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Buddha (2001)

by Karen Armstrong

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1,824349,150 (3.77)58
A world-renouned religious thinker contemplates one of the world's most sacred figures. In a profound blend of biography, religion, history, and philosophy, Armstrong's highly original portrait of the Buddha explores both the archetypal religious icon and Buddha the man.
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English (32)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I read this book while traveling in China where I learned a whole new take on reincarnation. It is seen not as another chance to live again, but instead it poses fear of facing another uncertain death. Hence, the attainment of enlightenment and the escape from the death/rebirth cycle is the goal. ( )
  jemisonreads | Jan 22, 2024 |
Ideally, one would support a worthy author/book by both buying it and reading it intelligently. I did the former action over ten years ago, and with the help of my local library I’ve set about doing the latter action without repeating the former.

Anyway, I guess I’m mostly drawn to the idea of an Aleister Crowley-style Buddhism-influence—don’t laugh; it could happen. A lot of the Mahayana people were more similar to that sort of thing than stereotype gives them credit for, you know…. One doesn’t have to unconditionally reject sex and things of the earth in order to become more like a Buddha, or to ‘realize’ one’s ’Buddha-nature’, if you like, which Buddhists say all beings have. One just has to have a certain sense that freedom is a valuable commodity whether one has sex or not, and that there is a spiritual element to life beyond what seems apparent on grey, rainy days—or even when we think that things can’t get any better; when the British man tells us that ‘you can’t say fairer than that’, you know.

…. Anyway. I mean, like she says, it used to be worse in the Victorian/Wilhelmine times—those people were really insufferable—and she along with others has kinda taken a few steps back from the yawning precipice of insanity compared to them, but still sometimes I don’t quite agree—don’t see history as being quite so holy; “so grey! so divine!”: and positive thinking as being quite so scary, you know. “What will happen to my all-grey interiors?” But as much as I think that Buddha who whoever was probably capable of something other than all-grey interiors if it came to that, if some delusion-is-enlightenment fancy came upon him, sometimes I still agree with Karen, you know. Life is filled with mystery and puzzle, and compassion is important, sometimes more so than we know, and sometimes people are attracted to holy indifference and not beaten over the head with it, right. And obviously some of those ideas she got from, “Siddhatta”….

And God, so much better reading it now. In school they don’t teach you to think, to have opinions; they certainly do NOT teach you that you’re allowed to have your own damn opinion, and so when a non-factual aspect of a question comes up, suddenly the good boy is helpless. Lord knows they’ll never teach you positive thinking the way they’d teach you stuffing-your-feelings-the-better-to-add-numbers-my-dear, or even Buddhism, for that matter!, so if practically any aspect of contemporary life comes up you’re just helpless. “Positive thinking? What’s that? Gee whiz, what you I think?” You can’t agree; you can’t dissent meaningfully. All you can do is pout that it’s not in the Victorian Shakespeare commentaries, and throw a fit—or dissolve in a pool of tears that it’s not a historical/mathematical fact, like, in 500 AD, four hundred elephants lived in Raj-ville, true or false—you know? (smile) Yes, they don’t really teach us in these schools…. Other civilizations had faulty schools too: just ~memorizing~ the subjective grand truths was common, so you could quote it, and forget about it, you know—and slavery of various kinds was common, of course…. But I talk about what I know. We’re not sane yet….

…. I don’t want to go hard on the sages of the various lands—perhaps the book could have been called ‘Buddha and the sages of the various lands’—but a lot of harm can come through these theories of stages of development, and therefore, obsolete stages, and therefore, colonialism and mind-hijacking and mind-violence, you know. I don’t know why thinking that all of the scriptures came from the ‘great time’ or whatever, except the Vedas, would make more sense than saying that all the Americans are holy except for the Jews (because of their funny hats—wear a baseball cap!) or the Catholics ~ because they’re not ‘Axial’ enough…. And you know that that’s exactly what Luther would say, if he believed in scholarly-non-cyclical-phases-of-development theory instead of just trash-talking people and handing them over to the devil, you know….

Really, all of these things are cycles. From Samhain to Beltane, life goes irreversibly in one direction, never to return, the earth will just get hotter and hotter and so on forever…. Or until Mabon, I guess, or Samhain.

