Customer Reviews


62 Reviews
5 star:
 (36)
4 star:
 (19)
3 star:
 (5)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast and clear
The quality of a factual book should be judged by its lack of overt partiality, comprehensiveness, sources and ability to make you think and ask questions. This book scores well on all points and above all reads like an essay which you can zap through. It contains a good bibliography for follow up reading and includes details of the the award winning "Journal of...
Published on 26 Jan. 2001 by Sarakani

versus
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too many shortcomings
This book is a quick and easy read, and it attempts to give a very brief overview of Buddhism. The book provides some helpful information but I believe that it has some significant shortcomings which is why I have given it only two stars.

I'm not sure what audience the book is aimed at. It is too brief for an academic interest, and my personal view is that it...
Published on 4 Aug. 2009 by BobBob


‹ Previous | 1 27 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast and clear, 26 Jan. 2001
By 
Sarakani (Harrow United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
The quality of a factual book should be judged by its lack of overt partiality, comprehensiveness, sources and ability to make you think and ask questions. This book scores well on all points and above all reads like an essay which you can zap through. It contains a good bibliography for follow up reading and includes details of the the award winning "Journal of Buddhist ethics" on the web which was partly established by the author. Apart from the author's erudition his book is backed up by other experts and has been reviewed by his students.
Above all the book analyses what is meant by religion (as Buddhism does not easily fit this classification) and provides a modern interpretation of this system of thought from all its major perspectives. The treatment of Mahayana Buddhism short, yet precise and on the whole Keown concentrates on highlights. Towards the end is a discussion on Buddhism in the West. The book also provides useful comparisons with other religions.
Compared to many small and "cheap" introductions to Buddhism, this book is fairly impeccable. It is not perfect (2 tiny errors I identified with regards to scriptural quotations) but will lead anyone interested to work out what Buddhism is for him or herself, rather than being spoon fed as it were. I was however, disappointed that the book ended so fast - and glad at the follow up leads left, by this trustworthy writer.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and insightful introduction to the faith., 18 July 2013
By 
A. I. McCulloch "Andrea" (Co Durham) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
For anyone who has expressed an interest in Buddhism, or who is focused on finding more about the faith in general, this is an excellent purchase.

It's a neat summary of the teachings of the Buddha, but as well as this, it looks at how the practice of the faith may be incorporated into daily life. It's an examination, not rigourous, but still remarkably thorough on what it means to be Buddhist.

Many introductions to Buddhism lose themselves in deep descriptions of mindfulness and meditationary practices which can be confusing and too much to absorb. This book steers well clear of that trap and offers something far more readily accessible.

It points out the major features of Buddhism that distinguish it from other religions; it also looks at the spread of the faith and its development over the centuries. Recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too many shortcomings, 4 Aug. 2009
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is a quick and easy read, and it attempts to give a very brief overview of Buddhism. The book provides some helpful information but I believe that it has some significant shortcomings which is why I have given it only two stars.

I'm not sure what audience the book is aimed at. It is too brief for an academic interest, and my personal view is that it would not be very interesting for anyone looking at Buddhism for personal interest. It might be helpful for a secondary school student doing a project on Buddhism.

I have been involved in Buddhist meditation for many years and I wanted to gain a better general knowledge of Buddhism. I thought that this book might give an interesting overview of the history and cultures of Buddhism, and some insight into the nature of the Buddhist belief system and an overview of the different Buddhist meditation practises.

The Pros:

The author helpfully provides a very brief and balanced overview of the history of Buddhism, and of the different lineages.

And the book succinctly explains some confusing aspects of Buddhism which I have touched upon when learning meditation, but which I had not properly understood before, as follows:
1) An explanation of the meanings and origins of some of the Buddhism-specific words which crop up regularly when learning Buddhist meditation;
2) An explanation of the history of the two main Buddhist texts (Pali and Sanskrit); and
3) The explanation of the differences between the two main schools of Buddhism (Therav‚da and Mah‚y‚na).

The book takes an academic approach, and so the subject is explained dispassionately, which has some value in some of the chapters. There is no esoteric jargon to decipher, and there are no cryptic passages to try to unravel, there is no complex language or indecipherable texts. There is no promoting Buddhism as the best path to take, and there is no sectarianism, nor any sight of a preachy, lofty holy man who talks in riddles.

