This fourteenth-century Tibetan classic serves as an excellent introduction to basic Buddhism as practiced throughout India and Tibet and describes the process of entering the Buddhist path through study and reflection.
It begins with setting forth the structure of Buddhist education and the range of its subjects, and we’re treated to a rousing litany of the merits of such instruction. We’re then introduced to the buddhas of our world and eon—three of whom have already lived, taught, and passed into transcendence—before examining in detail the fourth, our own Buddha Shakyamuni. Butön tells the story of Shakyamuni’s past lives and then presents the path the Buddha followed (the same that all buddhas must follow). After the Buddha’s story, Butön recounts three compilations of Buddhist scriptures and then quotes from sacred texts that foretell the lives and contributions of great Indian Buddhist masters, which he then relates, concluding with the tale of the eventual demise and disappearance of the Buddhist doctrine. The text ends with an account of the inception and spread of Buddhism in Tibet, focused mainly on the country’s kings and early adopters of the foreign faith. An afterword by Ngawang Zangpo, one of the translators, discusses and contextualizes Butön’s exemplary life, his turbulent times, and his prolific works.