Q and A with a Buddhist Priest

Dear reader of World Religion Weekly,

After completing our tour of the temple, my grandmother and I returned to the front desk, where the man who had kindly given us a tour was seated. My grandmother and I introduced ourselves, and he did as well, which was nice because now I could mentally refer to him as Pra Sandy instead of man-from-the-front-desk. He asked if we had any questions, and I said that I actually wanted to conduct an interview.

He didn’t want to be audio-recorded (I am starting to realize that most people find this awkward), but he was fine with me talking notes.  This is not an exact transcription. I waited too long, so it has slightly faded from my memory, and my notes only have large gist statements.

Q: What is the most important part of Buddhism?

A: Some of the most important parts are probably the unimportance of the concept of self, the resulting avoidance of bias, and seeking a higher view. The obviously most important part is probably the Four Noble Truths (the First Truth is that life is suffering, the Second Truth is that this suffering comes from craving, the Third Truth is that suffering can be eliminated, and the Fourth Noble Truth is that the Middle Path or Eight-Fold Path can lead to this elimination of suffering). The Eight-Fold Path is also one of the most important parts of Buddhism. Spontaneous craving is fine, like craving food when you are hungry and heat when you are cold. These keep you alive. However obsessive craving is what causes suffering. Sometimes it is very hard to tell the difference.

Q: Building off the last question, what is the most unique part of Buddhism?

 

A: Identity is not really essential to it. In fact, Buddhism is less of a religion, and it is more of a way of purifying the mind, so that you can see the world clearer and be happier.

Q: What is the most controversial part of Buddhism?

A: That is also probably the non-essentiality of identity. Everyone wants to know who you are. The government needs to know who you are for their censuses, your friends want to know who you are so they can interact with you, people in general want to know who you are so they can classify you and seperate you out from the sea of humanity. This whole idea of yourself as a separate individual with a set identity is not really what Buddhism teaches.

Q: What is the most universal teaching of Buddhism?

A: Probably selflessness. This whole concept of how you should act for the good of a larger whole.

Q: How has Buddhism affected your life?

A: I actually had a graduate degree in chemical engineering, and I was a chemical engineer. That was pretty different (he is now a Thereavaada Buddhist monk and priest at this Buddhist temple). I sort of had a constant internal dialogue. Buddhism took away a lot of the constant material naggings. The most pure mental state is intent. Intent just is. Buddhism teaches you strip away the internal dialogue to get at the intent, in a sort of purification.

Q: How is your day-to-day life different from that of an atheist, for example?

A: Well, Buddhism is technically atheism, We don’t believe in the traditional omniscient, omnipotent , anthropomorphic god. Gods are born and die. You are an island unto yourself.

Q: What other religion is Buddhism most akin to?

A: Buddhism actually arose from Hinduism. Hinduism is sort of the father religion of Buddhism (like Judaism to Christianity). However, Buddhism has a lot in common with most religions ranging from Christianity to Native American beliefs.

Q: What would you like to say about Buddhism to individuals of different faiths?

A: We are all dealing with greed, hatred, and delusion. We all need to overcome these unwholesome states in order to purify our minds and focus more on intent.

Q: What is the ideal relationship between Buddhists and non-Buddhists?

A: It should be a wholesome relationship. Everyone has a lesson to share, so there should definitely be respect. Everyone should be able to transcend all of the unwholesome relationships surrounding us.

In addition to this, Pra Sandy made several points which did not quite fit in the context of the questions. I will include them below:

  • Try to stop thinking. You can’t, right? You don’t control your mind. It is something you utilize, like your eyes, ears, nose, and touch. You don’t consider any of those your “self”. Well, then what is your self? It is your intent.
  • People cannot flee their government to become Buddhist monks and nuns. Buddhist monasteries only accept individuals with clean records (haven’t committed any crimes) and no debt.
  • The earth is an ultimate reality. No matter what you do, the earth will not be any different. It doesn’t have emotions or prejudices or unwholesome states. Buddhism actually encourages people to think of themselves as their body, rather than their mind. The human body is made up of ultimate realities, like water and earth. After you die, the ultimate realities of your body will remain.
  • (In response to my mentioning the Mahayana deities which populated the temple) These aren’t really individuals as much as external symbols. If you think about a feeling or word for long enough, your mind may produce an image that you associate with it. Theravada Buddhism deals more with the pure concepts, while Mahayana Buddhism deals more with those symbols. (I then mentioned an imposing statue standing above the table we were seated at) That is Yama. He is a kind of judge of your life. He weighs up all your good and bad deeds, after you die. People interpret him as a challenge. He can be many places at once, which is why there is another statue of him over there (Pra Sandy pointed to a similar statue across the room). His hand is held like that to indicate that he wants the soul to stop. If you did enough good during your life, then you will be able to defeat Yama and pass him.

In addition to those statements, he showed me several infographics.

This is a list of things which are important in purifying your mind:

This one shows how you process information:

Thank you for reading this somewhat disheveled post,

Audrey Cole