Understanding Buddhism – An Introduction


Beyond The Mango Juice is almost certainly known among the Thai blog community as a site which at times dances on the edge of reality and one which throws sand into the face of tried and trusted blog post topics and formats. The Juice cuts loose too often to my mind, and I’m the one who pens it.

Today, a black and white dusty keyboard and a working class boy are about to attempt to put that right. I’m going to try to lay down a sensible and meaningful post.

In a sober state of mind but with a view on life which is often intoxicated by a glass half full, yet overflowing with pessimism, The Juice enters the orange clad world of Buddhism looking to find the answer to…..well….that’s a question in itself.

It may surprise some of you to know I have two books on Buddhism. The first one I won’t mention because reading it fails to ignite the Rubik Cube in my mind. Its complex and deep explanations on Buddhism empty my glass and clutter my mind. The other uses more layman’s talk.

Teach Yourself  Buddhism by Clive Erricker covers the teachings of Buddha, how Buddhists think and how Buddhism has self evolved to meet modernization as the world marches onwards and up. It’s got a lovely photograph on its front cover and big bold words on its back, it’s the bits in the middle I’m going to read again and try to understand more. And I hope many of you equally unenlightened one’s will join me to.

This is Part One of a series about trying to understand what Buddhism is all about.

Teach Yourself Buddhism by Clive Erricker

I hope Clive doesn’t mind me extracting a few passages from his publication but in the interests of properly explaining the mechanisms of Buddhism I feel the need to do so. I’m sure Clive will understand and if not, he is more than welcome to email me his concerns at the address below.

i’vejustboughtsomeorangeunderpantsandwantareligiontogowiththem@thaisabai.org

The book starts with a short introduction to Buddhism of which the passage below is part of.

‘Buddhism today is very diverse; this diversity contributes to its richness, and nowhere more so than in the West. Moreover, Buddhism offers teachings and practices that are open to anyone with a little intellectual curiosity and the willingness to accept the modern world can benefit from ancient and timeless wisdom.’

Clive’s opening ‘shot from the Wat’ is tinged with biting reality. The book’s introduction (two pages), explains how Buddhism has, or will have to, adapt to rapid current global affairs in relation to the Buddhist belief in living in the present moment. The world is moving forward at a brisk pace and Buddhism’s reliance on community solidarity has to change to encompass an expanding yet shrinking world in which the populace and its conflicting religions walk side by side.

Maybe they should leave a few of Clive’s books at the Preah Vihear World Heritage site.

Clive’s opening two page ‘shot from the Wat’ is easy enough to understand but the remainder of his work has to answer a few of my queries about Buddhism.

  • After a request from my girlfriend I bought her mother a piglet. Three days later it was taken to the village Buddhist shrine and slaughtered. Why did Buddhists do that?
  • Why have I seen my girlfriend knelt on our bed praying to Buddha with her lottery numbers placed on top of a pillow? Isn’t that religious malpractice.

I have many more questions and hopefully Teach Yourself Buddhism by Clive Erricker will have the answers.

Next month the series continues with Understanding Buddhism – Buddhists and Buddhism.

Clive, chapter one is 18 pages long and only has one small photograph. How the hell am I going to read all that in four weeks.

Photographs are public domain images.

© 2011, Martyn. All rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “Understanding Buddhism – An Introduction

  1. Hello Paul, I had to look up animism, good old Wikipedia;

    Animism (from Latin anima “soul, life”) refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle.

    I can see Clive’s book getting very ‘deep’. I have read it before but didn’t take much of it in. This time I’m going to read it nice and slowly.

  2. Hi Martyn, I’m looking forward to hearing some more about your wanderings into Buddhism. It is a very adaptable philosophy/religion and this is why it can take different forms in different countries – in Thailand it has become influenced by animism. I’ve found that at the core of all these different forms are some ideas that can make living a lot easier.
    Paul Garrigan recently posted..Open a bar in Thailand Are you NutsMy Profile

  3. Martyn, you had me seriously worried for a paragraph or so. I thought you may have crossed over to the dark side, of humourless writing, that is.

