March 26, 2010
As a Buddhist in the West, whether by my close non-Buddhist friends, semi-familiar acquaintances, or complete strangers, I have been asked many times to give a quick “general overview of Buddhism”. People often ask this very casually, as if they expect me to snap my fingers and summarize such a massive body of teachings, traditions, and histories, and voila, now you now about the Dharma! Personally, I find this task to be impossible.
After a few failed attempts (convoluted sputtering containing everything from snippets of the life of Shakyamuni Buddha, incomplete rapid fire explanations of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, a few unintentionally butchered analogies from sutras, and a few awkward multiple-century leaps through India, Japan, Tibet, and 1960’s/70’s America), I realized I needed something better to offer people in these cases.
I began to ask around for a good basic book on Buddhism and while I was given many great suggestions, I noticed that most of them had a definite bias towards one tradition or another. Then I was given a copy of “The Tree of Enlightenment” by Peter Della Santina, of which contains very well written and clear explanations of the major Buddhist traditions. It has been one of my primary references ever since.
Recently I gave my copy away to a friend who, like many before him, told me he wanted to learn about Buddhism. I began to search the internet for a replacement copy and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is freely available to anyone with an internet connection.
You can find it here (PDF).