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After reading several articles and a book about Buddhism, I now feel a bit uncertain about what Buddhism actually is about. Am I not allowed to dance? To sing? To fall in love? Is the purpose of Buddhism to become a munk or nun? To meditate and never get a taste of life?

Is it "bad" to want to travel? Is it "bad" to want to be happy and/or content?

Is Buddhism about finding happiness in Nirvana? Is that really it? Is it not about being happy where we currently are? Are we not allowed to truly live in the moment?

I am quite new to everything about Buddhism, and I apologize if anything I've said in this question is insulting or rude. I don't know who else I can ask questions like these. I hope someone can explain to me.

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The question is not one of being "allowed" or "not allowed" things, you're taking this too much like a dogmatic religion. Buddhism is more like a form of psychotherapy that comes with its own philosophy that it needs you to understand for the method to work.

The therapeutic method comes in an if-then formulation: IF you do this, THEN that will follow; IF you don't want that to follow, THEN don't do this. Its focus is suffering and the thing it teaches you how to do is eliminate a necessary cause of suffering that is present in your own psyche and without which the suffering cannot happen. If you don't feel any suffering or don't want to eliminate it, then there's nothing to do, you can ignore the Buddhist method. If you do feel suffering, you have in Buddhism a most efficacious method of eliminating it, namely by stripping away one of its necessary causes.

The necessary cause of suffering that's contributed by your psyche is having expectations. An expectation is a certain insistence or dogmatic belief that things having to do with your life must be or remain in a specific way (this is what they call "attachment" - this insistent belief or strong expectation). Unavoidably whenever you entertain such an insistent belief you are setting yourself up for disappointment and suffering - "things must be or remain in this exact way or else... <insert negativity>" - and life, being a process of continuous change, will be all too happy to provide these violations to your expectations and produce said suffering. So to the extent to which you want to avoid suffering, to that extent you must abandon your insistent belief that the world "must" be or remain in a certain way, e.g. that you "must" keep your current level of wealth and never go lower, that everyone in your family "must" remain alive and healthy forever, that you "must" keep all your limbs forever, that you "must" benefit from your current good relationships forever etc. etc. Any of these expectations can be violated by the process of life at any time, and this will immediately cause you great suffering because of your insistent belief that these things must stay constant, especially for you, forever. But the process of the universe is not tuned to such static(!) wishes, and the sooner you understand this the more immune to suffering you will be.

So the short answer would be: sure, enjoy every kind of sense-pleasure and emotion and feeling and whatever you want to enjoy in life, BUT... if to the pleasure you also add an insistent belief (expectation, attachment) that the pleasure "must" last or stay with you for X amount of time, know that you are setting yourself up for disappointment and suffering. If you want to avoid the suffering part, just feel the pleasure that is there to be felt in the present moment and don't create any beliefs about how it should behave in the future. If it continues into the next moment, that's fine, and if it ends and is replaced by some pain in the next moment, that's fine too, because pain is also something that arises and then ceases, and doesn't last forever. Learn not to cling to things, be they pleasant or unpleasant: this is the essence of the Buddhist teaching.

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"After reading several articles and a book about Buddhism, I now feel a bit uncertain about what Buddhism actually is about."

Buddhism, in essence, is about the four noble truths -- every single "Buddhism". It's about suffering, happiness, eliminating the former and cultivating the later. (See also Buddhism is kind of depressing).

"Is Buddhism about finding happiness in Nirvana? Is that really it? Is it not about being happy where we currently are?"

By the early textual tradition, in it's most dedicated form (e.g. monastic), Buddhism is the training to attain Nirvana, the permanent end of suffering. The Buddha said:

Bhikkhus, if wanderers of other sects ask you:

"For what purpose, friends, is the holy life lived under the ascetic Gotama?"

— being asked thus, you should answer them thus:

"It is, friends, for the abandoning of the fetters ... for the uprooting of the underlying tendencies ... for the full understanding of the course … for the destruction of the taints ... for the realization of the fruit of true knowledge and liberation ... for the sake of knowledge and vision ... for the sake of final Nibbāna without clinging that the holy life is lived under the Blessed One."

-- Annatitthiyapeyyala Vagga

If all Buddhism was about was being content about our current state in life, and being happy about whatever we do and what happens to us, then there wouldn't be much to teach -- or to learn.

There are buddhist teachings that focus on our contentment with whatever situation we find ourselves in, of acceptance, but there's a particular function, attitude and scope to that exercise. For example, this "acceptance" does not extends to passively accepting hindrances like sloth, to accept our lack of striving, lack of purpose or lack of dedication to eradicate defilements of the mind.

Unfortunately, this "just be happy mantra" is so repeated in buddhist circles that it seems to be equated with the entirety of Buddhism, leading to a lot of misunderstandings.

"Am I not allowed to dance? To sing? To fall in love?"

The degree to which Nirvana is pursued in this very life depends on the particular buddhist school and the personal inclination of the buddhist.

Again, by the early textual tradition, the Buddha was very accommodating to listeners of different inclinations. Some of his disciples lived "normal" lives, married with children, jobs and probably entertainments of many sorts. In buddhist lingo, these are called laymen/laywomen or householders.

However, "normal" life is a huge obstacle for attaining Nirvana. Being sensitive to the fact that many refuse to renounce it, the Buddha did not appear teaching them the more austere practices of renunciation that are appropriate for monastics fully dedicated to the path. Particularly, if these listeners have no inclination to renounce, e.g., singing and falling in love. Instead, he taught them what they could do: abandon evil actions, be good, be virtuous. And if the listener is so inclined, he seems to have also taught deeper practices like meditation as well.

So, Buddhism is a gradual path of happiness, it's not 'Nirvana or nothing'. There is progress and there are lower attainments possible even for a lay person.

At the very least, by training on the most accessible teachings alone, one may be able to create a more peaceful, easier and happier life now and for the rest of one's life. And finally, according to the tradition, one is more likely to be reborn in a realm with less suffering (until, that is, one dies from there and reappears somewhere else, a better or worse realm).

Thus, the saying in the buddhist texts:

The dhamma taught by the Buddha is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end.

The teachings promotes happiness now, happiness later, and happiness after that.

That's a gist of the Buddha's teaching: extinguish suffering permanently, or at least lessen suffering.

"Is the purpose of Buddhism to become a munk or nun?"

Being a monk or nun is, theoretically, the most adequate and, perhaps, safest route towards Nirvana. "Theoretically", because monasticism around the world have difficulties living up to this ideal.

However, lay life is not disapproved or frowned upon at all. Moreover, lay buddhists are at the core of the support of monastic life and comprise the two parts of the fourfold sangha: laymen and laywomen.

So, really, it's a matter of personal choice.

"Is it "bad" to want to be happy and/or content?"

This is the whole point of Buddhism. However, there are different kinds of "happiness" and "contentment". Some of them comes back and bite us back in a pernicious way and thus are sources of suffering. For example, successfully stealing money can be a source of happiness but isn't it also a source of suffering?

Thus, abstaining from stealing is a Buddha's teaching and is not something so incompatible with lay life, certainly a lay buddhist can practice that without inconvenience.

But as one looks for a more stable kind of happiness, one discover other things that also have drawbacks. These, in Buddhism, are called sensual pleasures: those born from the senses and contact (e.g. the sight of an enticing form, the hearing of an enticing sound, etc).

At this point, the Buddha usually addresses the monks and nuns only, and speaks quite directly about the essential nature of sensual pleasures:

"Again, with sensual pleasures as the cause, sensual pleasures as the source, sensual pleasures as the basis, the cause being simply sensual pleasures, people indulge in misconduct of body, speech, and mind."

-- MN 13 (Bodhi trans.)

In a more detailed and "technical" buddhist jargon, the Buddha says:

“When one abides inflamed by lust, fettered, infatuated, contemplating gratification, then the five aggregates affected by clinging are built up for oneself in the future; and one’s craving—which brings renewal of being, is accompanied by delight and lust, and delights in this and that—increases. One’s bodily and mental troubles increase, one’s bodily and mental torments increase, one’s bodily and mental fevers increase, and one experiences bodily and mental suffering.

-- MN 149

Then, in higher training, the Buddha teaches sense restraint -- which is not something he is seen teaching lay followers as far as I can tell.

But contrary to popular thinking, the point is not to create a depressed monk or depressed nun. These sensual pleasures are "substituted" by other kinds of happiness that the monastics trains and cultivates, that are less problematic and lead straight to Nirvana.

To name just a few, the happiness of renunciation (e.g. perception that monastic life is simpler and worldly life and commitments as a burden), the happiness of full dedication to dhamma (to practice, learn and teach the eradication of suffering), the happiness of jhāna (deep meditation states).

Because these lead to less desires, it's also easier to be content, to experience deeper contentment and long lasting contentment. Finally, when superior and simpler kinds of happiness are cultivated and grow, people tend to perceive sensual pleasures as inferior, gross, a burden, even suffering.

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I'll try to give you a straight down to earth answer in which is easily understandable. Some people may want to correct me here but I'll tell you want I see as the bare bones of Buddhism.

The purpose as stated is to reduce suffering. But how much you reduced it is entirely up to you (unless you want to become a monk). You can be 1% Buddhist or 100% Buddhist but the road to Nirvana will obviously be quicker via the latter. Take the 8 precepts if you will. Think of it as a soup with different ingredients, the more you stick to the recipes outlined by Buddha the less suffering you should endure in the long run.

What you talk about or think of as pleasure is actually just a very subtle form of suffering. What happens when you stop singing and dancing and go home? You become a little sad because it's finished, right? You want to do it again next week right? Do u think next week you will be happy when it finished again?

Please don't take everything too seriously especially when starting. Your goal imo really should be first to stop lying, stealing and killing to begin with, then work from there. You want to stop yourself from creating negative Karma, by abiding to the 3 conducts above this will help in going along the way.

Everything is pretty much linked to cause and effect (karma). You're not going to stop creating negative Karma until a lot further along. You need to understand Karma, attachment, ego-grasping; how to meditate properly and practise it among many many other things.

Don't look at Karma in such a cliched way (i love karma), by reducing the amount of negative Karma you give out, you're stopping negative karma coming back at you. Which in turn will give you a more positive rebirth and a more positive future in this life.

You can still have a materialistic lifestyle if this is what you chose. But just know that buying the new iPhone X won't give you eternal bliss, or true happiness as at some point it may get stolen. It may break or you may lose it (entering the suffering). The law of impermanence means that nothing last forever. And what you believed to be happiness isn't the same as eternal bliss :).

In my humble opinion stopping all suffering is pretty impossible as a laymen. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't strive for a happier future.

The Buddha would say that most people today suffered from mental afflictions, it's just a matter of degree. Your aim is to actually live "in the now" as thinking about past and future will create suffering in some form.

If you take everything too seriously you will end up creating negative thoughts which in turn can create negative Karma and this is exactly what Buddha trying to stop. If you break a precept and sleep on a large bed for instance, then beating yourself up about it is exactly what Buddha doesn't want. Your aim is to stop your OWN suffering, no one else's. But just remember what goes around comes around.

As a laymen, you can sleep on a normal bed. But just beware that one day your life can change and when you don't have that big cozy bed still guess who's gonna suffer?? That's right you.

Take from Buddhism what you want, as much or as little. The more you take from Buddhism the less suffering will occur in your mind.

And to me this is the core to Buddhism it's all about your mind. Learning how to protect your mind and enhance it is the Buddha's thing. If you want to have sex, have sex. But know this isn't going to give you eternal happiness. If you fall in love with the person you had sex with and they left you one day you will be the one who sufferred.

If you really want to become enlightened then give up sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, go living in the mountains with monks and meditate and practise Buddhism for the rest of your life, otherwise you can just concentrate on reducing your suffering and in turn you will lead a happier life. There's many videos on Buddhism in YouTube. If I were you go there and watch as much as you can to get a good idea of what it's about. Don't take it too serious and enjoy the feeling of freedom and peace that it can bring.

The only way you can fail with Buddhism is by not starting and by not carrying on. Try and avoid mystifying it too much to begin with, and try and avoid teachers who are hard to understand and use mystifying words as this will all make it harder to understand. All the big and new words can create too much confusion and aren't really what it's all about. Some people are very far into it and know all the fancy words and use them so freely out of habit or because they think you may be far into it as well and understand it all. While others may do it to strengthen their egos (I'm not talking about anyone on this thread by any means). I personally try and keep it simple. As this suits me best.

