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After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age
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After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  479 ratings  ·  63 reviews
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. But 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 B
Hardcover, 381 pages
Published January 14th 2016 by Yale University Press (first published October 27th 2015)
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Jan 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It would be a mistake to cast Stephen Batchelor as Buddhism’s version of Harris, Hitchens, or Dawkins. Unlike the so-called New Atheists, his objective is not to destroy or ridicule but rather to reclaim the Buddha’s teachings from metaphysical distractions grafted on throughout Buddhism’s 2500 years of evolution. Given that the Buddha’s teachings have been adapted and changed to suit the varying cultures that adopted it – from China and Japan to India, Sri Lank, Vietnam, and elsewhere – it’s en ...more
Mar 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: buddhisty-stuff
There is something strange about a “Secular Buddhism” that is self-consciously modern, non-dogmatic, that purports to be a scientifically and critically informed Buddhism, and which harks back 2,500 years to the “true” words of the Master. Yet this is what Stephen Batchelor seems to do. Seeking to develop a modern approach to Buddhism by determining what the original Buddha said (and then interpreting what he really meant).

In general I like Stephen Batchelor’s work. He is thoughtful, engaging,
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I learned a thing or two about the Buddha, that's for sure. For one, I always thought he was top-drawer royalty, when really he was no big deal in the royal flush of lineages of India in his day. I also learned that the famous story of his striking out from the royal grounds and discovering sickness, old age, and death is made up. That shouldn't surprise me, though. He may have told the story himself, but he didn't live it in a biographical way. Certainly, though, it fit his dharma lessons. And ...more
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
With his latest book, After Buddhism, renowned scholar Stephen Batchelor continues to expand his vision for a “secular Buddhism”, a project he began nearly twenty years ago in his 1997 book Buddhism Without Beliefs. In that groundbreaking book, he sounded an urgent alarm about what he saw as the growing institutionalization of Buddhist thought and the consequences of such a rigid traditionalist approach. Now, in this new volume, he has put forth a less alarming, but still intensely urgent, call ...more
180916: this is a very interesting take on buddhism. at the beginning the author describes in his project, a desire to update buddhism of several religious interpretations with a secular understanding, born of the 2 500 years since gotama buddha is said to have lived. this is a noble intent. this requires a lot of rereading and much translation to identify exactly what early texts said, before they were 'corrupted' or 'overwritten' by descendant followers whose additions, emphasis, exclusion, of ...more
Tim Hickey
For the past couple of years I've been reading books about Secular Buddhism. I'll post reviews of some of those books soon. This one is the latest by Stephen Batchelor, a Buddhist who has trained in various traditional forms of Buddhism over the past 40 years, but after long reflection he rejected the metaphysical parts of Buddhist though (reincarnation, karma, etc.) and discovered that you can be an atheist and a Buddhist. This particular book lays out his view of a Buddhism for the modern age. ...more
James M. Madsen, M.D.
This was for me an exceptionally enlightening (pun intended) and enjoyable read--and listen: for parts of the book, I listened to parts of the iBooks audiobook narrated by the author and found his voice and tone to be suggestive of both care (with proper enunciation, pronunciation, and inflection) and also caring. I've read several of the reviews on Goodreads and understand how some readers can accuse Batchelor of trying to remake Buddhism to his own ends, much as Thomas Jefferson cut up a Bible ...more
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the better books on Buddhism that I've read and almost as useful and thought-provoking as Nichtern's ROAD HOME. Once again, as ever, "cultivating an awareness of feelings is crucial because many habitual reactive patterns are triggered as much by these subjective bodily affects as by the objects or persons we believe to be responsible for them". Ah those habitual reactive patterns, born of unmindful feeling states and unskillful thinking! Excellent analysis from a secularist viewpoint, co ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
Phenomenal (in all senses of the term). I’m on board with Batchelor: Buddhism as a pragmatic ethics rather than metaphysics is the way to go.
May 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully lucid exploration of Stephen Batchelor’s Secular Buddhism - that is, Buddhism for atheists and existentialists.

