Ven. Shravasti Dhammika: A Guide to Buddhism A-Z

Ven. Shravasti Dhammika is one of the most intelligent and articulate writers on Buddhism we have working today. He has been a monk for over 30 years and has traveled extensively in all the major Buddhist countries, which gives him a breadth of knowledge and experience which is hard to match.

Out of that knowledge, besides many other books, he has produced a couple of standard guides to pilgrimage with his Middle Path, Middle Lands about the Indian sites, and his more recent Sacred Island. A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka (both available from BPS).

His studies of the original texts and Indian culture have given him an extensive knowledge of the religion as background, and his ability to apply those teachings to everyday life gives his writings an orientation we hardly ever find elsewhere.

Since 2007 he has been publishing an ever growing body of articles collected together in his A Guide to Buddhism A-Z. This started as a slim volume in the original edition and has now grown to over 500 articles in the 5th, which has just been published by the Buddha Dhamma Manadala Society in Singapore, where he lives and teaches.

Besides all the normal entries we might expect to find in such a work, Ven. Dhammika also has interesting and informative articles on such subjects as Ambition and Aspiration, Animals, Aromatherapy, Bridges, Clothes, and Complexion and Countenance to quote just a few from the beginning of the book. Even in these entries he always quotes liberally from the principal texts in setting forth the topic.

If there is one fault with the work which needs to be sorted out it is an imbalance in the length of some of the articles. His entry on Abhidhamma, for instance, which has had a major impact on both the practice and understanding of Buddhism, is only around 600 words long, whereas the article on Body Piercing, which is obviously peripheral, is twice that length.

Nevertheless, to get a good and balanced view on many topics from a Buddhist perspective this book is well-worth your time. You are not going to agree with everything in the work, but it will surely help you think many things through. He frequently draws on the book for his always entertaining blog dhamma musings, which is well worth visiting on a regular basis.

Here is his article on COMPASSION, which shows his style well:

Compassion (karuṇā) is the ability to feel the distress or pain of others as if it were one’s own. The English word compassion has exactly the same meaning and comes from the Latin com meaning ‘with’ and passio meaning ‘suffering.’ Sometimes in Buddhist psychology, compassion is also referred to as empathy (anudāyanā), commiseration (dayā), fellow feeling (anuggaha) or sympathy (anukampā). The most noticeable feature of the Buddha’s personality was his compassion and this compassion was not just something he felt for others or that they felt in his presence, it was also the motive for much of what he said and did. He said: ‘What should be done out of compassion for his disciples by a teacher who cares about their welfare and out of compassion for them, I have done for you’ (M.I,46). The Buddha visited and comforted the sick ‘out of compassion’ (A.III,378), he taught the Dhamma ‘out of compassion’ (A.III,167). Once, he went into the forest looking for a serial killer because he had compassion for his potential victims and also for the murderer himself (M.II,980). The Buddha’s compassion seems to have transcended even the bounds of time. He is described sometimes as doing or refraining from doing certain things ‘out of compassion for coming generations’ (M.I,23). Once he said that his very reason for being was ‘for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the benefit and the happiness of gods and humans’ (A.II,146).

Compassion is the second of the four Brahma Vihāras and was more highly praised by the Buddha than any other virtue because it is the root of so many other virtues. The Jātakamāla says: ‘Compassion gives birth to all the other virtues just as cooling rain makes the crops grow. When a person is compassionate he has no desire to harm his neighbour, his body, speech and mind are purified, concern for his neighbour’s welfare increases and states like kindness, patience, happiness and good reputation grow. Being calm, the compassionate person does not arouse fear in the minds of others, he is trusted like a kinsman, he is not agitated by the passions, and quenched by the waters of compassion, the fire of hatred does not blaze in his heart… Remembering this, strive to develop compassion towards others, as if they were yourself or your offspring.’


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