For me Buddhism is about freeing my mind and learning to let go of anger, hatred, jealousy and fear and becoming a more compassionate, happier and loving person.

Good luck and keep going more into it, there will be a lot to absorb but worth it.

  • And it's not really about living with as little as possible either, it's really about leading a happier existence by knowing your mind properly. Think of buddha as the greatest master of psychology who ever lived and a scientist who was way ahead of his time and is way ahead of this present time now. Wanting to travel, is basically a desire, and as long as you desire things you will stay stuck in the cycle of suffering. But again don t take it all too seriously as your creating your own suffering by doing so. Go and travel wherever you want, But know this isn t the answer to eternal happiness. – Charles Mar 15 '18 at 6:41
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Am I not allowed to dance? To sing? To fall in love?

You allowed, because a lay man just has to observe 5 precepts, first. However, how you sing is how you unpracticed in buddhist training. So, to understand buddhist teaching deeper, a lay man may observe 8 precepts 1 day per week. This 8 precepts included watching/dancing-rejection, listening/singing-rejection, and making-love.

Is the purpose of Buddhism to become a munk or nun? To meditate and never get a taste of life?

No, buddhism purpose to enlighten nibbāna, both lay man and ordained man can meditate to enlighten nibbāna. But the ordained man is expedient to do, because of their discipline life-style. Similitude, you can learn in the university, and you can learn by yourself.

Is it "bad" to want to travel?

The buddha just cared the traveler about the risk between the travelling, see S.N. Nidānavagga Duggatasutta. Both this life travelling and the other lives travelling are very risk.

The monk still travels to search for a good place for the meditation. He happy with his life. But the monk's travelling leading to finish the cycle of traveling (dependent origination), so it is not very risk when compare to the general travelling.

Is it "bad" to want to be happy and/or content?

It is risk to happy with 5 kāmaguṇa, 5 strings tied you to 5 kāmaguna, see M.N. Mūlapaṇṇāsaka,mahādukkhakkhandhasutta.

Is Buddhism about finding happiness in Nirvana? Is that really it? Is it not about being happy where we currently are? Are we not allowed to truly live in the moment?

We can be happy with every state of life. But nibbāna is the best happiness which give the best resultant. So, no one can force you to happy with your life, but don't be sorry later, when you knew "Oh, I this happiness come with the problem, suffering" like we daily doing in M.N. Mūlapaṇṇāsaka, mahādukkhakkhandhasutta.

I am quite new to everything about Buddhism, and I apologize if anything I've said in this question is insulting or rude. I don't know who else I can ask questions like these. I hope someone can explain to me.

Your question is not insulting or rude. You just confuse about the benefit/ the advantage of the buddhism, because dhamma of buddhism is the hardest teaching to understand and to follow in few years. But do you know? Hard working causes the best benefit.

Someone used his whole life to train follow to the buddha's teaching, but in the end of life he still not enlighten nibbāna. This is how the buddhism's teaching hard.

  • Does Volapor think it's a proper Avatar to approach Dhamma and display not only words but also actions? Given the topic, it seems to be a good time to make the young man a little more aware. – Samana Johann Jan 18 '18 at 9:36
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Of course you can dance, sing and fall in love. Do you think these things don't exist in Buddhist countries?

Monks forego these things but you don't have to become a monk. As a lay Buddhist, you don't even have to take the 8 precepts (where singing and dancing are mentioned) and observe uposatha days.

I don't think Buddhism is against the material. It's practical. It's more a case of understanding what is essential and what is not essential. You need to eat but not everything etc.

From Dhammapada I.11-12:

asāre sāramatino sāre cāsāradassino te sāraṃ nādhigacchanti micchāsaṅkappagocarā sārañ ca sārato ñatvā asārañ ca asārato te sāram adhigacchanti sammāsaṅkappagocarā

Thinking to be essential, what is not, seeing no essence in what is essential, they, feeding on wrong thoughts, do not discover the essence. Having known the essence as the essence, non-essential as non-essential, they, feeding on right thoughts, discover the essence.