Putting the question of sanctioned doctrinal interpretation to one side (some of Batchelor’s translations and interpretations are contentious), this is a beautiful, thoughtful, reflective book about life, ethics, and morality. Hugely inspiring and highly recommended.
Peter Landau
Apr 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Buddha died after a bout of bloody diarrhea, but Buddhists don’t wear red stool around their necks. Otherwise, the religion that developed after the Buddha’s death shares many qualities with Christianity: conservative, staid and dogmatic. In his new book, AFTER BUDDHISM: RETHINKING THE DHARMA FOR A SECULAR AGE, Stephen Batchelor tries to free the Buddha from the cycle of repetitive traditions that neuter his teachings.

Much like recent books on the historical Jesus, which exposes a radical Jew w
Apr 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: dharma, audiobook
GOOD. Good. Actually, kind of a slog in the beginning. The first 50% of the book was a slog for me - I really struggled, ho jeez. 1-star start. But a 4-star end, really. I think I needed time to get into this: this is a DENSE book, it requires deep engagement, and that can be hard when you're trying to audiobook this on 2x speed while commuting to work and your USB-C cable keeps futzing out.

So, first recommendation: don't do this on audiobook, READ this instead.

Second recommendation
William Dury
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John Jr.
Dec 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, religion
This sentence from the publisher’s description puts it well: “Combining critical readings of the earliest canonical texts with narrative accounts of five of the Buddha’s inner circle, Batchelor depicts the Buddha as a pragmatic ethicist rather than a dogmatic metaphysician.” I won’t attempt to assess the book; other readers here and elsewhere have done that. I’ll say only that I was looking for things I can use and that I found some, among them the broad view of Buddhism as less concerned with u ...more
Roger Morris
The author managed to make a potentially intriguing thesis into a tedious exercise in retelling legendary narratives of Buddhism. I fail to see how spending entire chapters recounting the biographies of various Buddhist saints aimed to achieve his thesis of promoting a secular Buddhism for the 21st Century, devoid of ancient superstitions. Robert Wright has managed to achieve this in his recent book "Why Buddhism is True", and maintain a much more entertaining read in the process.
Dec 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely fantastic. One of the best books I have ever read. Secular Buddhism the way Batchelor explains it is crystal clear and its implications are profound. If you are interested in buddhist philosophy without dogmas this is a great place to start.
Josh Lovejoy
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I rated this book four stars when I was part way through it then changed it to five once I finished. The structure is tough at first because it seems all over the place. But the end brings it all together so perfectly and connects it all with such clarity. Amazing.
Jon Bash
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sometimes a difficult and dense read, but so full of giant nuggets of wisdom.
Jacques Coulardeau
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Who am I to tell Stephen Batchelor what to think? I discovered Buddha in 1961 or 62 when I equally read the Bible, Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Buddha, Marc and Engels, Lenin and even a little bit of Mao Zedong, not to speak of many other things and works like books on mathematical logic and building technology. At the time the Quran was not on my personal syllabus.

Buddhism never was a religion for me because for me a religion is attached to the concept of God or some supreme being and
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My rather faint and dilettantish interest in Buddhism has in recent years grown more serious, inspired in part by being seriously ill and unable to practice yoga as I used to, forcing me to turn to meditation instead. So I guess the people who believe that yoga is a gateway practice to Satanism are not entirely wrong.

Anyway, a regular meditation practice has led to an increasing interest in the philosophy and ethics of Buddhism, which, inasmuch as I knew anything of them, seemed more aligned wi
Oct 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dharma
The core of Buddhism is a teaching by one man, Gautama Siddharta. All the rest is ‘religion’: dogma’s, rituals, fantasy stories and shiploads of incense sticks. What if you would cut that all away, though? That is what Stephen Batchelor is after in ‘After Buddhism’, which I found to be a very lucid, inspiring and important book for a ‘post-credal age’.

