Author : Arundhathi Subramaniam
Publisher : Penguin India
Published in : 2005
The Book of Buddha is an account of the journey of Gautam Buddha and his teachings over the past 2500 years, from being a seeker, to gaining enlightenment under a peepul tree in Bodhgaya, to having 300 million people across the world considering themselves beneficiaries of his insights. But it is no cliched account. It highlights the teachings of Buddha in a very impactful manner that will often have you stop and ponder.
This book gives a lucid portrait of Buddha as a sage with an ‘air of untroubled interiority’, who neither patronises nor needs weak-kneed veneration. He even offers unsettling home truths, and ‘articulated the human predicament with…lucidity, psychological acuity and unsentimental precision.’ He says that life is dukkha, suffering, but at the same time he gives a solution, and charts an exit path from dukkha, a way to find the truth, that is available to all who care to reach for it.
The books takes us through various life stages of Siddhartha, who from a seeker becomes Shakyamuni the Sage upon arriving at the realisation that ‘suffering alone exists, but one who suffer; the deed there is, but no doer thereof; Nirvana there is, but no one seeking it; the Path there is, but none who travels it’ The book goes on to trace his journey when he attained supremacy as Tathagata the Master, and finally went from death to immortality as Jina the Victor, the Buddha.
Arundhathi Subramaniam, while writing this book, took a leaf from Buddhas’s book, and gave a clear portrait of him and his role in offering searing insight and astringent clarity about the human life. She very rightly states that we are attracted to him and his teachings because Buddha lives through all of us, as he seems to ask the same questions that we ask—about the human suffering and impermanence of life—and he, from his own wisdom, tells us that there is a way for transferring adversity into freedom, brokenness into wholeness, the chaos of our mind into flawless peace.
She explores the transcendence of his teaching, and affirms that Buddhism constantly inspires all that are ready to learn to be free from suffering. Before this book, I read about Buddhism through Harman Hesse, but Arundhathi’s is a book that spoke of Buddhism in a language that I understood, a language clear and bold, which is what makes her writing so impactful. Her seventeen-year self thought that she could be friends with Buddha, and with that confident tone of familiarity of a friend, she goes on to describing his quest to enlightenment and beyond.
Like Arundhathi, I turn to Buddha time and again and look for answers to life-related questions, and this book, a carrier of the words of the enlightened one, brought me solace, and reminded me, too, like the writer, of his generous invitation to all humanity: ’Look within you, you are the Buddha.’
A must read for people who’d like to read about the philosophy of Buddhism, and get answers to many of their existential questions, and be inspired to be ‘light onto themselves’.