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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Established Religions – an overview

  • This page is part of a group of pages looking at answers to the ‘big questions’ – ‘What is the purpose of life?’ and ‘How should I live?’ are probably the biggest. For more on my motivations and approach, see Journey towards a Path if you haven’t already read it. As I said there, I looked first at the foundations of logical reasoning, science and philosophy (in ‘Metaphysics‘) and then at the major ‘Established Religions’ (here) to see what might be useful.

Established Religions

The major world religions fall into two groups (according to Wikipedia, anyway): ‘dharmic’ and ‘Abrahamic’. The dharmic religions are Hinduism and its offshoots Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, while the Abrahamic are Judaism and its offshoots Christianity and Islam, the monotheistic religions.

‘Buddhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and traditional Chinese religion, in that order,’ again according to Wikipedia. There are dozens or hundreds of smaller religions, depending on how ‘religion’ is defined. Some belong to one of the two major groups (e.g. the Baha’i Faith, which is Abrahamic) while some are unaffiliated (e.g. Taoism).

Looking at existing religions, I see that:

Firstly, most people I know who are affiliated with established religions are nicer and happier than most who are not, but also that religions are responsible for much of the world’s conflict.

Continue reading “Established Religions – an overview”