View Full Version : Question about Buddhism
I have a question for any Buddhists out there. I'm just trying to get my head around the Buddhist philosphies. Do Buddhists believe in a higher self? or a universal power (or whatever you want to call it)? I know Buddhists believe that achieving enlightenment is totally up to the individual, so does that mean that as a Buddhist you would never pray to spirit guides or guardian angels - ie is the focus wholly and solely on stilling the mental flow of thought to achieve the nirvana that lies beyond the mind?
i am too green to know much about these things myself, being a relatively novice student of the dharma and can only speak from my limited knowledge and experiences.
i think buddhism does the big "don't know" about the nature of a universal higher power and all questions about the origins of life as we know it. the stories about buddha are that he remained silent when asked these questions.
there certainly are rituals, including prayer, in buddhism, but none of these are to try to "move" a supernatural being into helping us or magically make things other than they are. Rather, quite paradoxically, their purpose is to help us see things just exactly as they are; to confront the reality of our lives and our minds. with an emphasis on the interconnectedness of all phenomena, our own purity and clarity of mind will help those around us.
I thought I would offer this excerpt from a book written by my teacher's teacher Zen Master Dae Gak called "Going Beyond Buddha", as it might also help.
When the centre is strong and the mind is pure and clear, our original energy connects with Universal Energy. Some names for this are God-consciousness, Christ-consciousness, Buddha-nature or compassion—different names all pointing to the same phenomenon. In the stillness of pure listening, original mind manifests and is not separate from Universal Mind. Distinctions typically given to sensation and phenomena are no longer dominant. Sensation is no longer fragmented, and the senses are fully integrated. Mind is alert, awake, and able to perceive things as they are. In this clear perception, compassion flows forth.
I also wanted to share this little story about some friends of his, who are, indirectly friends of my own centre's, since we are still connected to him and his centre in Kentucky. It is beautiful and elucidates how death can get us in touch with our "not knowing" mind. Buddhism is big on deflating the ego and the logical linear mind that is predisposed to thinking in therms of "if this, then that" and dualistically ("good" vs "bad" etc). It is also big on confronting the reality/experience of death and suffering, as you probably already know.
I hope it all helps! :p
I am good friends with a certain couple. The husband is a physician and the wife boards horses. He is used to thinking through a situation or problem logically. She, on the other hand, is quite passionate and has relied more upon her feelings for her direction, her understanding, and decision making. As one who works with horses, she has a "feel" for the animal and responds accordingly. In Jungian terms, he would be a "thinking type" and she would be a "feeling type." Opposites, yet compatible. They are both religiously devout and have been guided in their life by Christian beliefs and practices.
Recently, their eighteen-year-old son died from heart failure. He had a congenital heart disease but was living a normal life. Even though we knew Andrew would perhaps die earlier than his peers, no one expected it so soon. We don’t expect death. Even though we all know everyone is going to die "some day," we don’t know when. So human beings have come up with many beliefs that try to address the problem of death, to try to ease the pain. But when it happens, especially out of sequence, we are startled, and the linear, logical mind is thrown into conflict. Because of our ideas about life, and contrary to nature’s insistence, we believe fathers and mothers are supposed to die before their sons and daughters. Children and young people shouldn’t die even if they are sick. It seems to violate a natural order.
With the death of their son, my friends were thrown into a crisis. They were confronted with a life kong-an (a mind-riddle that throws the logical mind into disarray) that didn’t make sense. This morning, Andrew was alive, active, and energetic. Now, he is dead, still, and quiet. Why? The explanation "because he had heart condition" doesn’t solve it or put it to rest. His early death confronted everyone who knew him with a multitude of reactions. It exposed the impermanence of existence as unavoidable fact.
My friends speak of the experience of being with Andrew’s body, of spending their entire time in the funeral home and then in the church where Andrew was laid out for visitation—just being with the body. They didn’t sleep or even want to. Nor did they leave their son’s side until he was buried. Unable to avoid or change the fact of Andrew’s death, they could only dwell on it. It was a profound meditation, and they were both deeply opened by the experience. For the next several days, they simply glowed. For long lines of visiting friends, they were compassionate, warm, and receptive. They were able to respond to others, and people seemed buoyed by their grace. In the time following Andrew’s death, they were the compassionate ones, giving to all who came toward them.
