buddhism without beliefs.jpg

Buddhism Without Beliefs

Stephen Batchelor

In theory, freedom may be held in high regard; in practice it is experienced as a dizzying loss of meaning and direction.
— Batchelor

Batchelor’s book is among the seminal texts of ‘secular Buddhism’, that strain gaining so much traction in the West. When you strip away the beliefs, the metaphysical scaffolding, all that’s left is a system of practice, nothing else, which turns out to be precisely what, the Buddha taught:

“First and foremost the Buddha taught a method "(‘dharma pratice’) rather than another ‘-ism.’ The dharma is not something to believe in but something to do.”

Batchelor’s work helps situate these teachings in a context that’ll fit our cultural moment today. The dharma, writes, Betchelor, is adaptive:

“It is no longer possible to maintain that dharma practice has remained unaltered since the time of the Buddha. It has evolved and continues to evolve distinctive forms peculiar to the conditions of the time. It has survived precisely because of its ability to respond creatively to change.”

In the process of adaptation, Batchelor writes that the dharma faces two primary challenges: maintaining its integrity, and expressing itself in a fashion suitable to the needs of the new climate:

“Each time the dharma moved into a different civilization or historical period, it faced a twofold challenge: to maintain its integrity as an internally coherent tradition, and to express its vision in a way that responded to the needs of the new situation.”