Buddhism beliefs

Annual conference shares Buddhist traditions and beliefs

There is much more to Buddhism than monks in flowing orange robes who shun society in pursuit of the meaning of life.

Nearly 300 adherents gathered at the 65th Annual Northwest Buddhism Convention this weekend in Spokane to share the Dharma – the teachings of Buddha.

While most participants adhere to the traditions of Japanese Shin Buddhism, the religion has grown to encompass people from very different backgrounds. Adherents are young and old, single or family – people who live simultaneously in the material and spiritual worlds – all brought together by the Dharma.

So what is a Buddhist?

“To be a Buddhist means to be smart,” Bhante Seelawimala, a Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, told a convention workshop. “It’s simple. To be smart, you need to exercise your mind. You need to meditate.

He explained that being smart embodies truth and compassion; the three are interconnected and dependent on each other.

“The smarter you are, the more truth you see,” he said. “The smarter you are, the more caring you become. You can’t be smart without being nice.

“Because you know as a smart person, if you upset your wife, you’re out of luck,” he joked. The convention, Under Amida’s Umbrella of Compassion, was held at the Davenport Hotel and was organized by a small team of volunteers from the Spokane Buddhist Temple. Each year the event takes place in a different city.

Most of the attendees were Buddhists, but some were just curious to learn a little more about the many traditions, beliefs and practices of Buddhism.

A common misconception is that Buddha is revered as a God.

“Buddha was a real person,” said event organizer Anne Paulin. “He is not a deity for us.”

Reverend Don Castro, the minister in charge of the Spokane Buddhist Temple, said the Buddha – a man named Siddhartha Gautama, who taught in the Indian subcontinent between the sixth and fourth centuries BC – was like a doctor. He identified the causes of suffering and prescribed a way to alleviate them by freeing humanity from selfish attachments.

Another misconception is that Buddhism is about sacrifice and suffering.

Castro said it was about healing the cause of the suffering.

“It’s really a symptom, a diagnosis, a prognosis and a cure,” he said. “That would be the equivalent of saying Christianity is about sin. When you realize the sinful nature of human beings, you seek salvation. In Buddhism you are looking for a cure.

For many in attendance on Saturday – and for millions of adherents around the world – Buddhism in its many forms did just that.

“I think Buddhism has really helped me better understand how I fit into the world,” said Paulin, who was raised Catholic. “It gave me peace as I went through tumultuous times.”