Some general questions about Buddhism

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Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby LolCat » Sat Mar 01, 2014 7:31 am

Hello! I have been reading up on Buddhism here and there, and have some doubts regarding some stuff I have read. Here are some of the questions I have been having.

1. In a lot of places, I see references to living beings and references to sentient beings. How exactly are these terms defined? Are they refering to the same thing or are these terms different? Is it possible to be reborn as a non-sentient being? Like say an amoeba or a bacteria? I see this as a problem because it isn't really agreed upon as to which beings are sentient, I have seen non-vegetarians argue that no beings apart from humans are sentient, while vegetarian groups often state that it is very likely that the animals we normally eat probably have some degree of sentience, although they probably don't have any doubts regarding single celled organisms. :D

2. Bodhisattvas are supposed to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings right? (again the issue with sentience) However, I remember reading somewhere that there are infinite worlds and universes, and thus infinite sentient beings. Doesn't it logically follow that the work of a Bodhisattva will never be complete? If a Bodhisattva delays Buddhahood till the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings, then this means that he or she would never attain Buddhahood right?

3. When reading the Jewel Ornament Of Liberation, specifically the chapter about the suffering of samsara, which contains stuff about hells, it is mentioned that there are hells some distance below the ground. Although we really haven't excavated very far into the Earth's crust, wouldn't it be safe to conclude that this really isn't true? Metaphysical concepts such as deities are easy to swallow, however it is very jarring when something about the world is mentioned which we can confirm to be not true. If enlightened beings are omniscient, how is it possible for them to be wrong about the world?

4. I have read about Rebirth in Buddhism, and it sort of makes sense to me, but when people talk about for example a Lama being reincarnated, how is it possible without the existence of an unchanging self? Are they still talking about rebirth, or something different? I thought reincarnation was an idea from other religions which posit the existence of an unchanging, permanent self.
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby muni » Sat Mar 01, 2014 9:07 am

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Last edited by muni on Sat Mar 01, 2014 9:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby Astus » Sat Mar 01, 2014 9:49 am

1. The usual definition of "sentient being" is that it has senses (see, hear, smell, taste,touch), and can feel pain and pleasure just as humans do. This includes animals - as it was understood before the microscope - and beings of other realms like ghosts and gods. Living being is often used as a synonym for sentient being. Note that the texts were not only not written in English, but often well before the modern era. That is, they had concepts like very small beings, but not specifically cells and bacteria. One of the areas where the definition of a sentient being matters is ethics. Buddhist ethics is intention, and not action based. I think very few people hate virtually invisible bacteria and consider cleaning the bathroom with chemicals as mass murder.

2. Correct, there are infinite number of beings a bodhisattva wants to save. The meaning of that is again the intention, that a bodhisattva's compassion knows no limits. Becoming a buddha is the culmination of the bodhisattva path, but that doesn't mean buddhas don't work on saving all beings. They do, endlessly.

3. Omniscience in Buddhism often does not refer to godlike all knowledge. Rather it is knowing what the true nature of phenomena is, how everything is empty and dependently originated. It is true that the traditional Buddhist cosmology is at odds with our modern version. There's not much to do about it.

4. The tulku system of lamas reincarnating is a Tibetan invention. It's like when in Europe people were told that the king was invested by God, and other such "son of heaven" emperors and rulers over the planet. I leave it to others to give it further explanation.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby LolCat » Sat Mar 01, 2014 2:32 pm

Thank you for the reply, that clarifies things a lot. :smile:
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby LastLegend » Sat Mar 01, 2014 3:58 pm

LolCat wrote:Hello! I have been reading up on Buddhism here and there, and have some doubts regarding some stuff I have read. Here are some of the questions I have been having.

1. In a lot of places, I see references to living beings and references to sentient beings. How exactly are these terms defined? Are they refering to the same thing or are these terms different? Is it possible to be reborn as a non-sentient being? Like say an amoeba or a bacteria? I see this as a problem because it isn't really agreed upon as to which beings are sentient, I have seen non-vegetarians argue that no beings apart from humans are sentient, while vegetarian groups often state that it is very likely that the animals we normally eat probably have some degree of sentience, although they probably don't have any doubts regarding single celled organisms. :D


All beings are sentient.

2. Bodhisattvas are supposed to work for the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings right? (again the issue with sentience) However, I remember reading somewhere that there are infinite worlds and universes, and thus infinite sentient beings. Doesn't it logically follow that the work of a Bodhisattva will never be complete? If a Bodhisattva delays Buddhahood till the complete enlightenment of all sentient beings, then this means that he or she would never attain Buddhahood right?


