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This week we’re giving away the eBook edition of A Concise History of Buddhism by Andrew Skilton. It describes the evolution of Buddhism during its 2,500 years of history and its varied developments in its homeland, India, as well as its spread across Asia, from Mongolia to Sri Lanka and from Japan to the Middle East.
The author acknowledges that some Buddhists may question the value of learning about the history of Buddhism, but writes:
While I agree that the Dharma is essentially ahistorical, in that it speaks of universal truths and addresses the universal human situation, its history reveals to us the attempts of our predecessors to implement those doctrines and practices in society, and to grapple with the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal – namely, human nature. As modem Buddhists we ignore the lessons of our own history at our peril.
On a personal note, this book has helped me to develop a greater feeling of connection to – and gratitude for – those who have trodden the Buddhist path before us. It’s also enabled me to locate texts I’ve read or studied within their historical framework and to appreciate the relationships between them. And from now on, when I encounter terms such as ‘the Yogācāra’ or ‘the Tantra’, I’ll have a clearer idea of what the speaker or writer is referring to.
If you’ve not yet downloaded last week’s free eBook, Living with Awareness by Sangharakshita, there’s still time to do so (it will remain free until Monday, 20th July). Living with Awareness is a commentary on the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, the discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness. Sangharakshita counsels against an over-narrow interpretation of mindfulness as being simply about developing a focused attention on the present moment. To be fully mindful, he argues, one needs to integrate even the most rarefied practice into the context of a fully lived human life.