Oregon Buddhist Temple - 3720 SE 34th Ave, Portland, OR 97202 - 503-234-9456

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

QUESTION

ANSWER

What is required to become a Buddhist?
If you sincerely say you are Buddhist then you are. It is a matter of taking up new ways of thinking and seeing the world. Those ways are various and there is no one creed all Buddhists must affirm. One who says thaey are Buddhist is taking refuge, or relying upon, buddhist tradition and that makes him/her Buddhist. Most schools have no formal procedure for becoming a member.
How many types of Buddhism are there?
There are approximately 200 distinct schools of Buddhism in the world today. There have been many hunderd others in the past that either died out or morphed into one of the surviving schools. It is often said that these 200 streams fall into three categories: Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Theravada. Oregon Buddhist Temple is of the Mahayana which stresses the deep connection between all living things such that we must help guide others to liberation in order to awaken to Buddhaboon orselves.
How does a Buddhist know he/she has achieved enlightenment?
Since there is no credible claimant for fully Enlintened Person walking about just now, that is a question that may be unanswerable. It is not something we think much about. We progress on a path that opens out into growing wisdom and ever greater campassion. Enlightenment is a long-term or ultimate goal. Our short term goal is just to live with some kindness and bit of insight.
Where do Buddhist meditate/congregate?
Buddhists congregate at temples such as ours, practice centers, Buddhist colleges, etc. Meditation can be practiced alone or with a group. Our school, Jodo Shinshu, does not promote the practice of meditation, rather we say the nembutsu "Namo Amida Butsu", a calling and response to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life.
How do Buddhist meditate?
There are three basic types of meditation in any religion: Visualization, Analytic Meditation, and Theme-less meditation. 1) Visualization: This is done by Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Naturally a Buddhist visualizaes Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and their realm of influence. 2) Analytic Meditation: One reflects on one's experience and puts it into categories that help to clarify its meaning and import. This sort of meditation is common in the Theravada Buddhism. 3) theme-less meditation. this is just quiet mindful sitting. It is present in many relegions not just Buddhism. It is the dominant form of meditation is Soto Zen Buddhism.
Besides meditation, what other rituals do Buddhist perform?
We chant passages of Buddhist teachings (sutras) in a reverent way. We offer incense to images that symbolize Enlightenment, Enlightened persons and such. We sing songs like most curches do. We bow as a sign of respect. Our school, Jodo Shinshu, we say the nembutsu "Namo Amida Butsu", a calling and response to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life.
What are Buddhist sutras and what are their purposes?
Sutras are written teachings. Originally "sutra" was a category of teachings with a strong philosopical or practice oriented content which was usually assumed to have been spoken by the historical founder, Sakyamuni Buddha. In the modern period, most Busshist priests and scholars are aware that much of the sutra material was not spoken by the historical buddha, though it is quite valid in its own right.
How do Buddhists feel about violence as self-defense?
violence is always discouraged. Buddhists feel what anyone else would feel. We never judge violence as being acceptable. If you go to war you do so against the advice of the Buddha and all the great teachers in our tradition. Each of us may not be able to fully follow the path of complete non-violence but that is the Buddhist path.
What would Buddhists like changed in today's society?
Buddhism, like the later traditions of Christianity and Islam, has gone to every part of the world in which its practice has not been prohibited. The Buddhist attitude is to try to blend into a society and accept the predilections of its peoples as much ass possible. So all Buddhists don't have the same ideas about social issues. We, as Buddhists, focus more on the big picture. We should live wisely and with kindness. Obviously kindess is incompatible with not providing medical treatment to the sick and injured but we don't all affirm some particular program to fix this problem. We would like to see less poverty but there are both politically liberal and politically conservative Buddhists and we have differing notions of how to overcome posverty in our society.
Where is the Pure Land?
