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Buddha by Karen Armstrong
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Buddha (2001)

by Karen Armstrong

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1,388278,262 (3.81)52
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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
This rich, timely, and highly original portrait of the Buddha explores both the archetypal religious icon and Buddha the man. In lucid and compelling prose, Armstrong brings to life the Buddha's quest, from his renunciation of his privileged life to the discovery of a truth that he believed would utterly transform human beings and enable them to live at peace in the midst of life's suffering. Buddha also expands to focus and meditate on the culture and history of the time, as well as the Buddha's place in the spiritual history of humanity, and the special relevance of his teachings to our own society as we again face a crisis of faith.
  PSZC | Mar 28, 2019 |
This work is an odd choice for the Penguin Lives series, given that we know next to nothing about the historical figure known as Gautama Buddha. Reliable information is so sparse that we do not even know in what century he lived. (Scholarly estimates range from 560 to 450 BCE). Further, the records of his alleged teachings come from a variety of oral traditions, and none were written down until 400 years or more after his death. Consequently, what has come down to us as the Buddhist tradition consists of multiple layers of myths invented and reconstructed by unknown individuals over the centuries, each with his own perspectives, beliefs, and motives. Readers familiar with the early history of the Jesus sect will recognize direct parallels -- but at least in Christianity, the oral traditions and myths were recorded in writing between 70 to 120 years of Jesus' alleged birth.

The audiobook version of this 200p work is unabridged, and runs to 6 hours of listening time. My reaction to it was mixed. I was especially fascinated with Chapter 1, in which Armstrong describes the political, social, and economic changes that India was undergoing in the centuries surrounding Gautama's life. Likewise, her account of the Axial Age (of which he was one manifestation) raises important, puzzling questions. Why was it that the 8th to 3rd century BCE led to dramatic changes in religion and philosophy in India, Persia, China, and Judea, leading to development of nascent versions of most of the world's organized religions? And was the co-occurrence of sophisticated philosophy in Greece a manifestation of the same human needs?

Chapters 2 through 6 of the book deal with the alleged development of Gautama's thought, teachings, and methods of meditation. Frankly, I found these chapters dense and dull, and hard for a Western-educated skeptic to understand. In fact, my reactions to the teachings were largely negative (see note)* This may partly be a function of the fact that I listened to this work as an audio book; however, I found the subject matter itself unappealing. That less-than-positive description, however, is not a commentary on the quality of Karen Armstrong's account, which several other readers seem to have appreciated highly. Overall, what I most liked about this work was how the author put the development of Buddhism into the historical context of the changing religious ideas of the time.

*Note: As presented in this work, enormous emphasis in the Buddha's teachings was placed on how life is full of suffering; we're told repeatedly about the ubiquity of illness, pain, and death -- the answer being to withdraw into self- induced mental states (if not to leave one's family and go about begging for a living, as the Buddha himself allegedly did). To a reader whose life is full and happy, the inevitability of death need not bring despair; nor need it bring the desire to withdraw from reality, to abandon house and family or the search for knowledge that gives life meaning. Clearly such individuals -- like me -- are not good candidates for a conversion to an ascetic form of Buddhism. :-) ( )
1 vote danielx | Feb 17, 2018 |
Not so much a biography than a primer. A better description of Buddhism and where it came from than anything else I've read. ( )
  tgraettinger | Jun 27, 2017 |
A good informative biography of the Buddha (Gotami). A very interesting read. A bit dry, but Karen Armstrong is a very skilled narrator and biographer and historian that it sucks you in and it's easy enough for the "layman" to read. Her "The History of God" was exceptional and this was no different. Though this was far shorter; but still very educational while being concise (definitely a plus). Just reminds me of how one of my 'bucket list' items is to walk and re-trace the steps of the Buddha some-day. ( )
  BenKline | Nov 30, 2015 |
Not easy to follow; may reflect sources ( )
1 vote bruce.montador | May 5, 2014 |
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For Lindsey Armstrong, my Buddhist sister.
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One night toward the end of the sixth century B.C.E., a young man called Siddhatta Gotama walked out of his comfortable home in Kapilavatthu in the foothills of the Himalayas and took to the road.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143034367, Paperback)

Books on Buddhism may overflow the shelves, but the life story of the Buddha himself has remained obscure despite over 2,500 years of influence on millions of people around the world. In an attempt to rectify this, and to make the Buddha and Buddhism accessible to Westerners, the beloved scholar and author of such sweeping religious studies as A History of God has written a readable, sophisticated, and somewhat unconventional biography of one of the most influential people of all time. Buddha himself fought against the cult of personality, and the Buddhist scriptures were faithful, giving few details of his life and personality. Karen Armstrong mines these early scriptures, as well as later biographies, then fleshes the story out with an explanation of the cultural landscape of the 6th century B.C., creating a deft blend of biography, history, philosophy, and mythology.

At the age of 29, Siddhartha Gautama walked away from the insulated pleasure palace that had been his home and joined a growing force of wandering monks searching for spiritual enlightenment during an age of upheaval. Armstrong traces Gautama's journey through yoga and asceticism and grounds it in the varied religious teachings of the time. In many parts of the world during this so-called axial age, new religions were developing as a response to growing urbanization and market forces. Yet each shared a common impulse--they placed faith increasingly on the individual who was to seek inner depth rather than magical control. Taoism and Confucianism, Hinduism, monotheism in the Middle East and Iran, and Greek rationalism were all emerging as Gautama made his determined way towards enlightenment under the boddhi tree and during the next 45 years that he spent teaching along the banks of the Ganges. Armstrong, in her intelligent and clarifying style, is quick to point out the Buddha's relevance to our own time of transition, struggle, and spiritual void in both his approach--which was based on skepticism and empiricism--and his teachings.

Despite the lack of typical historical documentation, Armstrong has written a rich and revealing description of both a unique time in history and an unusual man. Buddha is a terrific primer for those interested in the origins and fundamentals of Buddhism. --Lesley Reed

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:37 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Karen Armstrong's portrait of the Buddha explores both the archetypal religious icon and Buddha the man. Armstrong follows the Buddha - born Siddhama Gotama - as he leaves his wife, his young child, and his comfortable life and eminent social status for an arduous quest for spiritual enlightenment." "Armstrong brings to life the Buddha's quest from his renunciation of his privileged life to the discovery of a truth that he believed would utterly transform human beings and enable them to live at peace in the midst of life's suffering. Buddha also expands to focus and meditate on the culture and history of the time as well as the Buddha's place in the spiritual history of humanity and the special relevance of his teachings to our own society as we again face a crisis of faith."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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