I know some people find him controversial in Buddhist circles but I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Stephen Batchelor's books. So, it was with excitement that I opened the envelope from his office containing the new book, "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist."
The beginning is the story of his journey East on the "Hippie Trail" toward India and Asia where he studied Buddhism as a monk in Dharamsala with the Dalai Lama. Then, later, studying Zen in Korea.
Of course a lot of the conclusions reflect an atheistic view but rather than give away the juicy parts I'll let you discover those for yourself. I highly recommend this book to the contemporary Buddhist. To quote the book jacket, "A stunning and groundbreaking recovery of the historical Buddha and his message." Sounds interesting, huh? If so, read on.
The parts that caught my interest most were the chapters on getting back to the basics of Buddhism as found in the Pali cannon. One example that comes to mind is Mr. Batchelor emphasizing a teaching from Buddha that has been lost on some over the years, and is the idea that doubt is not only acceptable in Buddhism but essential to waking up. Batchelor underlines this with the Zen aphorism, "When there is great doubt, there is great awakening."
This deep agnosticism is more than the refusal of the conventional agnosticism to take a stand on whether God exists or whether the mind survives bodily death. It is the willingness to embrace the fundamental bewilderment of a finite, fallible creature as the basis for leading a life that no longer clings to superficial consolations of eternity.This is unknowing is in part why some Zen teachers purpose seemingly illogical questions for the conditioned mind, known as koans. They often confound the "logical mind" which "resets" things allowing for awareness to arise and enlighten in that open space--that open moment. Hagen's Koren Zen teacher, Kusan Sunim explains further, "If you continue inquiring in this way, the questioning will become more intense. Finally, when this mass of questioning enlarges to a critical point, it will suddenly burst. The entire universe will be shattered and only your original nature will appear before you. In this way you will awaken."
I also appreciated the author's quoting the Buddha in regards to the use of prayer. "There is no point in praying for divine guidance or assistance. That, as Gotama told Viasettha, would be like someone who wishes to cross the Aciravati River by calling out to the far bank: 'Come here, other bank, come here!' No amount of 'calling, begging, requesting, or wheedling' will have any effect at all."
Finally, I'll wrap this up with some good, old fashioned, cold, water of Buddhism being splashed on the heat of our ego-minds. "In other words: when the chips are down, the only thing you can rely on is whatever values and practices you have managed to intergrate into your own life. Neither the Buddha nor the Sangha (community) will be of any help. You are on your own." We like to flower our lives with wonderfully vivid stories of the metaphysical, and of Bodhisattvas interceding on our behalf but hard truth found in the suttas/sutras is that we're on our own. We are our own Bodhisattvas and our own saviors.
It is somewhat terrifying at first but upon further reflection it is honest, realistic, compassionate, truth. Buddhism isn't for sissies--that's for sure. If you're looking for someone to save you then you probably will find Buddhism to be a bit too honest and harsh. However, if you're looking to cut through the bullshit and the fluff then Buddhism and this book, "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist" mind be helpful along your journey. All in all I enjoyed this book as a dog savors a good bone. I couldn't put it down and read through it like a saw cuts through a forest. It was a great read. I give it a 9 out of 10 -- 10 being best. Go get it and read it.