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Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  5,156 Ratings  ·  271 Reviews
A national bestseller and acclaimed guide to Buddhism for beginners and practitioners alike

In this simple but important volume, Stephen Batchelor reminds us that the Buddha was not a mystic who claimed privileged, esoteric knowledge of the universe, but a man who challenged us to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, and bring into being a way of life th
Paperback, 127 pages
Published March 1st 1998 by Riverhead Books (first published April 14th 1997)
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Jun 01, 2010 Greg rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism
In my personal and soon to be trademarked ethical system, Don't be an Asshole, this book would garner a thumbs up and I'd recommend it as a guidebook for not being an asshole, with Meditation! Or if that is grammatically suspect using meditation to not be an asshole. Not how to use meditation in an non-assholically manner, but that might be the case too.

For some reason this book took me two months to read. At 120 pages, that means I averaged a whopping two pages a day. Yay, me! Not that I read
May 21, 2008 Kat rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Kat by: Prof. Dana Jack
Shelves: 5-stars
Batchelor is not pro-Buddhism as a religion, or pro-religion at all. He advocates gently but incisively for a "passionate agnosticism"--admitting that you don't know and probably never can, but that this doesn't let you off the hook, since the attempt to find out is necessary to your mental/spiritual survival. He presents Buddhist techniques as common-sense, highly effective ways of dealing with existential problems, and Buddhist philosophy as a framework for understanding things that will becom ...more
Quite possibly my only reason for reading this was so that I could write a review saying that this book throws the Buddha out with the bathwater. But my delight in making poor, feeble jokes is a ridiculous basis for writing reviews particularly when the author's aspiration is to through the Buddhism out with the bathwater while saving the Buddha as a person who had certain ideas.

Apart from the beginning and the end of the book Batchelor more or less forgets his objective, so most of the book is
Meh. Maybe I shouldn't have expected much, but I was beginning to be disappointed even before the first chapter began, and the opening lines of that chapter confirmed my suspicion.

The "without Beliefs" of the title is, frankly, a lie. Perhaps this is a description of Buddhism with something subtracted, such as the mystical mumbo jumbo that seems to inhere in anything as old as a major world religion (and, of course, especially in religions), but there are still plenty of beliefs.

For example, the
Adrian Rush
As this gem of a book points out, "Buddhism without beliefs" is a redundancy. Batchelor cuts to the heart of what sets Buddhism apart from other world religious traditions: It encourages practitioners to question, to penetrate, to rigorously examine everything -- even the Buddha's teachings themselves -- and not to take things on blind faith. In other words, just because a religious leader hands you a doctrine and tells you to believe in something, that isn't good enough. The goal of Buddhism, a ...more
Oct 04, 2010 Eric added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zen
I might use this as my standard recommendation both for

1. Fellow atheists and sort of Reason-oriented folks with a mistrust of religion. Point isn't try Buddhism, it's Different; as getting the point across about what Buddhism is about/after.

2. Folks who have embraced Buddhism but seem to have gotten the wrong idea about it (ha! as if I knew what the right idea was)

Quotes I found helpful:

"Dharma practice can never be in contradiction with science, not because it provides some mystical validation
Jan 17, 2012 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
It's long been a cause of great frustration that my attempts to investigate the Buddhist philosophy have repeatedly plunged me into the supernatural. Over the centuries, and in different ways in different areas, Buddhism has become a religion, collecting various ideas on the after-life, reincarnation, multi-incarnation karma, Buddhist hells, demons, and even a pantheon of near-divine once-humans to whom we are exhorted to chant or prostate or pray. Or any combination of the above.

And this was fr
May 06, 2010 DJ rated it it was ok
Recommended to DJ by: David Livingston
Shelves: philosophy
Reading this book was a bit like listening to my grandpa rant about LBJ's foreign policy decisions - he's probably right, but without the background to appreciate his frustrations, all I can do is listen and squirm awkwardly in my chair.

