Thích Nhất Hạnh
The story of the Buddha, through a couple of narratives – one that of the cowherd turned monk Svasti, and the other, probably that of Buddha himself, which moves back and forth to also tell us about Siddhartha’s early life, before and during his enlightenment. The book also lays a lot of stress on the teaching of the Tathagata, while also documenting the political and socio-cultural milieu that existed across the 80 years that the Buddha lived.
The book, drawn from over 24 sources across multiple languages, also has a lot to offer beyond the teachings themselves. The Buddha’s own experiments on attaining enlightenment, based on the prevalent practices, followed by his own thinking that took him beyond them, his relationships with the kings of his time, and the influence of his teachings over them and how they ruled their kingdom, the way that the sangha was politicised even during his own lifetime, how religion slowly crept into the path, though the Buddha stressed that the community was only for supporting those who were trying to attain enlightenment, and how the religion tried to influence the politics of the time. It seems as though things haven’t changed at all in this part of the world.
The simplicity of language while explaining the teachings, is worth a mention here, though quite obviously, it is easier read than done. Despite the changes the world has seen in the centuries that have passed, I could instinctively feel that just as the Buddha had said – enlightenment was within every person, and the teachings can at best serve as a raft – “the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself.” The next time I see the monks, across the multiple sects, I will wonder how many follow the eight fold path and the 200+ precepts that their spiritual teacher had pointed out. The book paints a picture of a human, who through his own efforts and practice, showed others how to attain enlightenment. Not a doctrine, but a life lived.The last chapter, when Svastti recollects how it all began and understands that the true way to respect the Buddha is to implement his teachings in daily life, is probably the best summary of the book, and the most moving, as well.