Review copy was received from Publicity team. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Buddha's Teachings for Beginners by Emily Griffith Burke
Published by Rockridge Press on December 14, 2021
Genres: Non Fiction
Source: Publicity team
Buddhism is a rich and layered belief system, which means exploring it for the first time can be overwhelming—and it’s not always easy to connect the teachings to our lives today. This guide breaks down the central philosophies of Buddhism in clear and concise language that makes them easy to understand and apply to the modern world.
When I hear of Buddhism or Buddhists, meditation retreats, monks, Zen, or even see large statues of Buddha or Buddhist temples, I have a vague idea about the tenants and beliefs behind it. Karma, reincarnation, yoga, and mindfulness are part of our general society, but what is it all about? I was not interested in a jump into the deep end of the pool, but a gentle wading in to get a feel for what it was all about so I reached for this beginner level book when I came across it.
The Buddha’s Teaching for Beginners easily fulfills the promise in the title and my own personal goal in reading it. The author starts by giving an introduction of herself and her credentials, her reasons for writing the book, and a bit of an overview of what the reader could expect and something of how to make the most use from the book. I was glad the author took the approach that the person picking up the book was all-together ignorant, but was gracious and didn’t talk down to readers. The order of the book took the reader from the foundational truths needing to be grasped that led to the practices that built from these truths. Her examples were every day and helpful and there were a few practical meditation guides sprinkled throughout to help the reader get a small experience in internalizing what is being taught.
The author began with the background of Buddhism in a quick summation before explaining in three sections: The Three Marks of Existence (impermanence, suffering, and not self), the Four Noble Truths (Truth of Suffering, Cause, Freedom and Path of Liberation) , and the Noble Eight-Fold Path (Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration) before leaving a few closing remarks about other Buddhist teachings, resources and index.
I confess that The Three Marks of Existence really bent my brain a bit and I’m still confused, but I kept reading into the Four Noble Truths about suffering in hope that things would make sense eventually. It did and it also had me understanding it is no easy task to distill lots of profound teaching to a basic guide such as this.
My first big aha was to learn that the focus of Buddhism as a practice seems to be suffering. Acknowledging it and learning to work one’s life so suffering doesn’t dominate it and eventually the individual can become more enlightened and hopefully reach Nirvana, a state devoid of suffering.
Another insightful moment was learning the connection between all the outward observances that had caught my eye and what they were accomplishing in those practicing.
I learned there are more than one school of thought within Bhuddists and it is perfectly fine to go with whatever one most resonates. The author also made it clear that any of the teachings that are studied might be unpalatable at first or confusing and it is perfectly fine to go to another and come back to that which was an earlier struggle. For example, the Noble Eight-Fold Path is not a series of stepping stones which have to be accomplished in order before moving on, but rather can be taken in any order. Though, that said, some naturally cycle into another like having a Right View before a Right Livelihood.
This is clearly just what it states- a beginning, a jumping off point. It isn’t an exhaustive study into a complex religion, but a quick thought helpful overview. I can recommend it to others who want a better understanding or an entry into Buddhism.
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