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Buddhism without Beliefs Paperback – Mar 1 1998

4.1 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (March 1 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573226564
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573226561
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1 x 23.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #64,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
"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 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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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 influence was unavoidable.
My impression:
I thought it was perhaps the best Buddhist book I have read in my meager 15+ years of practice. For such a small book, it was clear, complete, and provocative. Somehow Batchelor managed to distill his thoughts into a little over 100 pages. Each sentence builds on the last, and he was able to bring me face-to-face with some very real and deep-seated fears. From my experience as a Zen Buddhist, I found him walking side by side with me through familiar territory, and then he quickens the pace, leading me to brand-new and terrifying self-examination.
Had I followed my usual reading practice, I would have dog-eared this entire book. Every page invoked something fresh. But I did dog-ear one page, and went back to read it numerous times. He recommends this meditative question:
"Since death alone is certain and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?"
Hugs and bows.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book at the beginning of my Buddhist path, and found very little that connected for me. After a year of practice, though, I went back to it and found it full of wisdom and insight, and very helpful in allowing myself to maintain a "don't know" stance toward those culturally-conditioned aspects of Buddhism brought to us from the East.
Although the core of Buddhist dharma-transmission over the centuries has been wonderfully consistent, it seems obvious that barnacles of beliefs associated with the original feudal/tribal/animist/deist cultures through which it's passed would of course find their way onto the hull (excuse the clumsy metaphor!). The Buddha stressed over and over that we were to test *everything* against our own experience, to believe nothing until proved true for each of us. All Batchelor is up to here is saying this, clearly and from a modern Western perspective.
The vitriol evident above in some of the mini-reviews from dogmatized Buddhists is all the motivation I would think one needs to read Batchelor's book. It's partly about the non-compassionate controversies some kinds of "Buddhism *With* Beliefs" have side-tracked students and cultures in the past.
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