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on 18 December 2010
"The World of Buddhism", edited by Heinz Brechert and Richard Gombrich, is an excellent scholarly anthology. It deals with the teachings, historical development and contemporary practice of Buddhism, the first world religion. The book is primarily intended for students of comparative religion. With some effort, it could also be read by the general reader.

The book says relatively little about the original teachings of the Buddha (only one chapter) and almost nothing about Buddhist philosophy. Instead, the emphasis is on the history and current practice of Buddhism. There are extensive chapters on Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand and Japan. It turns out that Buddhism has changed in often bewildering ways, which makes you wonder how much of the original teaching really remains. Thus, Buddhist monks in many nations are involved in social work or political activism, something prohibited by the monastic rules. In some nations, certain forms of Buddhism have become laicized. Virtually everywhere, Buddhism has been combined with other religions, including Hinduism, Shintoism or local spirit cults. Tibetan Buddhism in particular is very different from the original form. Yet, Tibetan Buddhism is easily the most well known form of Buddhism in the West!

The book ends with a relatively short chapter on Buddhist modernism and the spread of Buddhism in the United States and Western Europe. Apparently, neither Alan Watts nor Herman Hesse were Buddhist enough for the authors, who express strong disagreement with the first and don't even mention the second. (Isn't Alan the man anymore?) Yet, Watts, Hesse and perhaps Winnie the Pooh are probably the closest thing most Westerners have come to Buddhism, save the Tibetan Book of the Dead. A more comprehensive chapter on "really existing" Western Buddhism (warts and all) would have been better. Interestingly, the book doesn't criticize D.T. Suzuki.

Still, I recommend "The World of Buddhism" to everyone seriously interested in this religion and its practices. Without this book, you would probably feel lost in this strange and wonderful world!
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on 23 November 2010
The subtitle of this extensive, large fornatted book is 'Buddhist Monks and Nuns in Society and Culture', a title that encapsulate the material included in this book. There are eleven listed contributors including Etienne Lamotte, Lal Mani Joshi and Michael B Carrithers, etc. The book is lavishly illustrated with both colour and black and white photographs, together with a number of lined drawings. The book is designed around a systematic and logical presentation of Buddhism that is accesible to the beginner, as well as the seasoned scholar. There are six sections:

Part I. The Path to Enlightenment.
Part II. The Indian Tradition.
Part III. Theravada Buddhism.
Part IV. Buddhism in East Asia,
Part V. Tibetan Buddhism.
Part VI. Buddhism in the Modern World.

Erik Zurcher writes a particularly interesting piece regarding Buddhisn in China, Korea and Vietnam, and Per Kvaerne comments on the rise and fall of the Tibetan monastic tradition. The accompanying photographs are stunning and offer an extra visual component to this book, that serves to augment the clear and precise text. There is much important wisdom contained within this book, written by experts in their particular field. The paperback (1991) has 308 numbered pages. There are 297 illustrations, 82 in colour, as well as 215 photographs, drawings and maps. This is a beautifully conceived and presented book of gathered knowledge from many quarters. It is an excellent introduction and over-view of the many facets that make-up the Buddhist world. Superb.
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