What are Orthodox Buddhist Beliefs and Practices?

In Buddhism itself, there is no distinction between orthodox and superstitious, since the fundamental teachings are the same everywhere. Buddhism flows out from the sea of wisdom and compassion that was engendered by Śākyamuni, the enlightened Buddha. Its teachings are full of wisdom, kindness, radiance, comfort, freshness, and coolness. Buddhism as a religion is alive in the communities that have been established based on the Buddha’s teachings.

The term orthodox Buddhism implies correct faith, proper vows, right understanding, upright behavior, and genuine trust. Such authentic faith should be placed in teachings that are (1) timeless, (2) universal, and (3) necessary.[1] In other words, the teachings should have always been true in the past, should be true everywhere in the present, and should infallibly be true in the future.

Faith or reliance on a principle or a thing that fails to meet these three criteria is not correct faith and is therefore superstition. If a religion’s doctrines cannot stand the test of time, are incompatible with the environment, or cannot further develop in the face of change, the religion is superstitious.

It cannot be denied that in regions where Mahāyāna [lit. “Great Vehicle”] Buddhism is practiced, especially in China, authentic Buddhism has largely been the privilege of isolated, eminent monks and small numbers of gentry-scholars. Buddhism has seldom been correctly understood and practiced by the general populace, whose religious practice is actually a potpourri of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. For instance, practices such as worshipping gods and ghosts, and beliefs that people automatically become ghosts after death, are not Buddhist teachings.

  1. “Necessary” here is used as a philosophical term in contrast with “contingent.” “Necessary” implies that the truths expressed by Buddhism are never subject to change based on changing conditions. That is to say, reality could not be otherwise. [Trans.]


Orthodox Chinese Buddhism: A Contemporary Chan Master's Answers to Common Questions. (2007)
by Master Sheng Yen | Translated by Douglas Gildow and Otto Chang. | ISBN 978-1-55643-657-4


Lists of errata, suggested changes and comments by Douglas Gildow