Ask A Buddhist: Who, What is Buddha?

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By Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

How do we as a human need to approach Lord Buddha. A) As God, B) as a Teacher, C) As a lamp who gives light to shine on understand the Dharma and follow his principles by realizing it?

Shakyamuni Buddha, who lived 2,600 years ago, was once an ordinary being just like us. Born to a wealthy Indian family, he had every luxury available to him, yet still experienced duhkha or dissatisfaction. By determinedly developing his good qualities like love, compassion and wisdom, and by purifying his mind of all defilements, he became fully awakened, an enlightened being, an omniscient one — a Buddha. From his awakened state, he taught the methods that freed his mind to anyone who was interested, regardless of caste, race, religion or gender.

The Buddha did not create the world or the sentient beings in it, nor did he create saṃsāra, the law of karma and its effects, or the path to awakening. Rather, he described all these from his own experience, and in the process showed us the path to free ourselves from suffering and the existence of the awakened state that we, too, can attain it. Therefore, Shakyamuni Buddha is definitely a Teacher and a lamp who gives light that illuminates the Dharma, but within the Buddhist tradition he is not considered a God.  

About Ven. Tenzin Tsepal

Venerable Tenzin Tsepal met Venerable Thubten Chodron, founder of Sravasti Abbey, in Seattle and studied Buddhism with her from 1995 to 1999. During that time, Venerable Tsepal attended the Life as a Western Buddhist Nun conference in Bodhgaya, India in 1996 as a lay supporter. An interest in ordination surfaced after she completed a three-month meditation retreat in 1998. She lived in India for two years while continuing to explore monastic life. In 2001, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

While Venerable Tsepal was in India, some Australians friends introduced her to the 5 year Buddhist Studies Program at Chenrezig Institute (CI) north of Brisbane, Queensland, where she subsequently lived and engaged in intensive residential study from 2002-2015. As the Western Teacher at CI, she tutored weekend teachings and retreats, and taught the Discovering Buddhism courses.

Prior to ordaining, Venerable Tsepal completed a degree in Dental Hygiene, and then pursued graduate school in hospital administration at the University of Washington. Not finding happiness in 60 hour work weeks, she was self-employed for 10 years as a Reiki teacher and practitioner.

Now a member of the resident community at Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Tsepal is compiling and editing the many years of Venerable Chodron’s teachings on monastic training as well as leading a review on the Buddhist philosophical tenets for the residents.

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