cover image Buddhist Magic: Divination, Healing, and Enchantment Through the Ages

Buddhist Magic: Divination, Healing, and Enchantment Through the Ages

Sam Van Schaik. Shambhala, $18.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-61180-825-4

British Library scholar Van Schaik (Tibet) explores the role of ritualistic magic in ancient Buddhism in this intriguing study. Central to this account is a 10th-century Tibetan book of spells discovered at the Silk Road archeological site of Dunhuang in western China, with a complete translation of the book provided at the end, showcasing spells, rituals, and incantations from a thousand years ago. Van Schaik proposes that, rather than being perceived as superstitious nonsense, these rituals must be viewed as fundamental to Buddhist practice in earlier times, and add invaluable insight into the lives of early Buddhists and Buddhist monks. He includes descriptions of supernatural beings, lists of herbs and spices used as spell ingredients, and the details of various rituals. He also provides a sweeping tour of old-world civilizations—including Chinese, Egyptian, Indian, and Mesopotamian—covering a variety of manuscripts found at archaeological sites containing devotional poems, chants, spells, and recipes. Van Schaik’s writing style and tone are light, making this a quick, easy history for any layperson. Readers interested in the foundations of magical spiritual practice will enjoy this entertaining look at nontraditional practices that shaped early Buddhism. (July)