10 lesser known things about Buddhism

Photo Courtesy :- @mohit881923

Common misunderstanding about Buddhism around the world led us to jump start to conclusion. The following list makes you rethink about the religion. I bet you would not be knowing most of it.

Buddhism is carved out of Hinduism.

Siddhartha Gautama, later called the Buddha, was born a Hindu prince. Hinduism is the oldest religion on the earth but Siddhartha Gautama felt that it didn’t provide him with all the answers. His four encounters, first with an old man, next with a sick man, then a corpse being carried to the cremation ground, and finally a wandering holy man who seemed to be content with what life has to offer him, changed him permanently. He, then wandered forests of India to seek his own truth and enlightenment. Many say that he debated with religious seekers, fasted for weeks, yet none of this brought him to peace and he continued his quest. With meditation Buddha learned about the cause of suffering. Lord Buddha started with Hindu thinking and concepts. But, from the renunciation of the caste system to the rejection of many gods, the Buddha went a step ahead of Hinduism.

2. Buddha is a teacher, not a God.

“Buddha, the light of Asia was one of the greatest men of all times.” – S. Priyadarshini.

Buddhists do not see Buddha as a God, as many people think, but they see him as a teacher. Till the last days of his life he was a wandering preacher. Describing his daily life as a preacher, historian Oldenberg writes :

“In the days when his reputation stood at its highest point, and name was named through out India among the foremost names ,one might day by day see that man, before whom kings bowed themselves, walking about, begins alms, bowl in hand, through streets and alleys, from house to house and without uttering any request, with downcast look, stand silently waiting until a morsel of food was thrown into his bowl”. He is revered as a spiritual guide and Buddhists look to Buddha for guidance and wisdom.

In his quest to spread the word of Buddhism, Lord Buddha did not give value to so-called rites and rituals. Instead, he showed the way for a life of ethics and spirituality. His doctrines were simple as well as practical for adoption.

3. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be a Buddhist.

Lord Buddha never preached his disciples to be a vegetarian, so vegetarianism is not an absolute requirement for a Buddhist, though most schools of Buddhism today, do preach non-violence and do encourage students to become vegetarians. It is said that Buddhism clearly stresses on the fact that no living being should be killed, but eating the meat of an already dead animal is permissible. Only, this way you try to avoid directly responsible for killing beings. Because what is more important is a person who is a non vegetarian but with a kind heart and soul as compared to a person who is a vegan but selfish, mean and cruel. His teachings were clear, quality of heart is more important than content of your diet. As it is easy to change your diet but difficult to change your heart. One must agree that preaching ethics and following it is not the same, practice of ethics is complex.

4. Buddhism is not led by His Holy Highness Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama describes himself as a ordinary monk. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet. Considering the situation in Tibet in 50s and 60s he was bound to take certain decisions, which is still debated by many scholars. The cultural revolution at that period was such that Buddhism was squeezed out to leave a vacuum. Gradually the Chinese government (then), injected Marxism policies to replace the vacuum created. Series of events were such that, the Dalai Lama had to leave Lhasa and take refuge in Dharamshala, India. Later, the Dalai Lama initiated the five point peace approach which was not taken well by the Chinese government. This gave him international recognition and sometimes later he was awarded the Nobel peace prize. His fight for promoting human rights can be seen as that of a leader but at the end of the day he is just the face of Buddhism like any other monk.

5. Buddhist shrines are not temples.

As clearly mentioned there is no God in Buddhism, hence the question to worship an idol does not come up. It is a place of faith and remembrances for teachings. It is no more than a shed where they keep a picture of Lord Buddha or His Holy Highness Dalai Lama. or even a statute of Buddha. The bright colours used to decorate the shrine, the incense stick, the wide windows and the narrow entrance to the shrine has a meaning of its own. Each of these set ups teaches us to be humble, purifies our thoughts and lead us to our path to wisdom. It’s a centre for education for the monks, a library which holds all the Holy scriptures, a meditation room. Not only the monks but every individual who enters the shrine feels the tranquility and surrenders all negativity. Offerings are made only to cultivate the habit of generosity.

