376 pages, 6 x 9
Burning for the Buddha is the first book-length study of the theory and practice of "abandoning the body"(self-immolation) in Chinese Buddhism. It examines the hagiographical accounts of all those who made offerings of their own bodies and places them in historical, social, cultural, and doctrinal context. Rather than privilege the doctrinal and exegetical interpretations of the tradition, which assume the central importance of the mind and its cultivation, James Benn focuses on the ways in which the heroic ideals of the bodhisattva present in scriptural materials such as the Lotus Sutra played out in the realm of religious practice on the ground.
In Burning for the Buddha, James Benn has done an excellent job of presenting a stimulating and wide-ranging set of issues about a subject that in less capable and sensitive hands might have strayed toward the sensational or macabre. This book deserves to be on the bookshelf of all students of Chinese Buddhism and is highly recommended as a classroom tool.
Overall, Burning for the Buddha presents a wealth of engaging material and should be stimulating reading for those interested in religious ideas of the body. It is, of course, an essential book for students of Chinese Buddhism, one of the very few thus far to provide a multi-faceted, historical view of a specific practice.
James A. Benn has given us the first book-length study of a fascinating aspect of Buddhist practice. His careful combing of selected Chinese Buddhist materials has recovered a cache of relics for scholarly perusal: the records of Chinese Buddhists who offered their bodies as an expression of their commitment to the Buddhist path. Benn’s study is admirably well written and well researched—for both style and content, it deserves to stand among the major contributions to Buddhist studies of recent decades.
This book is a distinguished addition to the growing body of scholarship on the social history of Chinese Buddhism . . . In sum, one can only hope that scholars will, in the near future, explore the culture of death in late imperial China with the same acumen and talent that Benn has lavished on medieval practices of self-immolation.
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