From the Jacket :
Around 2500 years ago a thirty-five-year-old man named Siddhartha had a mystical insight under a peepul tree in north-eastern India, in a place now revered as Bodhgaya. Today, more than 300 million people across the globe consider themselves beneficiaries of Gautama Buddha's insight, and believe that it has irrevocably marked their spiritual commitment and identity.
Who was this man who still remains such a vital figure for the modern-day questor? How did he arrive at the realization that 'suffering alone exists, but none who suffer; the deed there is, but no doer thereof; Nirvana there is, but no one seeking it; the Path there is, but none who travel it'?
The Book of Buddha traces the various stages of the spiritual journey undertaken by a man who started out as Siddhartha the Seeker, achieved understanding as Shakyamuni the Sage and attained supremacy as Tathagata the Master-finally reaching transcendence as Jina the Victor when he was transformed into the Buddha and became the Enlightened One.
Combining personal insight with a deep understanding of Buddhist philosophy, Arundhathi Subramaniam gives the reader a sensitive and revealing portrait of the Buddha and his role in shaping and transfiguring the course of history. In this passionate and deeply felt rendition of the Buddha's life she explores his enduring impact, and affirms that though he promised no quick-fix solution to life's problems, Buddhism has remained truly democratic because it holds out the promise of self-realization for all.
About the Author:
Arundhathi Subramaniam is the author of two books of poems: On Cleaning Bookshelves and Where I Live. She has been active in the fields of arts journalism and arts management for several years. She lives in Mumbai.
I think I was five, and in my uncle's house, when it first
registered-an impassive, somewhat weathered, limestone
image, in the archetypal Gandhara style. It was a face
of extraordinary tranquility. A face that presented a
stark contrast to the densely populated pantheon of
Hindu gods that dominated my childhood devotional
The gods I knew in my mother's puja room were a
vibrant bunch, captured in states of perpetual animation:
the dancing Nataraja, the playful Krishna, the devoted
Hanuman, the benign Ganapati. Arrestingly idiosyncratic
personalities in their own right, all of them. But somehow
they seemed to be busy folk, preoccupied with activities
of an external kind. None of them exuded the air of
untroubled interiority that this limestone figure did.
I mulled over the image in the inarticulate manner
of a five-year-old. What was he thinking about? Was
he never angry? ever sad? Above all, never bored? Was
it actually possible to be so immersed in some world
inside the self?
And so, without knowing it, my fascination with
the Buddha had begun.
The Amar Chitra Katha comic that I stumbled on
sometime later, offered a life-story, but of a schemati
sort. It only endorsed the impression I already had-c
a compelling but puzzling inwardness. In my teens,
rediscovered the Buddha through other channel:
through S. Radhakrishnan and Hermann Hesse, Alan
Watts and Christmas Humphreys. He remained an
inspirational figure, but for other reasons. He appealed
now as the heroic solitary seeker who blazed his own
trail; the man who asked the same questions that I did
but dared to devote his entire life to addressing them.
But most importantly, here was a sage who didn’t
patronize me. He didn't tell me that he belonged to the
hallowed echelons of the spiritual elect. He didn't smile
down beatifically from some rarefied stratosphere. Here
was someone who didn't demand weak-kneed veneration
He seemed to be comfortable with equality. We could
be friends, I thought (with some impunity, forgivable
perhaps in a seventeen-year-old). If you met him on the
road, went the famous Zen epigram (that I, like many
others, found so enticing), kill him. Here at last, I felt
was someone who spoke my language.
More than a decade-and-a-half later, I find that he
still speaks it. I have approached him time and again-
not as a student of philosophy or history, but as a seeker,
with a seeker's mix of curiosity and desperation. He
seldom lets me down. Few seem to have articulated the
human predicament with quite the same degree of lucidity
psychological acuity and unsentimental precision. And it
is as a seeker-not as a scholar-that I approach him
once again in this book.' What empowered me in what
often seemed like a formidable enterprise was the man
himself and his own staunch refusal to turn the existential
journey into a matter for experts and cardholders.