Batchelor's book is a polemic against the modern transformation of Buddhism into something as dogmatic and unquestioning as Western religions. He points out that Buddhism is a personal practice of continual awareness and questioning, not a set of beliefs, commitm
Dec 01, 2008 Wayne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the essentials of Buddhism, no nonsense stuff.
Recommended to Wayne by: Big Sister Di !!

To join the Big Clubs or Cults of Catholicism, Hill Song, the Evangelicals etc. etc one must accept a certain set of so-called truths which in no way impinge on the ethical. (I've known plenty who swear by the Virgin Birth but cheat on their wives.)
Buddhism, shorn of its religious trappings of prayer wheels, exotic names, orange robes, priesthoods, hierarchies and consequent blinding fog etc. becomes no set of beliefs but a way of behaving, which we often stumble upon ourselves through sheer c
It's probably been nearly two decades since I read anything by Stephen Batchelor, but few write with the kind of clarity and thoughtfulness as he does. Sure, this covers the basics, but he always manages to frame things in a different light, to use analogies that open up different perspectives, and to simultaneously convey both a simplicity and an awe about life and approaching it through Buddhism. Instead of rambling on, I'll just share a few choice passages:

"Agnosticism is no excuse for indeci
Matthew Fellows
May 19, 2013 Matthew Fellows rated it it was amazing
Very good. For those interested in finding a meaningful way of navigating existence without the dogmatic mystical nonsense of religion I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Incidentally, this philosophical approach provides a great alternative to the inane neo-hippie/hipster appropriation of Buddhist catchwords so prevalent in some parts of contemporary Western culture.

I was going to fault Batchelor for not explicitly pointing out the ways in which this secular Buddhism is so strikingly si
A concise and straightforward introduction to the practice of meditation, awareness, compassion, integrity. It steers away from dogma on the parts that might trouble the sceptic such as Karma and reincarnation, recommending a resounding "I don't know" as the only possible reasonable attitude - which is fair enough I suppose, since no-one can know. I have to say that the first part, Basics, was fine with me, but I began to have the allergic reaction in the second and third sections, where it tend ...more
Craig Shoemake
This is my second reading of this book. I can't remember exactly when I read it the first time; the early ohs, probably. But given some of the comments I'd made in the margins, I expected to disagree-perhaps violently-with a lot of it. I was pleasantly surprised.

One thought that kept occurring to me as I read was to try to figure out if the book was appropriate for beginners to Buddhism, or strictly for more experienced sorts. Honestly, I'm still not sure about that, because exactly how to clas
Jess Mukavetz
Nov 10, 2015 Jess Mukavetz rated it liked it
4 stars for content, 3 for execution and delivery.

Buddhism Without Beliefs was not a particularly easy read, despite its slight page count. Stephen Batchelor's prose was very, very, very dry. Although he clearly and concisely explained the concepts of Buddhism unlike I've previously read (Buddhism in Very Plain English would be an apt alternative title), his language was imbued with absolutely no sense of style, wit, or warmth. It's not a book to sit down and knock out in a day or two. I barely
Jan 07, 2013 Behzad rated it it was amazing
For a long time, I have been interested in attempts to combine certain secular aspects of Western culture with Buddhism. Stephen Bachelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs is an important contribution to the effort to harmonize Western thought with the Buddhist understanding of the mind. Bachelor has helped me see that what I like the best about the West and Buddhism are the same -- the promise of a free mind. I can do without the rest -- the West's militarism, ideological conformity, and mindless cons ...more
Jun 29, 2014 Yasemin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every human being
I will shove this book down to everybody's throat like a top class a**hole :-)

Cultivate compassion. Accept the truth. Keep your mind pure. Align your actions with pure intentions. Don't act out of worldly-concepts (diseases) such as anger, revenge, gain, pain, greed, recognition, loss, desire, reputation. Free your mind from these diseases and you will be free, wherever you are. In my opinion, it is all common sense. But not all of us think enough to realize that.

