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Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  4,831 ratings  ·  274 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
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Spiegel & Grau (first published 2010)
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Apr 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
First, I should say a brief word about the title: Buddhism is an atheistic religion, so being a Buddhist atheist is not anything at all unusual. Now, granted, many sects of Buddhism believe in various deities and spirits; however, one of the key teachings of Siddhattha Gotama (Batchelor uses the Pali spellings) was his rejection of the theism--his rejection of the existence of Brahman and Atman: God, The Absolutle, the Self--of the Hindu culture in which he lived. Gotama's atheism, as Batchelor ...more
Rebecca Dobrinski
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Atheism is NOT About You

Really, it’s not. It is not an affront to your existence. It is about science. It is about questioning and searching for answers. It is about thinking for oneself.

For the God-themed issue of Zen Dixie, I read three books on atheism. No, these books did not provide me with any life-changing realizations – it was more like, as “they” say, “preaching to the choir.”

Yes, I am an atheist. No, I do not believe in anyone else’s God. And, like I said in the opening paragraph, my a
Nandakishore Mridula
This we may term the fundamental posture of the Buddhist mind. The serious commitment of the Occidental mind to the concerns and value of the living person is fundamentally dismissed, as it is in Jainism, and in the Sankhya too. However, the usual Oriental concern for the monad also is dismissed. There is no reincarnating hero-monad to be saved, released, or found. All life is sorrowful, and yet, there is no self, no being, no entity, in sorrow. There is no reason, consequently, to feel loathing ...more
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality
Not since Chogyam Trungpa's "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism" has an analysis of Buddhism had such a profound effect on me. Part spiritual autobiography, part scholarly text. Batchelor's monastic journey led to studies and work with many important teachers (the Dalai Lama, for one). But his quest became stymied by increasing unease, due to unquestioning allegiances, archaic conventions and, eventually, as he dug deeper into the Pali Canon (bless his patience), contradictions about the hist ...more
Apr 21, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: buddhism
I gave up. He lost me when he ran out of stuff to say, but still had half the book left to write.
robin friedman
Apr 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Secular Buddhism

One of the attractions that Buddhism has offered to Westerners is the opportunity to pursue a nontheistic spiritual life outside the contours of traditional Judaism or Christianity. Thus, the title of Stephen Batchelor's recent book, "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist" (2010) is provocative and surprising on the surface in that Batchelor is "confessing" his "atheism" as if it were inconsistent with "Buddhism". But Batchelor understands the teachings of various traditional Buddhis
Jim Coughenour
Mar 20, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: fans of 1 star reviews
Shelves: memoir, spirituality
"I am glad I belong to a religion that worships a tree." No, this is not Jake Sully saluting the Na'vi in Avatar – it's Stephen Batchelor explaining his "Buddhist atheism." But in this case, 3D means dull, dispiriting and diffuse.

I enjoy confessions, especially when they involve spiritual conturbation: Mark Matousek's Sex, Death, Enlightenment; Andrew Harvey's The Sun at Midnight; even Frank Schaeffer's half-cocked Crazy for God. I also (if rarely) appreciate oblique approaches to spirituality,
Jenn "JR"
Dec 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir-essay
As an atheist, finding myself surrounded by ever increasing volume and number of voices espousing Buddhist beliefs, I was immediately drawn to this book.

I expected more discussion of atheism vs Buddhism but what I found was more detail about the fragmented schools of thought that make up Buddhism. Some of the stories after the mid-point of the book about all the politics of men seemed a bit "one too many' -- perhaps forming the basis of other reviewers critiques that the author ran out of inter
Aug 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: buddhism
I'd give Part One, the autobiographical section, a four; my only criticism is that it is too short and lacks detail. Part Two, however, merits at most a two. It is the bulk of the work, and should really be called "In Search of the Historic Buddha." Other reviews have commented that they are not historians and so don't feel that they can judge. I, on the other hand, am an historian, and can and do judge it. This is not a work of history; it is, at best, a speculative work. It is a work written b ...more
David Teachout
There are some reviews describing the book as a meandering and sometimes confusing foray into Buddhism and quote the author in his confession of taking on projects in an erstwhile and haphazard fashion. I won't go against the author in his self-description but I will note that the result is neither confusing nor meandering, if anything it achieves exactly what it declares itself to be, a journey of confession where searching for the man behind the myth, the Gotama behind the Buddha, becomes an e ...more
Frank Jude
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Open-minded people.
This is simply a wonderful book! The reaction to it from the more 'conservative' Buddhists (like B. Allan Wallace, from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and others from the Theravada) is all the evidence one would need to prove Batchelor's point: there are all too many Buddhists who praise the Buddha and the Buddhist traditions for it's rationality and critical questioning, but keep their questioning from reflecting back on the tradition. For such people, it's as though their understanding of wha ...more
May 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book was a bit scattered, it was well worth reading.
Full review:
Jul 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: have-it, non-fiction
This is the first Stephen Batchelor book I have read, and it definitely won't be the last. It's exactly what I was looking for. The first half of the book describes his own experience as a Buddhist monk primarily in Tibet and Korea, up until he disrobed. The second half focuses on the Buddha's life and teachings, based on Batchelor's research of the Pali Canon and his own experience in Asia as a lay practitioner.

I think it's safe to say that Batchelor is a representative of Western Buddhism, whi
Jul 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Is Buddhism without beliefs ever really possible?

I think I may be going through an existential crisis right now in my life. Perhaps I have become too much of a jaded cynic, and I occasionally experience empathy fatigue, but I want to believe in something, only that I am not sure in what.

While I typically feel sufficiently content in my beliefs, or lack thereof, I have started to notice lately that I hold in consciousness some pockets of something that I can only describe as "emptiness", or "c
"To practice the Dharma is like making a collage. You collect ideas, images, insights, philosophical styles, meditation methods, and ethical values that you find here and there in Buddhism, bind them securely together, then launch your raft into the river of life. As long as it does not sink or disintegrate and can get you to the other shore, then it works. That is all that matters. It need not correspond to anyone else's idea of what "Buddhism" is or should be." P229

So concludes Stephen Batche
Stephen Batchelor has been an advocate of Buddhism for several decades, but his thought has turned to stripping away from Buddhism what he feels are extraneous beliefs and practices. His book Buddhism without Beliefs caused a firestorm for suggesting that the doctrines of rebirth and karma, present in all historical expressions of Buddhism across Asia, are not essential to the religion. In Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, he expands on this new viewpoint.

This is essentially two books in one. Ba
Pooja Kashyap
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Confession of a Buddhist Atheist is beautifully woven and presented by Stephen Batchelor in form of a written collage, as he himself mentions at the end of the book. Although the book is in narrative mode yet no where we found it a story presented by the writer in fact, while I was into the book, I felt as if Stephen is talking to me and describing the sequence of his life’s events which led him towards Buddhism and finally his discovery of motif in life.

Having scant religious indoctrination the
Maughn Gregory
Mar 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book confirms my suspicions and observations that Buddhism - especially of the Tibetan varieties - can be just as rigid in its orthodoxies, just as jealously sectarian, and just as ridiculously superstitious as the other religions of the world. Batchelor's recommendation, as always, is not to treat Buddhism as a religion at all: a set of necessary beliefs, an agenda of personal salvation tied to an eschatology (what happens after I die, how the world will end), or trust in magical priestcra ...more
Talbot Hook
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
It was immensely refreshing to finally read an author's approval of having biases, and an individuality based upon lived experience. This is one of the better books on Buddhism I have read, and that is simply because it was not trying so damn hard to be objective. Batchelor realizes that his conceptualization of Buddhism, and of the historical Buddha, is highly personalized, and all the more meaningful because of it.

Jul 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Overall, good, but it slowed down toward the end, when he makes a collage out of his pilgrim trip to India, reconstruction of the historical Buddha, and Dalai Lama's politics. ...more
Daniel Roy
A thought-provoking book with some fascinating insight into the world of Buddhism, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist is ultimately marred by a scattered approach to its subject matter.

The first part of the book (its first third, roughly) appealed to me immensely, as Mr. Batchelor recounts the path that took him from eager convert to Tibetan Buddhism, to that of a secular thinker critical of the modern edifice of his chosen religion. Unfortunately, in the second part Stephen Batchelor is more conc
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has much more than I thought it would. It not only deals with the life and the way of thinking of the author, but also reformulates and elaborates on the Four Noble Truths and gives a more realistic account of the Buddha's life. The book also touches on existentialism for example.

If it sounds interesting to you at all, you definitely should give it a read.

In one of Sam Harris's podcasts Joseph Goldstein talked about how in the Four Noble Truths the word suffering is essentially a mistr
Juan Valdivia
Feb 14, 2012 rated it liked it
The first half of this book was enjoyable. In picking up this book, I was excited to read about Batchelor's spiritual journey, to find out how he arrived to become a "Buddhist Atheist." I guess I was under the impression--especially with the choice of title--that the book would primarily be about this journey, but I guess I should have read the jacket description more carefully.

I felt like there are two books in this one: a story of his lifelong spiritual journey and then Batchelor's obsession
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
"I have to sustain the illusion of a self-assured narrator who has known from the outset what he wants to say and how he is going to say it. I experience the same tension between formal rules and arbitrary content as in making a collage."

Batchelor makes this confession near the end of his book, but it was already pretty apparent by this point. This book started out as his story, a nice little Bildungsroman of his journey as a Buddhist--but then it veers off into a discussion of the historical fi
Nishant Mishra
Jun 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This is the first book of Stephen Batchelor that I have read and though I do not agree with some of his ideas and hypotheses, I truly believe that I needed to see Buddha and his 'religion' in a new light of 21st century world.

There are many issues in Buddhism which have not been researched into, those specially dealing with creating a more personal and human image of Buddha and process of the development of his Dhamma, and this book does the task. After reading it, I find that my focus and belie
Nancy O
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Batchelor takes you through his history from a disenchanted British youth, his travels through Eurasia as a Buddhist monk, and his ultimate life as a Buddhist layperson living in France. He assumes you know very little about his beliefs, and his interpretations of the Pali Canon are accessible and ring true with what I've read. If you're looking for a good intro to Buddhism, this is a great book. (And I would've finished sooner had it not been for guitar practice.) ...more
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading a fair bit on Buddhism lately as a backdrop to my travels in Indochina. This was the best of the lot. As an agnostic, Stephen Batchelor and his hard-won perspectives resonate with me. And this book in particular was, for me, the most approachable of his that I've read. A biography of the Buddha stripped of all of the divine silliness, an autobiography of a fascinating strange trip of a life, and a great defense of Buddhism as a philosophy and not as a religion. Highly recommend ...more
Chloe Price
i wanted to read this book to learn more about buddhist atheism. i did not learn about buddhist atheism.

it’s more of an autobiography of stephen batchelor alongside a biography of siddharta gautama. so it does not seem right to rate it.

i think the fact that this took me over a month to read says enough.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thought this was decent, but a little boring. Not sure what that says about me...
Stephen Eliasson
Sep 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
I like Batchelor's writing style. His stories and journey accounts are captivating. ...more
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“To embrace suffering culminates in greater empathy, the capacity to feel what it is like for the other to suffer, which is the ground for unsentimental compassion and love. (157)” 53 likes
“The Four Noble Truths are pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They suggest a course of action to be followed rather than a set of dogmas to be believed. The four truths are prescriptions for behavior rather than descriptions of reality. The Buddha compares himself to a doctor who offers a course of therapeutic treatment to heal one’s ills. To embark on such a therapy is not designed to bring one any closer to ‘the Truth’ but to enable one’s life to flourish here and now, hopefully leaving a legacy that will continue to have beneficial repercussions after one’s death. (154)” 37 likes
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