Synopses & Reviews
Written with the same brilliance and boldness that made Buddhism Without Beliefs
a classic in its field, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
is Stephen Batchelor’s account of his journey through Buddhism, which culminates in a groundbreaking new portrait of the historical Buddha.
Stephen Batchelor grew up outside London and came of age in the 1960s. Like other seekers of his time, instead of going to college he set off to explore the world. Settling in India, he eventually became a Buddhist monk in Dharamsala, the Tibetan capital-in-exile, and entered the inner circle of monks around the Dalai Lama. He later moved to a monastery in South Korea to pursue intensive training in Zen Buddhism. Yet the more Batchelor read about the Buddha, the more he came to believe that the way Buddhism was being taught and practiced was at odds with the actual teachings of the Buddha himself.
Charting his journey from hippie to monk to lay practitioner, teacher, and interpreter of Buddhist thought, Batchelor reconstructs the historical Buddha’s life, locating him within the social and political context of his world. In examining the ancient texts of the Pali Canon, the earliest record of the Buddha’s life and teachings, Batchelor argues that the Buddha was a man who looked at human life in a radically new way for his time, more interested in the question of how human beings should live in this world than in notions of karma and the afterlife. According to Batchelor, the outlook of the Buddha was far removed from the piety and religiosity that has come to define much of Buddhism as we know it today.
Both controversial and deeply personal, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist is a fascinating exploration of a religion that continues to engage the West. Batchelor’s insightful, deeply knowledgeable, and persuasive account will be an essential book for anyone interested in Buddhism.
"Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs (1997) described a 'secular' approach to the Eastern philosophy stripped of doctrines such as karma and rebirth; how a young British monk ordained in the Tibetan tradition turned into a 'Buddhist atheist' is revealed in this new book. On the dharma trail in India and Korea, and later as a lay resident at the nonsectarian Sharpham community in England, Batchelor was beset by doubts about traditional Buddhist teachings. Finally convinced that present-day forms of Buddhism have moved far beyond what founder Gotama had intended, Batchelor embarked on a study of the Pali canon (very early Buddhist texts) to find out what the Buddha's original message might have been. Batchelor's own 'story of conversion' is woven effortlessly with his analysis of Buddhist teachings and a 2003 pilgrimage to Indian sites important in the Buddha's life. He is candid about his disillusionments with institutionalized Buddhism without engaging in another 'new atheist' broadside against religion. While Batchelor may exaggerate the novelty of his 'Buddhism without beliefs' stance, this multifaceted account of one Buddhist's search for enlightenment is richly absorbing." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“A daring and reasoned work of remarkable scope, vision, scholarship, and promise.”—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses
“Batchelor makes the dharma come thrillingly alive. A masterful achievement.”—Mark Epstein, MD, author of Thoughts without a Thinker
"Brilliant, illuminating, and thought provoking, After Buddhism deserves the ultimate compliment for a work of this kind: it is useful. In probing the ancient scriptures in search of a Buddha we can relate to, Batchelor makes his dharma come thrillingly alive. A masterful achievement."—Mark Epstein, MD, author of Thoughts without a Thinker
“In this remarkable book, Stephen Batchelor transcends Buddhist dogma to surface a vision of the dharma that goes right to the heart of our contemporary global culture. Through diligent scholarship and years of practice, the author sheds new and revelatory light on the dharma. This is a must-read for all students of Buddhism.”—Joan Halifax, PhD, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center
“An audacious disquisition on Buddhism, universal dharma, reality, and suffering for the 21st century. Batchelor posits that for the deep wisdom of Buddhism to serve humanity fully in our time, it may have to transcend itself.”—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Coming to Our Senses
“Stephen Batchelor is perhaps the finest and wisest guide in the world today to the complicated path that is combining Buddhism with humanism. For those of us who struggle with modern problems that cannot be solved by religion alone, this book will help if we are wondering what to do ‘after Buddhism.’”—Greg M. Epstein, author of Good without God
A renowned Buddhist teacher’s magnum opus, based on his fresh reading of the tradition’s earliest texts
Some twenty-five centuries after the Buddha started teaching, his message continues to inspire people across the globe, including those living in predominantly secular societies. What does it mean to adapt religious practices to secular contexts?
Stephen Batchelor, an internationally known author and teacher, is committed to a secularized version of the Buddha’s teachings. The time has come, he feels, to articulate a coherent ethical, contemplative, and philosophical vision of Buddhism for our age. After Buddhism, the culmination of four decades of study and practice in the Tibetan, Zen, and Theravada traditions, is his attempt to set the record straight about who the Buddha was and what he was trying to teach. Combining critical readings of the earliest canonical texts with narrative accounts of five members of the Buddha’s inner circle, Batchelor depicts the Buddha as a pragmatic ethicist rather than a dogmatic metaphysician. He envisions Buddhism as a constantly evolving culture of awakening whose long survival is due to its capacity to reinvent itself and interact creatively with each society it encounters.
This original and provocative book presents a new framework for understanding the remarkable spread of Buddhism in today’s globalized world. It also reminds us of what was so startling about the Buddha’s vision of human flourishing.
About the Author
What are you trying to achieve in this book?
After Buddhism is the culmination of forty years of thinking about and practicing the dharma as a modern Westerner. I pull together a number of threads that I have explored in earlier writings, such as Buddhism without Beliefs. In all of my writings I address the question of how the teachings of this ancient Asian religion might speak to the condition of our secular age. This new work is an attempt to recover what was truly original about the Buddha's vision and to acquire a better understanding of the man himself. Recent scholarship affords us both a clearer picture of the historical world in which Gotama lived and more critical insight into the earliest discourses. Together, these allow the possibility of rethinking the dharma from the ground up.
Who have you written this book for?
With the widespread adoption of mindfulness, more and more people find themselves practicing a form of meditation that is rooted in the Buddhist tradition. I hope this book might do for Buddhist ethics and philosophy what the mindfulness movement has done for Buddhist meditation: provide a framework of values and ideas that have been stripped of their religious and metaphysical associations to reveal a practical way of life that is available to all—which might help us deal with some of the urgent questions we face as a human community in the twenty-first century.