The first book on my reading list is H. W. Schumann’s The Historical Buddha (tr. M. O’C. Walshe). I am about halfway into it and I already consider it essential reading for anyone interested in the life of the Buddha. Unfortunately this text is no longer available in print (as a paperback), but there are numerous booksellers with used copies at reasonable prices.
I will be commenting on and presenting passages from Schumann’s text in the upcoming weeks. For now, I will simply remark that I greatly appreciate his mix of historical and scriptural detail, freely drawing insights from available historical facts as well as the Pāli Canon. His aim is not to disparage scripture with historical detail; rather, he reminds us that the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was a human being and that there is much to learn about the Sutras and our practice from recognizing this fact.
(Note: To purchase Schumann’s book, click on the following link – The Historical Buddha, tr. M. O’C. Walshe.)
In the temples of the Buddhist Society for Compassionate Wisdom, the following gatha is recited after lunch:
Buddha was born in the Lumbini Garden,
He attained Enlightenment at Bodh Ghaya,
He set in motion the wheel of Dharma at Sarnath,
He entered Parinirvana at Kusinara.
I am reminded of this gatha as I begin my formal study of the Buddha’s life (our first year, first term assignment in the Maitreya Seminary). These four events – the Buddha’s birth, his Enlightenment, his setting in motion the wheel of Dharma, and his Parinirvana – shape and inspire my practice. But they are also four events in a life filled with many more, which includes both moments of complete liberation and human frailty.
We are encouraged to focus our study on some particular aspect of the Buddha’s life, as well as read about his life in general. I am inclined to investigate either the period between his decision to teach and the first sermon or his decision to create the order of nuns. Both events speak to me at this moment. May my initial study and suggestions from teachers, friends, and readers guide the way forward.