Since this opening, they have begun to meditate daily. Having experienced the transcendent, they are drawn to manifest it and extend it to the boundless Universe. They have been able to use this unbearable event as a spiritual experience and as a precipitant for going beyond their previous ideas about life and death. They found no fixed answers to the meaning of life and death during those days with Andrew’s body. What they found was the need to enter "not-knowing" without hesitation and without hope for a permanent conclusion. The result of their opening to "not-knowing mind" was undifferentiated compassion.
As hundreds of people came to say good-bye to Andrew and offer their condolences, each one was greeted by two people who were alive, immediate, and responsive, neither denying their grief nor encumbered by waiting in the receiving line for two hours, I watched the grieving parents meet many people, all of whom had varied reactions to Andrew’s death and their loss. No matter what each particular mourner came with, our friends patiently met each without judgment, listened, and then wait on to the next person in line. They had embraced the kong-an of Andrew’s death. Living in the midst of it all, they glowed with compassion and illuminated this whole world.
Wow, that's such an inspirational story. I'm sure I would fail the test of staying centred if my child died!! Although maybe such an intense experience would make the mind 'stop'.
Your Zen master's explanation makes sense to me - thanks for that. I tend to twist things over and over in my mind until I have confused myself! (very un-zen of me). I am just trying to figure out if Buddhism is basically in line with what I already believe and it seems that it is. Can't seem to find a Zen Buddhist centre on the central coast though which is a bit of a bugger.
I've been following buddhist philosophy for the last few years as it makes sense as a way of life. You will find there is buddhism as a way of life, and buddhism as a religion. The latter has systems of karma and hell/demons and rebirth based on how well you live your life. This would include the Tibetan tradition among others. There are a lot of books on westernised buddhist philosophy that enables you to fit their way of life to your own western cultural life and values, or even religion. The dalai lama often says buddhist thought can complement and reaffirm your own religious upbringing in a new way. It certainly helps me to deal with issues such as suffering, stress, anger, desire, death and accepting life to maximise your happiness. The world might be a lighter place were a few more people able to find ways to cope with these things...
Some books I found good were:
"Buddhism for Mothers"
Anything by the Dalai Lama
" The Naked Buddha" Adrienne Howley
"Why Buddhism?" (book about westerners who have converted)
"Everyday Zen: Love & Work": Charlotte Joko Beck
I like a lot of what the dalai lama discusses, though find certain aspects of tibetan practise too culturally alien to commit to fully (and also the vegetarian slants...)
Good luck with the reading!
p.s. rather than a higher power it seems to be more about the fact that any being can attain enlightenment (relief from all suffering) by practicing the dharma and abiding by their rules for living- not harming others, helping others, etc. The main gist is that life is cycles of suffering- to reduce this you need to try and not give in to unnecessary desires and emotions that will impact your karma. Karma can mean many things depending on the tradition- it can be recycled from a previous life, or simply the result of your actions. The buddha himself did not advocate a system of worship, more that the individual must seek their own way to understand the true nature of life and the world. Test knowledge for truth before believing it, accept that nothing is permanent. In religious buddhism as I said before, there can be references to higher reincarnation and lower reincarnation- seems to be a fusion with hindu beliefs.... this is not all set in stone, just what I have understood from some of the things I've read, but as I said, the above books are a good way to get a handle on things- there's a lot!
Thanks Em, this is very interesting. I like the fact that the Buddhist principles can be applicable to anyone of any religion and that there is a way of practising Buddhism without feeling like you've joined a full-on religion. That's the last thing I want. I had enough of Catholicism growing up so I can do without the continual guilt trips that religions bring with them, worrying about ending up in hell :devil6: or reincarnating as a slug. I personally do believe in reincarnation but I am wary of committing to Buddhism if I am going to spend my time feeling paranoid about what my next life will be like (I am prone to guilt!).
