What the Buddha Thought (Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies Monographs)
Publish Date: 2009-07-24
Author: Richard Gombrich
This book argues that the Buddha was one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of all time. While the book is intended to serve as an introduction to the Buddha's thought, and hence even to Buddhism itself, it also has larger aims: it argues that we can know far more about the Buddha than it is fashionable among scholars to admit, and that his thought has a greater coherence than is usually recognised. It contains much new material. Interpreters both ancient and modern have taken little account of the historical context of the Buddha's teachings; but relating them to early brahminical texts, and also to ancient Jainism, gives a much richer picture of his meaning, especially when his satire and irony are appreciated. Incidentally, since many of the Buddha's allusions can only be traced in the Pali versions of surviving texts, the book establishes the importance of the Pali Canon as evidence. Though the Buddha used metaphor extensively, he did not found his arguments upon it like earlier thinkers: his capacity for abstraction was a breakthrough. His ethicising older ideas of rebirth and human action (karma) was also a breakthrough for civilisation. His theory of karma is logically central to his thought. Karma is a process, not a thing; moreover, it is neither random nor wholly determined. These ideas about karma he generalised to every component of conscious experience except nirvana, the liberation from that chain of experience. Morally, karma both provided a principle of individuation and asserted the individuals responsiblity for his own destiny.