The Buddha of the Mahayana tradition anchored in such ancient Indian texts as the Jataka Tales or the epic Buddhacharita is a godly figure: he is born without causing any pain or suffering to his mother; he is born without sexual reproduction, moving from the heaven to the womb of his mother in the form of an elephant. Or that he is omniscient at birth. He speaks and walks immediately after his birth. Yet, this is not the Buddha that most people would recognize today or associate with the Buddhism of meditation and mindfulness. In his book The Buddha: Life and Afterlife between East and West, Philip C Almond traces the history of the story of the Buddha: how it underwent a transformation from being a story about divinity and miracles to becoming a story about a human being who set the example of how following the Middle Path can liberate oneself from suffering in life. 

It was common during the years of the U.S. invasion of Iraq to talk about the Sunni-Shia split—and how the sectarian violence was the result of a “centuries-long hatred” between the two different religious schools. But seeing this divide as the result of a longstanding feud—or to see it in the model of other religious schisms, like the Catholic-Protestant split and the centuries of war that followed—would be a mistake, argues Toby Matthiesen.

As Buddhist scriptures have it, when Gotami, the Buddha’s foster mother, asked for ordination from the Buddha, he refused. The Buddha’s cousin and disciple, Ananda, intervened: since, according to the teachings of the Buddha, women were capable of achieving awakening, they must be let into the monastery. The Buddha, outsmarted, let the women into his fold but he also dictated that the women will have to live as second class citizens, subordinate to the monks. 

“In the early summer of 1819, a British hunting party was heading through thick jungle near Aurangabad when the tiger they were tracking disappeared into the chasm of a deep ravine.”  With that romantic and somewhat Indiana Jones-like opening, William Dalrymple begins his Foreword to this new and updated edition of Benoy K Behl’s classic The Ajanta Caves: Ancient Buddhist Paintings of India.

Buddhism in modern Indian history is generally believed to be marked by Western intellectual input in the 19th century on the one hand and the mass conversion of the “untouchable” castes under the leadership of Dr BR Ambedkar in 1956. But what was going on between these two moments about a century and a half apart from each other? In Dust on the Throne: The Search for Buddhism in Modern India, Douglas Ober presents a socio-political and intellectual history of Indians’ engagement with Buddhist thought, history and practice.

In the late 19th century, a group of Mennonites leave Russia for what is now Uzbekistan. Driven out by Russian demands that the pacifist group make themselves available for conscription, and pushed forward by prophecies of the imminent return of Christ, over a hundred families travel in a grueling journey, eventually building a settlement and church that locals still remember fondly today.