It has taken me literally months to read Gary Gach’s Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism. which is more a reflection on me than on the book. But it means I don’t feel qualified to ‘review’ it, if you even consider what I do reviewing a book. I don’t even remember details of the first two-thirds of the book.
It took me so long just because my interest in buddhism and spirituality in general waxes and wanes constantly, and when I’m not in an ‘interested’ phase I can’t bring myself to read up on it. I go all cynical and scoff at everything I read and that just seems pointless. No sense in reading it if my mind is tightly shut to what the author has to say, right?
Anyway, in brief, the Guide breaks down into three parts. First is an historical overview of Buddhism. Where it came from, what the various ‘flavors’ are and how it spread across the world. Next is a kind of ‘hands-on’ section that teaches you little snippets of practicing. I actually found the meditation parts interesting and I think what I really wanted to be reading was a guide to meditation. I’ve had a bit of success using the techniques to quiet my mind at night when my brain is so full of ideas I can’t sleep. Anyway, I digress. The last part of the book is a kind of ‘buddhism and you’ section, talking about how buddhism can impact your life, and the kinds of things buddhists have done to improve the world around them.
Even though the style is typical of an “Idiot’s Guide” (breezy and way way too cute) there was still a lot that I didn’t retain. I could see re-reading the book again in the future. I think I’d get more out of it with a second read. Though maybe a different ‘beginning buddhism’ book would be a better choice. One thing that Gach reinforces is that there isn’t one philosophy that is buddhism. There’s a myriad of variants, so it might be worthwhile to get a second opinion written by someone who looks at them all a bid differently.