1.   How would an American live by the way of a Buddhist?
2.   Are necessities like a house, money to provide for health insurance, bills etc part of a Buddhist lifestyle?
3.   How simplistic is a life of a Buddhist, what does a balance mean?
4.   Would a Buddhist cry at a funeral? If they do not have attachment, does it mean attachment to people too? What about the love of their family? And are they allowed to love a spouse? (Maybe allowed is the wrong word, rather true to the culture)
5.   Why is a man glorified in Buddhism?
6.   Since all feelings are transitory, and transitory things are ultimately not advisable to have, how does one not have feelings?
7.   What is the best way to mediate? I read somewhere that it is advisable to focus on one object in my mind, but wouldn’t that attach me to something?
8.   Why should one place their palms to the sky when mediating, or is this just a myth?
9.   What are the typical daily practices of a Buddhist?

Dear Coleen,

Well you do have a lot of questions, so I can only give very brief answers. I must also first point out that I am European, not American, just in case that matters to you.

1. There are many options, just as there were in the East. Some people do indeed become monks and nuns, but the majority lead what we usually call a "normal" life.

2. These things are a necessary part of modern life, unless somebody chooses to opt out of the system altogether and live without help in a remote wilderness. It is neither particularly Buddhist nor particularly un-Buddhist.

3. Living a moderately simple life is generally looked on by Buddhists with favour, but again there are all sorts of possibilities. Literally leaving home and being a beggar is very simple, but very hard, and practically impossible in a society that does not have a tradition of giving to "holy wanderers". But this is only because it is a good idea to let go of some of our excessive complication. It is not necessarily Buddhist or un-Buddhist.

4. I think many would. The teaching of "non-attachment" needs to be approached with some maturity. Most people who might imagine that it is possible (or desirable) to abandon our fondness for other people are probably not very well mentally balanced – so I would guess, anyway. Loving-kindness is considered a very great virtue in Buddhism, and it starts with ourselves, and with our immediate family and friends. The task of the Buddhist is to extend that care more and more widely and more and more freely, not to cut it out.

In addition, if we think of somebody crying at a funeral it is possible that they are excessively attached, and that they will be unable to cope with life, look after themselves and be kind to others because of the pain that they feel. From the Buddhist point of view, that would be bad. On the other hand they may be freely acknowledging the sadness of what has happened, but although they have those sad feelings they are *not attached to those feelings*, and are able to move on with kindness and compassion for others. What is wrong with that?

5. I don't know what you mean by saying that "man is glorified in Buddhism". It is certainly taught that being born as a human is very fortunate, because most other forms of life do not have the freedom or intelligence to pursue the path to liberation. It does, of course, depend on what sort of human birth you have - some people, unfortunately rather many, are born into a great deal of poverty or oppression, or in societies where stupid ideas that encourage hate are encouraged, and that is not such fortunate human birth. Is that what you mean?

6. It is inevitable that we have feelings. It is part of being human, indeed it's part of being a sentient being at all. The Buddhist teaching is that we should not be *attached* to those feelings, should not desperately struggle in a futile attempt to maintain our feelings in the "good" zone or multiply our unhappiness by being terrified of feelings that are in the "bad" zone. Otherwise, you might as well be a stone.

7. Focusing on one object is, indeed, one exercise that is carried out as a part of some kinds of meditation. Suppose you use a candle flame – why would you become attached to the flame? How to meditate is a huge topic, so my tip would be to approach it slowly and to experiment with what advice works for you. At some stage you might have a personal relationship with somebody who can teach you a particular form of meditation, then that is a different matter.

8. If you sit in the traditional cross-lagged manner, and if you are pursuing what in Tibetan Buddhism we call "shiney" (pronounced something like "she neigh") meditation, where the central approach is that of becoming very calm, settled and stable, then you need to put your body into a calm, firm, settled posture, one that does not encourage distraction. So simply resting your hands in front of you, one on top of the other, is a very natural and comfortable thing to do with them. There are some meditation systems where different positions are used, such as with the hands on the knees, or with the backs of the hands resting on the groin pushing the shoulders up, but these are specialised approaches done for special reasons. Generally speaking, the "palms up" posture is comfortable, simple and restrained.

9. Ah, now that will vary enormously according to the particular tradition. Most Buddhists will at least recite some version of the "Refuge" prayer a few times, may perhaps make some offerings in front of a shrine (if they have one), such as bowls of pure water, or lamps, incense and so on. Because Buddhism is not much practiced in the West by people who have absorbed it from their culture, this means that most Western Buddhists (at least those of Caucasian or African origin) are relatively keen. This means that they may well practice some kind of meditation every day. The majority of ordinary laypeople from traditionally Buddhist cultures probably don't, although it would take a big survey to be sure.

I hope that helps a bit!


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Alex Wilding


I have practiced and studied Tibetan Buddhism in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions since the early 1970s, and have a good knowledge of theory, history and of the struggles of trying to practice the teachings, including meditation, while leading a normal, modern life. I am also available to provide background information for journalists.


I have been a practitioner since the early 1970s; have run a small Buddhist centre in the English Midlands and was vice-president of Kagyu Benchen Ling e.V. in Germany, for whom I managed three large Buddhist summer-camps. More importantly, I maintain a habit of personal practice. I am the "owner" of the Kagyu list at Yahoo.

My first degree was an M.A. from Oxford. I later obtained a Master of Philosophy degree for a research thesis in "Initiation in Tibetan Buddhism" from Leicester University. I also have engineering and educational qualifications.

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