I mean, there have been times in my life when I believed in that, you know—the stages, the obsolete stages, the necessity of progress and ultimately violence and all-knowing books, you know…. It’s noble. It’s just not true—not really, anyway.

Although you could probably be a Buddhist and not be even vaguely like that, you know; but a lot of Western Buddhist-y writing is like that. “Buddha and I are united in our rejection of all obsolete pornographic non-monastic/scriptural civilization…. Have you got anything to add Buddha of course not. I got you, bro. I got you.” 😎

…. It’s ok, I guess. I know she didn’t set paper to ink, and stop to think, Now how can I hurt the Hindus, you know.

She’s just odd, you know.

(A Northanger Abbey character regards Karen Armstrong as General Tilney, whom another character is slighting for always having a law on her lips and a battle on her face)

(she disagrees, murmuring) “It’s her way.”

…. It’s not an awful book, but it does feel like a sort of General Jane Tilney, you know. Ironically I picked this up thinking, “It’s foolish to be ashamed of every Anglo writer on Buddhist topics….” 😸

I guess if there were a slot, though, you could almost rebrand it as ‘Buddha: A Very Short Introduction’, you know. Gods and buddhas know it would be better than some of those books. I’d go so far as to say that it doesn’t say anything literally wrong, or intentionally and/or unconsciously act out; it’s just very…. Distanced. Not dishonest, but distanced. Not the whole truth.

…. India can be beautiful—just to be reminded that sometimes all you need to be happy is just to breathe correctly, as if you weren’t awake, right—but I do think that in the old days, for the average person it was very much a case of, Give a monk a cookie, Mr. Mouse, and maybe he’ll remember us when he attains that to which we were all born to attain…. Eventually we will all have to become sane, though, although I don’t think it will be enough to just stamp your foot and recite Genesis 1 from memory, you know. We have made minimal progress towards ‘ordinary people’ who eat potatoes now and again practicing spirituality and being reasonably happy, (I think for a lot of people in ancient times, the idea of just living again was just torture, like your torture would never end because you’d always be alive, right), but we’re not there yet, right—to that ‘all-sane’ place….

But, although it can (like Christian quietism or anything else that can devolve into apathy, basically) be used to justify colorism and so on, and conditions that shouldn’t exist for anyone, even if they demanded it—American prisons, for example—but I can’t help but WONDER, Wouldn’t it be nice if it were all alright, because karma and reincarnation were real, and whatever we asked for we would get, so that we would be happy if only we could stop asking for bad things we never deserved, and we could get the good things, in this life or in another life, in another body in another time in this same world….

…. “…. certainly fictional, after all, everyone is always average, even the gods and buddhas….”

It almost IS like reading Northanger Abbey again! (Henry Tilney) (waves hand) Battles were never fought around castles, Catherine. Everyone has always had tea at four o’clock or whenever it is that we have tea. And people have always played little tinkle-dinkle songs on the piano, too. That’s the way it is now, the way it always was, and the way it always will be. But don’t talk to me about eternity; it’ll never happen like that.

…. I think it’s debatable whether an enlightened (“part-enlightened”) commercial-sexual desire or a social-compassionate enlightened (not F-you I’m enlightened) ultimate-consciousness is better for social life, but it is true that the Buddha usually promoted compassion and everything.

I say usually because his instincts were to exclude women, of course. It’s funny; people inevitably say that the non-pagan religions or whatever, the mainstream religions of modernity, and the male-style philosophical way, was the best and only way; however, it was awful for women…. Whoops. Well, it wasn’t good for women; it was just good for Everybody, you know…. I don’t know; it’s funny. Even as a moral or non-chauvie or whatever you want to say, mainstream religion of modernity/male-style philosopher, like I used to be, you want to include women by integrating them into the male-style way, you know. The other way is scary. Even the male-style lovers are scary. You need the isolation…. And obviously many philosophers are chauvie men and have the impulse to exclude. But many people even not of the male elite have benefited from Buddhism, including women—both because of the whole mothering/supporting thing, which makes them support almost anything, and the desire to get at least some seat at the table at the deep thought club, if they’re another kind of girl, you know.

