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Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening by Stephen Batchelor
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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.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“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.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“We are participatory beings who inhabit a participatory reality, seeking relationships that enhance our sense of what it means to be alive. In terms of dharma practice, a true friend is more than just someone with whom we share common values and who accepts us for what we are. Such a friend is someone with whom we share common values and who accepts us for what we are. Such a friend is someone whom we can trust to refine our understanding of what it means to live, who can guide us when we’re lost and help us find the way along a path, who can assuage our anguish through the reassurance of his or her presence.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“This body is fragile. It is just flesh. Listen to the heartbeat. Life depends on the pumping of a muscle.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“One of the most difficult things to remember is to remember to remember. We forget that we live in a body with senses and feelings and thoughts and emotions and ideas. We get caught up in rumination and fantasy, isolating us from the world of colors, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations constantly bombarding our input sensors. To stop and pay attention to the moment is one way of snapping out of these mindscapes, and is a definition of meditation. This awareness is a process of deepening self-acceptance. Whatever it observes, it embraces. There is nothing unworthy of acceptance.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“Evasion of the unadorned immediacy of life is as deep-seated as it is relentless. Even with the ardent desire to be aware and alert in the present moment, the mind flings us into tawdry and tiresome elaborations of past and future. This craving to be otherwise, to be elsewhere, permeates the body, feeling, perceptions, will - consciousness itself. It is like the background radiation from the big bang of birth, the aftershock of having erupted into existence.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“A person who is asleep is either lost in deep unconsciousness or absorbed in a dream. Metaphorically, this was how the Buddha must have seen both his previous self as well as everyone else he had known: they either were blind to the questions of existence or sought consolation from them in metaphysical or religious fantasies.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“ANGUISH EMERGES FROM craving for life to be other than it is. In the face of a changing world, such craving seeks consolation in something permanent and reliable, in a self that is in control of things, in a God who is in charge of destiny. The irony of this strategy is that it turns out to be the cause of what it seeks to dispel. In yearning for anguish to be assuaged in such ways, we reinforce what creates anguish in the first place: the craving for life to be other than it is. We find ourselves spinning in a vicious circle. The more acute the anguish, the more we want to be rid of it, but the more we want to be rid of it, the more acute it gets. Such”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“Letting go of a craving is not rejecting it but allowing it to be itself: a contingent state of mind that once arisen will pass away. Instead of forcibly freeing ourselves from it, notice how its very nature is to free itself. To let it go is like releasing a snake that you have been clutching in your hand. By identifying with a craving ('I want this," don't want' that"), you tighten the clutch and intensify its resistance. Instead of being a state of mind that you have, it becomes a compulsion that has you. As with understanding anguish, the challenge in letting go of craving is to act before habitual reactions incapacitate us.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“Religious interpretations invariably reduce complexity to uniformity while elevating matter-of-factness to holiness.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“Agnosticism is no excuse for indecision. If anything, it is a catalyst for action; for in shifting concern away from a future life and back to the present, it demands an ethics of empathy rather than a metaphysics of fear and hope.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“p. 62 "...meditation… exposes a contradiction between the sort of person we wish to be and the kind of person we are. Restlessness and lethargy are ways of evading the discomfort of this contradiction.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“One of the most difficult things to remember is to remember
to remember. Awareness begins with remembering what
we tend to forget. Drifting through life on a cushioned surge
of impulses is but one of many strategies of forgetting. Not
only do we forget to remember, we forget that we live in a
body with senses and feelings and thoughts and emotions and ideas.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“To cultivate these diverse elements of our existence means to nurture them as we would a garden. Just as a garden needs to be protected, tended, and cared for, so do ethical integrity, focused awareness, and understanding. No matter how deep our insight into the empty and contingent nature of things, that alone will do little to cultivate these qualities. Each of these areas in life becomes a challenge, an injunction to act. There is no room for complacency, for they all bear a tag that declares: "Cultivate Me.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“To put it bluntly, the central question Buddhists have faced from the beginning is this: Is awakening close by or far away? Is it readily accessible and available only through supreme effort? If its proximity and ease of access are emphasized, there is the danger of trivializing it, of not according it the value and significance it deserves. Yet if its distance and difficulty of access are emphasized, there is the danger of placing it out of reach, of turning it into an icon of perfection to be worshipped from afar. Doesn't the question itself deceive us? Aren't we tricked by its either/or logic into assuming that only one option can be true? Couldn't the ambiguous logic of both/and be more appropriate here? Awakening is indeed close by—and supreme effort is required to realize it. Awakening is indeed far away—and readily accessible.