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Buddha (Penguin Lives)

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  2,865 ratings  ·  229 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 ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published September 28th 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 2001)
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Riku Sayuj
Mar 24, 2012 Riku Sayuj rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Neerja Pande
Shelves: spiritual, r-r-rs
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
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
Dec 26, 2009 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
ستایش  دشتی
یار از سفر آورده؛ واقعاً دوست دارم بخونمش، کمتر کتاب نامربوط به حوزهٔ مطالعاتم پیدا میشه که این قدر دلم بخواد بخونمش! کاش وقت داشتم... ...more
Adam Ford
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'
Tom Gthv
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.
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.
the gift
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 universal appr ...more
Mary Ann
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
Jul 15, 2008 Graham added it
A sensitive introduction for Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike: Religious scholar Karen Armstrong brings her formidable research, writing and analytical skills to bear on the Buddha, contextualizing his life and philosophy, providing an overview of problematic areas of scholarship, and painting a compelling portrait of a person about whom we actually know very little.

The book is intended for a popular readership and begins on a moment of high drama - the pampered Indian prince Siddartha renounc
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
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
Dec 05, 2008 Crckt rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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
This book was a DNF for me. It started out well enough, laying solid foundation for what I thought would be Buddha's life. It all went to the dogs right around her theory of the "Axial Age". This was the first book I read by the author, and if it is any indication of her credentials as an academic researcher, I surely won't touch another one of her books.

The word 'Aryan', is a minefield of historical controversies both in its origin and definition. Yet, despite this, Karen Armstrong blazes throu
Muhammad Syazwan
Armstrong did it again in this book; by laying us a clear and crisp overview of Buddha and what he signifies without hesitation to include rational justifications of the mythological realms surrounding the figure. I took quite a long time finishing this book and most of the time spent reading was during my commute to places. Armstrong does not neglect the message Gotama bought and weave it in the narrative casually without any disappointing chops.

The book; although laden with Buddhist jargons a
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.
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
This biography of the Buddha is one of Karen Armstrong's many friendly introductions to comparative religion. I have read and enjoyed her introductory book on Islam, and I certainly intend to read more of her work. In this book, she takes us on a brisk tour of the life and teachings of one of history's greatest religious revolutionaries. We see a pampered and sheltered young man who experiences an existential crisis when he is inevitably exposed to the uncomfortable realities of life and death, ...more
BUDDHA. (2001). Karen Armstrong. ***.
This was another title from the “Penguin Lives” series. It doesn’t really conform to the dictum of the titles in the series being addressed to the general reader. It is, rather, an in-depth survey of the origins of several different religions which were spawned during the early years (BCE) in Northern India. The author chooses to trace their origins backwards by deeply examining the literature of the period that has come down to us. Even with only less than 2
Suzanne Auckerman
Listened to this book,but had to check out hard copy,which has a glossary. There were many terms I didn't understand. Learned alot, especially about the axial age and status of women and when that shifted. With the onset of the Axial Age (don't know what caused it or why it took root in China, India, Iran and eastern Mediterranean,) women lost status. Religions that arose in that time period were Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and monotheism. All coincided with the loss of status for ...more
This was just the primer I was looking for to learn a little more about the context of Buddhism, and the Buddha himself. I'm not sure if others had this problem, but for me it was difficult to find a biographical historical book on the Buddha because, as the saying goes, "if you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha." In other words, Buddhism is not about person worship. However, to me it is helpful to learn the history of something before delving in more deeply; this book provides that base. Karen Ar ...more
Martyn Rush
'Like Jesus, Muhammad, and Socrates, the Buddha was teaching men and women how to transcend the world and its suffering, how to reach beyond human pettiness and expediency and discover an absolute value.'
Alex Strick van 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).
Armstrong is a good writer and an even better religious historian. This is a biography of the Buddha that is well worth reading.
Philippe Desaulniers
After having interest on Buddhism for a couple years, and having read quite a few books on the philosophy and practice of Buddhism, I wanted to read about Buddha himself, his actual life story. This seemed the book for it.

It actually isn't that great as a biography, but as the author herself points out, the very nature of the man, and the fact we don't have many verified historical details on the Buddha's life make the writing of a "scientific" biography quite an ordeal.

Instead, we get interes
Ranim Ismail
A great journey to one of the most influential (yet shadowy) spiritual figures
Culadasa Ph.D.)
This is my favorite biography of the Buddha. Very readable and informative.
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British author of numerous works on comparative religion.


Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
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“Some people simply bury their heads in the sand and refuse to think about the sorrow of the world, but this is an unwise course, because, if we are entirely unprepared, the tragedy of life can be devastating.” 12 likes
“It is always tempting to try to shut out the suffering that is an inescapable part of the human condition, but once it has broken through the cautionary barricades we have erected against it, we can never see the world in the same way again.” 4 likes
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