Buddhist Questions and Answers
By National Identity Office - Office of the Prime Minister
1. What is Buddhism?
Buddhism may be defined and explained from various standpoints as follows:
1. Buddhism, the teaching of the Buddha (the Enlightened One), proposes to develop humankind through purity (by means of morality), calmness (by means of concentration) and clarity (by means of wisdom).
2. Buddhism is a religion founded by the Buddha for the welfare of many, for happiness of many and for helping the world. People from al walks of life can apply the teaching to practice in accordance with their ability and free will.
3. Buddhism is a religion of reason and practice for self-help and self-reliance and for extending a helping hand to others out of living-kindness and compassion.
4. Buddhism is both philosophy and practice. Though it accepts the existence of divine beings, it did not put belief in a supreme being as a significant part of the religion. Instead it teaches the followers to have qualifications such as moral shame and moral fear, making one divine in the Dhamma in this life; to be endowed with right faith, morality, learning, generosity and wisdom. Furthermore, Buddhism teaches that one who is free from defilements of greed, hatred and delusion is reckoned as superior.
5. General information about Buddhism is as follows:
Country of Origin : India
Data of Origin : Sixth Century BC (Buddhist Century)
The Founder : The Buddha (The Enlightened One) previously Prince Siddhattha of Gotama clan within the Sakya lineage.
Doctrinal Tenets : To avoid all evil, to do good and to purify the mind.
Type of Religion : Universal, spreading out to many countries of the world; Atheistic, regarding no divine being as the centre of the teaching.
Main Divisions : Theravada and Mahayana.
Unity of Diversity : The World Fellowship of Buddhist is the world organization for unity of all Buddhists throughout the world. It has one hundred-twenty three regional centres in 37 countries (B.E.2539 (1996)). The permanent headquarters of the World Fellowship of Buddhists is in Thailand.
2. What is the historical and geographical background of Buddhism?
Buddhism came into existence in India some 2,600 years ago when an Indian Prince, Siddhattha, became enlightened and hence came to be known as the Buddha, meaning the Enlightened One. His teaching is preserved in Buddhist scriptures known as the Tripitaka, which literally means the three baskets, namely the Vinaya or Vinaya-pitaka (monastic rules), Sutta or Suttanta-pitaka (collection of the teaching of the Buddha and His disciples) and Abhidhamma or Abhidhamma-pitaka (higher philosophy).
Buddhism is Atheistic; it does not give significance to divine beings. There are two major Schools in Buddhism: Theravada, the teaching as preserved by the elders and Mahayana, the later development. The former is practised in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma (Myanmar), Laos and Cambodia. The latter is more prevalent in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and Tibet.
3. What are the purposes of the Buddha's preaching?
In the First Sermon, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (the Discourse of the Turning of the Wheel of Dhamma or Truth), the Buddha pointed out the Middle Way which gives vision, which gives knowledge, which is conducive to calmness, insight, enlightenment and Nibbana (the state of being free from all defilements and suffering).
In one of His discourses, the Buddha summarized His teaching with the words "Vimutti or Spiritual Freedom from all defilements and sufferings is the Ultimate."
When sending His first sixty disciples on their preaching tour, the Buddha said:
" I, now, monks, am free from all bonds of gods and men. And you too, monks, are free from all bonds of gods and men. Travel, monks, for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many, for helping the world, for the good, welfare and happiness of gods and men."
From the Buddha's words, above mentioned, we can say that Nibbana or Vimutti is the main purpose of the preaching of the Buddha. He encouraged His disciples to walk the Middle Way in order to eradicate all defilements and sufferings and then, out of compassion for all, lend a helping hand to others.
In brief, the Buddha taught people how to be happy and prosperous both in a worldly as well as a spiritual sense. Those who follow His teaching can select their way of life practicable for themselves.
4. What is the status of Buddhism among world living religions?
World living religions can be classified according to their doctrinal tenets into various types such as:
1. Theistic religions: believing in the supremacy of a divine being or beings.
2. Atheistic religions: not believing in the supremacy of any divine being.
Buddhism belongs to the latter. It lays stress on virtuous qualities which every human being can develop. According to Buddhism, good knowledge and conduct (Vijja-carana) make a person excellent among divine and human beings. Good knowledge and release from all defilements and suffering (Vijja-vimutti) are Buddhistic ideals.
