Last Updated on February 3, 2022
Buddhist psychotherapy is a style of psychotherapy that is based on the principles of Buddhist teaching and practices. The aim of this form of therapy is to help patients by gaining an understanding and insight into their feelings and emotions while also dissolving their own negative mental conditions and suffering.
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Buddhist studies, also known as Buddhology, is the academic study of Buddhism. The term Buddhology was coined in the early 20th century by the Unitarian minister Joseph Estlin Carpenter to mean the “study of Buddhahood, the nature of the Buddha, and doctrines of a Buddha”, but the terms Buddhology and Buddhist studies are generally synonymous in the contemporary context. According to William M. Johnston, in some specific contexts, Buddhology may be viewed as a subset of Buddhist studies, with a focus on Buddhist hermeneutics, exegesis, ontology and Buddha’s attributes. Scholars of Buddhist studies focus on the history, culture, archaeology, arts, philology, anthropology, sociology, theology, philosophy, practices, interreligious comparative studies and other subjects related to Buddhism.
In contrast to the study of Judaism or Christianity, the field of Buddhist studies has been dominated by “outsiders” to Buddhist cultures and traditions. However, Chinese, Japanese and Korean universities have also made major contributions, as have Asian immigrants to Western countries, and Western converts to Buddhism.
University programs and institutes
The first graduate program in Buddhist studies in North America started in 1961 at the University of Wisconsin–Madision.According to Prebish, Buddhist studies in the United States prior to 1975 was dominated by the University of Wisconsin, Harvard University and the University of Chicago. Prebish cites two surveys by Hart in which the following university programs were found to have produced the most scholars with U.S. university posts: Chicago, Wisconsin, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Virginia, Stanford, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple, Northwestern, Michigan, Washington, and Tokyo.
Other regionally-accredited U.S. institutions with programs in Buddhism include the University of the West, Institute of Buddhist Studies, Naropa University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies. (A number of dharma centers offer semi-academic, unaccredited study; some of these seem likely eventually to win accreditation.)
Prominent European programs include Oxford University and Cambridge University, School of Oriental and African Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Hamburg, University of Munich, University of Heidelberg, University of Bonn, University of Vienna, Ghent University, and the Sorbonne. In Asia, University of Tokyo and Rissho University have long been a major centers for Buddhist research, and Nalanda University launched a master program at 2016.
A program that focuses on the philosophy preached by Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha, in ancient India and subsequently interpreted by his disciples and apostles; together with the intellectual, cultural, social, and ritual developments of the faith and its branches. Includes instruction in Buddhist sacred literature (Tripitaka, etc.) and study of one or more of the main branches including Early Buddhism, Hinayana, Theravada, Madhyamaka, Yogacara, Pure Land, Shingon, Tendai, Nichiren Shu, Zen, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean,
Scholars and scholar-practitioners
Charles Prebish, a scholar-practitioner and Chair of Religious Studies at Utah State University, states that the Buddhist studies and academics in North American universities include those who are practicing Buddhists, the latter he terms as “scholar-practitioners
There are several Buddhist universities in the United States. Some of these have existed for decades and are accredited. Others are relatively new and are either in the process of being accredited or else have no formal accreditation. The list includes:
- Dhammakaya Open University – located in Azusa, California, part of the Thai Wat Phra Dhammakaya
- Dharmakirti College – located in Tucson, Arizona Now called Awam Tibetan Buddhist Institute
- Dharma Realm Buddhist University – located in Ukiah, California (Accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission)
- Ewam Buddhist Institute – located in Arlee, Montana
- Naropa University is located in Boulder, Colorado (Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission)
- Institute of Buddhist Studies – located in Berkeley, California
- Maitripa College – located in Portland, Oregon
- Soka University of America – located in Aliso Viejo, California
- University of the West – located in Rosemead, California (Accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission)
- Won Institute of Graduate Studies – located in Glenside, Pennsylvania
What Courses Do Buddhist Studies Majors Take?
The required and elective courses you would take for Buddhist Studies majors vary considerably among institutions. Courses are listed here that are illustrative of the breadth of topics you are likely to experience were you to major in this field.
- Foreign Language
- Religious Studies
What other majors are related to Buddhist Studies?
- Applied and Professional Ethics
- Bible/Biblical Studies
- Christian Studies
- Hindu Studies
- Islamic Studies
- Jewish/Judaic Studies
- Missions/Missionary Studies and Missiology
- Religion/Religious Studies
- Religious Education
- Religious/Sacred Music
- Theological and Ministerial Studies
- Theology and Religious Vocations
- Theology/Theological Studies
Buddhism is a religious, philosophical and spiritual practice based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian spiritual teacher from the 5th century, B.C. Those who enroll in Buddhist studies programs explore the history and philosophy of Buddhist teachings. See what you will learn and do in this field, what careers you can pursue and what degree programs are available.
Are Buddhist Studies for Me?
Buddhist studies involve the study of tantric and meditative traditions, as well as Japanese, Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist art and literature. The curricula in these programs introduce you to the languages, literature, religion and history of South and East Asia with a focus on Buddhism, exploring the life and teachings of Buddha through the study of original texts. You might study Buddhism in an interdisciplinary program through university philosophy, language, history, art history or anthropology departments. Some schools offer the opportunity for you to study abroad in a Buddhist region, such as Thailand, China, Japan, Tibet or India.
Earning an undergraduate degree in Buddhist studies allows you to explore career opportunities in several industries, such as business, counseling, law and academia, which is similar to many humanities or social sciences majors. Knowledge of Buddhist teaching could lead to niche jobs in journalism, business, politics or academia. Both undergraduate and graduate programs are available, depending on your career goals.
With a degree in Buddhist studies, you could seek religious vocations or work as a researcher in this field, writing and publishing academic papers on subjects, such as the study of sutras or traditions. You could also work as a postsecondary teacher on the subject, which could combine scholarly, research and writing tasks.
Qualifications for postsecondary teachers include advanced degrees, being able to motivate students and the ability to conduct research and publish findings. Your advancement to a position as a tenured professor typically depends on the review of your contractual agreements and work, in which your teaching, research and general beneficence to the college is considered.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers varied slightly in 2013, depending on the subject taught (www.bls.gov). For instance, philosophy and religion teachers earned $65,540, foreign language and literature teachers earned $58,620, and history teachers earned $66,790. The BLS also projects that the number of jobs for postsecondary teachers overall will increase 19% from 2012-2022; in particular, jobs for philosophy and religion teachers are predicted to increase 19%, jobs for foreign language and literature teachers are predicted to increase 15%, and jobs for history teachers are expected to increase 14% during that same decade.
How Can I Work in Buddhist Studies?
Undergraduate degree programs in Buddhist or religious studies can vary. A Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Asian Religions or a B.A. in Religious Studies can introduce you to Asian languages, which might be required for more advanced study. Some undergraduate programs offer general regional, philosophical or religious studies, while others provide a distinct focus on Buddhism.
A master’s degree program in religion with a focus on Buddhist studies might include intensive coursework in Asian languages, culture and history. You might be required to be able to fluently read and write one or more specific languages before enrolling in a graduate program. Schools could offer ethnographic and historical materials for your research projects. A master’s degree program usually takes up to two years to complete.
Doctoral programs in Buddhist studies, theology and related areas might require you to study Buddhist texts in the original languages, such as Sanskrit, Pali, traditional Chinese, Tibetan or Japanese. Some programs also require fluency in French or German. You’ll be taught how to understand and appreciate cultural, social and historical contexts of Buddhism. You might explore the fields of history, literature, philosophy and anthropology while conducting research. A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) might require 2-7 years of study, and you’ll typically need to create an original dissertation in order to graduate.
Buddhism is a faith that was founded by Siddhartha Gautama (“the Buddha”) more than 2,500 years ago in India. With about 470 million followers, scholars consider Buddhism one of the major world religions. Its practice has historically been most prominent in East and Southeast Asia, but its influence is growing in the West. Many Buddhist ideas and philosophies overlap with those of other faiths.
Some key Buddhism beliefs include:
- Followers of Buddhism don’t acknowledge a supreme god or deity. They instead focus on achieving enlightenment—a state of inner peace and wisdom. When followers reach this spiritual echelon, they’re said to have experienced nirvana.
- The religion’s founder, Buddha, is considered an extraordinary being, but not a god. The word Buddha means “enlightened.”
- The path to enlightenment is attained by utilizing morality, meditation and wisdom. Buddhists often meditate because they believe it helps awaken truth.
- There are many philosophies and interpretations within Buddhism, making it a tolerant and evolving religion.
- Some scholars don’t recognize Buddhism as an organized religion, but rather, a “way of life” or a “spiritual tradition.”
- Buddhism encourages its people to avoid self-indulgence but also self-denial.
- Buddha’s most important teachings, known as The Four Noble Truths, are essential to understanding the religion.
- Buddhists embrace the concepts of karma (the law of cause and effect) and reincarnation (the continuous cycle of rebirth).
- Followers of Buddhism can worship in temples or in their own homes.
- Buddhist monks, or bhikkhus, follow a strict code of conduct, which includes celibacy.
- There is no single Buddhist symbol, but a number of images have evolved that represent Buddhist beliefs, including the lotus flower, the eight-spoked dharma wheel, the Bodhi tree and the swastika (an ancient symbol whose name means “well-being” or “good fortune” in Sanskrit).
Founder of Buddhism
Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism who later became known as “the Buddha,” lived during the 5th century B.C.
Gautama was born into a wealthy family as a prince in present-day Nepal. Although he had an easy life, Gautama was moved by suffering in the world.
He decided to give up his lavish lifestyle and endure poverty. When this didn’t fulfill him, he promoted the idea of the “Middle Way,” which means existing between two extremes. Thus, he sought a life without social indulgences but also without deprivation.
After six years of searching, Buddhists believe Gautama found enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. He spent the rest of his life teaching others about how to achieve this spiritual state.
When Gautama passed away around 483 B.C., his followers began to organize a religious movement. Buddha’s teachings became the foundation for what would develop into Buddhism.
In the 3rd century B.C., Ashoka the Great, the Mauryan Indian emperor, made Buddhism the state religion of India. Buddhist monasteries were built, and missionary work was encouraged.
Over the next few centuries, Buddhism began to spread beyond India. The thoughts and philosophies of Buddhists became diverse, with some followers interpreting ideas differently than others.
In the sixth century, the Huns invaded India and destroyed hundreds of Buddhist monasteries, but the intruders were eventually driven out of the country.
Islam began to spread quickly in the region during the Middle Ages, forcing Buddhism into the background.
