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The Living Thoughts of Gotama the Buddha [Paperback]

Ananda Coomaraswamy , I. B. Horner
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 18 2000
This scholarly yet highly readable volume offers a concise introduction to the tenets of Buddhism. A brief biography and an overview of doctrine is followed by a series of Pali texts, attributed to Buddha himself. Rich in parables and observations, the texts are thematically organized around the founder, his prophesies, training, and the transcendent state.

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About the Author

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy was a great scholar of art history and iconography. He knew thirty-six languages, and through his vast knowledge of differing systems of thought, he was able to attain great insight into metaphysics and symbolism.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A poor and misleading introduction to Buddhism March 29 2002
Format:Paperback
Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was the son of a Sri Lankan Tamil father and an English mother, born in Sri Lanka and educated in Great Britain. This twofold cultural citizenship also symbolizes the two major traditions from which this recently re-issued book draws. Coomaraswamy's basic strategy is best seen as proceeding from a long lineage of Hindu thinkers who have sought to appropriate and assimilate the Buddha's teachings, most famously exemplified in the Puranic accounts of the Buddha as merely being another incarnation of the god Vishnu. On the other hand, Coomaraswamy's attempts to argue this point are based on the presuppositions of early-20th century positivist approaches to oriental studies, especially in their concern to uncover the very oldest (and presumably, truest) of doctrines. In this case, that means recovering the true meaning of the Buddha's words by divining his actual intentions, while ignoring completely the ideas and interpretations of later Buddhist thinkers. Although The Living Thoughts of Gotama the Buddha will be deeply misleading to its target audience of readers who are looking for a reliable introduction to Buddhism, it should be of great interest to intellectual historians looking to understand the ideas of the various thinkers like Coomaraswamy who are today often lumped together under the heading of Orientalism.
To establish that the Buddha was a Hindu, Coomaraswamy first denies that the Buddha was in any way a social reformer. For the Buddha's rejection of the caste system was nothing of the sort: "what he actually did was to distinguish the Brahman by mere birth from the true Brahman by gnosis, and to point out that the religious vocation is open to a man of any birth: there was nothing new in that.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
45 of 75 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A poor and misleading introduction to Buddhism March 29 2002
By Vimalakirti - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy was the son of a Sri Lankan Tamil father and an English mother, born in Sri Lanka and educated in Great Britain. This twofold cultural citizenship also symbolizes the two major traditions from which this recently re-issued book draws. Coomaraswamy's basic strategy is best seen as proceeding from a long lineage of Hindu thinkers who have sought to appropriate and assimilate the Buddha's teachings, most famously exemplified in the Puranic accounts of the Buddha as merely being another incarnation of the god Vishnu. On the other hand, Coomaraswamy's attempts to argue this point are based on the presuppositions of early-20th century positivist approaches to oriental studies, especially in their concern to uncover the very oldest (and presumably, truest) of doctrines. In this case, that means recovering the true meaning of the Buddha's words by divining his actual intentions, while ignoring completely the ideas and interpretations of later Buddhist thinkers. Although The Living Thoughts of Gotama the Buddha will be deeply misleading to its target audience of readers who are looking for a reliable introduction to Buddhism, it should be of great interest to intellectual historians looking to understand the ideas of the various thinkers like Coomaraswamy who are today often lumped together under the heading of Orientalism.
To establish that the Buddha was a Hindu, Coomaraswamy first denies that the Buddha was in any way a social reformer. For the Buddha's rejection of the caste system was nothing of the sort: "what he actually did was to distinguish the Brahman by mere birth from the true Brahman by gnosis, and to point out that the religious vocation is open to a man of any birth: there was nothing new in that." In one sweeping assertion, Coomaraswamy radically revises the history of caste. Apparently in Coomaraswamy's view, the true system of caste in ancient India was a meritocracy in which any outcaste with a religious vocation could study the Vedas and practice Brahmanical rituals. Needless to say, this attitude conceals and trivializes the terrible inequities of the caste system, both past and present.

