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Volume 4  No 3

Venerable Shen-Kai Answers

Understanding Buddhism

Venerable Shen-Kai travelled far and wide to promote the teachings of the Humanity Vehicle Buddhism. He endeavoures to create a Bliss Culture for humanity by explaining and bridging Buddhism as a religion and Buddhism as a way to a blissful life. Through a question and answer approach, the Venerable clarifies and imparts the Buddha's teachings to sentient beings, and guides them to the correct principles, knowledge and the true spirit of what the Buddha taught in the Humanity Vehicle Buddhism. He shows that understanding what Buddhism stands for and putting them into practice can indeed lead us to a care-free, happy and blissful life. The following are 10 such questions and answers.

The human nature is neither virtuous nor evil
1. Is the human nature good or bad?

There is a Chinese proverb that seems to suggest that the human nature was originally virtuous. But this is not so. The beginning of humanity is at the time when sentient beings first descended from the light-sound heavens, Abhasvara. At that time the human nature was virtuous. However, after arriving in this world, and after aeons of countless rebirths, they created countless virtuous as well as negative karma. In this way, both the seeds of virtue and evil are planted in the fields of their eight consciousness. When they encounter virtuous causes and conditions, they perform virtuous deeds, and vice-versa. Thus, the human nature is neither virtuous nor evil.

Transmigration in the six realms is 'cause and effect'
2. Since humanity originated from the light-sound heavens, Abhasvara, what is the explanation of transmigration in the six realms?

The first human being of this world arrived from the light-sound heavens, Abhasvara, and they were the forefathers of humanity. Thereafter, they created various virtuous and negative karma, leading to transmigration in the six realms - the realm of celestial being, human being, asura, animal, ghost and hell. Thus, sentient beings are caused to suffer within these six realms. It is because of all the Buddhas' and Bodhisattvas' compassion to deliver us from our sufferings that we are now able to learn and practise Buddhism. Therefore, as Buddhists, we practise to distance from suffering and attain happiness, and further to attain the ultimate purity and happiness of Nirvana.

Buddhism is optimistic
3. Some people say that learning Buddhism will make one pessimistic, is this correct?

Learning Buddhism is pessimistic towards evil deeds. It is optimistic towards good deeds. The most important thing about learning Buddhism is to put the teachings into practice in our daily life. Learning Buddhism is not about escaping from reality, but about facing reality. One needs to learn and practise Buddhism in the midst of adversities. For example, the lotus is grown out of the mud and yet it has no trace of the mud. We are now living in a chaotic and sinful world, and therefore it is necessary for us to endure suffering in order to be able to attain happiness.

In the symbol of the Ksitigarbha (Ti-Zhang) Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva stands on a lotus flower. Below the lotus is fire. It is not the mud from which it grows. This is symbolic of the transformation of the fire into a lotus flower. The mud represents the sufferings of this Saha world, but hell is worse. Therefore it is represented by a fire. Figuratively speaking, the purpose of learning Buddhism is to transform the fire into a lotus.

Understanding the theory is easy but to practise is difficult
4. As written in the books, "one can awaken to the principles instantaneously, but in facing reality one still needs to cultivate gradually". Why is this so?

Sometimes students of Buddhism are quick to awaken to the principles of Buddhism. However, their awakening is as good as nought, because their level of awakening only enables them to talk and discuss at great length about what they have learnt. They are helpless and confused when faced with real situations in life. Thus, it is sometimes easier said than done. Awakening to the principles is a simple matter, but it is difficult to put them into practice. Cultivation requires patience. It is not that one can perfect one's cultivation within a short period of time. It is a slow and gradual process. One can awaken to the principles instantaneously, but it takes time to be able to apply these principles to the reality of the many issues in life.

You will know eventually
5. Is it advisable for one to learn Buddhism from multiple school?

Only those who practise as such will know. In theory they should have many teachers. However, in reality they will have no teachers eventually. Therefore, it is not a question of whether or not such a practice is advisable. One has to find out for himself.

Discipline and correct perspective

6. How to enhance the strength to overcome disturbing thoughts?

When the mind is disciplined against the arising of illusory thoughts, it gives rise to a certain strength. This is called Samadhibala which is the strength to overcome all disturbing thoughts. The best way to discipline your mind is to constantly have a correct perspective of all things and to understand them thoroughly. In short, one must be awakened or enlightened. When one is unclear about all things, then that is being without Samadhibala.

Life is not smooth without wisdom

7. When things are not smooth, are they related to hindrances of negative karma?

A Difficult life is related to hindrances of negative karma. For example, if in the past life one did not cultivate, and was jealous of others and made things difficult for them, then the effect in the present life will be jealousy and hindrances from others. These can make one's life difficult.

Picking lots is irrational
8. Should authentic Buddhist temples allow followers to pick lots for the purpose of foretelling the future?

Picking lots is an old traditional practice to help one makes a decision. There is no logic in the process and it is mere superstition. Authentic Buddhists should abstain from this. When we learn and practise Buddhism, and with wisdom, we will be able to make good judgements. We will know how to handle things in the proper way. If you do not have wisdom and seek to rely on the draw of coincidence for a good judgement, then it is totally illogical.

Heed your master's advice  

9. Having embraced Buddhism, I wish now to consecrate to the Buddha. What shall I do with the earth deity which I used to worship previously?

It is best that you consult with the master whom you take refuge in. Should he advise you to stop the practice, then you should heed his advice. On the other hand, if he advises you to continue with the practice, then it could be because he knows that you have not yet fully understood the teachings of the Buddha. And, therefore you do not feel comfortable to send the deity away within such a short time. In that case, it does not matter if you continue with your practice for a little longer.


Buddhist should never do that
10. Can the images of the Buddha and other deities be placed side by side, and be worshipped together?

It is both all right and not all right. Why is it so? In reality, if one is ignorant about it, then of course it is all right. Many people do not understand and so they place the images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas together with those of the deities. Since they have already worshipped in this manner, then of course it is all right. But, if we have already taken refuge in the Three Treasures and we are learning Buddhism, and yet we are still ignorant of the correct principles of Buddhism, then it is not all right. Buddhists should never place images of the Buddha together with the deities and worship them at the same time. Non-Buddhists may do so for the time being. But, after taking refuge in Buddhism and having understood the correct principles, these misconceptions should be corrected.


Copyright 2002.Jen Chen Buddhism Centre