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SHIN BUDDHIST FELLOWSHIP OF WEST HARTFORD

CONFUSED ABOUT BUDDHISM?

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This page provides you the answers to 10 common questions that tend to confuse people new to Buddhism.

1) Why bother with Buddhism? 2) What is a sangha? 3) How do I avoid getting into deper trouble? 4)  What about those Vows? 5) What is Buddhist meditation? 6) What is Buddhist Love? 7) What is all of that heavy breathing? 8) What in the Zen are you talking about? 9)  Can you tell me about the Buddha-name or nembutsu? 10) What do I do now?

1) Why bother with Buddhism?

In the Buddha's first sermon, he pointed out four things, now referred to as the Four Noble Truths.

a) Suffering exists. This is not just pain. The bruises and scrapes from winning a volleyball game may not cause you suffering, while the exact same physical sensations after losing a game will. The difference is in your mind. I'm sure you can find plenty of examples in your own life.

b) Grasping causes suffering. The reason the glass is half empty instead of half full is because you cherish the idea that it's "supposed to" be full.

c) Let go of grasping and suffering stops. I once got attached to an idea about which way the toilet paper roll "should" be put in the holder. Every time it was in "wrong", I would get myself all irritable and surly. The roll of paper had never caused me trouble before I knew how it "ought" to be, so obviously I was causing myself all those problems. By contemplating this, I got over attachment to the idea, and now when the roll is in "wrong" I just turn it around. I no longer make myself and my family miserable about it. Next time you're sitting in the john, look at the roll of ticker tape and think of the people who say "Buddhism isn't concerned with everyday life". If that ain't everyday life, you tell me what is!

d) The proven path to overcome grasping and suffering. Anytime you are feeling discouraged, angry, resentful, indignant, sad, worried, covetous, etc., Buddhism can help and it works. People across the Earth have been sucessfully practicing it for over 2,500 years. That's why you should consider Buddhism.
 

2) What is a sangha?

This word means the society of Buddhist monks, but it's loosely used to refer to all Buddhists.  Once Ananda said to the Buddha "As I understand it, the association with good people is the greater part of the Buddha's teachings." The Buddha said "No, Ananda, it is not the greater part. It is all of it." (Upaddha Sutta)

For those trying to apply Buddhism in their own lives, there is no greater tool than getting together with other Buddhists for mutual encouragement.

3) How do I avoid getting in any deeper into trouble?

Magazines search the world for one girl a month for their centerfold. They have experts put makeup on her. They pose her carefully, with precisely metered lighting, and take several hundred shots, of which they choose about ten of the best, then they actually touch them up with an airbrush! Then you feel something's wrong because your wife doesn't look like that! If what you're asking from life doesn't exist, you can't help being miserable. Try basing your expectations on reality. Avoid catalogs, commercials and ads. They are there to make you want things.

As a Buddhist practice, I avoid gambling. It's so easy to picture winning and so hard to picture losing that it warps your perception of reality. Many other Buddhists, ones that I greatly respect, do gamble. I don't tell anyone they can't or even shouldn't. I just recommend watching yourself, seeing what disturbs you or complicates your life, and cutting back on it. It's well worth it!

4) What about those Vows?

Buddhism doesn't teach of supernatural beings that judge, reward and punish you. It's your own grasping that feeds the fire in which you burn. So developing aspirations for Enlightenment keeps you from getting sidetracked, firms up your practice, and replaces the grasping that causes suffering and rebirth.

The first step is reading or listening to Buddhist teachings to see what we offer and how it works. The potential freedom from suffering should be as real to you as your left leg. We aren't talking Never-Never Land here, folks.

Second, to build up the determination, study the Four Noble Truths, contemplate impermanence and suffering in your own life and find examples of aging, sickness, loss, death etc. Keep it related to yourself, or instead of a Buddha you'll end up a philosopher.