Life is dukkha, suffering, he says in a formulation
that strikes you each time you read it with its chilling
incontrovertibility. But it is by no means a no-exit
situation. There is a way out, he reminds you, instantly
challenging any notion you might begin to nurse about
a creed of joyless pessimism. And here is a way that is
entirely in keeping with the spiritual democrat who
charted it-a way open to all. A way that does not require
cosmic revelation or sacerdotal intercession. A way to a
truth that is neither exclusive nor doctrinaire. A truth
that is available to all who care to reach for it; a truth
that knows no custodian or arbiter-nor even (and this
is the great paradox of his powerful insight), a person
to comprehend it.
And each time I find myself in a state of corrosive
self-doubt-each time it seems like an act of hubris to
hope for any transformation in my understanding of
myself or the world-his generous invitation to all
humanity comes to mind yet again: 'Look within, you
are the Buddha.'
More than 2500 years ago, a thirty-five-year-old
man had an insight under a peepul tree in north-
eastern India. The insight was to create major shifts along
the internal fault lines of generations of humanity for
centuries to come. Today, over 300 million people across
the globe consider themselves beneficiaries of that
insight, and believe that it has irrevocably marked their
spiritual commitment and identity.
Today, I gaze at my flickering computer screen on a
rainy July evening and I wonder at this man, my
contemporary in another age. A man whose fevered
meaning-of-life questions ceased one night under a full
moon in May. How did they cease, even while mine show
no signs of abating? Who was this man who still remains
such a vital figure for the modern-day questor? How did
he arrive at the realization (brilliantly encapsulated by
the scholar Buddhaghosha), the one that still boggles our
minds, even while we have a subliminal hunch of its
veracity: 'Suffering alone exists, but none who suffer; the
deed there is, but no doer thereof; Nirvana there is, but
no one seeking it; the Path there is, but none who travel
In a world that grudgingly grants people their fifteen
minutes in the spotlight, how does he continue to
command attention across barriers of culture and
chronology? How do we explain his unflagging shelf
life, his dogged relevance to our lives?
The pop version of the chronicle of his life has
something to do with it, of course. The saga follows all
the conventions of the sure-fire page-turner: Rich Kid
turns Renunciant in a spellbinding riches-to-rags-to-
riches success story (even if the final success can't quite
be measured in material terms).
But this is not just a feel-good story either. For the
Buddha does not always offer succour even when we
desperately feel we need it. Instead, he seems to
frequently offer unsettling home truths. When Krisha
Gautami approaches him, wild-eyed and disconsolate,
lamenting the death of her child, he offers no token
words of solace to allay her grief. Nor does he perform
a miracle and bring the child back from the dead. He
tells her, instead, to go around the village and bring a
mustard seed from a home that hasn't experienced death.
When Krisha Gautami is unable to find any such
household, she has already moved from a personal grief
to a deeper understanding of the endemic nature of
Could the Buddha have done it another way, I've
often wondered. Surely he could have clucked over her
a bit, shown more overt compassion? Perhaps. But his
response in this probably apocryphal story remains
typical of his strategy as a teacher, and eventually it is
for this very reason that we trust him. It's futile to expect
chicken soup for the soul from a man who leaves us
uncertain about the very existence of the soul! What we
can expect from the Buddha instead is searing insight,
astringent clarity, and a wisdom we recognize even
before we fully apprehend it.
Why does the Buddha still speak to us?
For one, I suspect it's because he seems to ask the
same questions that we ask. His life-story reveals him
initially as the tormented seeker, the man who cannot
be satisfied with the placebos and palliatives with which
the status quo habitually silences its interrogators.
Questions about human suffering, the fleeting nature
of pleasure, the impermanence of all that we cherish.
He seems to ask these questions with the same urgency
and anguish as the rest of us.
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