Types of Buddhism
Today, many forms of Buddhism exist around the world. The three main types that represent specific geographical areas include:
- Theravada Buddhism: Prevalent in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos and Burma
- Mahayana Buddhism: Prevalent in China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Vietnam
- Tibetan Buddhism: Prevalent in Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Bhutan, and parts of Russia and northern India
Each of these types reveres certain texts and has slightly different interpretations of Buddha’s teachings. There are also several subsects of Buddhism, including Zen Buddhism and Nirvana Buddhism.
Some forms of Buddhism incorporate ideas of other religions and philosophies, such as Taoism and Bon.
Buddha’s teachings are known as “dharma.” He taught that wisdom, kindness, patience, generosity and compassion were important virtues.
Specifically, all Buddhists live by five moral precepts, which prohibit:
- Killing living things
- Taking what is not given
- Sexual misconduct
- Using drugs or alcohol
Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths, which Buddha taught, are:
- The truth of suffering (dukkha)
- The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
- The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
- The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)
Collectively, these principles explain why humans hurt and how to overcome suffering.
The Buddha taught his followers that the end of suffering, as described in the fourth Noble Truths, could be achieved by following an Eightfold Path.
In no particular order, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism teaches the following ideals for ethical conduct, mental disciple and achieving wisdom:
- Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
- Right thought (Samma sankappa)
- Right speech (Samma vaca)
- Right action (Samma kammanta)
- Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
- Right effort (Samma vayama)
- Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
- Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
Buddhist Holy Book
Buddhists revere many sacred texts and scriptures. Some of the most important are:
- Tipitaka: These texts, known as the “three baskets,” are thought to be the earliest collection of Buddhist writings.
- Sutras: There are more than 2,000 sutras, which are sacred teachings embraced mainly by Mahayana Buddhists.
- The Book of the Dead: This Tibetan text describes the stages of death in detail.
The Dalai Lama is the leading monk in Tibetan Buddhism. Followers of the religion believe the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past lama that has agreed to be born again to help humanity. There have been 14 Dalai Lamas throughout history.
The Dalai Lama also governed Tibet until the Chinese took control in 1959. The current Dalai Lama, Lhamo Thondup, was born in 1935.
Every year, Buddhists celebrate Vesak, a festival that commemorates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.
During each quarter of the moon, followers of Buddhism participate in a ceremony called Uposatha. This observance allows Buddhists to renew their commitment to their teachings.
They also celebrate the Buddhist New Year and participate in several other yearly festivals.
How does Buddhism view intoxication?
According to Lopen Tashi Tshering, a lecturer at Institute of Science of Mind, the Buddha had this to say about alcohol, the most abused intoxicant of his time: “Intoxication can lead to the loss of wealth, increased unnecessary confrontations, illness, disrepute, and weakening of wisdom.”
“Intoxicant includes anything we ingest, inhale or inject into our system that distorts consciousness, disrupts self-awareness, and that are detrimental to health,” said Lopen Tashi Tshering.
Production and consumption of alcohol was prevalent long before the time of the Buddha.
He added that Buddha had recognised that indulging in intoxicants (alcohol) led to losing heedfulness, a quality important to achieve realisation. Heedlessness in this context means moral recklessness, obscuring the clarity of mind to understand the bounds between what is right and what is wrong.
The Buddha, therefore, included the downside of intoxication in a duelwa sutra: “One is to refrain from drinking even a drop of alcohol and taking intoxicants because they are the cause of heedlessness. If any Buddhists succumb to the lure of intoxicating drinks, they shall not consider me as a teacher.”
“Though the precept started off as a ban on the drinking of alcohol, it has since been expanded to the use of modern intoxicants,” said Lopen Tashi Tshering. “This means, the modern issue of intoxication which includes incredibly wide range of addictive substances and unwholesome pleasures can be considered as transgression of fifth vow according to Buddhism.”
However, taking medication containing alcohol and other intoxicants for genuine medical reason does not count. Similarly, neither does eating food flavored with a small amount of liquor of violate the precept. This, Lopen Tashi Tshering, said was because one’s intention to take the medicine was to cure one’s sickness.
A traditional Buddhist reason for abstaining from alcohol and drugs was that intoxication inevitably led to the breach of other precepts, he said.
Buddha had prescribed five precepts for the followers as the minimal moral observances: abstinence from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and use of intoxicants.
Alcoholism and intoxication of the substances are a costly burden on the modern societies.
The teachings of Buddha do not say anything directly about smoking. However, the Buddhist prohibition of tobacco and smoking came later in the time of Guru Padmasambhava.
Understanding the detrimental effects of smoking, Guru Rinpoche prohibited the use of tobacco, according to Lopen Tashi Tshering.
Elaborating on how Guru Rinpoche imposed the prohibition, he explained that Guru had clearly seen the effects the fumes from the cigarettes have on the gods and asuras above and local deities around. Similarly, he also understood that the spitting harmed the ants and insects on the earth and deities underneath.
Lopen Tashi Tshering said that abusing drug was equal to poisoning oneself slowly to your death. “Once a person chooses to do what is illegal, disrespectful of god and potentially damaging to their health and spiritual well-being, it affects their luck and I suppose this is the reason why a number of youths commit suicide today.”
In Buddhism, another factor to consider is its belief about life after death, meaning that our stream of consciousness does not terminate with death but continues on in other forms that we may take into six realms: 1) gods, (2) asuras, (3) humans, (4) animals, (5) hungry ghosts, and (6) hell beings, which is determined by our habits, propensities, and actions in this present life.