I suppose one has to be a little skeptical of the whole “Everyone says” argument—no orthodoxy is actually what every fucking person says—while at the same time acknowledging a rather broad band of support. Like she says, all the involuntary state/military organizations from the Buddha’s time are dead, but his own voluntary organizations are still in business.

…. Shy Buddhists often present Buddhism as a sort of Asian Christianity, but there are (non-trivial/historic-ethnic) differences; the Buddha seems to have taught less of dependence and commanding-others than has been the faith of the church. (And surely, if we risk our freedom by cultivating dependence, we ask others to risk their sanity by resorting to commands!)
  goosecap | Dec 4, 2023 |
Recently, I have become interested in learning a bit more about the philosophy and different religions of the East. Being a Westerner I don't have a lot of exposure to that part of the world. In school I was taught a bit about the big philosophers -- Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. To my recollection, I wasn't taught anything about Confucius, Lao Tzu or the multitude of other great thinkers of Asia.

After listening to [b:Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition|16117557|Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition|Grant Hardy|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1476747674l/16117557._SX50_.jpg|21935755] the subject piqued my interest and out of all the different schools of thought I learned about from said audiobook one stood out for me-- Buddhism.

The audiobook mentioned above laid a good foundation so I knew a good amount before jumping into Buddha and I think that helped a lot. Armstrongs' work helped solidify my knowledge and understanding of Buddhism and what it taught. A lot of the teachings I related to and agreed with. My moral compass aligns with many of the Buddha's viewpoints about compassion, empathy and love. Emotions like anger and jealousy or being vainglorious do nothing but harm ourselves and can harm others as well.

Separating yourself from desire can be a good thing. Really ask yourself: do I really need that shiny new television or spend 'x' amount on those new sneakers? I (like many, if not all of us) struggle with desire and want everyday. We can however realize this fault and try our best to be better. We can try to be more charitable and donate time and money to those of less fortune.

I do not believe in reincarnation (I'm irreligious) or someone having the ability to achieve 'nibbana'. I am still very much about scientific inquiry, skepticism, and critical thinking. To my surprise, the Buddha actually taught this as well, not take his or anyone else's word on hearsay, but to think for yourself. He also taught that enlightenment could be achieved without a higher being or a god, that it was done completely by you. These two teachings also called out to me.

I don't identify myself as a Buddhist, but I will very much apply many of his teachings to my life. I've started meditating when I can and I wish to try yoga. I will continue to empathize with others, believe that love can solve many of the world's problems, and be compassionate and kind to others.

A simple smile or a 'good morning' is enough to pass happiness to someone who may need it. ( )
  ProfessorEX | Apr 15, 2021 |
This book was given to me by a friend in Shanghai who, like me, is interested in theology and philosophy. It is a rare person who can see the value in both ways of trying to live a good life, and my return gift was Ryan Holiday's The Daily Stoic. Little did I know how similar Buddhism and Stoicism are in their sense of logic, and, most importantly, managing our impressions or perceptions. Self-reliance is achieved by "meditation, concentration, mindfulness and a disciplined detachment from the world", through which each of us (p. 175):
...must make himself his island, make himself and no one else his refuge.
The sense of peace that can be achieved in this "world of pain" is not, however, the lonely ascetic existence of the proverbial hermit on the mountaintop. Rather, it is through ( )
  madepercy | Jan 30, 2021 |
This book could have easily been some 60 to 80 pages long, focusing on Gautam's life and a brief about his preachings. There is a lot of repetition of ideas, concerns, and definitions. It feels like a drag; reading the same thing 5 times over in different chapters.
Some events clearly show conflict with the Gautam's Nirvana state and his behaviour; maybe it is just the Pali text.
Overall Gautam's motıvations and teachings feel pure, the person was an intellect, pure analyst and a philosopher without even attending Nirvana.
Gautam and his disciple Anand's conversations about the whole perceptive of life and death are the best part of the book. ( )
  abhigonsalves | Jan 16, 2021 |
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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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A world-renouned religious thinker contemplates one of the world's most sacred figures. In a profound blend of biography, religion, history, and philosophy, Armstrong's highly original portrait of the Buddha explores both the archetypal religious icon and Buddha the man.

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