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I got this book from my father, who had lent it from the library, and thought I’d recommend it here. It’s called The Treasures of the Buddha by Tom Lowenstein, and it was a large hardcover volume with many full-page and half-page illustrations. It follows the spread of Buddhism through Asia, starting in Ancient India and then proceeding through east Asia, China and Japan, covering countries in a more or less historical order.
The illustrations are beautiful, many ancient statues and wall paintings, some carved in stone and some cast in bronze and covered in gold and jewels. There are also many photographs of significant places to set the scene, and also illustrations of old texts. Occasionally there are special sections in the text, such as for the caves of Dunhuang in China, a crossroads where many Buddhist artefacts were found in a good state of preservation.
The text too is worth reading. Alongside the story of the unfolding of Buddhism as a major belief there is also a great deal of information about how it’s beliefs unfolded. Early on the focus is on the story of the Buddha and his life, and later on there are short discussions on how Mahayana surfaced, Ch’an, Zen and even smaller movements such as Pure Land. Fascinating stuff, to see how this all emerged from the Buddha’s life.