Book: The Story Of Buddhism A Concise Guide To Its History And Teachings by Donald LopezThis particular book is an even-handed overview of Buddhist history, beliefs and practices. If you only are interested in the "adapted for modern Western audiences" version of Buddhism that is found in most books, then you might not be interested in this. But, if you are interested in an historical view that attempts to date, for example, when and where and by whom various sutras were written, when (and to some extent why) the mahayana school developed, and in general how Buddhism developed and has been taught and practiced in various places, then this book is for you. I also recommend Lopez's Prisoners of Shangri-La (if you want a more inside, critical understanding of Tibetan Buddhism).
Much of what we hear about Buddhism today in the West focuses on its philosophy, and how it can change one's life. Throughout history, however, Buddhism's mythology, scriptures, heroes, and its promise for salvation from rebirth have been the Buddhist teachings that most people have known. Religion professor Donald Lopez has mastered a good deal of this immense lore and managed with The Story of Buddhism to get it into a manageable package. Rather than providing a chronological history or country-by-country breakdown, Lopez explores general topics, meandering through two-and-a-half millennia, from India to Japan. In sections such as "Monastic Life," "Tantra," and "Pilgrimage," he talks about the origins of each topic and its mainstream manifestations. In addition, he spices up his work with delectable, if occasionally bizarre, examples from specific cultures. There is, for instance, the story of the depraved man who, once having said the words "Lotus Sutra," was saved from Hell. And the tale of the practice called the "act of truth," in which a perfectly candid statement can have magical powers. Or the story of the monk who attempted to rescue some maggots by opening his own flesh for them. No doubt, Buddhism is interesting, but it takes a competent scholar and a good storyteller to get it just right. Lopez fills the bill.
Lopez, a professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Michigan, says that his primary aim for this book is "to focus on Buddhist practice as a religion." Unlike more superficial how-to books on Buddhism, this book gives a thorough historical and theological explanation of Buddhism's major tenets, starting with Buddhist cosmology and then moving to chapters dedicated to the Three Jewels of Buddhism (the Buddha, dharma and sangha) before ending with a chapter on enlightenment. Interspersed are anecdotes intended to teach key principles in keeping with the idea of Buddhism-as-story; unfortunately, these vignettes are a bit overpowered by lengthy discourse on the history and interpretations of those principles. The bulk of the chapter on "lay practice," for example, focuses on various countries' traditions of lay ordination and funeral rituals, as well as monasteries' relations with their respective states, rather than explicating actual daily lay practice. In trying to explain not only Buddhism's key teachings but also their variations by country, region, teacher and school, the text loses focus. Lopez provides a list for further reading at the end of each chapter as well as a bibliography and glossary at the end of the book, which should be helpful for the student of world religions. His command of the subject is obvious, but his prose is sometimes dry, and the scope may be overly ambitious for the general reader.
The Story Of Buddhism A Concise Guide To Its History And Teachings
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