Frequently Asked Questions on Buddhism


       What is Buddhism?

       It is the Teaching of the Buddha who was born as Prince Siddhattha about 2600 years ago in India.

       Where exactly was Prince Siddhattha born?

       The future Buddha was born at Kapilavatthu on the Indian borders of modern Nepal.

       What does the name mean?

        'Siddhattha' means 'wish fulfilled'. 'Gotama' was the family name

       Who were the Parents?

       They were King Suddhodana and Queen Mahamaya. The mother died on the 7th day after he was born.

       Who was the foster mother?

       The younger sister of his mother, Mahapajapati Gotami, who was also the wife of his father.

       When did he get married?

       When he was 16, he married his cousin Princess Yasodara of the same age.

       What made Prince Siddhattha to renounce the world?

       Seeing an old man, a diseased person, a dead body and a recluse made him 'renunciate' the throne, the family and world at the age of 29.

        How did he 'renunciate'?

       He ordered his charioteer Channa to saddle the horse Kanthaka. Then he crossed the river Anoma. He shaved his head and changed to simple yellow clothes of an ascetic and became a penniless wanderer with no permanent abode.

       Who followed his example after he became a wandering recluse?

       Kondanna, the young Brahmin, and the four sons of other Brahmins who had predicted his future just after he was born.

        How long did it take to attain Buddhahood?

       Six years! He practised all forms of austerity, reducing himself to almost a skeleton.

       How did he attain Enlightenment?

       He was not making any significant progress for almost six years despite various practices of self-mortification. Then, he remembered his childhood days when he attained the First Jhana (Ectasy) while waiting and contemplating his own breathing under a tree during a special farm festival. Restoring his strength after eating some coarse food, he regained the First Jhana, and developed progressively, the Second, Third and further Jhanas and he achieved perfect concentration. Then, he acquired the First Knowledge, Reminiscence of past births (Pubbe-nivasanussati Nana) in the first watch of the night.

       What was the Second Knowledge acquired in the Middle watch of the night?

       He continued to perceive the impermanent nature of beings who were born and died repeatedly in numerous existences (Cutupapata Nana).

       How did he claimed Buddhahood?

        The Third Knowledge, the Comprehension of the Cessation of Corruptions (Asavakkhaya Nana) was acquired in the last watch of the night. He realized the Four Noble Truths; the Sufferings (dukkha), the cause or arising of Sufferings, the cessation of Sufferings and the Path leading to the cessation of sufferings.

       When did he attain Buddhahood?

       The Full Moon day in May in year 588 B.C. at the age of 35. (May corresponds to Vesakha(Pali), 'Kasone' (Burmese) and Vesak ?(Simhala).

       What does the term 'Buddha' mean?

       The Pali term 'Buddha' is derived from 'budh' to understand or to be awakened.

       What is 'Bodhisatta'?

       It means one who is aspiring to attain Buddhahood.

       What is 'Samma Sambuddha'?

       It means a fully Enlightened One - who not only comprehends but also expound the doctrine and enlighten others.

       What are the other names for the Buddha?

       Arahan(Worthy One), Bhagava (Exalted One), Sabbannu (Omniscient One), Sugata (Well-gone One), and Tathagata( He who hath thus come; he who hath thus gone)

       Who were the first two male lay disciples (upasaka)?

       The travelling merchants, Tapussa and Bhallika from Ukkala (Orissa) became the first lay disciples of the Buddha and the Dhamma. The hair relics of the Buddha, offered by the Buddha to them, were believed to have been enshrined in the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon, Burma).

       Who were the first lay follower to take refuge in the Triple Gem (Tisarana, Triplegem, Triratana)?

       The father of Venerable Yasa, the sixth Arahant.

       What was the first discourse delivered by the Buddha?

       It is called Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta and was delivered to the five ascetics.

       Who were the first members of the order of Samgha?

       They were the former companions of Prince Siddhattha, the five ascetics, namely Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. They became arahants shortly after being ordained by the Buddha and after hearing the first and second discourses. The latter is called Anattalakkhana Sutta dealing with soullessness.

       Who were the first messengers of Truth (Dhammaduta/ Missionaries)?

       The first sixty Arahants, composed of the Five Disciples, Venerable Yasa and 54 of his former friends.

       Who were the Chief Disciples of the Buddha?

       Thera Sariputta (Right Wing) and Thera Moggallana (Left Wing).

       Who were the female Chief Disciples of the Buddha?

       Theri Khema (Right Wing) and Theri Uppalavanna (Left Wing).

       Who were the first two lay female Disciples (upasika) of the Buddha?

       The mother and the wife of Yasa who left them to join the Order of Samgha.

       Venerable Sariputta (right wing) and Venerable Moggallana (left wing)

       Do Buddhists pray?
Buddhists don't pray to God, because there is no supreme God in Buddhism.

       How do you become a Buddhist?
Just follow the Five Precepts and after taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. (More details)

       Why do Buddhists chant?
It is usually recitation of the Dhamma texts leading to better understanding of the discourses and and Parittas.

       What about Buddha's images and statues?

       The images of the Buddha present in many temples and monasteries are symbols, helping worshippers to recall the special qualities of the Buddha. A Buddhist bow or prostrate before the image of the Buddha and the monks to express deep veneration..

       Why is meditation so important to Buddhists?

       Because it is the only way to Nibbana according to the Buddha. Buddhists aim to break away from the rounds of existences, called samsara.

       What is Nibbana, the ultimate goal of all Buddhists?

       The extinction of clinging, anger and ignorance is Nibbana. One can experience Nibbana while being alive.

       Are there Buddhist sacred places for pilgrimage?
Lumbini (Birth place), Bodha Gaya ( Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree), Saranath (First Discourse) and Kusinagara (Pari-nibbana). All these places are situated in India.

       What is the most important Buddhist ceremony?
Buddhists all over the world celebrate Vesak for the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on the full moon day in May. (For more details)

       What is a Buddhist funeral like and how was the dead body of a Buddhist disposed of?
It is usually a simple ceremony before the burial or cremation of the deceased. There are no fixed rules for the procedures. It is not a question concerning Buddhism.

       What is a Stupa?
When the Buddha and Arahants passed away, the relics are collected after the cremation and placed in a stupa (patho in Burma).

To be continued.