Historiography and How to Talk About Buddhism

When I find myself in the company of loud and proud Buddhists during a quiet moment, I like to ask the question: How do you talk to people about Buddhism for the first time?

I have gotten many answers, and coupled with most responses is an acknowledgment of the difficulty of the endeavor. Buddhism is a huge topic, awash in a jargon whose impenetrable status drops farther and farther from mind with each attended retreat.

I’ve seen Buddhism described in opposition to other religions, stressing the non-godliness of the Buddha and the rationality its teachings, but this seems to be not stating Buddhism on its own terms. I’ve seen explanations grounded in the Buddha’s life which do a great job of framing the concerns of Buddhism, but can make Buddhism seem less immediate and relevant. I’ve seen and attempted personal appeals, drawing out the differences and benefits measured in my own life. This approach is only effective for people who are willing to listen to me describe the intense Buddhist significance of giving up potatoes.

Of course, people have been answering this question since the time of the Buddha, in one form or another. My favorite are historical accounts of interactions with Buddhists; because they answer a related but slightly different question: How does a non-Buddhist talk to people about Buddhism for the first time? What are the most pertinent details. Continue reading “Historiography and How to Talk About Buddhism”

Sects and Sectarianism

UnityEdictSarnathweb-fullThe problem with free eBooks is that, for all the gains in access they offer by removing the constraints of traditional distribution they remove some of the methods of traditional promotion. For Buddhist monastic authors this is usually not a problem since free access is greatly prefered to fame and fortune, but this means that many great eBooks fall through the cracks, unnoticed.

Thus, attention all Buddhist nerds: read Ajahn Sujato’s Sects and Sectarianism immediately. I cannot think of a more important book written for the cause of Global Buddhism.

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Therapeutic etymology

*Disclaimer* I am not a linguist by any means. My lack of understanding of Pali, Greek, and possibly English validates any grain of salt thrown at this post. Put your Skeptics hat on, my friends.

Around 250 BCE, the Third Buddhist Council convened under the patronage of Asoka, emperor of the pan-Indian Mauryan empire. The council’s purpose was to expunge the heretical and false, including both the views of dhamma and monastics. The council compiled the teachings and rules that would be considered the “teachings of the Elders”, Theravada.ยน

After the council had concluded, Asoka sent out missionaries on the behalf of the Theravadins to all parts of the known world, including the Hellenic world.

These missionairies would have been called the Sons of the Elders, Theraputta. Although there is little record, Asoka claims to have reached Egypt and Greece with the dhamma.

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