Jo Durden Smith: The Essence of Buddhism

November 20, 2022

     Recently, some of my reading on matters spiritual has suggested that there is a certain overlap between some Buddhist beliefs and practices and those of Quakers; I have been seeking a basic introduction to Buddhism, about which I know almost nothing, with a view to exploring this further, and had high hopes when I found this book. However, I was to be disappointed.

The connections I wanted to explore were around one’s spiritual journey being an individual path and one requiring tolerance of others and their beliefs. The book’s opening chapter offered a clear history, both in terms of the people and the social context of the origins of Buddhism, insofar as these can be known with any certainty after two and a half millennia. Life is characterised by suffering; we need to become seekers after truth; the truth cannot be taught, only experienced. The idea of the ‘middle way’ made a good deal of sense.

In the following chapter some aspects were explained in more detail. The book then developed into a history of Buddhism and its various flavours across the oriental world, and a rather tortuous path through doctrinal disagreements and a certain amount of infighting, myriad debates about orthodoxy and so forth, most of which made no sense at all to a novice explorer. This came as a great surprise to me, and reminded me of what I am so much more familiar with from my own origins and background, namely the shocking history of Christianity and its move away from what it seemed originally to have been. And then I realised that perhaps I should not have been so shocked: is this not what happens with any large-scale spiritual or political movement: those who follow after the initial birth of a movement inevitably become embroiled in struggles for power and influence, and for determining the ‘original’ message and for preserving its ‘purity’ ie orthodoxy, expelling heretics and so on…

This depressed me greatly, and I realise that trying to develop an understanding of some of the key tenets of Buddhism will perhaps involve just as much care and wading through treacle as any attempt to understand any religion. I do feel a little defeated, having, perhaps naively, had a picture of Buddhism as a peaceful faith. I shall persist for a while in my attempts to understand, and would welcome any suggestion from my readers of books which may be helpful: it’s the principles I’m interested in, not the history and the arguments…


3 Responses to “Jo Durden Smith: The Essence of Buddhism”

  1. I would try Stephen Batchelor or if you want to jump in the deep end, something like Rev M. Daishin’s Sitting Buddha (this is about practice – for beginners.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A good place to start. For practice, Sitting Buddha.


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