Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice

Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice

Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice

Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice

Synopsis

Buddhism is one of the world's most powerful religious traditions. It is now the third-most-practiced religion in the United States, with about 2.4 million adherents. What is it about this faith that appeals to so many raised in other traditions? Can it really, as this author claims, reveal the sound of one hand clapping?

Excerpt

In some ways, the Buddha was like the rest of humankind. He was born, he lived, he suffered, and he died. He was, at various times, a prince and a pauper, a husband, a father, and a homeless ascetic. He had many friends, and a few enemies.

But, according to Buddhist belief, the Buddha did something that set him apart from the rest of us—and brought us closer. He became enlightened, and with his enlightenment, he transcended the human condition and achieved that ultimate, absolute state beyond birth, death, and suffering. He became the Buddha: The Awakened One. And he showed us the way to do the same thing.

Like Jesus and Muhammad, the Buddha wrote nothing. In fact, he insisted that Buddhism should be a lived experience rather than a collection of rules, rituals, and sermons. Inevitably, of course, all these appeared in Buddhism. In fact, this religion “without a scripture” has a vast number of “canonical” writings, unlike “scripture-based” religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, each of which has only one. The scriptures of Buddhism occur in dozens of languages, mostly Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, and Tibetan, but with a scattering appearing in such lost or exotic tongues as Sogdian, Khotanese, and Tocharian B. We do not even know what language the Buddha spoke, although it was probably an ancestor of Magadhi, the ancient dialect of the kingdom of Magadha.

Today Buddhist texts are generally referred to according to the language they were written in, so we have the Pali Canon, the Tibetan Canon, and so on. Many of them are called sutras, a word which literally means “thread” in Sanskrit and is related to our word “suture.” They were originally composed on palm leaves that were threaded together to make a book. Unlike in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, or Islam, the Buddhist canon is not closed; there is no central authority to decide which books qualify, although . . .

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