Coomaraswamy's greatest concern, however, is to show that the Buddha's teachings were in no way doctrinal innovations. Most notably, Coomaraswamy denies that the Buddha taught the non-existence of the self. To this end he engages in an elaborate series of intellectual gymnastics that should manage to bewilder any reader who is still following along. For instance, he chooses the extremely awkward "un-Selfisness" [sic] as his translation of the Buddhist term more commonly rendered "no-self" (Pali anatta, Sanskrit anatman). Of course, in this denial of the doctrine of no-self he has had a great deal of company; virtually every western scholar of Buddhism in the 19th and early 20th century seemed to try to find some way of making this seemingly nihilistic doctrine more harmonious with the Christian belief in an eternal soul. As a Hindu, Coomaraswamy's unique contribution to this history is his insistence that "the Buddhist point of view is exactly the same as the Brahmanical." To make such a claim required that Coomaraswamy and Horner engage in a great deal of translational mischief in the second part of the book, their presentation of excepts from the Pali canon. So, for instance, a passage normally rendered as "Go along, monks, taking refuge in yourselves" becomes "Go along, monks, having Self as refuge." (For more on the no-self doctrine and specific issues in translating Pali terminology, see Steven Collins's _Selfless Persons_.)
It may sound strange, but Coomaraswamy's book is ultimately not about the Buddhist religion at all, since for him this religion is at its root an enormous misunderstanding. Readers interested in the Buddhist religion should read Walpola Rahula's _What the Buddha Taught_, which remains the best introduction to Buddhism written in English. For Coomaraswamy, the Buddha was a Hindu sage who taught no new doctrines and implemented no new social practices, but agreed with all of the great (non-Buddhist) thinkers in (European) world history, including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Eckhart, et al. This position would have appealed especially to 20th century advocates of the "perennial philosophy," thinkers such as Aldous Huxley and Joseph Campbell who sought to combine all of the world's philosophies and religions into one unified, albeit extremely vague, body of wisdom. Yet Coomaraswamy's vision is deeply offensive to contemporary Buddhists, just as a writer would offend Christian believers who claims that Jesus was just another not particularly innovative Pharisaic Jew deeply misunderstood by his followers. Thankfully, however, in the early 21st century dialogue on Buddhism, ideas like Coomaraswamy's have generally fallen out of favor. Today's scholars are more apt to acknowledge that Buddhists themselves, not Hindus or western orientalists, have been the best caretakers of the Buddha's teachings.
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Goes t o the Heart of Buddhism! Jan. 19 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is one of the best introductions to Buddhism. It goes past the layers of obfuscating polemics that were added to make the Buddha into a cult figure, which in his own life he wasn't.
17 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate Book based in Scripture, not conjecture. May 30 2004
By VeritasluxMea - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book, inexpensive and tiny though it be, is the single BEST introduction to buddhism available in print. A double introduction by Dr. AK Coomaraswamy and followed by a corpus of primary translations by IB Horner, herself a famous Pali translator.
What makes this book absolutely phenomenal and stands out from the massive amount of trashy books under the title of "Buddhism"? Simple, this book makes no claims without citation, no conclusions without references in Sutta (Buddhist nikaya doctrine). Other so-called books on Buddhism are 99% composed of the authors personal dogmas and conjectures without even a jot of reference, or citation.
In actuality, 80% of this book is composed of key translations by Mrs. IB Horner, only the very lengthy introduction is by Dr. Coomaraswamy. A.K. Coomaraswamy is author of over 60 books before he passed, was prolific in Pali, Sanskrit, greek, latin, and other languages and is often heralded as the "God of Indian Philosophy" by many. Myself having many thousands of books on Buddhism, this little simplistic book remains top 30 books out of over 4000 books on Buddhism I personally own. Outside of reading the Suttas themselves in the original Pali (something unheard of in practicality), this is the single book which upholds scriptural accuracy and is philosophically choate to the Sramanistic Monism that was original pre-secular Buddhism.
10 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF BEST BOOKS OUT OF 2300+ BOOKS I OWN ON BUDDHISM July 4 2002
By Kenneth L. Wheeler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Im a Pali scholar and write books on Buddhism. This book is (outside of the Suttas) is the single best introductory book to own on Buddhism... AK Coomaraswamy is seen by Indians and experts in Buddhism as a "GOD" of Indian Philosophy. He spent endless years translating Pali as well as Sanksrit. He is also very well trained in Platonism as well as Neo Platonism. ...
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