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Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Stephen Batchelor, former monk and author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and The Faith to Doubt, has a new fascinatingly chaotic book: Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. I was befuddled by the mix of autobiography and theology until Chapter 18, when Batchelor clued me in while describing another book of his, Living with the Devil:

After Buddhism Without Beliefs, I contracted with my publisher to write a book that would further develop my ideas about an agnostic approach to Buddhism. As usual I started writing notes, collating ideas, gathering quotes, reading relevant books and articles, designing chapter plans, toying with titles, and generally letting my mind wander as it would around the theme. Then I began to write. Within a week, I abandoned everything I had planned. The act of writing, following its own inscrutable logic, had guided me to the topic of the book: ...

That says a lot about the style of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. It's both insightful and frustrating as it random-walks through Batchelor's life story and his exploration of the roots of Buddhist philosophy. There are too many thoughts in it to encapsulate in a single review; I'll post some bits that resonated with me here in weeks to come. Meanwhile, one key notion that appears in Chapter 12:

Rather than dismiss the self as a fiction, Gotama presented it as a project to be realized. By "self" he referred not to the transcendent Self of the brahmins, which, by definition, cannot be anything other than what it eternally Is, but the functional, moral self that breathes and acts in this world. He compared this self to a field: a potentially fertile ground that, when irrigated and tended, enables plants to flourish. He compared it to an arrow: a wooden shaft, metal head, and feather fletching, which, when assembled, can be projected on an unerring course to its target. And he compared the self to a block of wood, something one can fashion and shape into a utensil or roof beam. In each case, simple things are worked and transformed to achieve human ends.

... Instead of training oneself to achieve a serene detachment from the turbulent events of this life, [such a model of self] encourages one to grapple with these events in order to imbue them with meaning and purpose. The emphasis is on action rather than inaction, on engagement rather than disengagement. ...

This brings to mind a remark by Ken Knisley in his No Dogs or Philosophers Allowed TV show: "... you're an ongoing project. How should one ongoing project, like me or like you, think of and deeply regard this panoply of other ongoing projects, peculiar living creatures that they are? ...".

(cf. What is My Life? (1999-04-30), Buddhism Without Beliefs (2008-09-19), Faith to Doubt (2010-03-11), ...) - ^z - 2010-04-25

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