CONFESSION OF A BUDDHIST ATHEIST

A welcome contribution to Buddhist studies, joining essential modern books such as Rick Fields’s How the Swans Came to the...

Religious scholar and former monk Batchelor (Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil, 2004, etc.) chronicles his four-decade journey through varieties of Buddhism.

The notion that a Buddhist can be an agnostic or atheist is not oxymoronic, of course. Buddhism requires no formal belief in a god or gods. It does, however, require other leaps of faith, including one that Batchelor admits to having had trouble grasping—namely, the acceptance of reincarnation, for “the entire edifice of traditional Buddhist thought stands or falls on the belief in rebirth.” The author arrives at his discussion of reincarnation through a hard tour of duty in a highly intellectual school of Tibetan Buddhism that prizes the study of formal logic and debate, providing tools for a rationally based, constantly inquiring approach to religion. As the Buddha said, “Just as a goldsmith assays gold, by rubbing, cutting, and burning…so should you examine my words. Do not accept them just out of faith in me.” Elsewhere Batchelor writes of his encounters with the Dalai Lama, who has been waging a quiet war against the Tibetan belief in evil spirits, but who has also long been engaged in schools of Tibetan Buddhist thought other than his own in a kind of ecumenical spirit. Batchelor provides smart commentary on various aspects of Buddhist belief of whatever school, including the well-known eightfold path guiding appropriate behavior, “a complex feedback loop that constantly needs to be renewed and restored.” Seekers of truths large and small, no matter what their inclinations, will find that commentary valuable, especially the author’s exhortation that belief is not enough—one also has to act and act in the right way.

A welcome contribution to Buddhist studies, joining essential modern books such as Rick Fields’s How the Swans Came to the Lake (1980) and Robert Aitken’s Taking the Path of Zen (1982).

Pub Date: March 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-52706-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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