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A general introduction by Frank E. Reynolds and Jason A. Carbine provides a historical overview and briefly characterizes the three major variants of Buddhist tradition—the Hinayana/Theravada branch practiced in Sri Lanka and much of Southeast Asia; the Mahayana branch located most notably in East Asia; and the Vajrayana/Esoteric branch established in Tibet and Japan. It also takes note of a distinctive form of Buddhism that is now emerging among non-Asian practitioners in the West. The editors introduce each essay with a brief commentary that situates its contents within the Buddhist tradition as a whole.
The pieces offer concise depictions and analyses of particular aspects of Buddhist life, including temple architecture and iconography, the consecration of sacred objects, meditative practices, devotional expressions, exorcisms, and pilgrimage journeys. Topics discussed also include the construction of religio-political and religio-social hierarchies, gender roles, the management of asocial behavior, and confrontations with dying and death.