Nichiren Buddhist Association of America

Nichiren Buddhist Association of America
Discovering the unknown within through a revolution in religious thinking

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Questions and Answers
Do Buddhists believe in God?
Who do they believe in, then?
They believe in the potential of life and view it as something miraculous and wonderful in itself. They try to develop and hone that miraculous and wonderful spirit within themselves and help others do the same.
Was the Buddha a God?
No, he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god or even the messenger from a god. He was just a man who focused on developing himself into a compassionate and wise person and taught others to do the same.
If the Buddha is not a god, then why do people worship him?
We don't worship him. Nichiren Buddhism is religion centered around people like you and me becoming Buddhas. A Buddha is an unusually compassionate person who has dedicated his or her life to teaching all living beings how to become Buddhas, too. For a truly compassionate person wouldn't hoard happiness and simply say "Look at how compassionate and happy I am compared to you!" Therefore, any person who teaches a working method to attain Buddhahood is by definition a Buddha. Any person can become a Buddha, and teach the teachings of a Buddha. That is why you often see Buddhists referring to the teachings of various Buddhas. These people are not considered gods or supernatural beings but rather ordinary people who discovered extraordinary things about the nature of human potential for good. Shakyamuni ("The Buddha") is simply one of those people.
But I have heard people say that Buddhists worship idols.
Those people are wrong, simply put. They have not understood Buddhism.
Why do you sometimes say "Nichiren Buddhism" and other times say "Buddhism"? Is there a distinction?
Where we cannot speak for other sects of Buddhism, we don't. We try not to speak for them as a matter of course. There are many different variations of Buddhism throughout the world that don't necessarily believe what we believe.
Why are there so many different forms of Buddhism?

The main reason is that the Buddha himself (who, as we established earlier, was not a god and was not perfect) taught many different philosophies throughout his life. As he developed, so did his teachings. His early teachings were very simplistic and reminiscent of teachings like Islam or Christianity in that they offered people a philosophy consisting of monastic rules and analogous myths. As he developed his understanding of life, his teachings grew more and more profound and complex. His earlier teachings are categorized as Theravada Buddhism, or Hinayana Buddhism as it is sometimes called. His later teachings are referred to as Mahayana Buddhism. NBAA teaches a form of Mahayana Buddhism. Even among the two major categories of Buddhism, Buddhism is still further segregated by various teachings. NBAA follows the last teaching of Shakyamuni's, called the Lotus Sutra.

Further adding to the divisions among Buddhism is the history of its spread. As it spread throughout the world, many groups incorporated the religions of the region in with the Buddhist teachings further separating them from the core teachings of the Buddha himself and creating more individual sects of Buddhism. Often when you find Buddhists seeming to worship deities or statues, it is due to the influence of another religion that was incorporated into the teaching of that particular sect at some time in the history of its development.

How do you know that your form of Buddhism is the correct form of Buddhism to believe in?
While deciding which religion to practice might be a lot of work, the method by which to decide is pretty simple to understand and utilize. All you have to do is go back to the purpose of Buddhism -- to lead all people to enlightenment, or Buddhahood. Find a teaching (whether it's called Buddhism or not) that is capable of achieving those ends. Then you're done. We are all in constant development. As we grow, so should our belief system. If you can outgrow your belief system, you should discard it and find one that can keep up with your development as a human being.
Who was Nichiren?
He was a Buddha. He was a follower of the teachings of the Lotus Sutra.
Do Nichiren Buddhists worship Nichiren rather than the Buddha?
If you don't believe in God or the Bible, couldn't anyone make up any religion they wanted to, then?
Yes. And they do. It's up to us to decipher what is true and what is false in the universe and in religion. We do this anyway, whether we believe in the Bible or not. Believing in the Bible is itself a human decision to follow a particular teaching. For instance, why not follow the Torah or the Koran, both Holy works said to be inspired by God? It's a human decision that one work is the work of God and the other isn't.
Why is it that you don't often hear of the charitable work being done by Buddhists?

It would be wrong to believe that Buddhist churches and individuals don't do charitable work. Churches from every major religion do charitable work. The distinction isn't about whether they are willing to do charitable work but whether they have the resources to do it.

If you look closely, you'll find Buddhist groups helping a number of secular charities and even charities run by other religious groups. If you don't see them doing charity work, then it's probably just because you aren't really looking. It is true, though, that they don't boast a lot about the charity work they do. They really don't feel they have any need to. Buddhism is not about doing this good deed or that one, per se, but about becoming the type of person you wish to become. Charity is a matter of human nature. Based on the existence of numerous secular and religious charity organizations, we can surmise that doing good deeds in society is human, not religious. We think humans are likely to want to do them as a matter of course.

