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Faith to Doubt

The Faith to Doubt by Stephen Batchelor is subtitled "Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty". It's the little 1990 book that precedes his Buddhism Without Beliefs and, as the author describes it, is "a collection of essays, quotations, journal entries and stories strung together in an attempt to create a picture of one person's encounter with Zen Buddhism." Hmmm!

Chapter 2 of The Faith to Doubt includes a description of an experience that instantly brought to mind André Comte-Sponville's depiction of his awakening in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. Batchelor writes:

Shortly before I left Dharamsala I had an experience that I would hesitate to call mystical, but for which I can find no better term. This is how I wrote it down: I was walking through a pine forest, returning to my hut along a narrow path trodden into the steep slope of the hillside. I struggled forward carrying a blue plastic bucket filled with fresh water that I had just collected from a source at the upper end of the valley. I was then suddenly brought to a halt by the upsurge of an overwhelming sense of the sheer mystery of everything. It was as though I were lifted up onto the crest of a shivering wave which abruptly swelled from the ocean that was life itself. How is it that people can be unaware of this most obvious question? I asked myself. How can anyone pass their life without responding to it? This experience lasted in its full intensity for only a few minutes. It was not an illumination in which some final, mystical truth became momentarily very clear. For it gave me no answers. It only revealed the massiveness of the question.

Batchelor goes on to discuss a book that I remember looking at decades ago: Martin Buber's I and Thou. It belongs in my bibliography of unsystematic theology. But then, The Faith to Doubt gets rather impenetrable. I'm trying to read onward, but it's not easy ...

^z - 2010-03-11