An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World by Pankaj Mishra Picador $195 In 1992, Pankaj Mishra moved to a small Himalayan village where he lived a simple bachelor's life in cheap rental accommodation, reading, thinking and observing. From here, he made long journeys 'across high mountains and deep valleys', to Buddhist-dominated regions in the inner Himalayas, 'often ... attracted by nothing more than a vague promise of some great happiness awaiting me at the other end'. Gradually, Mishra developed a career as a freelance writer. He travelled elsewhere in India and flew to Europe and America. But he recurrently nursed the idea of writing a book about the Buddha, the book he finally published this year. Ten years of accumulated knowledge and experience had finally led him to discover 'a true contemporary' in the sixth-century BC spiritual teacher Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha. Having earlier seen him as 'part of a half-mythical antiquity ... I now saw him in my own world, amid its great violence and confusion, holding out the possibility of knowledge as well as redemption'. Biographer as well as autobiographer, Mishra presents different images of Siddhartha Gautama. A pampered and carefully sheltered boy and young man. An ascetic whose slight diet led to extreme emaciation. 'When I tried to touch the skin of my belly, I took hold of my backbone.' A man whose later careful habits - afternoon siestas, no evening meals - extended his life to about 80, but whose politeness to a host led to the dysentery that killed him. Mishra describes how Buddha was venerated in his lifetime; how, in the early centuries after Christ, Buddhism spread into Asia; how, finally, in the 20th century, Buddhism became a world religion. He relates how, contrary to this movement, the Indian sub-continent, Buddha's birthplace, forgot him, and he gives a readable, scholarly account of how, in the 19th century, the painstaking and enthusiastic work of European scholars led to Buddha's rediscovery. Above and beyond telling these two life stories, Mishra's book is an ambitious attempt to set the Buddha's life, thoughts and influence (and Mishra's and our lives, too) in the context of local, national, regional and world history. The Buddha's focus was on the individual. How can each person escape the suffering to which he is born? (Simply put, his answer was, by changing oneself.) But Mishra wants to go beyond this. He is interested in social and political structures and in the results of uneven economic development between countries and groups. He sees that philosophy and historiography arise from a particular social context and can, in turn, change the societies that gave rise to them. Mishra wants to understand how people were moved to the shocking destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Can the world heal itself so as to remove the causes of such violence? His book quotes prominently the German philosopher Nietzsche: 'We need history ... for the sake of life and action.' The Buddha identified self-centredness as the cause of human suffering. If the individual could liberate himself from this, the source of suffering for that individual would be removed. Mishra suggests that a particular view of human history may need to be replaced to remove the suffering of humanity.