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Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  3,853 ratings  ·  214 reviews
A national bestseller andacclaimed 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 tha
Paperback, 127 pages
Published March 1st 1998 by Riverhead Books (first published April 14th 1997)
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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
Jun 09, 2008 Kat rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
May 17, 2010 DJ rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
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
Feb 22, 2009 Wayne rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Matthew Fellows
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
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
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
Jul 06, 2014 Yasemin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
James Carroll
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
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
Jul 22, 2010 Lori rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Samuel Snoek-Brown
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
Dharmamitra Jeff Stefani
Jul 26, 2013 Dharmamitra Jeff Stefani rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Heidi Wiechert
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
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
John Schwabacher
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
Brandon Blair
This short book has significantly changed my worldview for the better. As one of many humans driving themselves crazy with questions, paranoia, and frustration, Batchelor had me step back and try to identify the roots of my 'anguish' (insert any negative emotion here) and realize that much of it stemmed from my desire for things to be other than they are. The more I thought about it, the more I realized my expectations were indeed the source of much of my own anguish, with the remainder heavily ...more
Elf M.
Dec 31, 2014 Elf M. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Elf by: alt.atheism

Stephen Batchelor has written a very short little book in which he writes a lot of very sensible things about the way Buddhist religiosity gets in the way of Buddhist practice. His best example is that of the Four Ennobling Truths, which get turned into propositions of fact to be believed before one can proceed, that "Life is Suffering," "Suffering is caused by Desire," "To escape Suffering one must eliminate Desire," and "Having eliminated Desire, one must avoid returning to it," and so on. Bat

Although I just added this to my shelf a couple of days ago, I've actually been reading this book for 5 weeks. This is important to note because while this book is short, it's incredibly dense. I initially had some issue with the title, but I don't now that I've read the book. When Batchelor says without beliefs, he means dogma, tradition, religion...ossification, and he makes a fair argument that Buddhism was initially agnostic and that the karma/rebirth element was a matter of culture rather t ...more
Batchelor is one of many who shares the wisdom and teachings of Buddhism as a guide to life rather than a religion. He argues for an "agnostic" Buddhism by discarding the traditional (Eastern) tenets of reincarnation and karma. His sections on mindfulness, awareness, and compassion are excellent and his suggestions for meditations and what you'll get from them are clear and inviting.
Rhnelson Nelson
Feb 07, 2010 Rhnelson Nelson is currently reading it
I just discovered this book. I've been attracted to Buddhism for quite a while now. I've attended three or four buddhist services here in Eugene but I was always turned off by the religious trappings. This seems to be what I'm looking for. Now I just have to find local people to discuss this with. On to Craigslist!! :-)
I've finished this, but am going to withhold a review until I finish his next book (that I'm just starting on), Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. Watch this space.

OK, I'm back. Really, I'll give this a solid 3.5. Since I'm going to ramble more in the other review, I'll summarize my thinking about this volume on it's own. Its good basic explication of Buddhist wisdom and teachings, separated from the Buddhist religious tenets of rebirth and karma (particularly as a force acting on a given "soul"
Like most of my Buddhist books, if you like Zen shit, you'll like this. It's like a comfort book for me. Very existential, very short, light reading. I'd recommend it, and you will probably like the underlying concepts of Buddhism more after reading it.
Lúcia Collischonn
This book offers the reader many insights into the idea of an agnostic Buddhism. The author explains that Dharma practice and Awakening have been transformed through the ages to form a belief system, but that this wasn't necessarily the initial idea. With his clear, but, at the same time, philosophical explanations, Batchelor offers us thought-provoking ideas and prepositions about the role of buddhism not as a religion, a belief system, but as a method for awareness. Many pillars of contemporar ...more
Laura Scott
Feb 04, 2014 Laura Scott rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
What i like about this book is that it's about the practice of Buddhism—Dharma practice, in particular. It's about releasing oneself from anguish, and I think he explains it quite well.

For Batchelor, Buddhism isn't a religion so much as it's a philosophy, a way of viewing and living life. Other authors, such as Byron Katie, have picked up on this outlook and reframed it into modern day language, but Batchelor sticks to the Buddhist roots.

At any rate, I recommend this book for everyone, including
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as per title 2 39 Oct 06, 2011 01:53PM  
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  • Buddhism Plain and Simple
  • Nothing Special
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  • Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness
  • Hooked!: Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume
  • What the Buddha Taught. With Texts from Suttas & Dhammapada
  • Awakening the Buddhist Heart: Integrating Love, Meaning, and Connection into Every Part of Your Life
  • What Makes You Not a Buddhist
  • It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness
  • Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen
  • No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva
  • The Heart Sutra
  • In the Buddha's Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon
  • Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy, and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation
  • Insight Meditation: A Step-by-step Course on How to Meditate
  • The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra
  • Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path
Confession of a Buddhist Atheist Living with the Devil Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism The Faith to Doubt: Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture

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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.” 8 likes
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