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Buddhists/Buddhist views on life in general

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Question
I have a few questions if that is alright.

1. What are Buddhist views on why humans were created / what our purpose is?

2. Is there a period between death and reincarnation or is it instantaneous?

3. What happens after parinirvana if the cycle of reincarnation is broken?

4. Does the Eightfold Path have to be followed in any certain order?

5. How is karma measured?

Answer
Dear Kelley,

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions.

1. What are Buddhist views on why humans were created / what our purpose is?

Human beings exist only because we choose to exist. At some point in time, we decided that all the suffering we endure (in this life, and in hell rebirths) is worth the chase for desires. We spend lives chasing after various combinations of desires and experience tremendous suffering at every stage of the journey. Once we achieve our desire, that particular desire is replaced with another and the journey continues. At many points along the journey, we cling to and identify with different senses of self. We believe theses self's to be us and to be permanent. We fight for them, we kill for them, we steal for them, we hurt others - just to protect and maintain our "self."

The Buddhist view on our purpose is take a second to look closely at our lives/journey/chase and see the suffering we experience and the suffering we cause others. We must learn that the suffering is VOLUNTARY, that is, it is the result of us chasing our desires blindly. Once we realize this, the desires are much less desirable and we are able to see this world the way it truly is - a never-ending game of suffering.

To summarize our "purpose," I would like to reference the movie - "The Matrix". The purpose of "life" in the Matrix to finally realize you are in the Matrix and free yourself from its bonds. The same goes for our lives. The purpose is to gradually (or rapidly - if we are lucky) learn the truth about this world and re-evaluate whether it is actually worth it to continue the rounds of suffering.

Then, after we renounce the desires that lead to the suffering, we can finally stop playing this game - the game that can never be finished or won.

2. Is there a period between death and reincarnation or is it instantaneous?

The period between death and reincarnation is both long and instantaneous. It depends on the soul being reincarnated.

If the soul being reincarnated is still attached to, clinging to the past life, they will not be willing to be reincarnated right away, thus creating lag in the cycle. However, if the soul is ready to be reincarnated, it merely takes a singular thought - an acceptance or desire and the rebirth is instantaneous.

Imagine for example that you are standing in line at a bank. You are next in line and it is your turn. The teller is calling you to step forward. Is the step forward instantaneous or is there a period of time? That depends on you. If you are not ready with your deposit slip, if you are unsure of whether you want to deposit or withdrawal, if you are unsure if you should even be in the bank today, or any other number of reasons, you will hesitate and not step forward. In that case, it is highly likely someone else will be called in your place.

But in the case that you came prepared, deposit slip ready, money and check in hand, once the teller calls you, there is no hesitation. In fact, before the teller even says the words, you already know that it is your turn and you already start walking that way. Therefore, the step is "instantaneous."

Rebirth is the same way.

3. What happens after parinirvana if the cycle of reincarnation is broken?

Nothing happens, that is the point. It is hard to say, since no one who has been to parinibanna has ever come back. But the Buddha likened it to finally getting to rest after overly working for an incalculable period of time. The rest is long awaited.

This is one of the questions the Buddha recommended that we should not ask. The reason is that there is no answer that can satisfy the questioner. Because there is no proof nor person who fully understands what nothingness is, since we have never fully experienced nothingness.

But if I had to try to explain this, I would probably have to use an example.

Imagine that you have always hated someone because of something you think they did to you. You have harbored this intense anger, hatred, disgust and revulsion towards this person for as long as you can remember. Everything about them pisses you off. Just the thought of them raises your blood pressure.

Now imagine that one day, you realize that is it your choice to hate this person. There were other people who did/said similar things that you do not hate them for. In fact, you realize that all the time you spent hating them was time you spent hurting yourself and wasting your life away. You now decide that the hate is not worth keeping up. The hate melts away. You are now free from the hate. You no longer feel hate when thinking or seeing this person. It doesn't mean you love them now, or want to be friends with them. But you just no longer harbor a hatred for them.

In Buddhist terms, that hate no longer exists. Therefore it is in a state of nothingness. Happiness doesn't replace it, but suffering no long comes from it. You are as free from it as can be. That is what nibanna is like. The cessation of all feeling.

4. Does the Eightfold Path have to be followed in any certain order?

Most definitely. This is a very important and wise question. There is a very important reason the Buddha listed out the Noble Eightfold Path in this order. The order listed is the exact way he practiced himself. Every single enlightened person practice the exact order. Every person who is not enlightened is due to failure to follow the Noble Eightfold Path properly.

