The Buddhist Handbook, by John Snelling

I bought a previous edition of this handbook in the late 90s. The current edition was updated after the author’s decease so it probably involves no more than updated information on the organisations listed and perhaps some minor alterations to the biographies.

This is precisely what the title suggests: a complete guide to Buddhist teaching and practice. That is: excepting for meditation, as it is traditionally taught from teacher to student directly, not from books.

Personally I did not miss that. I tried out meditation on my own, based on books and internet sites but found that I could not turn it into a practice without the guidance of people who had also done it. So I guess I agree with the tradition: meditation is best learned by doing it with live guidance.

However, the naive reader may wonder what else there is to say about Buddhism. Isn’t meditation at the heart of the tradition? Well, no. Mythically of course Buddhism revolves around prince Siddhartha Gautama first leaving home and all his riches, learning meditation, almost starving himself, taking it a bit easier, more meditation and then enlightenment. His subsequent teaching is an afterthought to the story, even though he did that for about 60 years.

However, in practice, throughout the centuries, Buddhists have on the whole hardly meditated at all. Even monks were and are more often employed leading ceremonies for lay people, reciting texts and so on.

These days meditation does play a central part, because it fits so well with our modern needs.

In ‘The Buddhist Handbook’ John Snelling goes into the Indian background to Buddhism, the life of the Buddha, basic teachings and practices as well as developments of Buddhism in India, South East Asia, China, Japan and Tibet. He even covers less well known strands of Buddhism in Mongolia and Russia. The book concludes with his overview of the reception of Buddhism in the West, the psychologicalisation of Buddhism and a who’s who of Buddhism.

In all this book can be recommended for any Buddhist who wants to look beyond his own tradition – and that means it’s almost compulsory reading for anybody aspiring to be a Buddhist teacher.

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