BUDDHISM: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy Texts, Sacred Places

Malcolm David Eckel, Author, Malcolm David Eckel, Author . Oxford $17.95 (112p) ISBN 978-0-19-521907-4

Eckel, an associate professor of religion at Boston University and author of To See the Buddha, offers the latest installment in Oxford's series of well-designed introductions to various world religions. Unlike previous volumes that have explored less well-known religions such as Confucianism and Shinto, this book undertakes the unenviable task of explaining one of the world's most over-published faith traditions: Buddhism. Also unlike those volumes, Eckel's addresses a religion that has adapted considerably throughout history and across many diverse cultures. Eckel begins with Buddhism's origins in the person of Siddhartha Gautama, discussing the religion's gradual dissemination throughout Asia and briefly mentioning its major divisions. His chapter entitled "Aspects of the Divine" ably tackles theological beliefs. (Although Buddhism superficially appears to have no theology, since it is non-theistic, some of its Mahayana traditions actually posit a rather complicated pantheon of deities, enlightened beings and bodhisattvas.) Other chapters deal with sacred persons, holidays and life cycle rituals, death and the afterlife and the role of religion in society. Eckel writes at a very accessible level, and the inclusion of primary texts at the end of each short chapter goes far to helping novices understand the issues at hand. Also, the full-color photographs and lovely design help to set the book apart. There are more comprehensive and engaging Buddhist primers on the market, but—considering the vast nature of the topic—this one will be useful to the neophyte. (Jan. 9)

Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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