What are the distinctive features of Buddhism? Who was the Buddha, and what are his teachings? Words such as "karma" and "nirvana" have entered our vocabulary, but what do they mean? Damien Keown provides a lively, informative response to these frequently asked questions about Buddhism. As he sheds light into how Buddhist thought developed over the centuries, Keown also highlights how contemporary dilemmas can be faced from a Buddhist perspective. In the second edition Keown provides new perspectives on Buddhist thought, including up-to-date material about the evolution of Buddhism throughout Asia, the material culture of Buddhism and its importance, new teachings on the ethics of war and peace, and changes to ethnicity, class, and gender.
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Although that probably undersells my relationship with Mormonism and oversells my relationship with Buddhism. I do, however, follow many secular Buddhist practices and read " I do, however, follow many secular Buddhist practices and read several books on Buddhism every year. I joke that if I could meditate properly for just one minute, I might at that point achieve Nirvana, or at least begin to float a couple inches over my cushion.
Finally, Keown ends the book discussing Buddhism in the West and the possibilities of development and enlightenment as Buddhism grows in a new field. Anyway, for a book that is limited to less than pages, Keown did a great job and covered a lot of ground.
The limits were Keown necessarily needed to leave unexplored a lot of Buddhist teachings think bullet points of the main concepts. It seemed the answer to all my problems, until - through a defect in my spiritual understanding or the application of common sense - I fell from grace and my vision clouded over. As a result of a string of more or less bitter disappointments, I am very wary of any form of enthusiasm I might experience on the Quest for Meaning front, because they all seem to be followed by a disappointment Indulging my hobby of The Search for Ultimate Meaning recently, I was for a while captivated by Buddhism.
As a result of a string of more or less bitter disappointments, I am very wary of any form of enthusiasm I might experience on the Quest for Meaning front, because they all seem to be followed by a disappointment that is more severe than the short-lived euphoria of enlightenment. There are all sorts of reasons promulgated by the various creeds regarding this state, of course, and indeed any self-respecting religion has built-in safeguards against potential lapsers.
There are loads of anecdotes concerning Buddhist masters expounding on the fragility of life and the importance of the present moment over future and past. One renowned master up-ended his drinking cup every night before retiring to bed, and when his faithful disciples dutifully asked why he did so answered that he might die that night and have no further need of it. Take that down. All very commendable, and something to meditate long and hard on, no doubt — but what if everybody took that attitude?
Same goes for the ancient Greeks and early Christians. All these high-minded thinkers depend on a substratum of ignorant toilers to support them, and it quickly comes to look less like a search for meaning and truth and more like an extreme case of self-indulgence brought on by too much time on your hands. You can almost start to sympathise with the Chinese communists for thinking that enough is enough and that these people should get a proper job and make some sort of a contribution to society.
Every actor needs props, and the enlightened ones are no exception. Even Jesus, who famously packed in carpentry to follow his true calling, needed someone to carry on with the trade to make everything come together at Calvary, and hundreds of extras to follow, clothe and feed him in the meantime.
I sympathise with Pilate and Judas. Pilate, according to the eventual winners, was a rough, sadistic brute without an iota of culture in him. Judas also managed to hold down a proper job as self-respecting freedom fighter, something that got Caractacus and Spartacus plenty of plaudits just a few years earlier.
Judas must be the supreme example of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have plenty of brilliant insights concerning the nature of reality, but they all come to nothing because I end up having to get on with eating, drinking and socialising. Come to think of it, perhaps I could demonise my friends and colleagues for blocking the Light.
Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction