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Buddhism without Beliefs [Paperback]

Stephen Batchelor
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 11 2002

A national bestseller and acclaimed guide to Buddhism for beginners and practitioners alike

In this simple but important volume, Stephen Batchelor reminds us that the Buddha was not a mystic who claimed privileged, esoteric knowledge of the universe, but a man who challenged us to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, and bring into being a way of life that is available to us all. The concepts and practices of Buddhism, says Batchelor, are not something to believe in but something to do—and as he explains clearly and compellingly, it is a practice that we can engage in, regardless of our background or beliefs, as we live every day on the path to spiritual enlightenment.

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As in all the major religions, there is a wisdom behind the theology of Buddhism that informs the believer in daily life. Stephen Batchelor would argue that the difference with Buddhism is that the wisdom is in fact independent of the theology and is not informative to believers only, but to everyone. In Buddhism Without Beliefs Batchelor lays out the major tenets of Buddhist wisdom, commenting on their relevance to modern life. The Buddha said that seekers must find the Truth for themselves, and Batchelor offers this book as a roadmap. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Batchelor...suggests that Buddhism jettison reincarnation and karma, thereby making possible what he calls an 'existential, therapeutic and liberating agnosticism." —Time magazine

"Buddhism Without Beliefs is the kind of finely written primer about the concepts of Buddhism that even a heathen like me can appreciate and understand. For the non-Buddhist, or the aspiring Buddhist, it will be of much assistance. Filled with compassion, lucidly written, this is a book that explains much about an ancient, ever-living philosophy that has much to offer the stunned searchers of truth in our chaotic age of modernity." —Oscar Hijuelos, author of Mr. Ives' Christmas and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

"Radiant in its clarity, Buddhism Without Beliefs reminds us not just of Buddhism's true nature, but of our own as well. Freeing us from the notion of Buddhism as a religion, Stephen Batchelor shows us how necessary the Buddha's teachings are in today's world. It may not be what he intended, but he has made a believer out of me." —Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

"Though he is a former monk in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions, Batchelor is now associated with a nondenominational Buddhist community in England. He deliberately eschews elitist, monastic Buddhist traditions, which often make enlightenment appear all but impossible to attain. Throughout, simple meditation exercises acquaint readers with Buddhist principles that illuminate 'the nature of the human dilemma and a way to its resolution.'" —Publishers Weekly

