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60 of 66 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

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6 of 7 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


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60 of 66 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.
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20 of 22 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
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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.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars concise with enough depth, 10 Sep 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.
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2 of 2 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
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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.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too many shortcomings, 4 Aug 2009
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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.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and sweet, 20 Dec 2003
By 
Kurt Messick "FrKurt Messick" (London, SW1) - See all my reviews
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Part of a series by Oxford University Press, this book, 'Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction', follows the same format as other texts in the Very Short Introduction series -- it has fewer than 150 pages, is well indexed, has a useful glossary, accessible and enjoyable narrative, and captures the essence in a very short space the major points of its topic. There are probably nearing 100 volumes in this Very Short Introduction series (making it, ironically, not a Very Short series), but among those that I have read, this text stands out as being one of the best.
Damien Keown, of the University of London and the Royal Asiatic Society, addresses Buddhism past and present, East and West. Beginning with narrative tales the help to exhibit the principles, Keown examines in turn the major questions. First, with regard to Buddhism, is this -- is Buddhism really a religion? Often categorised as such, it is often the exception proving the rule. Many take strong spiritual and philosophical ideas from Buddhism (sometimes without knowing it) but do not subscribe the larger system of practices -- but perhaps most telling, Buddhism is a non-theistic way of being. Keown looks at seven dimensions of religion, and concludes that Buddhism does fit a broader definition of religion.
Keown proceeds from there to look at the origins of Buddhism, the life of the Buddha, ideas of karma and reincarnation, and the central ideas of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. From these beginnings, Buddhism branches out, the largest grouping being the Mahayana (who get their own chapter), and other spreading first across Asia and then to the rest of the world.
Like other books in this Very Short series, there are useful maps, a nice snapshot timeline, and suggestions for further reading, should the Very Short introduction not prove sufficient (and for many, this sample will leave the reader wanting more). I cannot speak too highly of this series, and of this volume on Buddhism by Keown in particular.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depends what you want from a book on Buddhism, 21 Jan 2005
This book is exactly what the title advertises: a VERY SHORT introduction. Buddhism is a complex system of beliefs. This book purports to report on those aspects of it most refered to by an intrigued western audience, and it accomplishes it in some style. Despite the author's challenge of condensing that which is most important to a tradition spanning two and a half thousand years into a mere 125 pages, Damian Keown deals with the issue admirably. He invokes Ninian Smart's definition that religions have seven discernable dimensions (a valid assumption for the purposes of this book, anyway) and these are:
- Practice & Ritual
- Experiential & emotional
- Narrative & Mythic
- Doctorinal & philosophical
- Ethical and Legal
- Social and institutional
- Material
Besides this, the history of Buddhism is explored in some acceptable format, without being overwhelming, I might add. Also various denominations are discussed. This is really as comprehensive an account of such a diverse field as one could possible hope to squeeze into so few small pages and the author ought to be commended for his efforts.
On a practical note, the book's low price is really an advantage. I know not of any other book from which one could learn as much about the outlines of Buddhism as this one, especially without paying much more in monetary terms. I highly recommend it.
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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
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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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not accessible, 28 Mar 2013
By 
shpadoinkle - See all my reviews
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Because this is a tiny book and and calls itself an introduction, I was expecting an informed but easy read, perhaps even a bit of inspiration. But this book is written in a very academic dense style, which makes it only really suitable as a small reference book. The blurb described it as a 'readable','stimulating' and 'accessible' introduction - I would tend to disagree with all three descriptions.
However, this strange little book is supposed to be accurate and reliable, so by all means buy this if you are going to study Buddhism and you need an overview of the subject as a jumping off point. But perhaps don't buy if you're a casual reader, or looking for inspiration on your spiritual path.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buddhism: A Very Short Temptation, 11 July 2013
By 
Adam Finn (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Kindle Edition)
I really cannot fault this book. The Oxford University Press describe their 'Very Short Introductions' as a "stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject". You don't have to worry too much about the authenticity of the expertise in these books (Damien Keown is a prominent bioethicist and authority on Buddhist bioethics); the connoisseurs that are selected have an undeniable passion in their said subject.

The issue when it comes to these books is whether the book is written lucidly and appropriately enough to be "accessible" to the layman. Generally, the temptation is that most qualified experts feel the need to indulgently show off their scope of knowledge in a subject. Fortunately in this case Keown hits the sweet spot. The introduction poises an acute balance of detail and intrigue without distancing the newbie via excessive terminology and waffle; Proff Keown has given a fair few other authors in this series a stern lesson.

There are some fascinating areas covered in this book and its beyond my review to cover them all so if you are interested in this subject and want to learn more then go ahead and buy this book. Keown is kind with his references to further reading too should the appetiser leave you hungry for more. This is how the book progresses:

(1) Buddhism and Elephants
(2) The Buddha
(3) Karma and Rebirth
(4) The Four Noble Truths
(5) The Mahayana
(6) The spread of Buddhism
(7) Meditation
(8) Ethics
(9) Buddhism in the West

The introduction defines Buddhism as a religion highlighting the emphasis on the experiential dimension and self-transformation, harnessing the power of the mind through meditation and equanimity. We then move on to the Buddha (the religion's deceased sage) and his personal journey and subsequent Dharma (teachings). Within these teachings are the 'Karma and Rebirth' that define the cosmology of the Buddhist existence and the desire that can lead the mind into suffering.

The book also covers the geographical and historical development of the religion in Asia and the 'Great Schism' leading to the distinction of the Theravada ('Doctrine of the Elders') / Mahayana ('Great Vehicle') schools. Keown makes a light comparison here to the Protestant/Catholic divide in Christianity, which is a refreshing and enlightening regularity in the book reminding us of the similarities in religious endeavor that simultaneously occurred in separate and unrelated movements throughout the world.

But perhaps the most insightful area in this book is the persistent departure to meditation that crops up in all chapters - this is without doubt the central point of this anthropological religion; meditation is the route to enlightenment that all Buddhists should seek to achieve. It's difficult in this new age not to find personal interest in meditation and its potential benefits when reading this book. In fact once you have concluded the book you will see this as a Very Short Temptation, rather than just an Introduction.

A compelling subject and a wonderful short book.

[Note: This review is for the second edition, in Kindle format. The kindle production was faultless - but for (currently) just one pound less than the book format, it may be neater to own the real thing. One issue with the kindle productions in these VSI books is that the pictures do not correspond very well to the text]
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