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QUESTION: Hey Laurie!  I am conducting an interview with someone that is knowledgeable about Buddhism, and you seemed like the perfect interviewee.  Thank you for your time.

-Can you summarize the main differences between Northern and Southern Buddhism?

-How big of a role does the belief in karma play in your life, and how would your lifestyle change if it were omitted from your belief system?

-What does meditation mean to you as an individual, and how does it help you in day-to-day life?

-How strict is vegetarianism in the eyes of a Buddhist, and how does it play a spiritual role in your life?

-How difficult is it for one to become a Buddhist?  From your experience, how open is the Buddhist community to newcomers?

ANSWER: Hello there Ben -

Before I answer your question, I want to clarify what you mean by Northern and Southern Buddhism. Do you mean Buddhism that is practiced in Viet Nam for example as opposed to Buddhism practiced in Japan?


I am working on your other questions and will answer everything once I hear back from you

Thanks - Laurie

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Yes..the differences between the practices of Northern and Southern Buddhism in terms of location.

Answer
Hello Ben -

Thank you so much for letting me answer your questions.

The first question I can only answer in gross generalizations as each country Buddhism spread to interpreted Buddhas teachings differently. Plus I am barely qualified to answer this question as I have not done a lot of study around this.

But what I can say is that the Southern practice came first and studies the Pali Buddhist Canon. Southern Buddhism is mainly practiced in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and parts of Southeast Asia.  And Northern Buddhism is mainly practiced in Mongolia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China and Tibet.  And in general Northern Buddhism came along a bit later and relies both on the Pali and Sanskrit Canons.  The Bodhistattva Vehicle comes principally from the Sanskrit tradition and the Pali Tradition is mainly for the Hearer Vehicle. Some of the Northern Buddhists practice Vajrayana and the Southern Buddhists don't.

This again is a gross generalization but Southern Buddhists practice deals with attaining Liberation from Samsara and waking yourself up while the Northern Buddhists practice says you wake yourself up but there are others who have gone before you along the path and can help you and your goal is to attain Buddhahood and you become a Bodhisattva attain Buddhahood to help others wake up.

I am not sure this is completely true, but what I have read is that in the Pali Canon, Buddhas only appear in lands where no Dharma has been taught before or the Buddhas teaching has been corrupted or lost or forgotten.  In the Sankstit Canon, they believe that Buddhas exist always and everywhere there is consciousness.

As far as the role of Karma in my life - Even before I was a Buddhist, I believed loosely in Karma. For example I believed what goes around comes around and as you sow so shall you reap.  And when I added an understanding that we live many lives, then it made total sense why bad things happen to good people.  It also makes sense why some are born blind or crippled or why some live in war torn countries and are constantly in danger and others are born in happy, beautiful peaceful places.

Karma plays a huge role in my life. If I did not believe in karma, then I would not be a Buddhist and I would probably have the tendency to do more negative things because there would be no definite consequences from my actions. So I might try to do more negative things because I could get away with it. (I might not also because doing negative things hurts others so I could still be compassionate and not believe in karma)

If I did not believe in karma, I would definitely believe that things happened in a more random way and I think that I would feel more ill at ease in the world because I would not be comfortable with the randomness of why bad things happen to good people.

What does meditation mean to me. It means that I can train my mind to understand how the world really works and I can use meditation to train my mind to let go of negative aspects of my nature, such as anger, attachment and ignorance and develop my positive qualities of patience, loving kindness, compassion and wisdom.

Day to day, I use meditation to work on letting go of my negative habits and stop them before my negative thoughts develop into negative actions.

Plus, I use it to work on understanding how the world really works; that things are not as they appear.  That food and money and outside pleasures because of their very nature will never make me inherently happy and that chasing after them as the source of ultimate happiness is illogical.

Strict Vegetarianism in Buddhism as I have experienced it is a personal and sometimes medical choice.

To the best of my knowledge, Buddha never said "Don't eat meat"  Buddha said "Don't kill sentient beings".  Buddhists believe that sentient beings mean any mind possessor.

If you eat something that once had a mind, technically you have not killed it.  However, if you don't eat it, that being may have lived, since that would have been less reason to have killed that being in the first place.

Plus we believe that since we have lived so many past lives, it is possible that the cow you eat could have been your mother in a past life.

Feeling great compassion toward any sentient being who used to be my mother will eventually cause me to stop eating meat.  But at this moment, my compassion is not strong enough to stop eating meat but I know some day it will be. Until then I pray for the animals I eat that they never have to reincarnate back into this world and instead can reincarnate into a Pure Land.

Buddhism is extremely open to newcomers. The thing is that folks need to come to find Buddhism on their own.  We are not to proselytise or convert people.  But if folks really find that Buddhism explains the world in a way that makes more sense than any other spiritual practices then that is great.

There are even lots of people who keep their own religions and adopt parts of Buddhism that work for them.  And that is fine.

We donít have any strict dogmatic beliefs that says you have to believe everything Buddha taught in order to be a Buddhist.

I think the most difficult part of the Buddhism that I follow is that it relies a great deal on being able to think and reason and not so much on accepting things strictly on faith.

It is not difficult to become a Buddhist.  To officially become a Buddhist one has to take the Refuge Ceremony.  One has to believe that the teachings of the Buddha will be what you rely upon above anything else in your time of need. So, you have to come to a decision that Buddha, his disciples and what he taught make more sense and are more worth following than anything else on earth because they will be of more benefit to you than anything else you have found and ultimately lead you to liberation and/or enlightenment.

Once you have that conviction based on reading, studying, meditating, coming to classes, you are ready to be a Buddhist.

I hope these answers are helpful in some way.  If you have any questions based on them, don't hesitate to let me know.

In the mean time I wish you much success and happiness

Namaste - Laurie  

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Laurie McLaughlin

Expertise

I can answer questions about basic Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism and meditation especially how the Buddha's teachings can help us in day to day living.

Experience

I have been studying Mahayana Buddhism and meditation since 2001. I have lead meditation classes and retreats for over 5 years. I have lived at a Buddhist retreat center for over 4 years and am currently ordained as a novice Buddhist nun. My nun name is Gyalten Yanghchen.

Education/Credentials
I hold a BA degree in technical theatre from the University of South Florida.

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