Jessica's Reviews > Essential Buddhism: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice

Essential Buddhism by Diane Morgan
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's review
Mar 24, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: library-owns, non-fiction, mythology-and-religion
Read from March 16, 2012 to March 24, 2013

Very readable, with a helpful glossary and bibliography at the end. No in-text citations or footnotes, which makes me a little sad (I love footnotes!), but I think this is intended as a textbook so I can let it pass.

There are a lot of names and dates, which was a little tedious to read straight-through, but once I stopped trying to memorize everything it all went a lot faster. (Very helpful for a textbook, not so helpful for casual reading.)

I particularly enjoyed how the author was able to present the different philosophies and practices in way that provided context and comparative information, showing how the different paths of Buddhism relate to each other. She also found common elements with Christianity, schisms divided on principles of faith vs. works. I also appreciated how frank she was in pointing out the misogyny in certain texts and practices, acknowledging the cultural reasons for it without taking on the mantle of apologist.

One thing that I thought was a bit odd is that the author used Wade-Giles rather than PinYin transliteration when talking about Chinese traditions of Buddhism, which made it kind of difficult for me to follow some of the terminology (but I've talked with people who much prefer Wade-Giles to Pinyin so maybe I'll just chalk that up to personal preference. *shrug*)

Overall, I'm happy I read it and would be willing to read more by this author. This does seem to be a textbook aimed at North American, culturally Christian readers, though. If you're a practicing Buddhist (or want to be), Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught is a better place to start.

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Reading Progress

03/16/2012 page 1
0.0% ""the Buddhist canon is not closed; there is no central authority to decide which books qualify.... The Tibetan canon alone is estimated to be about 200,000 pages.""
07/31/2012 page 7
3.0% ""This makes a run-of-the-mill virgin birth look like child's play." -- Heh."
07/31/2012 page 8
3.0% ""Some of the peculiar characteristics of the Buddha included... genitals concealed in a sheath and smelling sweetly of vanilla." -- Oh, mythology, you do delight me."
09/10/2012 page 25
9.0% "After the Buddha convinces a demon to stop eating children by promising to provide her vegetarian offerings: "It is not recorded what Hariti thought of her change to a lower-cholesterol diet." -- Hee. I'd really love to meet this author."
03/18/2013 page 64
24.0% "Doctrinal schisms, boo. But Ashoka seems cool, need to read more about him."
03/20/2013 page 100
38.0% "Rules, philosophical overviews, ... I wish there was a little more of the author's smart-ass sense of humor and less of feeling like I'm reading a reference book, but I suppose that's what it is."
03/20/2013 page 112
43.0% "One nice thing about this book is that it's helping me clarify which ideas are Mahayana and which are Theravada. One problem of being an autodidact I guess."
03/21/2013 page 130
50.0% "Wow, that section on tranquility meditation was almost completely new to me. And kind of confusing."
03/21/2013 page 140
53.0% ""One Indian tradition also required of the Bodhisattva 18 special vows, one of which was a promise not to destroy any cities.""

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