Notice in your own life how loss does not necessarily lead to suffering unless you are attached. Losing your hair and losing your dandruff are very different experiences. Remember times you have been content. Almost invariably these were not the times you had the most, but the times you wanted the least. Imagine if your whole life were like that.

Third, after forming the aspiration, and maybe formalizing it as vows, keep reminding yourself of it by reading, attending, wearing Buddhist images or Dharma beads, discussing, etc.

In Mahayana Buddhism, we take the Bodhisattva vows, to save all beings. Here is another very powerful tool. First, it's hard to focus correctly on overcoming attachment to self if you're only doing it for yourself, right? Besides that, after you start to make progress, your suffering decreases dramatically. If you're not careful, you lose a lot of your motivation that way. This is the trap of "being reborn in the heavens". If your goal is to uproot suffering wherever it may be, just look around and you'll have lots of incentive to keep going.

Although improving someone's circumstances can't do much about their suffering except put it off until the higher expectations kick in, it can give them a break during which they have a chance to learn. So Bodhisattvas are usually depicted trying to ease others' pain or loss, then teaching. In fact, Bodhisattvas can be recognized by their giving up self to help others. An organ donor card, for instance, is a dead giveaway.

the Friends at the Shin & Zen Retreat
Prayer Practice during our Shin & Zen Retreat

5) What is Buddhist meditation?

Any tool that can do anything useful may also do harm. Here are some meditation practices that are safe. Most of the more intense or dramatic ones can be dangerous and should not be practiced without the personal direction of a trained teacher.

The more peace and regularity in your surroundings, the better. Not too high a level of discomfort also helps.

6) What is Buddhist love?

Metta is lovingkindness. If you've been leading a good life, start with yourself. I like to repeat a set formula like "I like (myself). I wish (myself) well. May (I) reach Perfect Peace.". If you are a real stinker and can't clearly feel this about yourself, start with someone else. Mother Theresa, your Uncle Bill, me- whoever works. After getting the feeling clearly in mind, go on to another person, then another etc.
It helps to start with friends of the same sex , go on to enemies, then to people you don't care about. They're hardest. After using this method for a short while you'll start to feel peaceful.

7) What is all of that heavy breathing?

 The essentially meditation practice revolves around your breathe. In Zen, just watch the breath going in and out. Don't control it or judge it. This eliminates stress and develops awareness. If your mind wanders, focus on the breath at the solar plexus. If you doze off, focus on it at the nostrils. After doing this for a time, your body awareness gets so focused you start to notice sensations you didn't notice before, like itching. STOP here and find a master to take you farther.

8) What in Zen are you talking about?

Zen is safe, it's effective, I recommend it. Come to our Sunday gatherings and learn more about and practice it. Also, you can find sites on the internet about it. Most of them are the web pages of various Temples and Centers where you can practice, not explanations of the theory. That's for much the same reason as why no one has published a book on what chocolate tastes like. Until you go down to the store and spring for a Hershey bar, you won't really know anyhow.

9) Can you tell me about the Buddha-name, Nembutsu or Nien Fo?

This is our main practice. The Buddha spoke of Enlightenment as a place. This metaphor was necessary for many who couldn't read, and is very useful to the rest of us. The raked sand gardens they contemplate in Zen monasteries depict this "Pure Land". The Buddha who presides over it represents reality, and relying on him is practice in accepting reality. The voicing of the phrase Namo Amida Buddha, in English, "Namu Amida Butsu" in Japanese, "Namo Omitofo" in Chinese, is one of the most common Buddhist practices worldwide. Some Chinese Ch'an groups meditate on the question "who is reciting Namo Omitofo?".

10) What do I do now?

Find a Sangha, folks! Better yet come and visit the BFF his coming Sunday morning where you can associate with like minded people and learn more about Buddhism and actually practice it. With an open heart and mind, it will transform your life guaranteed!

Check our schedule and start attending. If you integrate Buddhas teaching into your life, your suffering will start to diminish within weeks and, if you do it right, can be completely overcome and then youll be like Him and Buddha.