'The only way we can find peace in our own hearts is by changing ourselves, not by changing the world.' - Ayya Khema
During the 1960s, Western culture went through an upheaval in many respects, not the least of which was in the questioning of long-held traditional religious patterns. This was done to an extent perhaps not seen since the Reformation, where people were not looking for adjustments and modifications to their own patterns of belief and practice as much as they were looking for radically different ways of doing things. One of the typical patterns of change was an exploration of Eastern religions. In this exploration, one encounters non-religions (that had great appeal for those also questioning 'establishments' of any kind), non-hierarchies, and a radical difference from Western norms. At least, that is what a superficial exploration grants the seeker. One such object of interest was Buddhism.
Buddhism is, in its post-60s existence, one of the fastest-growing religions in the West. Schools and meditation centres exist in all major cities in Europe and America. For those who seek the substance of the faith, there is much that is attractive. For those who stay the course and plumb the depths of the faith, many find traditions and beliefs that at their base are in many ways compatible for the faiths from which they were fleeing.
This book, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Buddhist Wisdom, subtitled A Complete Introduction to the Principles and Practices of Buddhism, presents in a clear and accessible pattern the key beliefs, practices, and historical events of Buddhism with particular emphasis on relevance to modern Western understanding.
One cannot pick up the book but be impressed with the artistic and photographic polish of the book. Each page is well designed and illustrated, with images and concepts and written words supporting each other. This is important for a complex topic such as Buddhism. 'When someone becomes interested in Buddhism the obvious question that arises is, "What is Buddhism?" The answer is not so obvious, however, and even experienced Buddhists continue to contemplate this question.'
Buddhism consists less of doctrines and dogmatic/philosophical concepts (as many Western religions are founded upon, or at least largely developed from) and more of a practice and incorporation of certain principles into life. The teachings of the Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, who lived approximately 500 B.C.E., are not meant to be studied as much as practiced. Farrer-Halls gives a very brief introduction to the life of the Buddha and presents the basic concepts of the Buddha -- the Four Noble Truths -- in the introduction.
These Four Noble Truths are:
1. The existence of suffering -- suffering, however, is a difficult word. The Pali word dukkha can mean 'anguish' or 'dissatisfaction', as well as a number of other possibilities. This ends up being a realistic view on life, rather more pragmatic than esoteric, and is often misinterpreted as being pessimistic.
2. The cause of suffering -- in his life, Buddha knew poverty and wealth, extreme luxury and extreme asceticism, and discovered that none of these extremes held the ultimate answers. Instead, it was what is inside, the self and the desires therein, that created all suffering.
3. The cessation of the causes of suffering -- the traditional term here is the Sanskrit term Nirvana, which is very difficult to translate. It isn't nothingness, or eternal blankness, or Buddhist heaven -- that the Buddha obtained nirvana while on earth and remained on earth negates those ideas.
4. The path that leads to the cessation of the cause of suffering -- this is a practice, a way of living by which one obtains release.
From these Four Truths (the fourth of which leads to the Eight-fold Path), one sees a very different structure than something akin to the Ten Commandments or the Apostle's Creed. This is, in fact, much closer to a system such as the Beatitudes of Jesus, or even the Proverbs and Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures -- it is no wonder that speculation continues that Jesus and other Hebrew prophets had significant contact with the Eastern cultures that practiced Buddhism.
Each of the principles, both of the Eightfold Path and the Six Perfections, is given illustration in practice as well as a philosophical/theoretical definition, so that the reader may see the practical aspect and implication of these systems. Farrer-Halls, then introduces specific meditation practices, which include posture, mental practice, calming and enlightening intentions, prostration, temple etiquette, and setting up personal meditation spaces.
Farrer-Halls concludes by illustrating personal stories of Buddhism by the practitioners. From monastic communities to individual adherents, from the Dalai Lama to 'average' folk, the author illustrates Tibetan, Zen, and Theravada Buddhist practices and traditions in East and West. Specific meditative practices and prayers are illustrated for each of these major traditions.
Gill Farrer-Halls is herself a Buddhist, living in Oxford and conducting Buddhism workshops there. She also serves as an administrator and producer at the Meridian Trust Buddhist Film and Video Archive. She has worked on many books on Buddhism with other authors, as well as recently completing another book, The World of the Dalai Lama: An Inside Look at His Life, His People, and His Vision.
This is a remarkable book. Perhaps the title is somewhat inappropriate, given that this is not organised in the pattern of a tradition dictionary/encyclopedia. However, for breadth and depth of information on specific practices of Buddhism for those coming from a Western perspective, it does likely qualify for the title 'encyclopedia'.
This book is wonderful! It combines the basics of Buddhism with wonderful colored photos and illustrations! Many topics are covered in this book such as the 4 noble truths, the 8 fold path, different schools, an excellent history, and much more. A beautiful book to rest on your coffee table.