An End to Suffering The Buddha in the World

Pankaj Mishra




Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book

An End to Suffering is a provocative book about the Buddha's life and his influence throughout history, told in the form of the author's search to understand the Buddha's relevance in a world where class oppression and religious violence are rife, and where poverty and terrorism cast a long, constant shadow.

Pankaj Mishra describes his restless journeys into India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, among Islamists and the emerging Hindu middle class, searching for traces of the Buddha, that most enigmatic of religious figures, while also seeking out the stories and places that defined the Buddha's life. Mishra also discusses Western explorers' "discovery" of Buddhism in the nineteenth century and considers the impact of Buddhist ideas on such modern politicians as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

As he reflects on his travels and on his own past, Mishra shows how the Buddha wrestled with problems of personal identity, alienation, and suffering in his own, no less bewildering times. In the process, Mishra discovers the living meaning of the Buddha's teaching, in the world and for himself.


Praise for An End to Suffering

"An End to Suffering is part biography, part history, part travel book, part philosophic treatise. But perhaps it could best be described as a work of intellectual autobiography . . . Mishra's book is in the best tradition of Buddhism, both dispassionate and deeply engaged, complicated and simple, erudite and profoundly humane."—Adam Goodheart, The New York Times Book Review
"Mr. Mishra presents these concepts simply and clearly. He also lends them dramatic immediacy, tying them closely to specific events and places in the Buddha's life, highlighting the arguments and counterarguments that they provoked at the time. At every turn, he draws parallels between the social problems of the Buddha's era and the myriad social and political torments of our own age. Mr. Mishra paints a vivid, painful picture of the developing world, bewildered by the disruptive forces of modernity."—William Grimes, The New York Times
"Deeply serious and thoughtful . . . An End to Suffering is, in effect, three different books woven together: a searching account of the author's own coming of intellectual age; a patient and meticulous retelling of the Buddha's life and philosophy; and an attempt to place the Buddha in the setting of Western thought, from Plato to Borges. In other hands, such an ambitious mosaic might seem like two books too many . . . But [Mishra] is the rare writer who is at ease as a historian, philosopher, traveler, and memoirist, and the combination of roles allows him to produce a book that few others could even have attempted . . . The intellectual history in An End to Suffering is impressive . . . Mishra's book has a depth and deliberation that earn our trust."—Pico Iyer, The New York Review of Books

"An idiosyncratic, sprawling work . . . An End to Suffering moves back and forth between biography, tales of eccentric 19th-century European travelers to India, a memoir of Mishra's philosophical education and manifesto [and] the product of a dizzying process of cross-cultural exchange . . . Mishra's Buddha, the Buddha he portrays as the savior of modernity, is a creation of modernity [and] a Buddha for our time."—The Nation
"Touching memoir, evocative travelogue, accomplished comparative religion and philosophy essay, and informative cultural history, An End To Suffering is a multilayered, erudite, and rewarding book that explores Buddhism's relevance to today's world . . . Engaging and informative, this book is particularly recommended for undergraduates but will also benefit graduate students."—Ann Gleig, Rice University, Religious Studies Review
"Profoundly rewarding . . . A sweeping, multilayered account that mixes an insightful portrait of the Buddha's time, an erudite reckoning of how the world (especially the West) has understood and misunderstood him through the centuries, and a candid narration of Mishra's own meandering physical and psycho-spiritual journey."—Yoga Journal
"Complex and subtle . . . So many books about religion are encumbered with the overweening beliefs of the author that it is a delight to find an intelligent attempt to engage with metaphysical ideas from an adult viewpoint. At a time when we are brought to witness the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people through warfare, famine, and natural disaster, it is easy to fall into shrill responses to misery. We need books like this to remind us of other, more thoughtful approaches to life."—John Walsh, The Asian Review of Books

"It is a tribute to Mishra's ability to link India's past to its present that he has turned a book on the Buddha into a social commentary of immense urgency about contemporary India."—Aravind Adiga, Time Asia

"[Mishra's life of the Buddha is] succinct, lucid, and coherent . . . By comparing the Buddha to such comparatively modern writers as David Hume, Nietzsche, Proust, and even Tocqueville, Mishra makes him into 'a true contemporary' . . . More than other studies of Buddhism, An End to Suffering resembles David Denby's Great Books or Phyllis Rose's The Year of Reading Proust, in which the authors report on their reading. Mishra's extended book report holds interest because he has read all the classics from an unusual angle . . . An End to Suffering takes the long and seemingly inconclusive route around its subject matter because, finally, it is trying out a different approach to it. Those who have taken an interest in Buddhism have either become enthusiastic practitioners, or rejected it or studied it academically. But Mishra argues that one need not adopt any of these alternatives: You can simply do as Mishra does and appreciate the Buddha and his teachings intellectually, historically, and socially."—Jeffery Paine, Los Angeles Times

