Buddhism: Its Essence and Development

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Item Code: IDC852
Author: Edward Conze
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 812150631X
Pages: 226
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 6.0" x 7.6"
Weight 300 gm
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Book Description

Preface by Arthur Waley

There is not at present in English or any other language so comprehensive and at the same time so easy and readable an account of Buddhism as is to be found in Dr. Conze's book.

You probably know the story of the king who asked the blind men what an elephant was like. One, feeling its trunk, said 'Like a chariot-shaft'; another, feeling its ear, said 'Like a winnowing-fan', and so on. The parable might well be applied to European attempts to write the history of Buddhism. Not that the historians were to blame. Early in the 19th century the only accessible documents were those representing medieval Buddhism in Nepal. So great was the sensation created by the subsequent recovery of a much earlier Canon in Ceylon that the Pali scriptures (those found in Ceylon) were taken as embodying the whose of early Buddhism. Even as recently as 1932 Mrs. Rhys Davids, in her Manual of Buddhism for Advanced Students (a rather ambitious title) makes little use of anything but the Pali scriptures. A year later a more comprehensive account was given by E. J. Thomas in his History of Buddhist Thought; but his work is addressed to specialists rather than to the general public. Other books, such as Keith's Buddhist Philosophy, are simply lists of views held by people felt to be wholly remote and "lacking in both system and maturity." To Dr. Conze the questions that Buddhism asks and answers are actual, living, questions, and he constantly brings them into relation both with history and with current actuality.

Book are, to my mind, valueless unless they express a point of view, and they must do this not by distorting the facts, but by making apparent to the reader the Author's emotional and intellectual reaction to these facts. Dr. Conze's book, more than any of its kind that I have read for a long time succeeds in doing this.

Author's Note

The idea of this book originated with friends of mine in 1941, when I lived in Godshill in Hampshire, and attempted to find out how much of Buddhist meditation could actually be practiced in this present age. The first chapters represent lectures, which I gave some years ago in Oxford at St. Peter's Hall, and some traces of the spoken word still cling to them. In 1948, Dr. William Cohn, of Oxford, suggested to me that a work covering the whole range of Buddhist thought would be much appreciated, and encouraged me to complete the book. Dr. Cohn, and, at a later stage, Mr. Arthur Waley and Mr. Christmas Humphreys, have eliminated many errors. Mr. Claud Sutton and Mr. Arthur Southgate have watched over the English style. Discussions with various scholars have, I hope, put me right in a number of difficult and controversial points. In this connection, I must mention, with gratitude, Prof. F. W. Thomas, Dr. E. J. Thomas, Prof. Demieville of Pais, Prof, Tucci of Rome, and Dr. Pott of Leyden. Many of the texts on which my account is based have never been translated into English. It may one day be possible to offer the reader a Selection from the main Documents of Buddhist thinking, which would substantiate much that is merely stated here.


Buddhism as a Religion
Buddhism is an Eastern form of spirituality. Its doctrine, in its basic assumptions, is identical with many other teachings all over the world, teachings which may be called 'mystical.' The essence of this philosophy of life has been explained with great force and clarity by Thomas a Kempis, in his Imitation of Christ. What is known as 'Buddhism' is a part of the common human heritage of wisdom, by which men have succeeded in overcoming this world, and in gaining immortality, or a deathless life.

During the last two centuries, spiritual interests have in Europe been relegated into the background by preoccupations with economic and social problems. The word 'spiritual' seems vague nowadays. It is, indeed, not easy to define. It is easier to state by what means one gets to the spiritual realm than to say what it is in itself. Three avenues of approach to the spiritual are, I think, handed down by the almost universal tradition of the sages:

To regard sensory experience as relatively unimportant;
to try to renounce what one is attached to;
to try to treat all people alike-whatever their looks,
intelligence, colour, smell, education, etc.
The collective effort of the European races during the last centuries has gone into channels, which by this definition are not 'spiritual.'

It is often assumed that there is some fundamental and essential difference between East and West, between Europe and Asia, in their attitude to life, in their sense of values, and in the functioning of their souls. Christians who regard Buddhism as unsuitable for European conditions forget the Asiatic origin of their own religion, and of all religions for that matter. A religion is an organization of spiritual aspirations, which reject the sensory world and negate the impulses, which bind us to it. For 3,000 years Asia alone has been creative of spiritual ideas and methods. The Europeans have in these matters borrowed from Asia, have adapted Asiatic ideas, and, often, coarsened them. One could not, I think, point to any spiritual creation in Europe which is not secondary, which does not have its ultimate impulse in the East. European thought has excelled in the elaboration of social law and organization, especially in Rome and England, and in the Scientific understanding and control of sensory phenomena. The indigenous tradition of Europe is inclined to affirm the will to live, and to turn actively towards the world of the senses. The spiritual tradition of mankind is based on the negation of the will to live, and is turned away from the world of the senses. The spiritual tradition of mankind is based on the negation of the senses. All European spirituality has to be periodically renewed by an influx from the East, from the time of Pythagoras and Parmenides onwards. Take away the Oriental elements in Greek philosophy, take away Jesus Christ, Saint Paul, Dionysius Areopagita, and Arabic thought-and European spiritual thinking during the last 2,000 years becomes unthinkable. About a century ago the thought of India has begun to exert its influence on Europe, and it will help to revivify the languish-Some features distinguish Buddhism from other forms of wisdom. They are of two kinds.

