Monks and nuns do nothing but meditate. What good are they to society? - and other questions you don't dare to ask a Buddhist monk.

Recently I picked up this book, called Good Question, Good Answer from the donated books shelf at the library.

It's a little handbook about basic questions people may have about Buddhism but are too afraid to ask, or when they do ask, nobody knows how to answer them. It's written by a monk who has lived in Sri Lanka and Singapore. His name is Venerable Shravasti Dhammika.

The questions, asked in full candour, can sometimes come across as aggressive! But I found the replies useful. I shortened some of the answers here because the pages can be very long! My own thoughts and comments in italics.

Was Buddha a god?
No he was not. He did not claim that he was a god, the child of a god, or even the messenger from a god. He was a human being who perfected himself and taught that if we follow his example we could perfect ourselves also.

Do Buddhists believe in a god?
No. One of the reasons Buddha did not believe in a god is because there does not seem to be very much evidence to support this idea. Buddhists suspend judgment until evidence is forthcoming. (Super long answer with various reasons why, I didn't type them all out.)

If Buddha is not a god then why do people worship him? 
There are different kinds of worship. One type is when someone worships a god, they praise him or her, make offerings and ask for favours. This is not the Buddhist way. For Buddhists, they worship by showing respect to someone or something we admire. A statue of Buddha reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves.

But I have heard that Buddhists worship idols.
All religions use symbols to represent their beliefs. Buddhists do not believe that Buddha is a god, so how they can possible believe that a piece of wood or metal is a god? Therefore, to say that Buddhists worship idols is as silly as saying that Christians worship fish or geometrical shapes.

Buddhists should be vegetarians, shouldn't they?
Not necessarily. The Buddha was not a vegetarian. (He ate what he was offered.) He did not teach his disciples to be vegetarian and even today there are good Buddhists who are not vegetarians. Many people, however, find that as they develop in Dhamma that they have a natural tendency to move towards vegetarianism.

It is true that when you eat meat, you are indirectly or partially responsible for the animal's death. But the same is true when you eat vegetables. Insecticides kill insects so your veggies can arrive on your table. It is impossible to live without in some way being indirectly responsible for some death of other creatures. This is part of the First Noble Truth- where ordinary existence is suffering.

Consider this. If there was a person who was a strict vegetarian, but was selfish, dishonest and mean, and another person who ate meat, but was thoughtful, honest and generous to others.

Which of the two would be the better Buddhist?

What does Buddha say about the origin of the universe?
Buddha's explanation of this corresponds closely to the scientific view. In the Aganna Sutta, the Buddha described the universe being destroyed and then re-evolving into its present form over countless millions of years. All these processes, where first life formed and evolved from simple to complex organisms, are set into motion by natural causes.

If Buddhism is so good why are some Buddhist countries poor?
If by poor you mean economically poor, then it is true that some Buddhist countries are poor. But if by poor you mean a poor quality of life, then perhaps some Buddhist countries are quite rich. (Long explanation about how rich countries can have high crime rates etc.)

Monks and nuns do nothing but meditate. What good are they to society? (lol I wasn't kidding about the straight shooting questions.)
You might compare the meditating monk to the research scientist. Society supports the scientist in the hope that he will discover or invent something that will be for the general good. The community supports the monk because it hopes that he will attain wisdom for the general good. Also, the meditating monk also serves as an example that one does not have to be rich to be content. A simple and gentle lifestyle has its advantages too.

Becoming a monk is all very well but what would happen if everyone became a monk?
One could ask the same about any vocations. What if everyone was a dentist? What if everyone was a nurse? There will be no cooks, no drivers, no teachers. The Buddha did not suggest that everyone be a monk.  (Haha this clapback)

The Second Noble Truth says craving causes all suffering. But if we all stopped wanting altogether, we would never get anything or achieve anything.
True. But what Buddha says is that when our desire, craving and constant discontent with what we have and our continual longing for more and more does cause us suffering, then we should stop doing it. He asked us to make a difference between what we need and what we want.

The First Precept says not to kill living beings. But surely it is good to kill sometimes, like disease spreading insects.
It might be good for you but not the bug. They wish to live like you do. Sometimes it may be necessary to kill but it is never wholly good. Buddhists strive to develop a little more respect for all life.

What did Buddha teach about magic and fortune telling?  (Think magic charms and doing activities on lucky days etc)
He considered these to be useless superstitions. The Buddha teaches that it is far more important to develop our hearts and minds. (ie. It's enough to have a pure heart! You don't need special charms, necklaces etc)

I find it difficult to read the Buddhist scriptures. They seem long, repetitious and boring.
While some of Buddha's discourses contain considerable charm and beauty, most resemble philosophical thesis with definitions of terms, carefully reasonsed arguments. They are meant to appeal more to the intellect than to emotions. When we stop comparing Buddhist scriptures with those of other religions, we will see that they have their own kind of beauty.


The book also has a huge chapter on Rebirth and Nirvana. There are also chapters on the types of Buddhism today, the differences between them, and also about the history of Buddhism.

I really enjoyed this book and I will continue to study more of Buddhism! (I also study other religions when I can get my hands on related books. Just a curious bookworm, religions are fascinating.)