement. But for meditators, when your mind is calm, then you are joyful. It can become much greater than any sensory pleasure. It does take practice.
5Q:  You talk about duality. How do you achieve happiness without suffering?  If you are neither happy nor suffering, how do you get that joy?
  A:  This is a hard concept to unders still, and your mind is not seeking anything, at first you may think not stimulating your mind is boring, but it is actually joyful. The more still your mind, the greater the joy, even greater than food or sex or video games. You have to practice or you will never know this experience.
6Q:  I would like to ask about attachment to form, e.g. statues and rituals, which has expressions in all religions, and how it is in Buddhism.
  A:  Some people mistakenly think that Zen is free from formalities and you can do as your heart desires. When you go to a Zen monastery in Asia, the training is very strict and harsh. There are rules about how to eat and walk. There are many rules and rituals to train you to be mindful. It may seem contradictory, but you need that training to free you. When you prostrate to the Buddha, it is not idol worship, we are being grateful to the Buddha for giving us this teaching and showing respect and humility. Seeing the beautiful Buddha statues and bowing to it bring out the good thoughts in you. Eventually you have to dispense with even these good thoughts; that is a more advanced practice. But before than, the forms and rituals are useful.

7Q:  Is Buddhism a religion?
  A:  The Buddha's basic quest was to relieve all beings of suffering, and to attain true, lasting freedom or happiness. Along the way he realized that ultimate freedom is not possible without understanding the nature of life, death, and the mind. To understand all of this is enlightenment. So Buddhism is a teaching, a way of seeing the truth, and a practice to live a life of purity. Because it does deal with issues of life, death, after-death, and ultimate reality, it is considered a religion; however, it does not presume a creator, and it states that everyone has the potential to become a Buddha.

8Q:  How can I reconcile living in a fast-moving lifestyle and career, which emphasizes desiring more money and more possessions and applauds ambition, with Buddhism? I feel stuck between the two. I want to continue being ambitious and setting higher goals, yet are these desires or greed that will contribute to suffering?

A:  Buddhism, which encourages calmness, compassion, and non-conflict, is not in contradiction to setting and achieving high goals nor against making money. Buddha was certainly a high-achiever, and extremely "ambitious" in wanting to bring everyone to enlightenment.
      The key is intention. Have we set our goal to achieve personal fame, pleasure, or power? Then we'll never be satisfied or happy for long. We'll deepen our delusion and be further away from seeing our true nature. We'll suffer more and make others suffer.
     If we set our goals (whatever they are) to help living beings, bring them happiness and wisdom, then we can, and should, be ambitious! If you want to make lots of money (the right way) to help more people, by all means!
     However, we should also know that while working hard on our goals, it is still possible to maintain a calm and clear mind, to maintain integrity and compassion, and achieve success. Our December 2nd workshop "Buddhism and Successful Careers" will cover this in detail.


9Q:  You called "greed", "anger", and "ignorance" the Three Poisons, being the causes of all suffering. Are there not other poisons, like ego and lust?
    A:  We use the terms "greed", "anger", and "ignorance" to represent three broad categories of afflictions. Ego and egotism is the result of ignorance of the "self". In addition, confusion about life, lack of knowledge, misunderstanding, are all forms of ignorance. Lust, desire, craving, avarice, are all different forms of greed. Irritation, annoyance, rage, hatred are all forms of anger. Jealousy is a combination of greed (craving someone) and anger.

10Q:  Are you a Buddha yet? If not, is it possible for us ordinary people to become one, and how long does it take?
  A:  We say that the mind of an ordinary being is equivalent to that of the Buddha's. However, ordinary people have not yet learned to uncover their true potential beneath the delusions and ignorance that we all have. When we do, we'll be able to manifest all the merits, compassion, and wisdom of the Buddha. Then we are Buddhas ourselves (So the short answer is: no, I'm not yet a Buddha.)

              How long does it take? In Zen (Chan) Buddhism, we say that enlightenment can be achieved in this life. However, to attain the perfection of the Buddha can take many lifetimes. From enlightenment to Buddhahood is the path from seeing the Truth to fully become one with the Truth.

•  The above are some excerpted Buddhism questions from classes and replies by Ven. Jian-Hu.   To find out more about Buddhism Q & A  from the section of Dharma Gems.


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