According to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, a person who indulges in intoxication in present life suffers consequences of their actions through all lives that they may take in any forms, Lopen Tashi Tshering said.
Is Buddhism a religion?
Let’s start with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who says “Buddhism is not a religion, it’s a practice, similarly to yoga, which you can do irrespective of religious beliefs”.
This statement is a controversial, both to some Buddhist and to others, so let’s define religion and take a closer look at how Buddhism relates to the definition of religion.
Merriam-Webster defines religion as: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” and the Cambridge Dictionary defines religion as: “The belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship”.
Based on this it’s fair to conclude that the definition of religion includes a supernatural element with the power to influence humans. We find this in the Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam, and polytheistic belief systems such as Hinduism.
The first key question then is whether Buddhists believe in “supernatural elements with the power to influence humans”.
The answer is not straight-forward because there are many different branches of Buddhism but weighing it all in… the answer is No.
Bhikkhu Bodhi, an active monk in the Theravada tradition and prolific author on Buddhism, writes in his foreword to Acharya Buddharakkhita’s translation of the Dhammapada, the most widely known text from the Pali canon (suttas):
“To his followers, the Buddha is neither a god, a divine incarnation, or a prophet bearing a message of divine revelation, but a human being who by his own striving and intelligence has reached the highest spiritual attainment of which man is capable — perfect wisdom, full enlightenment, complete purification of mind.”
Buddhists do not believe in supernatural elements with the power to influence humans and thus can’t be defined as a religion.
“Well, what about Pure Land and Tibetan Buddhism?” you may ask.
Yes, true. Pure Land is indeed theistic and there are religious-like features in Tibetan Buddhism.
What about Pure Land buddhism?
Let’s start with Pure Land, which to my knowledge, is the only Buddhist branch that links enlightenment directly to the devotion to a supreme being.
Followers of Pure Land are also called amidists and their sect amidism after their deity Amitābha Buddha. I’ll use Pure Land and amidism interchangeably.
Amidism is sometimes questioned as to whether it is “real” Buddhism, more on this further down when we discuss the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha is the Buddha of our current era born around 500 BCE and when I refer to Buddha in this text I mean Siddharta, as opposed to Amitābha Buddha, the deity of Pure Land, and other buddhas.
The core premise of amidism is that we can attain rebirth in the Pure Land by reciting the name of Amitābha Buddha and visualising the Pure Land.
Pure Land was founded in the first century CE as an antidote to what is called the Dharma Decline, or the Latter Day of the Dharma.
The Latter Day of the Dharma is said to begin 2000 years after the death of Buddha (around 1500 CE) and last for 10,000 years or more and is described as an age of corruption when people are born without the seed of Buddhahood.
Amidists believe that during the Dharma Decline we must strive to be reborn in on a higher plane, a pure land, to keep the teachings of Buddha alive.
Rebirth in the Pure Land is not the final destination though, it’s a station on the path to Nirvana: the ultimate release from suffering (dukkha) and the end of the cycles of rebirth.
Furthermore, amidism doesn’t make a difference between rich or poor, royalty or farmer but makes rebirth in the Pure Land accessible to all that recite the name Amitābha Buddha. Hence Pure Land spread fast and is today one of the main religions in East Asia.
So yes, this branch of Buddhism falls under the definition of religion.
Tibetan Buddhism has religion-like features.
If the Pure Land definition as a religion is straight forward, the discussion on Tibetan Buddhism is anything but.
To discuss Tibetan Buddhism we must first recognise that it’s influenced by the local spiritual pre-Buddhist tradition of Bon.
Like many other indigenous religions Bon worship many gods, both household gods to dispel evil spirits and protect the house, and universal gods that governs communal life. The most prominent communal god is the White Old Man and his companions. Chinese philosopher Confucius is also worshipped as a deity of magic, divination and astrology.
Bon was assimilated into what we today know as Tibetan Buddhism, especially in the Nyingma school.
Tibetan Buddhists do pray to deities, however, they are not deities that can exert influence on the humans like in the Abrahamic religions. They have God-like qualities by being enlightened perfect humans with very long lives. By praying to Tibetan deities we can catch a glimpse of and easier access those God-like qualities inside ourselves.
So, is Tibetan Buddhism a religion? Well, it depends but I think I’m fair if I say that practising Tibetan Buddhists do consider it a religion.
What about Zen and the arhats then?
Good question. In Zen Buddhism we recognise sixteen arhats, in Chinese Chan Buddhism expanded to eighteen, often translated as angels. The translation to angels is based on a Christian view seeking an understanding from a Biblical frame of reference and I would argue that a more correct translation would be archetypes.
The arhats, or luohans, are depicted as the original followers of Buddha and treated as examples of behaviours. As an example, the fifth arhat is Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of the Shaolin Monastery and the creator of the root form of what long after his death was codified into what we call Shaolin KungFu.
What did Buddha say?
First we took a brief 10,000 feet view of Buddhism and compared it to two definitions of religion. We then continued to acknowledge that two branches of Buddhism, Pure Land and Tibetan Buddhism, and can in the case of Pure Land it can be classified as a religion, and in the case of Tibetan Buddhism the answer is “Well, sort of, yes”. Finally we clarified the meaning of arhat as examples of behaviours to aspire towards.
