Pankaj Mishra on the Buddha

Pankaj Mishra’s book An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World, is a welcome reflection on many current issues, but done as an intellectual autobiography of the youngish writer-journalist. The author describes his India with a mix of affection, nostalgia, skepticism and horror, touching on rural simplicity, Hindu nationalist thuggery, and why Buddhism was driven out of its native India, an historical counterpart to Mohandas Gandhi’s ultimate failure in his homeland. There are good if cursory discussions of Western thought, and the passages about Nietzsche and Buddhism are interesting. Mishra concludes:

To live in the present, with a high degree of self-awareness and compassion manifested in even the smallest acts and thoughts — this sounds like a private remedy for private distress. But the deepening and ethicising of everyday life was part of the Buddha’s bold and original response to the intellectual and spiritual crisis of his time — the crisis created by the break-up of smaller societies and the loss of older moralities.

This is surely the predicament of the present, too, and the solution must be the same, starting with each one of us.