From Publishers Weekly
Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs
(1997) described a secular approach to the Eastern philosophy stripped of doctrines such as karma and rebirth; how a young British monk ordained in the Tibetan tradition turned into a Buddhist atheist is revealed in this new book. On the dharma trail in India and Korea, and later as a lay resident at the nonsectarian Sharpham community in England, Batchelor was beset by doubts about traditional Buddhist teachings. Finally convinced that present-day forms of Buddhism have moved far beyond what founder Gotama had intended, Batchelor embarked on a study of the Pali canon (very early Buddhist texts) to find out what the Buddha's original message might have been. Batchelor's own story of conversion is woven effortlessly with his analysis of Buddhist teachings and a 2003 pilgrimage to Indian sites important in the Buddha's life. He is candid about his disillusionments with institutionalized Buddhism without engaging in another new atheist broadside against religion. While Batchelor may exaggerate the novelty of his Buddhism without beliefs stance, this multifaceted account of one Buddhist's search for enlightenment is richly absorbing. (Mar. 2)
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Former Tibetan and Zen monk Batchelor approaches Buddhism idiosyncratically. He sketches the historical Buddha to clear up numerous misconceptions, discover who the man Siddhattha Gotama was, and learn what is distinctive and original in his teachings, especially the Pali Canon attributed to him. But Batchelor also offers his own story: his decision to become a monk when he was still a teenaged London hippie during the countercultural 1960s, and his return to the secular world a decade later. Although the historical background is important and crucial to the book, the personal story really shines out, entraining the reader in Batchelor’s often complicated life as a seeker who never stops searching, as he discusses his long fascination with Buddhism and his struggle to accept, or at least come to terms with, some doctrines, such as reincarnation, that were alien to his former belief system. He concludes with his reflections as a 56-year-old secular, nondenominational, lay Buddhist now living in rural France. --June Sawyers