Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
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Does Buddhism require faith? Can an atheist or agnostic follow the Buddha’s teachings without believing in reincarnation or organized religion?
This is one man’s confession.
In his classic Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor offered a profound, secular approach to the teachings of the Buddha that struck an emotional chord with Western readers. Now, with the same brilliance and boldness of thought, he paints a groundbreaking portrait of the historical Buddha—told from the author’s unique perspective as a former Buddhist monk and modern seeker. Drawing from the original Pali Canon, the seminal collection of Buddhist discourses compiled after the Buddha’s death by his followers, Batchelor shows us the Buddha as a flesh-and-blood man who looked at life in a radically new way. Batchelor also reveals the everyday challenges and doubts of his own devotional journey—from meeting the Dalai Lama in India, to training as a Zen monk in Korea, to finding his path as a lay teacher of Buddhism living in France. Both controversial and deeply personal, Stephen Batchelor’s refreshingly doctrine-free, life-informed account is essential reading for anyone interested in Buddhism.
ALSO BY STEPHEN BATCHELOR Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism The Faith to Doubt: Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty The Tibet Guide: Central and Western Tibet The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening Verses from the Center: A Buddhist Vision of the Sublime Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil There are not only one hundred, or five hundred, but far more
“then you must go to hell too.” Irrespective of your position in the monastery, you lived, ate, and worked together. At any time, the monks could be summoned to work. Everyone, from Kusan Sunim to the youngest novice, would be issued a hand scythe to harvest the barley crop or a hoe to weed between the soybean plants. We would unload piles of curved terra-cotta roof tiles from the backs of trucks or form into a chain gang with buckets to dredge the riverbed after a typhoon. At the first frost, we
time. Kiln-fired bricks were unavailable in India at that period. Nor would these bricks have formed the outer surface of the stupa: that would have been a smooth dome of whitewashed plaster. What I see and touch now is the core of an edifice dating back to the centuries after Gotama’s death, which would probably have replaced an earlier, less durable structure of sunbaked mud and wood. In 1897 William Peppé, a local British estate manager, cleared the earth and vegetation off the stupa in order
of my own contingency, the conviction of my being a permanent, timeless witness has remained as steady and self-evident to me as the view I have of the sun rising every morning in the east, crossing the sky, then setting in the west. I seem to be hardwired to experience my self and the world in this way. Yet despite the undeniable evidence of my own eyes, I know that the earth sets and rises, not the sun. Gotama did for the self what Copernicus did for the earth: he put it in its rightful place,
most of whom were the family and friends of a young brahmin merchant called Yasa. Now that he had disciples, he was faced with the question of how to establish a community. He had to address the practical issues of livelihood and survival. How could he create the conditions that would enable his ideas to take root in the competitively charged atmosphere of the time and survive his death? He would need benefactors: people powerful enough to protect his community and wealthy enough to provide for