Lives: Buddha Paperback – 7 Mar 2002
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Writing a biography of the Buddha is not the same as writing one of most other people--even other founders of religions--as Karen Armstrong explains at the start of this excellent book, part of a series of lives of significant figures. Armstrong is a former nun who is now probably Britain's best-known popular writer on religion, the author of A History of God and The Battle for God amongst others.
Almost nothing is known about the Buddha's life as Siddhatta Gotama. The main source is the Pali Canon, a collection of texts made about a century after his death, though not written down until much later. This is a huge body of work which contains the Buddha's sermons and verses, rules for Buddhist monks, and philosophical analyses--but, apart from in passing, almost nothing about his life. In some of his discourses the Buddha illustrates a point with a personal anecdote; his "biography" has to be pieced together from these snippets. And Armstrong accepts that many of these may be mythological in nature, rather than historical in the factual sense we might wish for today. But does this matter? "The early Buddhists looked for significance, rather than historically accurate detail, in their scriptures."
Armstrong takes these snippets and puts them in order to tell Siddhatta Gotama's life story--but she does much more than that. The Buddha didn't spring out of nowhere. One of the most valuable things the author does in this book is to set him in his historical context of the changing religious ideas of the time. And in doing that she also gives an excellent explanation of what Buddhism is all about, in terms that a non-Buddhist can understand. Highly recommended. --David V Barrett --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Destined to become the classic source for anyone delving... into the life and teachings of the religious icon. ("Christian Science Monitor")See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The author of this book is not Buddhist (I believe she is a Christian, though she successfully avoids allowing her own faith to influence the book) and she deals with the life of the Buddha using fact insofar as is possible. For a non-Buddhist, the account of the Buddha's teachings and Buddhist belief is extremely clear and objective, and puts most previous books I've read on the subject to shame. Therefore, if you know little about Buddhism and would like to know more, this is probably the best place to start.
Even better, because the author is non-Buddhist herself, there is no reluctance to approach subjects which previous books I've read have avoided; such as the apparent refusal of the Buddha to ordain women as Buddhist priests. Perhaps surprisingly, the conclusions drawn on most of these topics set forth the Buddha in Buddhism in the best possible light, where it would have been easy to pick on the issues as holes in Buddhist teaching. Areas where different schools of Buddhism contradict are also addressed, and the author concludes that probably neither the Theravada nor the Mahayana schools are accurate to the Buddha's teachings in themselves, but his teachings probably combined aspects of both, and she adds some arguments as to why this would be so. Therefore a Buddhist who has some questions that do not seem to be answered elsewhere would gain much from this book also.Read more ›
Any Buddhist would already know the story of Siddhatta Gotama's birth, his childhood, his renunciation, the 5 years of hard practice, the moment of enlightenment, his teaching and his parinibbana (death). Not surprising then that her book is split into 5 logical chapters in the same order; Renunciation, Quest, Enlightenment, Dhamma (his teaching), Mission and Parinibbana.
Armstrong herself states in the Introduction that "...trying to write a biography of Buddha is a very un-Buddhist thing to do", but I'm glad she did, presumably because she herself is not a Buddhist.
It is her ability to describe these already familiar events of Buddha's life with a dispassionate and objective point of view is what make this book a refreshing read. One very interesting aspect of the book is the description of the social, cultural and spiritual events during the lifetime of Buddha, not only in India but around the world, in other religions, and it helped to understand why a person like Gotama would go off and search for the Truth in the way that he did.
In this day and age, anyone who claims to go off to the forest to find a cure for all mankind (The Dhamma, The Four Noble Truth and the Eight Fold Noble Path), people would think it's a rather futile and an impossible task. But Gotama and his contemporaries like him really believed that they could find the answer to end all human suffering, and the fact that these wandering bhikkhus (monks) were treated and revered as heroes and visionaries in their time is another eye opener to this reader.Read more ›
Whilst the above view point could mean that this biography may not be every Buddhist's cup of tea, the book provides a genuine grounding for any keen investigator like me.
When reading the book I not only got an overview of the core teachings but also a very real sense of Siddhatta Gotama's commitment and balance as he passed through each chapter of his life towards enlightenment and finally Nibbâna. This drew me into Gotama's world and his teachings have made a true impression on me.
Being a Christian, as I am, this book not only gave me a summation of the Buddhist way of life, which was my original intention, but it also gave me a clearer understanding of my own religion.
Having read the book and discussed it with my mother, she commented that `Buddhists have achieved a peace which we Christians should be achieving through Christ' - I think that this remark is not only true but very succinct. I consider that often within religious practice the core meaning can be lost in dogma and in the actual practicing of the religion itself.
Through reading this book I have learnt that religion, whichever is chosen, must be a very personal affair. The Buddha has taught me to attempt abandonment of my own selfish needs and requirements and look beyond my own opinions to realize that in loving the people around us is the very thing that will truly bring peace and enlightenment.
Whilst this is something that I have been taught since I was in a position to learn it is really only through reading this book that I have been able to draw closer to these teachings and really gain a balanced view of how they should be practiced.
In short - Read this book!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A deep book of acceptance - a book of compassion. Buddha teaches us, to always keep that mindful look inwards, because even if we try hard and often successful, it is so easy to... Read morePublished 26 days ago by Nini
As usual, Armstrong leaves herself behind and enters the world of her subject. With only a few orienting references to other great spiritual teachers of the world, she captures the... Read morePublished 16 months ago by Brian Griffith
The life of the Buddha represents, as the author points out, an introduction to Buddhism; this is the best such account I have read - and I have half a shelf full. Read morePublished 20 months ago by Geoff_Cockayne
Karen Armstrong has produced a feasible account of the Buddha cutting through the allegory and mythology of his life and putting him as a rael man in an appropriate historical... Read morePublished on 16 Sept. 2013 by Its Pete
I have never come across this perspective before. It has opened my eyes to what was happening at that time, and although I though the book could have been simpler, it was... Read morePublished on 21 Aug. 2013 by Richard Kelsall
This is a very readable book about a figure that has influenced world history. For Buddhists and non-Buddhists is presents the Buddha in the cultural context of his time which is... Read morePublished on 11 Aug. 2013 by C. M. Hurford
Although it was written a few years back, Karen Armstrong had written a very interesting book on the life of Buddha. Read morePublished on 5 Dec. 2012 by yogi b
I bought this book because I was intrigued about buddhism and I didn't know anything about it, so I thought reading a book about the buddha would help. Read morePublished on 12 Mar. 2012 by Kjlewis36