If we now look at Buddha’s teachings we need to start return to the Pali canon as it’s considered the truest words of Buddha.
A central discourse in the Pali canon is the Kālāma sutta, often referred to by Theravada and Mahayana practitioners as Buddha’s “charter of free inquiry”.
Theravada monk Soma Thera says about the Kālāma sutta:
“The instruction of the Kalamas (Kalama Sutta) is justly famous for its encouragement of free inquiry; the spirit of the sutta signifies a teaching that is exempt from fanaticism, bigotry, dogmatism, and intolerance.”
The Kālāma sutta starts by telling the story of Buddha coming to the village of Kesaputta in north-eastern India where the ruling tribe of Kalama greet him.
The Kalama tribe tells Buddha there are many wandering holy men and ascetics passing through the village and all them have different teachings, all calling the Kalamas to follow them.
The Kalamas’ question to Buddha was simple: Whose teachings should we follow?
Buddha answers that doubt is good and proceeds to name ten specific sources of knowledge which should not be viewed as truthful without further investigation.
He names oral history, news, scriptures, reasoning, dogmatism, common sense, own opinion, experts and authorities and your teacher. None of which that should be considered truthful on its own.
Instead, the Buddha says, only when one personally knows that a certain teaching is skilful, blameless, praiseworthy, conducive to happiness, and is praised by the wise, should one accept it as true and practice it.
Here I can’t help to think of current times plagued by fake news, polarisation, crowds for hire, social media, and general dumbification. If only people would read and live by the 2500 year old Kālāma sutta.
Two important notes here:
1, Some secular Buddhists seeking to fully marry Buddhism with modern science claim the Kālāma sutta is a justification for pure logical reasoning (ākāra-parivitakka) to determine the viability of a teaching.
2, Some Buddhists claim the essence of the Kālāma sutta is to rely on personal experience (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā) alone to validate the truthfulness of a teaching. This has led to what Bhikkhu Bodhi describes as “Buddha has been made out to be a pragmatic empiricist who dismisses all doctrine and faith, and whose Dhamma is simply a freethinker’s kit to truth which invites each one to accept and reject whatever he likes.”
These two points are actually the opposite of what Buddha teaches.
He says don’t rely on any of the ten sources of knowledge alone and test your conclusion against The Three Poisons (triviṣa).
Ask yourself: Does it lead me on a path free from ignorance, greed and hate?
Buddha then proceeds to state The Four Solaces commented upon by Soma Thera as follows:
“The four solaces taught in the sutta point out the extent to which the Buddha permits suspense of judgment in matters beyond normal cognition. The solaces show that the reason for a virtuous life does not necessarily depend on belief in rebirth or retribution, but on mental well-being acquired through the overcoming of greed, hate, and delusion.”
How to Become a Buddhist
Buddhism is the teaching of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) about the truth of life and universe. His teachings include such concepts as the Four Noble Truths, Karma, and the cycle of rebirth (reincarnation) and offer ways to liberate ourselves from sufferings and reincarnation. It is a whole school of teaching called dharma which is much older than the word “religion”. Buddhism is still a popular “religion” nowadays with millions of practitioners. The first step to becoming a Buddhist is understanding basic Buddhist beliefs and this wikiHow will help you decide if Buddhism is the right religion for you. If so, you can practice Buddhism and take part in centuries-old traditions
Part1Understanding Basic Buddhist Concepts
- 1Learn basic Buddhist terminology. This will make it much easier to understand everything you will read, since many Buddhist terms can be very unfamiliar, especially to Westerners. The basic terms of Buddhism include but are not limited to:
- Arhat: a being who has attained Nirvana.
- Bodhisattva: a being who is on the way to enlightenment.
- Buddha: an awakened being who has achieved perfect enlightenment. Becoming a Buddha is the ultimate goal of Buddhism as highlighted by Shakyamuni Buddha in many scriptures such as The Lotus Sutra.
- Dharma: a complicated term that usually refers to the teachings of the Buddha.
- Nirvana: spiritual bliss that transcends beyond duality, language, time, space and perception. It was often described by Shakyamuni Buddha using the metaphor of a mirror, that a mirror reflects images of all objects without any differentiation Nirvana is a result after attaining enlightenment.
- Sangha: the Buddhist community.
- Sutra: a sacred Buddhist text.
- Venerable: The title of an ordained monk or nun, seen wearing the specific colored robes of their tradition and sect.
- 2Familiarize yourself with different Buddhist schools. The two most popular Buddhist schools today are Theravada and Mahayana. Though these two schools have the same basic beliefs, there are differences in the teachings they focus on: Mahayana focuses heavily on becoming a bodhisattva, Theravada focuses on practicing the dharma, and so on.
- There are many other schools of Buddhism, such as Nichiren Shoshu, Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Esoteric Buddhism.
- Schools of Buddhism are far from being the same. There are similarities to a degree but many schools of Buddhism have gone off on tangents over time.
- Because Buddhism is such an ancient religion, there are many intricate differences between all the schools that cannot be covered in detail here; spend time researching Buddhism to find out more.
- 3Read about the life of Siddhartha Gautama. There are many books talking about the founder of Buddhism, and a simple online search will reveal many articles about his life as well. Siddhartha Gautama was a prince who left his palace and lavish lifestyle to seek enlightenment. Though he is not the only Buddha in existence, he is the historical founder of Buddhism.
