History

As a 2,500-year old religion, Buddhism has a rich and diverse past
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    Released from All Bounds Paid Member

    Tibetan Buddhist monk Konchog Tendzin was born Mattieu Ricard in Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1946. As a young man he trained as a classical harpsichordist and pursued interests in wildlife photography, astronomy, and animal migration. At 26 he earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology. His interest in Tibetan Buddhism began in 1967, when his friend the French filmmaker Arnaud Desjardins made a film about Himalayan Buddhist masters for French television. More »
  • The Buddha-charita Paid Member

    This installment is the second in a series of excerpts from The Buddha-charita or Life of Buddha, the first complete biography of Shakyamuni Buddha, written by the poet Ashvaghosha, probably in the first century C.E. The Buddha-charita is made up of twenty-eight songs recounting events in the Buddha’s life up to the time of his great awakening. The previous installment described Shakyamuni’s family and the events that surrounded his birth. In this episode we hear Shakyamuni’s first words and witness the arrival of Asita, the great seer, who pronounces the Buddha’s fate. This excerpt was adapted from Edward B. Cowell’s 1893 translation (Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, India). Original spellings, usages, and punctuation have been retained throughout. More »
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    Meeting the Buddha Paid Member

    The following are excerpts from Meeting the Buddha: On Pilgrimage in Buddhist India, a selection of writings by pilgrims from ancient times to the present, to be published in November by Tricycle Books (an imprint of Putnam/Riverhead). Here we have selected pieces from the sections on the pilgrimage itself and on Bodh Gaya. In a discussion with his attendant Ananda, the Buddha delineates the basis for the eight holy sites in India. Tathagata refers to the Buddha: More »
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    Homelessness Into Home Paid Member

    India in the sixth century B.C.E. was especially alive with religious adepts going about their business alone or in the company of others. But monastic institutions as we know them, did not exist then, nor did monasteries exist in Buddhism during the Buddha’s lifetime. The pre-Buddhist ideal of the world-renouncing mendicant is already acknowledged in the legend of the “four-signs” which leads to Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation: after seeing examples of old age, sickness, and death, the Buddha-to-be sees a self-composed, serene, and alert “bhikku.” The ideal of this nomadic, world-renouncing lifestyle was well established in Vedic period prior to Buddhism. More »
  • City of Screams Paid Member

    In February 2001, Mullah Omer, leader of the Taliban, issued his infamous decree: all pre-Islamic art in Afghanistan was to be destroyed, including the two great Buddhas carved into the sandstone cliffs of Bamiyan. When Rob Schultheis began this article—a history of the ancient monument and the people who built it—the Buddhas were still standing.The first historical account of the Buddhas of Bamiyan—the larger of which is said to have been the tallest Buddha in the world—comes to us from 632 C.E., in the words of the great Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang. Hsuan was in the midst of an epic ten-thousand-mile trek along the Silk Road, to the westernmost outposts of the Buddhist world. Much of what is now Afghanistan consisted of small Buddhist kingdoms then, but the countryside was wild and lawless. Hsuan writes of narrow, precipitous trails, of snowdrifts twenty to thirty feet deep, of demon-haunted passes and murderous bands of robbers. More »
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    Digesting The Dharma Paid Member

    In my last column, I provided a brief history of the attempt to anthologize Buddhist texts, to reduce the teachings of Buddhism to a single volume. The organization of these anthologies was often telling, revealing the presuppositions and prejudices of the editors. Some were chronological, beginning with Pali texts (believed to be the earliest sources) and moved on to Indian Mahayana, then to China, and sometimes Tibet, and ended with some works of Japanese Zen. Tibet was almost neglected in this schema: because of the paucity of Tibetan translations, anthologizers drew inevitably from The Tibetan Book of the Dead or The Life of Milarepa. The president of the Buddhist Society of London, Christmas Humphreys augmented the Tibetan materials in The Wisdom of Buddhism (1960) with a selection from Madame Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence, a work scholars regard as her own fabrication. More »