This 2007 novel tells the story of Siddhārtha Gautama, who lived in the eastern part of India between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE, and who is revered as the Buddha. The book was written by Deepak Chopra (born 1946); while Chopra has been for many years promoting his particular brand of alternative medicine, I believe that he has composed a very good book about the Buddha.
The book begins with the birth of Prince Siddhartha to King Śuddhodana; the prince’s mother dies in childbirth. His father, wishing for his son to be a great warrior king, shields him from knowledge of human suffering. However, the young prince senses something missing in his pampered life. On clandestine trips outside of the palace grounds, he discovers old age, illness, and death. He spends twenty-nine years as a prince, marrying and fathering a son.
Siddhartha then undertakes a quest to overcome suffering by becoming an aesthetic, traveling about in monk’s robes and seeking out those who can teach him; he advances far, with several blind alleys and dead ends, and eventually achieves Bodhi – the understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the true nature of things. It is traditionally translated into English with the word enlightenment, although its literal meaning is closer to “awakening.” He then teaches his disciples the path to Bodhi.
Given that this is a novelization of the Buddha’s story, I found this book to be, well, enlightening. For some twenty-five hundred years Buddhism has been spreading through the world, mainly because it is flexible enough to adapt itself to all cultures. I myself am too much in the world to honestly wish to transcend it, but I do honor the Four Noble Truths, the Five Precepts, and the Eightfold Path, without becoming too involved in the minutiae of the various Buddhist schools of thought. And I do recommend this book to those interested, coming from a Western perspective, of the life and development of the Buddha.