This book convinced me that 1 pe
Dharmamitra Jeff Stefani
May 07, 2012 Dharmamitra Jeff Stefani rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: All Buddhist
Recommended to Dharmamitra Jeff by: Saramati and Sona
4 STARS+: He comes off more "cerebral" than experiential-based Insight. That said, Mr Batchelor is an indispensable, World-Renowned Buddhist Scholar, Writer, a former Monk in the tibetan Tradition with a genuine and original approach to articulating the essence of the Buddha's Dharma, firmly grounded in the Pali Canon, (and I wouldn't be surprised if he's not well-versed in all "primary Dharma" Sutta's and Sutras, in their Original Language, (Pali, Sanskrit, etc. It seems unlikely he's not liter ...more
Mar 20, 2010 Lori rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: agnostics
"I am confused." writes Stephen Batchelor. "I am confused by the sheer irrationality, ambiguity, and abundance of things coming into being at all. I am confused by having been born into a world from which I will be ejected by death. I am confused as to who or why I am. I am confused by a labyrinth of choices I face. I don't know what to do."

He goes on: "This confusion is not a state of darkness in which I fail to see anything. It is partial blindness rather than sightlessness."

One way in which w
Apr 26, 2012 Deborah rated it it was amazing
When I first identified myself as a Buddhist, I was not entirely sure what that meant, so the past sixteen years have represented an unfolding and discovery of what it meant ~ for me. Was I simply trading my old Catholic Religion in for something hipper? Did it mean I was still going to surrender to the authority du jour, this time with an Asian flavor? Well, I have realized in my discovery process, that I have a real problem with Authority within the trappings of Religion, any Religion.

The pop
James Carroll
Feb 20, 2015 James Carroll rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religious
I highly recommend Stephen Batchelor's excellent book "Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening" to anyone struggling to find peace and meaning in life without any reference to a belief in the super natural. Stephen Batchelor is an atheist. But he also admits, frankly, to being an atheist Buddhist (a member of a religion), and finds nothing incompatible in those claims. This book does an excellent job describing a form of Buddhism that can be practiced without any supernatural ...more
Samuel Snoek-Brown
Aug 20, 2011 Samuel Snoek-Brown rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism
It's a good book, and I generally like Stephen Batchelor. But I have two main problems with this book: 1) he tends let his poetic flourishes -- which I usually love -- get away from him, sometimes making his prose seem a bit empty. Words for the sake of words. I don't that's actually a fair assessment of the book -- it's just how I felt while reading it. And 2) -- and MUCH more importantly -- I was expecting a book on how one doesn't need to embrace Buddhism as a religion, by faith alone, but, w ...more
Dec 30, 2012 Larry rated it liked it
Good overall position for discussion for those of us who adhere to the philosophy of Buddhism but due to a life time of "joining" Churches flee from the "religious" tag. Its a fine line but one that needs much discussion. Why so many wish to brand Buddhism as a religion when in fact it is not, even the Buddha didn't purport to be a God or have any divine attributes has was very human; he was just enlightened! In that lies the distortion for those of us who wish to organize the mediation group in ...more
Steve Woods
Sep 17, 2011 Steve Woods rated it it was amazing
Stephen Batchelor is an important author for anyone interested in Buddhism to become acquainted with. Many of the primary tenets of Buddhist practice are quite difficult for westerners to get to grips with and this book is probably the best primer I have seen. He strips away all the jargon and the religious mumbo jumbo that often keeps people from direct contact with a way of thinking and living life that has probably saved mine. The exercises he presents here provide an opportunity for first co ...more
Josh Silverman
Feb 23, 2016 Josh Silverman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, self, buddhism
Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism without Beliefs" provides a clear reinforcement of core Buddhist philosophy. Batchelor offers some of the most effective metaphors for understanding and applying Buddhism that I've encountered -- such as his explanation of Dharma practice in terms of "movement along the path of emptiness." His explanation of individual experience through the metaphors of growing tulips and the Ship of Theseus is also powerful, demonstrating that all named things are actually process ...more
Heidi The Hippie Librarian
Nov 20, 2014 Heidi The Hippie Librarian rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism
Batchelor starts his discussion with the idea that the Buddha didn't set out to found a religion. He was trying to impart a set of skills for the reduction or elimination of suffering. Most of the religious stuff came later after his death or as a response to questions that people asked while the Buddha was still alive. I found myself drawing parallels in my mind to Christianity. I wonder how much anyone really "intends" to start a religion. And, I definitely agreed with Batchelor in that organi ...more
Darin Bradley
Sep 19, 2016 Darin Bradley rated it really liked it
A very readable meditation (pardon the pun) on the tenets of Buddhist thought free of dogmatic ballast. Batchelor really demonstrate how to think about the issue in a simple, reflective manner. Readers familiar with the tenets of Buddhist thought will see familiar ideas in the book, but Batchelor leaves their recognition up to the individual rather that signposting them. The result is a non-authoritarian survey of modern dharma.