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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LET'S GO BACK to the beginning: to the awakening of Siddhartha Gautama, aka the Tathagata, Shakyamuni, the World Honored One-the Buddha himself. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixture Of Confusion And Insight March 23 2000
"Buddhism Without Beliefs" is an important work for a number of reasons; it might also be a helpful book, or a dangerous book, depending on one's point of view. Certainly Batchelor's agnostic stance is problematic for a traditionalist believer; one need only read the virulent comments here (and also at jeweldakini.com) to see that this is so.
I do not share Batchelor's views on reincarnation; I admit to being a believer. However, in all honesty, I must also declare myself an agnostic, as does Batchelor, for precisely the reason that I do not know from direct experience whether the Buddha's teaching of past and future births is true, or not. To the extent that few (if any) human beings really *know* whether rebirth is a fact, we must all--in the interest of intellectual honesty--admit to being agnostics, even if we are not ideologically comitted to agnosticism (as Batchelor seems to be).
Batchelor's practical advice on the "existential" approach to Buddhism at turns rings both true and hollow. It rings true to the extent that a "metaphysics of hope and fear" is certainly a less viable template for meaningful human experience than an "ethics of empathy" grounded in a nitty-gritty confrontation of the basic facts of existence. Batchelor's discourse rings false to the extent that he has, in effect, elevated agnosticism to the status of a dogma. It is *good* not to know, he seems to say; it is good, because it is an honest assessment of one's condition.
Granted, we do not know everything, and to his credit Batchelor is the first to admit it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What I've been looking for without knowing it. July 22 2002
I ordered this book based on the review here by "Dr. of Buddhology and author of 6 books on Buddhism; Dr. S. A." His attack on it it, and the reasons he gave for that, were more persuasive than any of the positive reviews in convincing me that I should read this book. Whenever anyone says, in effect, "Don't think for yourself--just follow Scripture," I've usually found it a good idea to do the opposite. And as usual, I'm very glad I did.
Buddhism has taken on radically different forms in every culture in which it has taken root. Is Agnostic Buddhism one of the forms it will take in the West? I think it's likely. Many Westerners who are turning to Buddhism are agnostic, and stripped of the non-essentials (most of which were added long after the Buddha's death), Buddhism is a very appealing path. But so far, I have encountered little but New Age dilletantes and guru/student fundamentalists, two extremes that do not appeal to me at all. Here in Japan, I've met some very nice priests and monks, but practice has so far seemed quite ossified and heirarchical, something that really seems, well, very un-Buddhist to me.
And then along comes Batchelor's book, a breath of fresh air. This is just what I've been looking for.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars start on the path, then read this book April 15 2004
I perhaps made the mistake of reading this book on Buddhism first, before any others. It resonated with me but I had difficuty grasping the complexity of the arguments without a more basic grounding in Buddhism. (For that I recommend any of the Tricyle's introductory books, John Snelling's 'Elements of Buddhism', and Jack Kornfield'd 'A Path with Heart'). I returned to book again with a more seasoned and educated mind and found it to be provocative and relevant to thinking afresh for oneself on the Buddhist Path. Batchelor reduces Buddhist principles to their essentials, sweeps away the accretions of 2,000 years of cultural dogma that have muddied the path, and shows a way for the contemporary Westernized Buddhist to proceed. An incdientally, whether on not you agree, if you appreciate good writing, this it is beautifully written book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Back-to-basics Buddhism June 28 2001
By Shran
Batchelor has written a gem of a book, and his title couldn't have been more appropriate, in that "Buddhism without Beliefs" is really a redundancy. The author reminds us that Buddhism at its core is about openmindedness, analysis, individual searching, and experimentation, and that to accept anything (even Buddhist teachings themselves) on blind faith is to miss the greater point. His most important observation, which he presents in straightforward and lucid language, shines through clearly: One can still follow the Buddhist path without blind allegiance to metaphysical speculation. If anything, he could have spent more time pointing out that many Buddhist scholars and practitioners alike already accept "rebirth" as metaphorical rather than literal, to drive the point home amidst Buddhist "fundamentalists" who, like their Christian counterparts, sometimes miss the subtler message their respective teachers conveyed and who, unfortunately, help to present Buddhism to the West not as the open-ended method of inquiry into existential experience that it really is, but rather as just another ready-made, rigid, superstitious dogma to be accepted on blind belief. Batchelor, however, regards the Buddha himself as being "far from agnostic" on issues of life after death, so the author's relative reticence in this area is understandable but unfortunate. After all, the Buddha tailored his message to match the needs and aptitudes of his audiences, so why not assume that he employed metaphysical/cosmological imagery familiar to his culture in order to get his message across, without automatically assuming it to be literal? Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Buddhism as it really is
This is a fantastic book for anyone interested in meditation and in Buddhism. What Batchelor does is strip away all the cultural 'decorations', all the culturally specific... Read more
Published 3 months ago by John Verdon
5.0 out of 5 stars The book strips you of all excuses
"Buddhism without Beliefs" isn't really a book, but a tutorial. It describes the method of escaping the anguish while avoiding indulgences. Read more
Published 5 months ago by unavailable
4.0 out of 5 stars Aversion to Dogma
In dharma practise awakening requires equanimity toward the sensations that will otherwise lead to craving and aversion. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mitchell Rhodes
5.0 out of 5 stars Buddhism without beliefs
A very satisfying book, allowing the reader to embrace aspects of a belief system at one's own discretion and interpretation. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2011 by perspicacityplus
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible
I read other reviews before submitting mine and would like to say: This book is not an introduction to Buddhism, and I felt that Batchelor was clear that his own Western cultural... Read more
Published on June 27 2004 by Rob Myers
4.0 out of 5 stars Isn't it odd...
That so many of the negative reviews of this book seem to say precisely the same thing? Isn't it even odder that, if you click on the links to the negative reviewers, you find... Read more
Published on May 28 2004 by Charles W. Anderson
1.0 out of 5 stars Are the other reviewers members of his family?
I enjoy books on Buddhism, but this one is a clear disappointment. He seems like a Westerner who has been exposed to some basic tenets of Buddhism but is anything but a wise... Read more
Published on May 18 2004 by Quinn D. Hubbard
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written!
This book was my first experience with Buddhist thought. I was very impressed, not only by the ideas, but by the way Batchelor writes. Read more
Published on March 31 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it before you decide
How sad that someone here wrote, " I stopped dead in my tracks when I read that someone wrote, after reading the book, that (s)he is a 'violently angry atheist. Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2003 by Bianchi Joe
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is beautiful -- even without dogma.
Suppose we hade a way of life which was both agnostic and morally positive? Stephen Batchelor makes a good point that this has already happened. Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2003 by Brad4d
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