Review From User :
I've read a few books on/of Buddhism, and it's pretty clear that this is a religion not well served by the publishing industry: like Christianity, it's easy to find books on Buddhism that will try to explain how Buddhism will change your life for the better; easy to find books about foundational figures (Buddha himself, in this case); but, unlike Christianity, it's very hard to find books that will teach you about the history of the religion from a more or less objective perspective, without being too specialized.
Well, here's one. How does Gethin do it In part by focusing mostly on the features of Buddhism that, in his argument at least, all the schools share; and in part by being exceptionally smart and good at writing. This is not the book for you if you want a guide to practical meditation, or just generally want religion-without-religion. If you want someone to hold your hand and guide you through the wonderful, staggering maze of Buddhist thought, on the other hand, go to it.
We get summaries and discussions of the taxonomies of meditation stages, the different philosophical questions that are inevitably thrown up by the Buddha's teaching (but what is nothingness the mind the self the no-self a Buddha). Gethin presents many of them in a handy frame: how does one explain the idea of no longer entering the chain of re-birth What is this "nirvana" which we enter instead You might say "well, nirvana means you cease to exist," but that doesn't seem quite right, in no small part because it's not clear what "you" "cease" and "to exist" mean. You might also say "well, nirvana is a kind of eternal state outside rebirth," but that seems wrong too. Trying to avoid these two views is the work of millenia (just like avoiding too much unity in the Christian trinity, and avoiding the total separation of the three).
Gethin traces responses to this problem through the history of southern, eastern and northern Buddhism, and even a few pages on the unfortunate adventures of Buddhism in the west. He does it clearly, concisely, and with modesty. He's probably a bit too keen to give Buddhism a united front, and to downplay disagreements, but that's the worst I can say. Highly recommended.
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