It was left to Rhys Davids, virtually the first European scholar to devote himself exclusively to Pali and Buddhism, to unlock the key to Pali and point out to his contemporaries the rich vistas that lay beyond. In doing so he made it possible to begin the systematic study of Buddhism which had been undertaken sans consistency and method. The author has used Rhys Davids to investigate the nature of Western attempts--with implied Europocentric attitudes - to interpret characteristically Asian cultural and religious institutions. The book focuses on Buddhism and the attempts of Westerners in the second half of the nineteenth century to interpret what was at the time regarded as a comparatively unknown oriental faith. Rhys Davids' capacity for empathizing with alien cultures was remarkable. It is a curious fact that there has been no biography on Rhys Davids. He was of the very stuff Victorian biographies were made of, exemplifying in particular its grand delusive moral that misfortune, human frailties, social disabilities, and class distinctions can somehow be changed or overcome by the transforming power of character, perseverance, and of course, faith. This book is not, however, an act of biographical resurrection. It focuses instead on the work and ideas of Rhys Davids and attempts to relate Rhys Davids to themes which continue to play a significant part in East-West cultural dialogue.
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