Buddhism Without Beliefs: Chapters 5 – 8

Stephen Batchelor’s Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening offers a practical, step-by-step tool for fostering/nurturing awakening now.

Below, OIMG Book Club members offer reflections on the insights they are experiencing from our weekly reviews of each chapter.

The Book Club members encourage, and are ready to support, additional book review groups.

Chapter 5: Rebirth

I found this chapter a bit confusing. Per Batchelor, the Buddha seemed to have accepted the idea of rebirth, as it “…reflected the worldview of his time.” Batchelor noted how “Religions (including religious Buddhism) are united not by belief in God but by belief in life after death…The idea of rebirth is meaningful in religious Buddhism only insofar as it provides a vehicle for the key Indian metaphysical doctrine of actions and their results known as ‘karma’. While the Buddha accepted the idea of karma as he accepted that of rebirth, when questioned on the issue he tended to emphasize its psychological rather than its cosmological implications. ‘Karma’ he often said, ‘is intention’; i.e., a movement of the mind that occurs each time we think, speak, or act.”

Batchelor ends the chapter by saying, “It may seem that there are two options: either to believe in rebirth or not. But there is a third alternative: to acknowledge, in all honesty, I do not know. We neither have to adopt the literal versions of rebirth presented by religious tradition nor fall into the extreme of regarding death as annihilation. Regardless of what we believe, our actions will reverberate beyond our deaths. Irrespective of our personal survival, the legacy of our thoughts, words, and deeds will continue through the impressions we leave behind in the lives of those we have influenced or touched in any way.” —Mitch Sullen

Chapter 6: Resolve

In order for life to make sense, it has to have purpose. This purpose is formed by words and images and we make a resolve to commit to this purpose. This resolve is a focused act that entails aspiration, appreciation, and conviction.

Anguish emerges from craving for life to be other than it is. In the face of a changing world such craving seeks consolation in the permanent and solid, that is a sense of self or a belief in a deity that is in control. The irony of this strategy is that this is the cause of the anguish that it seeks to assuage.

Dharma practice is founded on resolve, not emotional conversion, not a realization of the error of our ways, nor the desire to be good. It is founded on an uncompromising, unsentimental reflection on priorities, values, and purpose. It is participatory, sustained and matured in community.

We follow a path that earlier generations have trod and later generations will follow. We resolve, not so much to reach a destination, but to take the next step. The steps we take have a range of purposes, but there is no hierarchy in this range. We must have self-confidence to realize this resolve. Resolve is activated by self-confidence. This self-confidence is not arrogance, but courage and humility and a trust in the ability to awaken. —Judy Douglas

Chapter 7: Integrity

Batchelor starts  by saying “The resolve to awaken requires the integrity not to hurt anyone in the process. Dharma practice cannot be abstracted from the way we interact with the world. Our deeds, words, and intentions create an ethical ambience that either supports or weakens resolve … Ethical integrity is rooted in the sense of who we are and what kind of reality we inhabit.” If we really feel like “isolated, anxious creatures in a hostile world…” while projecting “the image of the compassionate and responsible person…to the world,” being “frightened or overwhelmed by greed or hate” may reveal this underlying attitude in the hurtful things we may feel, think, say, or do.

He notes how, “As empathetic beings in a participatory reality, we cannot, without losing our integrity, hurt, abuse, rob, or lie to others.” But  “integrity requires courage and intelligence as well, because every significant ethical choice entails risk.” We cultivate ethical intelligence by learning from the mistakes we will make. “Ethical integrity requires both the intelligence to understand the present situation as the fruition of former choices, and the courage to engage with it as the arena for the creation of what is to come … When we are faced with the unprecedented and unrepeatable complexities of this moment, the question is not ‘What is the right thing to do?’ but “What is the compassionate thing to do?’ ” —Mitch Sullen

Chapter 8: Friendship

“For true friends seek not to coerce us, even gently and reasonably, into believing what we are unsure of.” In those words Batchelor captures the essence of Dharma friendship. As Dharma brothers and sisters, we support each other in practice; as teachers, our “task is not to make [ourselves] indispensable but redundant.”  This implies “mutual respect for the creative autonomy of individual experience.” I can point the way, but I cannot walk it for you; I can have the way pointed out to me, but I must walk it for myself. Once a requirement to believe certain things comes into the picture, “true friendship has tended to be compromised by issues of power.” True friends do not project their agenda onto others. They provide sustenance through mutually supportive practice and—as they say in the 12 Steps—by sharing “experience, strength and hope.” This requires constant vigilance and care to relate to others with courtesy, deference and an attitude of support. —Robert Lockridge

See also…

Book Club Review of Chapters 1 – 4

Introduction to the OIMG Book Club