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A Buddhist Spectrum
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A Buddhist Spectrum
A Buddhist Spectrum
Click cover for larger image.
Comparative Religion
Eastern Religion

Price:  $19.95

ISBN:  0-941532-40-2
Book Size:  6" x 9"
# of Pages:  240
Language:  English


A Buddhist Spectrum is Marco Pallis' last book. This book is an in-depth survey of many aspects of Buddhism. Pallis had a particular talent for anticipating where Westerners might misunderstand the Buddhist message, and he carefully demonstrates the universal ideals of this great tradition in a way that is both clear and instructive to modern readers in the West. This new edition features an introduction by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and a foreword by Wayne Teasdale.

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Detailed Description of A Buddhist Spectrum

A Buddhist Spectrum is Marco Pallis' last book. This book is an in-depth survey of many aspects of Buddhism. Pallis had a particular talent for anticipating where Westerners might misunderstand the Buddhist message, and he carefully demonstrates the universal ideals of this great tradition in a way that is both clear and instructive to modern readers in the West. This new edition features an introduction by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and a foreword by Wayne Teasdale.

About the Author(s)

Marco Pallis

Marco Pallis was a widely respected author on Tibetan Buddhism and the Perennial Philosophy, but he was also a gifted musician, composer, mountaineer, and translator.

Pallis' book The Way and the Mountain came from his experiences traveling in the Eastern Himalaya region and with Tibetan Buddhism. Pallis also wrote many pieces for the important traditionalist journal Studies in Comparative Religion, some of which are included in his last publication, A Buddhist Spectrum . Marco Pallis' essays are included in the following World Wisdom books:

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Wayne Teasdale

Brother Wayne Teasdale (1945-2004) was a lay monk who combined the traditions of Christianity and Hinduism in the way of Christian sannyasa. An activist and teacher in building common ground between religions, Teasdale served on the board of trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He was a member of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue and helped draft their Universal Declaration on Nonviolence. Brother Teasdale was also an adjunct professor at DePaul University, Columbia College, and the Catholic Theological Union (where he lived in Chicago) and was coordinator of the Bede Griffiths International Trust. He was co-editor of The Community of Religions, with George Cairns, and the author of two books, A Monk in the World, and The Mystic Heart and dozens of articles on mysticism and religion. He held an M.A. in philosophy from St. Joseph College and a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University.

Br. Wayne Teasdale wrote the foreword for the new edition of A Buddhist Spectrum , by Marco Pallis .

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Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933) is University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. The author of over thirty books and three hundred articles, he is one of the world’s most respected writers and speakers on Islam, its arts and sciences, and its traditional mystical path, Sufism.
Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr's work is found in the following selected World Wisdom books:

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Reviews of A Buddhist Spectrum

"Pallis is a particularly astute guide to the links between Buddhism and other traditions."

Spirituality & Health magazine

"…A Buddhist Spectrum has always been one of my favourite Buddhist books, ever since I obtained a copy of the first Allen and Unwin edition in 1980. This new edition has the addition of a Foreword by Wayne Teasdale, and an introduction by Seyyed [Hossein] Nasr. It also has a good index, something that was missing from the earlier edition.

"I already said that this is one of my favourite books; need I say any more? I am sure that others will say the same when they have read it."

Pure Land Notes: A Journal of Pure Land Buddhism

“For insight, and the beauty insight requires if it is to be effective, I find no writer on Buddhism surpassing him.”
Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions and Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief

“The work of Marco Pallis radiates a distinctively Buddhist ambience. The tone is less combative and more amiable than that found in the work of some of the other traditionalists, but he is no less tough-minded.”

Kenneth Oldmeadow, author of Traditionalism: Religion in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy

“The essays of Marco Pallis have been and continue to be a rich resource for the dialogue between Christians and Buddhists. Pallis' sympathetic understanding of Western culture and theology is balanced by his extra-ordinary grasp of the refinements of Buddhist thought. He is an explorer of terrain whose treasures are already transforming our worldview and spirituality.

"Readers of Thomas Merton will welcome these writings by an author who influenced the thought of that monk and bridge-builder between East and West.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast OSB

“An honest and creative attempt to interpret Buddhist teachings and apply them to basic religious issues that are alive today. A Buddhist Spectrum will be an appropriate resource for courses in comparative religion.”

