From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha

Univ. of Chicago. Apr. 2013. 304p. notes. index. ISBN 9780226493206. $26. REL
The highly regarded and prolific Lopez (Asian languages & culture, Univ. of Michigan; The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to Its History and Teachings) examines the West's evolving understanding of the Buddha from antiquity to the mid-19th century. In approximately equal parts excerpts from historical writings and erudite commentary, which alternate, Lopez presents reports of European travelers who found what they considered merely pagan idols, later accounts from Catholic missionaries who continued to grapple with a plethora of images, and the 17th-century chronicles by soldiers and bureaucrats of Western empires who began to understand that the many deities represented but one human religious leader. The final breakthrough to today's understanding of the Buddha came with 19th-century European scholars mastering Asian languages and for the first time having intellectual and physical access to read Buddhist texts in the original Sanskrit.
VERDICT Highly recommended for serious students of Buddhist studies who may also be interested in Lopez's excellent The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography and his Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Those seeking a more biographical treatment of the Buddha and his teachings will be greatly rewarded with Karen Armstrong's Buddha.

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