First off, what was it that the Buddha was after?
[Gautama's] project was primarily ethical. He sought to establish a pragmatic framework to enable men a/>[Gautama's]
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I have been interested in buddhism since my late teens (I am now 60) and I found this book to resonate strongly with my earliest intuitive understanding of the essence of this religion as well as confirming a number of ideas that I have had about its metaphysical origins.
From what I have seen of some traditional practitioners of Buddhism strong negative response to the idea of a secular Buddhism, I doubt this book would be of interest to those whose principal commitment is to the dogma
Maughn Gregory
"To embrace life with comprehension involves coping. It has more to do with how we get about, deal with conflicts, realize possibilities, and engage with others than with acquiring knowledge of the nature of the mind or reality. Comprehension requires the opposite of aloofness; it requires being embedded in a culture, a language, a society, not to mention a flesh-and-blood body that inhales and exhales, eats and drinks, pisses and shits…. The knowing of pariñña is like the ways in which we know ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Batchelor's goal is to get back to the historical Buddha by reading the foundational text anew and stripping out the cultural layers that were added to Buddhism following the death of Gotama. What is left is a pragmatic way of living that is not dependent on a belief in an almighty God or afterlife or dogma. Batchelor's vision is a city of secular Buddhist who practice the orginal Buddhas teaching by caring for each other and living in this world. His city is not a utopia or city of God like St. ...more
Zachary Flessert
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a starting point for the hammering out of the philosophical foundation of secular buddhism. By alternating in chapters that investigate the lives of Gotama and his followers, Batchelor writes a book that is critical and analytical of the source text material (particularly the Pali canon) in order to understand certain aspects of Buddhism in its early days to see if a secular Buddhism can be constructed.

I think Batchelor has succeeded in that, in particular in creating something tha
Roger Whitson
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

I've read several self-help books on Buddhist thought, but very few of them match the erudition of Batchelor's study of the Pali texts in early Buddhism. To be sure, as other reviewers have noted, there's an assertion of an essential Buddhism in parts of the text that runs counter to its overall ethos — which is the only reason why this book didn't get 5 stars from me.

Putting that aside, it's a powerful introduction that is both historical and theoretical on what Batchelor
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’m a big fan of irony and subverting expectations, especially in an attempt to prove a point. In this work, Stephen Batchelor does a great job of subverting the TITLE. He describes the time Before “Buddhism”, during Gotama’s life when the lectures and teachings had not yet been codified into a Religion. Building on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of commentary, Batchelor presents a living Buddhism; shaped by the times and places it spread. He argues that Gotama intended for Buddhist thought to b ...more
Edward Taylor
Aug 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
I love reading Stephen Batchelor's books on secular Buddhism and this one is no exception, well except how unbelievably dry it is. Rethinking Dharma does not always mean you have to drum out each and every esoteric reference in the cannon nor does it mean you have to constantly rehash the same items in the same chapter (hell, between chapters once or twice max please) - If you love a good philosophical discourse (ala [book:The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures|227162)) with Buddhism in ...more
Matthew Shinker
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had to take my time to read, digest and meditate on the ideas Batchelor put forward in this book. It seems like the main idea was to strip Buddhism down, remove the rites, rituals and dogma and focus on the core tenets of what Gotama taught. Stephen Batchelor has a remarkable way of doing this and then relating it all back to practitioners today. I've read many of his books and they're all great. I'm glad I read this one and highly recommend it.

The key take away for me is that Budd
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was introduced to Stephen Batchelor through a course I took called Demystifying Mindfulness. The course included several interviews with Stephen and I found that his interpretations of the information were meaningful for me. So, I bought this book. I enjoyed this book very much. Every few pages I had to stop and think about what was said and figure out how the ideas fit into my own philosophy. Discussions with friends were often and passionate. I had fun. Consequently, this book took me severa ...more
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“Many centuries after the Buddha, the Chinese Chan (Zen) patriarch Yunmen (c. 860–949) was asked: “What are the teachings of an entire lifetime?” Yunmen replied: “An appropriate statement.”6 For Yunmen, what counts is whether your words and deeds are an appropriate response to the situation at hand, not whether they accord with an abstract truth.” 5 likes
“Instead of asking “What is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to do?” the practitioner asks, “What is the wisest and most compassionate thing to do?” 3 likes
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