"[An] extraordinary book."—Charles Foran, The Walrus

"A memoir of travel and experience, an essay in comparative religion and philosophy, this is also deeply, angrily, at times touchingly, a book about India today . . . An End to Suffering is a personal plea for the Buddha's teachings as an antidote to pain and bewilderment everywhere in the modern world . . . There is much about this book that engages and informs. There are, above all, the accounts of India itself—the Himalayan villages and their inhabitants, the students' futility and desperation, the painful realization of how Pankaj Mishra's friend's sister had died—that make his writing moving, insightful, troubling."—David Arnold, The Times Literary Supplement

"History, particularly that of the life of the mind, is what makes Mishra's book—part travelogue, part biography—such compelling reading."—Jeff Sharlet, New York Magazine

"[Gives] a marvellous introduction both to the life that inspired [Buddhism] and the multifaceted practice it has become."—David Guy, The Washington Post Book World
"[In a book that is] in its prime when Mishra is in pure storytelling mode . . . the Buddha's story comes through with true clarity."—The New York Observer
"A remarkable hybrid—travelog, history, memoir, philosophical treatise and biography [that] is well researched, original and compelling . . . An End to Suffering has a rich, large feel and gives a sweeping sense of history."—Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
"A search that proves both enlightening and elusive."—AsianWeek
"The life of the historical Buddha, his legacy, and his enduring relevance. Indian-born novelist Mishra begins in a secluded Himalayan valley with little more than an impulse: he wants to write about Siddartha Gautama but needs to know more. The quest evolves into a personal pilgrimage. The twist: actually visiting the Buddha's birthplace in Nepal, or trekking to other long-forgotten and ignored sacred sites in his native northern India, turns out to be not all that evocative of the pampered princeling who renounced material comforts to seek enlightenment. More resonant, the author finds, is his cumulative impact on Western thinkers in the modern era. Neatly subsumed into the Hindu pantheon eons ago by India's threatened Brahmins, edged out of ancient China by the great wave of Confucian ideas, the Buddha bobs up again with Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, et al., in a world facing the great conflagrations of the 20th century. Suffering, after all, was his bag—as Allen Ginsberg surely must have put it—but it's still been an impressive revival, Mishra proposes, for someone who apparently wrote nothing down and may not even have been literate, about whom far less is known for certain than either the historical Jesus or Mohammed . . . An impressive compendium with a sense of shared discovery."—Kirkus Reviews

"Mishra offers an ambitious 'book-length essay' that combines an overview of the life, times, and teachings of the Buddha with personal anecdotes and extended multidisciplinary forays into realms such as ancient and modern history, philosophy, politics, and literary criticism."—Publishers Weekly
"[Mishra] didn't intend to write about the Buddha when he sent himself on retreat to a small Himalayan village. But he was intrigued by the Buddhist monasteries he came across, and soon found himself involved in what became a prolonged and profound inquiry into the Buddha's life, Buddhist thought, and Buddhism's global influence. A remarkably lucid and companionable writer and agile thinker, Mishra locates the Buddha within the 'vigorous counterculture' of his times (the sixth century B.C.E.) and cogently explains the Buddha's revolutionary insights into the workings of the mind and the nature of the self. Interweaving a fresh take on Indian history with penetrating readings of great works in Western civilization, Mishra links the Buddha to Socrates and explicates the prescient modernity of Buddhism's emphasis on 'therapeutic and ethical' goals. Mishra also explores the volatile link between religion and politics and considers the complex and dire problems associated with the worldwide abandonment of ancient sustainable traditions in favor of industrialization. Mishra's unusually discerning, beautifully written, and deeply affecting reflection on Buddhism is illuminating in myriad directions."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



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Pankaj Mishra was born in North India in 1969 and now lives in London and India. He is the author of The Romantics, winner of the Los Angeles Times's Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, Granta, and the Times Literary Supplement.
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  • Pankaj Mishra

  • Pankaj Mishra was born in North India in 1969 and now lives in London and India. He is the author of The Romantics, winner of the Los Angeles Times's Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, Granta, and the Times Literary Supplement.
  • Pankaj Mishra Nina Subin