When I first pick up the book from my shelf, Australian Women’s Weekly also ran an interview with the author in its April 2010 issue as part of his Australian tour. I took that as a sign that I should give the book a chance. (Sometimes i pick books not knowing if I’ll ever read them.)
Reading the biography of Buddha reminded me of history lessons when I was in primary school. I vaguely remember the story but Deepark Chopra dramatised it into a miniseries. The book is divided into three parts, Siddhartha The Prince, Gauthama The Monk and Buddha.
The story of how when he was born, his mother died and it was predicted that Siddartha will not rule the kingdom but the universe. To prevent him from leaving the palace, he is to be shielded from all sufferings, including that of the aged, the sick and death. As a young child, he was compassionate, much to the distress of his father, the ruler king who is vicious in his quest to conquer neighbouring countries. The prince grew up, even became interested in a girl who was eventually killed by his cousin. As a man, he was attractive and a prince, intelligent, kind (his best friend is a stable boy, an untouchable) and despite himself, skilled in sword fighting. (I don’t know if that’s the same as the western art of fencing.)
The book traces how the prince eventually left behind his wife and infant son to live the life of a monk in search of an answer. Living in a Hindu society had not provided him any answers as to why there are sufferings and none of the monks could provide him with the right answer.
His detachment, even to that of his wife and son, seems to contradict his loving and compassion nature. He comes back to the kingdom as Buddha after many months to be greeted by a hug from his wife. After the hug, he told her, "You are my beloved wife. It’s your right to embrace me. No one shall ever do that again. Not even you." Quite heartless. (Yes, I know I’m not reading a romance novel.)
I expected the book to read like a true biography and thus was disppointed to read about demon who could do impersonations, and a hermit who appeared from nowhere to render help to the young prince whenever he felt troubled. Demons and angels?
I was interested to read how Gauthama The Monk finally acheived enlightenment to become Buddha (at age 35) and I felt none the wiser after the book. After he became Buddha, what he tried to teach his followers were also lost to me. I guessed that was expected by the author and so he included an epilogue to teach more about Buddism and a last chapter on "A Practical Guide to Buddhism." Let’s just say perhaps I’m not ready for even as Chopra provided answers to these questions, the answers did not make sense:
1. How am I supposed to follow someone who constantly insisted that he was no longer a person and didn’t have a self?
2. If I practise non-doing, what would I actually do? It still seems like a paradox.
3. What is the non-self?
4. You mean I simply stop thinking?
5. How am i to understand ‘both and neither’?
So why did people accept the new teaching from Budddism so readily? People knew they were suffering, and instead of showing a way out, their old religions gave them surrogates, in the form of dogma, prayers, rituals, and the like. The Eightfold Path asks for each person to change how the mind works, plucking out what is wrong, inefficient, and superstitious, then exchanging those outworn habits for increasing clarity.
He says, "Don’t preach faith the way it’s usually preached, to keep people quiet and forbid them to think on their own. That kind of faith is blind, and being blind, it is useless." That I totally agree.
For non-Buddhists like me, read this book with an open mind. Perhaps it may speak to you.