I read this of the course of several months. Batchelor arranges this
May 21, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it
While most religions preach fear and hope and offer consolation to believers; Buddhism is a practice inviting us to let go of fear and hope and confront the often shocking, painful, joyous, frustrating, awesome, stubborn and ambiguous reality. We are free from belief in consoling fantasies, from reciting dogmatic answers to unanswerable questions, free from self-centered pursuit of perfection. We are invited to see for ourselves the contingent, ever changing, selfless nature of mysterious existe ...more
Sep 21, 2015 Marta rated it really liked it
Very good introduction to the four golden truths of Buddhism: that suffering is universal, that suffering can be understood, that suffering can end, and that there is a practice that can guide us to the end of suffering. He explains the teachings clearly and with modern examples from our daily, Western lives. He bogs down, however, whenever he talks about Buddhism as a religion or its place in modern society. Those parts are boring and opinionated - mercifully short, though. The whole book is sh ...more
John Schwabacher
Sep 28, 2011 John Schwabacher rated it really liked it
Something of a guide to Buddhist meditation and practice. Batchelor discusses what it means to him to practice in the modern world the path described by the Buddha. He says that Buddhism has changed throughout history and that modern westerners can profitably discard archaic beliefs that have accreted around Buddhist culture and thought.
He argues that the Buddha's acceptance of reincarnation is due to his culture and points out that Buddha always said that dharma practice is valuable even if rei
Jan 16, 2016 Sam rated it it was amazing
A much more accessible read than Alone With Others, in that Batchelor doesn't rely on scholarly language and references. He speaks plainly here, and roots his discussion in real-life examples. His prose is the better for it, and his case is clearly made. What case is that? Read and find out.

(I wrote more and explained a bit but I put in a smiley emoji after "Read and find out" which it seems goodreads took to mean "don't save anything after this". Ah, databases.)
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as per title 2 40 Oct 06, 2011 01:53PM  
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“Great works of art in all cultures succeed in capturing within the constraints of their form both the pathos of anguish and a vision of its resolution. Take, for example, the languorous sentences of Proust or the haiku of Basho, the late quartets and sonatas of Beethoven, the tragicomic brushwork of Sengai or the daunting canvases of Rothko, the luminous self-portraits of Rembrandt and Hakuin. Such works achieve their resolution not through consoling or romantic images whereby anguish is transcended. They accept anguish without being overwhelmed by it. They reveal anguish as that which gives beauty its dignity and depth.” 23 likes
“We could decide simply to remain absorbed in the mysterious, unformed, free-play of reality. This would be the choice of the mystic who seeks to extinguish himself in God or Nirvana—analogous perhaps to the tendency among artists to obliterate themselves with alcohol or opiates. But if we value our participation in a shared reality in which it makes sense to make sense, then such self-abnegation would deny a central element of our humanity: the need to speak and act, to share our experience with others.” 12 likes
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