My first book about Buddhism

 

This was the first book I ever had about Buddhism, which I bought at a jumble sale at my junior school. The original one I had I lost at some point but I recently bought another at the Buddhist Centre I go to in Bristol. I think the one I have is a first edition, published in 1951, a significant year for me! I don’t know how old I was when I bought my original copy, probably nine or ten I would guess.

 

Although I was a very fluent reader I struggled to read it when I was a child… not surprising really, it was probably one of the first non-fiction adult books I read, and I found it difficult to grasp… again not surprising really!

 

 

Reading it again now, I was amazed at how Christmas Humphreys himself sprang off the page. He was an extraordinary man, born in 1901 and living until he was 82. He was a barrister who was involved in the war crimes trials after World war II, and also the prosecution in three famous cases, Derek Bentley hanged wrongly for the  murder a policeman, Ruth Ellis who murdered her lover and was the last woman to be hanged in Britain, and Timothy Evans who was hanged but later found innocent of the murders of his wife and baby. Later he became a judge.

Bhikku Ananda Mettaya, born Allen Bennett, leader of the first Buddhist Mission to the West in 1908

In this book, Humphreys starts his introduction with the question “What is Buddhism?” Through discussing the life of the Buddha, his ministry, the rise and spread of Buddhism, he gives a clear account of the teachings of Gautama Buddha and how they crossed the world and are still relevant today.  He then gives an outline of the different Buddhist schools and concludes with a chapter on Buddhism today (1949) and two appendices.

Kwan-Yin, the goddess of wisdom (11th century)

In the final chapter, Humphreys casually says “I myself attended some lectures ( at the old Buddhist society, founded in 1906) and having been interested in Buddhism since, at the age of seventeen, I first read Ananda Coomaraswamy’s Buddha and the gospel of Buddhism, I formed a Buddhist Centre in the Theosophical Society, of which I was a member. On he 19th November, 1924, the Centre became a Lodge… which in 1943 became the Buddhist Society, London.”

Bikkhu U Thittila of Burma and Christmas Humphreys

 

 

12 Comments

  1. Louis

    I very much enjoyed your review of ‘Buddhism’. There seems to be a strange contradiction between the nature of Humphreys’ legal work and his attraction to Buddhism – or was his interest primarily academic?

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    1. Lois

      He was a committed and practicing Buddhist, but you are right, there is a contradiction which was particularly apparent in the Ruth Ellis case. However, born in the Edwardian era I think he was very much of his age.

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      1. Louis

        Your article encouraged me to find out more about Christmas Humphreys and he clearly was a very complex character as well as being very influential. He was undoubtedly driven by what he belived to be right but I think you are correct in seeing him as a man of his time.

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  2. Carl D'Agostino

    The followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism seem to be much more at peace and peaceful living as well than followers of Judaism and Christianity as practiced in the west. But they have no call, it seems, to achieve societal activism for humanitarianism as they are concerned with personal awareness and growth as opposed to building a homeless shelter or clinic for instance. They seem so acceptive of the “as is” world. I have little regard for Islam as there are at least 2 dozen verses in the Koran that call for and justify the murder of non believers in order to achieve one world religion, Islam.

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    1. Lois

      I think there are great varieties of Buddhists… at our place we recently went up on a local hill at 7 in the morning to pick up rubbish; there is also a group of mainly men who offer practical help such as plumbing, decorating, home improvements for free to those in the community who need it (the wider community, not just the Buddhists) There are also Buddhist charities, such as Karuna in India.

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      1. poetmcgonagall

        Hope your journey is a happy one. I gave it up because the whole supernatural superstructure was no longer convincing. It works better as a secular, humanistic way of living – the dogma is unnecessary.

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  3. Walter Mason (@walterm)

    Lois, what a beautiful post. This is one of those books that I’m sure every Western Buddhist has in their collection, though it has become deeply unfashionable. Humphreys was indeed a fascinating figure, and I am glad you have put him back on the internet 🙂

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  4. U Nyana

    Sadly, Buddhism been distorted to different ways in Burma as the Sangha there are teaching Buddha and its statue are to be worshiped and prayed instead of practicing Buddhism.

    Liked by 1 person

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