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Confession of a Buddhist Atheist Hardcover – 2 Mar 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Second Impression edition (2 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527064
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 974,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A moving and thoughtful book that does not fear to challenge. "The Guardian" (U.K.)
In this honest and serious book of self-examination and critical scrutiny, Stephen Batchelor adds the universe of Buddhism to the many fields in which received truth and blind faith are now giving way to ethical and scientific humanism, in which lies our only real hope. Christopher Hitchens
[Batchelor] taps his committed thirty-eight-year personal Buddhist practice to inform the book s sense of wisdom, clarity and insight. . . . An emotionally detailed and compelling account. The Huffington Post"

"A moving and thoughtful book that does not fear to challenge."--The Guardian (U.K.)
"In this honest and serious book of self-examination and critical scrutiny, Stephen Batchelor adds the universe of Buddhism to the many fields in which received truth and blind faith are now giving way to ethical and scientific humanism, in which lies our only real hope."--Christopher Hitchens
"[Batchelor] taps his committed thirty-eight-year personal Buddhist practice to inform the book's sense of wisdom, clarity and insight. . . . An emotionally detailed and compelling account."--The Huffington Post --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Stephen Batchelor is a former monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions and the author of books including Alone with Others, The Faith to Doubt, The Awakening of the West, Buddhism Without Beliefs, and Living with the Devil. He lives with his wife, Martine, in southwestern France and lectures and conducts meditation retreats throughout the world.


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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Stephen Batchelor's new book is much more than a memoir, and certainly a world removed from that of confessional tales with similar titles. In fact, it's more like two books: the story of Batchelor's early life as a Buddhist monk, starting when he barely out of his teens, and a de-romanticized life of Siddhatta Gotama, man and monk, not god or supernatural being.

And as interesting as Batchelor's progression of awakening to the realization that he is not meant to be a monk might be, it's his careful telling of Gotama's post-enlightenment wandering life, a man in a land just like ours, filled with politics, patronage, and compromise, that gives the book its true strength. Both tie together in Batchelor's theme and thesis: that Buddhism, stripped of its accretions of gods and rituals over the intervening centuries, is a powerful way of awakening to life's reality here and now.

Having landed in India in the early 1970s, a young British hippie wandering in search of a spiritual home -- even if he didn't recognize it as such at the time -- he fell under the sway of Tibetan Buddhist exiles in India, donning robes and shaving his head. Following his teacher, he moved to Switzerland, helping establishing a monastery there, but his doubts about the melange of gods and demons that the Tibetans revere and fear in the end pushed him to the more Spartan Korean Zen tradition. He took up residence in a temple there, innocently meeting his future wife, a French Zen nun. After the master dies, he disrobed -- a "Buddhist Failure", as he calls himself.

Later, as a layman, he was inspired by the writings of a British Buddhist monk from the early 1960s, who like Batchelor can't reconcile the supernatural beliefs of local (in this case Sri Lankan) Buddhists with his secular views.
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By Francis Norton VINE VOICE on 5 April 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stephen Batchelor weaves together the tales of two lives to present a new - or possibly very old - form of Buddhism.

The first life is his own, a suburban London teenager who took the hippy trail to the Dalai Lama's exile in Dharamsala where he studied Buddhism and became a monk. From there he goes to Switzerland, and Korea where he joins a Zen monastery. Eventually he abandons the theologies of both, marries and disrobes, to concentrate on applying Buddhist practice and philosophy to the existential challenges that lurk beneath the surfaces of our everyday lives. In common with some (but not all) existentialists, Stephen Batchelor appears to appreciate the ridiculous side of life's essential absurdity - his memoirs are lively and occasionally, in a straight-faced way, laugh-out-loud funny.

The second life is that of the Buddha. By restricting his sources to the Pali canon (those scriptures written in the language the Buddha spoke) and by ignoring everything from the pre-existing Brahminical spiritual culture, Batchelor re-creates a set of teachings and a context which are, if not actually atheist, at least supportive of his own existential Buddhism.

The two stories work together. One of the existential themes running through the book is the contingency of life - the uncomfortable randomness that brings us into being (as illustrated by the moment his mother shows a teenage Stephen a war-time photo of a soldier, saying that if things had turned out differently this man "would have been your father"), and that dictates the course and duration of our lives. By highlighting the contingency in both his life and the Buddha's, Batchelor uses the structure of his book to demonstrate the deep acceptance of contingency that he advocates.
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Format: Hardcover
This man seems to be a humanist with a spiritual heart, but not spiritual in the traditional dualistic sense of that term, that carves the world up into natural and super-natural, sacred and profane. Rather he is spiritual in terms of valuing the lived experience of the individual, one's loves and longings, one's aspirations and fears, one's confrontation with profound questions at a personal and immediate level. This is not the abstract, intellectual humanism of ethical or political debate, it is an authentic engagement with one's very own life, informed and permeated by meditation and reflection. He shares this vision by describing how he has arrived at it in an autobiographical account which is candid and courageous. In addition to Buddhist practices, part of Batchelor's engagement with his own life has involved a quest for the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama. Thus the book flows seamlessly into a biographical account of Gotama and his teachings, which is well supported with historical scholarship and reasoning. I have resonated with every page from cover to cover. I'd recommend it to anyone who prefers an authentic engagement with the astonishing fact of their own existence, beyond consoling beliefs and religious platitudes or dogma. It is inspirational.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an atheist who admires much about Buddhism, I hoped that this book might throw more light on how one can be a Buddhist atheist. It did not do so. There is no detailed discussion about how traditional Buddhism is altered by taking an atheist approach. Instead of such a discussion we go off on several diversions, some interesting, some not so interesting.

I found the account of the author's journey, through Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, "British College" Buddhism, ending in freelance Buddhism, quite interesting. But it was an ultimately disappointing account because it didn't inspire any confidence that the author had got anything much out of this long journey.

The Buddha's Four Noble Truths suggest there is an end to suffering through the cessation of craving. But the author explicitly concedes to craving, and pursuing, many things -- women, fame as an author, admiration from others, a farmhouse in France, a wife, extended family involvements. He now spends half of the year jetting round the world giving talks, the other half writing books and seeking to make money from them. There isn't much sign of humility or tranquillity here, or much sign of a desire to reform. He glories in his accomplishments and fame, and even in the fact that his mother glories in them. This all seems very far from Buddhism, atheist or not.

Another, rather boring, diversion was a lengthy account of the life and times of the Buddha. This doesn't concentrate on how the Buddha might have been an atheist, which might have been interesting, but focuses on the tedious political machinations of various aristocrats who helped or hindered the Buddha's progress in the world. This account might be of interest to specialist historians, but is a totally inappropriate and misleading diversion here.
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