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(Penguin Lives)

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  4,516 ratings  ·  392 reviews
With such bestsellers as A History of God and Islam, Karen Armstrong has consistently delivered penetrating, readable, and prescient (The New York Times) works that have lucidly engaged a wide range of religions and religious issues. In Buddha she turns to a figure whose thought is still reverberating throughout the world 2,500 years after his death.Many know the Buddha on ...more
Paperback, Penguin Lives Biographies, 240 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published January 29th 2001)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
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 ·  4,516 ratings  ·  392 reviews

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Riku Sayuj
Sep 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Neerja Pande
Armstrong deftly crystallizes the disjointed fragments of mythology and history into a coherent powerful narrative. The story progresses without many digressions and mythic overtones and the reader manages to get a rare glimpse into the character, the aspirations, the struggles and the real journey taken by Buddha - the Man; not Buddha - the God.

That is the real achievement of this book: the fact that Armstrong has managed to make the reader feel for and with Gautama as if he were a fellow trave
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Buddhism is a belief system that stands somewhere between a religion and a philosophy. Like all religions, it asks followers to have faith in a program that promises to alleviate human suffering once and for all. Like a philosophy, however, it encourages people to use logic and reason in order to sort through and understand the realities of human existence. Buddhism rejects the notion that there is any form of supernatural help to be had in the struggle toward perfection, insisting that it is on ...more
Karan Bajaj
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book humanized the Buddha for me as a flesh and blood man who’d stop at nothing to answer his burning meaning-of-life questions. I pick up the book again and again when I lose momentum on my meditation practice to feel inspired by the Buddha, my hero, again.
Dec 20, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in religious history/philosophy
Twenty-five years ago or so I read Gore Vidal's Creation and my perception of the Buddha has been fatefully tainted ever since. Cyrus Spitama, the novel's protagonist and the grandson of Zoroaster, finds himself in India at one point and has an opportunity to meet Gautama:

We followed Sariputra up the steps and into the hut, where all of those who had been seated rose to greet us except for the Buddha, who remained seated on his mat. I could see why he was called the golden one. He was as yellow
161014: this is a nonfiction favourite, not a philosophy favourite, because it is neither purely religious nor philosophical but somewhere both. i rate it highly primarily because it is introductory, in the same way as are those guides for the perplexed on sartre or on plato. in other words, it is not dense with difficult ideas, burdened with new terms, or intended for a specialist audience. there is a friendly, unassuming, generous tone, even when there are stories of magic or recounting univer ...more
Culadasa Yates)
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
This is my favorite biography of the Buddha. Very readable and informative.
Brian Griffith
As usual, Armstrong leaves herself behind and enters the world of her subject. With only a few orienting references to other great spiritual teachers of the world, she captures the cultural universe surrounding the original Buddhist movement. Her eye is always focused on how insights and legends made a difference to people's lives. I suspect this is the most helpful exploration of the Buddha's experience yet given by a Christian, and it's a deeply moving account. ...more
Jun 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A number of years ago I had the opportunity during my travels in China and Tibet to visit a number of Buddhist temples as a tourist. They were fascinating, but I always felt a little lost in my understanding of Buddhism itself and the history of the Buddha.

Finally, after reading this book, I feel like I have a better understanding both of the teachings of Buddha, and also of the time and place that produced him.

The book itself is fairly approachable for someone with a casual interest in learning
Adam Ford
Oct 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Maybe it is not possible to write a good biography of a religious leader from the mists of history. Karen Armstrong's book admits that the records about Buddha are not really historical, but rather illustrative and instructional. Then she goes ahead and tries to write a more typical biography, tracing the outlines of his life chronologically. But it fails. We never feel like we know the Buddha, understand him, his motives, time or place.

Part of this is understandable--the whole point of Buddha'
Ade Bailey
May 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The conversation between Ananda and Gautama shortly before the Buddha's death is moving and memorable. Perhaps more than any modern western description of Buddha's life, this seems to me most pertinent and beautiful. ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
A clear, concise overview of what is known about the historical Buddha. By filling in some of the social and religious context of the time, the author illuminates how Buddha's thinking was grounded in a specific time and place but also what was radical and new. ...more
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent spiritual biography of the Buddha. I expected a bit more detail, but the understanding of his story was excellent, and she does a good job of separating likely fact from the fanciful elaborations by later Buddhists.
RH Walters
A tidy little biography on one of the world's greatest teachers. In her introduction Armstrong comments on how many people seek to reinforce rather than surrender their identities in religion, which opposes the aim of most spiritual practice, especially Buddhism. She compares Buddha to other influential thinkers in the Axial Age, and reveals the political wrangling that troubled the sanghas, as well as the inferior status of nuns. This book won't blow your mind, but will give you some valuable d ...more
Adam Golden
A biographical account written about Buddha is no easy task, considering that the Buddha himself wouldn't want to glamorize his life by having a story revolve around him and his exploits. However, Karen Armstrong does a decent job of mixing the history and mythology surrounding the Buddha, creating a fairly cohesive story of his life on earth. At times, the book drags on a bit, feeling less like a biography and more like a book about the Buddha's teachings in general - which isn't necessar
Tom Gthv
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great book to start with if you have any interest in Buddhism. There's no end to the number of claptrap self help books out there that claim to tap into Buddhist religion/philosophy. Forget about those and start here. Madam Armstrong gives a clear and scholarly account of the Buddha, his life, his times, and his teachings.
P.S. - Don't be frightened away by the Introduction. The author provides a lot of information in a short span. The rest of the book is a far easier read.
Alex Linschoten
Not up to her usual standard. I found this a little boring. Also, it couldn't seem to decide whether it was a biography or something more than that (on the lessons of his life, or some such). ...more
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What an imminently readable book! I’ve read many books on Buddhism, but none so clear and understandable as this one. Armstrong deftly weaves the mythology of Buddha against a back drop of academic grounding. She never reveres the Buddha to the point of being sycophantic, but also gives him the reverence he deserves. I will read more from Armstrong in the future.
Mary Ann
Mar 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Just finished last night. I'm a fairly new practitioner of Zen, and when I saw this at BookPeople, I snatched it up. I had read Karen Armstrong's A History of God, which set the western faiths Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into historical context and also explains what it takes to make a set of beliefs and practices into a religion.

