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Misconceptions about Buddhism

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Some of the many Misconceptions about Buddhism:

1. The Buddha is the fat guy.

The statue of a bald, fat Buddha is actually a Chinese monk who lived in the 9th century AD.

2. All Buddhists are bald.

Although the shaving of the head is sometimes fashionable, such as the basketball players in the 1990's, the shaved head is one sign of being a monk or a nun in the Buddhist tradition, where it is considered to be one less thing to identify with or be attached to. Lay people rarely shave their heads and primarily do so for the same reasons non-Buddhists do so; for ease, comfort, or fashion.

3. All Buddhists are vegetarians.

Many Buddhists choose a vegetarian diet to better practice the First Precept, but not all. About half of all Buddhists are vegetarian or vegan and the other half regularly consumes meat, limits it somewhat, or eats meat only if served or offered it by others.

4. All Buddhists meditate.

Meditation has been identified as the central practice of Buddhism (Edward Conze said that meditation is for Buddhism what prayer is for Christianity). It is unclear how many Christians actually pray, but the majority of Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Meditation has, until rather recently, been considered a monastic practice, and even then, as a practice reserved for only certain monks. The Buddha did place great emphasis on meditation, but some traditions such as the Pure Land do little to no meditation in their practice.

5. All Buddhists who meditate sit in full lotus.

Very few Buddhists sit in full-lotus when they meditate. The Buddha advocated for mindfulness at all times and not just when sitting or in a certain posture. All postures are acceptable and used.

6. Reincarnation is fun.

As much as anyone might like to come back to play centerfield for the Yankees, this is just not the way it works. If you are tired of people saying "Been there. Done that," just remember that Buddhists have been saying it in so many words for a couple of millennia. There is no place you have not been reborn, no form of sentient life that you have not already been a zillion times. It all should be a tedious bore right now, and all you should want to do is get out. Unless, of course, you're a bodhisattva.

7. All roads lead to the same mountaintop.

Many great Buddhist figures, from Dogen to the current Dalai Lama, are emphatic on the point that enlightenment is only possible by following the Buddhist path. You can only get so far following other religions: all roads lead to Everest base camp, but from there, Buddhism is the only route to the summit. Buddhism holds that anyone can get to heaven leading a moral life and precepts from any religion, but the ultimate Nibbana is through the Buddhist path.

8. All Buddhists live in monasteries.

Most Buddhists throughout history have been laypeople and hence have not lived in monasteries. They could not do so, because without the laity the monasteries could not survive.

9. You must be a monk or nun to get enlightened.

There are reports of lay people from all traditions who have attained enlightenment.

10. All Buddhists are hippies.

Hardly, many Theravadins are quite conservative, as are some Zennies and Vajrayana Buddhists. Some follow what might be called rigid precepts and do not even drink alcohol.

11. Buddhists are idol worshipers.

Not true, some traditions don't even use statues much. And those that do, do not worship them, just pay respects to the teacher and teachings. There is a Zen saying that if it is cold and your statue is made of wood, throw the Buddha statue in the fire to keep warm.

12. The Dalai Lama is the head of Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism, but not of the many other Mahayana schools, Zen schools, or Theravada.

13. Buddhists believe in reincarnation.

It is actually rebirth, not a transmigrating soul.

14. Buddhists must wear robes.

Buddhists wear whatever they like and are not required to wear robes. Some Zen sects wear a robe, but that is only for the meditation session and it is immediately taken off before leaving the zendo. It is also worn over the regular clothes. Other schools of Buddhism, such as Vajrayana and Theravada do not wear any robes even during meditation and retreats (except for monastics of course).

15. The Buddha is God or one of the gods.

The Buddha was as mortal as any of us and got sick and died too. He attained enlightenment and Nibbana but was born a human in 563 BC in his final life. He was not a Son of God either, as found in Greek mythologies.

16. Buddhism is a pessimistic religion.

The first noble truth is the noble truth of suffering. But there are 4 Noble Truths, not one. The rest deal with us getting out of suffering.

17. It's all an illusion.

Nothing can bare ultimate examination. It is not all an illusion, as if nothing is there. It is all like an illusion, as in being dependently arisen; dependently arisen is not something that is obvious to the ignorant mind.

The following extract from - Do objects Exist ? by the Dalai Lama : "Analysis does not contradict the mere existence of the object. Phenomena do indeed exist, but not in the way we think they do."

18. Buddhism is a reformation of Hinduism.

Buddhism is in sharp contrast to Hinduism. The Hinduism at the time of Buddha was Brahmanism and included a transmigrating soul, the caste system, polytheism, and animal sacrifices. The Buddha's teachings rejected a permanent soul, the caste system, and animal sacrifices. Buddhism is often referred to as a non-theistic religion.

19. Buddhists are all dreadfully serious people, don't wear make up and never have any fun.

Buddhists wear cosmetics, if they so choose, but do not use them during retreats and other days when they want to focus on their meditation practice. At other times, Buddhists use or don't use cosmetics at the same rate as anyone else in the community / nation. Buddhists strive for equanimity, which is a balanced state of mind, primarily so that they do not react to situations especially with anger or without thought. Buddhists still can know how to have a good time, but attempt to do so without attachment. Ajahn Brahm and the Dalai Lama as well as many other famous teachers are known for their great sense of humor and frequently tell jokes, laugh, and smile.

20. Buddhists are not allowed to desire anything so cannot play sports or achieve anything either.

Buddhists play sports and some do very well at it. Tiger Woods is a champion golfer. Buddhist athletes do very well at archery and other sports too. Phil Jackson has won more championships in basketball than anyone else, as a player and coach (combined). Jackie Chan, Steven Seagal, Goldie Hawn and numerous others have made a success at acting. Steve Jobs is the CEO of Apple, Inc. Steve Wynn is the highly successful casino mogul in Las Vegas. Ellison Onizuka was a NASA astronaut. Several Nobel Prize winners have been Buddhist, winning awards in the sciences, medicine, literature, and peace. The Pali term chandha refers to intention, will, and zeal and is used for good and wholesome desires. Not all desires are bad or not allowed.

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