Joel Brereton, Columbia University

"Without a doubt, there is no better introduction to the main notions of Buddhism for the Western mind than this famous classic. Indeed, A Buddhist Spectrum is remarkable in its ability to convey, in a very elegant and persuasive manner, difficult and sometimes misunderstood aspects of this eastern religion. Many misinterpretations can be avoided by readers who encounter Buddhism for the first time through this book, as well as by more advanced ones."

Jean-Pierre Lafouge, Marquette University

"Marco Pallis’ “A Buddhist Spectrum” is an admirable compendium of perennial wisdom, an authentic summation of Buddhism encompassing its profoundest truths. It is written in a clear, classical English that is a delight to read, while daring to confront us with the realities of contemporary life dominated as it is by animalistic atavisms, estranging us from our specific humanness.
Modern “economic man”, Pallis observes, oscillates between the animal and the petra (hungry ghost), alienated as he is from himself, under the illusions of an infinitely expanding consumption, uninterruptedly propagated as a “higher standard of living.” Estranged from ourselves as we are, this noble book can be trusted to overcome some of the almost insurmountable road blocks on our way home."

Fredrick Franck, author of The Zen of Seeing

"A Buddhist Spectrum is at once one of the most readable works on Buddhism and a major work on comparative religion and living spirituality. It is the fruit of the thoughts and meditations of a man whose authoritative exposition during several decades of religious questions in general and Buddhism in particular, especially in its Tibetan form, have had a profound influence upon many scholars and practitioners of religion in both East and West."

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, George Washington University, and author

"Marco Pallis’ contribution is unique and inspiring. At once a brilliant comparative religionist, who moves back and forth with ease from one tradition to another, seeing the commonalities, parallels, and differences, he is also subtle, wise, and committed to an experiential depth of appreciation which is the hallmark of a devoted practitioner. He doesn’t just talk about Buddhism, he also practices it, and so its deeper life is available to him.… His probing mind unites a talented philosopher gifted in metaphysics with the scholar and mystic. [A Buddhist Spectrum is] a timeless treasure!".

Wayne Teasdale, Catholic Theological Union and author

"[This] book represents more than half a century of the study of and the actual experience of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the deeply sympathetic study of other religions."

—Pam Kingsbury, writing in ForeWord Reviews 

Table of Contents for A Buddhist Spectrum


  1. Living One’s Karma

  2. The Marriage of Wisdom and Method

  3. Is There a Problem of Evil?

  4. Is there Room for ‘Grace’ in Buddhism?

  5. Considerations on the Tantric Alchemy

  6. Nembutsu as Remembrance

  7. Dharma and the Dharmas

  8. Metaphysics of Musical Polyphony

  9. Anattâ

  10. Archetypes, as Seen Through Buddhist Eyes

Excerpts from A Buddhist Spectrum

The following selection is excerpted from the first chapter of the classic book
A Buddhist Spectrum,
by Marco Pallis

Living One’s Karma

       The conception of existence as samsâra, cosmic flux, together with its parallel conception of karma, ‘concordant action and reaction’ as the determinant of each being’s part in that flux, is an essential feature of all the traditions directly or indirectly deriving from India. Though the subject is here being considered from a Buddhist angle, most of what will be said could apply to Hinduism equally well.
        Let us first consider the Round of Existence through its symbolical representation, said to go back to the Buddha himself, as a circle subdivided into six sectors, each containing one of the typical classes of sentient beings. These sectors can be arranged in three pairs, as follows:

our world: (1) human (the central state); (2) animals (peripheral states)
supernal worlds: (3) gods, or devas; (4) titans, or
infernal worlds: (5) tantalised ghosts, or pretas; (6) hells.

