Friday, February 18, 2011

New book to read--Stephen Batchelor, "Buddhism Without Beliefs"


At our last Tuesday night group, we discussed Steven Hagen's "Meditation--Now or Never".  Most people there seemed to like the clean quality of his emphasis on simply following the breath and letting things arise and pass away.  Straight Soto sitting meditation.  No bells, whistles, no big deal about openings, about kensho.  Just gradually transforming as we see more clearly what arises and passes away, as we experience the one who sees.  While quite different in praxis that the modern version of Theravadan practice described in "Unlimiting Mind", the feeling is much the same.  The intensity of attention, the rigor of the mental and emotional awareness, the focus on non-judgment, and the importance of others.

For the next book, I have settled on Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs".  This is a book I first read in 1997, shortly after it came out.  It made a big impression on me then.  Here was a modern Buddhism, a "liberal" Buddhism with which I could feel comfortable.  In the years since, I have attended two retreats with Stephen at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe.  I enjoy him personally, and I enjoy his skeptical, his "agnostic" Buddhism.

I selected this book because as I browsed my bookshelf and paged through it, I noticed in it some of the same rigor, the same precision of thought and expression, the same emphasis on the simplicity of practice that I found in Hagen and in Olendzki.  Here is someone from yet another part of the Buddhist tradition who can help us triangulate in on the soul of the Buddhadharma--not its ideas, but its enactment.  Hagen is Soto Zen,  Olendzki is Theravadan, and Batchelor spent years in the Tibetan and then Korean Zen traditions.  While all three have different perspectives on the practice, and nominally different praxis, their approach feels quite similar.  What I come away with from all three is a comfortable feeling that we are all on the same path, even if we describe it in different terms.

We'll discuss this book on the evening of March 15th.  Join us.



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