The following is a short but rather insightful review of this book for those of us who haven't had the opportunity to read it. Confession of a Buddhist Atheist - Review
While it may not provide much fodder for discussion, those with "life experience" may be able to glean some value from it nonetheless.
While I may not have read this most recent book of Batchelor's, I have read (a few of years ago) his book Buddhism Without Beliefs
. While I do not have it at hand to quote from (I had checked it out from the library as I recall), my impression of it was favorable. Not a few of us have shared Stephen's experience with religious organizations, myself included, and have also arrived at similar, if not the same, conclusions. He makes many of the same arguments I make with regard to "Buddhism the religion," a few of which are artfully pointed out in the above review and the quotation from it below.
from the Review wrote:In the first part of Confession of Buddhist Atheist, Mr. Batchelor shares the fascinating story of how he came to his conclusions regarding karma and rebirth, and Buddhism in general. As a young man, he ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk - one of the first Westerners to do so - and studied with Geshe Rabten, as well as many other well-known Tibetan teachers, including the Dalai Lama. After several years of such study, he began to question some of the more ritualistic practices and occult beliefs of the tradition he was in. Teachings on rebirth were particularly problematic for him, because they were based on the acceptance of an 'immaterial mind', and as he says:
"...This unavoidably leads to a body-mind dualism...How can such an immaterial mind ever connect with a material body? Being immaterial, it cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. If it is untouchable, how can it 'touch' or have any contact with a brain?...As soon as you split the world in two parts - one physical and one spiritual - you will most likely privilege mind over matter."
He felt accepting rebirth required a 'belief' in something that could not be proven, even through his own meditative practice. He felt it had become a doctrine he was expected to accept on faith, going against the Buddha's teachings on self-reliance and personal validation as presented in the Kalama sutta...
The second part of Confessions covers his re-imagining of the Buddha's life and awakening, with a special emphasis on the cultural and political landscape the Buddha lived in. He attempts to "strip away layer upon layer of myth that has encrusted itself around the human person...to discard the idealized image of the serene and perfect teacher who is incapable of ever making a wrong move."
It was this "body-mind dualism" that I also inevitably observed which really shut the door for me on buying into any spiritual or religious aspect surrounding Buddhism, or any religion for that matter. But each person must come to their own conclusion after much study, observation, and contemplation.
As with Mr. Batchelor, I too stood aghast at the wholesale ignoring of the Kalama sutta that some sects of "Buddhism" seem to lay aside in favor of their "beliefs and rituals." Not only does it contradict what is taught in the discourses, such practices can actually reinforce the "body-mind dualism" which can literally tear a person in two, intellectually and rationally speaking, that is. What was the Roman dictum? "Divide and conquer." How about turning a person into a screaming schizophrenic (a bit of an extreme example, I admit, but not always far from the truth in some cases). Once you divide the person's identity...well you can imagine what can happen....Or maybe you can't. I guess it might depend upon your life experience.
I had the advantage of having also read Hans Schumann's The Historical Buddha
, which delves into some of the more, perhaps overlooked, contextual data surrounding the historical personage of Gotama. Putting two and two together from my own vast experience of the world and how human beings work and are likely to react to various stimuli and mental conditioning, I arrived at my own conclusions about this "religion," as well as other religions which have been foisted upon mankind all in the name of control and eventual subjugation and submission to "higher powers." What a crock...
Anyone who takes the time to thoughtfully and carefully read and contemplate the suttas, especially the first book of the Samyutta Nikaya as well as some selected sections from the Digha Nikaya, may find reason to discount some of the idealized spiritual and religious iconography that has grown up around the "religion of Buddhism."
I won't spoil it for you though. You'll have to do your own investigations and arrive at your own conclusions. After all, isn't that what the Buddha taught?
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV