Questions and Answers about Buddhism
 
Q Do Buddhists believe in God?
A No.
 
Q What or who do they believe in, then?
A They believe in the potential of life and view it as something miraculous and wonderful in itself. They try to develop and hone that miraculous and wonderful spirit within themselves and help others do the same.
 
Q Was the Buddha a God?
A No, he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a god. He was just a man who focused on developing himself into a compassionate and wise person and taught others to do the same.
 
Q If the Buddha is not a god, then why do people worship him?
A We don't worship him. Nichiren Buddhism is religion centered around people like you and me becoming Buddhas. A Buddha is an unusually compassionate person who has dedicated his or her life to teaching all living beings how to become Buddhas, too. For a truly compassionate person wouldn't hoard happiness and simply say "Look at how compassionate and happy I am compared to you!" Therefore, any person who teaches a working method to attain Buddhahood is by definition a Buddha. Any person can become a Buddha, and teach the teachings of a Buddha. That is why you often see Buddhists referring to the teachings of various Buddhas. These people are not considered gods or supernatural beings but rather ordinary people who discovered extraordinary things about the nature of human potential for good. Shakyamuni ("The Buddha") is simply one of those people.
 
Q But I've heard people say that Buddhists worship idols.
A It would be nice if this could be answered more briefly, but if we're going to be true to the spirit of honesty (which is primary to our values) we have to explain this in more detail. If you don't want to read all of this, suffice it to say that the short answer is that we of NBAA, and several other sects of Buddhism as well, oppose the use of idols in the practice of Buddhism, and furthermore we think it is directly contrary to the purpose and philosophy of Buddhism.

In some sects of Buddhism, you will find people praying to statues of various Buddhas. In Nichiren Buddhism, and a few other schools, this is not encouraged. Nichiren encouraged us to focus on the Buddha nature inherent within all things, or Namu myoho renge kyo. He inscribed for us a mandala that says Namu myoho renge kyo down the center and told his disciples to use that as their central focus point while meditating, rather than a statue.

We're not the only Buddhists who don't use statues in our practice. There are several others, but many sects do pray to statues. They say that they're praying to those Buddhas to inspire them to bring out the personal qualities of those Buddhas within themselves. However, they also speak in ways that reveal that they think of the Buddhas as actually being out there, kind of like gods.

The original founder of Buddhism, Shakyamuni (aka Siddhartha Gautama) doesn't mention praying to statues in his religious practice to attain enlightenment, nor does he speak of his disciples engaging in that kind of activity. Buddhists have historically always incorporated the attitudes and beliefs of the surrounding culture into the local practice of Buddhism. This seems to be where people got the notion to pray to statues.

In terms of adopting the pracices and beliefs of the local religions, Nichiren Buddhism is no different. Having been founded in Japan, the local religions are Shintoism and Japanese Buddhism. Nichiren fought against many of what he considered the wrong teachings of other sects of Buddhism, but despite this some sects of Nichiren Buddhism, finding it easier to agree with others rather than argue with them all of the time, wound up incorporating many of the views and practices of other sects of Japanese Buddhism, one of them being praying to statues. Today you will find some sects of Nichiren Buddhism that oppose praying to statues and some sects that encourage it. We of NBAA oppose the use of statues in our Buddhist practice, because it falls more in the realm of a theistic practice or idol worship than it does in the realm of personal attainment of enlightenment through the use of meditation and correct philosophy.
 
Q Why are there so many different types of Buddhism?
A The main reason is that the Buddha himself (who, as we established earlier, was not a god and was not perfect) taught many different philosophies throughout his life. As he developed, so did his teachings. His early teachings were very simplistic and reminiscent of teachings like Islam or Christianity in that they offered people a philosophy consisting of monastic rules and analogous myths. As he developed his understanding of life, his teachings grew more and more profound and complex. His earlier teachings are categorized as Theravada Buddhism, or Hinayana Buddhism as it is sometimes called. His later teachings are referred to as Mahayana Buddhism. NBAA teaches a form of Mahayana Buddhism. Even among the two major categories of Buddhism, Buddhism is still further segregated by various teachings. NBAA follows the last teaching of Shakyamuni's, called the Lotus Sutra.

