John L. Murphy (popmatters.com, June 10, 2010)
At 18, this drop-out joined the Dalai Lama. In Dharamsala in the early ‘70s, he entered “an intact pocket of modern Tibet,” where it “was as though a group of Italian hippies had wandered off into the Apennines and discovered in a remote valley a fully functioning papal court of the fourteenth century.” Alas, this Shangri-La failed to enchant this British-born skeptic.
Despite a decade in the monastery, Stephen Batchelor declared himself a deep agnostic and a literal atheist.
“No matter how hard I tried, I was incapable of giving more importance to a hypothetical, post-mortem existence than to this very life here and now.” He left the Zen retreat. He married a nun with whom he had fallen in love, after they “disrobed” to promote what emerged into a secular, non-theistic Dharma.
He claims the same “grounded” attitude animated the historical Buddha. A dozen years after his admission of doubt as Dharma, Batchelor expands his Buddhism Without Beliefs (1997) into a “collage” that combines spiritual autobiography, travel to the Indian heartlands where the Buddha taught, and an examination of early Pali-language texts....
By scraping off the accretions of Brahmin [Hindu] thought, Batchelor shakes the Buddha free of glitter and incense. This scholar substitutes a radical humanist. He presents an existentialist founder of a civilization. The Buddha did not invent a religion. He did not direct us towards an afterlife. He did not further the Indian quest for an Oversoul.... Siddhartha Gotama “was not a theist but nor was he an anti-theist.” More>>