John Powers's Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism meets a genuine need in providing nonspecialist students of religion or Asian studies with an overviewJohn Powers's Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism meets a genuine need in providing nonspecialist students of religion or Asian studies with an overview of this distinctive form of Buddhist belief and practice. In clear and readable language, the book mostly achieves its stated goal of being "a systematic and wonderfully clear presentation of Tibetan Buddhist views and practices."
Powers begins with a survey of Buddhist history and doctrine, with a focus on Mahāyāna philosophy. This whole opening section of the book is very useful, allowing as it does a reader new to Buddhism to pick up the work and be introduced to the tradition as a whole before moving on to consider its Tibetan manifestation. What follows is a brief but informative survey of Tibetan history and a look at some of the holy days, ceremonies, and architectural settings of Tibetan Buddhist practice.
Part Three is, it seems to me, the heart of the book, as it engages the distinctive teachings and practices of Tibetan Buddhism, both in the context of wider Mahāyāna and in contradistinction to it. Powers admirably clarifies the Tibetan understanding of the place of tantra in Buddhism and provides a very easily-understood description of the major forms of tantric practice. Chapter 10, "Death and Dying in Tibetan Buddhism," is admirable for the vividness with which it portrays the Tibetan Buddhist understanding of death in its metaphysical, ontological, and soteriological aspects.
Part Four turns to the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Here I think the book gets a bit bogged down in a surfeit of detail. Brevity is not one of this section's virtues; indeed, the author occasionally seems to repeat himself from chapter to chapter, restating conceptions or doctrines already associated with one of the previously-discussed schools.
This Introduction is highly recommended to undergraduates in Religious Studies or Asian Studies, to general readers with an interest in Asian religions, or to academics needing a primer on Tibetan Buddhism....more
It's difficult to know exactly what audience Prof. Overmyer had in mind when writing Religions of China: The World as a Living System. While much of tIt's difficult to know exactly what audience Prof. Overmyer had in mind when writing Religions of China: The World as a Living System. While much of the book appears to be aimed at the lower-division college student needing a broad, quick overview, at times his prose suggests a much younger audience. For instance, take this passage: "Our world is full of special people to whom we turn for inspiration or guidance.... Younger people sometimes model their dress and actions on such heroes and stand in line all night just for the chance to see and hear a rock music star.... In addition, in the movies, there are beings like Superman, Jedi knights, and space voyagers from other planets" (66-67). The tone and reference of such passages (which occur every ten pages or so) are grating in their self-consciously "young person's" orientation. The bland writing style of the book as a whole doesn't help matters.
Perhaps, though, that's just a matter of taste, so what else can be said about the book? In its brief length, it does manage to provide a satisfactory overview of the basics of the Chinese worldview. It does sketch with remarkable economy the history of China and the impact of that history on religious practice. There are some facile comparisons made with Western thought and practice--between Chinese and Christian exorcism, for example (see p. 76), even though these rest on very different understandings of supernatural power and how it is manipulated.
In sum, Overmyer's Religions of China probably will do its basic job of acquainting the absolute newcomer with the broad outlines of Chinese religious thought and practice, and at a much lower cost than other introductory works which carry textbook pricing--but one of these latter will probably be preferable to the college-level or higher reader....more
Selfless Persons is an important study of the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, or "no-self." As Steven Collins notes at the outset, the interpretation ofSelfless Persons is an important study of the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, or "no-self." As Steven Collins notes at the outset, the interpretation of exactly what anatta means has been a conflicted one, with both Buddhists and non-Buddhists weighing in with their assessments. Broadly speaking, Collins identifies two camps in this exegetical struggle: one that takes the doctrine at face value, as saying what it seems to say--that there is no real self, no stable locus of identity, no perpetually existing ego--and another that views this face-value reading as a misreading, seeing the doctrine of anatta as denying not the existence of self tout court, but rather the simply personal ego, while moving the practitioner toward an awareness of universal self or soul, which the Buddha himself presumably affirmed. Collins is in the first, what we might call "literalist" camp, and his book is in part a painstaking attempt to tease out of the Theravada texts the implications of anatta for Buddhist metaphysics and psychology.
More than this, though, Collins seeks to explicate the ways that the philosophical doctrine of anatta is of relevance for the social-scientific study of lived Buddhism in southeast Asia. Collins examines the interpenetrating practices of the Buddhist virtuoso--the monk-meditator--and the lay follower, the one focused on disciplining the mind toward the attainment of nibbana, the one seeking good kamma for the achievement of good rebirth. The understanding and existential appropriation of anatta will differ between people whose levels practice are different, and indeed will differ within the lifetime of the monk as he moves from lesser to greater achievements in meditation on the doctrine.
Collins's book is cogently argued and elegantly written, and the author marshals an impressive array of primary sources. This is an essential work for English-language scholars of Buddhist studies, perhaps the only English-language work to delve so deeply into a core Buddhist doctrine....more