Further adding to the divisions among Buddhism is the history of its spread. As it spread throughout the world, many groups incorporated the religions of the region in with the Buddhist teachings further separating them from the core teachings of the Buddha himself and creating more individual sects of Buddhism. Often when you find Buddhists seeming to worship deities or statues, it is due to the influence of another religion that was incorporated into the teaching of that particular sect at some time in the history of its development.
 
Q How do you know that your form of Buddhism is the correct form of Buddhism to believe in?
A While deciding which religion to practice might be a lot of work, the method by which to decide is pretty simple to understand and utilize. All you have to do is go back to the purpose of Buddhism -- to lead all people to enlightenment, or Buddhahood. Find a teaching (whether it's called Buddhism or not) that is capable of achieving those ends. Then you're done. We are all in constant development. As we grow, so should our belief system. If you can outgrow your belief system, you should discard it and find one that can keep up with your development as a human being.
 
Q Who was Nichiren?
A He was a Buddha. He was a follower of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra, a particular teaching said to have been expounded by Shakyamuni (the founder of Buddhism).

Nichiren lived in Japan in the 13th century. He went to a Buddhist temple at age 13 to study Buddhism and become a priest of a Japanese sect of Buddhism called Tendai. He had many questions and doubts, so he devoted himself to the study of Buddhism to resolve his questions, traveling from temple to temple to read the books in the libraries of he temples across the country. He came up with a few deeper, more abstract points of view about Buddhism than had existed up to that point, as well as a new practice of meditation. The Tendai sect couldn't contain his views, so he ventured out on his own to develop and propagate his own Buddhist teachings.

Nichiren Buddhists all revere the Lotus Sutra. Nearly all sects of Nichiren Buddhism also practice the form of meditation he developed, which is chanting Namu myoho renge kyo. And ideally most of us try to ascribe to the other deeper, more abstract and difficult-to-comprehend concepts Nichiren was able to pull from Buddhist philosophy and personal meditation.
 
Q Do Nichiren Buddhists worship Nichiren rather than the Buddha?
A No.
 
Q If you don't believe in God or the Bible, couldn't anyone make up any religion they wanted to, then?
A Yes. And they do. It's up to us to decipher what is true and what is false in the universe and in religion. We do this anyway, whether we believe in the Bible or not. Believing in the Bible is itself a human decision to follow a particular teaching. For instance, why not follow the Torah or the Koran, both Holy works said to be inspired by God? It's a human decision that one work is the work of God and the other isn't.
 
Q Why is it that you don't often hear of the charitable work being done by Buddhists?
A It would be wrong to believe that Buddhist churches and individuals don't do charitable work. Churches from every major religion do charitable work. The distinction isn't about whether they are willing to do charitable work but whether they have the resources to do it.

When it comes to contributing to the welfare of society in secular (non-spiritual) ways, Buddhists tend not to have the same focuses that Christians do. Christians are focused on feeding the hungry, because that's a major teaching in the Bible. It's not that Buddhists aren't concerned about that, but they tend to prioritize other things, namely things that affect other species. Climate change, war (which most people don't consider kills innocent animals), protecting forests and oceans and endangered species, factory farming, and generally killing animals for meat or clothing are things that Buddhists generally think more about. In the same way the stories of Jesus cause Christians to focus on the sick and poor humans, Buddhist teachings often make mention of the welfare of other species, influencing Buddhists to focus their attention in that way.

There aren't a lot of Buddhists in our society for there to be Buddhist charities everywhere, like there are charities founded by other religions, but there's another thing, too. Where you generally know that a charity is a Christian charity, because they advertise it, Buddhists tend not to do that -- advertise. Buddhists don't feel they have any need to. That's because as a religion, Buddhism is not about doing this good deed or that one but about becoming the type of person you wish to become. In other words, the measure of good Buddhist or a good Buddhist philosophy isn't how much charitable work they do. So advertising their charitable activity doesn't advance their primary cause -- that of propagating Buddhism.

Of course, as was already said, that doesn't mean they don't do charitable work. From our perspective, the source of wanting to engage in charitable activity is human nature, not religion. Based on the existence of numerous secular and religious charity organizations, we can surmise that doing good deeds in society is human, not religious. We think humans are likely to want to do them as a matter of course.

If it does require some kind of philosophy in order to teach people to be good, such a philosophy does exist in Buddhist doctrine. It's much more complicated than a set of rules, though. It's the theory of karma. For the purposes of this discussion, let's just say that karma means that we want to behave in a way that leads to the type of world in which we would want to live. We strive for the betterment of humanity, a decrease in suffering and an increase in happiness of living beings.