There are no sentient beings and Buddhas. These are labels used for us to understand because we 'want' to understand.

3. When reading the Jewel Ornament Of Liberation, specifically the chapter about the suffering of samsara, which contains stuff about hells, it is mentioned that there are hells some distance below the ground. Although we really haven't excavated very far into the Earth's crust, wouldn't it be safe to conclude that this really isn't true? Metaphysical concepts such as deities are easy to swallow, however it is very jarring when something about the world is mentioned which we can confirm to be not true. If enlightened beings are omniscient, how is it possible for them to be wrong about the world?


I have never heard hells are below earth's crust. People experience hells because they have karmic connection to hells. Those who don't cannot experience hells.

Enlightened beings are not wrong but they can tell us stories that help us understand at our level and practice. If a turtle tells a fish about what he sees on land, the fish would be like, " no way, you are lying." The turtle has to use skills way to tell the fish so the fish can believe it. But by the time, the fish knows it, it's too late. It's out of water becoming someone's dinner. :rolling:

Just joking about the fish. My point is skillful means to teach us because we are dense, thick, hardheaded, and full of doubt.
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby LastLegend » Sat Mar 01, 2014 5:15 pm

4. I have read about Rebirth in Buddhism, and it sort of makes sense to me, but when people talk about for example a Lama being reincarnated, how is it possible without the existence of an unchanging self? Are they still talking about rebirth, or something different? I thought reincarnation was an idea from other religions which posit the existence of an unchanging, permanent self.


Self is dependent. It is not a separate entity of itself. Environment also shapes who you are, and who you will be is shaped by what you do. Thus, there is cause (seed), and within that seed, there is fruit. If there is no fruit in seed, seed cannot give fruit...if you hold things to this way and that way, it will manifest as such because that's what you hold to be true and true like that it manifests.

Now your question also alludes to the nature, which Buddhists believe is not conditioned, unchanging, unborn, and undead. To be honest with you, I don't know anything about that. I can only believe by the evidence of this present experiencing which is no where to be found.

Nature then is beyond concepts; best not to think more you think more confused you become. Why? If you say it's not conditioned or changing, then how does it interact? If you say it's changing, why is it always present? If you say it's not changing, then why there is rebirth, old age, and death(changing)?

You can only believe but not let false thoughts despair you.

Take care.
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby odysseus » Sat Mar 01, 2014 6:24 pm

LolCat wrote:1. In a lot of places, I see references to living beings and references to sentient beings. How exactly are these terms defined? Are they refering to the same thing or are these terms different? Is it possible to be reborn as a non-sentient being? Like say an amoeba or a bacteria? I see this as a problem because it isn't really agreed upon as to which beings are sentient, I have seen non-vegetarians argue that no beings apart from humans are sentient, while vegetarian groups often state that it is very likely that the animals we normally eat probably have some degree of sentience, although they probably don't have any doubts regarding single celled organisms. :D


Plants and bacterias cannot not occupy a mind and are not sentient.
They are automatons and have no autonomy.

LolCat wrote:
3. When reading the Jewel Ornament Of Liberation, specifically the chapter about the suffering of samsara, which contains stuff about hells, it is mentioned that there are hells some distance below the ground. Although we really haven't excavated very far into the Earth's crust, wouldn't it be safe to conclude that this really isn't true? Metaphysical concepts such as deities are easy to swallow, however it is very jarring when something about the world is mentioned which we can confirm to be not true. If enlightened beings are omniscient, how is it possible for them to be wrong about the world?


Hell is not necessarily a place under the ground, that´s mostly in the stories. It could be a different realm in the cosmos. It´s just a place with suffering and can be escaped.

LolCat wrote:4. I have read about Rebirth in Buddhism, and it sort of makes sense to me, but when people talk about for example a Lama being reincarnated, how is it possible without the existence of an unchanging self? Are they still talking about rebirth, or something different? I thought reincarnation was an idea from other religions which posit the existence of an unchanging, permanent self.


Buddhism denies a permanent self, but our mind with karma continues after death. You don´t need to have a permanent soul to be recognized after rebirth, because karmic inclinations are still there in the new life.
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Re: Some general questions about Buddhism

Postby LolCat » Sun Mar 02, 2014 4:27 am

Thank you for the replies, I don't think I have understood things perfectly, but I suppose it would be wishful thinking to expect that without study and practice. :smile:
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