A Plea

Widen your circle.
Love more.
Hate less.
Be kind.

How unpopular these days.

Wake up.
All your strategies,
All your plans,
All your…

They count for naught,
When you ignore your brother.
Wake up.

Meditation is great.
Prayer is great.
But get off your ass.
Do something for your brother,
Who needs you to act,
Out of selflessness.

A review of “After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age” by Stephen Batchelor

27188642I have enjoyed Stephen Batchelor’s writing and point of view regarding a more secular teaching of the Buddhist path, and this book is no exception.

He very clearly and logically outlines a view of the life and teachings of the Buddha (who he simply refers to as Gotama (a nice touch) throughout) that do not fit the orthodoxy that we are fed by so many contemporary (and past) writers. This book challenges that Buddhist orthodoxy at every turn, while it provides scriptural references (liberally, yet thoughtfully interpreted) to support the views presented by the author.

Mr. Batchelor attempts to bring us back to a teaching of the dharma that is grounded in experience, avoiding the trappings of the mysticism that is so pervasive in Buddhism today. And while exasperating at times, it is refreshing to read because it provides an opportunity for the reader to reorient his practice towards a more meaningful, holistic, and personal dharma with the desired outcome being a more loving and complete relationship with the world of everyday life, and the beings inhabiting it. Too often we spend our practice contemplating if the world “out there” is real, instead of treating others with love and respect.

One failing, for me personally, was Mr. Bachelor’s equivocation when it came to the topic of rebirth and karma. He simply cannot seem to put these behind him as honestly and thoroughly as he does similar mysticism (no self, two truths doctrine, psychic powers, etc.) inherent in the teachings today. To suggest that these two dogmatic positions had some value to those who believed them fails to admit that they also lead to far greater harm when used as weapons against individuals in the form of “your past transgressions are why you suffer now.” It’s nonsense.

Lastly, and the primary reason for giving 4 instead of 5 stars, the book starts to ramble towards the end, as if Mr. Batchelor seems to forgot his main purpose for writing it – providing an alternative, yet compelling secular narrative for the life and teachings of the Buddha. He quickly refocuses, but for a good part of the time, I am left wondering if the material is just filler to make the book longer.

Will this book (as with his others) inspire condemnation by a more fundamentalist set of Buddhists who have grown (too) attached to the teachings they admire? Most likely (certainly?). But Stephen Batchelor is no stranger to such condemnation, nor does he allow it to distort his focus or convictions – for which I applaud him.

If you are open-minded to a dharma that isn’t mired in mysticism, orthodoxy, and ancient ritualized practices, read this book.

Ten Theses of Secular Dharma

1. A secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone.

2. The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.

3. All human beings, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, and religion, can practice these four tasks. Each person, in each moment, has the potential to be more awake, responsive, and free.

4. The practice of the dharma is as much concerned with how one speaks, acts, and works in the public realm as with how one performs spiritual exercises in private.

5. The dharma serves the needs of people at specific times and places. Each form the dharma assumes is a transient human creation, contingent upon the historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions that generated it.

6. The practitioner honors the dharma teaching that have been passed down through different traditions while seeking to enact them creatively in ways appropriate to the world as it is now.

7. The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.

8. A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.

9. Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.

10. A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.

— Stephen Batchelor