Originally published in 1955, E. A. Burtt's "Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha" remains in print nearly half a century later for a very simple reason - it is a concise yet comprehensive introduction to Buddhist thought.
The book is divided into two sections:
Book One - The Early Scriptures of Buddhism
Book Two - Buddhist Thought Through Later Centuries
Book one includes basic doctrines such as the sermon at Benares (in which Gautama Buddha expounds for the first time upon the "Four Noble Truths" and the "Eightfold Path") and selections from the treasure that is "The Dhammapada" ("Way of the Truth").
The remaining thirty odd pages of this section contain material from the Therevada (or "Lesser Vehicle") school of Buddhism, which claims to follow the uncorrupted tradition of Buddha himself, focusing upon clearing of the mind and attainment of Nirvana.
Book two concerns itself with the Mahayana (or "Greater Vehicle") ideal, the core of which holds that since "all are one", universal salvation is the goal of Buddhist practice - as opposed to the Therevada notion of individual pursuit of Nirvana. Among other things, you will find here materials from the Chinese and Japanese Pure Land and Meditation (Zen) schools.
Both sections consist of translations (Burtt used the best he could find at the time) of actual Buddhist texts (such as the above mentioned "Dhammapada", "The Lotus Sutra", various philosophical and devotional treaties, etc.) so that the reader is receiving information more or less directly from the source. Also included is a helpful and illuminating introduction by Mr. Burtt in which he provides an analysis of the religious impulse in general and an overview of the Indian traditions from which Buddhism sprang and which it altered. In fact, Mr. Burtt provides commentary throughout the book, clarifying the distinctions between the Therevada and Mahayana schools and generally shining an erudite light on the various texts.
As an introduction to Buddhism this collection is ideal. As a refresher or reference for those already acquainted with Buddhist thought, this book is a valuable addition to any would be arhat's or bhikshu's library.
This is a comprehensive primer on Buddhist thought. Simple, but informative. Burtt begins with an excellent synopsis on the nature of religion and religious thought in general. It covers the two main branches of Buddhism- Hinayana (or Theravada) and Mahayana. It seems to be that the Theravadins are the followers of more conventional Buddhism with an orthodox canon, whereas the Mahaynas are more universal in their ideas and use later basic writings.Using the Tathagata's words, other things are argued e.g. taking on the life of a monk. The parables are very helfpful, and the one sticking to me most is the one about the acceptance of death. (mustard seed) There is less coverage pertaining to the Theravada school. These ideas of the Mahayanans I find more attracted to, except in some work from the later centuries where they start to argue for things like subjective idealism. The Mahayana religious ideal I do advocate however [pp. 124] 'The central idea in Buddhist teaching is the gospel of universal salvation based on the idea of the fundamental oneness of all beings."