6. Buddhism and minimalism.

The very conception of this ideology is not quite right. People like us think the monks who live simple life, does not possess anything material or should not possess anything at all. But it’s wrong. Buddhism says a monk can possess obligatory things like a bowl, a double robe; an upper robe; a lower robe, a sewing needle, a razor, water filter, toiletries, medical things, housekeeping materials, books, travelling things; passport, suitcase, bags.

In general, everything that can help an individual towards the practice, study or teaching of the religion can be owned by a monk. Forbidden things include monetary valuables, things used for pleasure or entertainment; cassettes, DVDs, games etc., deadly objects, intoxicating substances.

Honestly, I really don’t think that one has to be a minimalist to be a good Buddhist. It is all about our attitude towards material possessions and awareness of our own self.

7. The eight stupas represent the eight major events in buddha’s life.

The Stupas of Heaped Lotuses- represents Buddha’s birth. As the name suggests, it is shaped like a lotus.

The Stupa of Enlightenment- represents Buddha’s achieving enlightenment at Bodhgaya.

The Dhamek Stupa of The Turning Wheel- symbolises the wheel of dharma. Also known as stupa of wisdom.

The Stupa of Miracles- it represents the miracles Buddha performed to change people’s view about the religion.

The Stupa of Descent- represents Buddha’s return to Earth.

The Stupa of Reconciliation or Unity-

The Stupa of Complete Victory- symbolises Buddha’s successful attempt to prolong his life.

The Stupa of Parinirvana- symbolises Buddha’s complete wisdom. it is in the shape of a bell.

The common elements of all the eight stupas are the foundation. The middle section is different for different stupas. These stupas can be found all together in one place or as a stand alone architecture. The stupa is depicted as embodiment of the Buddha.

8. Prayer wheels

These prayer wheels are placed around Buddhist Stupas and Monasteries. Long rows of prayer wheels ,which people spin as they walk clockwise around the building, reciting what is considered to be one of the most profound and beneficial mantras: “OM MANI PADME HUM”

The Traditional Prayer Wheel Practice says to spin the prayer wheel in a clockwise direction, recite the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM and visualise pure white light rays being emanated out from the spinning prayer wheel, this pure light comes from the millions of mantras inside the prayer wheel and goes out to ourselves and all human beings, purifying, healing, completely illuminating everyone, as the light rays spread throughout the whole vast universe we all instantly become awakened and realise the Four Immeasurable’s of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. According to tradition, the more mantras that are wound inside a Prayer Wheel, the more beneficial it becomes.

9. Many faces of Buddhism but core values is the same.

There are many different types of watches/clock, pocket watch, wrist watch, wall clock but they are all used to show time. Buddhism is the same: there is Theravada Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, Yogacara Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism but it is all Buddhism and it all has the same taste – the taste of simplicity, freedom, compassion. Buddhism has evolved with time in order to maintain relevance with today’s era. It has been reinterpreted over the centuries so that it can remain relevant to each new generation. From the surface the types of Buddhism may seem very different but at the crux of all of them is the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. All major religions, Buddhism included, have split into schools and sects. But the different sects of Buddhism have never gone to war with each other and to this day, they go to each other’s temples and worship together. Such tolerance and understanding is certainly rare.

10. The middle way.

In the quest to achieve enlightenment one should avoid the path of extremes. Neither spend the life to collect material things nor starve yourself. and torture your mind unreasonably. The Nobel path which lies between these two extremes is the path of enlightenment, wisdom and peace. It is one of the four noble truths. Enlightenment exists because of delusion and ignorance.

Buddhanet describes-

“The Middle Path in Buddhism does not mean having a biased view or superficial understanding only. The “Middle Path” represents a distinct theory and way of Buddhist practice that is not common to other religions. Buddhism is a religion with high moral values. It lays great emphasis on human thought and action in dealing with the natural environment, society or individual problems. It is concerned with the relationship between thoughts and behaviour, and the relationship between behaviour and its consequences.”