“When I was approached by Quercus four years ago to write a biography of the Buddha I assumed that there were already other books that did the job. The first surprise was realising that there really aren’t. There are short works, books that simply present the early biographical sources and many works that retell the legends around the Buddha as well as novels, poems etc. But there was really nothing that treated the Buddha biographically, basing itself on the early sources in the light of what history and scholarship tell us about them.
"Writing Gautama Buddha has been quite a journey. I had to become much more familiar with the Pali sources and the scholarship around them, and also to use my imagination to conjure up the Buddha’s world, which was so different from ours. I needed to cut through the legends that are such familiar parts of the Buddha’s biography but can make him into a figure from a fairy tale world, not a real person with genuine struggles. Returning the Buddha to history showed up his amazing originality and penetration. For example, the ancient Indians were terrified of the world of the forest and the dangerous spirits who, they believed, lived there. I think that by confronting his own fears the Buddha discovered a new way of experiencing the natural world and, in turn, that transformed the perspective of his disciples.
“I tried hard to avoid what most books on the Buddha offer: a biographical account up to the Enlightenment, then a chapter on ‘the Teachings’ and finally a canter through the last year of his life. I wanted to show that the teachings were integrated with Gautama’s life and experience. The problem is that chronology largely disappears from the sources in the period between the Enlightenment and the final few years of the Buddha’s life, but we can trace how he developed his ideas through dialogue and debate with other religious practitioners. We can also trace how the Buddha created practices that enabled his disciples to see life as he saw it; how he established a new kind of renunciate community, navigating all sorts of problems as he went; and how that community found a place in the wider society and even tried to change it. We have the a detailed account of the Buddha’s last year, and the tremendous dignity of his Parinirvana, but his final years also seem to have been a time of crisis for the community and the region he lived in. The wider story is about how an Awakened individual with an utterly unfamiliar and deeply challenging message became a force in the world. His influence eventually produced a vast spiritual tradition and a Buddhist civilisation.
“It’s quite a story, and I don’t think it has been fully told before in this way. I hope that Buddhist readers will learn something on every page about the world the Buddha inhabited and why he expressed himself as he did. My experience in writing the book was that this brought me much closer to him. Bhante has recently stressed that the Buddha’s core teachings are the basis of the Triratna approach to the Dharma and emphasised the importance of imagining the Buddha. I hope my book will help people to see those teachings more clearly and imagine the Buddha more vividly by seeing him in his historical setting.”
Dorothy Rowe, psychologist and author of Beyond Fear, comments ‘Master of clarity and simplicity, Vishvapani presents through the life of Buddha an understanding of Buddhism of immense relevance to the way we live now.’
By Vishvapani Blomfield
Quercus Books, 2011, £25 h/b. you can buy a copy here, or read more about the book at www.gautamabuddha.info
Book Launches and Events:
23 Jan - Study Day (Manchester Buddhist Centre)
24 Jan - Manchester (Manchester Buddhist Centre)
28 Jan - Cardiff (Cardiff Buddhist Centre)
21 Feb - London (London Buddhist Centre, Bethnal Green)
24 February - Birmingham (Birmingham Buddhist Centre)
28 Feb - Bristol (Bristol Buddhist Centre)
10 April - Study Day (North London Buddhist Centre)
11 April - London: in discussion with psychologist Dorothy Rowe (North London Buddhist Centre)