So I found some parts of the book educational and useful.

The Cons:

However, it is such an extremely brief introduction to Buddhism, that after reading it, I felt I had learned almost nothing. The book does not do justice to Buddhism's complex history, many rich cultures and deep philosophies and belief systems. I know it is a 'very short introduction', but the book on Carl Jung, in the same series, gives a very rich and absorbing overview of the subject which left me very satisfied.

This book is written in a dry academic style, and I came to the conclusion that the author has no personal interest in the subject, except for a purely academic interest. That might not seem like a problem for the purposes of writing a balanced overview of a religion, but the author does not go into any depth about the nature of Buddhist beliefs, philosophy, meditation practise, or meditation experience.

For example, `enlightenment', the single `purpose' of Buddhist meditation practise is not explained, and I don't remember seeing it mentioned at all. Religions build their foundations on beliefs and subjective experiences. This is especially the case with Buddhism, which bases its philosophies on the first-hand subjective experiences gained in mediation practise. So the book misses out some essential aspects of Buddhism, which are full of interest, curiosity and insight

The book did not stimulate my curiosity about Buddhism, which I think would be a major shame for anyone reading about the subject for the first time. The subject is so interesting that it would be a shame if a reader never looked at Buddhism again as a result of reading an uninspiring book.

Major shortcomings:

But, more importantly, and the reason that I gave the book only two stars, is because I thought that the book was misleading and biased in certain sections, as follows:

1. In my opinion, the section on meditation contains significantly misinformed and inaccurate information and analysis. I thought that this chapter, in particular, was unhelpful. It would be a shame if someone had bought the book particularly to find out about Buddhist meditation because, in my opinion, they would come away having been misinformed as to the nature and purpose of meditation, and also uninspired about the subject. The section on meditation is written with a lack of insight into the subject, giving a shallow and uninspiring account of meditation.
(I would have to re-read the chapter to give specific examples of inaccuracies. If I get around to it, then I'll post any further discussion in the 'comments' section, directly after this review.)

2. In another section of the book, the author discusses (questions) the validity, and justification, of Buddhist beliefs. He seems to dismiss some ancient Buddhist philosophies, in a rather flippant and patronising way, possibly because they don't fit in with his world-view formed by his apparent western Christian education. As he does not present evidence to support his discussions in this area, then I could only assume that the author was making assumptions, and presenting biased opinions as fact.

In such a short book, which is supposed to be a balanced (?) overview, I thought it was inappropriate to question the validity of Buddhist beliefs. A belief which is based on a subjective experience is a difficult and delicate subject to challenge, and should be done with care and skill. Buddhist beliefs have been formed over many centuries of deep philosophical thought, discussion and first-hand subjective experience through meditation practise.

As far as I can remember, the author did not explain how the Buddhist beliefs, which he questions, had come about, or on what evidence Buddhists base their beliefs.

It would have been enough for this book to lay out what the Buddhist beliefs are, and explain the different schools of thought. It did not seem appropriate for the author to question Buddhist beliefs in such a short book, especially without offering evidence, and when having such a seemingly narrow, academic, understanding of the subject. It felt, to me, like the author was undermining Buddhist philosophy, but without thorough investigation, evidence or explanation. It would take a very long book to do justice to a discussion about Buddhist beliefs and their validity, rather than a few dismissive remarks based on a personal world-view.

Buddhist monks spend their whole lives learning about Buddhism first-hand through years of meditating, and the author gives opinions on the subjective experiences of meditation when he probably hasn't had these subjective experiences himself. If a belief is based on a subjective experience, then it seems to me that it would be difficult to justify dismissing that belief, without a thorough investigation and discussion about the subject with someone who holds that belief.

3. The author appears to have a narrow western academic world-view which doesn't seem to sit entirely comfortably with Buddhism. This is demonstrated in one section of the book where the author attempts to explain Buddhism by comparing it to Christianity, in a dry academic way. In this section, the author seems to make the assumption that the reader is familiar with Christianity, and is aligned with the same fixed Western Christian establishment world-view, and background, as he apparently is. I found this frustrating and inappropriate for various reasons, one of which is because I have my own developed views on Christianity which I do not share with the author. I feel that Buddhism can be explained in its own right, and does not require comparison to another religion which the author assumes is more familiar to the reader.

