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What the Buddha Thought (Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies Monographs) [Hardcover]

Richard Gombrich
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 55.00
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Book Description

15 Aug 2009 1845536126 978-1845536121
In What the Buddha Thought, Richard Gombrich argues that the Buddha was one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of all time. Intended to serve as an introduction to the Buddha's thought, and hence even to Buddhism itself, the book also has larger aims: it argues that we can know far more about the Buddha than it is fashionable among scholars to admit, and that his thought has a greater coherence than is usually recognised. It contains much new material. Interpreters both ancient and modern have taken little account of the historical context of the Buddha's teachings; but by relating them to early brahminical texts, and also to ancient Jainism, Gombrich gives a much richer picture of the Buddha's meaning, especially when his satire and irony are appreciated. Incidentally, since many of the Buddha's allusions can only be traced in the Pali versions of surviving texts, the book establishes the importance of the Pali Canon as evidence. The book contains much new material. The author stresses the Buddha's capacity for abstraction: though he made extensive use of metaphor, he did not found his arguments upon it, as earlier thinkers had done. He ethicized and radically reinterpreted older ideas of karma (human action) and rebirth. Similarly, building on older texts, he argued for the fundamental importance of love and compassion, and analysed fire as a process which could stand as a model for every component of conscious experience. Morally, the Buddha's theory of karma provided a principle of individuation and asserted each individual's responsibility for his own destiny. To make the book completely accessible to the general reader, the author provides an introductory section of 'Background Information,' for easy reference.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Equinox Publishing Ltd,SW11 (15 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845536126
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845536121
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,176,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Richard Gombrich is founder and President of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, and Chairman of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies. Before his retirement in 2004, he held the Boden Chair of Sanskrit at Oxford University and a Professorial Fellowship at Balliol College for 28 years. He is the author of 200 publications. He continues to lecture and teach at universities round the world.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and original 1 Aug 2011
When I saw that the book had just a 3-star average rating (based on two previous reviews), I figured I should chime in with a few words. First of all, the book IS excellent, well worth 5 stars.

I've had the book for over a year now and used it in a "Buddhist Philosophy" university course. I think it is best read by someone who has done some preliminary reading on early Buddhism. I used Paul Williams' "Buddhist Thought" to give a broader context to the material, and the two books work together very well. Gombrich's first couple chapters are indeed 'introductory' and tend to follow accepted academic work, but what he packs into those chapters is pretty extraordinary! He provides not just a translation of some key teachings and explanation, but a *way* of interpreting and understanding Buddhist teachings.

The rest of the book consists mostly of probing inquiries into certain 'puzzling' aspects of Buddhist thought, and some puzzling aspects of current scholarship. These chapters give systematic insight into teachings such as "no-soul" and the practice of metta (loving-kindness). You also get a look at how the Buddha taught, his use of metaphor and even satire.

What I liked most about the book is that I didn't feel like I was told "what to think" - but instead encouraged to re-think for myself how I understand the Buddha's teachings. Definitely a must read for practitioners who have already done some basic academic reading on the subject as well as academics looking for a fresh perspective.

And for what it's worth, it recently won a Choice Outstanding Academic Title award 2010 (check the publisher website for more on that).
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and mostly OK for a non scholar 13 Oct 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book is mildly intellectual. Gombrich is a scholar and not a practitioner, but is writing for a broad audience. It's a bit like "A Brief History of Time" - articulating complex ideas well with the least technical method possible in order to be accurate.

I've never read anything else about the influence of Vedic thought on the Buddha, but I find Gombrich's book informative and convincing. He is exacting about what is conjecture and what is strongly likely. The only downside is the limitations of rational analysis. Sometimes what he mentions as paradoxical does not seem to to me because of meditative experience.

Still, well worth a read whether you agree with his conclusions or not.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What The Buddha taught 4 Jan 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is NOT a good place for a beginner wanting to learn about Buddhism or a casual enquirer. Richard Gombrich is a highly learned man and this discourse is very thought provoking as it attempts to place The Buddha's teaching in the context of HIS time,but can be very dry and academic-not easy reading.This work explains how the Buddha, starting to expound a whole new way of seeing the World and reality was up against the established Brahminical & Jain thought and teachings of Northern India c 450 bce, drew on their own texts and teachings as well as language and concepts. An interesting work, but a better place to start would be "Gautama Buddha" by Vishvapani Blomfield which draws on this study but is presented in a much more readable and accessible way.
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