The order goes

1. Right View/Perception
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Actions
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

This is actually broken into 3 groups:

GROUP WISDOM
1. Right View/Perception
2. Right Thought

GROUP - ACTION
3. Right Speech
4. Right Actions
5. Right Livelihood

GROUP - CONCENTRATION
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right Concentration

Right View MUST come first in every case - no matter what. Without Right View, no practice is correct or fruitful. It is like attempting to travel to a certain location without knowledge of where it is or what it looks like. You will most likely never reach that location no matter how hard you tried. Even if you managed to accidentally arrive there, you will have no idea that you are there and no idea that your journey is over. Therefore you will continue to journey past your final destination.

From Right View, Right Thought will follow. That is, if you know where you are going, and where it is, you will start to formulate proper plans for arriving at that place. But the plans must be made knowing exactly where the destination is.

From Right View and Right Thought, you must put for the actual actions( physical and verbal) needed to get to that location. That is, the Right Speech, the Right Actions and the Right Livelihood. There is no particular order for #3-5. The only thing is they must come after Right View and Right Thought.

If you have Wrong View, your thoughts will be Wrong Thought, then the actions (physical and verbal) will come out Wrong Speech, Wrong Action, Wrong Livelihood.

From Right View, followed by Right Thought, Followed by Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood, you will put forth Right Effort. That is, you will exert effort in the manner that will lead you closer to your goal. If you followed the Wrong View, Thought, Speech, Action, Livelihood path, you will also still put forth effort, but it will be Wrong Effort, that is, it is effort that does not lead you to your goal, instead, leads you away from your goal.

From Right Effort, you will have Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. That is, you will be mindful of your journey and concentrate on the journey itself. There is no particular order in Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. The only order is that they come after Right View, Right Thought, Right (GROUP ACTION), and then Right (GROUP CONCENTRATION).

There is a lot more I can say about this, but I think I am getting close to my 65000 character limit for this answer and I haven't even started the last question yet. Please ask a follow up if you would like to learn more about the Noble Eightfold Path.

5. How is karma measured?

Karma is measured just like energy is - Potential and Kinetic. Your karma is both a culmination of all past karma that leads you to the present karma, and a potential storing of karmic information that will lead to future karma. I know this sounds complicated, but it actually is not.

For example, think about your current health (weight, physical shape, height and other health metrics). How did you get to this current health? It was a combination of many many things you did that led you to this current health status. Things such as food choice, exercise habits, genetics, and a plethora of other factors. All these things together led to your current health status.

All those things together along with whatever conscious and subconscious decisions you make in the present moment will have a direct and indirect affect on your future heath states and statuses.

I fear I am very close to the limit for this answer. I apologize if I was not able to explore each answer as in depth as I would have liked. Please feel free to ask follow up questions if something seems unclear or if you would just like to hear more examples.

I hope I have adequately answered your questions. They were very impressive questions!

Buddhists

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Anandapanyo Bhikkhu

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I can answer questions about Buddhist practice, Buddhist understanding and how to apply Buddhism to daily life. I can help analyze Buddhist sayings and teachings. In addition, I can help with questions Buddhism stories, fables and Vinaya(rules). I have meditated for over 10 years and can help you start with meditation. In addition, I can help provide insight into what to do when you feel that you have hit a wall with your meditation. My main area of expertise is how to think in accordance with Sammaditthi (the right view - and number 1 in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. If I cannot answer your question, I have many able teachers with over 20 years experience to help me, so chances are I will be able to find an answer for you.

Experience

I have been practicing Buddhism since I was born, but as a serious practice since 2003. I started studying under various famous Thai Theravada masters. Finally, I met and studied under Phra Acariya Thoon Khippapanyo who has recently passed away on Nov 11, 2008 and is widely accepted as a great Arahant (fully enlightened) teacher of our time. In addition, I have personally read and studied much of the Buddhist scriptures and popular literature available. I have recently undertaken the ordination vows and have become a Buddhist monk in the theravada forest monk tradition. I reside at a temple with many dedicated practitioners and great teachers. I have been practicing training my mind to be aligned with right view (sammaditthi) for over 10 years. I have also been meditating for over 10 years. In my time spent with Acariya Thoon, I learned many things and was able to incorporate them into my life. In addition to practicing Buddhism within temples and my home, I used to own two restaurants and managed commercial real estate. I had to deal with many different and problems. I learned how to use Buddhism to fix my problems, both externally (my environment) and internally (within me).

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San Fran Dhammaram Temple KPYUSA - a non-profit religious organization

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Education/Credentials
Electrical Engineering Degree from the University of California Santa Barbara MBA from San Francisco State

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