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

CONFESSION OF A BUDDHIST ATHEIST

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

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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THE WEIGHT OF GLORY

The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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