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Buddhists/Basic Buddhism Questions


I'm learning about Buddhism for a class I'm taking, and I just had a few questions. Our assignment is to come up with some thoughtful questions we were still curious about and interview an expert. I'd love it if you could answer as many of these as possible. I've tried to do some research about all these things, but I either haven't been able to understand what I've found, or I can't find anything that answers my questions sufficiently.

Since Buddhism was started, how has it evolved to fit in with modern day culture?
Because of all the technology and new advances, what new struggles do Buddhists face when trying to follow the Eightfold Path?
What is role of women in society? With the current focus on equality for women and men, itís interesting to me to see how women fit into modern day religions.
How is the LGBT community viewed and treated? Iíve tried to find information about this, but I havenít come across anything that makes sense.
When do you put others before yourself and when do you put yourself before others? If your parents want you to do something, but you donít want to, how would Buddhists suggest handling this? What cases do you follow what you believe is best for you instead of listening to your elders? (Assuming you are an adult and not a minor.)

Thank you for your time,

Dear Heather,

Those are big questions! (Sorry I'm late replying, for some reason I never saw the notification that your question is here.)

The external appearance of Buddhism has changed quite a lot to fit in with the various cultures to which it spread from India: Sri Lanka, Thailand and so on; Tibet; China; Japan; and now what we call the "western world". It is a little bit soon to see what changes may happen here. Most of us in the Western world are following a particular tradition (in my case branch of Tibetan Buddhism), rather than anything you might call "western Buddhism". That does not get really exist.

Technology changes the details of things, but I think that the difficulties following the Eightfold Path are more to do with the poisons in our minds. Those stay pretty much the same from one generation to the next. We can get as greedy and jealous about the latest iPod as we might have done 2 1/2 thousand years ago about a better sandal.

The question of women is very important. You obviously will know that men have had the upper hand in most parts of the world, including those were Buddhism has flourished. There is no doubt that quite a lot of Buddhist institutions are excessively dominated by males. Things are, however, changing quite fast, because Ė unlike some religions Ė Buddhism does not recognise any fundamental difference in the rights or capabilities of men or women. Buddhism is therefore, I think, fairly ready to adapt to today's insights, and to yield ground to women.

You probably haven't come across anything making much sense about LGBT issues because they are not a particularly big deal as far as Buddhism is concerned. Of course, there are plenty of Buddhist teachers who come from sheltered backgrounds without a particularly wide experience of the world, who may feel uneasy about sex. The fact that many of them are celibate, obviously doesn't help! In part, the reason why these things are not discussed much is that Buddhism is not terribly interested in marriage, families, and all that sort of stuff. All that it says about those things is that if you are going to do them, then you should, like everything else you do, engage in them with compassion, kindness, consideration for others, and so on. So Buddhism will relatively quickly arrive at the question, "Does it hurt anybody?", and not be so concerned about whether it is conventionally considered "right" or "wrong".

Generally Buddhism encourages putting others before yourself Ė as long as you don't make yourself go stupid by overdoing it. Most societies were Buddhism is popular are fairly "conservative", and respect for parents' wishes is much stronger than it often is in the West these days. In the end, the rule about any activity for the Buddhist should be: is it kind? Does it help people? Does it cause suffering? Not that these questions are always easy to answer, but that is what we should be thinking about.


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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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