I think I may be the first Buddhist to officially be on this site, so I thought it might be cool to do a forum for people to ask any questions to clear up any questions or possible misconceptions about Buddhism.
Just as a little disclaimer, I am a lay Buddhist, but I think I should be strong enough in my understanding (or at least have enough reference materials) to answer any questions you may have. I will answer from a general perspective and from that of the Theravada sect(The one I follow.)
I’m on here because studying other religions is a hobby of mine. Weird past time, I know In terms of Christian theology I have come to the conclusion that either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches have the strongest claim to being the form of Christianity that is the most in line with the Bible and the Early Church teachings, and I have always had a profound respect for these institutions as a force of good in the world.
The only real reason why I started the Ask a Buddhist thread was because I sort of want to break the ice with you all and get to know you a bit better and I think this is a good place to start.
I was raised as a Lutheran, but left Christianity after engaging in some historical critical studies on biblical texts. It’s kind of a long story.
I was mainly attracted to Buddhism because its teachings truly seemed universal. Its moral teachings seemed to be based on universal ethical principles rather than the specific mores of the culture in which it originated, for example. (Not that I’m putting other religions down, though.)
The universe is taught to be something that has always existed in some form or another, but constantly expands or contracts, being re-formed during the re-expansion phase.
The origin of human life isn’t a major topic in Buddhism, although there are various mythological accounts in our Scriptures that are more allegorical than historical.
Purpose, in Buddhism, is regarded as something that is conceptual in nature rather than being objectively real. In a sense, human beings choose their own purposes for their lives.
Buddhism teaches that there are three ways of living that can be called good. In order of their goodness, they are
a) Living a life of happiness in the here and now through good things like friendship and kindness
b) Living a life filled with good deeds in order to have a good rebirth for one’s future lives
c) Living a life of practicing the Buddha’s teachings in order to attain Nibbana (Nirvana in sanskrit, Nibbana in Pali, They are different forms of the same word.)
At death, if a person has not fully attained Nibbana, they will be reborn as something else, either as a hell-being, an animal, a petta spirit, a human being, or a Deva (a being in a heaven realm). What they are born as is determined in part by one’s deeds
If a human being who has not fully attained Nibbana is reborn as an animal, is that considered a punishment since it is regarded as a lower life form? If so, how can that person subsequently hope to progress toward Nibbana being reincarnated as an animal? IOW, what can an animal do to come back in a higher form the next time?
One’s rebirth is determined by a complex mental process that occurs at the time of death. The mind sort of ‘opens up’ and enters a state that is determined by some major deed done in life, such as commiting murder, or gaining certain meditative attainments, and one’s birth is determined by this state of mind. If there are no major deeds, the mind goes to how it was habitually during life. If this isn’t strong enough to take hold, then the mind enters a state determined by actions just prior to death. If this isn’t significant, then it is determined by actions in previous lives.
A bit complicated, but that’s how it is understood in the Theravada sect.
It’s not really punishment in the full sense of the word. It’s just a consequence of one’s actions just like if you put your hand in a fire, it get’s burned as a result, rather than being punished for doing so. Similarly, consistently behaving in an ignorant and pointless manner can eventually result in animal rebirth.
Once a person is reborn as an animal, it can be very difficult to get back out because animals have such limited moral capacities. However, even with this limitation, animals still have a crude ability to make moral choices, which can eventually bring them to the human realm again. More than this is that such a person would have done good deeds in their lives as humans beforehand, and this might eventually take fruit and return them back to the human realm.
It is also important to note that chance can play a part in one’s births as well. It isn’t a totally mechanistic process.
Is it considered necessary to be reborn as a man to attain Nibbana? I took a couple courses on Buddhism in university, and I remember one of my professors saying that one school specified that only men could be enlightened, women would need to wait until they were reborn as men to have a shot at it.
All schools of Buddhism agree that women are able to become Arahats (That is, someone who has attained Nibbana.) However, among some schools and traditions, there is a belief that only men are able to become a fully-enlightened Buddha. This isn’t unanimously held however.