Questions on Buddhism

How did the religion begin?
Buddhism began about 2,600 years ago when an Indian prince saw four signs that made him think deeply about the meaning and purpose of life. He saw an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and a monk. When he saw an old man he thought, “Although I am young now, definitely I will become old one day, so I am no different to that old man.” When he saw a sick man he thought, “Although I am healthy now, one day I will get sick.” When he saw a dead man he thought, “One day I will die. This is certain.” When he saw a monk he thought, “This man is not just enjoying life like most people, but is trying to find out the meaning and purpose of life. I should also become a monk and find out why everyone has to get old, get sick, and die. So the young prince left his wife and new-born son to become a monk.

How many times a day would you meditate and for what reasons? 
I would meditate whenever there was nothing else that needed to be done. Even while doing things that had to be done, I would try to do them mindfully. Doing things mindfully is a kind of meditation.

Do you have a free lifestyle?
What is freedom? Does it mean that you can do whatever you want and have whatever you want? Or does it mean that you enjoy whatever you do, and like whatever you have?

A monk has to follow 227 rules. Every aspect of his life is regulated by rules laid down by the Buddha. However, because the Buddha fully understood about happiness and suffering, these rules are designed to help us find happiness and to avoid suffering. The better one follows the Buddha’s rules, the freer and happier one will be.

How long have you been a monk?
I became a monk in June 1979, when I was 26 years old.

What is the definition of enlightenment?
I would say that enlightenment is being free from mental defilements like greed, anger, and foolishness. An enlightened person never does anything that causes suffering to others, nor to himself or herself, because he or she has no greed, no anger, and no foolishness. In brief, an enlightened person is always wise, kind, patient, and happy.

How do you get to Nibbāna?
Nibbāna is not a place or a realm of existence like heaven, but one can “get it” even in this very life if one meditates very seriously. You can also get a “mini nibbāna” every time you give up wanting something that you don’t really need. Say, for example, you want a computer game or a new bicycle, but your mum says, “It’s too expensive.” If you still want it, but you cannot get it, then you suffer, don’t you? However, if you think wisely, you will realise that it is not so important after all. After a while you won’t even think about getting it. You will be free from suffering as soon as you give up wanting it, won’t you?

How long do you meditate for at one time?
We can meditate for as little as one minute, or even less. Whenever we realise that we are getting angry or selfish or silly, we can stop right there and look at our silly mind. When we look at the mind, like looking at our face in the mirror, then we can see if it is dirty or not. If it is dirty, we should clean it, shouldn’t we?

Why do you shave your head?
Shaving the head is one way for people to know that we are a monk. It is a kind of symbolism.

Why do you wear robes? 
The robes are also an easy way for people to recognise us. They are designed to be very simple to make, to a standard design. Even after 2,600 years there hasn’t been any change to the fashion of Buddhist monks’ robes.

Can you marry whoever you want?
Buddhist monks do not marry at all, but other Buddhists can marry non-Buddhists if they wish. When getting married it is important to choose someone with similar aims to oneself. Married life can be difficult enough anyway. If both husband and wife are Buddhists it might be a bit easier.

Why don’t you live in houses?
When the Buddha first started teaching, he lived in the forest, and the first monks had no dwellings at all, apart from caves or under trees. Later, good people offered to build huts for monks to live in to shelter from bad weather. So the Buddha allowed monks to have different kinds of dwellings. Even big monasteries were allowed, but the general idea is that a monk should be content just to have shelter from the weather, and should not want a grand mansion. When building dwellings, also, a monk should take care that no destruction of living beings is involved.

Is Buddhism a religion?
It depends what you mean by religion. To me, religion means a collection of beliefs and teachings that are meant to help people live a good life and find contentment. However, to many people, religion means that you must worship God, or something else. The earliest forms of religions involved worshipping the sun, trees, mountains (like Ayers Rock), and other natural things. On his deathbed, the Buddha told his disciples that to worship or honour him, the best way was to practise his teaching very diligently. So a Buddhist who really respects and loves the Buddha, must meditate as much as possible and try to put an end to all greed, anger, and foolishness. Then he or she will become enlightened, like the Buddha. That is how a Buddhist worships the Buddha.

Does it take a lot of dedication to become a monk?
Try it and see. I suppose it does, but then I have never found anything else that I wanted to do more than to practise meditation and learn about the Buddha’s teaching so that I can help others and help myself in the process.

Is it hard only eating at certain times of the day?
Not at all — as long as people remember that we can only eat after dawn and before midday. When they don’t come in time for us to finish our meal; that can be difficult. Eating only once is much easier than eating several times. Life is so much simpler. It is one of the easiest things to get used to.

