Brizzy wrote:Thanks for the book recommendation, I will be buying it in the near future. Can you give me a few examples of what you gleaned from it.
I haven't quite finished it yet (am about two thirds the way through) because I am very busy with other projects, and reading this takes a back seat to the other things I have to attend to. If I get to it at all, it's usually late at night.
When I first bought it, I wanted to just assure myself that I had not just bought another book that blindly glorified its subject matter but rather undertook to look at the data from a realistic point of view. It took about 50 or so pages before I became assured of that, and since then it's been of secondary importance while I attend to "making a living."
As such, I did not keep up with my note normal taking as I read, and soon enough gave up trying to as I got ahead of myself in reading and would have had to go back and re-read sections to capture the notations and page markers I had made in the margins. So, I don't have many notes that I can easily look back upon to come up with the examples you ask about.
The book looks at Gotama's life from the standpoint of his being just an extraordinary human being and not some kind of demigod, as is many times the case in biographies of this type about "religious" figgers. This is the kind of approach I was looking for, somewhat similar to Hans Schumann's The Historical Buddha, The Times, Life and Teachings of the Founder of Buddhism
, which I also found to be very good and which provided some valuable details about the actual life that Gotama lead over and above the glorified picture one reads about in the discourses.
Here's one little snippet that might help explain the simplicity of what Gotama and his disciples were endeavoring to teach: "For Shariputra [Sariputta], the ideal monk was one 'who masters his mind rather than letting his mind master him'; and when the discussion was reported to Gautama, he said that this was his opinion as well." That statement resonated with my experience of realizing and practicing the Dhamma
as well. For anyone who has read and digested Ven. Nanananda's book Concept and Reality
, this concept of mastering the mind (seeing and becoming aware of the mind's tendency to proliferate thought and to react to such proliferation, causing upset and anxiety) shines through quite clearly.
Another large snippet is the following:
"A particular problem was literalism. Gautama's insistence that the concepts he used were a means to an end, and therefore not 'absolute truth', is one of the most remarkable characteristics of his teaching.
He wished each of his disciples to become a liberated arahant who 'no longer clings to sensual pleasure, views, rules and observances (or) a doctrine of self', and urged them to hold his teachings lightly and 'relinquish them easily'. But he commented (perhaps a little wearily) that some of his students knew his teachings very well but failed to achieve realization because they 'put the words first'. Gautama told one particularly literal-minded follower that grasping his meaning was like picking up a snake—the only way not to be bitten was to carefully 'hold down its head with a cleft stick and grasp it by the neck'. The key is to recall the purpose of a teaching. Having become a nun, Prajapati prepared to leave for the wilderness and worried that she might not know which of Gautama's teachings to focus on. He told her to consider the effect a teaching had on her.
If she could confidently say that it 'lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered' then she could conclude: 'This is the Dharma ... this is the Teachers's instruction'. Gautama was rigorously consistent in his teachings in focusing on liberation."
Another: "The challenge for Gautama was to show what the Dharma meant within the concrete reality of people's daily activities, and that meant engaging with the issues and concerns that shaped ordinary lives in the Ganges Valley. Some of those concerns have modern parallels, but others belong to a pre-modern society. These include acute fear of the spirit world and anxiety about what lay ahead after death."
There are many more examples, but I do not have the time or inclination at the moment to track them down. I'm already way past my bedtime.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV