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Buddha by Joan Lebold Cohen ~ A Review

As I was browsing through the library I came across this book. I opened it and started reading the first few pages and found myself drawn into the story unwilling to put the book down. About twenty pages in I forced myself to put it down or risk being late meeting a friend for lunch.

The author did a great job retelling the story of the Buddha’s early years through his final show down with Mara and his attainment of enlightenment. It wasn’t until the story reached the point of the Buddha’s first teaching that I became uncomfortable. Here the Author describes the Four Noble Truths differently then I have would have expect anyone writing a children’s about the Buddha’s life to. She has the first noble truth as “All life is suffering.” Sadly, it’s such wording that leads to confusion among people who know little if nothing about Buddhism.

The author talks about the second Noble Truth in a way that plays down the importance of the individual of the individual as a worthy person. While I understood what I think the author is trying to say here: “…the fact is, a person is like the smallest grain of sand at the bottom of the ocean. A person is unimportant in the vast cycle of recurring births of man and the universe.” I feel the wording is inappropriate in a book aimed at children and young teens. For a young person dealing with the harsh day to day reality of growing up and puberty, to read such a thing presented as fact could be damaging, and frankly, dangerous. I can think of many ways to explain the vastness of the universe and beginning-less time without confusing them. The truth is that each and every one of us needs to work towards making this world a better place to live. One person really can make a difference.

Towards the end of the book I noticed the tone of the book seemed to shift. There were several references of people coming to the Buddha seeking forgiveness, seeking out converts by demeaning other belief systems instead of the Buddha giving teachings on the questions at hand and a somewhat constant and annoying reference to sin and damnation.

I would not give this book to my child as a guide to Buddhism because I think it would confuse him and send the wrong message. If it came down to him wanting to read it, I would have to keep this book in reserve for a time when my child was old enough to understand that not every book he reads will be 100% accurate. Before giving him the book I would go through and highlight the passages that I do not agree with. I would use those passages as opportunities to talk with him and explain how a change in a word can completely change the context and accuracy.

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