In reading Stephen Batchelor’s 1997 book Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening, I personally found the book to be just that—a practical tool one might use to foster/nurture awakening now.

Over the past couple of months, Peter has been suggesting we individually and as a sangha explore “What will (our) Buddhist community, centered here in Winter Park FL,  look like in the 21st century?” The Wednesday dharma talks are offering a lot of practical tools/ways that we can bring the dharma into our day to day lives.

At a sangha steering committee meeting, in response to varied discussion about coming up with ways to answer that question further, I volunteered to help initiate some type of sangha (Oprah?) book club, starting with Batchelor’s book.

Motivated towards further fostering and nurturing awakening, not so much as some kind of mystical endeavor, but as an ongoing and persistent day-to-day practical process, a small group of sangha members began meeting for weekly reviews of Buddhism Without Beliefs 4 weeks ago.

Book Club Model

This first iteration of the Book Club has the intent of coming up with and proving a loose model for how we might successfully make this work more broadly for our sangha. Ultimately, the idea would be to have multiple groups doing book discussions/reviews at the same time, in various formats, and led by different people. Each group would choose a book they have interest in.

Our thinking is that if in our first iteration of the Book Club, we do something that works in a real and satisfying way for those participating, the idea could sell itself. The initial participants could encourage and support additional book review groups.

The Book We Are Reviewing

Batchelor’s book is only 127 pages w/each chapter being 5-9 pages. The book is broken up into 3 progressive sections (Ground, Path & Fruition). Within Ground, the chapters are Awakening, Agnosticism, Anguish, Death, Rebirth, Resolve, Integrity, & Friendship.

Within Path, the chapters are Awareness, Becoming, Emptiness, & Compassion. Lastly, in Fruition, the chapters are Freedom, Imagination, & Culture. Associated meditation exercises are included in most of the chapters, offering immediate and progressive opportunities to act on what each chapter discusses.

We each have read the book in its entirety to get an overall appreciation for what it offers. Then we have read a chapter per week in preparation for meeting weekly to discuss that chapter, highlighting in our books that we each want to discuss.

OIMG Book Club Inaugural Book Review

Batchelor helps us to see how Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) was simply a man who went through his own struggles in life, as we all do, and finally awakened “from the sleep of existential confusion.” He describes awakening not as some grand, transcendent event, but as an active process of building capacity for being present for whatever arises in the present moment, and letting go as best we can to the ever changing nature of that in our experiences which we cling to.

He helps us to see how, as human beings, we often cling to belief systems to find relief from the anguish that naturally comes from our clinging to the ever changing nature of what life presents moment to moment. The dharma practice prescribed by the Buddha, and so simply and clearly described in Batchelor’s book, offers a practical course of action for building an ever increasing capacity for discovering “…freedom of heart and mind from the compulsions of cravings”.

In future reviews of Batchelor’s book, we will offer our thoughts and feelings associated with the individual chapters, starting with Chapter 1, “Awakening.”

We wish each of you well, and embrace our sangha’s growing partnering in awakening. —Mitch Sullen