I remember reading in 'Buddhism for Busy People' where the author said if you are an impatient person in this life, you will come back as extremely unattractive in your next life. That turned me off - I don't respond well to threats. Probably also scared me as I am not the most patient person!!
I'll definitely grab a couple of those books you've recommended. The Zen Buddhist teachings are actually exactly in line with what Sai Baba teaches - an Indian spiritual master I used to follow - so it all resonates well with me. Sai doesn't recommend one religion over another, but rather finding your own truth, or if you choose to follow one religion, then do it to the best of your ability. So you could be a Christian or Muslim and still follow Sai Baba's teachings of detachment and 'love all serve all' (just as a Christian could incorporate Buddhist philosophies).
yes Em, i agree with you about the cultural/tribal aspects of tibetan buddhism. i started out there, but because of this didn't feel completely at home with it, though i thought it was a beautiful practice.
Pippy, do not worry about rebirth. You have found the precious Dharma, you are open and inquisitive. They say just one act consciously practising the Dharma, of being selfless, just one session of sitting meditation, just by being the best mum you can be (!!), you undo a thousand lifetimes of bad karma!!! whether this is to be taken literally or not doesn't matter! The point is that you are accumulating a lot of good karma in this life, but you are still human. Hey, you were born into a human body in a great country so you must have done plenty right to be here now!!! we cannot know whether "we" have been before or whether "we" will be here after our physical death, so do not waste a moment of this precious life worrying about it! Just be with everything as it is in each moment and compassion and inner harmony will follow ;)
i like zen too because it is so minimalist and can be applied in any culture and does not require you to give up your culture, or even your existing religion. As Zen Master Dae Gak says "Buddhism arose out of a dissatisfaciton with Hinduism, and Zen arose out of a dissatisfaction with Buddhism". That put it in some kind of understandable farmework for me, and i knew it was why i liked zen because it emphasised the essential aspects of the dharma and how to be free from suffering, and was, in most ways, compatible with other teachings/relgions. it is still very hard work though :p
pippy - something Zen Master Seung Sahn said (he founded the biggest school of zen in the world, the Kwan Um School) was "your understanding will not help you". by this he meant your intellectual understanding, and from my practice I see that this is true. it also remineded me of the Christian teaching "Don't rely on your own understanding" which I never got until recently. I think it means, don't think too much about it all, just read, meditate and look for a teacher or a group to support you in your practice. have you checked out
to see what centres/groups are in your area?
better go. just wanted to also share this short talk by Zen Master Dae Gak (the one whose book I took the story from):
be well! Rachel :)
Thanks for sending me that link. I have printed it out and will stick it on my bathroom wall so I read it often! It is a major problem of mine, trawling things over and over in my mind and trying to make sense of all the big questions - life / death etc! It is reassuring to hear that one good deed in this life wipes out thousands of lifetimes of bad karma (even if it's not true) - that is the sort of thing my stupid over-active brain can latch onto and be happy about. So thanks for that! :laughing:
I have found one centre near me that may be Zen. It's listed on Buddha-net as non-sectarian. Does that probably mean Zen? There's also another that's definitely Tibetan.
Here's a quote from Eckhart Tolle's latest book 'A New Earth' which I just love. He passed by a construction site with a sign erected saying "DANGER: ALL STRUCTURES ARE UNSTABLE". This led him to ponder the impermanence of everything -
Once you realise and accept that all structures (forms) are unstable, even the seemingly solid material ones, peace arises within you. This is because the recognition of the impermanence of all forms awakens you to the dimension of the formless within yourself, that which is beyond death. Jesus called it 'eternal life'.
Thanks! I love that Tolle quote.
Tolle is a great teacher because he is so ecumenical (sp?) taking teachings from all over the place.
not sure about the non-sectarian groups. if it was zen though, it would say so, so it must be a mix. all i can say is go along to a meeting and see if you like the group/teacher. it doesn't really matter about which tradition(s) you follow, as long as it helps you. :)
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