ESSENTIAL BUDDHISM: A Complete Guide to Beliefs and Practices
Maguire, a monk of the Mountains and Rivers Order in New York, begins this primer with a narrative of the Buddha's life, followed by a commentary that compares Buddhism to other world religions and explains a few key terms. From there he elucidates the three branches (or "vehicles") of Buddhism, finally getting to key Buddhist beliefs in chapter three and to practices in chapter four. While the beginning and ending chapters might interest those who are curious about the cultural implications of Buddhism, those seeking the "complete guide to beliefs and practices," as promised, will be disappointed. The book is smoothly written, but poorly organized. Maguire doesn't fully explain key concepts, like the Four Noble Truths, the first time they're introduced, but devotes full pages to them later. The book is most engaging when it relates anecdotes that illustrate Buddhist teachings and when, at the end of some chapters, it answers questions non-Buddhists often ask, such as, "Isn't the doctrine of karma fatalistic?" One learns, for example, that "technically, there's no such thing as 'good karma'" and that such an attribution violates the non-dualistic nature of Buddhism. This teaching is then illustrated by a Zen poem from the seventh century and by excerpts from other modern Buddhist authors. Readers can gain a definite sense of what Buddhism is about from this book, but they will have to be patient with its disjointed structure. (June)
Forecast:In his closing chapter, "Buddhism and the New Millennium," Maguire boasts that more than 1,200 books are listed on Amazon.com under the keyword "Buddhism." However, that very same explosion of Buddhist titles means that new books must truly shine to be noticed. This one falls a bit short.