Sunday, October 31, 2004

Dalrymple reviews Pankaj Mishra's New Book on Buddha

William Dalrymple, heroic historian of British/Mughal India, gives a generally positive review to Pankaj Mishra's new book on Buddhism in Outlook India. Mishra's book is called An End to Suffering is The Buddha in the World, and it seems to be about anything and everything under the subcontinental sun:

The book covers an intimidatingly wide sweep of territory and moves rapidly from the period of the Vedas to that of the Enlightenment, then onto to the world of Osama bin Laden, stopping en route in the company of such diverse figures as Mahavira, Hieun Tsang, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Marx, Schopenhauer, Borges, Sayyid Qutb, Swami Vivekananda, various Buddhist missionaries and a mixed bag of Naga sadhus and gun-wielding Islamists.

Such overwhelming breadth doesn't make me want to run out and buy the book. If I want to read about Hobbes or Schopenhauer, I am probably not looking for it in a book on Buddhism.

But passages like the following, which is from Mishra himself, do pique my curiosity:

"Like the Beats and hippies of a recent era, people left their homes and professions, dissatisfied with their regimented lives of work, and moved from one sramana sect to another. The men who led them were India’s first cosmopolitan thinkers, unhindered by caste boundaries or other parochial considerations, who became aware that human beings are united by certain shared dilemmas.These early dissenters...began the process, which the Buddha advanced greatly, of taking Indian thought from the speculative—the Vedas and Upanishads—to the ethical level."

Mishra's take on the early Buddhists seems to resemble a little my general sense of the Bhakti movement.

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