Buddhists/Interview

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Question
Hello! I have to complete an interview with an expert for my eastern/western philosophy class and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions. Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it!

What do you consider the underlying foundation Buddhism? Peace, love, or something else?
How strictly does the Eightfold Path need to be followed to achieve Nirvana? Also, do most modern-day Buddhists follow the Eightfold Path strictly?
Has Buddhism changed in order to keep up with the times, or has it stayed constant?
How does a Buddhist explain the bad things in life: the tragedies, the young deaths, the natural disasters, etc?Many religions/philosophies, including Buddhism, have the same “treat others as you would want to be treated” theme, was Buddhism influenced by other religions in this aspect, or was Buddhism the influencer?
Are there any aspects of Buddhism that one would see as not applicable to today’s society? Also, what is one thing that the world today could learn from Buddhism?

Thanks again!
Nora

Answer
Hi Nora,
Sorry I'm late replying. Time is short! But here are a few quick answers.

> What do you consider the underlying foundation Buddhism? Peace, love, or something else?
Disillusionment and compassion.

> How strictly does the Eightfold Path need to be followed to achieve Nirvana? Also, do most modern-day Buddhists follow the Eightfold Path strictly?
It is an excellent guide, but if you look at it you will see that it is more a matter of eight areas that need attention than a specific set of rules. It is not like the 10 Commandments – it does not say "do this, don't do that". That is not to say that Buddhism does not have sets of rules – certainly it does. Monks and nuns follow hundreds of these, but for the layperson there are what we know as the "five precepts". You can search for those without difficulty, I'm sure. They are pretty important.

> Has Buddhism changed in order to keep up with the times, or has it stayed constant?
Buddhism has spread over a wider range of cultures than, for instance Christianity. Certainly it has taken on quite different faces in different cultures. It is impossible for a living tradition to stay unchanged. If it remains outwardly the same  (this could just as well apply to a musical tradition as to a religious one), then it has probably become a museum piece.

> How does a Buddhist explain the bad things in life: the tragedies, the young deaths, the natural disasters, etc?
Buddhism takes a very clear stance about this. It says that yes, there may be explanations for some of these things, and indeed it is important to look for them, but that is not the most important point. The most important point is to stop creating more. As a secondary point, Buddhism is more concerned to make us look and see that however many bright and beautiful things there are in the world, it is in essence a ghastly place, We need to purify the causes (ultimately in our own minds) that cause it to be like this.

> Many religions/philosophies, including Buddhism, have the same “treat others as you would want to be treated” theme, was Buddhism influenced by other religions in this aspect, or was Buddhism the influencer?
Well, of course, Buddhism did not develop in isolation from the rest of the world. It wasn't dropped like some sort of spiritual bomb from a great height into the middle of India. But it was certainly one of the earlier movements to make this point. As you will know, the Buddha lived several centuries before Christianity emerged. But it was not the only spiritual movement to be thinking along those lines in India 2500 years ago.

> Are there any aspects of Buddhism that one would see as not applicable to today’s society?
There are always small changes in emphasis and changes in the small details. I am not convinced that the proportion of celibate monks and nuns that used to exist in Tibet, China and so on is either sensible or supportable in today's society. Only time will tell whether the non-celibate forms of Buddhist practice will survive effectively in the absence of large numbers of monasteries and nunnerys.

> Also, what is one thing that the world today could learn from Buddhism?
That compassion, and an unwillingness to harm others, have to come first. Trying to force others to share your own views about religion, sexual relationships or whatever is nothing short of stupid. That the world is in such a perilous state, our civilisation WILL fail if we do not cultivate kind and loving hearts.

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Alex Wilding

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

Education/Credentials
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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