Buddha: The Man, the Myth, the Legend

Elsie Denton

Retired Boden Professor of Sanskrit Emeritus at Oxford University Richard Gombrich gave a lecture in the Ho Lecture Room titled “The Buddha: Why We Should Know About Him.”

Gombrich’s lecture was not about Buddhism or its various customs and teachings, but about the Buddha himself, his life, and especially his teaching.

“Study of the Buddha belongs to every civilized educated person in the world today,” Gombrich said. “Buddha was a creative and original philosopher. He made a great contribution to the history of ideas.”

One of Buddha’s pioneering ideas was that of utopia, which he tried to institute when he created the Buddhist monastic order, also a first. However, Buddha was not a philosopher who dug deeply into the meaning or abstraction of things.

“Buddha believed that philosophy should only be pursued insofar as it helped to relieve suffering,” Gombrich said.

Perhaps his greatest contribution, according to Gombrich, was in ethics. He was the first world philosopher and one of very few religious philosophers to preach personal responsibility for our every act. In his conception of karma, Buddha managed to solve one of the universal challenges facing religions, that of unjust suffering. According to the doctrine of karma, everything we do, whether good or bad, will be reciprocated in another life.

In Buddha’s teaching, there is “no god you can blame,” as everyone determines his own destiny, according to Gombrich.

As a whole the lecture was well received.

“I enjoyed it,” Heng said. “The Question and Answer session was particularly interesting.”

Gombrich’s speech captured his audience’s attention, such that the question and answer section went on for an extra 30 minutes, with audience members inquiring into every aspect of Buddhism, including the role played by women, reincarnation, Western interpretation of Buddhist ideas, education, ethics, and how changes in religion through time.

Gombrich was brought to Colgate by the Division of Humanities, the Fund for the Study of Great Religions, Asian Studies and the Department of Philosophy and Religion.