Kurtis R. Schaeffer
's new translation of Tenzin Chogyel's The Life of the Buddha
(Penguin Books, 2015) is a boon for teachers, researchers, and eager readers alike. Composed in the middle of the eighteenth century, The Life of the Buddha
(or more fully rendered, The Life of the Lord Victor Shakyamuni, Ornament of One Thousand Lamps for the Fortunate Eon
) takes the form of twelve major life episodes that collectively provide a "blueprint for an ideal Buddhist life," as readers follow the Bodhisattva from early pages teaching the gods in the heavenly realm of Tushita, to a descent to the human realm and birth into the world as a prince, his education and general frolicking, his escape from the palace and vanquishing of a demon army, his eventual enlightenment and Buddhahood, and ultimately his death.
Tenzin Chogyel, a prominent leader in the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan during the golden age of Bhutanese literature, intended to tell a good story, and tell a good story he did. The account is by turns gripping and exceptionally moving, with a particularly affecting scene toward the end of the work as the Buddha's son Rahula comes to term with his father's impending death. The translation is thoughtful and quite beautiful, with the sentences likely to remind a careful reader of the rhythm and pacing of a Cormac McCarthy novel. The book will make an excellent addition to undergraduate syllabi in a wide range of courses (listen to the interview for details!) at all levels.