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How do I explain Buddhism? (to "westerners")

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  • How do I explain Buddhism? (to "westerners")

    Venerable sirs,

    Asking this question is probably just as complicated as answering it, as it probably is to answer the question "What is Buddhism?".

    Many times I am faced with this question. And I don't know if I'm doing it right. I'm afraid of putting out my own point of view which may be wrong or at least not entirely correct.

    Explaining Buddhism to "westerners" is a bit difficult. I can say I've become experienced in trying. But in time I got many different reactions, depending on the points of view, tolerance and acceptance of the ones I've been explaining it to. I've also found out it takes a bit of effort because there are many aspects of Buddhism worth pointing out. I sometimes tire myself out trying to explain it, and in the end I do not know if I've been helpful or not.

    I feel that sometimes i got people to truly understand and appreciate Buddhism, even though they probably won't start practicing it. But sometimes I'm afraid I might have confused people even more or given them a wrong idea about what Buddhism really is.

    I guess sometimes it depends a lot on how I adapt the answer to the person I am talking to. But I would really appreciate some basic guidelines on how I should do this.

    Thank you,

  • #2
    Dear Daniel,

    This is a good question, and an important one.

    I like to take the four noble truths as the starting point. The four noble truths are all about suffering and how to overcome it, and by extension they are therefore all about happiness and how to achieve it. In other words, the point of Buddhism is to help us achieve the one thing that we all desire: a final end to problems and turmoil and a stable state where we are finally content and satisfied.

    When I first realized that this was what Buddhism was about, I knew that if it worked it was the answer to the meaning of life. We all crave, we are all running around trying to find satisfaction, and here was a teaching that promised this. Not only did it promise it, but it did so in a way that actually made sense and also gave a very clear path on how to achieve it. Wow!

    Sometimes people of an intellectual bent are reluctant to admit that happiness is worth pursuing. I suspect they feel that happiness in itself is not a very worthy goal. But the point is that what is meant by happiness here is happiness in its very broadest sense. Whether we are searching to create philosophical theories, a better social order, or art, we are all pursuing the search for happiness in one way or another. The same is true if we are searching for power or success. Buddhism, then, is the answer that finally satisfies all these searches, all these cravings.

    With metta.
    Last edited by Ajahn Brahmali; 14th-January-2012, 02:43 PM.


    • #3
      Thank you very much for the answers. That is where I usually start as well. Which is usually followed by other questions.

      I am wondering if I should explain to the best of my ability or incite people to find out more about it by themselves? Of course there is a chance they'll never get to actually researching it.



      • #4
        Dear Daniel,

        Please try to explain to the best of your ability. If someone is truly interested, don't waste the opportunity. Who knows if they ever get the chance to hear the Dhamma again. In addition, you learn so much yourself when you teach others.

        But there is no contradiction between teaching others yourself and helping them to find out more elsewhere. Do both. People usually need to search and question for a while to find if Buddhism is their kind of philosophy.

        With metta.


        • #5
          Ven. Brahmali, if I may also offer this:

          A member of these forums, Ciprian Salagean, also resides in Romania. He started a Romanian Lay Buddhist organization last year I believe it was, to help educate Romanians about Buddhism, because as he told me, there was little to nothing in Romania (or at least his area of it) to teach or explain the Buddhist path. Maybe contacting him via email here at about the resources he has put together in your country could be useful.




          • #6
            Hello Ven. Brahmali, Jerrod, Daniel

            It is true, that we started a Buddhist Association in Romania. We are only five members for the moment, but there are several other people interested who participate to our events. I found that explaining Buddhism to Romanians is very difficult, because everybody is attached to his own views and philosophies and that leaves very little room for the message of the Buddha. Even among those who are not new to Buddhism there are differences of opinions and without an authoritative figure to be accepted by everybody it is pretty difficult to agree on certain topics. We try to accept and respect our differences. We had two monks from Amaravati (UK) for some events, and I hope that the presence of monks will bring us to a common standing point
            On the other hand I need to understand Buddhism better myself firstly and make sure I am not passing my own misunderstandings to others. As a newcomer to Buddhism I was very eager to talk to others about it and convince them of it's greatness (which is real), but then I found out that this approach doesn't work and that the urge to "teach" others comes not from compassion, but from the expansive tendency of the ego, who is trying to impose its preferences upon others.
            But I do have a lot of books on Buddhism and I share them if people are really interested. And I also share my opinions on certain topics, but I try to do that with moderation, because my opinions (like everything else) are subject to change.

            Any advice for us Bhante?

            My best wishes to everybody


            • #7
              I will consider it. Thank you Jerrod.


              • #8
                Dear Ciprian,

                Sure, the trying to convince others is often just a trying to convince ourselves! I saw that in myself in my early days as a Buddhist. But don't judge yourself for that; it's a stage we all need to go through. Rather, try to use it constructively to deepen your own understanding of Buddhism. Ajahn Chah apparently said that one of the best ways to learn Buddhism is to teach it to others.

                It's great that you are willing to share your books. In the long run it is our behaviour, in particular our generosity and virtue, that will impress others. So sharing your books is a good way to achieve two things with one act.

                Good luck with your Buddhist group!

                With metta.



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