How Buddhism Began
The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings
Indian edition. This work takes a fresh look at the earliest Buddhist texts and offers various suggestions on how the teachings in them developed. Gombrich argues that we cannot understand Buddha unless we understand he was debating with other religious teachers, notably Brahmins. For example, he denied the existence of a "soul"; but what exactly was he denying?
The other main theme of the book concerns metaphor, allegory and literalism. According to Gombrich by taking the words of the texts literally - despite the Buddha's warning not to - successive generations of his disciples created distinctions and developed doctrines far beyond his original intention. One chapter shows how this led to a scholastic categorisation of meditation. Failure to understand a basic metaphor also gave rise to the later argument between the Mahayana and the older tradition. Another chapter suggests the canonical story of Angulimala probably reflects an encounter with a form of ecstatic religion. Perhaps most important of all, a combination of literalism with ignorance of the Buddha's allusions to Brahminism led Buddhists to forget that the Buddha had preached that love, like Christian charity could itself be salvific.