Having studied Buddhism privately and academically for over 20 years I usually consider introductory works not worth the bother. When I saw the outraged comments from the one-star reviewer below, however, I thought that this could be an interesting work. As another stated, most presentations of Buddhism that are made for Westerners are usually filtered to some extent, particularly older ones that are taking the Buddhism-is-the-secular-religion-for-us-grown-up-Westerners routine. Unlike Mr. Martin, I own and have bothered to read many of the early Buddhist writings, and they are chock full of the kind of things he claims are not part of Buddhism. The author of this book takes it all on the chin and doesn't let it faze him a bit. He's more interested in telling about both the story and teachings of Buddhism as they really were and, at core, still are, rather than keeping Western devotees comfortable.
And what an introduction! Take all those 5 star reviews seriously. I was repeatedly impressed with the clarity of prose and vision Gethin demonstrates while explaining even some of the most difficult to grasp Buddhist philosophical concepts. Things that it took two hours for some of my teachers to communicate to the point that students actually understood are brilliantly exposited with delightful comprehension in just a few pages. It takes a real grasp of the field to pull this off, and Gethin does it over and over. Illuminating charts, penetrating text, and, thank goodness, a topical bibliography to mine for years...what more could you want? If you want to read a book that will leave you with a solid understanding of core, foundational, Buddhist concepts, instead of a fluffy semi-New Age ransacking of the tradition to pamper Western assumptions about the self and the cosmos, look no further. As soon as this is submitted, I am sending an email to the professor at the Buddhist college I attend to look at this work for inclusion in the texts for our introductory survey course. Peter Harvey's and Walpola Rahula's introductory works are both on the schedule already, along with a third that will go unnamed, which Gethin simply stomps into the dirt for value. "The Foundations of Buddhism" clearly belongs in such stellar company and hopefully this Fall will be benefiting students alongside them.
This book describes Buddhism, not as many Westerners assume it to be, but as it really was prior to the modern era.Most of us learn about Buddhism through Westernized versions which conceal those aspects not in accord with our own cultures dominant beliefs. Buddhists did believe in gods, thought it was not obligatory. The idea of an atheistic Buddhism is a Western construction. Much of what is written about Buddhism in English is designed to appeal to the lazy and so leaves out the philosohical parts which are extremely challenging but well worth the effort to understand.
This is not exactly an introduction because it includes the difficult parts but it is a way to learn actual Buddhism, not the pop forms introduced by Watts, Suzuki, Trungpa and many others. If you want to really know what Buddhism is about, read this book.The secton on Abhidharma, the central philosophy of Buddhism, is the best I have read.