Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist
Stephen Batchelor wrote a particularly interesting book called Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. In it he tells his own story of embracing, then rejecting, both Tibetan (Vajrayana) and (Zen) Buddhism.
He weaves in his interpretation of the life of the Buddha. He attempts to strip it of all the elements that Siddhartha would have received from his culture. In this way Batchelor shines a light on what may have been truly original about his realization in becoming a buddha.
I find Batchelor a bit too much of a rationalist for my taste, but his critical framework is interesting and useful as a starting point.
Batchelor examines the Pali Canon [Theravada, the oldest form of Buddhism, which survives in Southeast Asia, surrounding India] in detail to learn what we can most reliably say about the life of the Buddha, based on the earliest records that were written down.
What emerges is a very human portrait.
This Buddha rejected his own kingship. He lived in the forest. He rejected all credentials other than his own insight, and the wisdom of the Earth herself. After his enlightenment or great awakening, he dealt with the politics of the day but never assumed any kind of temporal power or wealth. The Buddha taught, gathered a community (Sangha), but purposely did not appoint a successor other than the Teaching (Dharma) itself.
When his time came to pass, his last words were very simple. There are a number of translations of the Mahaparanibbana Sutta ["Discourse on the Great Passing into Final Nirvana"] out there, but here is a well-researched favorite:
Now the Blessed One advised the monastics: Well now, practitioners, my counsel is this: Experience is disappointing, success comes through vigilance.
[Other translations usually run, "All phenomena is hurtling towards destruction; work out your liberation through diligence [constant mindfulness according to the four foundations]." Other translations place more emphasis on sosotharpa -- individual effort towards liberation -- such as translating the bit about vigilance as “work out your salvation with diligence,” emphasizing the need to, in the end, practice mindfulness and do it yourself.
Also, most other translations make the first statement more objective and philosophical, that is, “Decay is inherent in all component things.” But there’s something much more powerful in the more subjective and psychological statement…. “Experience is disappointing.”
Most of us reading this site likely feel that Buddhist view and practice has had a tremendous positive impact on our lives. At the same time, there is much concern about the relevance of some elements of the Tibetan cultural and political overlay that has developed around Buddhism over the past thousand years. Some of these elements are at best distracting, and at worst corrupting... More
Pönlop Rinpoche — Time for a Change
I just read Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche’s new book, Rebel Buddha: On the Road to Freedom (Shambhala Publications). When I read this short passage from the final chapter, I thought it could prompt some interesting discussion here.
The pioneers of Western Buddhism had to overcome certain barriers in order to make sense of this “new” tradition and practice it. They were not only meeting a foreign culture, they were also meeting alien concepts like selflessness and emptiness that made little sense to the Western mind. But they said yes to meditation and working with ego.Now, roughly fifty years later, it’s time for a change. We’re stuck at a certain level of our spiritual development. What at first woke us up now barely stirs us from our thoughts. What supported our inquiry into who we are now blocks our realization of that. Now we have to ask ourselves how to break through again. This time we’re challenged to break through our attachment to all that brought us to this point -- the spiritual cultures that we so respect and emulate that they’ve become another trap for us.
The Role of Questioning in a Spiritual Community
Anonymous (Radio Free Shambhala, edited by RFS staff)
Spiritual communities vary of course. But there is a history, with its corresponding literature, of how some of them have not only abused power but also undermined the confidence and goodness of their members.
Most of us enter a spiritual path with curiosity, openness, and a willingness and desire to be genuine. We may be searching for answers to deep, existential questions. It might be a transitional time in our lives or a time of crisis, or maybe we just want to make the world a better place.
The spiritual group may promise us hope for a happier life and answers to the world’s problems -- if we follow the program and spiritual advice of the leader and his close associates.
Our new spiritual family also provides an instant social network and feeling that we are part of something bigger, such as working towards world peace, saving the environment, or another good cause. More