I had jumped right into Zen by taking a class on the Diamond Sutra. I found myself wanting to know more about the Buddha's life. This book was satisfying. I imagin
Dec 15, 2007 rated it really liked it
From Publishers Weekly
Armstrong's esteemed works, including such standards as A History of God and The Battle for God, have primarily focused on the monotheism of the Middle East. Now she turns farther eastward to craft this short biography for the Penguin Lives series. Armstrong carefully ties the Buddha's time to our own and champions his spiritual discoveries with an understated dignity that even the Buddha might bless. While exercising a scholar's restraint, she reveals a detectable compassi
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
As a practicing Buddhist myself, I read this with great interest, relishing parts of it, really trying to learn as I went thru it. Having nothing to compare it to, I can still say that it was a very lucid and rich portrayal of the Buddha's life. Her presentation of the dharma is different from what I am used to, but it seems totally legitimate. Armstrong has made a name for herself writing short books on religious figures for a general audience, but this was no skimpy effort for high school stud ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is more than an introductory biography of Siddhartha Gotama (or Gautama), who became the Buddha sometime around the 6th century BCE. In addition to the life of the Buddha and the philosophy he developed, I learned a lot about the culture and philosophy of the time that led to the developments he offered. The period between 800 and 200 BCE has been called the "Axial Age", when pivotal changes in human thinking and philosophy occurred. The author describes the variety of characters and influe ...more
Mijanur Rahman
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the best thing about Buddhism is that "We may accept everything we concede to be best for all of us. Something that is true for all of us. Suffering!’’.
I’ve read some of the Karen Armstrong books, watched her videos on YouTube. As a historian, her profile is so high and the way she writes is also really pleasurable to read. Her works as a historian are quite remarkable too.
This book covers almost all about Buddhism. From the pre-Gothama realm to the death of Gothama. The source of the i
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Nerds
After having recently finished reading Depak Chopra's fictionalized account of ther Buddha's life I figured I go for something a bit more factual. Armstrong book is much more thorough in providing a cultural context of the nature of Indian life during the Buddha's lifetime, as well as explaining the widespread changes in intellectual thought that ran concurrent to the Buddha during an era known as the "Axial Age." These elements helped to provide a well rounded and informed summary of the life o ...more
Armstrong is frank in her introduction that to focus on the life story of the Buddha himself maybe misses the point of his teaching. She also makes the point that the Buddha myth isn't as dramatic as many other religions, and the characters are more 'types' than recognisable personalities. This inherent flaw with the subject matter comes through. Particularly after the Buddha has achieved enlightenment, the book became a touch repetetive, with an endless stream of potential enemies, even an evil ...more
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My first feeling arriving in Thailand was intense ignorance. One of the main reasons to go to Thailand is to visit the beautiful and beautifully old Buddhist temples, and I found myself walking around Wat after Wat without a clue of how to process the experience. Luckily, I discovered Armstrong's biography of the Buddha in a used bookshop in Chiang Mai. With meticulous precision, Armstrong weaves the accounts of the earliest religious source texts with modern historical scholarship to present th ...more
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
There were some poetic and beautiful passages, but ultimately I felt Armstrong had taken too many liberties in telling the story of the Buddha, and I didn't particularly enjoy the high amount of speculation. I would much rather read a bio written by an actual Buddhist; I'm not really interested in what someone who doesn't identify as a Buddhist imagines about Buddha and Buddhism. It was definitely written for a WASP-y audience, which doesn't have to be a flaw, although it makes it that much less ...more
Apr 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Next up on my world tour of major religions is Buddhism.

I'm not a fan of asceticism and really, really dislike the idea of karma/reincarnation but I still find a great deal admirable about the faith.

And not the least among those admirable traits is the concept that the Buddha himself - the accuracy and veracity of all stories of his life - doesn't matter nearly as much as the lessons he taught.

It's a refreshing change from the Abrahamic religions where singular individuals matter a LOT more.
Lisa Hern
May 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A fantastically interesting as well as accessible portrait of Buddha, who, rather than positioning himself as a god or a messenger of a god, challenged us thusly: "No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path." This was a very well written account of the man behind the philosophy/movement/non-monotheism that is Buddhism. Armstrong uses language well, even when she is faced with gaps in historical data. A great read for a beginning Buddhist or anyone w ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
For those who know Buddhism well, I am sure this will not be very enlightening, but for me I found Karen Armstrong's introduction to the life of Buddha fascinating as well as helpful. I appreciated how she explained clearly up front that, unlike in biblical accounts, there is no hard edge of particular personality poking out of the received tradition in the life of the Buddha, and so his life story is really an introduction to his philosophy and the culture he arose in. I found it a fun educatio ...more
Laurie Lemson
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Beautifull inspiring biography
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Karen Armstrong, a comparative religion specialist is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and Fields of Blood, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

Her work has been translated into 45 languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion,

Other books in the series

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