11. What are the differences between the two major Schools of Buddhism, i.e. Theravada and Mahayana?
Theravada means the School which maintains the original teaching of the Buddha. Its root can be traced back to the First Council which was held soon after the Buddha's passing away; hence it is considered the oldest School. Mahayana came much later, roughly speaking, about 600 years after the Buddha's time. Vajarayana of Tantrayana developed from the Mahayana approximately 400 years after the beginning of the Mahayana.
Geographically, Theravada is more prevalent in Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia and Laos while Mahayana is prevalent in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Nepal and Tibet.
Theoretically both Schools share the fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths, etc. but Mahayana developed many more Sutras as elaboration of the original teaching. Among the important Mahayana Sutras are Saddhamapundarika-Sutra, Vimalakirtinirdesa-Sutta, Bhaisajyaguru-Sutra, etc. However, the Vinaya (Monastic Disciplines) of both Schools remain very similar. The difference in practices are primarily due to different sociological and geographical contexts.
12. How and what should the Buddhists believe?
The Buddha is the Enlightened One who discovered the Supreme Truth. He did not force anyone to believe in His teaching with blind faith. The reasonableness of the Dhamma, the Buddha's teaching, lies in the fact that it welcomes any critical examination at all stages of the path to enlightenment. To understand the nature of all phenomena, insight wisdom must be operative throughout.
Once the Buddha had instructed the Kalamas, who were inhabitants of Kesaputta, a town in the Kingdom of Kosala, on an appropriate attitude towards the religious beliefs. He said
"Do not accept anything on mere hearsay, nor by mere tradition, nor on account of rumours, nor just because it accords with your scriptures, nor by mere suppositions, nor by mere inference, nor by merely considering the appearances, nor merely because it seems acceptable, nor thinking that the recluse is our teacher."
And then the Buddha had further instructed the Kalamas to consider everything by themselves carefully. He said "When you yourselves know that these things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill; abandon them. And in contradiction, when you yourselves know that these things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; these things, undertaken and observed, lead to benefit and happiness, enter on and abide in them."
13. Is it true that Buddhism are taught to be tolerant of other's opinions, beliefs, customs or behaviour different from their own?
Yes, Buddhists are taught to be broadminded but not to believe in anything easily before investigation or proper consideration. Moreover, Buddhists are taught to diffuse the Four Divine States of Mind: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity towards all sentient beings who may be of different nationalities, religions and environments.
14. Could we live happily without believing in any religion?
Yes, we can. If happiness means physical well-being, then a person can be happy without believing in any particular religion but a human being consists of two major aspects: body and mind. To have a fully developed and happy life, one needs to nourish both body and mind. In this case religion can provide the guidance and the path to develop the mind and spirit along with the Body.
15. Is there any particular form of practice in Buddhism?
According to Buddhism, everyone is free to consider and investigate Buddhist teaching before acceptance. Even after acceptance one is free to select any particular part of the teaching to put into practice.
The Buddha had given various practical formats suitable to the people of different tastes and tendencies.
There are, however, some typical doctrines appropriate for Buddhists in general as follows:
1. Avoid all evils, fulfill good and purify one's own minds.
2. Generosity, morality and mind development.
(Development of tranquillity and insight.)
3. Morality, concentration and wisdom. (Brief form of the noble path leading to the cessation of suffering.)
16. What are the results of the practice of the Five Precepts?
The Five Precepts are not laws but they are self-training rules that lead to moral practices and right behaviour. Since one does not live alone, living in society requires self-awareness, self-control, adaptability, non-violent attitude and good-will.
The Five Precepts are to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants which cause carelessness. One should be kind, honest and mindful. Then our society will reach the goal that persons can live together peacefully and in mutual trust.
17. How should one live the Buddhist way of life?
To live the Buddhist way of life one should avoid doing evil, perform wholesome acts and purify one's own mind.
The "don't and do" moral principles of the Buddhist way of life are as follows:
1. To abstain from killing, and develop loving-kindness and compassion to all living beings.
2. To abstain from stealing, and develop right means of livelihood.
3. To abstain from sexual misconduct, and develop restraint of the senses.
4. To abstain from lying, and develop truthful speech.
5. To abstain from intoxicants, and develop restraint and mindfulness.
The more one can observe the above Five Precepts and Five Virtues, the more happy and peaceful life one will achieve.
Furthermore, trying to purify one's own mind from greed, hatred, and delusion step-by-step in daily life is the ideal way for all Buddhists.
18. Is there any Buddhist teaching that monks should have a role of serving society in addition to teaching Dhamma?
The history of Buddhism tells us that when the Buddha convened his first group of 60 disciples before sending them on missionary work, He instructed them to go separately on a journey for the gain of the many, for happiness of the many, and for helping the world. This shows that the Buddha advised His disciples to serve society. The serving should be done appropriately to the status of the monk. To put the teaching into practice, to make oneself an example, and to teach the people are the main functions of Buddhist monks. Usually monasteries are the centres of communities and social welfare. In case of various disasters, monks will extend their helping hands to the people as much as possible. To serve society in the way of charity or other social work is also allowed for monks, providing it does not contradict the monastic rule.
19. Is it justified for a Buddhist to believe that he could be a real Buddhist only through meditation, and to discard all concerns about serving society?
To be a real Buddhist is just to take the Triple Gem as one's guide, that is to say, if anyone puts his or her faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, he or she is regarded as a Buddhist. This is according to the answer of the Buddha to Prince Mahanama's question about being a Buddhist.
There is advice for the progress in practice called the Basis of Merit Making as taught by the Buddha as follows:
1. Charity or generosity (Dana)
2. Morality (Sila) and
3. Development of meditation which is of two kinds, namely: tranquillity of the mind and spiritual insight (Bhavana).
From the above mentioned principle it is clear that charity and serving society in the way of giving a helping hand and other spiritual practices are regarded as the additional practices of being a Buddhist.
20. Why do monks wear patched robes? Does a darker brown robe signify strictness of the wearer?
Buddhist monks are homeless and do not have any valuable personal belongings. Originally they had to collect discarded pieces of cloth wherever they could be found, and wash and sew them together. Then the robe was dipped in natural dye from bark or the pith of a tree. The robes were mostly brownish in colour. The different shades of the colour did not signify the strictness of the wearers at the time of the Buddha, nor do they today.
Venerable Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and personal attendant, designed the robe at the request of the Buddha. The pattern of the robe was taken from the pattern of the paddy fields in the Magadha Kingdom. It was accepted by the Buddha and had become standardized since then.
In Thailand, usually the darker robed monks tend to be forest monks. However, there are some monks living in the city who also prefer wearing darker brown robes responsibilities.
The reason why the Buddha accepted a patched robe was to distinguish monks' robes from lay people's clothing and to discourage thieves.