forget buddhism. meet the Buddha. (at TFPO)

A review of Buddha for Beginners by Steven T. Asma.

Say “Buddhism,” and the free-association machine will gin up everything from the Dalai Lama, self-immolating monks, and robed meditators to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Kung Fu movies, and that chubby laugher with no hair. Or, perhaps, “Buddhism” will simply considered as yet another category among the world’s major religions, like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism.
But just as Christianity can’t be simply reduced to affectionate pastiche (hello, buddy Jesus!), and sweeping pop-culture generalizations – or treated as a categorical, conceptually-unified block – Buddhism is an umbrella spanning a rich diversity of ideas and practices flourishing in 2,500 years of history.

Buddha for Beginners, by Columbia College Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Scholar Steven Asma, isn’t about “Buddhism” when by “Buddhism” we mean the ways in which the Buddha’s teachings have found expression in different and idiosyncratic cultural practices. In this sense, “Buddhism” is a manifestation of that most fundamental human instinct: The taxonomic impulse to label everything and, for better and worse, confine everything to their labels. Prof. Asma doesn’t condemn these many cultural Buddhisms and their corresponding Buddhists as rightly or wrongly labeled. But he is willing to do what few primers in the field of religious studies are willing to do, namely... READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE FRONT PAGE ONLINE

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