I just finished listening to the audio version of Karen Armstrong’s biography of Buddha. There isn’t much in the historical record to latch onto about Buddha but Armstrong does an admirable job of putting his life and the origins of his belief system in context.
Notably, she discusses Buddhism as a manifestation of a greater movement which occurred from about 800 b.c. to 200 a.d. (the Axial Age) and was the result of widespread cultural and social change all across Mediterranean and Asian cultures.
I thought the discussion about Buddha’s struggle over whether to allow women into the order was particularly interesting. They had similar misogynistic struggles as you’d see in other cultural movements of the time and the issue disentangling the issue from the cultural background of the time and place is beyond me. I do think it was notable in that the Buddha was supposed to be against the idea of women becoming ordained and was convinced otherwise by one of his followers. It seemed to be a not-so-subtle lesson that even the enlightened could be wrong about things and shouldn’t be considered to be infallible.
The final chapters of Buddha’s late life were the most interesting and his attendant Ananda is a particularly sympathetic figure. Even though he had been a companion of the Buddha for years and had intellectually absorbed his teachings, while the Buddha was near death Ananda realized that he hadn’t been able to internalize the Buddha’s teachings and was wracked with guilt and suffering.
And, of course, the various interpretations of Mara’s temptations by the early Buddhists was quite good as well. Refusing to look at Mara only as a literal being, they allowed enough ambiguity to also see him (it?) as a personification of the internal struggle or the temptations of a world discovering new wealth and sensations.
Ok…if this ain’t your cup of tea allow me to stay (kind of) on topic and recommend the song “Blues for Buddha” by the Silencers. Unfortunately, I can’t find a version of the song on line you you’ll have to settle for the preview on Amazon. here are the lyrics though:
A BLUES FOR BUDDHA (J.O`Neill/The Silencers)We`re running guns to a holy war For soldiers of the soul Where right and wrong come apart at the seams And fear is on patrol In the mad mad world Of a lost newsreel Little children sing A blues for Buddah Buddah The dollar is our king A blues for Buddah Buddah The dollar is our king We`re making friends with a foreign power Through telescopic sights A quiet cocktail during happy hour For the exploitation rights In the mad mad world Of a lost newsreel Teach our kids to sing A blues for Buddah Buddah The dollar is our king A blues for Buddah Buddah The dollar is our king The dollar is our king The dollar is our king