The Buddha was born long ago and far away. He grew up in a world without writing, in an ancient civilisation that is no more. The buildings of his childhood, the trees under which he sat in meditation, and the dusty roads down which he once walked have long since vanished from view, buried deep beneath concrete and steel. Even the course of the mighty River Ganges has changed.
And yet something remarkable remains. Over two thousand years later his words continue to resonate and his teachings continue to inspire. Buddhist statues and shrines, temples and meeting houses can be found in almost every corner of the world. More than 500 million people alive today call themselves ‘Buddhist’ and look to him as their spiritual forefather. Never has interest in Buddhism been greater or more widespread.
How is it that a man with no home, no money, and no worldly possessions came to be one of the most influential figures in the history of humanity? What does his life-journey teach us today? Why do his words still speak to us so directly – even in our age of consumerism, cars, and computers?
The answer is simple: the fundamental questions raised by the Buddha long ago remain as salient now as they were in his day. Why? Because, for all our ‘stuff’ and self-importance, we, like the Buddha, remain nothing but the sum of our relationships with the world, our family and friends, with our communities, with each other, and, fundamentally, with our own inner selves.
That’s why, although circumstances change, the core Buddhist tenets have stood the test of time. The Buddha’s diagnosis of our spiritual malaise and his prescription for our well-being and happiness are no less powerful and relevant now than they were 2500 years ago. Finding a meaningful response to the challenges of our lives seems even more necessary and urgent than ever.
Since this book first appeared in paperback, five people named in the text have died: Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Colonel Gadaffi, Leonard Cohen and Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s worth reflecting on which of them enriched our world – and why.