I. Introduction of the religion
I am particularly fascinated by the religion Buddhism and this report is about this significant world religion. Talking about Buddhism, one is reminded of zen. It is a perfect state of peace and I relate it to the experience of being with God or seeing God. The most fascinating thing about Buddhism is that is represents the most graphic state of this bliss. The controversy here lies in the practical sense that Buddhism does not believe in the existence of God. According to Keown (2000), the Buddhists do not believe in a Supreme Being or in a personal soul. In this religion, to, the exercise of self experience is very significant and innate. Buddhism believes that religious living means self transformation and this is developed through one’s engagement with mediation. They are aid to cultivate wisdom and compassion when they practice the art of meditation. (Ibid.)
This meditation leads us to another popular aspect identified with Buddhism, the yoga. This is part of their mystical traditions and culture. Under this exercise, a Buddhist is able to control his state of mind and/or hi state of consciousness. He is also able to develop his inner and mental powers. While we may say that the mystical aspect of this exercise can also be shown by the speaking tongue of the Christian or the meditative and healing powers of the Catholics, it is very significant to note that this ancient tradition and practice is synonymous with the Buddhist religion.
II. Name, location review of the site
The Buddhist temple which I visited was Hua Zang Si Temple. It is located in San Francisco, California. The category of this place of worship is non-denominational. This means that denominational and I think that this means that this Buddhists are more liberal in terms of their tradition and practice. The more denominational Buddhism is exemplified by the Tibetan Buddhism which consists of stern religious doctrines, institutions and practices of the Tibetans Buddhists. (Berzin, 2011) The Hua Zang Si temple emerges under the more liberal and modern forms of Buddhism.
Their being non denominational is reflected in their gothic revival architecture. According to Sacred Destination Website 92011), the temple’s edifice evidences its “multi-faith heritage.” It is interesting to observe that the prudish temple has an ornate architecture such as red colors. Aside from its Buddha’s, it also has elements or symbols of the other religions. There were many worshippers when I visited the temple and I learned that there are more than twenty nuns residing in this temple. They pass by wearing yellow and gray robes.
Hua Zang Si temple indoctrinates about the dharma which basically means “the path to righteousness.” (O’Brien, 2011) Others refer to it as the “universal philosophy” and Buddhists use this word to pertain to the law of Karma and rebirth. Their temple specifically teaches the dharma method of the Pure Land sect, meditating by Zen, “the instantaneous and gradual realization methods,” visualization methods, consciousness practices, among others. (Ibid.)
III. Interview summary
My interviewee greeted me with peace and calm and a certain aura was beaming on his face. He was such a gentle being, I believed. I will disclose his name upon his own request. He was introduced to the Buddhist temple by way of accident. He was following a friend after work and then he suddenly saw the Huan Zang Si temple and got drawn to it. Initially, he did not have his own specific religion. This was why it became easy for him to be open to the teaching of Buddhism. He started living as a Buddhist, according to him, when he started committing to a life of simplicity and peace. There was a monk who initiated him into this.
Since Buddhism practices tolerance, even when there are various difference sin the practices of the modern Buddhism versus the traditional one, they do not make it an issue. Many observe that most of the meditative practices in the modern Buddhism now, especially in the West, are different from the original meditative practices which Buddha taught his disciples. Modern Buddhism practices different kinds of meditative practices nowadays.
The Buddhist community has several holidays and holy days throughout the year. The most popular of these is the full moon in May when the members of all the Buddhist communities around the world celebrate the life and death of Buddha from 2,500 years ago. This is called the Day of Buddha.
Buddhist holidays and tradition are marked by festivities. This includes their New Year, Buddha Day (as described above), Fourfold Assembly or "Sangha Day," "Dhamma Day," Observance Day, Pavarana Day, Robe offering ceremony, Anapanasati Day, Abhidhamma Day, Songkran, and the Festival of Floating Bowls. In some regions, they also have the Ploughing Festival, The Elephant Festival, and The Festival of the Tooth, The Ancestor Day, and the Avalokitesvara’s (Kuan Yin) Birthday, among others.
Their monks and nuns would visit their temples and monasteries and they would offer food, take the Five Precepts and listen to a Dharma preaching. They also give food to the poor and in the evening, they join a ceremony of circumambulation. They perform a stupa three times as a symbol of revering the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. Their festive nights usually end with the chanting of the Buddha's teachings and meditation. (Ibid.)
As Buddhism teaches loving kindness, tolerance and compassion, my interviewee said that he is now more giving and peaceful. He also said that he as began being prayerful and meditative. He is not concern with the material wealth of the world but more of the salvation of soul and the eternal well being of all living things, not only human beings.
The interviewee faces several challenges which relates to his external living. This includes having to explain to his family members why he chose the Buddhist faith and staying in good terms with al types of people. He is also challenged by the way several Buddhist faiths have mushroomed across the United States. He said that sometimes he finds it hard to tolerate when some Buddhist groups use their religion to make their presence and their influences felt in the greater society.
Ultimately, the question of life after death inspires the interviewee. He believes in Buddha’s teaching that all of living things will pass away eventually as a part in the natural birthing and dying processes. It instills the concept of impermanence. Hence, we should not give so much value on the life we hold unto. The difference is that the death of someone is not an end by itself. This is just the end of the material body that living thing has. The spirit of a living thing stays on forever and this will be reborn into a new body and new life. Under this is the primordial concept of karma in the Buddhist faith. (The Wordsworth Encyclopedia of World Religions, 1999)
Hence, the Buddhists believe that the person will be reborn in one of 6 realms namely, heaven, human beings, Asura, hungry ghost, animal and hell. (The Wordsworth Encyclopedia of World Religions, 1999) Hence, in Buddhism, life does not end. It just goes into another form; depending on what the living thing has accumulated in his existence. With this in mind, the Buddhists do not fear death.
