Victorian poets such as Matthew Arnold and Alfred Tennyson are celebrated for having survived the test of time, as literary historians would put it. But it is someone else, an “Oriental” poet from England and a popularizer of Buddhism in the West, in Asia, and even on the Indian subcontinent who has been translated into 13 European and 22 Asian languages.

The tendency to view post-Mughal India’s relationship with the wider world primarily through the lens of empire has spawned a voluminous literature on the global entanglements of the Raj and the networks, activities and writings of a few key Indian figures spearheading the assault on empire. Yet as the French historian Claude Markovits points out in his new book India and the World, considerably less work has focused on the global travels and overseas sojourns of Indian traders, indentured laborers and sepoys (soldiers) that did not play a crucial or eloquent part in this “from empire to nation state” story.

Here are two indispensable and beautifully-written guidebooks designed to lead readers through essential Buddhist thought. One is an ancient guide in verse by the western Indian sage Shantideva (c 685-763) to becoming a bodhisattva, someone who seeks enlightenment in order to pass it on to everyone else. The other is a modern bilingual guide by Alex Kerr using the Japanese version of the Heart Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist text whose mere 56 lines of poetry are regarded by many as the key to all Buddhist wisdom.