It's important to consider that people can also be taught to behave in evil ways. This is where other religions come into play. Some major religions contain a code of conduct that instructs people to harm to others, and then they're surprised to find that they have to then tell people explicitly in what ways not to harm others. For instance, the Bible says to kill people who sin against God. Once you begin to degrade life, it becomes difficult to distinguish in what ways it's okay to degrade life and in what ways we should respect it. Buddhism teaches us to always value life in every circumstance. So there isn't a question of when to be kind to others and when to harm them. There is no confusion on this matter. The first precept of Buddhism is to not harm living beings. That includes killing, stealing, or causing any kind of suffering to any living being, human or non-human. In fact, Buddhism is all about eliminating suffering or, alternately, creating happiness in the world. That's its primary function. Therefore, there is no need to distinguish between when to do good from when to harm people. Without the tenants of false religions to cloud our vision, we should all inherently know that we should always do whatever we can to help other living beings without having to be told.

The point of Buddhism is to become the type of person you want to become, not to point to how good others are. So the very nature of our religion prevents us from pointing out the good deeds of other Buddhists for fear that when people hear of these other people, they will tend to follow them rather than becoming great people in their own right. Maybe that very outlook on the matter is why Buddhists aren't boastful about their own good deeds or those of other Buddhists.
 
Q Without a work of God telling you what to do, how do you know right from wrong?
A We propose that humans are capable of discerning right from wrong on their own. You don't need a book to teach you right from wrong. The Ten Commandments are a limited list of instructions (not incorporating the vast majority of our daily decisions) and are not uniquely divine. Human beings were able to come to similar ideas throughout the course of history. Buddhist priests were required to adopt no less than 277 precepts, none of which involved death or punishment for taking the Buddha's name in vain. It is therefore not outside of the grasp of humans to understand morality of their own accord. If the Bible were truly a work of God, it would seem that humans are actually better at devising moral codes of conduct than God is, considering that the first four of the Ten Commandments are not actually moral codes of conduct at all but religious dogma.

For all of the morals supposedly taught by other religions, they are actually doing society a tremendous amount of harm. Deuteronomy, for instance, commands men to stone their brides to death on their wedding night if they should find out that she is not a virgin. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) Slavery is encouraged, even the selling of our daughters. (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:7-11, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-4) And what should happen if we did take God's name in vain, as the Ten Commandments forbid? We would have to be killed! It is the moral obligation of followers of the Bible to defend God's name. Osama bin Laden, thought to us Americans to be the definition of evil, believes he is simply protecting the righteous followers of Allah. Bin Laden doesn't think of himself as evil. He has been deluded by his religion. Bad religions, specifically those that have believed in gods, have been a source of evil throughout human history. They confuse our natural sense of right from wrong; they don't define it.
 
Q If Buddhists don't believe they will be punished after death, then why would they bother to follow the precepts of Buddhism? Of what use are they?
A For one, humans are not inherently evil. The majority of us want to do what is right. If a person doesn't want to do what's right, no amount of Holy Scripture is going to keep them from doing what they want to do. If you can look at yourself and say that if you didn't believe in the concept of hell, you would go around raping and murdering people, then you should know that you are not okay. You seriously need some help. But there are such people, right? What about them? That is the precise reason why, as a society, we should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent such people from causing harm to others. We use the prison system in a twofold way. One is to discourage sociopaths from committing the first offense, and the other is to prevent them from committing more crimes in the future after committing the first one.

Another answer to this question revolves around the Buddhist theory of cause and effect (karma). A simplified version can be explained in this way: When you commit an action, you will get a response in kind. For instance, the reason most of us go to work doesn't involve a belief in the Bible. We do it for the money.

Statistically, belief in a deity, Christianity or whatever, is not associated with greater moral outcomes.

Buddhism has a tested and verified method to tap the source of compassion, mindfulness, and rejuvenation from within. Buddhism speaks to the fundamental levels of causes and effects, which originate from a deeper source (remember the sociopath) than the superficial level of being told what to do.

Feeling love for others is one the greatest sources of human happiness. If compassion were dependent upon religious dogmatism, how could we explain the work of secular doctors in the most war-ravaged regions of the developing world? In fact, religious dogma is actually a hindrance to true compassion.