After Buddhism…

Yes, I have been waiting on this book for all my life.

Although I’m not yet halfway thru it, I’m loving Stephen Batchelor’s new book. I’m reading it slowly, as it’s pretty heady stuff, but Therese talked about the central idea of it during our retreat at Southern Dharma in April, so I had the basic sense of it already.

I will wait until I’m done reading before I try to really address it here, but the thing about it that has so captivated me is that it allows me to understand first why I was so sure, all those years ago, that Buddhism was for me, and second, why it has been hard to relate to the institutional versions of it with which I have been involved.

Basically Stephen says is that in the first 300 years or so after the Buddha died, many modifications were made to the teachings, changing them from the very practical, relative message evident in the early texts to a more ontological, absolutist kind of religion. And… that what the Buddha was saying is that awakening is not some metaphysical event that ends all desire and thus frees one from suffering, but a process of coming to an understanding of how to end – at least moderate – one’s natural reactivity so that one lives one’s life with a perspective that makes the existential condition of life tolerable and allows one to cultivate an integrated, authentic life.

Yes, that’s the Buddha I have always been looking for!

That wrecking ball…

“And wouldn’t time seem so kindly,
if every bright-eyed girl could be
more like you, and
shelter me
from that
wreckin’ ball… that wreckin’ ball.”

–Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange)

Ah yes, we look for shelter in every corner, every thought as we feel the onrushing of impermanence, shunyata filling every experience. Such a human thing.

But though it seems helpful, shelter in the long run is itself part of the damage we do to ourselves, part of the grasping for the pleasant rather than the difficult, part of what Stephen Batchelor calls “the default habit of seeing the world as being hostile, desirable or boring.”

In his recent book After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age, Batchelor translates tanha, understood in the Dharma as the cause of suffering and usually rendered as ‘craving’ or ‘desire’, as reactivity. Letting go of reactivity – or creating the conditions under which release may happen, which is really all we can do – comes from understanding, he says.

To release oneself from the hold of this behavior [reactivity] requires coming to a mature comprehension of one’s mortality, of how each fragile moment rests on the pumping of a muscle and the drawing of a breath. [p. 78]

Though I’ve only read a bit of this book, which my teacher introduced at a recent retreat, I’m finding it full of profound new insights and very helpful as I continue my lifetime effort to understand the Dharma and live my life in an authentic, integrated way.