Until the late twentieth century, scholars of Indian Buddhism focused almost exclusively on Buddhist scriptural and commentarial sources that depict Buddhism in an idealized and prescriptive fashion. Accordingly, Buddhist monks and nuns were imagined as celibate renunciants engaged in sophisticated Philosophical debate and austere meditative practices leading to enlightenment. Little attention was paid to the kinds of textual and archaeological materials that go beyond mere prescription and shed light on the lived realities of Buddhist monastic culture. What was life in monasteries actually like? How did monks (and nuns) sustain themselves and administer their establishments? What kind of ritual and devotional practices did they engage in and what were their relations with the laity?
Robert Powell was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1918. After obtaining his doctorate in chemistry from London University, he pursued a career first as an industrial chemist and later as a science writer and editor in Britain and the United States. Robert Powell’s personal exploration of spirituality began in the 1960s, and his quest for self-discovery led him to Zen and a number of spiritual masters including J. Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. His own spiritual awakening coincided with his discovery of the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj. He is the editor of a Nisargadatta trilogy, and the author of a number of books on what he describes as “human consciousness transformation.” Powell now lives a busy life in La Jolla, California, with his loving wife, Gina.