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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
75 summer 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly Reviews We might ask, with all the excellent biographies of the Buddha already avail- able, what need is there for yet another? The answer is that Hans Penner’s narrative of the Buddha’s life is rendered with an intriguing new thesis. Like several other contemporary scholars, Penner believes that the quest for the historical Buddha is not a worthwhile endeavor, as no definitive evidence has emerged that such a person actually existed. His thesis, then, is that the sources for the Buddha’s story should be understood as myth and legend. Penner’s biography is drawn from the Pali canon, and from Sanskrit sources such as the Buddhacarita and the Lalitavistara. While most biographers of the Buddha have also used these sources, this biography differs in that there are few notes referencing the source for a specific event and few indications about how the selection of stories was made. Moreover, there is little discussion of the historical period of any source or the viewpoint of its authors. We hear nothing, for example, about the negative views of women drawn from prevailing Brahmanic culture that influenced the story of the first Buddhist nuns, and nothing about the rise of mer- cantile culture—its new urbanism, its need for large arterial road systems, and the development of systems of coinage—that played a role in the importance of stories about the great Buddhist banker-donor, Anathapindika. Moreover, there is rarely mention of alternate versions of the same story. The author seems to treat all mate- rial about the Buddha’s life as having equal historical and religious value. Nevertheless, part 1 of Rediscovering the Buddha is an eminently readable and accessible account of the Buddha’s life. Its lively narrative has the reader grappling with the intrigue and entanglement of a new spiritual practice, as well as with the human qualities of the key players. It does this most effectively by an extensive use of “players in conversation.” For example, in Penner’s account, when the Buddha encounters young boys taken into the monastic life, he asks, “What in the world ELLiSon FinDLy is a professor of religion and asian studies at Trinity college in hartford, connecticut. She is the author of Women’s Buddhism, Buddhism’s Women and Dana: Giving and Getting in Pali Buddhism. WHat tHe BuddHa MigHt Have said reDiscoVeriNG the BuDDha: legends of the Buddha and their interpretation By hans h. Penner oxford university Press, 2009 272 pages; $29.95 (hardcover) reviewed by ellison findly