- 4Learn about the Four Noble Truths. One of the most foundational concepts of Buddhism is summarized a teaching called the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. In other words, suffering exists, it has a cause and an end, and there is a way to bring about the end of suffering.
- 5Learn about reincarnation and nirvana. Buddhists believe sentient beings live multiple lives. Once a sentient being dies, they are born into a new life, and this cycle of living and dying continues eternally. A being can be reborn in a variety of forms and conditions of life. One of the important goals of Buddhism is to stop reincarnation and attain Nirvana.
- 6Understand karma. Karma is closely intertwined with reincarnation and nirvana because karma determines where and when a being will be reborn. Karma consists of the good or bad actions of previous lifetimes and this lifetime. Bad or good karma may affect a being right away, thousands of years from now, or in five lifetimes, depending on when the effects are meant to occur.
- Negative karma results from bad actions or thoughts, like killing, stealing, or lying.
- Positive karma results from good actions or thoughts, such as generosity, kindness, and spreading Buddhist teachings.
- Neutral karma results from actions that have no real effect, such as breathing or sleeping
- 1Find a temple you feel comfortable joining. Many major cities have a Buddhist temple, but each temple will stem from a different school (such as Theravada or Zen), and each will certainly offer different services, classes, and activities. The best way to learn about temples near you is to visit them and talk to a Venerable or lay devotee.
- Ask about what services and activities the temple offers.
- Explore the different shrines.
- Attend a few services and see if you like the atmosphere.
- 2Become a part of the community. Like most religions, Buddhism has a strong sense of community, and the devotees and monks are welcoming and informative. Begin attending classes and making friends at your temple.
- Many Buddhist communities will travel together to different Buddhist temples across the world. This is a fun way to get involved.
- If at first you feel shy or nervous, this is perfectly normal.
- Buddhism is the most popular religion in many countries like Japan, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Korea, Sri Lanka, China etc.
- 3Inquire about taking refuge in the Triple Gem. The Triple Gem consists of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. When you take refuge in the Triple Gem, you will likely undergo a ceremony in which you vow to uphold the Five Precepts, which are to not kill, not steal, not commit sexual misconduct, refrain from false speech, and not consume intoxicants.
- The specific aspects of the ceremony will vary from temple to temple.
- Do not feel obligated to take the Three Refuges, since upholding Buddhist morality is the most important part of this religion.
- If you cannot take the Three Refuges because of cultural reasons, or if you cannot find a temple near you, you can still uphold the Five Precepts.
- Once you take refuge in Buddhism, you are officially a Buddhist.
Part3Practicing Buddhism in Daily Life
- 1Keep connected to the Buddhist community. Attending classes at the temple where you took refuge is a great way to stay connected to the Buddhist community. A quick note upon visiting temples, don’t sit with the bottoms of your feet towards altars, Buddha statues, or monks. Women may not touch monks in any way, even to shake hands, and men cannot do the same with nuns. A simple bow will do. Most temples offer lessons in yoga, meditation, or various sutra lessons. Spend time with friends and family members who are Buddhist, too.
- 2Study Buddhism regularly. Many translated sutras are available online, your temple might have a library, or you can buy sutras. There are also many different Venerable monks and lay Buddhists who have written explanations of Buddhist sutras. Some of the most popular Buddhist sutras are: The Diamond Sutra, The Heart Sutra, and The Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
- Teach others what you have learned about Buddhism once you think you’ve mastered a concept.
- There are hundreds of Buddhist concepts and teachings to study, but try not to feel overwhelmed or pressured to “get it” right away.
- Attend classes taught by a Venerable or lay devotee at your temple.
- 3Uphold the Five Precepts. When you took refuge in the Triple Gem, you vowed to uphold the Five Precepts, but this can be difficult at times. Do your best to not kill any living creature, do not steal, do not commit sexual misconduct, be honest, and do not consume addictive intoxicants such as alcohol or drugs that makes you lose control of your mind. If you break the precepts, simply repent, and do your best to keep upholding them.
- 4Practice the Middle Way. This is an important part of Buddhism which requires Buddhists to lead a balanced life that is not too lavish or too stringent. The Middle Way is also known as the “Noble Eightfold Path,” which teaches Buddhists to abide by eight elements. Spend time studying all eight:
- Right view
- Right intention
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
- A good Honours degree at class 2:1 or above.
- Skype interview required.
- The course welcomes international applicants and requires an English level of IELTS 6.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component or equivalent.
However, because students may come from diverse backgrounds, alternative evidence of aptitude for academic study may be taken into consideration.
FEES AND FUNDING
Full-time fees are per year. Part-time fees are per 20 credits. Once enrolled, the fee will remain at the same rate throughout the duration of your study on this course.
August 2021 – July 2022 Fees
Students have access to a wide range of resources including textbooks, publications, and computers in the University’s library and via online resources. In most cases they are more than sufficient to complete a course of study. Where there are additional costs, either obligatory or optional, these are detailed below. Of course students may choose to purchase their own additional personal resources/tools over and above those listed to support their studies at their own expense. All stationery and printing costs are at a student’s own expense.
|Other : Text books, per taught module *||£120 – £160||Note that this is the average for each taught module. Access to text books is obligatory for each taught module, but that these may be available in local academic libraries and many can be found second hand.|
|Kit (Uniform and Equipment)||We don’t require students to purchase kit.|
|Placement expenses:||Students are encouraged to undertake a period of work placement. Student’s undertaking placement may incur costs associated with travel and expected workplace attire will vary according to the placement.|
|Other : Textbooks||£105.43|
The MA Buddhist Studies course will provide you with advanced level skills and knowledge related to Buddhism, and also forms an excellent basis for those wishing to pursue further academic study in the field.