5. What is the size of the Buddhist population in Thailand as compared to that of other religions?
According to the report of the National Statistical Office, Office of the Prime Minister B.E. 2538 (1995 AD), the Thai population is distributed by religions as follows:
Total Population : 59,460,382
Buddhists : 56,016,758 (94.21%)
Muslims : 2,396,198 (4.03%)
Christians : 326,919 (0.55%)
Hindus, Sikhs ; 3,697 (0.01%)
Unidentified : 716,810 (1.20%)
6. What is the official administration of the Thai Buddhist Order?
Buddhism is the state religion of Thailand. His Majesty the King is a Buddhist and a patron of Buddhism and other religions in the country. Monastic administration is according to the Sangha Act of B.E.2505 (1962 AD), amended in B.E.2535 (1992), and the rules and regulations laid down in the code of the Council of Elders headed by His Holiness the Supreme Patriarch.
As far as regional monastic administration is concerned, territorial jurisdiction shall be exercised in hierarchical order as follows:
The geographical boundaries of those divisions shall be in accordance with what has been determined in the rules and regulations laid down in the code of the Council of Elders.
As far as the regional monastic administration is concerned, the following is the hierarchical order of Bhikkhu offices with reference to their territorial jurisdiction:
1. Regional Governor
2. Provincial Governor
3. District Officer
4. Commune Headman
There shall be one abbot for a monastery. However, when it is deemed proper, there can be a vice-abbot or an abbot's assistant.
7. What is the World Fellowship of Buddhists?
The World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) is an international Buddhist organization which was founded in B.E. 2493 (1950) in Sri Lanka where representatives from 27 countries from Asia, Europe and North America met for the first time in history.
Buddhist delegates from all over the world representing various schools of Buddhism, viz., Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, were unified under the six colours flag. (Please refer to question and answer No.9).
Through this international Buddhist organization, unity and mutual understanding among the Buddhist communities of the world have been established. It can be said therefore, that the WFB has achieved its prime objective, that is unity among world Buddhists which is fundamental in furthering cooperation for the progress and stability of Buddhism.
8. What role does Thailand play in the World Fellowship of Buddhists?
Thailand participated in the very first conference which established the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Sri Lanka in B.E. 2493 (1950) and, as one of its Founding members, actively attended all the conferences usually scheduled every two years. Thailand had upheld the aims and purposes of the organization which appear in the WFB constitution as fellows:
1. to promote among the members strict observance and practice of the teaching of the Buddha,
2. to secure unity, solidarity and brotherhood amongst Buddhists,
3. to propagate the sublime doctrine of the Buddha,
4. to organize and carry on activities in the field of social educational, cultural and other humanitarian services, and
5. to work for happiness harmony and peace on earth and to collaborate with other organizations working for the same end.
More importantly, Thailand was chosen by the WFB as the seat of the permanent headquarters of the WFB on B.E. 2512 (1969) with an International Secretariat working full time for the benefit of the members of the WFB over the world. The reasons, which prompted the WFB General Conference to adopt this resolution unanimously, were:
1. Buddhism is the national religion of Thailand.
2. His Majesty the King is, by virtue of the Constitution of Thailand, the patron and defender of the Buddhist faith, and
3. The Thai Royal Government has consistently given financial support to WFB Secretariat.
In this connection, it should be mentioned that the Thai Government has been providing an annual subsidy for the maintenance and effective services of the Headquarters up to the present.
9. What is the meaning of the Buddhist flag?
The Buddhist flag, or the flag of Chabbannarangsi, as approved by the World Fellowship of Buddhists at its inaugural conference in B.E. 2493 (1950) consists of six colours. The first five colours are arranged vertically as follows: blue, yellow, red, white, and orange. The sixth colour, called in Pali "Pabhassara", which means "brilliant" or "radiant", cannot be depicted but is symbolised by the combination the first five colours arranged horizontally in a narrow strip on the right.
This six-coloured flag was originally designed by Colonel Henry S. Olcott, an American Buddhist, and has been used by the Sri Lankan Buddhists ever since. However, it gained wider recognition when it became the official flag of the World Fellowship of Buddhists at its inception in B.E. 2493 (1950).
The design was based on the belief that wherever the Buddha went, he spread the light of wisdom and bliss to the people all around in six directions, namely, east, west, north, south, above and below. This light was later symbolised by the six colours in the Buddhist flag.
However, for Thai Buddhists, a yellow flag with the symbol of the Wheel of Dhamma (Dhammacakka) has been in general use since B.E. 2501 (1958) when it was officially proclaimed by the Thai Sangha Authorities.
10. What is the meaning of the Buddhist symbol?
The Buddhist symbol is in the form of a wheel with eight spokes representing the Noble Eightfold Path, which means the way leading to the cessation of suffering. This Path consists of the following:
Right View, Right Motives, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.
This symbol is called "Dhammacakka" or the Wheel of Dhamma and has been adopted as the seal of the World Fellowship of Buddhists.