        This symbolic scheme is familiar wherever the Buddhist tradition prevails.
       Let us examine each of the six components in somewhat greater detail. Quite evidently, the human sector, which was mentioned first, has been given a disproportionate share in the whole if one considers it solely from the point of view of the number of beings concerned. Compared with the vast multiplicity of their nonhuman neighbours, men represent a very small number indeed, apart from the fact that they form but one species as compared with an immense variety extending to genera, families, and natural orders. The reason for this privileged treatment is twofold: first, being men ourselves, it is natural for us to single out for study our own kind and manner of existing; second, the human species is the chosen field of avataric embodiment, Buddhahood, and this, qualitatively speaking, entitles it to privileged consideration.
       Passing to the animal sector, this contains a large number of different species situated at the same level of existence as man, but varying in respect of their nearness to, or remoteness from, the human position. It might then be asked: where do plants and minerals come in, since they do not seem to figure by name in any sector? The answer can only be that here one is not dealing with a chart of biological or geological statistics; one must not expect a meticulous consistency in regard to details. All the traditional picture of the Round is intended to do is to serve as a broadly sufficient guide to an understanding of the universe, one that is based, all along, on qualitative factors rather than on ‘facts’ or quantitative considerations such as enter into the purview of natural sciences in the usual sense of the word.
        Regarded from the human point of view, the supernal states are those that in greater or lesser measure escape the physical and psychic limitations of our own state of existence. The two sectors grouped in the supernal class may, however, themselves include quite a number of different degrees that we, in our present state, are hardly concerned with. It is said of gods, or devas, that theirs is a state full of delights such as ‘wishing trees’ able to grant any boon at the mere thought, and other picturesque amenities of a similar kind; no pain can enter into this state while it lasts, which makes the moment of change when it strikes at long last all the more painful for the beings in question, as they suddenly wake up to the fact that their state of bliss is not eternal but remains subject to birth and death like every other existential state. As one Mongolian monk said to the writer: ‘The long-lived gods are stupid.’ Lulled into overconfidence by sheer absence of contrast in their present condition, they are wholly unprepared for the fatal moment when it comes, and they may sink as low as hell itself, a truly lamentable fate.
        Not all the gods, however, display this lack of intelligence. Many of them play a creditable part in stories of the Buddha. Some, such as Vishnu’s hawklike steed Garuda, are constant attendants on the Buddha’s person, whose canopy they provide; others again, and especially Brahmâ, king of the devas, after the Buddha’s enlightenment persuade him to preach the doctrine lest the world be utterly lost. This overcoming of the Buddha’s ‘reluctance’ at the instance of the gods features in the history of every teaching Buddha and is meant to convey symbolically that the knowledge possessed by an enlightened one is so profound as to be virtually incommunicable to men in their present state of ignorance. The Buddha, however, consents to teach, thus showing that, ignorance notwithstanding, the Light is not unattainable. For this we have to thank the persuasion of the gods.
        Titans, or asuras, for their part, though superior to men in virtue of their possession of various powers, are always represented as contentious beings, full of envy for the gods and their felicity and ever plotting to dethrone them. Typically they are beings who through ‘austerities’, intense work carried out in various fields, have been enabled to extend their own natural faculties to the point of threatening heaven itself. Sometimes titanic ambition even wears an altruistic mask, as when Prometheus stole the fire from the gods in order to bestow it on mankind, thus exposing the latter to the consequences of his own act of profanation. It is typical of an asuric or Promethean temperament to promote recklessly the use of abnormal powers from every kind of motive except the essential one, the one that could lead a being to Buddhahood. Lacking this motive, it lacks all; such is the asuric sign in beings.
        The two infernal sectors of our symbolism, the land of tantalised ghosts (pretas) and the hells, are places whence joy and comfort are entirely banished. The first-named is a realm wherein reigns the most intense feeling of want, an insatiable hunger and thirst. Pretas are pictured as having huge, inflated bellies and pinpoint mouths, so that enough nourishment can never find its way through the tiny inlet to meet the excessive cravings of the belly, and thus the being remains in a constant state of misery, which only a change of state may eventually relieve, could he but awaken to this possibility. The hells, on the other hand, more or less explain themselves: they are places of sheer expiation, hot or cold according to the nature of the offences committed (or opportunities disregarded) in the course of previous life. In this respect they hardly differ from the conception of hell as found in the Semitic religions except in matters of detail and, more especially, in the absence of any perfunctory attribution of ‘eternity’ such as does not belong anywhere in the Round.
        This last is the most important point to grasp. The keynote of samsâra is impermanence, the primary theme to meditate upon for every Buddhist. All that the world’s flow brings into being is unstable. This is true of heavens or hells, happier states as well as more unhappy; the former admit of no complacency, the latter are never entirely without hope. For everything, in the fullness of becoming, when its particular possibilities have spent themselves, must change to something else. This is the universal law of existence in the Round.

Selection from our Library about A Buddhist Spectrum
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"Is There a Problem of Evil?" appears as Chapter 3 of A Buddhist Spectrum: Contributions to Buddhist-Christian Dialogue by Marco Pallis, published by World Wisdom. The essay puts into perspective the "supposed problem" that is often stated as "How can a good God permit evil in the world?" or "Why does the world not contain only good, only joy?" Pallis offers a solution that can be sufficient for those in various religious traditions.
Is There a Problem of Evil?A Buddhist Spectrum: Contributions to Buddhist-Christian DialoguePallis, Marco Buddhism
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