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An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World Paperback – 7 Oct 2005
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"Part biography, part history, part travel book, part philosophic treatise, [and mainly] intellectual autobiography, [by someone who] 'couldn't sit still' long enough to meditate successfully . . . Mishra's book is in the best tradition of Buddhism, both dispassionate and deeply engaged, complicated and simple, erudite and profoundly humane."--"The New York Times Book Review""""Succinct, lucid, and coherent."--"Los Angeles Times"" ""[A] journey of self-discovery . . . [Mishra] struggles to reconcile lessons of the Buddha's life with his own shrinking world."--"The New Yorker" "The only sane response to the post-9/11 world."--"Elle"
The Buddha, his life and legacy -- refracted through one man's search for identity and one nation's experience of independenceSee all Product description
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Congratulations to him; he has a voice of wisdom.
This book is experiential and takes us on a journey. It starts with a physical journey to northern India and Nepal to find the birthplace of the Buddha and the main sites where he practised. Then, through encounters with Buddhists in his homeland of India and his reading and questioning, Pankaj Mishra takes us on a journey through the realm of ideas. We come to understand why an Indian who has worked in Europe and in the United States and whose education exposed him to ideas of East and West is gradually, over a ten-year period, drawn from intellectual curiosity about Buddhism to Buddhist practice. Ironically, what draws him to Buddhism initially are books written by Europeans and Americans. ‘I was fascinated then by the fact that some of the greatest writers and intellectuals of the West had not only engaged with but also appreciated the ideas expressed two and a half millennia ago supposedly by an obscure Indian sage under a tree.’
Mishra’s journey is one to which many of us will be able to relate. ‘What relevance,’ he asks himself near the beginning of the book, can Buddhism have ‘in a place where poverty, terrorism and state repression cast a constant shadow?’ Pankaj Mishra is writing about the India of ten years’ ago, but we could ask the same questions in the light of current world politics.
An End to Suffering is an attempt to find an answer. It is enjoyable to read and will appeal greatly to those who are struggling to make sense of an ancient tradition in the postmodern world. Some chapters reflect slightly narrower interests. A lengthy chapter near the end on ‘Empires and Nations’, which covers modern Indian history, is justified for the light it sheds on the political turbulence of the Buddha’s time but is too perhaps detailed for European readers without a special interest in India. However, these caveats aside, An End to Suffering is a rather beautiful book. Pankaj Mishra is a journalist for the broadsheet press – The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman and the New York Review of Books – and has honed a writing style that is both economical and fluid. He has gone to considerable efforts to make difficult Buddhist ideas understandable, weaving complex concepts skilfully into narrative, so his inner and outer journeys echo one another to create a text that wears its erudition lightly. He describes key Buddhist ideas as though he is telling a story, and herein lies the book’s value and appeal and what no doubt has enabled it to be published by a mainstream publisher, rather than by a specialist mind-body-spirit publisher or by a Buddhist press. The appeal of Buddhist books to major publishers in an indication of the 'mainstreaming' of Buddhism in the West and is to be welcomed in making Buddhism more accessible to wider audiences. It is to be hoped that a paperback edition will follow, to broaden still further its appeal.
For those new to Buddhism, Mishra offers an excellent, informed introduction. He describes well the Indian society into which the Buddha was born with its moves towards centralization and urbanization with the attendant religious change and skepticism. He discusses what Buddhists texts and legends have to say about the Buddha's life, and he presents a good overview of the Buddha's teachings, with close attention to specific suttas such as the Fire Sermon and the Parinibanna Sutta (which recounts the death of the Buddha.) Mishra also gives a brief and lucid information about how Buddhism was rediscovered in the West as a result of the efforts of a number of European travelers and British colonial officials during the 19th Century. Most importantly, Mishra explains well the appeal Buddhism, a religion without a God, has to him. This discussion will resonate with many contemporary readers who are fascinated with Buddhist teachings.
But what makes this book work is not merely the factual treatment of basic Buddhism which can be learned from many sources. Rather, Mishra relates his interest in Buddhism (not the religion of his birth) to his own life and ambition. The book comes alive as Mishra learns to understand Buddhism through his own experiences. In this book, we meet a young man born into a poor family in rural India with a driving urge to become a writer. Mishra takes the reader through his childhood and college days. We meet his family and companions and share in his travels. At the outset of the book, the reader joins Mishra as he moves to a small hut in a north Indian village called Mashobra where he studies, wanders, and reads in the process of becoming a writer. We meet his landlord, Mr. Sharma, and many of Mishra's friends in the course of the book. I got the feel, in reading this account, of the life of a struggling young author, who is committed to his chosen path in life, and who achieves a degree of success and fame and still finds the need to ask spiritual questions.
Mishra's book alternates chapters dealing with autobiographical matters with chapters dealing with the Buddha. This juxtaposition is convincing for showing his growing understanding and appreciation of Buddhism. The book also displays an impressive degree of learning and reading, as Mishra discusses and relates his interest in Buddha to Plato, Thoreau, Emerson, de Tocqueville, Schopenhauer, and, in particular, Nietzsche, among others.
I found some of the portions of this book that deal with world politics rather short, free-wheeling and superficial. Perhaps Mishra was overly-ambitious in his aims. But in discussing the teachings of Buddhism and in showing the author's reflection on these teachings, Mishra's book is moving and successful. It struck deep chords with me.
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