A bookish ramble

Magic and Mystery

cover of Magic and MysteryA friend passed this very old, battered copy of Magic and Mystery in Tibet my way amongst others she was discarding recently. I found it fascinating as an historical artifact and impressive in an intrepid-traveller kind of way.

The author, Alexandra David-Neel, was part of the early Western engagement with Asian religion, along with the theosophists (whom she knew well).

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Gemmell: The Book of Rapture

Book of Rapture coverNikki Gemmell tackles big themes in her new novel – science, religion and the evils of tyranny, no less. She universalises her subject by disguising ethnic groups, religions, cities and languages and the supposed origin of her text, while simultaneously individualising it by focusing on a mother’s love for her children.

The political situation is all too familiar to us, an authoritarian regime attempting genocide against a minority within its own population. (No, I won’t call it ‘ethnic cleansing’, because that disgustingly cynical phrase attempts to give state-sanctioned racism, persecution, brutality and murder a semblance of virtue, and using the term legitimises it.) The minority is defined by both ethnic and religious affiliation — again, an all-too-familiar scenario.

One minority family is caught in the middle. Continue reading “Gemmell: The Book of Rapture”

An introduction to the main schools of Buddhism

This page presents a short introduction to the history of the various Buddhist traditions, which I researched to help me make sense of the mass of written material available online and in print. Having gone to the trouble, I thought I might save others some of the effort by making my work available here.

It has a companion page outlining the core beliefs common to all schools. The two may be read in either order.

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Core Buddhist Beliefs

This page is a companion to Buddhist Schools, which presents an overview of the transmission of the Buddhist teachings. Here we present an even briefer overview of the teachings themselves. The two may be read in either order.

The main branches of Buddhism, the Southern or Theravada and Northern or Mahayana schools, have gradually drifted apart in the 2400 years since Buddha taught his followers in Northern India. A World Buddhist Congress in 1966 brought together representatives of all traditions and agreed on a ‘common basis’ which all accepted. Continue reading “Core Buddhist Beliefs”

Big Questions reading list

This short list recommends a few books that may be of value to those interested in religion (particularly Buddhism) and philosophy. It’s just a personal list, not a systematic set of references, so use it for what it’s worth.

1. Nonfiction

Books which are primarily about people and society but throw light on Buddhism as practised in Tibet and China.

Bones of the Master by George Crane (1996)
George Crane, American poet, meets Tsung Tsai, a Chinese Ch’an (Zen) monk who escaped from the disastrous Great Leap Forward in 1959-60. The two of them travel to Inner Mongolia to re-establish the monastery.

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