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4.3 out of 5 stars
Buddhism: A Concise Introduction
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2003
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've read dozens and dozens of books on Buddhism, but the clarity with which Smith and Novak explain basic principles, distinctions between sects, and the development of Buddhism in America makes Buddhism: A Concise Introduction very special. It's definitely the first book I'd recommend to anyone interested in learning about Buddhism (supplanting Steve Hagen's Buddhism Plain and Simple, a great book itself, but in a different way). Best of all, this book helped me understand which type of Buddhist practice made the most sense for me.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2003
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Of the dozens of Buddhist books I've purchased, this book provides the clearest, most understandable introduction to Buddhism. It gives a succinct historical background, complete with context (religions that were prominent where Buddism's roots sprouted). It then lays out the foundations of Buddhism (4 noble truths, eightfold path, etc.).
The authors do a great job explaining some of Buddhism's complex terms (dependent arising, nen-self, etc.), and do not confuse matters by relying to heavily on Sanskrit or Pali terminology.
Although the description of the various branches of Buddhism was a bit short, it did lay out the fundamental thoughts of each branch, and compare/contrast with the others.
The authors detail meditation types(vipassana, samantha) and how the different branches use meditation differently.
Finally, there is a summary of how Buddhism migrated to the western world, and how it is practiced today.
An excellent book, I would highly recommend it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
As I am writing this I have just seen a new report lamenting the lack of knowledge about religions amongst the youth of America. It's easy to see that ignorance about the core beliefs of others is dangerous, and, perhaps, a bit disrespectful.

This is a marvelous introductory book to the basic tenets of Buddhism by the well-known writer Huston Smith, whose magisterial book The World's Religions has sold more than two million copies. The first half of this book is an expanded and updated version of the sections on Buddhism from the World's Religions. Though there has been a shift in emphasis between the two: the big book focused more on Mahayana Buddhism, in this new book, the emphasis is more on Theravada Buddhism, with a useful chart delineating some of the differences and similarities between the two major schools of Buddhism.

The second half of the book is all new and was largely written by Philip Novak, one of Smith former doctoral students who is now a professor in his own right. His focus is more on the growth and spread of Buddhism in Europe and the amazing way in which Buddhism has evolved in North America. A tribute to its remarkable resilience in the face of cultural forces.

Although many of the basics of Buddhism can be picked up online, or by consulting any decent encyclopedia, the discussion of concepts like the our Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, Nirvana and the Three Marks of Existence goes beyond the essentials and brings out a number of new and important points.

There is an important issue when we examine philosophical or religious matters. There is inevitably a subjective component in how anyone, scholar or otherwise, interprets the teachings and their own experiences. So it is inevitable that not everyone will agree with every interpretation and nuance. Insight meditation, one of the tools of Theravada Buddhism, was one of the first forms of meditation that I ever learned, and the way that I was taught, by a well-known Thai-born teacher, was somewhat different form the interpretations in this book. I have also seen a couple of reviewers take issue with some of the book's comments about Zen Buddhism. They make some excellent points. Though I studied Zen too, and my own teaching was close to the information given in the book.

So this book will not be the final word on Buddhism, but then there probably cannot be a "final word." The system has shown remarkable adaptability over the last twenty-five centuries, and there is no reason to think that it won't continue to evolve in the future.

Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A fantastic book to give one an overview of Buddhism...from the history to fairly detailed explanations of its various "branches" such as Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan, Vispassana, etc. One could almost use it as a "shoppers guide to Buddhism".
It also gives a "who's who" in contemporary American Buddhism, such as Surya Das, Kornfield, Epstein, Goleman, Salzberg, etc.
I couldn't stop reading it. It really drew me in. Fascinating reading.
Great for someone like myself who is very interested in Buddhism, and has had some experience with the different traditions, but needs some help in sorting out the different paths and which is the right one for you. Appears to be written with the westerner in mind, or anyone new to Buddhism.
I really like it since it gives a wholly unbiased introduction to the various types of Buddhism, opposed to most works on Buddhism which are written from the perspective that their path is the best.
I also recommend "Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom" - Wes Nisker and "Why Buddhism" - Vicki MacKenzie, and "Buddhism Without Beliefs" - Steven Batchelor.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
If you want a introduction to buddhism this is the book. Covers all branches of buddism. Huston Smith part is very well written and easy to read. The second part of the book by Novak isn't as enjoyable it can drag on at points and isn't as well written. All in All though if you are interested in buddhism this is a great book that covers alot of ground for a small 200 page book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A fantastic book to give one an overview of Buddhism...from the history to fairly detailed explanations of its various "branches" such as Theravada, Mahayana, Tibetan, Vispassana, etc. One could almost use it as a "shoppers guide to Buddhism".
It also gives a "who's who" in contemporary American Buddhism, such as Surya Das, Kornfield, Epstein, Goleman, Salzberg, etc.
I couldn't stop reading it. It really drew me in. Fascinating reading.
Great for someone like myself who is very interested in Buddhism, and has had some experience with the different traditions, but needs some help in sorting out the different paths and which is the right one for you. Appears to be written with the westerner in mind, or anyone new to Buddhism.
I really like it since it gives a wholly unbiased introduction to the various types of Buddhism, opposed to most works on Buddhism which are written from the perspective that their path is the best.
I also recommend "Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom" - Wes Nisker and "Why Buddhism" - Vicki MacKenzie, and "Buddhism Without Beliefs" - Steven Batchelor.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
How many books on Buddhism have I read? So many. So many words. Had I read this one first, perhaps I would have stopped there. When life's noise blurred the book's simple clarity I would have read it again. Precision. . The concepts branch, the words flower from the vine of tranquility. A book born of deep silence, it sings briefly its invitation to its silent root, and then lingers invisibly, the memory of a friend. It is poetry in this: it touches. Mind and heart, reason and compassion, indistinguishable, like Buddha's awakened energy, like true love. Who of the two authors is the poet, who the philosopher, who the mechanic of the heart? Both, all, there is finally only one author here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The collaborative effort of world religion expert Huston Smith and Philip Novak (Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Dominican University, San Rafael, California), Buddhism: A Concise Introduction offers a straightforward summary of the origins and faith of Buddhism, beginning with the life of the Buddha, and then tracing the spread of Buddhism -- including its increasing presence and influence in the West. From the distinctions between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, to Pure Land, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism, to diversity in American Buddhism, and much, much more, Buddhism: A Concise Introduction showcases the variety and tradition of this world class faith and aptly presents Buddhist teachings, philosophy, and history for interested non-specialist general readers of all backgrounds.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I've studied Buddhdhamma for over twenty years now, training in Pali in grad school with James Gair at Cornell. So I've read my fair share of primers on Buddhism, the Tipitika, the 8-fold path, etc.

Put simply: this one is the best basic introduction to Buddhist thinking and practice and history I've found. And to my mind, the thing that makes this volume so singularly valuable is how clearly and thoroughly and *accurately* it portrays Theravada.

Most information in the United States about Buddhism up until the early 1990s basically gave the impression that Buddhism was all about Tibetan and Zen practice. No thought or scholarship -- or little *accurate* thought of scholarship -- was given to the older (and to my mind the most helpful and realistic) means of practice: Theravada.

And one of the co-authors of this book, Huston Smith, contributed markedly, earlier in his career, to this oversight. Smith's earlier introduction to Buddhism misrepresented, and effectively ignored, Theravada thought and practice. But Philip Novak, Smith's former student and now his co-author, makes up for this and really sets the record -- and Smith -- straight.

This and Harvey Aronson's _Love and Sympathy in Theravada Buddhism_ are the two best introductions to what I consider to be the most effective and precise method of Buddhist practice and theory: Theravada.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
I think Smith and Novak did an expert job here. This book is written from an explicitly ecumenical perspective: both authors are Americans who are interested in philosophy, not ritual, and Smith in particular (the better and more famous author of the two) is the child of missionaries and a convert to Western Buddhism from the 1960s. What they present to you is a possible Buddhism, not that which sounds foreign or "backwards", but that which you can imagine bringing into your own life. It's a neat little trip from India to Japan to America, surprising you all the way through and giving you possibilities for endless future exploration.

I've been studying Buddhism since the day I picked up this book, and its teachings have illuminated all that I encounter. Today we get bogged down in arguing over biases or simplifications, but it's impossible to write an unbiased book about any sort of human culture. They chose the correct perspective to emphasize.
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