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Buddha
Cover of Buddha
Buddha
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More than twenty-five hundred years ago, an Indian prince achieved enlightenment and became "the Awakened One." However extraordinary Prince Siddhartha Gautama was, he was no divinity, but a self-perfected human being who brought a sweeping message to mankind. Walter Henry Nelson, a respected historical scholar and author, offers readers a distinctly accessible and authoritative biography of the Buddha and his teachings. In this essential, gripping, and inspiring introduction for the general reader, Buddha explores ancient legends surrounding Buddhism's founder. It shows how the simple story and profound struggle of Price Siddhartha, who died five hundred years before the birth of Christ, were transformed into one of the world's great religions. From tales of Gautama's struggle to parables of the intervention of gods in his journey, Nelson takes readers through the historical existence and ideals at the heart of a religion and philosophy that searches beyond materialism for the true aim of life.

More than twenty-five hundred years ago, an Indian prince achieved enlightenment and became "the Awakened One." However extraordinary Prince Siddhartha Gautama was, he was no divinity, but a self-perfected human being who brought a sweeping message to mankind. Walter Henry Nelson, a respected historical scholar and author, offers readers a distinctly accessible and authoritative biography of the Buddha and his teachings. In this essential, gripping, and inspiring introduction for the general reader, Buddha explores ancient legends surrounding Buddhism's founder. It shows how the simple story and profound struggle of Price Siddhartha, who died five hundred years before the birth of Christ, were transformed into one of the world's great religions. From tales of Gautama's struggle to parables of the intervention of gods in his journey, Nelson takes readers through the historical existence and ideals at the heart of a religion and philosophy that searches beyond materialism for the true aim of life.

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  • From the book Look upon the world as a bubble, look upon it as a
    mirage: the king of death does not see him who
    thus looks down upon the world
    . Come, look at the glittering world, like unto a royal
    chariot; the foolish are immersed in it, but the
    wise do not cling to it.

    The Dhammapada (vv. 170-71)


    Chapter 1

    The Land Awaits

    Our dawn lies shrouded in mystery. Recorded history goes back only a few thousand years. Of a time before that, we only know that civilizations prospered in ways unknown and died in ways that remain obscure.

    One such civilization, thousands of years before the birth of Christ, lay in India. Of it, there remain a few shards—and our wonder. To look at its traces is to look upon the land in which the Buddha came to be born.

    The time is 2300 b.c.e.*

    Throughout the Middle and Far East, people create marvels. On the Nile, they build the first pyramid; in Mesopotamia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; and throughout the regions in which such new activity represents a flowering of culture, people search to understand the reasons for their existence and place in the universe.

    These are no "primitive" people, but individuals with a complex and ordered society: inventive, technically proficient, able to communicate both mathematics and metaphysics in written form. In India, they resided, as far as we know, at Harappa and Mohenjo-Dara, in the northwest of the vast Indian subcontinent. There may well have been other cities of what we call the Harappan—or Indus Valley—civilization, but they are lost. Nor do we even know the people of these two towns. Who they were, what they looked like, and how they vanished, remains a mystery.

    The towns they built, each three miles in circumference, are impressive. Like the peoples of the mysterious civilization of Cnossus which vanished in the Aegean Sea so long ago that even the ancient Romans marveled at its antiquity, the Harappans practiced advanced arts and crafts, had baths in most homes, and even public drainage systems.

    Each city contained a citadel, built on a high spot overlooking the life of the town; in these were palaces, halls, baths, and storage places for grain. Streets were straight, met at right angles, and were laid out with care. The homes that flanked the streets were connected to a sewage system; irrigation ditches and canals existed as well.

    The people of this Indus Valley produced ornaments and implements of considerable beauty; even terra-cotta toys for Harappan children have been found. There was a system of counting and measuring, as well as a system of writing, not yet deciphered for no Harappan "Rosetta Stone" has been unearthed.

    These undeciphered characters read from right to left and, on the next line, from left to right, and so on down the page—back and forth in a system of writing called Boustrophedon. It must have been a syllabic script, for it contains 396 signs, too many for a proper alphabet. There were accent marks, too, suggesting that the people of the Indus Valley were advanced in their pronunciations. Perhaps some of the script dealt with Harappan commerce, for there are signs that the peoples of these two towns were merchants and traders, even in touch with the distant Mesopotamian civilization as long ago as 2350 B.C.E.

    Perhaps not only trade flowed between India and Mesopotamia and between India and Persia, with which the Harappans were also in touch, but also the more important commodity of ideas. Travelers—the merchants of the caravans and perhaps ambassadors and priests—may well have stimulated the exchange of thoughts...
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