We practice Theravada Buddhism, but our practice is a bit different from what most people know about Buddhism, so don’t be too quick to judge.
Here you will find some very basic information about the Buddhist philosophy. There are many books, (long ones) written about this subject – this is just a brief overview.
There is quite a big difference between the life philosophy that follows and practices the teachings of the Buddha, and the religion called “Buddhism” that has been made. The philosophy of Buddhism is also very different from a religion in the fact that there is no God, no supernatural being who decides for us who loses and wins, who is favoured and who is not favoured. Rather, this philosophy describes a kind of natural law that applies to every kind of being throughout the whole of time, including even the Buddha. In this law, this `Dhamma,` beings simply choose different paths through their actions, thoughts and words, which determine what happens to them later on, and dictate what and who they become.
Schools of Buddhism
You can spend hours reading about different schools of Buddhism. To give a very simple explanation, there are two (or three, depending on who is counting) main schools of Buddhism:
- Theravada – this is the oldest school of Buddhism, based around the teachings of the Buddha as they were given and written down. In Theravada it is important that each student and follower of the teaching should work inside on themselves individually, and should see the wisdom of the teaching for themselves, not by blind faith. The Buddha is a human being, not a supernatural being or god who needs to be worshipped. Although here in this community we see ourselves as being within this school, there are still some aspects of Theravada as it is practiced today that we consider to be incorrect, and do not follow. For example, we do not chant, we have no rites, rituals or statues of the Buddha, and we practice a different meditation to most Theravada practitioners.
- Mahayana – This is the form of Buddhism practiced in most of China and eastern Asia. This is Buddhism practiced very much as a religion, and there are some big differences in the teachings of this religion: for example, it is believed that instead of just working on oneself to become enlightened, we should try to become all Buddhas so as to achieve liberation from suffering for all beings. Another big difference is that many sub-schools of Mahayana teach that it’s possible to achieve liberation just through the grace of the Buddha and having faith in the Buddha. Mahayana includes Zen Buddhism, Chan Buddhism and Pure Life Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the additional belief in reincarnation, rather than rebirth, (the Dalai Lama is the leader of this school of Buddhism.)
- Vajrayana – This is the farthest removed from the early practices and the original teachings of the Buddha. It places a lot of importance and emphasis on chants, rituals, mantras and esoteric practices. In this religion there are many gods to worship, belief in magic and supernatural powers, and there is power assumed in objects, patterns, rituals and statues.
Most followers of Buddhism believe in Rebirth, as opposed to Reincarnation.
Reincarnation means that I, Eva (for example) have a permanent soul, a permanent self that will be reborn in another body when I die, but otherwise stays exactly the same, with the same mind and the same memories. This is a Hindu belief, but now some schools of Buddhism also believe in reincarnation.
Rebirth, on the other hand, means that I will die, my body will die and my mind will die too. My consciousness will be reborn somewhere else, without any memories from this life. What I carry with me is my karma; my good and bad qualities, and my strong habits of speaking or behaving.
The best way to think about rebirth is to think of a candle as it burns. It has wax, a wick, and a flame. The candle can burn very low, and all the wax and wick disappears, but just at the point when it is about to go out, it’s possible to light the wick of another candle with the flame of the old one. Rebirth is like that. The body and mind are like the wax and wick of the candle, they change and eventually they die and disappear, but the consciousness, like the flame, is transferred to another body and mind.
What is Karma?
Karma can be summed up as this simple law of nature:
Do good, and you receive good (with interest); do wrong and you receive suffering (with interest).
Being a law of nature, karma applies equally to everyone, regardless of whether they believe in it or not, regardless of whether they know about it or not.
All the time, every second of your life, you are creating karma that can be either good, bad or neutral. Every action creates karma, even thoughts create karma. At the same time everything that happens in your life is your karma from past actions either in this life or previous ones, coming back to meet you.