Are you happy being a Buddhist?
Real happiness is very hard to find. If you watch your mind carefully, how often are you really happy? How much more often are you grumpy, sad, or disappointed? Even when you are very happy, how long does it last? Happiness wouldn’t mean anything unless there was such a thing as sadness. What do you think? If a multi-millionaire was sleeping soundly, and his servant woke him up saying, “Come on, let’s have a party!” would he be happy? I don’t imagine so. He would probably be very angry and tell the servant to get another job. Although the millionaire was not enjoying any kind of music or good food, he was much happier when fast asleep. For unenlightened people, being sound asleep is the nearest they get to real happiness.

Can you eat meat?
Yes. Monks (and other Buddhists) can eat meat, as long as they have no reason to believe that an animal has been killed deliberately to provide meat for their meal. Many Buddhists are vegetarians, especially in Taiwan and India, but in Burma, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, most Buddhists eat some meat, fish, or at least eggs. It is good to be a vegetarian, but it is better to be free from attachment.

Do you feel free?
Sometimes, but not always. The more one meditates, the more one learns to control the mind, and not to be under the mind’s control. When we are under the mind’s control we are not free at all, but when we can control the mind we are free.

How do Buddhists believe the world was created?
Everything in the world happens because of a reason. There are four causes for any result: food, climate, mind, and kamma. If someone gets sick, for example, it might be because they ate the wrong kind of food, or because the weather was too hot or too cold. When people get angry too much, or worry too much, or just think too much, then they also get sick. Another reason is some action done in the past.

Are Buddhists punished if they do something wrong?
Punished is not a very good word to use. If you pick up a hot saucepan carelessly and burn your hand, is the saucepan punishing you? Of course not. It is a natural cause and a natural result. When someone steals from others, the natural result is that someone else steals from them. That result may not come at once, or might come only in another life, when they cannot remember what they did before. That is why people nearly always blame others when bad things happen to them. If they could remember exactly what they did before, they would realise that it had to happen because of a reason.

If so, how?
The law of kamma works like a pendulum. The harder you push it, the harder it swings back at you.

How do you regard other religions?
Many of the problems in the world seem to be caused by religious beliefs, but when you examine things carefully you will realise that there are only two causes for suffering: desire (or attachment) and ignorance (not understanding).

A certain foolish boy, who had never seen how wood was made from trees, went to buy some wood for his father. On the way, he spent the money on sweets. When he got to the shop he asked the shopkeeper to give him some wood. When he said he had no money, the shopkeeper told him to go and get some wood from the forest. He went there, and searched all day for some wood, but couldn’t find any. When he went home, he told his father that the shopkeeper had lied. There wasn’t any wood  anywhere in the forest, and he had wasted his whole day for nothing. People who fight about religion are like that foolish boy. They just don’t know how to get what they need.

Is the world in balance at the moment?
It is round, so I suppose it must be. The Chinese have a theory about keeping Yin and Yang in balance to maintain harmony and good health. The world is only a reflection of your own mind. Sort of like WYSIWYG. If your mind is in balance then the world is as it is. If your mind is in conflict then the world is out of balance. Therefore, try to meditate seriously and get your mind in balance. Then there won’t be any suffering at all.

Do you believe humans can and will cause life on the planet to end? 
According to Buddhism, all things come to an end when the causes that sustain them come to an end. The world is no exception. Modern astronomy can detect stars — just like our sun — being born or created, and others that are reaching the end of their life. It is a natural process. What human beings should think about is just how to put an end to the causes of suffering within them: which means craving and ignorance. The world, the universe, and everything will take care of itself.

Are men and women seen as equals within Buddhism?
If you can tell me how to measure someone, I will tell you whether they are equal to someone else or not. What kind of tape measure would you use? Physical strength? Patience? Intelligence? Beauty? Kindness? Every human being has a certain potential. Most people never fulfil their full potential. The Buddha had great potential, and also fulfilled it to the utmost. Whether we are a man or a woman, we should try to fulfil our potential.

Can you be a Muslim/Jew/Christian etc and live life in a Buddhist way?
Whatever your religion, you can try to gain wisdom. If you can gain wisdom then you will be able to “Separate the wood from the trees.” The family, culture, and religion that you are born into is not a completely random accident. There are reasons for that too. Nobody is born wise, though some might be born into a Buddhist family. Even the Buddha wasn’t born a Buddhist. His parents were not Buddhists and didn’t know how to meditate or realise nirvana until the Buddha taught them about forty years later. When he was born, the future Buddha already had great intelligence, courage, compassion, patience, honesty, and wisdom. He used these virtues, and meditated hard for six years to become Buddha. If we don’t have these virtues then we cannot live life in a Buddhist way, even if our parents, grandparents, and everyone else in our family is a “Buddhist.”

Being a true Buddhist means to be intelligent, honest, patient, courageous, kind, and wise. Then labels will no longer have the same importance.