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The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations

by John S. Strong

Buy the book: John S. Strong. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations

Release Date: 26 September, 2001

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: John S. Strong. The Experience of Buddhism: Sources and Interpretations

The Absolute Best Mid-Level Buddhist Studies Text

John Strong's "The Experience of Buddhism" obviously borrows heavily in idea and form from Stephen Beyer's 1970s text "The Buddhist Experience," and it's been updated a bit to include new texts on developing trends in Buddhist thought. "TEOB" is a collection of primary texts with commentaries, some dating back to the early CE, some from the 1200s and 1300s, and some from modern times. This allows the reader to get an even and fair sample of Buddhist thought from the Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajriyana (Tibetan) schools, although Tibetan is less emphasized here than it is elsewhere (which makes sense, since it's a much smaller school in the Buddhist world, despite its overrepresentation in American pop culture).

Readers will be able to pick up on many important Buddhist concepts, including the basics (Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, etc) and more advanced ideas, like the differences in cosmology between T and M Buddhism (the Arhat and the Bodhisattva, for example). Beware, though: this is Buddhism as it has historically been practiced, and is still practiced in Asian cultures today. It is NOT the feel-good, distilled tripe that passes for Buddhism on the spirituality shelf, next to the books on Wicca and similar religions. There are graphic descriptions of acolytes being beaten, abused, and even killed by monks. It touches on some of the wars that have erupted over Buddhism, not only in Tibet, but the bloody civil war that has torn Sri Lanka (Ceylon) apart. Those looking to reaffirm preconceptions about a perfect religion that allows the practitioner to do "whatever" will want to look elsewhere - this is Buddhism as it IS, as it is PRACTICED, and as it HAS BEEN HISTORICALLY. It's a great study tool, and imperative for anyone seriously considering calling himself or herself a Buddhist (and, some would argue, to do so is contrary to the Buddha's teachings anyway). That isn't to say that Buddhism is painted as a horrible religion - quite the contrary - but neither is it sugar-coated, because it CAN be a difficult pill to swallow.

Although Strong's book touches with far greater depth on Buddhist ideas than many others, it doesn't delve as deep as others into some of the theological debates that have taken place over the last 2500 years. It's one step above an "introductory" text, and to go any deeper, you would have to dig out some serious college-level textbooks. Thankfully, this is still accessible to readers of almost any level, although "TEOB" presupposes at least some experience with Buddhist thought. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in historical Buddhism, a deeper exploration of Buddhist cosmology, or the practice of Buddhism today.

Final Grade: A

From Amazon.com

Excellent resource for novice or expert reader

The presentation of primary texts combined with commentary is an excellent presentation of Buddhist thought. Several historical and philosophical strands can be followed easily with this book. The organization and topical layouts allow the reader to move easily through the texts and focus in on areas of interest. Strong maintains acceptable historical objectivity within the context of a sympathetic presentation, allowing the reader to draw independent conclusions. Any student of Buddhism will benefit from this book.

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