John Renard, professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University, is the author of Responses to 101 Questions on Hinduism and Responses to 101 Questions on Islam. Here he looks at a family of faith that numbers over five million adherents. He provides a succinct and satisfying overview of Buddhism with definitions of bodhisattva, dharma, karma, mantra, mudra, pagoda, roshi, samsara, sangha, satori, stupa, zazen, and many other terms.
The paperback is organized into nine thematic areas: the beginnings and early sources of Buddhism, the history and development of the faith, Buddhist doctrines and practices, law and ethics, spirituality, cultural and intellectual contributions, Buddhism's relationship to other religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, and Christianity), women and family, and Buddhism here and now.
At one point, Renard poses the question: "If you had to choose a single concept that you would call quintessentially Buddhist, one that would put all the others in the widest possible perspective, what would it be?" The answer: "The Buddhist idea of shunyata means emptying all things of that kind of selfishly instrumental meaning, allowing them to mean only what they are in themselves, and appreciating them as such. That is the first step: every thing that is deserves my attention simply because it is, not for what it can do for me." Renard brings the same clarity to his discussions of meditation, compassion, skillful means, and enlightenment.