Finding Buddhism Within the Self

Students gathered at the Cross-Cultural Center for ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Buddhism,’ a panel discussion about Buddhism on Mar. 13 with the Venerable Huei Hsuen from Dharma Voice Zihara in Temple City and Orange County Buddhist Church Reverend Jon Turner, two Buddhists from very different backgrounds.
Ven. Huei Hsuen was born in Monterey Park, Calif. to Bolivian parents who were devout Buddhists and vegetarians. At 16, he achieved monk status while finishing college. In contrast, Reverend Jon Turner became a Buddhist after his wife introduced him to the religion. He comes from a Christian background and can identify with both religions.
The Buddhist panel is the second installment in the center’s Education Series, which will continue with discussions of other major world religions this quarter. The 20 or so students attending munched on healthy snacks including veggies and dip, fruit, chips and fresh juices before sitting down to a presentation by the two, a casual question-and-answer session in which many common misconceptions about Buddhism were addressed.
Misconception: All Buddhists are vegetarian. According to Hsuen, Buddhists in, for example, Tibet, Japan and China simply cannot survive as vegetarians. Health concerns also keep many Buddhists from practicing vegetarianism. Both non-vegs and vegs can be Buddhist, but it is encouraged in some schools.
Myth: Buddhists worship the statue of a fat guy sitting on the shelves of Chinese restaurants. According to Hsuen, Buddhists don’t worship Buddha. Reverend Jon Turner explains that the Buddha doesn’t to equate to God in Christianity, but is a leader by example and through his teachings. Beliefs in Buddhism are flexible. Monks will help provide practitioners with guidance but not answers, a system Turner found frustrating when he first converted to Buddhism. Turner grew up in a Christian household and one distinctive difference between the two religions, according to Turner, is that Christian leaders will give solid answers about what is considered moral or right. He had tried to find the same answers with Buddhists leaders when he converted but they would give him riddle-like answers, a gentle reminder that he had to look inward to find answers.
Myth: All Buddhists believe in reincarnation/rebirth. Hsuen distinguished rebirth from reincarnation. Rebirth refers to having enlightening experiences that make one feel as if he or she is starting a new life. Reincarnation is the belief that clinging to material things keeps individuals stuck in a cycle of dying and being reborn on Earth, without ascending to Nirvana. Not all Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and rebirth is often used metaphorically, Hsuen explained.
Misconception: Buddhists have to shave their heads. Hsuen explained that even for the monastic (Buddhist laymen and laywomen), shaving one’s head is a personal decision.
Hsuen and Turner ended their presentation advising students serious about Buddhism to find a reliable teacher who can help focus your energy into creating a healthier life.
‘It was a really good presentation,’ said Michael Chi Chen Tran, president of the Buddhist Association and a fourth-year East Asian cultures major. ‘I wish it went on a little longer. My favorite was the question-and-answer part. I think it’s good because you get to hear what the audience wants to know right off the bat.’
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy created by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) as a method of awakening oneself to the true nature of reality through moral thought and moral living. Siddhartha began life as the son of a powerful king in fifth century India who aimed to be a great king rather than a great healer.
At the age of 29, Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects and encountered on his way an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse and, finally, a monk. He was told for the first time that all people must grow old and die. Deeply depressed, he became determined to overcome old age, illness and death by following a monastic life. Since Siddhartha’s days on Earth, his teachings have experienced global circulation, making the whole of his teachings, Buddhism, the fifth largest world religion.
Many serious practitioners discover Buddhism during deeply painful periods of their lives and are able to use its religious practices to step out of depression. The Sensei Bishop of Hidden Valley Zen Center in Escondido, Calif. found strength in Buddhism after she lost her husband and children. For her, Buddhism is a philosophy, a way of life and a religion. She believes her spiritual development is well worth the years of effort she puts into her practice. ‘Everyone deserves to feel this way,’ she said. ‘I have true freedom.’
According to Dharmaweb, an online Buddhist magazine, Buddhists follow the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the end of suffering. The Eightfold Path is divided into physical, mental and spiritual improvements, with simple guiding principles in each progressive stage, starting with the physical. Physical tenets include speaking in a non-hurtful, truthful manner and avoiding actions that harm oneself and others.
The stressed-out, packaged-ramen-eating college student is actually a perfect candidate for Buddhist transformation. Buddhism offers recommendations to summon inner, enlightened selves when life gives lemons.