4. The author devotes a whole chapter of the book to analysing, in an academic fashion, whether Buddhism is a 'religion' or not. He takes a whole chapter to come to the conclusion that it is a religion. This could have easily been done in a page or two. This just seemed like self-indulgent academic waffle purely to show off the author's academic prowess, rather than to enlighten the reader. Too much of the book is wasted on dry, unnecessary and overly academic argument, leaving little room for more interesting areas of Buddhism.

Finally:

I did find some parts of the book helpful, and it has clearly been a helpful book for some of the Amazon reviewers. So I would not advise people to avoid this short book, but I would ask that people keep in mind the shortcomings that I perceived and have expressed an opinion about above. I suggest not using this book a sole source of information about Buddhism, but to also use other sources of information (e.g. read other books etc). It is such a short read, that it could be useful as a starting point for someone completely new to Buddhism, but I do worry that what I perceive to be misleading information, which I've highlighted above, could misdirect people away from a very fascinating and rich subject.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars concise with enough depth, 10 Sept. 2003
By A Customer
This VSI strikes an excellent balance between being concise & covering the essential elements of Buddhism. I have >20 books on Buddhism & find this one of the best. Particularly good chapters are:
Ch 1 discusses whether Buddhism is a religion and the different dimensions of Buddhism - practical, emotional, mythical, philosophical, ethical & social.
Ch4 on the Four Noble Truths (the Buddha's description of the way the world is) is particularly clear compared to many other books on Buddhism.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good intro, 4 Jun. 2006
By 
Spider Monkey (UK) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This book, although short, has all the key concepts and ideas a beginner would wish to explore with regards to Buddhism. Most questions are answered and the various schools are explained and touched upon. It is clear to read and understand and a good place to start if you wish to learn more about this wonderful path.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable as an introduction but quite difficult to follow, 13 July 2013
By 
Darren Simons (Middlesex, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a new edition of the introduction to Buddhism from the Very Short Introduction series which now has well over 300 books in its collection. It is intended as a short introduction for someone looking to gain a basic understanding of the subject but is far too basic for academic or religious interest.

For me, as someone reading this out of interest rather than academic necessity or religious endeavour, I found at the end of the book I had developed a basic understanding of the core principles and history of Buddhism. I did find some of the history heavy going though, especially the Sanskrit and Pali transliteration which is included throughout. The end chapter which describes the impact and uptake of Buddhism in Western countries was particularly interesting.

I will definitely read other books from this series, although I cannot say this book is entirely satisfactory. It felt a bit overly academic in its tone yet the audience for the book would not in likelihood be that.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buddhism, 23 July 2013
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you are looking for something simple and short to read about Buddhism then you could do worse than start with this interesting little book. It is well written in relatively simple language and illustrated with relevant, black and white illustrations.

The book gives information about Buddha's life, a history of the belief system, explains karma and dharma and the four noble truths. It explains Buddhist ethics and looks briefly at Buddhism in the West and meditation.

There is a useful timeline, a helpful list of further reading and an index. The book is part of a series of `Very Short Introductions' to a wide range of subjects produced by Oxford University Press. This is the second book in this series that I've read and I find them well written and produced and they do exactly what they claim to do - provide a very short introduction.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4.0 out of 5 stars Readable, definitely short, but very thorough., 10 Jun. 2013
By 
H Pedder "bookworm" (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Oxford's 'Very Short Introduction to...' series of books delves into all sorts of historical, theological, and philosophical (to name but a few) subjects that might usually seem a bit out of reach to the masses. They offer a brief insight into these often difficult subjects and this one on Buddhism is no different.

Written by a Professor of Buddhist Ethics, this short introduction to Buddhism is less than 150 pages (the book itself is smaller than A5, almost pocket-sized) but is packed with useful information and background details to this somewhat mystical religion. Damien Keown's expertise is evident, although I'm an absolute novice when it comes to Buddhism so wouldn't really know if it was wholly accurate. What I do know is that this book offers an interesting and accessible insight into the history of Buddhism, its general principles and its future prospects in the East and the West.

The book is broken down into manageable chapters, each one concise and focused. It touches on the better known elements such as karma, meditation and nirvana, as well as exploring the different major types of Buddhism and the foundations of the religion such as the Four Noble Truths. Keown also spans the life of the Buddha himself (and consequently the 'birth' of Buddhism) as much as is possible with the limited information available.

Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction won't 'instruct' you on how to become a Buddhist, nor will it offer any kind of clear definition of what it means to be Buddhist. However, if you're contemplating dipping your toe in the proverbial water, and are interested in finding out more about this most intriguing of religions, you might want to grab a copy of this book. It will provide you with an intelligent foundation on which to make an informed decision and could be the perfect springboard to help you find your own sense of peace, whether that's through Buddhism or not.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent well informed little book, 3 Jun. 2013
By 
Jo Bennie (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an extrememly good book by an expert in the field of Buddhist studies. It is the third in the extensive Very Short Introduction series of books by Oxford University Press which give well informed insight into complex fields of study. Despite the compact size of the book it is packed with information and I came away feeling I had a grasp of what Buddhism is and that I was able to access to further information if I wanted it.

Keown opens the book with a set of useful maps showing where the Buddha lived and taught and where the different types of Buddhism are now found, followed by a note on pronounciation.

He follows this with 9 chapters, the first a valuable discussion on whether or not Buddhism can be classified as a religion. Next come chapters on the life of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, details of the essential Buddhist concepts such as karma, reincarnation and the written exhorations known as the Four Noble Truths.

In the latter chapters Keown follows the spread of Buddhism out of India and speaks about the place of mediation and ethics in Buddhism. In the final chapter he discusses how Buddhism has had an impact in the West in the present day and its relationship to new findings in science.

Finally there is a timeline, further reading and index. The further reading is particularly useful, Keown structures it by subject so, for instance, you know which book to read if you wanted to know more about Buddhism and neuroscience.

The only problem now is that I want to read all the 'Very Short Introduction' books and there are currently 344 of them!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant introduction, 23 May 2013
By 
This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The book starts with the parable, known in other contexts too, of the blind men who each feel a different part of an elephant. The one who tugs its tail thinks an elephant is like a snake, the one who hugs a leg thinks it's like a thick post, and so on. Keown argues that buddhism is a bit like the elephant; people, especially westerners, tend to be interested in only part of the whole, and so conclude that buddhism is essentially pacifist, or that its written doctrines are the most important thing, or its mysticism, or its architecture...or whatever. (Me I think blind people have got more sense...)

The aim of the book is to introduce the main themes of buddhism without getting bogged down in the intricacies of any one of the many, many forms of the faith. And there really are many variations. Buddhism predates the Abrahamic religions (or at least christianity and islam) by several centuries and so has had plenty of time to mutate (writes Keown). In particular, the original buddha refused to accept a role as single head of the movement, or to appoint one to succeed him. So buddhism has never had a single central doctrinal authority like the pope, and developed along many different paths.

The main division is into theravada buddhism (Sri Lanka, most of south east asia) and mahayana buddhism (China, Japan, Tibet). Keown likens this to the split between conservative catholicism and protestantism (perhaps of the work-ethic variety). He warns against taking the parallel too far. My understanding is that theravada focuses on individuals gaining elightenment through personally developing their understanding whereas the mahayanan ("great vehicle") schools tend to see good works involving helping others as equally important in developing good karma. (Karma and dharma are explained at length and clearly). Mahayana buddhism has some interesting similarities to christianity - the Buddha can be seen as having three characters comparable to the father, son and holy spirit view of the christian god.

The divisons within each of the two forks are also considerable. Buddhism is profoundly affected by the cultures it exists in. The teachings of the orginal buddha drew extensively (as I read the book) on the religious and philosophical ideas of the indian subcontinent in which buddhism started and developed - yet it was almost entirely superseded by hinduism, islam, and other faiths in India itself. Again, though pacificism and respect for all life is basic to the orginal "canons" of buddhism, monks in Sri Lanka from ancient times, Burma/Myanmar currently, and Japan during WWII strongly advocated destructive violence against people - and took part in it.

The book concludes with chapters on the nature, importance and various practices of meditation; buddhist ethics; and finally on western attitudes to buddhism. An eye opening and very informative read, a good start to a fascinating subject. This review is of the updated second edition, by the way.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 27 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) by Damien Keown (Paperback - 28 Feb. 2013)
£6.39
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews