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Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  7,954 ratings  ·  406 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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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  7,954 ratings  ·  406 reviews

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Jun 01, 2010 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 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 throw 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 a
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 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
See postscript for a possible replacement for this failed attempt.

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
May 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommended to DJ by: David Livingston
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
Jan 17, 2012 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 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I only got to about page 35 with this book. As a total newbie to Buddhism, I just found it too difficult to understand. The writing was quite simple, but ideas were just too difficult for me to grasp. I was left just feeling stupid (which may well be the case.) Here are a couple of examples of concepts which evaded me ....

"Likewise, the Buddha acknowledged the existential condition of anguish. On examination he found its origins to lie in self-centred craving. He realized that this could cease,
Dec 01, 2008 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
Jessie Mukavetz
Nov 10, 2015 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
Sarah Ames-Foley
This review can also be found on my blog.

This was not a complete waste of time, but was close to it. The book detaches buddhism from religion and formats it not as a belief system, but a certain way of living. At first, I was really impressed with the ideas presented and felt I was getting a lot out of it. According to Dealing with “anguish” seems to be hinged on creating a perspective in which all is temporary: our “cravings” have not always existed, thus they will not always exist. It is turni
Matthew Fellows
May 19, 2013 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
Amy Sturgis
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was exactly what I was looking for after reading Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright. Stephen Batchelor investigates the background and meaning of the Buddha's teaching -- not Buddhism, Batchelor argues, but dharma practice -- and submits that the Buddha taught a method, not a creed. Or, as Batchelor puts it, "The dharma is not a belief system by which you will be miraculously saved. It is a method to be investigated and tried out." At the hear ...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
Dan Slimmon
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is very densely packed with wise-seeming aphorisms. And the nature of wisdom is that you can't tell whether it's actually wisdom until you learn it the hard way. So I guess I'll keep this book around, and I can come back when I'm old to tell myself I told me so.
Carrie Poppy
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mar 20, 2010 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
Jan 07, 2013 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
Steve Woods
Sep 17, 2011 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
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
Heidi The Reader
Nov 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: buddhism, non-fiction
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
Aug 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this brief, wise book. I read it by the shores of Lake Winnipesuakee over the past week while on vacation, and I've been pondering the author's lessons and observations. Batchelor is an agnostic: he claims, again and again, that the proper response to metaphysical questions about life after death, about reincarnation, about other unknowables is, "I don't know." The author is secular Buddhist: he has no beliefs in karma or the supernatural, and he spends some time early in the book desc ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
This is a contemplative book that unfolds lyrically and quizzically, almost in the tradition of a koan. I think that Batchelor's point could have been made even more briefly than he does in what is effectively a 115 page extended essay, but perhaps it would have then lost some of its contemplative quality and in some way maybe "feeling" less Buddhist. His point is an important contribution to contemporary Buddhism though as he points out he is not the only one to make it: you don't have to belie ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
Part critique of how the Buddha's teachings have been packaged into an inaccessible, esoteric ism and part "how to" guide for "dharma practice," that is, meditation and pondering life and death. I like the repeated focus on integrity and I've found that word useful when thinking about my eating habits and interactions with others. The book complements my current yoga practice, which thanks to the teacher's guidance, has become more of a moving meditation than it has been in the past. I don't fee ...more
Jasmine Brown
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: all-time-favs
I hope to write a book like this one day..
Aug 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love the concepts in this book. It was short but quite profound. I wish it had more of a practical component to it somehow though.
Sep 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Mr. Batchelor needs to read the book Elements of Style so he can learn how to write with clarity. There were a number of nuggets of wisdom here but they are hidden in a wandering wordiness that was frustrating.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books
A modern and yet pure recount of dharma practice and how to apply it in your own life. A gem that is worth rereading again and again
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