The Controversy Surrounding Buddha Tattoos
In this piece about Buddha tattoos, we will not only give you a brief intro into Buddhism, but we’ll also examine the legality, controversy, and cultural importance of Buddha representations. Additionally, we’ve curated some of the best Buddha tattoo designs as inspiration!
Why Buddhism and Buddha Tattoos?
The teachings of Buddha reach far and wide. And there are many reasons why so many people resonate with the life that he led, the lessons that he taught. Buddhism may have been split over many different sects over the centuries, but the foundation is much the same: the Four Noble Truths.
These four truths acknowledge the undeniable existence of suffering but they also provide a relief for that suffering…and not just yours, but everyone. The key to freedom from innate pain is The Noble Eightfold Path: a practice that includes compassion, meditation, mindfulness, giving, and other common traits that have a powerful, as well as positive, effect on the world.
Beyond Buddha’s wonderful advice to live a more fulfilling life he also taught us that all sentient beings have what is called “Tathāgatagarbha”: inherent Buddha nature. Meaning that anyone, and everyone, already has enlightenment within them…they just have to uncover it.
Buddhism is, at its core, beautifully inclusive…and it’s all of these things, and many more that have inspired so many people to follow his way or to illustrate their skin with depictions of him whether it be a small Buddha tattoo or a Buddha symbol tattoo. Believe me, there are many ways to show your love…and ink is just one of them that can be highly transformative if done in a way that is pure of heart
Buddha Tattoo FAQ
What is the meaning of Buddha tattoo?
The meaning of a Buddha tattoo is usually all about love and a devotion to the Buddhist practice. Similar to someone getting a cross tattoo, or a rosary bead tattoo, a Buddha tattoo denotes that a person is serious about their faith and wants to show this on their skin. However, some people simply like the aesthetics of Buddhist culture which may not be the right reason to get a Buddha tattoo, as we explain below.
Are Buddha tattoos offensive?
A Buddha tattoo can be offensive to some people in varying cultures, especially those that keep Buddhism at the core of its religious or value system. The teachings of Buddha, and depictions of him, are considered deeply sacred and holy. They deserve respect especially because they are not meant to be merely decorative or ornamental.
Is it disrespectful to have a Buddha tattoo?
Yes. It can be disrespectful. Yoni Zilber, a tattooist who specializes in Tibetan art, explains, “Images of the Buddha and Tibetan mantras are very sacred and should be respected. It is customary to hang pictures of Buddha at the highest place in your house, and treat it with respect. If you put it on your body, especially on a lower part, it can be seen as extremely disrespectful. You sit on the toilet with this part of the body and lay it on the sand at the beach. The Buddha is not supposed to end up in such inappropriate places.”
Can Buddhist monks get tattoos?
Yes, Buddhist monks can get tattoos! Perhaps the most famous example of this are the monks of Wat Bang Phra. The Buddhist monks of this Thailand based temple practice the sacred art of Sak Yant tattoos. But however, believe it or not, there are many different monks who are also tattooed.
Alexander Reinke, also known as Horikitsune, is a skilled Irezumi tattooist who was ordained as a Zen monk in 2011. Josh Korda, although he chooses not to be an ordained monk, is tattooed from the top of his head to toe, and he is extremely significant to the United State’s contemporary Buddhist community.
Smoking among Buddhist monks
According to existing studies, Buddhist monks can have an impact on smoking cessation in a given population.1 2 It is because of their influence that Buddhist monks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia were selected for a study of their knowledge, attitudes, and practices concerning tobacco, with the long term objective of developing ways of enlisting their support in tobacco control efforts in Cambodia.
The 30 cluster survey method was employed, wherein all of the temples in the city were listed and, according to the number of monks residing at them, 30 sites were randomly selected for interviewing from seven to 11 monks each for a total of 318 interviews. Questions were designed to reflect the potentially sensitive issue of smoking among religious practitioners. There were no cases of interview refusal.
When all 318 respondents were asked, “Do you want to quit smoking?” 44% gave some type of answer other than “not applicable”: 37% said “yes”, 3% “no”, and 4% “not sure”. Also, when all respondents were asked, “Why do you want/not want to quit?” a total of 44% gave some reason. Finally, when asked, “What do you do with the tobacco gift packages you receive?” 44% of the 318 respondents mentioned that they smoke the gift tobacco themselves. These figures lead us to believe that the prevalence of current smokers among Buddhist monks is 44%. In comparison, smoking prevalence among the general male population in Phnom Penh is almost 65% (1994) and among Buddhist monks in Thailand 56% (1990).
Of the influences to start smoking 26% of respondents said that an individual friend was the main influence to start smoking; 18% responded group pressure from friends or other monks; 21% complimentary cigarettes; 12% work/stress; 8% father’s influence; 3% advertising; and 12% other reasons. As can be seen, these two influences alone—individual friends and group pressure—were responsible for almost half of all influences to start smoking.
