Upon participating in a religious studies course in my university, I had the privilege to interview a Buddhist. I find all religions fascinating. As I talk with people of other religions, it makes me realize how most religions have similar fundamentals. Buddhism was the one religion I struggled the most to understand. This pushed me to meet my my interviewee in the Walnut Grove Community Centre library and ask her all the questions I have (and you might have too). My interviewee is a married Chinese woman between the ages of 30 and 40. She is a firm believer in Buddhism.
IMPORTANT: This interview had been submitted to Trinity Western University and was graded before the online feature. (It is written and submitted for grading purposes by Hazal Senkoyuncu on June 9th, 2017.)
- Were you brought up in this religion? What led you to the beliefs you are now practicing?
I was not brought up as a Buddhist. I grew up in a family that had no religious belief. While I searched for meaning of life and the ways to improve myself, I studied Christianity, Islam, Falungong, Buddhism and many other religions. I found that Buddhism provides the most profound and reasonable explanations to the world and our life experiences. However, I should mention that Chinese culture and local belief system had an influence on me. 1000 years of Chinese culture is made up of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism as well as many other influences. Even though I was not religious, the belief systems within the culture had an impact on me. I visited Christian churches many times but did not feel the cultural closeness I receive from a Buddhist temple.
- What is your denomination? Can you explain its significance?
I practice Vajrayana Buddhism which originates from Tibet. Its difference from Mahayana and other denominations is the way we practice prayer. You throw yourself to the floor and you search to prostrate. This is a way to cleanse one’s self from bad karma. Moreover, we follow a specific teacher. Our lineage is never discontinued and come linear from Buddha. Therefore, our teacher will teach the same teachings of Buddha, and we can trust them.
- What is the importance of Karma in Buddhism?
Karma plays a significant role in our lives. Some people simply cannot succeed because of bad karma. Bad karma carries over from a past life and effects one’s next life as he suffers for it. It matures the person as they deal with the consequences of their past life. That explains why some people deal with bad karma until they fully cleanse themselves. Consequently, we try to accumulate our own merits through helping in community. This helps us leave bad karma behind for the next life.
- Is the moral discipline of Buddhism similar or different from that of other religions?
At ultimate level, Buddhism teaches and demonstrates how to achieve enlightenment. In the state of enlightenment, there is no distinction between being moral or being immoral. This means nonduality which we need to accept as Buddhists. Modern science and philosophy differentiate good and bad however, to reach enlightenment one must accept nonduality. There are two levels. In the celestial life, one lives within good and bad. When one reaches Nirvana, it is beyond words, it is emptiness. I still struggle with the concept and I go to The Heart Sutra to understand.
- How can a person become Buddhist?
By accepting the following 4 dharma seals, one can claim that he/she is a Buddhist:
All compounded things are impermanent.
All emotions are painful.
All phenomena are without inherent existence.
Nirvana is beyond description.
- What are some important symbols of your religion?
Mala Beads- These are 108 beads that we use to count mantras.
Lotus flower- This is a universal symbol that reminds us of purity of the body, mind and speech.
Dharma chakra- It means ‘turning the wheel’. Chakra represents the cycle of life (reincarnation). The wheel has 6 sections and this represents the 6 different levels of reincarnation. Dharma Chakra represents Buddha himself spreading his teachings as the wheel turns.
Bodhi tree- Reminds us of how Buddha reached nirvana under the tree.
- If there is no God—Do you believe that Buddha hears your prayers?
Whenever we pray to Buddha, we remind ourselves to follow buddha’s teachings and follow his steps towards enlightenment. It is more important that we hear ourselves and aware of what we are doing. Quantum theory says, ‘if you do not observe it, it does not exist’. You must discover something to believe it. Whether there is a creator or not, we believe as science evolves we forget about the old findings. As humanity evolves we achieve higher levels and there are no rules. We believe in the nature of evolving. This is explained by Dharma Kya simplicity: Birth-Mature State-Death.
- Do you pray to a specific Buddha when facing hard times?
I pray to my master teacher. His name is Dzongsa khyentse Rinpoche and I attend to his classes regularly. He is a holder of Nyingma (lineage in Tibetan Buddhism).
- Does your religion require worshippers to follow specific rituals?
It is not necessary for Buddhists to follow specific rituals. But different schools may have different requirements. We do not have specific ceremonies for marriage or death. They are both normal. Nothing is constant so death is a reality. However, we believe death conscience still exists after death. The short period after death is called the state of Badu. In this state, all other forces try to attract you to choose your next reincarnation but this is very distracting. As a result, we are not capable of choosing our next reincarnation.
To help the dead in Badu state, we chant mantras to direct them to the right place. This is a part of the Budhahood which emphasizes helping others. We chant mantras for both ourselves and others (dead or alive). Chanting helps us accumulate merits for the next life. I personally end my meditation practice with chants for everyone that suffer, animals, humans and every being.
- What is the importance of meditation in Buddhism?
Meditation is very important to discipline and train yourself not to be distracted either by outside disturbance or confusions within. It connects us with our inner self. In Vajrayana school, we believe that everyone’s self is a Buddha. We were polluted but through practice of meditation and cleansing, our true Buddha nature will manifest. If one follows the teachings, he/she can achieve enlightenment where there are no rules or duality.
- How does Buddhism look at abortion, euthanasia and premarital sex? How do you look at it?
Each person has his/her choice and each choice has its consequence. Abortion and euthanasia are actions to take other people’s life. These are serious actions that will accumulate bad karma. I respect individual decisions as long as they can take its consequences. Premarital sex is not against the fundamental Buddhist principles, but it is not acclaimed either. In fact, sex is the starting point of life and samsara. Therefore, it is a natural part of our lives. There are only 3 strict rules to follow. Do not have sexual relationship with 1) someone who is happily married, 2) someone of your own bloodline and 3) monks.
- How should a marriage be like in a Buddhist perspective? Would you ever marry someone that is not a Buddhist?
Nothing is constant including marriage. By saying that, does not mean Buddhists promote divorce. Marriage and divorce share the same feature: suffering.
When I got married, I was not a Buddhist. However, Buddhists can marry anyone of any religious beliefs. That is their personal choice.
- Do you encourage your kids to study Buddhism? Would you enforce them to follow this belief?
There are sometimes that I go to church myself too. Because I want to hear positive prayers and there are no temples in Langley. My son goes to a Christian school. I am very open to what he wants to practice and he is free to choose for himself. He saw me practice Buddhism everyday as he was growing, and he has been eager to learn from me.
- What are some main Buddhist celebration? Living in a Christian community, do you celebrate Christmas?
We celebrate the enlightenment of Buddha. Buddha achieved Buddhahood this month (June). We chant in our practices and gather together to set nature free. For example, we go to the supermarkets and buy fish to set them free from the harbour. Fang sheng means to set life free. This is a something that we do together as a group.
We do not celebrate Christmas or Easter. However, we celebrate Tibetan New Year, and there are events that mostly take place in Richmond.