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Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening Paperback – March 1, 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 227 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As in all the major religions, there is a wisdom behind the theology of Buddhism that informs the believer in daily life. Stephen Batchelor would argue that the difference with Buddhism is that the wisdom is in fact independent of the theology and is not informative to believers only, but to everyone. In Buddhism Without Beliefs Batchelor lays out the major tenets of Buddhist wisdom, commenting on their relevance to modern life. The Buddha said that seekers must find the Truth for themselves, and Batchelor offers this book as a roadmap. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Batchelor...suggests that Buddhism jettison reincarnation and karma, thereby making possible what he calls an 'existential, therapeutic and liberating agnosticism." —Time magazine

"Buddhism Without Beliefs is the kind of finely written primer about the concepts of Buddhism that even a heathen like me can appreciate and understand. For the non-Buddhist, or the aspiring Buddhist, it will be of much assistance. Filled with compassion, lucidly written, this is a book that explains much about an ancient, ever-living philosophy that has much to offer the stunned searchers of truth in our chaotic age of modernity." —Oscar Hijuelos, author of Mr. Ives' Christmas and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love

"Radiant in its clarity, Buddhism Without Beliefs reminds us not just of Buddhism's true nature, but of our own as well. Freeing us from the notion of Buddhism as a religion, Stephen Batchelor shows us how necessary the Buddha's teachings are in today's world. It may not be what he intended, but he has made a believer out of me." —Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

"Though he is a former monk in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions, Batchelor is now associated with a nondenominational Buddhist community in England. He deliberately eschews elitist, monastic Buddhist traditions, which often make enlightenment appear all but impossible to attain. Throughout, simple meditation exercises acquaint readers with Buddhist principles that illuminate 'the nature of the human dilemma and a way to its resolution.'" —Publishers Weekly


Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st Edition Thus edition (March 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573226564
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573226561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Batchelor is a former monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions. He has translated Shantideva's A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life and is the author of Alone with Others, The Faith to Doubt, The Tibet Guide, The Awakening of the West, Buddhism without Beliefs, and Verses from the Center. He is a contributing editor of Tricycle magazine, a guiding teacher at Gaia House Retreat Centre, and cofounder of Sharpham College for Buddhist Studies and Contemporary Inquiry in Devon, England. He lives in southwest France and lectures and conducts meditation retreats worldwide.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In this wonderful, concise introduction, Batchelor has captured the essence of the Buddha's teachings . By going directly to the source and peeling away the accumulated dogma of various traditions, he makes Buddhism relevant for our time. He shows how, despite the Buddha's wishes, over time Buddhism became a religion and an institution unto itself. Of course, rigid doctrinaire thinkers like Bob Thurman will see red when they read Batchelor's simple wisdom, which eliminates the need for hocus-pocus and a priestly class. Batchelor even questions the need for belief in karma and reincarnation, long accepted as essential Buddhist beliefs.
Batchelor presents his ideas in simple, but not simplistic, prose, with easy-to-grasp examples. His credentials as a Buddhist and a scholar are beyond reproach, and while others may disagree, no one can question his seriousness and authority. Unlike self-styled gurus and flim-flam artists like "Lama Surya Das" (Jeffrey Miller), Batchelor is not interested in self-aggrandizement; merely in conveying his ideas.
He succeeds admirably in this book.
Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I ordered this book based on the review here by "Dr. of Buddhology and author of 6 books on Buddhism; Dr. S. A." His attack on it it, and the reasons he gave for that, were more persuasive than any of the positive reviews in convincing me that I should read this book. Whenever anyone says, in effect, "Don't think for yourself--just follow Scripture," I've usually found it a good idea to do the opposite. And as usual, I'm very glad I did.

Buddhism has taken on radically different forms in every culture in which it has taken root. Is Agnostic Buddhism one of the forms it will take in the West? I think it's likely. Many Westerners who are turning to Buddhism are agnostic, and stripped of the non-essentials (most of which were added long after the Buddha's death), Buddhism is a very appealing path. But so far, I have encountered little but New Age dilletantes and guru/student fundamentalists, two extremes that do not appeal to me at all. Here in Japan, I've met some very nice priests and monks, but practice has so far seemed quite ossified and heirarchical, something that really seems, well, very un-Buddhist to me.

And then along comes Batchelor's book, a breath of fresh air. This is just what I've been looking for.

EDIT 4 April 2012: I recently read Batchelor's The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture, and I can strongly recommend that as well!
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Format: Paperback
Mr. Batchelor's dual background - first as a Tibetan monk and translator then later as a Korean Zen monk - gives him two eyes to see Buddhism with. It gives him cross-cultural depth perception that allows him to see the essense of awakening separate from the cultures that encrust it. Perhaps that helps him write such a succinct, clear, and radiant book.
It's odd that Batchelor is an unwitting lightning-rod for the Buddhist religious right. (Bet you didn't think that was even POSSIBLE, did you?! Surprise! Sadly, Buddhism isn't all that different from any other religion.) He doesn't attack their beliefs. He stays in the vast middle and says that he honestly doesn't know.
When I saw him lecture, I saw a student of Thinley Norbu's stand up and beg him to believe in rebirth! It was like watching a fundamentalist Christian begging someone to accept Jesus as his personal savior, as though Buddhism was about embracing the right conceptual beliefs. It was the oddest and saddest thing! Why bother becoming a Buddhist if you're going to behave like that?
He handled it with great patience and compassion, I thought. I asked him about it afterwards and apparently it happens to him all the time!
Wonderful book.
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Format: Paperback
It seems to me that many of the criticisms of this book here (and elsewhere) come from Buddhist who are offended at Batchelor's "corruption" of their sacred teachings. However, I think this book targets people whose desire is to find out how the teachings of Buddhism could benefit their lives without necessarily being "Buddhists". That is to say that a non-Christian could, for example, find many of the teachings of Christ very enlightening and beneficial, without accepting all of the tenets of the Christian church. Batchelor provides this point of view regarding Buddhism. He provides the framework for the secular philosopher to incorporate much that is wonderful about Buddhism into their daily lives while not requiring faith or adherence to any specific religious dogma. But there is nothing in this book that would hinder the person so inclined form pursuing Buddhism from a religious standpoint. Again by analogy, I could envision a secular title promoting many of the teachings of Christ (such as turning the other cheek) while saying that it is possible to follow these teachings without buying into all the stuff about virgin birth and heaven and hell. Such a title might enrage a certain type of Christian, but would be a breath of fresh air to those of us who don't wish to "throw the baby out with the bath water" when it comes to a critical examination of Christianity. Batchelor's book does this for Buddhist teaching. I do have some critisisms of this book; Batchelor makes some points that I would have prefered he address differently. But I have strongly urged many friends and loved ones to read it. I can give a book no higher praise than that.
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