The Foundations of Buddhism Paperback – Jul 1 1998
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offers a valuable improvement over What the Buddha Taught, its most likely competitor as an introductory textbook./Richard S. Cohen University of California, San Diego/ Religious Studies Review Volume 25 Number 3 July 1999
At last! A general introduction to what is common to Buddhism across the broad range of practice, culture and history that I can recommend unhesitatingly to friends Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike. ... this book is good in the beginning, middle and end. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Mike Murray/The Middle Way/Journal of the Buddhist Society/ Feb 2000 Vol 74 No 4
`'...Combining as it does readability and exact scholarship, elegance and erudition, this new OPUS series volume provides the novice with a solid foundation for his studies, and his elders food for reflection.'' THES Friday 2 April 1999
`This recent title stands out by its careful scholarship, lucid style, and sensitive appreciation of the subtleties of Buddhist doctrine.. This introductory work brings to its task not only careful scholarship and wide knowledge of Buddhist thought, but also a warm, sympathetic appreciation of Buddhism evident throughout its pages. No doubt, it is this sympathy that enables Gethin to penetrate beneath the surface crust of formal doctrine and discern deep connections between srains of Buddhist thought that might initially appear incongruous. Through Gethin's eyes we are given not only a clear and crisp picture of the doctrinal foundations of Buddhism, but also focused insights into the family ties underlying many apparent diversities within the Buddhist tradition.' Bhikkhu Bodhi, Buddhist Publication Society no 45
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And what an introduction! Take all those 5 star reviews seriously. I was repeatedly impressed with the clarity of prose and vision Gethin demonstrates while explaining even some of the most difficult to grasp Buddhist philosophical concepts. Things that it took two hours for some of my teachers to communicate to the point that students actually understood are brilliantly exposited with delightful comprehension in just a few pages. It takes a real grasp of the field to pull this off, and Gethin does it over and over. Illuminating charts, penetrating text, and, thank goodness, a topical bibliography to mine for years...what more could you want? If you want to read a book that will leave you with a solid understanding of core, foundational, Buddhist concepts, instead of a fluffy semi-New Age ransacking of the tradition to pamper Western assumptions about the self and the cosmos, look no further. As soon as this is submitted, I am sending an email to the professor at the Buddhist college I attend to look at this work for inclusion in the texts for our introductory survey course. Peter Harvey's and Walpola Rahula's introductory works are both on the schedule already, along with a third that will go unnamed, which Gethin simply stomps into the dirt for value. "The Foundations of Buddhism" clearly belongs in such stellar company and hopefully this Fall will be benefiting students alongside them.
I have always found ISBN 0802130313, "What The Buddha Taught," by Walpola Sri Rahula, to be a reliable guide, along with "Handbook for Mankind," by Buddhadhasa.
I happily add this book to the shelf, perhaps with pride of place. This is (for me) the first book about Buddhism which gives a satisfactory answer to the question I have always had about the doctrine of "anatta" (no-self), that is:
"If the self does not exist, then what gets reincarnated?"
The answer, and I may botch this so you should read the book, is basically that "anatta" denies the unchanging self, and reserves silence on the probably ill-formed question, "Does the self exist?" Anatta also discourages people from worrying excessively about self-concepts.
But if you are a grown-up, and ask yourself if you are the "same you" as when you were three years old, you will find a link of dependent arising between that three-year-old self and your current self. Actions and volitions which you have habitually done link the old self to the new one, and it is this link of dependent arising which functions during reincarnation. The newly born self will not be the same as the old one, but it will be linked by this chain.
I'm not personally sold on the idea of reincarnation, but I do like to see these issues worked out in a satisfactory manner.