Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Five best books on Buddhism

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including Prisoners of Shangri-La, The Madman’s Middle Way, Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism, and Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed.

His latest book is The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography.

Lopez discussed five books on Buddhism with Daisy Banks at The Browser, including:
Journey to the West
by Anthony C Yu

Your last choice, Journey to the West, translated by Anthony Yu, is one of the most popular classics of Chinese literature.

In 629, a Chinese monk named Xuanzang set out for India in order to retrieve Buddhist scriptures, returning in 645. He was welcomed as a hero by the emperor and received the title ‘Master of the Tripitaka’, the Buddhist canon. Xuanzang wrote a detailed account of his travels, entitled Great Tang Records on the Western Regions – if I could choose six books, it would be the sixth. His long journey to India and back, much of it alone, is considered one of the most remarkable feats in the history of Chinese Buddhism, taking on legendary proportions. In the 16th century, Wu Cheng’en wrote a comic novel about it, entitled Journey to the West.

It is interesting that outside Buddhist literature itself, when we read Indian dramas or Chinese novels or Japanese fables, Buddhist monks are often portrayed as lecherous or avaricious or simply foolish. In Journey to the West, the protagonist, a monk named Tripitaka, is well meaning but weak, pious and learned, but inexperienced in the ways of the world, dissolving in tears at the slightest difficulty. He would never have been able to make it to India alone. Fortunately, he is protected by the bodhisattva of compassion, who provides him with a bodyguard, a mischievous monkey endowed with all manner of magical powers. Although not intended for children, the novel, and certain chapters in particular, is among the most famous children’s story in East Asia, depicted in comic books and cartoons. Journey to the West, in four volumes, is one of the great picaresque novels in world literature, often uproariously funny and filled with all manner of magical derring-do – even better than Harry Potter.
Read about the other books on Lopez's list.

The Page 99 Test: Donald S. Lopez, Jr's Buddhism and Science.

--Marshal Zeringue