2012 Reading books reading

Reading 2012 : The Middle Way and The Voice of the Buddha

January 27, 2012

This week I finished two short, helpful audiobooks on Buddhism (thanks to a friend lending them to us from his library).  This is an area I’ve been wanting to learn more about, and hopefully these two books have given me a good introduction.

The Middle Way is divided into three main parts, covering the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community of followers). These three aspects of Buddhism are often referred to as “the three jewels.” Through these three parts, the origin and basic teachings of Buddhism are explored, making this essentially a “survey of Buddhism” or “brief introduction to Buddhism.”

An explanation of “the middle way” is also given through a helpful analogy. Anyone who is familiar with stringed instruments will easily understand: if the strings of the instrument are too loose, the instrument will not play properly; likewise, if they are too tight, the instrument cannot be properly played, either. So, the musician must find “the middle way.” Using this analogy, the middle way is not merely adjusting the strings so they randomly neither too tight or too loose, but in order to play the instrument well, each string must each be finely tuned. This is what “the middle way” seeks to be. (And though this analogy was used to specifically explain what Buddhism attempts to be, I found it a helpful analogy to explain lots of other aspects of life.)

The final portion of this book also discusses the variants of Buddhism that have developed in the regions surrounding it’s Indian birthplace, such as Buddhism as expressed and practiced in Japan, Nepal, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other regions.

Although for many years the teachings of the Buddha were passed on through oral tradition (this is why many of the teachings begin with “thus have I heard”), many were eventually compiled in what is known as the Dhammapada. The Voice of the Buddha: The Dhammapada, the Mangala Sutta and Other Key Buddhist Texts is a narration of a good number of the teachings found in the Dhammapada, plus several other key texts. This was helpful in understanding an overview of Bhuddhist teachings.

(Actually hearing readings from the Dhammapada was helpful in realizing many of the differences in the teaching of the Buddha and the teachings of Jesus.)

I recommend these as helpful resources to provide a basic introduction to Buddhism. (Though, for those with exposure to a good world history course, much of the first book was likely discussed there.)

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