Much of what has been handed down as 'Buddhism' is due not to the exercise of wisdom, but to the social condition in which the Buddhist community existed, to the language employed, and to the science and mythology in vogue among the people who adopted it. One must throughout distinguish the exotic curiosities from the essentials of a holy life.

There are a number of methods for winning salvation by meditation, of which Buddhist tradition gives a clearer and fuller account than I have found elsewhere. This is, however, largely a matter of temperament. Properly studied, the literature of the Jains, of the Sufis, of the Christian monks of the Egyptian desert, and of what the Catholic Church calls 'ascetical' or 'mystical' theology, yields much of the same kind.

To a person who is thoroughly disillusioned with the contemporary world, and with himself, Buddhism may offer many points of attraction-in the transcending sublimity of the fairy land of its subtle thoughts, in the splendour of its works of art, in the magnificence of its hold over vast populations, and in the determined heroism and quiet refinement of those who are steeped into it. Although one may originally be attracted by its remoteness, one can appreciate the real value of Buddhism only when one judges it by the results it produces in one's life from day to day.

The rules of wholesome conduct which are recommended in the Buddhist Scriptures are grouped under three headings: Morality, Contemplation and Wisdom. Much of what is included under Morality and Contemplation is the common property of all those Indian religious movements which sought salvation in a life apart from ordinary everyday society. There we have, in addition to rules of conduct for the laity, regulations for the life of the homeless brotherhood of monks; many Yoga practices-rhythmical and mindful breathing, the restraint of the homeless brotherhood of monks; many Yoga practices-rhythmical and mindful breathing, the restraint of the senses, methods for inducing trance by staring at coloured circles, stages of ecstasies, the cultivation of unlimited friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy and even-mindedness. Further, meditations of a generally edifying character, which could be found in any mystical religion, such as meditation on death, on the repulsiveness of the functions of this material body, on the Trinity of the Buddha, the Dharma (Truth), and the Samgha (Brotherhood). Few could be expected to practise all those methods in one life-time. There are many roads to emancipation. What is common to all of them is that they aim at the extinction of the belief in individuality meaning. According to Buddhist teaching, as we shall see in more detail later on, man, with all his possible belongings, consists of five 'heaps,' technically known as Skandhas. They are:

The Body
Impulses and Emotions
Acts of Consciousness.

Anything a person may grasp at, or lean on, or appropriate, must fall within one of those five groups, which make up the stuff of 'individuality.' The belief in individuality is said to arise from the invention of a 'self' over and above those five heaps. The belief expresses itself in the assumption that any of this 'is myself.' Or, in other words, in the belief that 'I am this,' or that 'I have this," or that "this is in me,' or that 'I am in this.' The fact of individuality disappears with the belief in it, since it is no more than a gratuitous imagination. When the individual, as constituted by an arbitrary lump taken from those five heaps, ceases to exist, the result in Nirvana-the goal of Buddhism. It one wishes to express this by saying that one has found one's "true individuality," the word 'individuality', as understood at present, is elastic and vague enough to permit this. The Buddhist Scriptures do, however, distinctly avoid this, or any equivalent, expression.

The various schools of Buddhism spring, as I will try to show, from differences in the approach to the Buddhist goal. Already in the early Order, men of different temperament and endowment are reported to have reached the goal by different roads. Sariputra was renowned for his wisdom, Ananda for his faith and devotion, Maudgalyayana for his magical potency. In later times, different minded people formed different schools, and, in addition, the spread of the doctrine led to geographical separation and to separate organizations. Some of the methods for achieving de-individualisation, which we shall discuss in the later chapters of this book, are not mentioned at all in the oldest strata of the tradition as it has come down to us, or are no more than dimply foreshadowed. But, as many of the later Buddhists would have argued, in his love for beings the Buddha would have excluded nothing that could help anyone who wanted the right thing. A great deal of this book will be devoted to explaining what each of the chief schools stood for, what method it chose as its own particular way, how it can be thought to lead to the same goal as the others, and how it fared in the world of history.


From the back of the Book

Buddhism is an Eastern form of spirituality. Its doctrine, in its basic assumptions, is identical with many other teachings all over the world, teachings which may be called 'mystical'.

The present book, which was the first comprehensive work on Buddhism in English, represents author's lectures delivered at St. Peter's Hall, Oxford, and covers the whole range of Buddhist thought.



  PREFACE   by Arthur Waley     INTRODUCTION

Budhism as a Religion Budhism as a Philosophy Self-extinction 'Radical Pessimism' Immortality Survival Value


The Flavour of Dharma The Documents The Buddha Is Buddhism atheistic ? The Four Holy Truths Cosmology


The Samgha Poverty Celibacy Inoffensiveness Main Currents of Monastic Thought


The Place of the Laity The Temporal Power The Service of the Smagha The Influence of the Laity


Sects Sariputra Arbats Practices Moral Discipline Trance Wisdom Decline


The Mahasanghikas Hinayana and Mahayana Literary Development Bodhisattva Emptiness Salvation Parallels


The Reception of Bhakti Literary History The Agent of Salvation The Arms of the Faithful Methods Self-extinction and Faith


Wisdom and Trance Literary History "Mind-only" "Store-consciousness" Further Doctrines


The Problem of the Tantra History of the Tantra Tantric Practices Tantric Philosophy Tantric Mythology Left-handed Tantra The Control of the Body


Survey Ch'an Amidism Rnyin-ma-pa European Buddhism

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