January 19, 2006

Stephen Batchelor's Agnostic Buddhism

Stephen Batchelor is a Buddhist scholar and philosopher who has promoted the idea of an agnostic or existential Buddhism in favour of the heavily metaphysical and ritualized forms of Buddhism that characterize much of Buddhism today.

He is a controversial figure among many Buddhists, mainly because he has divorced the concepts of karma and reincarnation from the dharma claiming that they are not overly necessary concepts on the path to personal self-discovery and in how we create authentic relationships with others.

In this, Batchelor is not too far removed from the current Dalai Lama who has surprised many with his liberal and modern approach to Buddhism. The Dalai Lama dismisses traditional Buddhist cosmology as invalidated by science, and questions the need for belief in rebirth (while stating that ultimately meditation will lead to conviction about it).

Batchelor has also championed not only Buddhism in the West, but a practical Buddhism that relates to modern life. He recognizes that today's socio-economic realities mean that not everyone can shave their heads, put on a robe, and meditate in a temple for the rest of their lives (he also argues that a purely monastic Buddhism is not good for Buddhism in general). Batchelor, who disrobed more than 20 years ago, practices what he preaches and now lives the lay life in France.

Batchelor believes that a practical and real Buddhist approach to life is possible today in the West. He says we should strive for contentment, selflessness, and a rejection of all forms of attachment while maintaining a strong enough ego to achieve these things and continue along the path of self-discovery.

I recently took a look at Batchelor's homepage and discovered that it's full of excellent articles. Every one is a little gem worth exploring. For insights into Buddhism today and the Dalai Lama, I recommend The Future is in Our Hands.

If you're interested in his books, check out:
Alone With Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism
Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening

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