In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, 99% of the living tradition, we teach that an Awoken Person will be surrounded by a realm of influence. This realm is transformative, enlightening for those of us who have not yet thoroughly awoken. After being transmitted to China, if not before, this idea as associated with Amida Buddha came to include understanding a peaceful and happy realm for rebirth after the end of one's current biological life. As Amida Buddha's Pure Realm (Sukhavati/O Jodo) is beyond the limits of space and time it is not really a perfect realm for a gradual practice toward Awakening. Entry into the Pure Realm of Amida at the moment of death is instantaneously becoming a Buddha. We then return to earth and other realms in which living beings are deluded and suffering in order to liberate them. This comes down to meaning, as the Dai Mu Ryo Ju Kyo says, "Amida Buddha's Pure Land is the Place of all places while being no special separative place."
Is Amida Buddha a person?
Amida Buddha is identical with the fulfillment of his Vows of Universal Liberation. He is not an intelligence that designed this world and he is not a discrete subject of experience. To understand the kindness that flows into our lives from Amida it helps to use the model of being a subject of action that we draw from our own human personhood. The Buddha has no specific body. It is said that when we enter into his realm of influence we receive bodies like his, "bodies of boundlessness". So the upshot is that 2/3 of what we each are as a person, specific subjects of experience and embodied individuals, is irrelevant to what we may understand the Buddha to be. Even so, that aspect of being subjects of action is relevant to what Amida is as the compassion of the Buddha is not accidental
Is the "shinjin" received in Nembutsu practice the same thing as "faith" in Christianity?
One of the key principles of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is "Shinjin Sho In". This means, Shinjin is the true cause (of birth into Amida Buddha's realm and Enlightenment through its auspices). This means that it is crucial to understand shinjin. In truth, the current Shin Translation Committee in Kyoto under the leadership of Dr. Hisao Inagaki is translating "shinjin" as "faith". This should caution us not to assume that shinjin is totally different from faith. I usually say that a model of faith, where faith is trusting confidence, is about 1/3 of what we need to understand shinjin. Shinjin is a confidence in the Nembutsu teaching and a trust in the Vow of Universal Liberation [Hongan] that is embodied in the nembutsu. Even saying this much we can see that shinjin isn't just any faith or faith in just anything. Shinjin emerges from the Bodhisattva ideal and the commitment to the liberation of all sentient beings. This is presented in an exemplary way in the project of generating Amida's Pure, Happy and transformative realm. Besides this, Shinjin is tied to a specific stream of religious experience. Experiencing "Namo Amida Butsu" and other forms of the nembutsu as the active compassion of the Buddha is the classic example of Jodo Shinshu spiritual experience. In addition to being faith, or confidence-trust, in the vows of Amida and experiencing one's own vocalization of the nembutsu as the Buddha's calling voice, shinjin involves a change in identity. Firstly, it means that who one will be in the future (a Buddha) has been determined. We are never quite the same persons again after even a split second of shinjin. We are Buddha's to be and if this fact settles into our lives we will change as a result. Our identity also changes in that we begin to have a distaste for greediness, anger and stupidity. Urges to greedy, delusive and hateful behavior still come up. We still act them out in many instances. But, having heard "Namo Amida Butsu" as the caring voice of the Buddha, we don't feel good about having been so stupid, angry and obsessively lustful. As the nembutsu cultivates a distaste for ugly behavior we, in most cases, gradually become able to resist such mis-behavior more and more often. Shinjin involves all of this and more and so is more than just some general sort of religious faith. Shinjin is a transformative reality that settles more and more into our lives as we study the Pure Land teachings and say the Buddha's name.
Can Buddhists drink alcohol or use drugs?
Buddhist monks and nuns take a precept against using intoxicants. Since they have totally dedicated their lives to the pursuit of Awakening the pleasant reveries of intoxication would be a counter-productive digression. For lay persons it largely depends on the stream of tradition they are in. Jodo Shinshu Buddhists are not constrained to avoid intoxicants. Our liberation is not tied to mindfulness or meditation so there is no direct conflict. Like all Buddhists we hope to walk a middle path. Extreme and continuous indulgence in any intoxicating substance or activity leads to unhappiness. On the other hand our founder, Shinran Shonin, was remembered as saying, "Sometimes when someone is having a hard time, preaching at them is not the best approach. On occasion it would be better simply to serve them a glass of sake (rice wine) and keep pleasant company with them."