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An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World First Edition Edition

53 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0374148362
ISBN-10: 0374148368
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mishra (The Romantics) offers an ambitious "book-length essay" that combines an overview of the life, times and teachings of the Buddha with personal anecdotes and extended multidisciplinary forays into realms such as ancient and modern history, philosophy, politics and literary criticism. If Mishra's approach is broad, it is also deep and often effective. For example, his close reading of early Indian scriptures and his historical-political examination of the Buddha's society bring to life a "half-mythical antiquity" that, in turn, helps the reader see the Buddha's teachings afresh: not as generic spiritual truisms but rather as specific responses to particular religious and social conditions. Yet the book fails to anchor its broad perspective in a strong central thesis. While it follows the chronology of the Buddha's life, Mishra intersperses whole chapters exploring topics such as "The Death of God" and "Empires and Nations." These discussions of Nietzsche's opinions of the Buddha or Zen Buddhism's endorsement of Japanese imperialism are themselves compelling, but feel disjointed. Mishra also frequently shifts the focus to his own life; sometimes this artfully illustrates a point, but at other times it borders on the self-indulgent. Nevertheless, for serious readers the book is a rich and challenging—if sometimes meandering—invitation to explore the Buddha's legacy across centuries, continents and cultures.
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From The New Yorker

For more than a decade, Mishra tells us, he has pondered a book about the Buddha—whether a historical novel about Siddhartha Gautama, the man who brought about "a revolution of ideas in North India" more than two and a half millennia ago, or a study of his teachings and their influence on Western writers. But, as these projects foundered, Mishra came to accept that his own journey of self-discovery was beginning. The final product mixes an account of the Buddha with the story of Mishra's path from Mashobra, a Himalayan village near the Buddha's birthplace, to the far reaches of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond. Mishra offers glimpses of the "restless, grasping selves" he has shed—alienated student in Allahabad, ambitious but unfulfilled writer in London—as he struggles to reconcile lessons of the Buddha's life with his own shifting world.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (December 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374148368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374148362
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,290,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on July 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Pankaj Mishra is an excellent writer and in his "An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World" he uses this ability to great effect. He tells the story of Buddhism between accounts of his travels in India, England, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States, weaving a coherent tale that does not spare the negatives, but also presents the positive aspects of Buddhist history. Like other belief systems, Buddhism has been misused, misinterpreted and misapplied, sometimes in the service of quite evil goals, as in Japan's militarism in the 20th Century and in Cambodia's destruction of the city-dwellers during the Pol Pot regime. That said Buddhism at its best is a very civilized religion (or philosophy, if you prefer.) It has no gods, no real holy prophets (Buddha says that he is no greater than any of his followers and asserts that he is only "awake", not holy,) and its texts are considered teachings, not revelations.

In its essence, Buddhism has a number of similarities to early Greek philosophy, but also was more egalitarian, including all sentient beings. The Buddha himself says that women, slaves, and untouchables are all capable of enlightenment, although like any other mortal he sometimes did not practice what he preached, especially in regard to women. Still he was among the first (if not the first at around 500 BCE) to recognize that women could be as good as men in the spiritual realm.

Mishra has told this story with good humor, local color and skill. This is no dry history of Buddhist theology, but a living and charming exposition of both reality (as much as we know it) and myth behind the modern rise in Buddhism.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By P. Wung VINE VOICE on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As the previous reviewers noted. This is a very complex undertaking. It is obvious that Pankaj Mishra is a very talented and original writer and thinker. It is also very obvious that he really needed to sit and contemplate long and hard on what he wants to say in this book.

As previously noted, this is a autobiography of a student in search of a life and a calling. This is also a cultural biography of the Buddha, thirdly, this is also a meditation on the meaning of Buddhism in contemporary society.

I would say that Mishra missed on all three but he aimed so high that upon reflection, the sum of the effort is brilliant. The synthesis of the bits was ragged, which made for rough reading and understanding, which in turn detracted from the intent of the author.

I felt the meditation on the meaning of Buddhism was the weakest part of the three. Not that he lacked valid points and arguments, on the contrary, he did a greatjob of raising questions and ideas for contemplation. The whole section towards the end of the book dealing with our society as we know it and as we saw it metamorphose in the aftermath of 911, seems forced and rushed. It really did not seem like he had much time to really think through his ideas. He had done much hard work, and he needed to do more, but he stopped short.

The history of the Buddha was much more successful, although I think a more pedantic and to the point biography can be found in Karen Armstrong's Buddha.

The autobiography was very interesting, the main disappointment I had with it was that I had expected a linkage between the autobiography, the history of the Buddha, and the meditation on the applicability of Buddhist philosophy.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Bibliophile on March 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"An End to Suffering" combines three books into one. It includes: 1.) the author's autobiographical coming of age amidst the brutalities of contemporary India; 2.) an account of what little is known about Gautama Buddha (the historical Buddha), and how his actual existence only came to light relatively recently (through the odd efforts of various fascinating Western scholars and explorers over the past couple centuries); and 3.) a serious and lucid consideration of the Buddha's practical philosophy, illuminated by comparisons with various ancient and modern philosophers (ranging from Epicurus and Rousseau to Nietzsche and Gandhi). `An End to Suffering' is especially relevant to intellectuals trying to come to terms with our contemporary world's fall into ever-greater chaos and violence (which, according to Mishra, is strikingly similar to the Buddha's India of the 5th Century BC). For example, Mishra's description of the circumstances in which he first saw the 9/11 attack (on a small, blurred black-&-white TV in a Himalayan village) reframe the significance of that event from a perspective unfamiliar to most American readers; his philosophical reflections go far beyond contemporary politics -- as he takes into consideration such things as the Buddha's personal response to the genocide of his times, inflicted on his very own people. If you're looking for a quick E-Z `self-help' fix on Buddhism, then this certainly isn't the book for you. But those who appreciate good writing will find Mishra's style masterfully personable in its presentation of serious subject matter -- bringing it all to life far better than more 'trendy' or academic authors can. This is the ideal `five star' book for earnest readers who understand that the way to deeper understanding can often be more circuitous than direct.
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