Last week I was interviewed by Emma Varvaloucas at tricycle.com and I’m happy to say that yesterday the result was posted online. Have a look.
Some of it had to be cut to keep it at a reasonable length, which I can certainly appreciate. One question that was omitted asked what 5 books I thought any Buddhist scholar or practitioner should read. My answers are here, but please comment if you have a suggestion of your own: what one book (I’m especially interested in those of a ‘scholarly’ nature, but practitioner books are great too) would you recommend? Here’s my response:
Oh wow. Just 5?
Well, okay. I’ll start with Peter Harvey’s “Introduction to Buddhist Ethics.” It is the only comprehensive survey of Buddhist ethics that I know of with incredibly well researched historical and textual analysis. Ethics really is where it’s at for me. If you can get a feel for how different schools and cultures put the Buddha’s teachings into practice, you can get to the heart of those traditions. (For anyone especially interested in Buddhist ethics and it’s correlations with Western systems of thought, Damien Keown’s “The Nature of Buddhist Ethics” is a must read.)
Next would be Richard Gombrich’s “What the Buddha Thought.” This is a book that will reward you every time you read it, from the little Background Information section in the beginning to meta-questions on methodology and a chapter called “Is This Book To Be Believed?” Inside you get a sense of the Buddha as a brilliant philosopher and more, as well as a view of Gombrich the academic, who even in retirement is passionate about the subject and still excited by new discoveries and insights.
Next, I’d recommend Paul Williams’ “Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations.” This one you could read straight through if you are dedicated enough, or read a chapter or section here and there as it suits your interest. Williams is another scholar who, like Gombrich, has an amazing ability to take in and digest the latest scholarship and write about it in a comprehensive and informative way.
Another one would be Geoffrey Samuel’s “Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies.” This 20 year-old text is still extremely rich with historical and philosophical data for those interested in Tibetan Buddhism (and it’s a huge book!).
I’ll round it all off with “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn. It’s not about Buddhism, but it gives us a penetrating view of where our country – and by extension much of the world – stands, and why. If you care about social action, as most Buddhists in the West today do, then you have to understand the forces you’ll be dealing with.
And in case you were in doubt about my peanut butter ‘problem’ here’s this week’s stash: