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Understanding Buddhism: Origins*Beliefs*Practices*Holy Texts*Sacred Places Paperback – January 1, 1999
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About the Author
Malcolm David Eckel is Associate Professor of Religion and Director of the Core Curriculum at Boston University. He has lectured widely and contributed many articles to scholarly journals, and is the author of To See the Buddha: A Philosopher's Quest for the Meaning of Emptiness and Bhaviveka and His Buddhist Opponents.
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Top Customer Reviews
Those new to Buddhism face a plethora of introductory books of varying quality, often originating in popular publishers with little knowledge of Buddhism. Malcolm Eckel’s book is rooted in scholarship – he is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Boston – and it is also aesthetically pleasing and easy to read.
Eckel begins by explaining the roots of Buddhism in the life of Siddhartha Gautama. He goes on to describe the spread of Buddhism and the evolution of different Buddhist traditions in the cultures they reached, including the complex cosmology of deities, enlightened beings and bodhisattvas of the Mahayana. Other chapters are devoted to texts, sacred space – holy places, sacred time – festivals, sacred persons, ethics and the social and political impact of leading twentieth and twenty-first century figures such as Dr. Ambedkar, Aung San Suu Kyi and H.H. The Dalai Lama. The structure follows the categories that someone seeped in Christian tradition might expect of a ‘religion’, which introduces a specific slant to Buddhism, one helpful to non-Buddhists or would-be Buddhists with a religious background in one of the monotheisms.
What is unusual in a ‘beginner’s book’, one that reflects Malcolm Eckel’s academic background, are the quotes from texts and commentary on their meaning. This steers the newcomer towards the roots of the Buddhist traditions, while not making the book so academic as to create barriers. Understanding Buddhism blends gracefully scholarship and accessibility.