    I look forward to your analysis and thoughts on Buddhism and Clive’s book.

  4. Snap I haven’t crossed over and have no intention of doing so. I’ve started reading chapter one and whilst I haven’t exactly gotten my teeth into it, i am making a serious effort to take it all in.

  5. Hi Martyn, like snap I thought you had become a religious zealot overnight. Perhaps about to inform us that you were heading to Pattaya to save fallen women.

    However I see your normal wit and charm shining through 😉

    Seriously though I do personally find the Thai version of Buddhism(Animism?)the sort of religion that would have suited me as a kid…..instead of Sunday school we could have sacrificed a pig having tricked some hapless farmer into believing he was making merit if he gave it to us.

    Now that sounds a tad cynical……I’m off to check my wallet as Duen has just nipped to the temple 😉
    Mike recently posted..Thai Culture From a Foreigners PerspectiveMy Profile

  6. Mike I had to look up animism (see my reply to Paul), not sure if I totally understand it even now.

    Farmers have long memories and shotguns.

    I’m sure Duen will look on it as a donation you’d have wanted to have made but were too busy to go.

  7. Talen maybe you’re like me in that you find reading about Buddhism a bit heavy going at times. I’m having to read in short bursts, then backtrack on some of it and read it again.

    Hopefully I’ll get there, though I don’t expect to be Enlightened.

  8. Martyn, what an adventure! I haven’t figured it out myself.

    When I first got here the Thai version of Buddhism confused me. In Christianity I was taught to pray for my loved ones (family, country, those in need) or for self improvement (being a better Christian). But Buddhists seem to pray mostly for themselves (winning the lottery, getting good grades, etc).

    And the animism stumped me until I discovered the link to Hinduism. Buddhism and Hinduism in Thailand are often intertwined. And from what I understand, that’s where the animism comes into it.

    For instance, when a spirit house goes up or down, a Buddhist monk isn’t called to assist, a Brahmin priest is.

    Btw – I’m just back from the direction of Preah Vihear. I intended to see where the jailed politicians crossed over the border, but after looking at the bumpy road chose to visit the temple next to it instead.
    Catherine recently posted..Thai Language School Review- Language ExpressMy Profile

  9. Catherine I hope I can complete the adventure, it’s not the easiest of books to read.

    Wilai hasn’t put a spirit house up at our place, maybe that’s a more modern way of thinking nowadays.

    Your trip to near the Phreah Vihear temple site sounds very adventurous, did you see Miss Marples or Sherlock there. Sounds like a trip straight out of an Enid Blyton book. Perhaps a bit more hazardous then anything the Famous Five or Secret Seven ever took on. I’ll await your post.

  10. Catherine, my apologies I thought I had answered this one.

    I think you have to be a dedicated Buddhist to maintain a spirit house. Many bars have them and it makes me smile (in a good way) when I see one of the bar staff take care of the spirit houses on a daily basis. That’s good to see in some younger people.

    Should ‘food was fabulous’ and ‘fast’ be in the same sentence.

  11. I would like to know about original Buddhism and as well what the various Buddhist schools believe.

  12. Spirit houses are nothing to do with Buddhism, but animist or Brahmanism (the original beliefs in place when the Buddha was a young man before he became enlightened and then taught the truth.)
    Questions about Buddhism can be asked of myself, an English monk, and a monk from New Zealand, here… we both live in a temple in the North of Thailand…

  13. Fred I’ll admit I’m only trying to scratch the surface about Buddhism, I’m also trying to scratch it with very short nails.

    I had a look at your website ‘Vipassana retreat and temple stay’ it’s most interesting and must be a valuable source of both inspiration and information for Buddhists and those contemplating treading its path.

    Here’s the link for those who wish to view it:

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