This book, the second edition of How Buddhism Began, takes a fresh look at the earliest Buddhist texts and offers various suggestions how the teachings in them had developed. Two themes predominate. Firstly, it argues that we cannot understand the Buddha unless we understand that he was debating with other religious teachers, notably Brahmins. The other main theme concerns metaphor, allegory and literalism. By taking the words of the texts literally – despite the Buddha’s warning not to – successive generations of his disciples created distinctions and developed doctrines far beyond his original intention. This accessible, well-written book by one of the world’s top scholars in the field of Pali Buddhism is mandatory reading for all serious students of Buddhism.
Richard F. Gombrich is Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, and one of the most renowned Buddhist scholars in the world. From 1976 to 2004 he was Boden Professor of Sanskrit, University of Oxford. He has written extensively on Buddhism, including How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings (1996); Theravada Buddhism: A social history from ancient Benares to modern Colombo (1988); and with Gananath Obeyesekere, Buddhism transformed: Religious change in Sri Lanka (1988). He has been President of the Pali Text Society and was awarded the Sri Lanka Ranjana decoration by the President of Sri Lanka in 1994 and the SC Chakraborty medal by the Asiatic Society of Calcutta the previous year.