#5 – Buddhism Without Beliefs

May 13, 2007

someone filled up my heart with nothing, someone told me not to cryBefore I read this book, my complete knowledge of Buddhism consisted of orange robes, reincarnation, and Shaolin priests. So I maybe didn’t have a complete idea what Buddhist practices are all about. I’m not sure how established Buddhist leaders feel about this one, but I think Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening was about the best introduction to the philosophy possible, especially for an uninitiated religious skeptic like myself.

Basically, the thesis of the author, Stephen Batchelor, is that Buddhism is not supposed to be a religion, but it’s just a way of leading your life to acheiving enlightenment and awakening. According to him, the spiritual elements of Buddhim which have developed over the years are secondary to the original intent of the Buddha, and actually contrary to them at times; Buddhism is meant to be agnostic in the original sense of the word. I still know virtually nothing about the spiritual elements of Buddhism, but Batchelor explains his views so clearly I feel like I don’t really need to to get what’s happening here.

I’m wary about trying to summarize the argument he makes, because it’s explained in such a straightforward, step-by-step manner that if I try to rephrase it it won’t come across nearly as well. The four basic elements, anyway, are simple enough: understanding anguish, letting go of its origin, realizing its cessation, and cultivating the path of cessation of anguish. This sounds incredibly obvious; stop doing the things that cause you anguish, then live in a way which avoids those things. But Batchelor proceeds to delve deeper, explaining the various facets and how they apply to other aspects of life. In the end, he creates a pretty full vision of agnostic Buddhism as a rational way of leading life.

I would recommend this to anyone who’s curious about the principles behind Buddhism, if not the actual practice of it. However, even though I think I get the ideas, I doubt I’m quite ready to carry dharma practice into my life: I understand that I feel anguish because I crave finishing law school, getting a job in a firm, finding a girlfriend, moving into a new place, and becoming financially stable; but I have no idea how to proceed to letting go of anguish, and realizing and cultivating the cessation of anguish, or if I even want to. I guess I’m not quite ready for Gampo Abbey.


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