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“To meditate is not to empty the mind and gape at things in a trancelike stupor. Nothing significant will ever be revealed by just staring blankly at an object long and hard enough. To meditate is to probe with intense sensitivity each glimmer of color, each cadence of sound, each touch of another’s hand, each fumbling word that tries to utter what cannnot be said. The”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“method (“dharma practice”) rather than another “-ism.” The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do. The Buddha did not reveal an esoteric set of facts about reality, which we can choose to believe in or not. He challenged people to understand the nature of anguish, let go of its origins, realize its cessation, and bring into being a way of life. The Buddha followed his reason as far as it would take him and did not pretend that any conclusion was certain unless it was demonstrable. Dharma practice has become a creed (“Buddhism”) much in the same way scientific method has degraded into the creed of “Scientism.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“Failure to summon forth the courage to risk a nondogmatic and nonevasive stance on such crucial existential matters can also blur our ethical vision. If our actions in the world are to stem from an encounter with what is central in life, they must be unclouded by either dogma or prevarication. Agnosticism is no excuse for indecision. If anything, it is a catalyst for action; for in shifting concern away from a future life and back to the present, it demands an ethics of empathy rather than a metaphysics of fear and hope.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“First and foremost the Buddha taught a method (“dharma practice”) rather than another “-ism.” The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“Awakening is no longer seen as something to attain in the distant future, for it is not a thing but a process—and this process is the path itself. But neither does this render us in any way perfect or infallible. We are quite capable of subverting this process to the interests of our far-from-extinct desires, ambitions, hatreds, jealousies, and fears. We have not been elevated to the lofty heights of awakening; awakening has been knocked off its pedestal into the turmoil and ambiguity of everyday life. There is nothing particularly religious or spiritual about this path. It encompasses everything we do. It is an authentic way of being in the world. It begins with how we understand the kind of reality we inhabit and the kind of beings we are that inhabit such a reality. Such a vision underpins the values that inform our ideas, the choices we make, the words we utter, the deeds we perform, the work we do. It provides the ethical ground for mindful and focused awareness, which in turn further deepens our understanding of the kind of reality we inhabit and the kind of beings we are that inhabit such a reality. And so on.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“The actions that accompany the four truths describe the trajectory of dharma practice: understanding anguish leads to letting go of craving, which leads to realizing its cessation, which leads to cultivating the path. These are not four separate activities but four phases within the process of awakening itself. Understanding matures into letting go; letting go culminates in realization; realization impels cultivation. This trajectory is no linear sequence of "stages" through which we "progress." We do not leave behind an earlier stage in order to advance to the next rung of some hierarchy. All four activities are part of a single continuum of action. Dharma practice cannot be reduced to any one of them; it is configured from them all. As soon as understanding is isolated from letting go, it degrades into mere intellectuality. As soon as letting go is isolated from understanding, it declines into spiritual posturing. The fabric of dharma practice is woven from the threads of these interrelated activities, each of which is defined through its relation to the others.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“The collapsing of an empire. This changing word moves inexorably on. Thoughts bubble and the stiller the mind the more palpable the dazzling torrent of life becomes.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“Dharma practice is founded on resolve. This is not an emotional conversion, a devastating realization of the error of our ways, a desperate urge to be good, but an ongoing, heartfelt reflection on priorities, values, and purpose. We need to keep taking stock of our life in an unsentimental, uncompromising way.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“The extent to which dharma practice has been institutionalized as a religion can be gauged by the number of consolatory elements that have crept in: for example, assurances of a better afterlife if you perform virtuous deeds or recite mantras or chant the name of a Buddha.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening
“Nanamoli Thera (Osbert Moore). The Life of the Buddha. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publishing Society, 1992 (1st edition 1972). Shantideva. The Bodhicaryavatara. (1) Translated from Sanskrit by Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton. Oxford/New York:”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America by Rick Fields (Boston: Shambhala, 1981), and my The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“While originating in acts of imagination, orthodoxies paradoxically seek to control the imagination as a means of maintaining their authority. The authenticity of a person’s understanding is measured according to its conformity with the dogmas of the school. While such controls may provide a necessary safeguard against charlatanism and self-deception, they also can be used to suppress authentic attempts at creative innovation that might threaten the status quo. The imagination is anarchic and potentially subversive. The more hierarchic and authoritarian a religious institution, the more it will require that the creations of the imagination conform to its doctrines and aesthetic norms. Yet”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. —Marcel Proust”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“WHILE “BUDDHISM” SUGGESTS another belief system, “dharma practice” suggests a course of action. The four ennobling truths are not propositions to believe; they are challenges to act.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs
“We are participatory beings who inhabit a participatory reality, seeking relationships that enhance our sense of what it means to be alive. In terms of dharma practice, a true friend is more than just someone with whom we share common values and who accepts us for what we are. Such a friend is someone whom we can trust to refine our understanding of what it means to live, who can guide us when we’re lost and help us find the way along a path, who can assuage our anguish through the reassurance of his or her presence.”
Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism without Beliefs

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