using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 77 |summer 2006 Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism With- out Beliefs is the book that made me feel welcome to call myself a Buddhist and to show up at gatherings of other Buddhists, even though some Bud- dhists believe in things that I cannot be cer- tain hold true for me. Ever twitchy when people get all mystical on me, I am calmed by Batchelor’s evenly-paced, one-step-at- a-time elucidation of dharma practice as being perfectly possible within a context of “existential, therapeutic, and liberating agnosticism.” Batchelor quotes T. H. Hux- ley, who coined the term “agnosticism” in 1869: “Follow your reason as far as it will take you,” adding, “Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not dem- onstrated or demonstrable.” “Religions,” Batchelor asserts, “are united not by belief in God but by belief in life after death.” Belief, he points out, does not equal objective truth. “Until quite recently religions maintained that the earth was flat, but such widespread belief did not affect the shape of the planet.” Batchelor looks to the Buddha as a man of his time and place, working within the prevailing Indian view. And just as dur- ing the Enlightenment, Christian churches feared that a loss of faith in heaven and hell would lead to rampant immorality, religious Buddhism “emphasized that denial of rebirth would undermine the basis of ethical responsibility and the need for morality in society.” So, social control may be one reason for the pressure on the individual practitioner to profess a certainty in nondemonstrable conclusions. I admire Batchelor for having the balls to say so: “One of the great real- izations of the Enlightenment was that an atheistic materialist could be just as moral a person as a believer – even more so. This insight led to liberation from the con- straints of ecclesiastical dogma, which was crucial in forming the sense of intellectual and political freedom we enjoy today.” Diagnosed with acute, chronic ulcer- ative colitis at age four, I pretty much grew up in hospital. I had surgery at twelve, fourteen, and fifteen, and spent my late teens and twenties in various degrees of shock. Throughout my childhood, I spec- ulated on how it all worked – basically asking, “Why me?” I considered the possi- bility that I was Caligula in a past life, and I set that against Pema Chödrön’s words: “The root of Buddhism is compassion, and the root of compassion is compassion for oneself.” I feel I’m better off not going through life with a scarlet M for murderer on my forehead, especially when I can’t recall the crime. Life is hard enough. I had no control over doctors and nurses handling my body intimately. But when the Christians had a go at me in the long-term care hospital, I wasn’t having it. Similar attempts by my family’s “home team,” the Jews, to conscript me also failed. Retaining sovereignty over my mind was very important to me, but the path of the rugged individualist can be lonely. Batchelor emphasizes that “The Bud- dha taught a method (‘dharma practice’) rather than another ‘-ism.’ The dharma is not something to believe in but some- thing to do,” and in doing so, offers a path that is clear, even though it’s not always easy. His prose is restful because it’s logical – every new thought rests vis- ibly on the previous sentence. He makes no sudden moves; there’s nothing up his sleeve. The concern of dharma practice, says Batchelor, “lies entirely with the nature of existential experience.” Batchelor quotes Proust: “We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wil- derness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.” People seem to vary in their willingness or ability to embrace the mystical. My guess is that part of this stems from how our brains are hard-wired, and part of this is because of our subjective associations (what the developmental theorists call nurture, or environment). If you grow up enacting faith-based ritual near loving fam- ily members, you will continue to derive comfort from such ritual long after you’re parted from these loved ones. And more power to you, if it makes you happy. But my family, well, we’re not the Wal- tons. I can, and do, spend a lot of my time obsessing about my life story, trying to impose meaning and imagination on my suffering. For angst-ridden, cerebral types like me, a book such as Buddhism Without Beliefs is a helpful, sane primer. “Aware- ness is a process of deepening self-accep- tance,” writes Batchelor. “It is neither a cold, surgical examination of life nor a means of becoming perfect. Whatever it observes, it embraces. There is nothing unworthy of acceptance.” The alienated postmodern bookstore browser, full of old-fashioned longings mixed with healthy skepticism, could do a lot worse. diana atkinSon iS at work on a memoir cHronicling Her long StrUggle witH illneSS. Her novel, HigHwayS and danceHallS, waS nominated for canada’S governor general’S literary award and tHe commonwealtH writerS’ priZe. nothing uP his sleeve dharMa ClassiC By stephen Batchelor riverhead Books 1997 (hardcover); 1998 (paperback) in print reviewed by diana atkinson BuddhisM without Beliefs: a Contemporary guide to awakening