Blog posts in Books for January 2012:

Book Reviews: What the Buddha Thought (Richard Gombrich)

Ambitious attempt to place the Buddha in, and outside of, his historical context as a thinker and philosopher.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/28 19:18
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“This book argues,” writes Richard Gombrich in the preface to What the Buddha Thought, “that the Buddha was one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of all time.” Gombrich's aim is to place the Buddha in the same canon as Aristotle or Descartes, rather than Jesus or Mohammed—a philosopher and thinker, not simply a religious figurehead.

This is an ambitious undertaking, and I am happy to report that What the Buddha Thought is not a case of hubris or mislaid ambition. It is one of a number of works that I am tempted to call “revisionist-Buddhist,” works that attempt to wipe away the encrustations of time or the dirt of history from Buddhism and make them not only relevant to the current age but allow us to see more of Buddhism than would be possibly by simply reiterating previous work. Brad Warner and Dzogchen Ponlop have both produced work in this vein for lay audiences, and now I am exploring works of a more scholarly nature that attempt to do the same things.

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Tags: Brad Warner Buddhism books

Book Reviews: Princess Knight: Vols. #1-2 (Osamu Tezuka)

Osamu Tezuka's gender-bending fairy tale, now in English, was worth the wait.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/27 16:10
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There’s been any amount of talk lately about how comics, science fiction and fantasy, movies, and all the rest of pop culture constitute a new mythology for the age. I go back and forth about this one myself, because one of the things a mythology seems to imply is the presence of some larger belief system about what is being mythologized. Maybe it’s a matter of terminology: would a fairy tale for the modern age imply that much less baggage than a new mythology?

It isn’t as if I think fairy tales sit further down the ladder from full-blown mythos—more like they occupy different seats on the same general bus. One thing I can say about Osamu Tezuka is that he seems to have been comfortable in any of those seats, as well as comfortable driving the whole bus. He created works that were not only mythology for the new age (Phoenix) but which dealt with real-world myth figures (Buddha)—and on top of that created a whole slew of manga which we could comfortably call fairy tales without feeling like either his work or the term itself was being demeaned.

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Tags: Osamu Tezuka Vertical Inc. manga review

Book Reviews: The Cult of Nothingness: The Philosophers and the Buddha (Roger-Pol Droit)

Intriguing look at how Buddhism was equated with nihilism in 19th-century philosophy, for reasons more to do with politics than the intellect.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012/01/13 19:32
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This survey of the intellectual history of Buddhism in the West was not written as a full-blown exegesis, but rather as an attempt to trace the prevalence of a single, common thread of thought: why Buddhism was regarded by many prominent 19th-century intellectuals (and earlier than that as well) as a “cult of nothingness” or a religion whose highest affirmation was nihilism.

The first thing Roger-Pol Droit assumes of his readers is that they understand the general history and conceits of Buddhism. His main audience is not laypersons, although an educated person without a scholarly background can make sense of the book without undue effort and derive quite a bit from it. He speaks most directly to people who have a scholarly understanding of Buddhism—and, most importantly, those who already understand without laborious explanation how Buddhism explicitly rejects nihilism and encourages positive action in the real world. For that reason, there is no general introduction to Buddhism in the book, but rather a direct plunging into the fray.

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Tags: Buddhism books review

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