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How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings

Richard F Gombrich (Author)

This book takes a fresh look at the earliest Buddhist texts and offers various suggestions how the teachings in them had developed. Two themes predominate, firstly, it argues that we cannot understand the Buddha unless we understand that he was debating with other religious teachers, notably Brahmins. For example, he denied the existence of a "soul", but what exactly was he denying? Another chapter suggests that the canonical story of the Buddha's encounter with a brigand who wore a garland of his victims' fingers probably reflects an encounter with a form of ecstatic religion.

The other main theme concerns metaphor, allegory and literalism. By taking the words of the texts literally - despite the Buddha's warning not to - successive generations of his disciples created distinctions and developed doctrines far beyond his original intention. One chapter shows how this led to a scholastic categorization of meditation. Failure to understand a basic metaphor also gave rise to the late argument between the Mahayana and the older tradition. Perhaps most important of all, a combination of literalism with ignorance of the Buddha's allusions to brahminism led Buddhists to forget that the Buddha had preached that love, like Christian charity, could itself be directly salvific.

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About the author

Richard F Gombrich

Richard Gombrich has been Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University and Professorial Fellow of Balliol College since 1976. He has been Secretary for Europe of the International Association of Buddhist Studies and is Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Pali Text Society. He has published 8 books and about 40 articles, mostly on Buddhism. His most recent books are Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo and (with Gananath Obeyesekere) Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sir Lanka; the latter is intended to do for modern Sinhalese Buddhism in the cities what Precept and Practice did for its traditional manifestations in the countryside.

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Bibliographic information

Title How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings
Format Hardcover
Date published: 31.12.2002
Edition 1st. ed.
Language: English
isbn 8121508124
length 191p., 8.8" X 5.8"