Presented by the Buddhist Association of the Lehigh Valley in Parliament of Religions 1893 Centennial 1993 October 17, 1993 at Cedar Crest College, Allentown, PA
Q: Hi! My name is Inquirer Somebody.
A: Howdy! I am Practitioner Nobody.
Q: Let me get right to the point, what is Buddhism?
A: Buddhism is a way of life that is based on the teachings of the Buddha.
Q: Can you tell me what the Buddha taught?
A: Sure. His teachings are to solve human suffering.
Q: How do the teachings solve human suffering?
A: Well, first of all, we need to understand what suffering is.
Q: OK, fine, what is suffering?
A: There are three levels of suffering.
Q: No kidding! what are they?
A: They are ordinary suffering, suffering produced by change, and suffering as conditioned states.
Q: What do you mean by ordinary suffering?
A: Ordinary suffering can be classified as physical and mental sufferings.
Q: What is included in physical suffering?
A: Suffering caused by birth, old age, illness, and death.
Q: What is mental suffering?
A: 1. association with unpleasant persons and conditions, 2. separation from beloved ones and pleasant conditions, 3. not getting what one desires, and 4. craving for or being overwhelmed by physical or mental activities.
Q: Can you elaborate a little bit on the last one?
A: Sure thing. If you are bored (craving for activities) or simply cannot stop doing something (being overwhelmed by activities), for example.
Q: I think I have the picture, now what's the suffering produced by change?
A: Everything changes. Pleasant conditions certainly will change. That's suffering there.
Q: OK, next, what's the suffering as conditioned states?
A: Nothing happens by itself. Whatever happens must rely on something else. Taking away that something else, the outcome will be different. So, you can't do it alone or it won't happen by itself.
Q: Now I know what you mean by suffering, but how do you solve it?
A: To solve suffering, we need to find the cause(s) of suffering. When the cause(s) of suffering are removed, suffering ends.
Q: I see. Now then, what are cause(s) of suffering?
A: They can be divided into three categories: craving(desire), ill-will, and ignorance.
Q: What kind of craving?
A: Craving for pleasant experiences, for material things, for eternal life or death.
Q: Is craving alone a sufficient cause of suffering?
A: There is something that goes deeper than craving, which in a sense is the foundation of craving. That something is ignorance.
Q: What do you mean by ignorance?
A: Ignorance is not seeing things as they really are, or failing to understand the reality of experience or the reality of life.
Q: Say what? I mean, excuse me?
A: No problem. Specifically in Buddhism, we are speaking about ignorance regarding the self, taking the self as real. This is the fundamental cause of suffering.
Q: Self? Real? Are you saying I am not real?
A: From the Buddhist point of view, real means something that is permanent (never changing) and its existence is independent of anything. Then are you real?
Q: Mmm.., You got me there. But what's wrong if I take the self as real?
A: From the notion of self we have craving, ill-will, greed and anger.
Q: OK, suppose I am not real, what am I?
A: You? You are the combination of five aggregates.
Q: Five aggregates?
A: Yes, they are form (matter), sensations (feelings), perceptions, mental formations (volition), and consciousness.
Q: Gee! I knew I was something, but I didn't know I was that complicated.
A: Yeah! Although you are not real, you are still definitely something.
Q: You know what? Somehow I have difficulty with your logic!
A: I know, I have been there.
Q: You mean you are no longer there, you are here?
A: If I am not here, who are you talking to?
Q: Never mind. I still don't know why I am not real.
A: Considering the five aggregates, are they permanent? Never changing?
Q: No! Matter, feelings, perceptions, volition, and consciousness all change.
A: If they all change, they are not real. They are just a temporary existence under some conditions.
Q: If they are a temporary existence, how do things happen?
A: Things happen by four principles.
Q: What are these four principles?
A: They are: When this is, that is; When this arises, that arises; When this is not, that is not; When this ceases, that ceases.
Q: Say what? I mean I beg your pardon?
A: Relax! I am just talking about the law of cause and effect.
Q: That's it? The law of cause and effect?
A: Yeah, it's at the heart of the Buddha's teachings.
Q: But it seems so simple!
A: Not if you consider it from more than this life.
Q: You mean previous life and life after this life?
A: Bingo! We need to look at the whole picture, not just a fraction of it.
Q: Are you saying I am not real, and that things happen according to the law of cause and effect?
A: Now you are cooking!
Q: Cooking with what?
A: Dharma! The nature of things, original nature, you name it.
Q: So if I understand Dharma and there is no self, is suffering solved?
A: That's where NIRVANA comes into the picture.
Q: You mean the band from Seattle?
A: No! They borrowed their name from the Buddhist term that is beyond description.
Q: How do I know what NIRVANA is?
A: I wish I could help you on that. Unfortunately, it's one of those things you have to experience for yourself.
Q: Then how do I experience it?
A: There are 84,000 Dharma doors.
Q: What? Dharma doors? What have doors got to do with it?
A: That's just a figure of speech, meaning many, many ways to get there.
Q: I don't need that many doors. A couple would be just fine.
A: OK, I'll give you two couples. They are the Four Mindfulnesses.
Q: What kind of odd couples are these?
A: They are by no means odd. The Four Mindfulnesses are mindfulness of body, feeling, mind and Dharma. By practicing this, you will have much better understanding about yourself and you will build up awareness that leads you to Enlightenment.
Q: Ah ha! Finally, the magic word, Enlightenment. What's that?
A: When asked if he is a God, a Saint, or an Angel, the Buddha replied "I am the awakened."
Q: Meaning he is not daydreaming, he is fully aware of what he is doing?
A: Yeah! You are getting there. Keep going.
Q: He sees things as they really are without any mental projection or distortion?
A: Holy mackerel! I am impressed. You are good!
Q: Why thank you!
A: Well, it's been my great pleasure talking with you. Hope this helped you to understand Buddhism a little more. If you want more information, please contact BALV. I believe they will be more than happy to answer any of you questions.
That's all folks!