If it does require some kind of philosophy in order to teach people to be good, such a philosophy does exist in Buddhist doctrine. It's much more complicated than a set of rules, though. It's the theory of karma. For the purposes of this discussion, let's just say that karma means that we want to behave in a way that leads to the type of world in which we would want to live. We strive for the betterment of humanity, a decrease in suffering and an increase in happiness of living beings.

It's important to consider that people can also be taught to behave in evil ways. This is where other religions come into play. Some major religions contain a code of conduct that instructs people to harm to others, and then they're surprised to find that they have to then tell people explicitly in what ways not to harm others. For instance, the Bible says to kill people who sin against God. Once you begin to degrade life, it becomes difficult to distinguish in what ways it's okay to degrade life and in what ways we should respect it. Buddhism teaches us to always value life in every circumstance. So there isn't a question of when to be kind to others and when to harm them. There is no confusion on this matter. The first precept of Buddhism is to not harm living beings. That includes killing, stealing, or causing any kind of suffering to any living being, human or non-human. In fact, Buddhism is all about eliminating suffering or, alternately, creating happiness in the world. That's its primary function. Therefore, there is no need to distinguish between when to do good from when to harm people. Without the tenants of false religions to cloud our vision, we should all inherently know that we should always do whatever we can to help other living beings without having to be told.

The point of Buddhism is to become the type of person you want to become, not to point to how good others are. So the very nature of our religion prevents us from pointing out the good deeds of other Buddhists for fear that when people hear of these other people, they will tend to follow them rather than becoming great people in their own right. Maybe that very outlook on the matter is why Buddhists aren't boastful about their own good deeds or those of other Buddhists.

Without a work of God telling you what to do, how do you know right from wrong?

We propose that humans are capable of discerning right from wrong on their own. You don't need a book to teach you right from wrong. The Ten Commandments are a limited list of instructions (not incorporating the vast majority of our daily decisions) and are not uniquely divine. Human beings were able to come to similar ideas throughout the course of history. Buddhist priests were required to adopt no less than 277 precepts, none of which involved death or punishment for taking the Buddha's name in vain. It is therefore not outside of the grasp of humans to understand morality of their own accord. If the Bible were truly a work of God, it would seem that humans are actually better at devising moral codes of conduct than God is, considering that the first four of the Ten Commandments are not actually moral codes of conduct at all but religious dogma.

For all of the morals supposedly taught by other religions, they are actually doing society a tremendous amount of harm. Deuteronomy, for instance, commands men to stone their brides to death on their wedding night if they should find out that she is not a virgin. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21) Slavery is encouraged, even the selling of our daughters. (Leviticus 25:44-46, Exodus 21:7-11, Ephesians 6:5, 1 Timothy 6:1-4) And what should happen if we did take God's name in vain, as the Ten Commandments forbid? We would have to be killed! It is the moral obligation of followers of the Bible to defend God's name. Osama bin Laden, thought to us Americans to be the definition of evil, believes he is simply protecting the righteous followers of Allah. Bin Laden doesn't think of himself as evil. He has been deluded by his religion. Bad religions, specifically those that have believed in gods, have been a source of evil throughout human history. They confuse our natural sense of right from wrong; they don't define it.

If Buddhists don't believe they will be punished after death, then why would they bother to follow the precepts of Buddhism? Of what use are they?

For one, humans are not inherently evil. The majority of us want to do what is right. If a person doesn't want to do what's right, no amount of Holy Scripture is going to keep them from doing what they want to do. If you can look at yourself and say that if you didn't believe in the concept of hell, you would go around raping and murdering people, then you should know that you are not okay. You seriously need some help. But there are such people, right? What about them? That is the precise reason why, as a society, we should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent such people from causing harm to others. We use the prison system in a twofold way. One is to discourage sociopaths from committing the first offense, and the other is to prevent them from committing more crimes in the future after committing the first one.

Another answer to this question revolves around the Buddhist theory of cause and effect (karma). A simplified version can be explained in this way: When you commit an action, you will get a response in kind. For instance, the reason most of us go to work doesn't involve a belief in the Bible. We do it for the money.

Statistically, belief in a deity, Christianity or whatever, is not associated with greater moral outcomes.

Buddhism has a tested and verified method to tap the source of compassion, mindfulness, and rejuvenation from within. Buddhism speaks to the fundamental levels of causes and effects, which originate from a deeper source (remember the sociopath) than the superficial level of being told what to do.

Feeling love for others is one the greatest sources of human happiness. If compassion were dependent upon religious dogmatism, how could we explain the work of secular doctors in the most war-ravaged regions of the developing world? In fact, religious dogma is actually a hindrance to true compassion.




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