Eric's Reviews > Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor
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's review
Mar 21, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: buddhism

In the first half of this book, Stephen Batchelor tells the story of his transformations from a young secular English hippie to a monk in Dharamsala studying in the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition, to a monk in a Korean Zen monastery and finally to a "lay Buddhist" trying to live an authentic Buddhist life without religion. Buddhist in practice, but not in ideology. I would call it maximum entropy Buddhism, meaning basically that unproven assertions are left out. The panoply of deities sits by the roadside waiting for Batchelor to return, but he won't. Karma and rebirth - nope, he's not buying it. And so on.

Instead, in the second half of the book, Batchelor explores the life of the historical Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama, trying to understand what he really said. What was new at the time and context of the Buddha's life? What emerges is a refreshingly simple way of life based on knowing fully and at every moment that everything is contingent. Nothing stands forever, or could. Not your body, not your mood, not your energy, not even your soul. The Buddha's prescription for life on this earth is to recognize the four-fold truths and follow the eight-fold path.

Even if only to read the biographical story of the Buddha's life which Batchelor has pieced together, this book is worth the time.

The title is a bit unfortunate, and seems to be one of those flashy titles chosen for the American publishing of a British book. This book doesn't seem like a confession. It is a mixture of autobiography and historical research.

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