Modern Buddhism, especially in the West, follows various tradition such as the Thai, Chinese, Burmese, Indian, Tibetan, and Japanese traditions. Their beliefs and practices have been mixed up through the inclusions of several other practices and beliefs which were not part of the original Buddhist practices.
The most obvious religious symbol I have seen is their Buddha. It is not true that the Buddhists worship their idols. They just bow or make offerings of flowers and incense as a sign of respect to the Buddha but they do not worship the image per se. They just show reverence the Buddha and signify that they also want to be like him. There are many different kinds of Buddha and Bodhisattva images. In the temple which I visited, there is a large statue of a Buddha with his hand calmly lying on his lap. This reflects the sense of inner state the Buddha is into. Many of the early Buddha images relate to ancient India and can be found in Hinduism as well. However, they have different meanings. (A View on Buddhism, 2011)
Anther major symbol in the Buddhist faith is the Eight Spoked Wheel and the Bodhi Tree. This is called the “Dharmachakra” in Sanskrit and it symbolizes the Buddha's turning the Wheel of Truth. (Ibid.) This wheel refers to the instance when the Buddha has achieved enlightenment. It is said that the Brahma came down from heaven and requested the Buddha to teach by offering him a Dharmachakra. Hence, the Buddha is known as the “Wheel-Turner” because he set a new religion which can change man’s lives throughout eternity. This wheel can also be separated into three sections, each constituting one aspect of Buddhism - the hub for discipline, the spokes for wisdom and the rim is for concentration. Other Buddhist symbols include the Buddha's Footprints, an Empty Throne, a Begging Bowl and a Lion. They all represent the Buddha.
IV. Comparing and contrasting with another religion
The Buddhist faith is very much similar with Hinduism. Hinduism also believes in the concept of reincarnation. They also believe that human beings are part of an impersonal world and their souls reincarnate into another body of any being, based on the deeds of the present life. This is true with Buddhism, where one’s karma is followed into whatever life forms he/he will take after he/she dies. Both the Hindus and the Buddhists believe that one works for his salvation. In Buddhism, one’s salvation depends on your good deeds. Hindus differentiate various god deeds as the four paths or four yogis – the Karma Yoga or the Way of good works, the Bhakti Yoga or the Way of love and faith, the Jnana Yoga or the Way of knowledge, and the Raja Yoga or the Way of salvation. (Ibid.)
Both Buddhism and Hinduism affirm that there are many ways to attain enlightenment such as overcoming through your feelings and desires and controlling over the six conscious senses. Both religions also believe that too much attachment to material entities and people in the physical world would only cause pain and suffering. Hence, these two religions promote renouncements of worldly desires.
Mediation, aside form enlightenment, is both central to these two faiths. Both of them give an emphasis on the practice of meditation and yoga. According to them, it helps one to focus on the truth of life and it also enhances their ways to enlightenment and liberation. Since Buddhist teachings were originally from the Hindu traditions, these two religions both perform tantric practices such as chants. Buddhism has Tantrayana which is mainly based upon the tantric practices. They also share in their practices of prayers and meditation. (Ibid.)
Contrastingly, Hinduism has many Gods while Buddhism does not generally have a godly figure. The Hindus believe in 300,000 Gods. (Ibid.) Buddhism also follows some rituals in their forms of meditation. They bow and do different forms of worship while offering prayer in the Buddhist temples. On the other hand, the Hindu rituals are more complicated. They vary from birth to death of a person. In Hinduism, priests play a central role in all the rituals while in Buddhism; priests are not often required in their rituals.
It is plain to see that while many rituals and symbols or images differentiates world religion, their major precepts and ideas are also universal – their beliefs on the concept of death and being reborn and their value on prayers and meditation are one universal aspect in nay religion. In this regard, I admire the way the Buddhist religion has inculcated various practices and teachings which ultimately make one a better person. Intrinsically, this is what I believe the foremost function of religion is. They teach human beings to be more humane and understanding.
A View on Buddhism. (2011). Retrieved on September 21, 2011 from, http://viewonbuddhism.org/general_symbols_buddhism.html.
Berzin, Dr. A. (2011). The Four Traditions of Tibetan Buddhism: Personal Experience, History, and Comparisons. Retrieved on September 20, 2011 from, http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/audio/historical_cultural_comparative_stu/comparison_buddhist_traditions/tibetan_traditions/four_traditions_tibetan_buddhism_pe/transcript_1.html.
Keown, D. (2000). Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
O’Brien,B. (2011). Dharma. About.com. Retrieved on September 20, 2011 form, http://buddhism.about.com/od/abuddhistglossary/g/dharmadef.htm.
Sacred Destination Website. (2011). “Hua Zing Si Temple, San Francisco.” Rterieved on September 20, 2011 from, http://www.sacred-destinations.com/usa/san-francisco-hua-zang-si-temple.
The Wordsworth Encyclopedia of World Religions. (1999). Buddhist View on Death and Rebirth. Retrieved on September 21, 2011 from, http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma5/viewdeath.html.