When asked what they thought the teachings of Buddha have to say about smoking, 91% of respondents said the teachings of Buddha do not say anything; but when asked if there should be a Buddhist law that recommends monks do not smoke, 71% replied “yes”. When asked if the government should require warning messages on all tobacco advertising, 94% agreed; 96% agreed that the government should ban all tobacco advertising.
About one third (34%) of all respondents thought that people should not offer cigarettes to monks, while an equivalent percentage (38%) thought people should. Another approximately one third was not sure. These figures can be partially explained by a question in the survey that asked what monks did with the tobacco gift packages. Over 50% “give” the cigarettes away. More commonly, the cigarettes are sold or bartered for extra income, but it would not be appropriate, according to Buddhist principles, to admit this.
Direct assistance for smoking cessation programmes is urgently needed: 84% of smokers want to quit; if a program was available to help people stop smoking, 95% of smokers said they would attend; 86% of all respondents would be willing to teach people about the effects of smoking.
The pattern of responses indicates that, even though the teachings of Buddha do not say anything about smoking directly, there is a stigma tied to smoking that inhibits many monks from admitting their smoking habits directly. The large majority of monks feel that smoking is not an appropriate practice and that there should be a Buddhist law that recommends they do not smoke.
Most monks, however, have little understanding of the specific detrimental effects smoking has on them, as well as the effects of second hand smoke. Health education is needed to raise such awareness, as are cessation programmes to help bring about desired behaviour changes.
The small scale of this research makes it difficult to generalise conclusions for monks throughout the country. However, it does provide useful insights into some trends in tobacco use among monks in Cambodia and highlights a number of important issues for further research. Most importantly, this study reveals the potential that exists for successful cooperation with monks in tobacco control efforts in Cambodia.
Buddhism dietary practices
Siddhartha Gautama, or the ”Buddha,” founded Buddhism in the 5th to 4th century B.C. in the eastern part of India. Today, it’s practiced worldwide
Several forms of Buddhism exist globally, including Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana. Each type has slightly different interpretations of Buddha’s teaching, particularly when it comes to dietary practices.
Five ethical teachings govern how Buddhists live.
One of the teachings prohibits taking the life of any person or animal. Many Buddhists interpret this to mean that you should not consume animals, as doing so would require killing.
Buddhists with this interpretation usually follow a lacto-vegetarian diet. This means they consume dairy products but exclude eggs, poultry, fish, and meat from their diet.
On the other hand, other Buddhists consume meat and other animal products, as long as the animals aren’t slaughtered specifically for them.
Nonetheless, most dishes considered Buddhist are vegetarian, despite not all traditions requiring lay followers of Buddhism to follow this diet (2).
Alcohol and other restrictions
Another ethical teaching of Buddhism prohibits intoxication from alcohol given that it clouds the mind and can lead you to break other religious rules.
Still, lay followers of the religion often disregard this teaching, as some traditional ceremonies incorporate alcohol.
Aside from alcohol, some Buddhists avoid consuming strong-smelling plants, specifically garlic, onion, chives, leeks, and shallots, as these vegetables are thought to increase sexual desire when eaten cooked and anger when eaten raw (3).
Fasting refers to abstaining from all or certain types of foods or drinks.
The practice — specifically intermittent fasting — is becoming increasingly popular for weight loss, but it’s also often done for religious purposes.
Buddhists are expected to abstain from food from noon until the dawn of the following day as a way to practice self-control
However, as with the exclusion of meat and alcohol, not all Buddhists or lay followers of the religion fast.
Diet pros and cons
Every diet, including the Buddhist diet, has pros and cons to consider.
A Buddhist diet follows a primarily plant-based approach.
A plant-based diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans, but it may also include some animal products.
This diet provides important compounds, such as antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which have been associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer
Aside from these health benefits, following a plant-based or vegetarian diet may also benefit your waistline.
One study demonstrated that Buddhists who followed a vegetarian diet for 11–34 years had less body fat than those who followed the diet for 5–10 years — and even less body fat than those who followed it for 3–4 years
Vegetarian diets that restrict the intake of meat can be deficient in certain nutrients if they aren’t planned appropriately — even if they permit eggs and dairy.
Studies have found that Buddhist lacto-vegetarians had calorie intakes similar to those of non-vegetarian Catholics. However, they had higher intakes of folate, fiber, and vitamin A and consumed less protein and iron
Consequently, they had lower levels of iron and vitamin B12. Low levels of these nutrients can cause anemia, a condition characterized by a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells
Aside from iron and vitamin B12, other nutrients that vegetarians may be lacking include vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc
Still, it’s possible to consume a nutritionally adequate vegetarian diet by planning properly and taking supplements to fill any nutritional gaps.
Pros and cons of fasting
Fasting is an important practice in Buddhism. Buddhists generally fast from noon to dawn of the following day.
Depending on your preferences and schedule, you may find fasting for approximately 18 hours every day to either be a pro or con of the Buddhist diet.
Consuming your entire daily calorie intake before noon can not only be physically difficult but also interfere with your social and professional life.
On the other hand, you may find fasting convenient and helpful for weight loss, if that’s a goal of yours.
In a 4-day study in 11 overweight adults, those fasting for 18 hours had better blood sugar control and increased expression of genes involved in autophagy — a process that replaces damaged cells with healthy ones — compared with those fasting for 12 hours
While these results are promising, longer studies are necessary to make definitive conclusions about whether the practice is superior to a standard reduced-calorie diet for weight loss and other health benefits