Today is 17 November 2023, the birthday of Bodhidharma, the first Chinese Chan (Zen) Patriarch according to the lunar calendar. We choose this day to launch our first book, Buddhism for All.
When I became a Buddhist at twenty-one, learning Buddhism was a long and difficult process. I could not find one book that contained everything I needed to know about Buddhism. Every book I read about Buddhism was either incomprehensible, or was difficult to read (even when it was comprehensible), or fell far short, for example, it would explain the Four Noble Truths but without explaining how those Four Noble Truths lead directly to nirvana. It took me very many books, many years of practice, and the guidance by many teachers to eventually piece everything together.
Around the time I became an old man of forty-six, and having then written two international bestsellers (this, and that), I finally felt ready to think about writing a book on Buddhism. I had in mind the younger me: an educated person who felt a deep spiritual thirst, but who found blind religious faith very unattractive, who was appalled by the anti-science attitude advocated by many religious leaders, and who kind of suspected that Buddhism had all the right answers but found it largely inaccessible and incomprehensible. I suspect many millions of modern people of all ages today feel that same way.
So I wanted to write a book that had all these features:
- Light-hearted and fun to read, without sacrificing any depth.
- Intellectually rigorous, where every major claim is supported by a footnote pointing to the primary texts where possible.
- Presents the Four Noble Truths in the same spirit that the Buddha had presented them in the early Buddhist texts: not as some “basic stuff” to quickly skim, but as one of the most important, most profound, and most transcendent teachings ever.
- Explains the direct path from the Four Noble Truths to nirvana itself.
- Does not shy away from advanced topics such as dependent origination, doing them justice, but in a way that is fun to learn.
- Completeness: a single book that contains all the essentials that everybody needs to know about Buddhism.
It was obviously a fool’s errand, and I was that fool. Thus began a five-year writing project.
I began by reading the entirety of the early Buddhist texts, the Nikāyas. That alone took me sixteen months. I consulted frequently with prominent teachers and scholars, with my main victim … er, I mean consultant being Soryu Forall. We spent many hours on the phone in discussing my drafts. After a while, I realized he had so many fingers in the pie that he effectively coauthored the book with me. I invited him to actually be coauthor. In a moment of weakness, he honored me by saying yes. He hasn’t forgiven me since. (I’m kidding!)
And here we are. Five years. Every key point was rigorously discussed and debated. Hundreds of notes were painstakingly documented. Scholars, and masters from all three major schools of Buddhism were consulted, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama very generously gave us his personal blessing. We hope this book will be enormously beneficial to you.