Living with the Devil: A Buddhist Meditation on Good and Evil Hardcover – 1 Jul 2004
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Whether we are religious or not, the Devil evil incarnate is a concept that can still strike fear in our hearts. What if he does exist? What if he is causing all our problems in his determination to keep us from reaching our full potential? Stephen Batchelor takes the concept of the Devil out of literature and history and brings him to life in his many forms and guises: the flatterer, the playmate, the caring friend, the stranger who offers rest and solace, the person who knows you best and shows you your greatness in the world. And, most of all, as the great obstructer that blocks all paths to greatness and true humility. For the first time, Batchelor fuses Western literature, Milton, Keats, Baudelaire with Buddhism and the Judeo-Christian traditions in a poetic exploration of the struggle with the concept and reality of evil. Living With The Devil reveals the voice of new poet and philosopher for our times.
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As for the book, the thesis is simple: Without intention to harm, there can be no intention to do good. We do not become better than our base natures but learn to live with our selfish thoughts and illusions of self-importance . The most important lesson I took from this book is that my lofty goal of trying to be Buddha-like was actually undermining my efforts. The best way to describe it would be with an absurd analogy. Imagine your bladder is full and you've spent the last hour looking for a vacant bathroom. My mistake was to think I had to reach a state that transcended this whirl of internal commotion. The more suitable path was so close to me that I missed it. Once you realize that the state you are grasping at is precisely the ORDINARY state you found yourself in before you imbibed the excess liquid, you become instantly equanimous. The contingency of your whole life is revealed and worrying becomes extraneous.
Don't get me wrong; he has a helpful (especially because non-theistic) hypothesis. He has made a contribution to the thinking on this vast topic.
The best thing about this book is the prose. As always, Batchelor writes poetically, almost lyrically. It is a pleasure to read. Some might find it a book to be savored, and lingered over, and some might find, as I did, that it can be read and enjoyed in brief snatches.
Batchelor does a wonderful job of putting Buddhist thought into understandable language, and of making the ancient texts relevant to modern experience. For practitioners of Buddhism, like myself, this book can enhance one's understanding of any number of elements of Buddhism (e.g., meditation on the breath, having a body, human relationships, the idea of engaged Buddhism). I would imagine that for non-Buddhists, besides being exposed to a clear exposition on basic Buddhist philosophy, this book demonstrates how Western and Buddhist thinkers concur on the problem of evil in important ways.
This book could serve as a better introduction to Buddhism than most books that are so dry and doctrinal they put you to sleep. If you are a Buddhist scholar or meditation practitioner, read it too, as it may give you a few fresh perspectives (or take away some of your beloved opinions). Enjoy the book, and its reminder: There is no Buddha without Mara; there is no Nirvana without Samsara.
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