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Book Review of Gautama Buddha, Iqbal Singh, Oxford University Press
Singh wrote this book in the early 1990's; at least the introduction says 1993. There have been countless biographies of the Buddha, and not a few have been pretty good. I have other favorites, the latest by Karen Armstrong, simply called Buddha. But I really love Singh's book. It is readable, knowledgeable, treats the myths with respect while calling them myths, and possibly because Singh himself is an Indian and a scholar, this book dares to go where I have wanted to go for many years. Here's what I mean: Just about every biography of the Buddha either resides well within the myth, or centers on breaking entirely with the myth. But even within both these camps few authors have dared to really speculate about the social and political realities that the Buddha must have faced.
Oh sure, they'll make some general statements about caste, conditions, war, the state of the proto-Hindu society, but they will rarely attempt a full fabric wrapping of the life, times, sights, and smells of the age which the Buddha had to deal with directly. Let's look at an example. When elaborating on how the Buddha's father, Suddhodana, could not have been a king since they resided in a republic which was of the older and threatened social order (threatened by kingdoms!), Singh writes:
The decay of the old social order based on the twin principles of tribal autonomy and the inviolable sanctity of the family group had set in long before Gautama's days.Read more ›