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    So it's more about... trying to live life with as little as possible, as good as possible, and as happily as possible? – Lou P.F Jan 16 '18 at 20:24
  • Well, as little as possible of what is unnecessary. An airplane is a very complex system but little of that complexity is excess. – Simon H Jan 16 '18 at 20:49
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Is it ok if i change materialistic happiness to pleasures through 5 sense gates (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body)? For those who are not ready to abandon them, Buddha taught us to know 5 things about them

  • casuals.
  • inability to sustain, or stay that way.
  • deliciousness.
  • drawbacks, adverse reactions.
  • and the right way to remove self from them.

Buddha compared those who are "smart" in taking 5 sensual pleasures to a dear feeding near a trap set by a hunter but smart enough to not to get trapped and smart enough to jump and run away as soon as a sight of a hunter.

  • Can you give (or tell me anything extra, to help me find) a reference for those two statements (i.e.: the list of 5 things to know; and, the simile of the deer)? – ChrisW Jan 16 '18 at 19:56
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    let me give you pali first and i will hunt down simile for you (pun intended). samudayacca (causal-sense gates+objects), atthaṅgama (impermanent, constructed with components), assāda (deliciousness- sukka vedana), ādīnava (drawbacks -decaying), nissaraṇa (right way to get out -medition and/or wisdom of a noble level, 8 fold path) – user5056 Jan 16 '18 at 20:34
  • "and the right way to remove self from them", thats merely the Cockaigne lie of Dhamma seller. Enjoy sensuallity and reject self responsibility... @DeanA. Dwelling in the fire of householder equanimity... – Samana Johann Jan 17 '18 at 11:13
  • samana Johann. please look up "nissaraṇa". + Pasarasi Sutta MN26 " ....the hunter cannot do with him as he likes, and when the hunter comes he can go where he wants...." and what does Dwelling in the fire of householder equanimity, mean? I suggest you do more research about Buddha's teachings to house-holders. My answer does not suggest anyone to be deep in sensual pleasures but if one does not have inclination to remove self from it, Buddha gave guild line on what to do too. not everyone is ready for total renunciation and Buddha knew that fact very well. – user5056 Jan 17 '18 at 16:13
  • oh, just came to me. do you feel that my answer was to go head and enjoy 5 sensual pleasures as long as one rejects responsibility? That wasn't it. the answer was "enjoy 5 sensual responsibility according to guideline given by Buddha which texts can be found at MN26. Though technically he did not say directly enjoy them responsibly, he went on and say "look at them this way while you are at it". that's my take on MN26 – user5056 Jan 17 '18 at 16:30
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The goal in Buddhism is the end of suffering. But why do you want to reach the end of suffering? The reason is to attain the only permanent happiness, which is Nibbana.

So, the mission in Buddhism is really the pursuit of happiness. The Buddha discovered that both over-indulgence and over-asceticism are not conducive to the path to the end of suffering. So, he prescribed the middle way through the Noble Eightfold Path.

If you follow the middle way, you can have long term, medium term and short term goals of happiness.

The long term goal associated with this mission is attaining Nibbana (permanent happiness). It might take multiple births, maybe even aeons to achieve this.

The medium term goal would be to try to achieve: at least stream entry for Theravada and strong cultivation of Bodhicitta for Mahayana. You can also get more info on stream entry in this YouTube video talk.

The short term goal would be to try to achieve and maintain "materialistic" happiness in this life and future lives (which includes avoiding unfortunate rebirths). At the very minimum, you need to keep the five precepts with heedfulness (appamada). Going a little further, you need to practise more of virtue (sila) with heedfulness (appamada).

This short term goal is described in the Ittha Sutta:

Long life, beauty, status, honor, heaven, high birth: To those who delight in aspiring for these things in great measure, continuously, the wise praise heedfulness in making merit.

The wise person, heedful, acquires a two-fold welfare: welfare in this life & welfare in the next. By breaking through to his welfare he's called prudent, wise.

For lay followers, there is plenty of advice on achieving the short to medium term goals in the Gihi Sutta (or Discourse to the Householder), Sigalovada Sutta, Dighajanu Sutta and Anana Sutta. The minimum training rules imposed on lay followers are the five precepts. Also see this answer for the question "Can a Buddhist own and run a billion dollar business?"

For those in a hurry to Nibbana, there are the more advanced training paths of anagarika (sort of a pre-monk or pre-nun), novice monk or nun, and fully ordained monk or nun. Please see this answer for details.

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